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Farafina 16: Coming Soon!

Farafina 16

Jude Dibia and Kaine Agary

Meet the authors of the two novels that made the final shortlist of the NLNG Prize for Literature, 2008. In this chat, Jude Dibia, author of Unbridled and Kaine Agary, author of Yellow Yellow give a peek into their writing and the value of a book. Agary’s Yellow Yellow was awarded the prize.

jude-dibia

How many books do you read at once?

Two or three at any given time.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

James Baldwin’s Another Country, which I am re-reading. Also Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Chika Unigwe’s The Phoenix.

What book changed your life?

I have never really thought of that before . . . I have read quite a number of books that made a huge impact on me, but it’s hard to say which book in particular has changed my life.

Have you ever bought a copy of your own book?

I have actually, but only because I wanted to send out copies to some friends who live out of the country and who couldn’t find my books to buy.

Where do you write best?

I write best in a quiet place. It could be my living room or office as long as I can concentrate and there are no distractions.

Favorite snack while writing?

I’ll have to say a glass of red wine.

What inspires your writing?

My interactions with people and my environment. I find that I learn a lot just by listening to people. Sometimes I could catch a stray comment that would lead to a story idea.

Have you ever imitated another writer’s style?

Do writers do that? Well, I have never consciously tried to imitate another writer’s style. When I write, I am not thinking about other writers’ style but the story I am trying to tell. The story determines the style for me.

What is the worth of a book?

Good books are priceless. Once a book can achieve most of its goals, and in that, I mean its ability to inspire, inform, entertain and elicit the appropriate emotional reaction, then it is worth every penny spent on getting it and becomes priceless.

 

Kaine Agary

How many books do you read at once?

One.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Allah is not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma.

What book changed your life?

A Month and a Day: A Detention Diary by Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Have you ever bought a copy of your own book?

Yes.

Where do you write best?

In my bedroom.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Right now, Fidel Castro.

What inspires your writing?

Life experiences (mine and others around me), the news and my fantasies.

Have you ever imitated another writer’s style?

Not consciously.

What is the worth of a book?

Different books have different worth—for some books it’s the value of a trip to an exotic destination, others are priceless.

 

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF festival

Day 10

Another Love Story

What country has the largest black population in the world after Nigeria? If you answered Brazil, you guessed right, though this qualification comes with its own protestations. To reiterate, while people of mixed descent are referred to, in most other countries as black, in Brazil they are called ‘Pardo’ to differentiate from black.

This notion and misidentity permeates itself in the Brazilian movie, Another Love story where a black female character accuses her dance teacher of being partial to a white girl (actually ‘Pardo’) and the teacher responds, “What are you talking about? Everyone here is black…” The silence that follows speaks volumes.

Another Love Story has racial identity as a theme and is the reworking of Shakespeare’s love story Romeo and Juliet set in the favelas (slums) of Brazil. It is a gang movie, dealing with both Pardos and Blacks, who are the predominant residents intersperse with Hip-hop music: an unusual combination of musical fantasy and abject realism.

Set in a dance studio where teenagers come to be part of a dance troupe as a gang turf war takes off; it is part of a Brazilian genre reflected in the movies City of God and its sequel City of Men (also playing at the festival), which bare the hallmarks of the hood movies the United States learnt to make in the nineties.

But acclaimed Brazilian director Lucia Murat adds embellishments that take away its emotional core and tucks the love story in the background. As a result, the viewers are bound to forget they are watching a love story. And it is doubtful if Shakespeare made the changes ascribed here, his story would endure as long.

Stylized with interesting hip-hop musical numbers and ‘breaking dancing’ in certain scenes, the director displays a talent and a documentary no-frills-style with kinetic choreography that will serve another story better.

Kangamba

Kangamba

Kangamba

Big budget war movie (by LDC standards) offers the history of the battle of Kangamba fought in Angola between the South Africa backed UNITA and the Soviet/Cuba backed FAPLA factions in 1983 when Cuban armed forces were transported into the country to support the FAPLA. Eventually every country reaches that point when they must make an ode to the armed forces.

Filled with gung-ho heroism about a war won against all odds, it has received the approval of Fidel Castro himself. The movie is interesting because African film makers do not make war movies because of cost. It emphasizes Cuban heroism and keeps the Angolans’ role in the background except for a tacked on undeveloped love story between the lead Cuban officer and a local girl. The movie was filmed entirely in Cuba.

