Monday, August 14, 2006

Great excitement! Some luscious new African fiction out this month.

First the giant, Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o with the English edition of WIZARD OF THE CROW - Africa Book Centre has the original in Kikuyu (MUROGI WA KAGOGO) from East African Educational Publishers in Nairobi, should you wish. Slightly annoying publicity blurb where the UK publisher's own website refers to him several times as Ngugl. If you can't even spell his name right and you are the publisher, how do you expect to launch his work to a wider public, I ask you?!

Next (and the two I look forward to with most anticipation) are new titles by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Their previous novels Purple Hibiscus and Nervous Conditions respectively are absolutely wonderful books.

From Nigerian Adichie (who also happens to be an intelligent, modest and singularly beautiful woman - shucks) the new title is HALF OF A YELLOW SUN. The recent anthology Granta 92: THE VIEW FROM AFRICA published in January this year was a rather delightful taster of writing from and on Africa. It included The Master by Adichie which is, I believe, an extract from this new book. The Master is densely layered and so absorbing that I read my way through it oblivious to a screaming fight (literally) playing out around me on a train home. When I surfaced I had largely missed the whole thing, bar a yell or two - how disappointing!

Zimbabwean Dangarembga faces a frighteningly critical audience with THE BOOK OF NOT. The eighteen year gap in publication dates between this and Nervous Conditions which was released in 1988, is enough to make anyone anxious (she has published no other novels in the interim). In addition, this is apparently a sequel, continuing the story of Tambu. Can your character live that long inside your head? For her sake I hope so. I will read on in trepidation.

I haven't started any of these yet, but will add them to the teetering pile and relish when their turn arrives. My current book is totally African unrelated - MARIANA by Monica Dickens, whose girly horsey books I read as a child. This is nothing like those. A book for adults, written in 1940, it has a superb sense of place and time, yet resonates today. Here an extract from page two:

People were kind and friendly and amusing, but they thought that companionship and conversation were synonymous, and some of them had voices that jarred in your head. There was a lot to be said for dogs. . .

Beyond the inconstant firelight and the beam of the oil lamp at her side, the rest of the room was in shadow; not the sort of shadow that makes you keep looking over your shoulder, but a quiet, withdrawn friendliness, as if the unseen objects were waiting until they were needed again. Beyond the room, the night was lashing itself to an impotent fury of wind and rain. Mary thought how strange it was to think that only a few inches of wall separated the placid cosiness of the sitting-room from the howling, streaming darkness. Houses were very defiant things.

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