Book Reviews & Recommendations of Books from Africa and the Diaspora
Darkowaa is a Ghanaian-American, currently living where her heart feels most at home - Accra. She doesn't like to call herself a 'bookworm', but rather prefers to call herself an African Book Addict! Books by BLACK writers (or writers of African descent in Africa and the Diaspora) excite her the most.
Written by award-winning African novelist Mariama Ba and translated from the original French, So Long a Letter has been recognized as one of Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. The brief narrative, written as an extended letter, is a sequence of reminiscences—some wistful, some bitter—recounted by recently widowed Senegalese schoolteacher Ramatoulaye Fall. Addressed to a lifelong friend, Aissatou, it is a record of Ramatoulaye’s emotional struggle for survival after her husband betrayed their marriage by taking a second wife. This semi-autobiographical account is a perceptive testimony to the plight of educated and articulate Muslim women. Angered by the traditions that allow polygyny, they inhabit a social milieu dominated by attitudes and values that deny them status equal to men. Ramatoulaye hopes for a world where the best of old customs and new freedom can be combined.
Considered a classic of contemporary African women’s literature, So Long a Letter is a must-read for anyone interested in African literature and the passage from colonialism to modernism in a Muslim country.
Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Everybody and their grandma has read So Long A Letter. The first time I read this classic, it was assigned reading for an Anthropology class I took when I was a junior in college, back in 2011. I recently re-read this classic 10 years later and I still give the book the same rating this time around, because of the poignant writing.
Senegalese patriarchy, Islam, the male ego, mid-life crisis, greed, loneliness, mother-daughter relationships, feminism, sisterhood, courage vs cowardice, poverty, modernity vs tradition, colonialism, death, misogyny and family customs, all take center stage in So Long a Letter.
I looooved how Ramatoulaye’s mother judged her daughter’s suitors by their teeth! According to Ramatoulaye’s mother, the wide gap between Modou’s [who she ended up marrying] upper incisors was a sign of ‘the primacy of sensuality in the individual’; Closely set teeth (of Daouda, one of Ramatoulaye’s suitors) won her mother’s confidence. As a Dentist, these peculiarities in teeth alignment being equivalent to promiscuity and character of potential suitors was hilarious and fascinating to me!
After re-reading this classic, I’ve been over-thinking the friendship Ramatoulaye and Aissatou shared. They were best friends/basically sisters. They shared the same plight, but each dealt with the fragmenting of their family units differently – Ramatoulaye stayed and endured, while Aissatou moved towards complete independence and advanced in her career. I really wish Bâ gave Aissatou more of a voice in the novel – besides her brilliant, fierce break-up letter to Mawdo, her ex-husband. I wanted to know if Aissatou was okay with Ramatoulaye recounting her (Aissatou’s) difficult situation with her ex-husband, Mawdo – I personally hate when friends rehash my plight when they complain about their own; I wanted to know if Aissatou was actually not bothered with Ramatoulaye still having a relationship with Mawdo – Aissatou’s ex-husband, as he was still Ramatoulaye’s family doctor and he was still a part of her family’s life; I wanted to know if Aissatou felt frustrated and/or disappointed at Ramatoulaye’s decision to stay with Modou, who turned out to be scum of the Earth once he stepped out of his marriage. I can’t help but wonder all these things because I often feel frustrated and disappointed when a friend complains to me about a man who treats her badly and she chooses to endure nonsense. While I know Ramatoulaye wrote the long letter to Aissatou while in isolation when she was mourning her late husband, I just wish Aissatou’s voice was heard with regards to everything Ramatoulaye divulged in the letter.
The only issue I had with this classic was Ramatoulaye’s slight misogynistic views on women’s sexuality and pleasure. I wasn’t super surprised with her conservative views, especially given this character’s overall way of life and the setting/timing of the story, but I couldn’t help but feel that those sentiments were Bâ’s as well. Some of the conservative views on women’s sexuality had me wondering why So Long A Letter has been hailed a beacon in African feminist text… However, I now understand that the conservative stances Ramatoulaye wrestled with really portrayed how women during that time were grappling with the challenges modernity brought – and this is especially evident in contrasting Ramatoulaye and Daba’s (her eldest daughter) realities, with respect to marriage and gender roles.
There’s so much more that can be said about So Long A Letter! This classic is best enjoyed if you’re reading it for a class or book club, as there is so much that can be dissected and discussed. I had the privilege of re-reading it for a virtual book club discussion with The Harare Book Club, last month.