As for its shortcomings, it wastes the impressive sets, stunts and explosions–although the movie is technically excellent–on a dull story. Long on narrative and poor on insight (the details of the war and what led to war is in short supply) it offers melodrama instead of drama. Movie was filmed on film stock more associated with documentary cinema.
Sugar

Sugar

Sugar

There is nothing more American than the game of baseball, but Sugar is an American movie with a catch. It follows the journey of a baseball recruit from the Dominican Islands in Central America to the Big Leagues of the States.

The success of Central American ball players in the States has made it a poaching ground for the American teams who set up shop in these smaller nations to scout talent. Potential talent are taught to say common American words and phrases. The lucky few are sent to the little leagues in small towns. There, they have to earn their way to the Big Leagues.

The competition is fierce. Not everyone is going to make it. ‘Sugar’, the lead character’s nickname, is one of the lucky ones. But he has to deal with a language he does not understand—a lot of the dialogue is in Spanish—culture shock, the threat of failure and pressure to succeed like he has never experienced.

This movie, which can be interpreted as the pursuit of the American dream as seen through the eyes of a foreigner in a strange land is simple, honest and bound to create conversation when it finally opens.

The lead actor (Algenis Perez Soto) who had never acted before gave a commanding performance, and the end of the movie breeds a new kind of optimism in an unegalitarian society.

Jerusalema

Opening night movie, Jerusalema is a Robin Hood tale that details the rise of a hoodlum to the top of South African society. With its tagline, ‘If you are going to steal… steal big and hope like hell you get away with it’, it promises a high-octane action filled ride which it more or less delivers.

Jerusalema

Jerusalema

The year is 1994; the end of apartheid and in the new South Africa, Lucky Kunene (Jafta Mamabolo) needs 20,000 Rand to pay for college. To get the money he signs to steal cars for the local gang lords. It’s a profitable venture that eventually ends when the police nab the masterminds.

Fast forward a few years and Kunene now played by the much stronger Rapulana Seiphemo works at a gas station. Harassment from the police, forces Kunene to go into business cleaning up the streets neglected by the new government of South Africa. Most blacks live in seedy neighbourhoods owned by whites who collect rent but don’t care about the welfare. Kunene tells them to stop payment. The landlords go into default and he steps in to buy it all up. Of course, he also cleans the streets getting rid of prostitutes, drug dealers, the homeless and undesirable foreigners. The crooked Nigerians offer resistance and to put it mildly, they are eliminated. This earns Kunene the nickname the ‘Hoodlum of Hillbrow’. But his actions lead a cop, (Robert Hobbs) who is determined to bring him down.

Jerusalema has a lot going for it, fast paced narration, the Robin Hood factor, good cinematography and razor sharp direction by top commercials director, Ralph Ziman but suffers from being hollow at the core.

It never settles on a clear tone nor a distinctive voice, contains misbegotten jokes and a misguided introduction, a white love interest and drug addict who are just pawns to push the movie towards its ending.  A muddled screenplay that loses its way towards the ending, it wants to say something about poverty and breaking out of it anyway possible but ends up being a poster for gang recruitment and xenophobia.

I was warned about the xenophobia beforehand so I was less taken by its bluntness but news reports make it seem an accurate portrayal of South African opinion of Nigerians. Played by South Africans who try largely and succeed mightily in butchering the Nigerian accent, they are caricatures instead of human beings.

Afraid not to entertain and at the same time afraid of charges of sensationalising violence, it pretends to aspire to seriousness in a package that is attractive on the outside but hollow within. A hit in South Africa, Jerusalema was South Africa’s official submission to the Oscars.

Bongoland II: There’s no place like home

This is the last movie I saw as part of the festival and it is a good one. It deals with the return of an African who has spent many years away from home. These men and women have to reintegrate themselves into a society they left behind.

Video feature from director Josiah Kibira is his third feature and a sequel to his first feature Bongoland, a movie about a Tanzanian illegal immigrant in Minnesota.

Bongoland

Bongoland

Juma (Peter Omari) returns home from the United States to start a job with a local company in Bongoland, Tanzania. Things have changed since he left. His mother is a widow. His brother is a drunk, unemployed and his wife has taken the kids and gone. He is taken back to the uncouth methods and disrespect for law and process that exists in the society. The common refrain prevails. “This is not America. This is Bongoland.”

