A backward look at my Ghanaian and African reads of 2016

Usually sometime early in the year I look back on my reading for the previous year, and share the books on Ghana and Africa I read.

For Ghanaian fiction, I read three novels: two are diasporan authors, while one is based based here in Ghana (at least now)

  • Glover, Boakyewaa – The justice
  • Gyasi, Yaa – Homegoing [a January 2017 choice for two book clubs/groups I belong to!]
  • Quartey, Kwei – Murder at Cape Three Points

For Ghanaian non-fiction, I count four works

  • Addo-Kufuor, Kwame – Gold Coast boy [autobiography, by a brother of Ghana’s former President, a physician and politician]
  • Ashun, Mary – Tuesday’s child [another autobiography, with an emphasis on the author’s childhood]
  • Insaidoo, Kwame Afadzi – Ghana – An incomplete independence or a dysfunctional democracy?
  • NAWA – No worries. 6th ed  [I actually have all 6 editions of this guidebook to Accra!]

My African fiction category is a mixed bag, including some novels with locations in African settings, which I realize some people might not consider “real” African fiction.

  • Abouet, Marguerite & Oubrerie, Clement – Aya de Yopougon 1-3 [a series of graphic novels with Ivoirian characters]
  • Banda-Aaku, Ellen – Sula and Ja [story for young adults/teens by prize-winning Zambian author]
  • Boyd, William – Solo [anoatther James Bond novel, partially set in Nigeria]
  • Camus, Albert – The stranger [this was a re-read of the classic]
  • Davids, Nadia – An imperfect blessing
  • Farah, Nuruddin – Hiding in plain sight [read for Accra Book Club]
  • Guillaume, Laurent – White leopard [thriller, with a Malian location]
  • Jemisin, N K – The fifth season [prize-winning science fiction/fantasy novel which takes place in what had once been Africa’s tropical regions]
  • Jonasson, Jonas –  The girl who saved the King of Sweden [another comic book from this Swedish author;the main character is South African]
  • Lotz, Sarah – The three [author is South African, and part of the novel is set there]
  • Mahlangu, Songeziwe –  Penumbra
  • McCain, Paula – Circling the sun [read for Accra Book Club, set in colonial Kenya]
  • Orford, Margie –  Like clockwork [thriller set in South Africa]
  • Singh, Astha –  Congo journey [mostly on the Indian community]
  • Walker, Rebecca – Ade – a love story [set mostly in Tanzania]

African non-fiction was a bit sparse last year, with only three books

  • Agyeman-Duah, Ivor – Africa – a miner’s canary into the 21st century
  • Beckman, Bjorn & Gbemisola, Adeoti – Intellectuals and African development
  • Kpomassie, Tete-Michel – An African in Greenland [quite touching in parts]

I do admit that, apart from book clubs/groups, I don’t really plan my reading.  I do have a lot of TBR books which fill one medium bookcase, and always feel I should concentrate a bit more on these books, but somehow it doesn’t always work out!


Missed the latest Burt award!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there were/are several library related events going on during the months September – December 2016.  Last week I was very much pre-occupied with events involving the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Ghana (CARLIGH), including a meeting, training organized by publishers EBSCO and Cambridge UP and the 2nd CARLIGH International Conference which took place here in Accra from 28 to 30 September.  See the GNA website for their story on the opening ceremony.

Regrettably therefore I missed the latest Burt award ceremonies which took place last week – but I am glad to acknowledge their efforts!  The winners were:

  1. Dr Ruby Yayra Goka, for her book The step-mother
  2. Elizabeth-Irene Baitie, for her book Rattling in the closet
  3. Nii Kpani Addy, for his book Red spectacles knows

For more information on the event, see the GNA story (even though it is not totally accurate)!


Elnathan John reads in Accra

011Two book related events this past week: an Accra Book Club discussion and a visiting writer.

Accra Book Club was a rescheduled event, so there were only two of us – one of the other regulars having traveled! But we had a good talk about Anthony Doerr’s bestseller, All the light we cannot see, and other books and reading in general.

