Saturday, February 16, 2008

Who doesn't love a good reading list? It is that time of year again and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize shortlist has been announced. As I've previously mentioned, I like the eccentric democracy of the IMPAC/Dublin. With the Commonwealth Writers' Prize I enjoy the genuine focus on books published regionally, and often overlooked in western countries. The 2008 Africa region candidates are:

Best Book, Africa Region
Barbara Adair (South Africa) End Jacana Media
"...the Johannesburg and Maputo of the 1980’s; where wars of varying violences erupt and conjure the edgy, war-torn world of the film Casablanca."

Ifeoma Chinwuba (Nigeria) Waiting for Maria Spectrum Books
"The cost of maintaining death row inmates has skyrocketed, resulting in high costs for the Department of Prisons. Government is anxious to implement the death sentences passed in the last few years but stalled by the absence of an executioner..."

Finuala Dowling (South Africa) Flyleaf Penguin Books SA
"Violet Birkin is a teacher, and since she’s paid to teach by the hour, she imagines she’ll have to teach forever. But her life is changing: she’s shedding her hair and her husband..."

Karen King-Aribisala (Nigeria) The Hangman's Game Peepal Tree Press
"A young Guyanese woman sets out to write an historical novel based on the 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion and the fate of an English missionary who is condemned to hang for his alleged part in the uprising, but who dies in prison before his execution. She has wanted to document historical fact through fiction, but the characters she invents make an altogether messier intrusion into her life with their conflicting interests and ambivalent motivations."

Susan Mann (South Africa ) Quarter Tones Harvill Secker
"When Ana returns to the ramshackle cottage of her youth in the seaside village of Noordhoek, near Cape Town, she does so with the intention of sorting out her father’s affairs. It soon becomes clear that more is at stake. After a decade in London, where she has failed to find work as a musician, her return to South Africa puts further distance into an already strained marriage, not only because she is out of reach, but because Michael, her husband, has lost faith in the country."

Zakes Mda (South Africa) Cion Penguin Books SA
"Toloki, the Professional Mourner who is the main character in Zakes Mda’s earlier novel Ways of Dying, returns in Cion, but is now travelling ‘to seek other ways of mourning’..."

Best First Book, Africa Region
Sade Adeniran (Nigeria ) Imagine This SW Books
"A compelling story about the human spirit and resilience against the odds. Imagine This is the journal of Lola Ogunwole which she starts at the age of nine; it charts her survival from childhood to adulthood..."

Ceridwen Dovey (South Africa) Blood Kin Penguin Books SA
"A chef, a portraitist and a barber are taken hostage in a bloody coup to overthrow their boss, the President..."

Dayo Forster (Gambia) Reading the Ceiling Simon and Schuster
"Three men. Three paths. One will send Ayodele to Europe, to University and to a very different life -- but it will be a voyage strewn with heartache. Another will send her around the globe on an epic journey, transforming her beyond recognition but at the cost of an almost unbearable loss. And another will see her remain in Africa, a wife and mother caught in a polygamous marriage. Each will change her irrevocably: but which will she choose?"

Ken Kamoche (Kenya) A Fragile Hope Salt Publishing
"These are poignant stories of love, betrayal, dreams and tribulation, corruption and redemption. Whether we’re reading about the Hong Kong girl who reconciles with her estranged father following a chance encounter with an African musician, or the hangman whose life is torn apart by demons from the past, these stories take the reader on a journey that is as emotional as it is culturally rich."

Sumayya Lee (South Africa) The Story of Maha Kwela Books
"The child of a forbidden marriage, Maha grows up happily with her parents in Cape Town. But her world changes forever when her parents are killed at a political rally, and at the age of eight, Maha is reclaimed by her loving but staid Indian grandparents and taken to live in Durban."

Carel van der Merwe (South Africa) No Man's Land Umuzi
"36-year-old Paul du Toit, a covert army operative in the twilight years of white-ruled South Africa, believes he has buried his violent past, until events force him to apply for amnesty from the TRC for the deaths of two anti-apartheid activists."

As always, descriptions taken from pubishers' websites. If you can't find these at your local independent bookshop, remember the Africa Book Centre, which ships worldwide.

Zakes Mda, of course, is the big heavy hitter who might be expected to win. But there are lots of fresh voices in this list, so the field is wide open at present. Back to my groaning TBR pile, and perhaps I will hazard a guess before the winners are announced in March.

The full shortlists, including other regions of the world, are available here.



Anonymous Jess said...

I must say, I loved "Ways of Dying" with all my heart and so I bought "Cion" but was pretty disappointed. I read about half of it before I gave up on it, I felt Mda was trying too hard in a sense. To me, his explanation of how Tokolki ended up in Athens didn't really work and didn't fit with the character that he developed in "Ways of Dying".

What else has Susan Mann written? I have a feeling I read something by her, perhaps it was "One Tongue Singing"?

(stumbled on your Blog through Chris')

2:49 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Welcome Jess! CION has just arrived as a gift from friends in South Africa and I have yet to read it, but I am interested in your comments and will bear them in mind when the time comes.

Susan Mann's other recent title is indeed ONE TONGUE SINGING. Do you remember what you thought of it?

Hope to see you here again soon.

8:44 pm  
Blogger Lotus Reads said...

*Rubbing hands gleefully*

What a lot of titles, thank you for sharing these lists!!! I like the sound of "Waiting for Maria" and "The Story of Maha", I wonder if Amazon stocks them?

Congrats on the birth of your baby, how very lovely!

1:14 pm  
Blogger jess said...

Hello again.

"One Tongue Singing" is one of my best books of all time. Strangely lyrical in it's writing, at times it felt more poetic than prose(perhaps this is what appealed to me). Yet an entirely devastating novel that left me feeling quite shattered. But I loved it and keep it with my special collection of books.

My two other ultimate South African novels are:
Gem Squash Tokoloshe - by Rachel Zadok
And, "The Other Side of Silence" by Andre Brink.
Again, both devastating books in their own ways, yet ultimately redeeming. Brink's book is actually set in Namibia, and I found myself surprised when I enjoyed it having tried other of his books such as "An instant in the Wind" which I did not enjoy.

Perhaps you will find CION a different experience, but I never was able to get into it and was unsure of Mda's intentions in bringing back the character.
Did you ever see the theatrical version of "Ways of Dying"? Was directed by Lara Foot Newton. It was many years back, I saw it at the Market Theater in Newtown, JHB (I see you live in London, but thought you may have by chance seen the play as I think it did tour the globe). I only read the book a year ago, but the images evoked in the play were brought back strongly for me in the text.

Enough of my ramblings,
Congratulation on the birth of your daughter:)

8:07 pm  

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