Juma is a fed up man, with his brother Hamisi (Shafii Abdul), mother Asia (Thecla Mjatta) who wants to break the rules of marriage, Zaina (Chemi Che-Mponda) who confronts her mom on her hypocrisy. Even his childhood friend Kamanda (Hamisi Abdallah) is not honest to him. He only has the trust of his girlfriend Naomi (Sabrina Rupia). In the end, Juma has a decision to make. Should he stay or go?

Shot in Tanzania on a budget of $30,000 on High-Definition Video. Apart from format, movie is technically excellent. It does tend to risk derailing itself with the addition of melodrama and heightened plots to the story but the sure hand of the director brings everything back to earth. Movie contains a final word that rings true and leaves you thinking on the way out; it is a certainty for the festival circuit.

CLOSING NOTES ON THE FESTIVAL

The Pan African Film Festival comes to an end today. It was a celebration of the best of African cinema and the new voices in African American cinema. The festival ran for 12 days with a record attendance of over a quarter of a million people. There were thirty world premieres and movies from over forty-two countries.

Paff Awards

Paff Awards

It was the first time the festival was being held at the location, the Culver Plaza theatres in Culver City California. And its association with the Culver Hotel provided a good hangout for the filmmakers to meet and mingle.

African cinema is taking advantage of video technology to tell its stories, and the movies from across the continent offered promise for the future. A lot of the movies, especially the best ones, are made by filmmakers who reside outside the continent. Besides South Africa, top notch post production facilities do not exist on the continent.

3289313625_07af2b240a

Distribution is tougher than ever for African American and African movies in the world market; few distributors pick them because of the tough market. Pan African distribution within Africa is limited with few movies crossing borders, and till Africa creates a pan African distribution network, most movies will probably never been seen outside home markets.

Director Edward Osei Gyimah gives an acceptance speech

Director Edward Osei Gyimah gives an acceptance speech

Aside the movies showed at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival to an appreciative African American audience. There was also the arts market and a fashion show for African designers that took place on the last day of the festival. It was impossible to catch everything, so I missed the movie from Ghana, Run Baby Run and Hot Button documentary The End of Poverty and Zimbabwe movie The Street Children of Kinshasa.

Out of those I had the opportunity to catch, the best movies were American movies The Prince of Broadway and Sugar. The best African movie goes to Bongo Land II; there’s no place like home from Tanzania with an honourable mention to the movie Zimbabwe. Below are the official results.

3289347393_87d7199f88_s

The winners of the 17th PAN AFRICAN FILM AND ARTS FESTIVAL were announced today. They were as follows:

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
FILM COMPETITION WINNERS

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Prince of Broadway” US
Honourable Mention
“Happy Sad” Trinidad/Tobago

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Cuba, An African Odyssey” France
Honourable Mention
“The End of Poverty?” US

BEST NARRATIVE SHORT
“Kwame” US
Honourable Mention
“Warrior Queen” Ghana

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
“Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre” US
Honourable Mention
“Faubourg Treme’:
The Untold Story of Black New Orleans” US

BEST FIRST FEATURE – DIRECTOR
“Rain” Bahamas

JURY FAVOURITE
“Skin” US

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL FILM
AUDIENCE FAVOURITE WINNERS

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Skin” US

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Nubian Spirit: The African Legacy of the Nile Valley” Sudan/UK

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
DIRECTOR’S AWARD

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Sugar” US

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Milking the Rhino” US

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
PROGRAMMER’S AWARD

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Run Baby Run” Ghana

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Standing N Truth” US

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the PAFF festival

Day 7

The Fine Arts Section of the Festival

At the festival, there is also a Fine Arts section. It’s taking place at the Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles.

Take a look at some of the stalls and goods on display.

paff-stall-1

PAFF stall

PAFF stall

Trinkets on sale

Trinkets on sale

Hats on sale

Hats on sale

Stall at PAFF

Stall at PAFF

Farafina Magazne presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF Festival

Day 6

The African immigrant’s experience is rarely shown on screen but today’s programme included two movies tackling that very theme.

