Some of my Ghanaian and African reads for the first six months of 2016

Some of my Ghanaian and African reads for the first six months of 2016 include

Ghana reads include books by Ghanaian authors, Ghanaians in the diaspora, on Ghana, or with a Ghanaian setting:

  • Quartey, Kwei: Murder at Cape Three Points (mystery/crime with Inspector Darko Dawson)
  • Agyeman-Duah, Ivor: Africa – a miner’s canary into the 21st century (a collection of essays on African countries)
  • Insaidoo, Kwame Afadzi: Ghana – An incomplete independence or a dysfunctional democracy (political analysis)

Africa reads include books by African authors, Africans in the diaspora, on African countries, or with an African setting:

  • Singh, Astha: Congo – a journey (fictional account of an Indian family in DRC)
  • Guillaume, Laurent: White leopard (thriller set in Mali)
  • Mahlangu, Songeziwe: Penumbra (prize-winning South African novel with the main character having a mental breakdown)
  • Camus, Albert: The stranger (this was a re-read of the classic which I originally read in French)
  • Orford, Margie: Like clockwork (crime/thriller set in South Africa)
  • McCain, Paula: Circling the sun (fictional account of early part of Beryl Markham’s life, mostly set in colonial Kenya) [read for Accra Book Club]
  • Davids, Nadia: An imperfect blessing (a family saga set in the Cape Town of 1993-94)
  • Farah, Nuruddin: Hiding in plain sight (a diasporan Somali family adapts to loss of a member to a terrorist attack) [read for Accra Book Club]
  • Banda-Aaku, Ellen: Sula and Ja (a young adult novel about two teens discovering more about each other, set in Zambia)

Plus a special mention of three cookbooks with African/Ghanaian connections:

  • Sloley, Patti Gyapomaa: A date with plantain (I admit that ripe plantain is one of my absolutely favourite foods)
  • Osseo-Asare, Fran and Baeta, Barbara: The Ghana cookbook (comprehensive, and great if you are a non-Ghanaian or not living in Ghana)
  • Timothy, Duval and others: The groundnut cookbook (lots of West African recipes adapted to more Western/UK tastes)

Launch of “The Ghana cookbook” in Accra

The end of January saw one of those typical Accra days when there seemed to be a multitude of events all happening on the same day.

Not unsurprisingly I chose to attend two book events – back to back: a long awaited cookbook launch and the first Accra Book Club gathering of the year.

007The first was the launch The Ghana cookbook, by Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baeta, at Flair Catering. I have followed the first author’s food blog, (Betumi Blog ) for several years, so I was aware that this cookbook has been in the making for quite some time.

The audience was mostly female (not too surprising) and many were not young (probably not too surprising either). Apart from some historical background provided by both the authors/cooks, I particularly enjoyed Elizabeth Ohene’s tribute, part of which is mentioned in the following article .

And to top off the occasion there were delicious Ghanaian small chops, including one or two which brought back memories of life in Kumasi in the not so easy 1980s.

I had already bought a copy of the cookbook, but at least I managed to get it specially autographed.

I am not a real foodie, as I don’t cook much, but I do like reading through cookbooks and recipes.   And indeed I do have a few shelves of them!

 

2015 Ghana and Africa reads

I know I haven’t done much posting over the last year, and I guess one of my New Year’s resolutions for this year is to do more in this area. Focus is the key though.

I didn’t do much reading of fiction from Ghana, as seen by the following:

  • Adonoo, Elikem: The teleport conspiracy [lent to me by the author]
  • Attah, Ayesha Harruna: Saturday’s shadows [author is definitely maturing]
  • Goka, Ruby Yayra: The lost royal treasure [young adult]

although I do have to admit to reading some Ghanaian flash fiction, but those I didn’t record!