★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!
Below is my annual collage of new books to anticipate this year. I’ve compiled 99 new African, African-American, Black-Brit and Caribbean books that look very promising. Please note – this list/collage is just a snippet of books by Black authors 2021 has to offer!
Hover over the images to read the blurbs and/or to pre-order the books.
Fifteen-year-old Mack is a hopeless romantic – he blames the films he’s grown up watching. He has liked Karim for as long as he can remember, and is ecstatic when Karim becomes his boyfriend – it feels like love.
But when Mack’s dad gets a job on a film in Scotland, Mack has to move, and soon he discovers how painful love can be. It’s horrible being so far away from Karim, but the worst part is that Karim doesn’t make the effort to visit. Love shouldn’t be only on the weekends.
Then, when Mack meets actor Finlay on a film set, he experiences something powerful, a feeling like love at first sight. How long until he tells Karim – and when will his old life and new life collide?
An unsettling tale of murder in a country whose dead slaves are shackled with stories that must be heard.
The Year of Return, linked to the 400th anniversary of slaves landing in the US, memorialised the many who died during the slave trade in Ghana, particularly at Elmina Castle, while encouraging members of the African diaspora to visit.
As Black diasporans around the world make the pilgrimage to West Africa, three African-American friends join in the festivities to explore Ghana’s colonial past and its underground queer scene. They are thrust into the hands of two guides, Kobby and Nana, whose intentions aren’t clear, yet they are the narrators we have to trust. Kobby, a modern deviant according to Nana’s traditional and religious principles, offers a more upscale and privileged tour of Ghana and also becomes the friends’ link to Accra’s secret gay culture. Nana’s adherence to his pastor’s teachings against sin makes him hate Kobby enough to want to kill.
Carefree Black Girls is an exploration and celebration of black women’s identity and impact on pop culture, as well as the enduring stereotypes they face, from a film and culture critic for HuffPost.
In 2013, Zeba Blay was one of the first people to coin the viral term “carefreeblackgirls” on Twitter. It was, as she says, “a way to carve out a space of celebration and freedom for black women online.”
In this collection of essays, Blay expands on that initial idea by looking at the significance of influential black women throughout history, including Josephine Baker, Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and Cardi B. Incorporating her own personal experiences as well as astute analysis of these famous women, Blay presents an empowering and celebratory portrait of black women and their effect on American culture. She also examines the many stereotypes that have clung to black women throughout history, whether it is the Mammy, the Angry Black Woman, or more recently, the Thot.
Michael decides to flee to America and end his life once all his savings run out. JJ Bola’s second novel is a story of millennial existential angst told through the eyes of a young Londoner who seems to have it all – a promising future, a solid career, strong friendships, a blossoming love story – but it’s the unbearable weight of life that leads him to decide to take his own.
As he grapples with issues bigger than him – political conflict, environmental desecration, police brutality – Michael seeks to find his place within a world that is complicated and unwelcoming.
Although he finds solace in the people that surround him, he alone must decide if his life is worth living.
#TwentyIn2020Bad Love is the story of London-born Ghanaian Ekuah Danquah and her tumultuous experience with first love. Marked by this experience, she finds herself at a crossroads – can she fall in love again, or does the siren song of her first love still call?
Against a backdrop of enigmatic nights scattered with spoken-word poetry in London, Venice, Accra and Paris, Ekuah tries to reconcile her personal journey with the love she struggles with for Dee Emeka, a gifted musician who is both passionate and aloof in his treatment of Ekuah.After 18 months together, he disappears from her life, confirming her worst fears about the unstable foundation of their relationship. She attempts to graduate university whilst retreating into herself, searching for new validations and preoccupations from heartbreak.
Life marches on and Ekuah finds personal fulfillment in her poetry and community work. But when she must choose between her first love and the promise of a new, unexpected love, in the form of Jay Stanley, can she handle the vulnerability and forgiveness required? Grappling with her examples of love, Ekuah must forge her own path. With an increasingly successful career, she finds herself travelling around the world. When her rise intersects with Dee’s own fame, the two are pushed to reach a final resolution.
Review – ★★★ (3 stars)
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Twenty in 2020 is a collaboration between Jacaranda Books and Words of Color, where they dedicate this year to publishing 20 works by Black British writers. The works include adult fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The aim of this trailblazing program is to normalize the presence of diverse literature, characters and authors across all genres and curricula, with the hope that it will be a source of inspiration for a new generation of publishing professionals and authors. Maame Blue’s debut was among the 20 works published by Jacaranda Books, back in June of this year.