013The visiting writer was Elnathan John, who recently 015published his first novel, Born on a Tuesday. The readings were organized by the Writers Project of Ghana, and took place at Vidya Book Store in Osu. About 40 or so people came and all seemed pretty engaged. Elnathan John read excerpts from his novel, which was available for sale, and at a reasonable price, and spoke about writing, especially in the context of Northern Nigeria.  It was a very enjoyable way to spend a late Saturday afternoon!

I look forward to more of such events.

Accra Book Club discussed Harper Lee’s work

006The recent news of the death of Harper Lee brought to mind the Accra Book Club’s choice of Go set a watchman and To kill a mockingbird as our first reads for 2016.

I think all of us had read To kill a mockingbird in younger days (usually in secondary school/high school, so this was a while ago) and/or seen the award winning film starring Gregory Peck as Atticus.

So it was definitely re-reading a book from an earlier era, in the context of also reading a sequel (by when it takes place)/ prequel (when it was actually written).

We all agreed that To kill a mockingbird was definitely the better book, and still worth reading.  It really is a classic of the 20th century.

The Africa39 is announced

Just saw an announcement about the Africa39 list of upcoming African writers under 40.  More information is available via the Hay Festival Africa39 webpages .

According to the list of nominees, there are three with a Ghanaian connection:

  1. Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, author of Powder necklace [and yes, I have read it]
  2. Nii Ayikwei Parkes, author of Tail of the blue bird [which I have mentioned on several occasions!]
  3. Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana must go [I’ve already mentioned this novel, one of my favourites for 2013]

It is however worth noting that all these Ghanaian authors live mostly outside Ghana – though Nii Ayikwei Parkes is presently in Ghana.

Congratulations to all the nominees, and of course I look forward to reading the anthology of short stories which will be launched in ImageOctober 2014.


wife-of-the-godsIt is interesting that American/Ghanaian mystery writer Kwei Quartey is presently visiting Ghana – obviously doing research on his next book?  I heard him speak, and do a reading on CitiFM’s Writers Project programme two Sundays ago, which was at least better than nothing, but part of me wished that he could have given a public reading here in Accra.  I guess that is being a bit selfish, but I guess that is what comes of being in this location.

I do remember Quartey being asked about the availability of his books here in Ghana.  And of course the usual issues of where publishers chose to promote books came up.

Unfortunately there is also a major issue of what local booksellers chose to sell.  I think I read Quartey’s first novel, Wife of the Gods, as a borrowed copy which a fellow Accra Book Club member had bought on a trip  outside Ghana.  His second book, Children of the street, I did buy from a local bookshop [though I haven’t read it yet], and the third , Death at the Voyager Hotel, I managed to download on my e-reader [actually this happened because Quartey mentioned it on the Writers Project radio programme!]   I am not sure however whether any of them are currently available here in Accra, which is very sad, in my opinion.

Thanks to fellow blogger and reader, Chris Scott, for reminding me, via his website that I had actually considered writing about this.

An older loved paperback

Usually the books I read tend to be newer – that is, bought within the last five years or so [I do have several shelves of to be Dune, by Frank Herbertread books!].  Or of course “bought” or is it “leased” on my Kindle?

That isn’t to say that I don’t have older books on my shelves, far from it.  When I was last doing a big clean of my bookshelves – a task, but not completely a chore, usually done on long weekend holidays – I noticed that there were books bought while in college in the early 1970s, plus some bought while in Ibadan (the mid 1970s), as well as some that were my husband’s light reading, probably going back to his time in university.

Recently Accra Book Club discussed Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction story, Dune.  I knew I had read it – but that was more than half a lifetime ago.  So I was pleased to see that it was actually one of the books I brought with me when I first came to this part of the world.  And it even had my maiden name in it!  All of which date it to the early 1970s or possibly the late 1960s!

So here it is… Admittedly the pages are browner, and the cover did have to be taped back on, but it wasn’t falling apart!

And yes, I did enjoy it – probably more than I did the first time!

