30 March 2008

Africa Reading Challenge

Via Meskel Square I learned of the Africa Reading Challenge created by the blog Siphoning Off a Few Thoughts:
Participants commit to read - in the course of 2008 - six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues.
Participants will write about the books on their blogs and a list with links will be (well, is already being) kept at Siphoning Off a Few Thoughts.

There are a few reasons why I'm going to participate in the Challenge. We are lucky to live in a time when African literature of all sorts is plentiful (though, sadly, less in Africa than outside it, because the infrastructure for book production and distribution on the continent is limited to a few countries) and it's a particular interest of mine, but a recent enough one that my knowledge is still pretty superficial. I hope the Reading Challenge will increase people's curiosity about what books are out there, and I look forward to the various discussions.

I'm not going to have time to start reading for a couple months, but I want to put my list together while I'm thinking of it. It may change. Today, what I expect I will read are the following books:These are mostly books I've been meaning to get to for a little while, and the Challenge gives me a good excuse to stop procrastinating.

I hope many more people will sign up for the Challenge, particularly people who have not read much African writing. If you're looking for information on other books by Africans and/or about Africa, here are a few resources:


  1. African writing does something weird to me. It makes me hate Africa. I read it wanting to learn more about a different culture and acceptance, and I end up reading about ignorant child killing in Achebe's THINGS FALL APART, or female genital cutting on five-year-olds in Ayaan Hirsi Ali's THE INFIDEL. Am I reading the wrong stuff?

  2. Wrong stuff? No. Wrong attitude? Maybe. Do you hate Europe because of Shakespeare's tragedies?

    Consider this from a recent interview/profile of Achebe:

    As Achebe has made clear in interviews over the years, he very much wanted, as the son of a Christian from the village of Ogidi, to oppose in his work the condescension toward Africans and their culture that he found in tales such as Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”

    Yet instead of compensating for that tone by emphasizing the best of his native culture, he offered, in “Things Fall Apart,” protagonist Okonkwo, who beats his youngest wife, kills a child entrusted to his care, and ultimately violates core values of Ibo culture, playing into stereotypes of African violence.

    “It’s a challenge,” Achebe replies, agreeing that this is exactly the core conflict of the book. “I want you to read the worst that Africa can offer. I dare you at the end to say Africans are therefore less human than myself.”

    “This is the one thing I remember thinking clearly,” he recalls. “I’m going to go out of my way to find the worst things that you can say about this culture, and make sure that it is exactly there. Because I want this to be a true story about our people.”

    “Every problem Okonkwo has,” he says, “has to do with the failure to understand the importance of compassion, the importance of gentleness as opposed to success and power.”

    We also have to remember that what writing gets distributed outside of Africa depends on publishers' ideas of what readers will accept as "African literature".

    But I think the primary problem is your (apparent) desire for a book to represent an entire people or a tremendously diverse continent. Would you expect the same thing of a novel published by a writer from your own continent? For a broader view, try some short story collections -- The Anchor Book of Modern African Stories edited by Nadezda Obradovic is pretty good.