Bad Love is more of a 3.5 stars rating (out of 5), for sure! I double-fisted this debut by listening to the book via Audible alongside reading the paperback, which I recently purchased. I really enjoyed the audio narration of this book! The narrator – Vivienne Acheampong, did a superb job. Maame Blue is a stellar writer and I must say – I enjoyed how smooth and lucid the writing was in this novel.
Black Brits – especially Ghanaian-British readers would appreciate this story, as there are nuances only they can fully grasp within the novel. Since I was a child born and partially raised in the Diaspora, I appreciated these nuances – for example, being raised by Ghanaian parents outside of Ghana; going to Ghanaian restaurants in the West and realizing that bad (rude) customer service is one of our trademarks; constantly grappling with double identities; viewing the world through double lenses, etc. At this novel’s core, Bad Love is a coming-of-age cum love story. At the periphery, the story delves into family, marriage, same-sex love and travel. The latter themes intrigued me most.
I’m not really a fan of the romance genre, especially involving young characters. A part of me felt annoyed by Ekuah’s ‘situationships’, her misplaced priorities and her need to feel wanted. Ekuah’s entanglements with Dee and Jay definitely felt real, but were cliché (and slightly triggering!) and I was not moved by their shenanigans. In fact, I actually really disliked those two male characters – especially Dee. Maame Blue’s mastery in her development of these characters allowed me to have strong emotions towards them, which is telling. Perhaps readers aged 17-26 would be more into Ekuah’s love entanglements. However, while reading, a part of me felt compassion for Ekuah, as I journeyed with her into adulthood. She’s just your typical university student finding her way through life while trying to not lose herself in ‘bad love’.
Bad Love takes readers from London to Venice, Paris to Accra, and back to London. I enjoyed being in different settings with Ekuah – descriptions of places and happenings in Italy and Accra were palpable and made me miss spoken word/literary events and musical concerts during this pandemic.
There are quite a number of characters to keep track of in the novel, and I was very much entertained by Ekuah’s parents and their marriage. Ekuah’s Dad in particular was such a different character. What a man! I wonder what a character like Okonkwo from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apartwould think of him! Ekuah’s Dad was the complete opposite of the African hyper-masculine stereotype that I’m so used to reading about in literature. Without giving too much away, the evolution of Ekuah’s parents’ marriage was fascinating and I loved the trajectory of that relationship, as it was sooo unexpected.
Overall, the title ‘Bad Love’ may have readers expecting a story laden with sour happenings, but this isn’t the case at all. Bad Love is an entertaining coming-of-age story that follows Ekuah into slowly realizing that she is her own best thing.
P.S: I’ll be hosting a GIVEAWAY for Bad Love + other goodies, kind courtesy of Maame Blue over on Bookstagram – Monday November 30th to December 4th. Be sure to enter the giveaway at @africanbookaddict on Monday! It’s open to all readers on the African continent. All the details will be posted on African Book Addict!‘s Bookstagram.
Lastly, if you’re still wondering whether you should indulge in Maame Blue’s writing, definitely read her 2018 award-winning short story, entitled – Black Sky. This is probably the 5th time I’m referencing this short story on this book blog. Read it oh!
Long time, no blog! I was extremely busy back in September and October. I was taking my final Dental exams during those months, but I’m finally free now.
I started this book blog a couple of months before I started Dental school, back in 2014. By God’s grace, I’m finally done and I’m proud to announce that I’m finally a Dentist and no longer a dental student. My childhood dream has been fulfilled and I’m grateful that this book blog, the camaraderie it garnered and my reading habits over the years have helped to sustain me throughout the 6 years of Dental school.
I’m using this time to take it easy for now, while still trying to complete my 2020 reading goal of reading 10 books. Hopefully I can finish up before this hectic year ends.
Below is my mini book review of Zikora: A Short Storyby Chimamanda Adichie and some awesome articles I’ve loved since my absence. Enjoy!
Date Read: November 3rd 2020
Published: October 27th 2020
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
The emotional storms weathered by a mother and daughter yield a profound new understanding in a moving short story by the bestselling, award-winning author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists.