In Prince of Broadway, Lucky, portrayed by Ghanaian Prince Adu, is an African immigrant who hustles “knock off” designer goods in New York for his Armenian boss, Levon (Karren Karagulian). He lives alone in a studio apartment, where he sometimes receives fellow immigrant friends, and his girlfriend Karina (Kenyali Mayaga).princebroadway2

Lucky’s world is shattered when his ex, Linda (Kat Sanchez) shows up, places an 18-month-old child at his feet while he is working on a deal and dashes off. As Lucky chases after her across downtown New York, he encounters her new boyfriend and the scuffle that follows, opposing the two rivals, sets the tone of this rough-hewn movie with a fly-on-the-wall style of narration. Faced with the responsibility of raising a child which barely even looks like him, Lucky read just his priorities to the detriment to his relationship with Katrina and his work with Levon. Incidentally, Levon is also going through personal life changes with a shaky marriage and new born.

The sweeping change in Lucky’s life is the crux of this serio-comedy. At the Q & A afterwards, director American Sean Baker mentioned that he originally wanted to make a movie that focused on Levon’s character involving two Armenian store owners, but as he came to know the West African community, he decided to include them in the movie. He was then introduced to Prince, who helped him with the movie: he found all the locations and the actors who participated in the movie. It was Prince who selected Kenyali who played his girlfriend Karina. The baby who might really be the star of the whole show is the real-life daughter of Kat who played Linda.

Although the movie had a written script, it was largely improvised by the actors. For the record, all the actors are excellent, and Prince proved to have charisma and talent necessary for a budding movie career.

The movie is up for the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards and is in the Narrative Feature Competition here at PAFF.

13 Months of Sunshine

13months13 Months of Sunshine is about a group of Ethopian immigrants who live in Los Angeles. The movie centres on Solomon (Sammy Amare), who is dumped by his long time girlfriend for his lack of ambition. Solomon works in a coffee shop but has long harboured dreams of opening his own shop. Later in the movie, he is offered $20,000 to marry recent émigré from Ethiopia, Hanna (Tion Fekreselassie) an attractive model with nary an accent.

Solomon submits to temptation and accepts the deal, but soon begins to fall for her. However, Hanna is caught up in her modelling career and is in a crux with her manager, the American Morris (Delaine Knight) and her traditional African values in an industry that expects a lot more than she is willing to give. All this time, she doesn’t realise that Solomon is falling in love with her.

It is an old fashioned romantic drama as done by many Hollywood movies, but from a different perspective. There are funny scenes such as the interview with the immigration services, which does not go well and as a result, they are classified as suspicious—a clear fraternity among the Ethiopian community in Los Angeles as seen in Solomon’s interaction with his friends.

A clear love for Ethiopian coffee and coffee is evident. You might want to buy a cup after seeing it and the use of Amharic in most of the scenes.

Sharp direction by Bobby Yehdego, and scenes with better than normal production for a $100,000 movie, gives the movie a better than expected result. Producer Jeremiah Lewis who also doubled as editor and lead actor, Sammy Amare were available for the Q & A.

The movie, inspired by a true story, was well received in Ethiopia and it was shot over two and a half years.

Kobalat Masroka (Stolen Kisses) Egypt

stolenkisses3There are really only two movie industries on the African continent: Nigeria and Egypt. Egypt has always had a history of filmmaking, an industry that was most active for years but towards the late eighties, the number of films produced in Egypt dropped from a hundred per year to seven by 1997. This period saw the rise of the Nigerian movie industry which is covered in the documentary Peace Mission, also playing in the festival. However, for the last four years, the Egyptian film industry has been on the rise back to prominence, owing to more investments in theatres. This has been led by an edgy fare of films that are made for the youth and breaking taboos. Kobalat Masroka (or Stolen Kisses) falls into this category. The director was sued by the producer for putting too many kiss scenes in the movie. Fittingly, the movie was a big box-office hit in the Arab world.

It follows six college students who are dating. There is Marwa who is from a rich family who loves Ihab who is not. Ihab needs to be able to support himself financially before he can ask her family for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Ihab’s sister is Hanan who dates Ihab’s friend Ezzat. Ezzat like Ihab is not wealthy. Hanan is attracted to her college professor Fawzi’s deep pockets and the ease of life he can provide. Last of all, Mohsen and Hala, also struggling and in love, except that her parents will never consent to the marriage. There is a sub-character Layla, who works her way through school as a lady of the night. stolenkisses1

If it all seems like a soap-opera, it is. Director Khaled El Hagar keeps the emotions simmering instead of boiling over. Shot with film stock long abandoned in the West, it gives the movie the look of the 70s era cinema that fits well with the story, it comes across like the Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins novels that once ruled screens in the melodramatic sixties and late fifties. With picturesque locations, nice vistas of the River Nile, lagoons and beaches the movie has a pleasant if not exotic look.