Non-fiction on Ghana did much better:

  • Akpabli, Kofi: Harmattan – a cultural profile of Northern Ghana
  • Coe, Cati: The scattered family – Parenting, African migrants and global inequality [doubly relevant as a lot of the families were from Akuapim South District in Ghana, where I work]
  • Dagadu, Kati Torda (ed): Ghana: Where the bead speaks
  • Larratt, Carol: Human mules – The kayayo girls [not really sure whether this was creative non-fiction, but fascinating nonetheless]
  • Tonah, Steve: Fulani in Ghana: Migration history, integration and resistance
  • Tsikata, Dzodzi: In the shadow of the large dams [having worked near Nigeria’s first hydroelectric dam, I am still fascinated by the impact of these large projects]
  • Owusu, Mary A Seiwaa: Prempeh II and the making of modern Asante 

I did read a fair amount of African fiction, with a tendency towards Nigerian writers/writers of Nigerian descent:

  • The Gonjon pin and other stories: the Caine Prize for African fiction 2014 [even though I often download the shortlisted stories, I still like buying the published collections]
  • To see the mountain and other stories: The Caine Prize for African writing 2011
  • Barrett, A Igoni: Love is power, or something like that
  • Ndibe, Okey: Foreign Gods, Inc. [for Accra Book Club]
  • de Hernandez, Jennifer et al: African women writing resistance [a mixture of fiction and non-fiction]
  • Forna, Aminatta: The memory of love [for Accra Book Club]
  • Hamilton, Masha: The camel bookmobile [not sure this really counts, though the setting is mostly Kenya]
  • Imaseun, Eghosa: To Saint Patrick [I had downloaded this before attending a WPG reading by this author.  A Nigerian detective story!]
  • Laye, Camara: The dark child [rather amazing that I hadn’t read this before!]
  • Obioma, Chigozie: The fishermen [for Accra Book Club]
  • Okorafor, Nnedi: Lagoon [author is of Nigerian descent]
  • Omotoso, Yewande: Bom boy
  • Oparanta, Chinelo: Happiness, like water [definitely an author to watch]
  • Oyeyemi, Helen: Boy, Snow, Bird [the setting is the US, though the author is of Nigerian descent] [for Accra Book Club]
  • Wanner, Zukiswa: London Cape Town Joburg [Inspired partly by Caine Prize presentation]

Followed up by a few non-fiction books with an African emphasis:

  • Fuller, Alexandra: Cocktail hour under the tree of forgetfulness [even though the main characters aren’t particularly nice, the author writes well and sympathetically]
  • Ngugi Wa Thiongo: Decolonising the mind 
  • Saro-Wiwa, Noo: Looking for Transwonderland 

I guess the above will sort of qualify for the 2015 Africa Reading Challenge.  Although sometimes I feel it is not much of a challenge really, as I tend to read a fair number of books by Ghanaians/about Ghana and also by Africans/about Africa anyway – approximately 30% of my reading.

2013 books with a Ghana or an Africa focus

I read quite a lot of different types of books, though I readily admit to a weakness for mysteries/crime/thrillers.

But I do also live in Ghana, and have always felt the desire to read books written by Ghanaians – both living here and in the diaspora – and also books about Ghana. To a lesser extent that has also applied to books by Africans and about Africa.

Out of a total of 68 books completed during 2013, 29 (approx 43%) were either with a Ghana or an Africa focus, as detailed below:

Ghana fiction

  • Mr Happy and the hammer of God and other stories, by Martin Egblewogbe
  • Ghana must go, by Taiye Selasi [one of my favourite reads of the year]
  • Children of the street, by Kwei Quartey [a Ghana mystery]
  • Akosua and Osman, by Manu Herbstein [a winner of the Burt prize]
  • The deliverer, by Kwabena Ankomah-Kwakye [another Burt prize winner, not sure whether this is really fiction though]

Ghana non-fiction

  • Pilgrims of the night: development challenges and opportunities in Africa, edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah
  • Bright lights, no city, by Max Alexander [very entertaining view of a social enterprise based in the Eastern Region of Ghana]
  • Interventions: a life in war and peace, by Kofi Annan with nader Mousavizadeh [illuminating]
  • Lose your mother, by Saidiya Hartman [on the slave trade, but also the story of one African-American’s journey to understand some of its legacies. Very personal]
  • No worries, 5th ed, NAWA [great guidebook to Accra]
  • Defeating dictators, by George B N Ayittey
  • The library tree, by Deborah Cowley

Africa fiction

  • Open city, by Teju Cole [even though it takes place mostly in the US]
  • Chicago, by Alaa al Aswany [again takes place in the US]
  • Nairobi heat, by Mukoma wa Ngugi [another African crime story!]
  • Broken glass, by Alain Mabanckou
  • No time like the present, by Nadine Gordimer
  • Every day is for the thief, by Teju Cole [actually written before Open City]
  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [another of my favourite reads of the year]
  • Waiting for the barbarians, by J M Coetzee [the author is South African]

