The opening pages of Ishmael Beah’s debut novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, are achingly beautiful; his voice is gentle and affecting. His deep emotional connection to the land and the people is palpable in what he describes so colourfully. Following international acclaim with his memoir, A Long Way Gone, which recounts the story of a child soldier in Sierra Leone, his new book fictionalized the return of survivors to their community, following their emotionally demanding and difficult path into their recovery from the brutal war and its many losses in life and livelihood. There is hope – radiance – for a better future but there are also many sacrifices to make: forgiving is not forgetting; rebuilding on ruins, literally, on the bones of loved ones is probably one of the most haunting challenges.
Okparanta is without a doubt a promising representative of the new generation of Nigerian and African authors, who are giving growing prominence to the expanding field of African short fiction writing. Not surprisingly, Granta has named her one of ‘six New Voices for 2012’. In Happiness, like Water we find a balance between stories set in Nigeria and those focusing on Nigerian immigrants in the US, with ‘America’ taking the middle ground, bringing together experiences in both countries. Whatever locale the author chose, in all the stories she explores important and topical subjects and, especially concerns confronting young Nigerian women.
Mia Couto’s novel, THE TUNER OF SILENCES, is a highly original and totally engaging story. Its narrator, Mwanito, is reflecting back on the early years of his life; he recounts his experiences while living in the company of three men and his slightly older brother in a remote campsite in a semi-desert in what one assumes is Mozambique. António Emílio Leite Couto, Mia Couto for short, is a Mozambican scientist, and a prolific award-winning poet and writer, whose work is increasingly becoming available in English. His 2009 novel, THE TUNER OF SILENCES, translated in 2013, is part coming of age story, part family drama and part a kind of love story.
In her engaging debut novel, We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo introduces the reader to a young Zimbabwean girl growing up in a poor township named ‘Paradise’. Ten-year old, ‘Darling’ is a feisty and independent girl who is gifted with an astute sense of observation, an expressive voice and a good dose of humor. The novel is as much a touching coming of age story – first in Zimbabwe and later in Michigan, USA, as it is an engaging and reflective account on family and ‘home’, friendship and loss, and, finally on self-discovery.
Cruel City tells the story of Banda, a young man torn between village and city, between dreams and doubts in his ability to achieve his ambition to make money and fulfill his ailing mother’s greatest wish: to marry a girl of her liking and settle down. When the novel opens he has left the village for the near-by city, Tanga, to sell his cacao bean harvest to the traders in town. His rebel mentality, combined with his naïveté as regards a complex urban reality, is vividly portrayed as he lives through the eventful two-day visit. His own musings that run like a commentary alongside the circumstances he finds himself in are couched in a descriptive account, context explanation and critique by an omniscient narrator.
An engaging novel that won Alain Mabanckou France’s Grand Prix littéraire d’Afrique Noire in 1999, Blue White Red, stands at the beginning of the author’s remarkable and multifaceted career as a novelist, essayist and poet. Presented from the perspective of Massala-Massala, a young Congolese man with a dream, the novel depicts the aspirations that many young Africans of his generation shared: move to Paris, make a lot of money, live the good life there… and come home regularly to bring presents to family and friends … and spread the dream to others. Things are undoubtedly not like they seem, and this makes for entertaining as well as thought provoking reading.
Three Strong Women (by Marie NDiaye) is an intricately crafted, complex and thought provoking book. It doesn’t initially feel like a novel as it comprises three ‘novellas’, three fictional accounts that each explores one individual’s life at a crucial moment in time. Yet, reflecting on the content, the writing and the structure it falls clearly into the category of novel: the stories are linked in subtle ways through imagery, peripheral character and atmosphere.
Award winning Djibouti author, Abdourahman A. Waberi (now residing in France) has set himself a challenging task with his novel, Transit, published 2003 in French, and very recently published by Indiana University Press, translated into English by David Ball and Nicole Ball. What are the challenges in Transit? If you know anything about Djibouti questions like the following won’t come as a surprise: How best to capture in a novel the complexity and the desolate conditions in the small African country of Djibouti? How to bring out the repercussions for individuals and groups who may be more like pawns within a political and economic international power game that Djibouti’s leaders are trying to participate in? How to create a portrait of the essence or parts thereof of the “inner soul” of the people; reflect their suffering and pain, but also demonstrate their perseverance and search for happiness? And, finally, how to achieve all this in a way that we as readers can relate to without feeling totally overwhelmed?
Waiting for an Angel is told episodically through linked stories, focusing on well-drawn and believable characters and their daily lives. He writes with great compassion and empathy, bringing to the fore not only the place and its atmosphere but also emphasizing the individuals’ capacity for hope and courage, friendship and love, beauty and poetry, despite the disturbing circumstances that they have to confront. The book was first published in 2000 in Nigeria as a story collection with one of the stories, “Love Poems”, winning Habila the 2001 Caine Prize for African Writing. The collection was later published in a revised format as Waiting for an Angel in 2002.
Gilbert Gatore’s The Past Ahead tells the story of two Rwandans, Isaro and Niko, whose destinies are intimately linked. Both are survivors of the horrors of the massacres in their country. Distinct in their voices, complete opposites in the reflecting on their experiences, their combined stories, told in parallel, create a deeply affecting portrayal of the limits of human endurance in times of greatest traumas. They are the two sides of a tragedy that is difficult to comprehend even now, almost twenty years later.