The first hour where the scenarios are set up is much better than the latter half where the movie becomes soap-opera-like complete with murder, rape, pornography and lots of kisses. Stolen Kisses is in the Narrative Feature competition.

Coming up, coverage of the centrepiece gala showing of Skin starring Sophie Okenodo about a black girl born to two white parents in apartheid era South Africa.

SKIN

Skin, a British/South African production, is the centrepiece gala screening at the Pan African Film Festival. Before the screening Ja’net Dubois, best known for her role in the 1970s sitcom, Good Times and one of the founders of the festival gave a speech. Lively and energetic, she regaled the audience with the story of her first trip to South Africa in the seventies, which led to the idea of creating the festival. A moment of silence was taken for the late South African singer, Miriam Makeba. Afterwards, Anthony Fabian the director of Skin, introduced the movie.skin-poster

Review:

In apartheid South Africa, a coloured girl is born to two white Afrikaans. The girl’s name is Sandra (Sophie Okenodo) and her unusual birth is what is called a “throwback” – a case when Whites with black genes manifests in later generations. Hidden away from the her community by her parents who refuse to let her be judged as any race other than white, Sandra is let out when she attends a public school for the first time.

Although Sandra has been declared white on her birth certificate, everyone else sees her as black. Thus she suffers racial discrimination from students and teachers. Sophie’s life through the period of the apartheid regime is momentous in detailing the stringency and inhumanity of the apartheid policy.

Born white, declared black, undeclared black and declared black for one final time by choice, Sandra’s exodus and return covers the terrain that is, even till today, the two spheres of South Africa.

The hall before the start of Skin Screening

The hall before the start of Skin Screening

Director Anthony Fabian is passionate about her story but does not take the time to dwell on psychological probing or character study and details, which a story like this needs to come to life. Very Hollywood-like in storytelling, it seems more like an audition for bigger projects, rather than an exploration of racial segregation that it needs to be.

It never captures the emotional truth of the situation and at its best attempt, succeeds only with its narrative. Despite strong performances such as Sam Neill as Abraham Laing, Sandra’s father chews into his role the only way he can, fully and unbending, yet, the reason for his hatred is hard to grasp. What drives him is never known and the fact that his character never realizes as a three dimensional character is more the fault of the script’s than his. This lack hitherto makes his later transformation and actions a bit hard to swallow.

His wife, played by Alice Krige, is more rounded and nuanced in her performance, even exhibiting the necessary conflict that must exist in a mother who loves her daughter but wilfully denies what she really is.the-lobby-before-the-screening1

Sophie Okenodo is brilliant, capturing the edges of Sandra, as well as the cloth the character is forced by society to wear.

With fine supporting performances by the black characters, many who speak volumes about their opinion of apartheid with just the movement of their eyes including Tony Kgoroge who portrays Sandra’s husband, the movie educates about one of the major stories from the post-apartheid era. The movie despite its flaws strikes a chord within the human in all of us.

During the Q & A, to my surprise: the real Sandra flown in from South Africa for the event joined director Anthony Fabian on the stage. A full standing ovation was accorded her by everyone in attendance. Sandra who is very shy took some questions from the audience and some of her statements give away key plots in the movie.

She expressed regret that she never got to see her father again after he disowned her for marrying a black man. She also felt that she needed their forgiveness for choosing a black man over her family. This statement brought tears to her eyes.

Her biography is called When She Was White, and was written by Judy Stone.

She has never spoken to her brothers, up till today because they refuse to contact her.

Sandra did go back to the school she was expelled from in the movie. Her story is being told all over South Africa and she got to meet the parliament and its members. They all profusely apologized to her.

Sandra has seven grandchildren

When asked what race she now considers herself, she answered “coloured.”

The final question was whether Sandra felt she was God’s vessel or God was using her to unite humanity. She answered a firm “Yes.”