A personal read of Chinua Achebe’s work

Things fall apart coverI think I must have been in college when I first read Things fall apart, by Chinua Achebe.  Certainly I didn’t read it in high school, and I am fairly sure I read it before coming to West Africa in the mid-1970s.  I can’t remember what kind of impression it made at the time, but I know that when I first came to Nigeria, I spent quite a bit of time reading African novels, which were relatively cheaply available then at the University of Ibadan bookshop.  In many ways by this time, the golden era of African literature had passed, but the Heinemann African Writers Series was still very much around, so between the UI library and the bookshop it was easy to find African, and especially Nigerian writing.

Certainly I have read at one point in my life all of Achebe’s novels:

  • Things fall apart – mentioned already, which was originally published in 1958
  • No longer at ease – 1960
  • Arrow of God – 1964; a colleague blogger, Kinnareads recommends this one especially, so I guess it is time for a re-read
  • A man of the people – 1966
  • Anthills of the savannah – 1987 [I read this in hardback, as it was nominated for one of the UK writing prizes, and British Council – when it had a library – was always careful to order prize-nominated books]

In 2009 I read Things fall apart again – this time for Accra Book Club – as an introduction to this very famous book for some members who had never read it.  And I think we will do it again.  For those who have already read it it will be a tribute to the late author; for those for whom it is totally new, I guess I hope they will find it a real eye-opener.

For me, my personal salute to Chinua Achebe, is to set a kind of mini-challenge to myself to read all of his novels again, (and There was a country coverof course since it was so long ago that I read them for the first time, I anticipate it will be a real voyage of discovery).  Plus of course I do have on my TBR shelves his account of the Biafran war, There was a country, which also beckons.

I end on a Ghanaian note

Damirifa due!  Chinua Achebe!   Damirifa due!  May you rest in peace, and your legacy will live on!

Kofi Annan’s “Interventions” book launch in Accra

Along with many people – the hall at ISSER (Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research), University of Ghana, Legon was full – I attended the Ghana launch of Kofi Annan’s autobiography, Interventions, on 4 January 2013.

For the most part the event went well, starting only 15 minutes after the stated time [pretty good], and the MC kept things moving. There were a few glitches with the microphone, which meant that it was often hard to hear the relatively soft spoken Kofi Annan when he was delivering his author’s comments, which were very illuminating and of course confidently delivered as usual.

And typically there was one extra person to add to the programme, but on the whole, it flowed fairly well. The refreshments were good – with fresh coconuts and palm wine, in addition to the usual soft drinks, beer and wine.  See more details from my colleague, Kajsa Adu, who blogged almost immediately about the launch

My major issue with this event was and is with the book suppliers – in this case EPP – who had a table with some books on it at the beginning of the event, but obviously not enough to cover all those who wished to buy a copy.  Disappointment no 1:  many of us would have liked to buy a copy to get it autographed and we couldn’t.  But OK, there was an announcement to this effect, and we were reassured that if we went to EPP Bookshop at Legon we could get copies.

My immediate reaction, and no doubt that of others:  Surely by now publishers and booksellers know that book launches in Ghana are  events where attendees buy books, and that many of these same individuals will not go looking for these same books elsewhere after the events?

Disappointment no 2:  I went to the EPP Bookshop at Legon – which I have described before – the day after the event, and then I was told “It is finished.”   When asked when, the shop attendants replied “this morning”.  So needless to say I was not very happy, and indeed another customer who had hoped to buy four copies expressed her dissatisfaction and annoyance in no uncertain terms.  We dutifully wrote our names and contact details, and now we hope for the best.

Moral of the story:  if you see some books for sale at an event, ask if you can buy some before it starts.

2012 reading challenges

I decided to take part in two challenges in 2012 so here is a report of what worked, and what didn’t go quite up to expectations.

Goodreads 2012 reading challenge 
I originally thought I would read 100 books this year, but changed this goal to a somewhat more realistic 70. I doubt if I am going to make that either – I think I may end up between 65 and 67 at the rate things are going. Not sure what all the reasons are; I suspect the major one is the distraction of the web – and all the various lists I subscribe to. Plus a few more excuses I could mention, but won’t!

Kinna Reads Africa Reading Challenge 
I set myself a specific reading list of six books, of which I have read four.  The remaining two, Chicago (Alaa al Aswani) and Broken glass (Alain Mabanckou) are definitely going to be carried over to 2013.