When Zikora, a DC lawyer from Nigeria, tells her equally high-powered lover that she’s pregnant, he abandons her. But it’s Zikora’s demanding, self-possessed mother, in town for the birth, who makes Zikora feel like a lonely little girl all over again. Stunned by the speed with which her ideal life fell apart, she turns to reflecting on her mother’s painful past and struggle for dignity. Preparing for motherhood, Zikora begins to see more clearly what her own mother wants for her, for her new baby, and for herself.
Review –★★★★ (4 stars)
I’m glad Chimamanda is back to writing fiction because I was getting tired of her non-fiction pamphlets – Dear Ijeawele and We Should All Be Feminists. Zikora is a short story that’s essentially about womanhood – our loves, our bodies, our minds, our longings, our hurts, our strengths and our weaknesses. Themes such as fraught mother-daughter relationships, ageism, love, motherhood and more are explored in this short story.
I must say – Zikora and Kwame relationship’s demise (this is not a spoiler) had me feeling soooo depressed while reading. How can Kwame disgrace we Ghanaians like this? In true Chimamanda fashion, she adeptly develops the characters through the incorporation of past and present anecdotes, which simultaneously propel this emotional story forward.
In my opinion, Chimamanda isn’t the best short story writer. I wasn’t crazy about her short story collection- The Thing Around Her Neckbecause the conclusions of the short stories ended way too rudely and abruptly. But she definitely excels as a full-fledged novelist and I hope this Zikora is part of a forthcoming NOVEL! *fingers crossed*
“We can recognize both Adichie’s talent as a writer and the cultural impact of her work, but her continued unwillingness to unlearn transphobia sullies her legacy and credentials when discussing gender politics. It’s disappointing—but it’s also an opportunity to continue investing in other Nigerian authors asking important questions of the culture and seeking to challenge some of Nigeria’s cultural norms while uplifting stories often relegated to the shadows”
This list is packed with a lot of references to J.K. Rowling and Chimamanda’s dismissal of Trans lives in the recent past. Take the time to read them all, if you can. It’s quite disappointing and I find myself wondering if I should still indulge in Chimamanda’s work… Trans women are WOMEN. Period.
“Ms. Morrison’s work had the courage to confront the U.S.’s historical amnesia of systemic violence and marginalization of Black folks in a nuanced and inevitably intersectional way by finding the balance between portraying intergenerational trauma and radical healing among Black American women in historically White American literary traditions”
Whew! I left the best piece for last. I’m not new to Jackson’s work as I read, enjoyed and reviewed Naomi Jackson’s debut – The Star Side of Bird Hill, about 4 years ago. This piece is deeply heart-wrenching and it was beautifully written! Jackson held nothing back in this piece and I respect her a lot for this, even though it heightened my anxiety with regards to childbirth, significantly.
Twin sisters Hassana and Husseina’s home is in ruins after a brutal raid. But this is not the end but the beginning of their story, one that will take them to unfamiliar cities and cultures, where they will forge new families, ward off dangers and truly begin to know themselves.
As the twins pursue separate paths in Brazil and the Gold Coast of West Africa, they remain connected through shared dreams of water. But will their fates ever draw them back together?
A sweeping adventure with richly evocative historical settings, The Deep Blue Between is a moving story of the bonds that can endure even the most dramatic change.
Review –★★★★ (4 stars)
This has been a long journey, especially for readers of The Hundred Wells of Salaga, where we are first introduced to the twins – Hassana and Husseina. Imagine the deep annoyance I felt encountering Wofa Sarpong again, at the beginning of this novel. Does anyone hate him more than me?
The deep blue sea eventually separates Hassana and Husseina not only physically, but also spiritually and mentally. Hassana and Husseina (who later changes her name to Vitória) are separated by the sea after raiders destroy their village in Botu. By fate, Hassana remains in the Gold Coast and is sold into slavery, while Husseina is taken to Lagos and later to ‘greener pastures’ in Bahia, thanks to her godmother.
In true Ayesha H. Attah fashion, this novel is character-driven, with each character’s storyline alternating in the book’s chapters. Hassana and Husseina are both well-rounded characters and readers witness their growth from their painful separation, to the journey that leads them to realizing their full selves. The oldest twin – Hassana, reminded me of the bold, fearlessness of Akua-Afriyie in Harmattan Rain and Wurche in The Hundred Wells of Salaga. While I gravitate more towards these fearless women characters, I found myself really craving more of Husseina’s/Vitória’s chapters whenever I was reading Hassana’s. It was only when Hassana moved to Accra and befriended a vibrant Ga girl, that I started to enjoy her storyline – because who doesn’t love to see camaraderie between young black girls? Their sisterhood wasn’t free of conflict, but it felt so realistic and pure.
