Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

The Africa Scene

By Levi Asher on Sunday, November 4, 2012 06:48 pm

I'll be reading a lot of books from or about Africa this winter. I'm starting with Geoff Wisner's A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books that Capture the Spirit of Africa.

Then I'll be digging into In the House of the Interpreter, the second installment of longtime Litkicks favorite Ngugi wa Thiong'o's fascinating multi-volume memoir of a literary life in Kenya (we reviewed the first installment, Dreams In a Time of War). I didn't get too far into Ngugi's other recent release, Globalectics, a book assembled from literary lectures by Ngugi, but maybe that's because I'd rather hear the author talk about himself than about the academic reputation of regional African literature. I've always been partial to memoirs, and I'm really psyched to read In The House of the Interpreter.

It wouldn't feel right to say I'm also "psyched" to read a memoir about the horrifying civil war between Biafra and Nigeria, a blight of violence and manufactured famine that ended in 1970 with the eradication of Biafra as an upstart nation (today's situation in Darfur is all too reminiscent of Biafra's disaster). But it is exciting news that the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has now followed his classic Things Fall Apart with a heartfelt memoir of the Biafra war, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. This tragic period of Nigerian history was also the subject of an award-winning novel a few years ago, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (though, as I blogged at the time, I had a hard time matching this book to my expectations). Maybe I'll understand Chinua Achebe's book better.

Also buzzing in the African scene: Black Bazaar by the charming Alain Mabanckou of Congo-Brazzaville, and the first authorized biography of my favorite metafictional expatriate from South Africa, J. M. Coetzee: A Life in Writing, by the brave J. C. Kannemeyer, who must have fielded an unimaginable number of cold stares and awkward silences from the famously sarcastic and antisocial (but, truly, brilliant!) Coetzee while interviewing him for the book. Kannemeyer deserves some kind of literary award just for surviving the interview process.

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