Africa non-fiction

  • Yes, Chef – a memoir, by Marcus Samuelsson
  • This child will be great, by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
  • Of Africa, by Wole Soyinka
  • Chocolate nations – Living and dying for cocoa in West Africa, by Orla Ryan
  • The boy who harnessed the wind, by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer
  • There was a country – A personal history of Biafra, by Chinua Achebe
  • Birds of our land, by Virginia Dike
  • The beautiful tree, by James Tooley [one of my favourite non-fiction books of the year]
  • One day I will write about this place, by Binyavanga Wainaina

I hope these lists give a flavour of some of the range of books I’ve read.

Ghana conference announcements

It is interesting that once again I have come across announcements for two academic conferences here in Ghana via an external list – H-NET-WEST-AFRICA

Of course I immediately read through each of the postings.  In one case, I looked at the website for the conference, and in the other sent off an email for more information.

The first conference is on African women writers – definitely a subject dear to my heart, and is happening in the first part of the year. “Yari Yari Ntoaso” is taking place in Accra, 16-19 May 2013.

More details are available from http://africanastudies.as.nyu.edu/object/Yari-2013-Ghana.html

The other conference is on African studies, and is being hosted at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, 24 – 26 October 2013. No website for this one – well, OK, it is just a call for papers, but still…

Contact details are as follows: Conference Coordinator, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, P.O. Box LG 73, Legonm Accra,Ghana. Email iasconference@ug.edu.gh

After some follow-up then I wondered “Why are there not any local lists for such announcements?”

So far I haven’t come up with any really satisfactory answers.

A personal list of key Ghanaian authors

I have been making a list of Ghanaian authors who do creative writing/fiction/plays/poetry and these are the ones I came up with.  It is very much a personal list, and I have read most of them.

NB:  This is work in progress, and I am more than happy to admit that I will have forgotten some people.  Most long works are available via Amazon – though sometimes it may not be the US Amazon, but the UK or Canadian one!   For short stories I have not indicated any collections, for which I do apologize in advance.

Older writers (many are deceased)

  • Kobina Sekyi:  The Blinkards ( play)
  • Ayi Kwei Armah:  The beautyful ones are not yet bornTwo thousand seasonsThe healersFragments (plus some literary criticism, which I have not included)
  • Amu Djoleto:  The strange manMoney GaloreHurricane of dust + some children’s books
  • Efua Sutherland: Marriage of AnansewaEdufa, Voice in the forest  – Wrote plays mostly
  • Francis Selormey:  Narrow Path
  • Kofi Awoonor: This earth my brother + some non-fiction
  • Mawugbe, Efo Kojo:  The prison graduate .  Wrote plays mostly

Older (in age) and still active

  • Ama Ata Aidoo:  Changes, Our sister Killjoy, Anowa, Dilemma of a ghost, No sweetness here, Diplomatic pounds and other stories, African love stories (ed)Angry letter in January
  • Kojo Laing : Search sweet country, Woman of the aeroplanes, Big Bishop Roko and the alter gangsters, Major Gentl and the Achimota wars
  • Manu Herbstein :  Ama, Brave music of a distant drum 
  • Atukwei Okai: Poet
  • Kofi Anyidoho : The place we call home, Praise song for the land.  Poet

More contemporary (part of Ghanaian diaspora)

  • Benjamin Kwakye: The clothes of nakedness, The sun by night, The other crucifix
  • Nii Ayikwei Parkes: Tail of the blue bird, The makings of you
  • Mohammed Naseehu Ali : Prophet of Zongo Street and other stories
  • Kwei J Quartey: Wife of the gods, Children of the street 
  • Yaba Badoe :  True murder
  • Marilyn Heward Mills: Cloth girl, The association of foreign spouses
  • Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond: Powder necklace
  • Akosua Busia:  Seasons of beento blackbird
  • Lesley Lokko: Sundowners, Bitter chocolate, One secret summer, A private affair, Rich girl, poor girl.  Architect, who also writes chick lit
  • Selasi Taiye : Ghana must go (To be published in 2012) + well acclaimed short stories
  • Esi Edugyan:  Half-blood blues, The second life of Samuel Tyne.  Canadian, born of Ghanaian immigrants
  • Glover, Boakyewaa:  Circles
  • Kuukua Dzigbordi Yomekpe:  Writing memoir; creative non-fiction mostly