I was soooo fascinated by Vitória’s life in Brazil. It always escapes me that Brazil is part of the African diaspora; but this book reminded me of our extended family in South America, because of the expansiveness of slavery. Even the font style of Vitória’s chapter headings show how different and somewhat vibrant her life was. Her life in Bahia brought to light similarities in our foods, like – acarajé akin to Ghanaian koose; moqueca and feijoada akin to our seafood and beef stews, respectively. It was eye-opening to learn about Candomblé, Yemanja and other orixás and how Vitória wholeheartedly leaned into her newfound beliefs. Besides the constant Googling I was doing of Portuguese words, I was also refreshing my memory on Ghana’s pre-colonial history – especially the role of missionaries and the Anglo- Ashanti wars between 1824 and 1900.
I loved that Attah shed light on some of the (women-led) organizations that had been fighting for the rights of native Ghanaians during colonial times, like – Native Ladies of Cape Coast and Gold Coast Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society. Mainstream history will have anyone thinking that Ghanaian women activists did not exist, which is far from the truth. Introducing young readers to this fact is commendable.
What propels The Deep Blue Between forward is how each and every character Hassana and Vitória encounter help them draw closer to finding each other. It reminded me of how real life operates, in that, by Divine order things work out how they are supposed to (at least that’s what I believe). While I really loved reading and experiencing Hassana and Vitória’s journeys, I wanted the story to be a little more exciting. I wanted there to be more plot twists to keep me on the edge of my seat. I’ve read and enjoyed all of Ayesha H. Attah’s novels and I love that her writing style is primarily character-driven, but I’d also like to read a story with a different style.
Since this is Attah’s first YA novel, I thought it would be corny and rife with unrealistic happenings within the story – as some YA books are (this is my opinion, sorry). But this evenly-paced novel is really laden with so much history and wisdom! If anyone new to Ayesha Harruna Attah’s work is wondering which of her books to read first, The Deep Blue Between is a good place to start. Young Ghanaian readers will feel proud to read this novel, as they would see themselves reflected in the characters and smile at the great showcase of our history and culture within the book. I’ve already pre-ordered a copy for my little cousin who’ll be 12 years old in October, when The Deep Blue Between will be published!
Any fans of Frances Mensah Williams’ work in the house? I’ve been slowly working my way through some compelling Black Brit reads and Williams’ work has been on my radar for a hot minute! Frances Mensah Williams is a Ghanaian-British author of many books. If you remember, back in 2017 she was one of the 80+ Ghanaian writers highlighted in the 3-part series I did on Ghanaian writers and their books. Her latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements, was published back in March and from the synopsis, this novel looks juicy and satisfying!
In the sun-soaked capital of Ghana best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships.
Ambitious, single-minded Theresa has gambled everything to move with her loving husband Tyler from London to cosmopolitan Accra. But when shocking developments threaten their plans, they also expose the hidden cracks in her fairytale marriage.
Feisty Maku is desperate for professional recognition – and her dream white wedding. But how long can she wait for her laid-back partner Nortey to stop dreaming up pointless projects from the comfort of his local bar and stand up to his family?
Churchgoing Lyla married Kwesi in haste, and six years later she is desperate for a child. But while she battles a vicious mother-in-law, and her growing attraction to the mysterious Reuben, her husband has bitten off more than he can chew with his latest mistress.
Facing lies, betrayal, and shattered illusions, each couple must confront the truth of who they have become and the arrangements they have enabled. Against the backdrop of a shifting culture, each woman must decide what – and who – she is willing to sacrifice for the perfect marriage.
I had the honor of chatting with Williams about her novels, the first book she read by a Ghanaian writer, Black writers who influence her work and more. Enjoy!
I recently purchased From Pasta to Pigfoot, and I know there is a sequel called From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. I’m eager to read your latest novel, Imperfect Arrangements, which was published back in March of this year. How long have you been a writer and what other books have you written?
FMW:I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember; from the early scribbles of my teen years to writing careers books and then, eventually, writing novels.