However I did read a pretty good number of books which I would consider either Ghanaian or African. Just to clarify though, my definition of a Ghana author is either a Ghanaian or a diasporan Ghanaian or a resident of Ghana. Then there are also books on Ghana by someone who falls in none of the above categories. Definitions of an African author more or less follow the same model, as do books on Africa.

Ghana fiction read in 2012

  1. Tales from different tails, by Nana Awere Damoah [part of my Africa reading challenge]
  2. Diplomatic pounds and other stories, by Ama Ata Aidoo [bought at the launch]
  3. The mystery of the haunted house, by Ruby Yayra Goka [teen story, from another Burt award winner]
  4. Half blood blues, by Esi Edugyan [part of my Africa reading challenge; also read for Accra Book Club
  5. The kaya-girl, by Mamle Wolo [bought at the Burt ceremony at the Ghana International Book Fair in September 2012; for teens]
  6. It happened in Ghana – a historical romance, by Noel Smith
  7. Brave music of a distant drum, by Manu Herbstein [a sort of sequel to author’s Ama; for teens/young adults]

Ghana non-fiction read in 2012 (including books on Ghana)

  1. Tabom – the Afro-Brazilian community in Ghana, by Marco Schaumloeffel [very illuminating description of a specific area of Accra]
  2. A sense of savannah … Tales of a friendly walk through Northern Ghana, by Kofi Akpabli
  3. Three cheers for Ghana! by Robert Peprah-Gyamfi [autobiographical]
  4. The black body, edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah  [several different essays/stories]
  5. Abina and the important men, by Trevor Getz and Liz Clarke  [one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year]
  6. Foods and food related practics of cultural groups in southern Ghana, by Faustina Yaa Amoako-Kwakye
  7. Tickling the ghanaian – Encounters with contemporary culture, by Kofi Akpabli
  8. The Prof – a man remembered – the life, vision and legacy of Dr K A Busia, by Abena P A Busia
  9. King Peggy – An American secretary, her royal destiny and the inspiring story of how she changed an African village, by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
  10. Death and pain – Rawlings’ Ghana – the inside story, by Mike Adjei
  11. In pursuit of my destiny – Memoirs of a parliamentarian, by Kosi Kedem [his library career was also of interest to me]
  12. My first coup d’etat: Memories from the lost decades of Africa, by John Dramani Mahama [author is now the President of Ghana, though the book was written when he was Vice-President.  Also read for Accra Book Club
  13. The seduction of food, by Barbara E Sai
  14. Stones tell stories at Osu – Memories of a host community of the Danish trans-Atlantic slave trade, by H Nii-Adziri Wellington [another book about Accra; again very illuminating for  its description of the origins of many famous Ghanaian families]

Africa fiction read in 2012

  1. Ways of dying, by Zakes Mda [first book I’ve read by this well-known South African author]
  2. 10 years of the Caine Prize for African writing [for Accra Book Club; I had read many of the stories already, as they are often available when the Caine Prize shortlists are announced]
  3. As the crow flies, by Veronique Tadjo
  4. Patchwork, by Ellen Banda-Aaku [personally I preferred the part written from the child’s point of view]
  5. Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes
  6. Mixed blood, by Roger Smith
  7. Ancestor stones, by Aminatta Forna
  8. The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives, by Lola Shoneyin [had several very unexpected twists in it]
  9. The cry of Winnie Mandela, by Njabulo Ndebele [part of my Africa reading challenge]
  10. An elegy for Easterly, by Petina Gappah [part of my Africa reading challenge]

Africa non-fiction read in 2012

  1. You’re not a country, Africa, by Pius Adesanmi [entertaining set of essays]
  2. Indigo – in search of the colour that seduced the world, by Catherine McKinley [read for Accra Book Club.  Actually mentioned some people I know!]
  3. African wax print – a textile journey, by Magie Relph and Robert Irwin [bought at a NAWA meeting, with beautiful illustrations]

NB: Many of the above are available through Amazon (and other international suppliers), but some which were published in Ghana have yet to hit the international market!

I look forward to hearing how others have done on their challenges