More contemporary (living in Ghana)

  • Amma Darko:  The housemaid, Faceless, Beyond the horizon, Not without flowers
  • Camynta Baezie:  The African agenda 
  • G A Agambila:  Journey
  • Ayesha Harruna Attah:  Harmattan rain
  • Meri Nana-Ama Danquah: The black body, Willow weep for me, Shaking the tree, Becoming American.  Writes mostly non-fiction
  • Farida Bedwei: Definition of a miracle
  • Mamle Kabu:   writes short stories
  • Franka Andoh:  writes short stories
  • Alba Konadu Sumprim :  The imported Ghanaian, A place of beautiful nonsense.  Both are satirical
  • Kofi Akpabli: A sense of savannah, Tickling the Ghanaian.  Writes creative non-fiction
  • Nana Awere Damoah:  Tales from different tails, Excursions in my mind, Through the gates of thought

Non-Ghanaians (with close associations to Ghana)

  • Ellen Banda-Aaku:  Patchwork, Wandi’s little secret.  Also writes short stories
  • Fiona Leonard:  The chicken thief 
  • Sarah Mussi: Door of no return, The last of the warrior kings.  Teen/children’s fiction

What do you think of this list?

Reading and libraries in Ghana

Thanks to two colleagues for posting subjects very dear to my heart:

  • Kinnareads on The reader in Ghana – which talks about the lack of reading, except for school and academic related purposes
  • Multilogue: mind and matter on Community power – which talks about the libraries that the author has used here in Ghana, very personal and emotional, but important nonetheless

I can only say thanks to both authors for expressing these sentiments which do need to be talked about.

The association of foreign spouses, by Marilyn Heward Mills: Some reflections

For Ghanaian Literature week, at Kinnareads

The association of foreign spouses is Marilyn Heward Mills’ second novel, published in early 2011,  four years after her Costa prize nominated Cloth girl. I had enjoyed Cloth Girl, and was intrigued to hear that I actually knew the author’s mother, though I had never met Marilyn herself. I was even more intrigued when I heard that Heward Mills’ second novel was to be The association of foreign spouses, as the title very much echoed the name of a real organization to which I belong here in Ghana: the International Spouses Association of Ghana (ISAG).

I wondered whether this new novel was going to be a kind of “roman a clef” – with characters who were actually people I knew. But somehow it took longer for the book to be written, and published, and it rather left my horizon, until I got a email mentioning its publication.

How could I resist? Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a copy here in Ghana, so had to resort to buying one outside.

I read The association of foreign spouses in October of this year. It was interesting, but I think more because of its descriptions being familiar, rather than necessarily because of its being a memorable novel. While reading I was constantly wondering whether certain characters were based on real people – and even though the author’s website denies this  – there is a great deal in the descriptions of people, place and events which rings true, even though it is fiction.

Some of the characters are more clearly drawn than others, with women definitely coming off better than men:

  • Eva: British, married to architect Alfred, not working, spending a lot of time on her house and garden. Definitely the main focus of the book.
  • Dahlia: West Indian British, married to high-powered lawyer Vincent, who is the “baddy” of the book
  • Margrit: German, married to doctor Kojo, devoted to her dogs and garden, but without children
  • Yelena: Russian, with twins fathered by doctor Wisdom who has a wife , runs a beauty salon in her house to earn enough to support herself and her children.
  • Auntie Gee: Alfred’s mother, and Eva’s mother-in-law – always seemingly “meddling” – at least from Eva’s point of view – yet in her own way trying to get Eva and her children to adapt to Ghana.

To some extent people in this book could be considered stereotypes, but many of the incidents described – and the atmosphere surrounding the coups and successive military governments – are actually what happened or pretty close to it. Personally I feel that the families and individuals portrayed actually lived lives at the higher end of the economic scale even one did hear that life was not as good as it had been at the time of independence.  I was also a little surprised that so few of the key women characters were working.