I’m so pleased you bought From Pasta to Pigfoot! It’s my first novel and very special to me. I wrote the initial draft years ago when I was living and working in Ghana. I wanted to explore the contemporary diaspora experience with the character of Faye Bonsu, a Black British Londoner and pasta fanatic, who’s torn between the culture she’s grown up with and the Ghanaian culture she’s supposed to connect with. Her story mirrors so many of the challenges young Britons of African descent face, and I wanted to depict how navigating between two cultures can be painful, illuminating and occasionally hilarious. In the novel, Faye gets the chance to visit Ghana and discovers that understanding your history can give you the confidence to choose your future.
There is indeed a sequel – From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. This picks up Faye’s story three years after the end of the original book. Hoping to escape from her suddenly complicated life and revive her wilting romance, Faye returns to sunny Ghana for what she hopes will be the time of her life. But life doesn’t always offer second chances and when disaster strikes, she is forced to confront the biggest question of her life and to make a choice that comes with consequences she will have to live with forever. I really enjoyed writing this book because Faye’s experiences are so relatable: the boyfriend who never seems ready to commit, the merciless boss who makes you struggle for promotion, the mother-in-law that drives everyone crazy, the bridezilla you love but want to kill – and the struggles we face when we’re trying to have it all!
I read an excerpt of Imperfect Arrangements, in the form of a short story, on AFREADA. In the excerpt, Theresa is at the hospital and she’s shocked to find out that she’s pregnant. By the end of the story, I really wanted to indulge in the lives of the three best friends – Theresa, Maku and Lyla. Why was it important for you to write this story that focuses on three best friends who struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships?
FMW: I first had the idea for Imperfect Arrangements when I was living in Ghana and found myself fascinated by the many arrangements that passed as marriage. As is the case in every part of the world, a perfect relationship really doesn’t exist, and when you layer cultural expectations onto the strains of any relationship, the pressure it brings will reveal the truth.
In Imperfect Arrangements, I chose to write about best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla because I wanted to celebrate the importance of sister-friends and depict an honest account of the complexity of relationships, both romantic and between best friends. I wanted to explore the joy and pain of relationships, particularly with the added pressures of cultural expectations and norms, and to tell the story from the perspectives of both the women and the men in their lives. Unusually, we also see the story unfold from the viewpoints of the three men in the relationships.
Did you learn anything about yourself while writing Imperfect Arrangements? What about your previous novels – especially From Pasta to Pigfoot and From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings?
FMW:That is an interesting question! I think I learned a lot as a writer while working on Imperfect Arrangements. The story takes place over one year and is structured in layers – every three months – with the action unfolding through the eyes of each person in the three couples. It was quite a challenge to keep the story moving at pace while ensuring that the characters grew into rounded and realistic people. The three women are very different to each other and, much as they love one another, they also experience the frustration and irritation that we all feel with our besties – loving them, but still keeping it honest and real!
I think this is a story that no-one can read without examining their own relationships and friendships. Although the three couples face different challenges, their situations reflect what so many people grapple with: lies, betrayal, adultery, interfering families, stagnant careers, and more.
Writing From Pasta to Pigfoot was an interesting journey for me; seeing Ghana through the eyes of Faye and depicting her struggles to connect both aspects of her cultural identity. Having myself mostly grown up outside Africa, although Faye and I are very different personalities, I could empathise with her feelings and her dilemma about where to call home.
Some writers dislike being ‘pigeon-holed’ and labelled as ‘African writer’ or ‘Black writer.’ How do you prefer to be identified as a writer? Who do you write for and do you think your novels can be categorized under one genre?
FMW: This is something I get asked a lot. There’s so much debate what constitutes ‘African’ writing and who gets to be called what or has the authority to tell which stories. Because of my heritage and some of the settings in my books, I’m often asked whether I consider myself to be an African writer, a diaspora writer or (sometimes with a slight tinge of disappointment) just a romance writer.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m just writing stories, but the publishing world likes to pigeonhole books for marketing purposes. Broadly, my books fall into the category of ‘commercial women’s fiction’ and for some people that’s enough. There are also those who describe it as ‘chick lit’, which doesn’t offend me, although I know many men who enjoy them, so I’m not sure that properly reflects the content.
For me, what really matters is that readers see my characters as more than simply their ethnicity. By setting Imperfect Arrangements in Ghana, one of my hopes is that it takes the conversation beyond the issue of race, as all the main characters are African. I also hope my books show that irrespective of our backgrounds, we all share the same desires for love of self, love of others, being seen and belonging. So, to answer your question, I’m an African woman and a writer, but I guess I’ve now reached the point where I leave the labelling to those who find it useful, while I focus on writing stories people can enjoy.