Director Anthony Fabian talked about the difficulty of casting. Originally, he wanted to cast white South African actors for the role of Sandra’s parents but the nature of the business is such that they wanted the story to be about them.

Then he saw Sophie Okonedo’s picture on a magazine. She had just been nominated for an Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda, and he sent her the script to which she agreed to within two weeks.

Afterwards was an after party at the Japanese restaurant Gyenari for cast, crew, friends and press.

(Some) Books of 2008

UCHE PETER UMEZ

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: excellent prose, well-rounded characters and scenes, and a nuanced description of Nigeria’s ruling elite in the 1960s, descriptions still reflective of today’s dissolute leaders. Chimamanda manages to handle themes of class and power and passion in a subtle yet telling tone, without affectation.

Measuring Time by Helon Habila leads us through mythic moments that nostalgically expose the poignancy of childhood and identity, the sensitivity of memory and loss, and the ambivalence of heroism and history. Habila’s prose is as hypnotic and gripping as a snake charmer’s tune.

MUTHONI GARLAND

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan: Akpan writes with dry-eyed wisdom, and is never apologetic or over-emotional when revealing the appalling state to which we subject our continent’s children. In the midst of poverty or tribal and religious warfare in Kenya, Ethiopia, Gabon, Nigeria and Rwanda, children are forced to learn the language and codes of survival, but what really saves their humanity and ours is their familial love. Perhaps Uwem Akpan goes too far in showing the very worst of our nature: while the children provide hope, I was left wondering if that was enough to save them from a similar fate befalling them in future, that is, their growing into another generation of helpless parents. But perhaps, the author is serving a stark warning—that if we don’t care for the weakest among us then we are all endangered. The stories in Say You’re One of Them will stay in my head for a long time.

God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane: my bookclub selected Sembene Ousmane’s book which I first read in high school far too many years ago, and I was thrilled to re-read it with adult eyes. The language is lush, the details are so vivid that the book almost reads like a movie and the characters are so keenly observed and multi-layered that despite their intimidating numbers, they make deep impressions. The novel is ambitious, funny, intelligent—cutting about colonial rule without being didactic. We learn much about Senegalese pre-independence culture without feeling lectured or talked down to. The strength of the women is portrayed without coming across as bearing a militant authorial agenda. The moral authority that keeps the railroad strike at the heart of the novel going is moving and believable. The book was published in 1960 and reads like a literary thriller written in contemporary times.

TEJU COLE

The third volume of Albert Camus’ Notebooks, covering the period between 1951 and his death in 1959, was released this year. Amidst the philosophical jottings, plot ideas and scattered memoirs, we see Camus’ gnomic and melancholy reaction to being informed he had won the 1957 Nobel Prize. What kind of person created those unconsoling novels, plays and essays? In photos, Camus always looked like a cool cat: his mind, on the contrary, was white hot.

AKIN ADESOKAN

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolano is a mesmerizing story about a priest with a poet’s heart, set in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. Bolano (who died in 2003 at age 50) is a writer’s writer, and he knows where to go for broke.

The Clash Within by Martha Nussbaum is an engrossing book about the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India. The book is full of good things, but what I find most striking is the author’s objectivity, the way she manages to impartially depict individuals suspected of genocide. I admire the worldview which informs that kind of writing.

WADNAZAI MHUTE

The Shack by William P. Young: I read this book at a time in my life when I needed to. This is a story of tragedy and triumph. It is a book about your faith and how it is tested beyond what you think you can bear. It is also a book about breaking down preconceived notions of who you think God is, what you think your purpose in life is and how you relate to the world based on these ideas. This book is simply written—it is an easy read but it is also a book that will pervade your every thought long after the last page is read. William Young originally wrote this book for his children, and this may be responsible for a depth and simplicity that is often missing in jaded writers. This is a fresh perspective and I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to rediscover who they are.

CHIKA UNIGWE

The Magic of Malgudi by R.K. Narayan: It is difficult to believe this book was first published in the 1930s, as the stories are very contemporary. The book is a perfect illustration of the saying: there’s nothing new under the sun. Narayan’s characters are so alive they leap out of the pages of his book. You cannot read this book and fail to connect emotionally with the characters he’s created.

Ali Smith’s Girl meets Boy: this is a re-imagining of the myth of Iphis. Smith’s scope of (re) imagination is impressive. Plus, this novella has one of the best opening lines ever.

