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?
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.
Working as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote African village is not an easy undertaking in any situation. For an inexperienced, idealistic and, in addition, deaf person, such an adventure makes for an extraordinary story. Josh Swiller spent close to two years in northern Zambia in the village of Mununga, one of the most deprived villages in a poor region. His experiences and encounters, his learning by trial and error, and, most of all, his falling in love with the village and Africa, is the content of this unusual and highly readable memoir.
In Youth: Scenes from Provincial Life II, Coetzee distances himself from the younger John by writing what he terms an “autre-biography. Written in the present tense and in the third person, the story has a lively and immediate reality while at the same time suggesting a clear distance between the author and his subject.
Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare (published in 2010 by Weaver Press), is a touching story written in the voice of Vimbai, probably the “best” hairdresser in Harare. All ladies who have a standing in society visit the salon of Mrs. Khumalo to be served by the kind, attractive, professional Vimbai. Then, one day, a charming, gorgeously looking young man walks into the salon and, enchanting the owner and the customers present, is hired on the spot.
Frank Eloff and Laurence Waters, two doctors of different generations, different personalities, and opposing perspectives, are thrown together – sharing a room – when the younger, Laurence, joins the small medical team in a dilapidated hospital in a remote part of South Africa. Damon Galgut, award winning South African author, builds his intense and thought provoking novel around these two opposing characters, their different approaches to the challenges facing the hospital and its community, and, fundamentally, their contrasting beliefs of what is “good”, moral and ethical.
Julius, the main character in Teju Cole’s Open City, is a German-Nigerian immigrant who works as a resident doctor in a New York City psychiatric clinic. As we follow him, meandering – initially aimlessly – through the streets in his neighborhood and beyond, our eyes and minds are opened to much more than the sidewalks, the brownstones, the parks and other vistas passing by at walking pace.What evolves as we are drawn deeper and deeper into the narration and the narrator’s mind is much more than another “stream-of-consciousness” story or another literary introduction to New York City and some of its illustrious people.
Anybody who is familiar with “The Gods Must Be Crazy” movies will feel an immediate connection to this novel, the third Detective Kubu story by South African writing team “Michael Stanley” (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip). While the movies may have given us a somewhat idealistic view of the life of the “Bushmen”*) in the wide expanse of the Kalahari Desert, the reality of their survival between their traditional way of life and long-held beliefs set against expectations and demands of modern Botswana society is much more realistically depicted here.