What have you been reading and loving lately? Who are some of your favorite Black writers and influencers of your work?
FMW: I enjoy many different types of books – a legacy from being a book addict as a child and reading anything which sounded halfway interesting that I could get my hands on in the local library. I love character driven stories with lots of dialogue: courtroom dramas, rom-coms, thrillers, murder mysteries, biographies, historical dramas – you name it.
My favourite Black writers include Dorothy Koomson, whose books I love, and Terri McMillan, whose books I read voraciously. If I’m honest, I’m probably not as widely read when it comes to African writers, but I’ve really admired the work of fellow Ghanaians, Yaa Gyasi and Ayesha Harruna Attah.
Ayesha Harruna Attah
In 2017, you were featured in my3-part series #GHat60 project, where I highlighted and celebrated over 80 writers of Ghanaian descent (which later became the#ReadGhanaianbook challenge, in 2019). Do you remember the first book you read by a Ghanaian writer? If so, what book was it and how was the experience?
FMW: I guess that would be probably be The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson. I was attracted to the novel because her name was clearly Ghanaian, and I was desperate to discover Black writers who also wrote commercial, contemporary, women-driven novels. When I read The Chocolate Run, I was blown away by the realisation that there was indeed a market for books about serious issues written in a fun way, and featuring Black female protagonists who were firmly at the centre of the story, instead of at the margins.
Finally, why would you like us to read your latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements? What would you like reader to take away from the story?
FMW: I would love you to read Imperfect Arrangements firstly because – if I say so myself – it’s a great story! I love the characters and I want to take the reader on a roller coaster journey as they get to know the women and their partners. I want you to laugh, cry, grow very frustrated, and cheer! I want every reader to feel exactly what drives and motivates each of the six main protagonists, and to understand what makes them who they are and why the behave as they do.
I want the story of Imperfect Arrangements to provoke a conversation about the themes that arise in the novel: relationships in contemporary Ghana/Africa; myths and expectations confronted by the realities of marriage; friendship and sisterly love between women; the impact of culture on marriage and attitudes towards adultery and infertility in contemporary Ghana/Africa; the power of family versus the individual; the diaspora returnee experience; and the Black male perspective on relationships.
I also want readers to realise that love – whether it is love of self or love between friends or lovers – is the greatest gift of all.
In less than a month, the 2020 AKO Caine Prize winner will be announced!
For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing (now known as the AKO Caine Prize), which was first awarded in year 2000, is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).
Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):
Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator,Lyrics Alley, among other works.
Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines. *sigh* Rest In Power, Binya!
Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
Previously shortlisted writers include: (2001) Mia Couto from Mozambique, (2002) Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria, (2006) Laila Lalami from Morocco, (2013) Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria, (2013) Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone, (2014) Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe, (2013 & 2015) Elnathan John from Nigeria, among others!
The AKO Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa and the Diaspora. Many AKO Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ work here on African Book Addict!
This year, the AKO Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with stories that ‘speak eloquently to the human condition’ (left to right):
Irenosen Okojie (Nigeria & UK) – Read her story: Grace Jones
Women dominate the shortlist again – I LOVE to see it! I’m still making my way through all the stories. So far I’ve read Erica Sugo Anyadike and Jowhor Ile’s stories; and skimmed through Chikodili Emelumadu and Irenosen Okojie’s stories.
Fisherman’s Stew by Ile is a calm story about Nimi, an elderly woman, who believes her dead husband comes home to her one night. It seems she frequently has encounters with this man who has long passed away, but when she mentions this to her daughter or her neighbor, they worry about her mental health. As the story progresses, readers get to decipher whether Nimi’s encounters are true or imagined. The story is quite simple, not mind-blowing. The writing is simple, yet beautiful. The descriptions of the market and it’s foodstuff, Nimi’s late night cooking of fish stew and even the opening scene (which caught me off-guard) where Nimi and her husband lay together, definitely showcased Ile’s lovely way with words. I’m not sure if the story is a prize-winning story, though.
