African writers

When I look back at my reading over the last few years, I realise that I probably read an average of at least one African writer or book on Africa every month.   Some months it is more; some less, and has very much depended on what was available – initially through the British Council libraries in Kumasi and Accra, and later either what can be obtained at work, or through local sources here in Accra.

I remember going through a phase of reading a lot of African writers – mostly the Heinemann African Writers Series – during the mid 1970s while a student in Ibadan.   I think that was partly because they were available in the UI bookshop, and weren’t too expensive.  Looking back I realise that I tended to read more of the West African writers, and specifically the Nigerian ones  – Chinua Achebe obviously, Cyprian Ekwensi, Elechi Amadi, T M Aluko – as well as some of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s books on Kenya.  I suppose that was partly to do with what was in the UI bookshop, and also these were the writers who had been so prominent in the immediate post-independence period.  And I do remember the excitement at reading Wole Soyinka’s commentary, The man died, which was almost an illicit item in military regime Nigeria of the time.

As more and more of the younger generation of African writers were being published I tried to order their work for the British Council libraries, and as a sort of fringe benefit got to read the new material first.  Having many book launches on site in the BC’s Accra auditorium also helped to keep me abreast with some of the local Ghanaian publications.

Now I am slightly out of the book launch circuit  [I do wish I could access the BC monthly programme online or via email, but no luck], but do pay a few bookshops fairly regular visits, so if there is anything new I do take a look, and sometimes buy.  

Last year, EPP had a special consignment of huge numbers of African Writers Series titles (not all) – being sold at an absurdly low price of about US$3 each.    I did wonder where they came from, as they didn’t look like the usual pirated copies being sold sometimes in Accra traffic!  

Totally irresistible, so I picked up a few which I hadn’t read:  Mine boy, by Peter Abrahams, short story  collections by Mia Couto and Bessie Head, Every man is a race and Tales of tenderness and power.

Recently I finished one of Bessie Head’s novels, When rain clouds gather, partly because it was one of the “reads” for a group on the website Goodreads, which is attempting to read something from every country in Africa – ambitious, interesting, but I doubt I’ll be able to follow completely!  Someone made the comment that Head’s style is not very African, but then I am not sure what that actually means!  She does evoke the arid landscape of Botswana with sensitivity, even in a drought.

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Discussion of John Berendt’s “The city of falling angels”

I last wrote briefly about the anticipation of a monthly book club meeting.

I should have written about it much earlier, but was trying to finish the book! So guilty as charged of doing what one is not supposed to do in a book club – ie not read or finish the book. OK, I can use the excuse that I was waiting for a copy to arrive ( someone with bag privileges kindly ordered me a copy). I have done this a couple of times, and felt slightly guilty, but still I did complete the book, which is better than not even attempting the read at all.

Also partly that it was a non-fiction book, John Berendt’s The city of falling angels, with the handle being the fire at the famous Fenice opera house, took me longer than usual to finish.  I was impressed at the range of people discussed – some directly involved with the aftermath of the fire, others less so, but all characters with stories that are told with sensitivity and vividness.   The tales of infighting among expatriates and Italians alike were quite amusing, if they were not rather sad.   

We were all struck at how the author managed to get such a wide range of people not only to talk to him, but to open up to such an extent. Several of the group said they wanted to either visit or revisit Venice. Others mentioned his previous book, Midnight in the garden of good and evil, about Savannah, and how the book increased visits to that southern city. I think I will follow up on this; not sure when I will be able to get a copy, but it will definitely be on my “to read at some point” list.

March we are discussing Water for elephants,  by Sarah Gruen, which I have read, but will look through again.

And we did manage to finalise books to read up till September, though slightly disappointedly not up to the end of the year. I have to admit that this did rather annoy me, especially as some of us had put in some effort to make suggestions.