Ghana in the late 1970s and early 1980s was a difficult place to live – whether you were a national or a foreigner married to a Ghanaian. There were real shortages of what we called “essential commodities” – such as sugar, milk, soap, toilet paper and bread – not to speak of the not so essentials of beer and soft drinks. At times food in sufficient quantities was difficult to obtain and required considerable effort.  These were times of real hunger for many; many had the prominent neck bones, locally described as “Rawlings collar”.

I am not saying that the lifestyle my family lived during those times was completely Ghanaian – it wasn’t, but it certainly wasn’t the full-blown expatriate lifestyle either. We didn’t have the money, or access to specially imported goods that made that possible.

So I guess my reaction to Heward Mills’ The association of foreign spouses is very much an emotional one – of remembering, and reliving times which were not the best, but out of which I, along with the characters in her book, developed into stronger and more capable human beings.    I will not deny that I appreciated their struggles, and empathized with them.

New bookshop coming in Ghana?

I do buy one Ghanaian newspaper every day – the Daily Graphic – but I skim through at least one or two others – in a work context. And once in a while I will look at some of those that have websites which are regularly updated.

I have to admit that I don’t really read the Daily Graphic. I skim through the news, reading one or two stories or articles, and then settle in to take a look at the daily crop of adverts which usually take up a large portion of this newspaper.

During the last week I’ve seen two full page ads for a new bookshop with branches which is recruiting staff and due to open in September 2011. As usual there is no indication of the name of the company or the specific physical locations.  All applications are to be sent via email, but again the email is a webmail address.

I have to admit that this is one of my “beefs” about recruitment here.  Why is it so difficult to indicate the name of the company looking for staff?  I have been told that it has to do with preventing applicants from personally lobbying, or coming in huge numbers to make enquiries or submit applications.  But this happens even when a recruitment agency is being used!  I would have thought companies would rather want potential employees to know that they are looking for staff, to encourage applications that are targetted and relevant, rather than those which are generic, and probably not at all suitable.   I also think there is a lack of transparency which may reflect on the institutions themselves.

Apologies for this slight digression into the realm of human resources recruitment.

Back to the subject of new bookshops, I am curious about this new enterprise, as the advert indicates there will be branches in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi, Tamale, Obuasi and Cape Coast. First question:  is it really a new shop? or just an old one re-inventing itself?  Where is its physical location in Accra?

And there is a full complement of staff required – at least for the front facing aspects of the business: bookshop managers, customer service managers, academic sales reps, commission sales executives and sales attendants – though no mention of back office support personnel such as those involved in finance, warehousing, etc…  But surely there must be a contact for the company?  But again, nothing.

Naturally as a book buyer I am intrigued. I buy quite a few books for my personal use – as I have testified to on occasion, and should do a bit more. Plus I am always on the lookout for new sources for work as we do a fair bit of procurement of texts and other supplementary readings for tertiary level students.

So I am still wondering:  what will be the orientation of this new bookshop?  Will it be concentrating on an academic market – or more at the basic and secondary level?  Will there be children’s books?  What about fiction?  What about books on Ghana and/or by Ghanaians?  What about other African books?

Many questions, and not many answers… I guess I have to be patient.

Children’s reading in Ghana

A couple of items caught my attention recently:  one a campaign to get children to read, and the other a blog on reading done by Ghanaian children.

The first has actually been on the radio, specifically on JoyFM for the last couple of weeks or so, only because I don’t listen to the radio at work, I have not actually heard any of the kids read, or the interviews or anything else, except basically the trailers for The Read100 project.  It does sound like a good idea, and certainly the comments – in contrast to what usually happens  in response to JoyFM’s news stories – are extremely positive and constructive.

My only concern lies with the choice of books:  the first book is Meshack Asare’s The cross drums, which is published by Sub-Saharan, a small Ghanaian publisher with generally high standards.   I suspect however that the issue will not be one of interest, but rather one of supply.  How many of the local bookshops have the book in stock? Was the project discussed with them? And what about future books?

The other item was a post in the Wo Se Ekyr:  what yo’ Mamma never told you about Ghana blog.  Lots of comments on the post, which in my view is proof that Esi Cleland obviously pushes some of the right buttons!

I do wonder how come reading seems to be a topic of the moment?