How to Marry An African President is another good story that’s easy to read, but it wasn’t a story I hadn’t read before. I skimmed through What To Do When Your Child Brings Home a Mami Wata and I was reminded of Emelumadu’s humor! Her story Bush Baby was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2017, so I expected nothing less than her wonderful, sharp satire. I also skimmed through Grace Jones by Okojie (I really want to read her three books that have been published. But getting access to physical books is almost impossible now, thanks to the borders being close). It was a little hard for me to understand what was going on initially, but so far I’m captivated by the writing!
Sigh… To be honest, I’ve slowly lost interest in the Caine Prize over the years. I’m no longer excited about the shortlist or the stories, or who wins. I’m not sure if I’m fatigued at how repetitive everything is, or if I’m just fatigued in general.
Anyway, may the best story win. I won’t be shocked if Grace Jones is the winner. Okojie’s writing is known to be out of this world!
Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the AKO Caine Prize this year?
The winner will be announced on 27th July 2020. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!
You can also check out my past commentary on the AKO Caine Prize below:
The past couple of days have been extremely hard for many of us. The news / media has been very taxing on our psyche and we are emotionally spent. The stagnancy COVID-19 has created in our current lives as well as the disproportionate number of Black lives the virus is taking, is painful. And to add salt to injury, witnessing fellow brothers and sisters being murdered at the hands of the police in various states in the US is deeply disheartening. The anger, pain and brokenness is vast. We are thoroughly exhausted. We’ve had enough.
In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist. — Angela Davis
Non-Black friends – I’d like to implore you to please do better. Those who are silent during this time – your silence is complicity. READ, listen, do the introspective work of understanding your discomfort when it comes to conversations surrounding race. Call out your racist friends and family members (especially during ‘kitchen table talk’). Don’t just perform antiracism online by typing the generic – ‘I’m shocked’ or ‘I’m appalled’ at what is currently happening. Actually take action in trying to dismantle white supremacy, instead of performing fake sympathy online.
Evaluate your own internalized racism – how do you interact with your Black co-workers, classmates, essential workers, even Black strangers in grocery stores, public transportation etc? Be that non-Black friend / ally who’ll tell us to sit at home while you go protest. Be that non-Black friend that insists on walking by our side as we all go out and protest. Put your time, money and resources where your mouth is.
Below are some resources for ways we can all help in *our liberation, especially for those who aren’t able to protest. These are twelve (12) organizations and victim support platforms where we can help fund racial justice:
Minnesota Freedom Fund – A community-based nonprofit that pays criminal bail and immigration bonds for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality.
Black Visions Collective – A Black, Trans & Queer-led organization that is committed to dismantling systems of oppression & violence and shifting the public narrative to create transformative, long-term change.
Campaign Zero – An online platform and organization that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America.
Reclaim the Block – A coalition that advocates for and invests in community-led safety initiatives in Minneapolis neighborhoods.
Unicorn Riot – A non-profit organization that is dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues through amplifying stories and exploring sustainable alternatives in today’s globalized world.
Run With Maud / I Run With Maud – We all know and saw what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, in Georgia. Sign the petition, donate and help make calls to demand justice for Ahmaud.
Justice for Breonna / viaChange.org – Breonna Taylor deserves accountability. Take action by donating and signing the petition. Details on what the petition entails are on the websites.
Black Lives Matter – Founded in 2013 as a response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, #BlackLivesMatter has been working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.
There are also a ton of city Bail Funds available to bail protestors out of jail. Google your city’s Bail Fund to donate. Please give what you can, if you can.
There are many other organizations working tirelessly in demanding justice. Several Black lives have been humiliated and/or lost to white hate and police brutality. We remember Emmett Till, Rodney King, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Nina Pop and so many more, including countless Black women and Black Trans women. ALL Black lives that have been lost will never be forgotten. We are human and we matter.
Nearly all the books celebrated on this book blog are great places to start for anyone trying to do the personal work of dismantling white supremacy. But below are 17 book recommendations (mostly non-fiction) of old & new reads that are pertinent to the current unrest.
If you have access to these books (and others, obviously) please READ them. Help be part of the change.
In the meantime, Black friends – make time for yourself and do the things you love. COVID-19 has already created an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty. Disconnect from the news and social media for a while – I plan on taking a social media break for some time. The constant images of Black bodies being hurt and killed takes a toll on the psyche. Make time for yourself. Be still and regroup.
*our – meaning ALL Black lives – Black women, Black men, Black LGBTQIA; Black – African American, African, Caribbean, Black British, Afropean, Afro-Latinx, Afro-Asian – any and all variations of the spectrum. All of us.