SYLVIA OFILI

Two books I read this year that definitely made an impression on me would have to be Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. For Kafka on the Shore, it is a beautifully written novel, almost poetic in its use of language, and its dark, moody nature appeals to me. It is a fascinating novel where emotions and feelings become almost too beautiful to describe. Shantaram on the other hand, is raw and almost vulgar. I loved this book because it was filled with lots of adventures, one after the other. I never knew which way the narrator would go. Also, the fact that it was based on real events made it a very interesting read. Its pages were filled with gang wars, sickness, death, love, pain, beauty, blood, happiness, sadness—it felt like buying a trip to India with all sorts of adventures included the package.

TOLU OGUNLESI

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo is a tale of what one might call “reverse slavery”—it imagines that it was the blacks (Aphrika) who enslaved the whites (Europa). This imaginative, and humorous, turning of history on its head furnishes the reader with new light in which to view the transatlantic slave trade and to review notions of racial power and guilt, at the same time gently issuing a reminder about the universality of human cruelty.

Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe: this compilation of a series of lectures delivered ten years ago at Harvard University is vintage Achebe—full of timeless wisdom, humour at once questioning and answering, and that storytelling genius that the world first glimpsed fifty years ago. “You cannot balance one thing; you balance a diversity of things,” Achebe writes in the book. Home and Exile contains the meditations of a gifted and compassionate writer balancing dispossession and repossession; province and metropolis; memory and metamorphosis.

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SEGUN AFOLABI

Two re-readings this year—coincidentally both Pulitzer Prize winners. Toni Morrison’s breathtaking ghost story, Beloved, is a novel I had difficulty with when I first read it, but upon re-reading I’m always flabbergasted at its lyricism, beauty and haunting, brutal rendition of slavery and its devastating repercussions.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, is a wonderful evocation of the Indian, specifically Bengali, immigrant experience in the United States. The wife of a recent US arrival flounders while her husband attempts to carve a career for himself; a young couple exchange confessions in their apartment during evening blackouts; a translator interprets illnesses for a doctor on behalf of his patients. Understated and always beautifully written.

JUDE DIBIA

Coconut by Kopano Matlwa: this tale is particularly stunning as it is told from the perspective of two teenage girls, one from a middle class family and the other from a poor home. Race, gender and the lingering effects of apartheid are strong themes in this novel and the writer takes the reader far away with her lyrical and compassionate prose.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence: D.H. Lawrence has remained one of my favourite writers over the years. I found myself rereading this novel which was first published in 1928 and yet I still find it one of the boldest and daring literary texts which tackle sexuality. Doris Lessing’s introduction at the beginning of the 2007 Penguin Classics edition was also an interesting analysis of the author and his work.

SONALA OLUMHENSE

The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence by Martin Meredith: over 750 pages long, this is a comprehensively researched and fluidly presented narrative about African peoples in the past half century. I put it down only to pick it up again; I do not lend it.

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou is a collection of delicious stories of wisdom and experience and poetry and wit addressed to the daughter Ms. Angelou never had. It is a small volume that reflects various dimensions of her as a person, mother, wife, performer, writer, teacher, poet and speaker.

SEAN JACOBS

Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee: reading the novel, it was not always clear where Senor C. begins and Coetzee ends. Good read, with flashes of Coetzee’s brilliance as a writer, but I still maintain that Coetzee will never again write anything as good as The Life and Times of Michael K.

Allah is not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma: literature on child soldiers in West Africa’s civil (and resource) wars have grown into a genre of its own. In the US the most notable exponents of this genre are perhaps Ishmael Beah (A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier, which was promoted by Starbucks and from which an excerpt was published in the New York Times magazine) and Uzodinma Iweala (who authored the novel Beasts of No Nation). Even the novelist Chris Abani has tried his hand at the genre. For me, the best of this genre is Ahmadou Kourouma’s novel. First published in French in 2000 and translated into English in 2005, it is a more compelling read than all the above combined.



Recommended Reading: Helon Habila in Granta

Helon Habila recaptures in his piece published in Granta, his metamorphosis to becoming a writer.  His story is a sentiment-tinged recollection of the transitions at that time—it was 1999 and Nigeria had embraced a new democracy after years of oppressive military rule. Read and enjoy Another Age…