Poetry | soft magic. & Questions for Ada

Hey everyone! At the end of my review of salt. by Nayyirah Waheed, I listed a bunch of contemporary poets and expressed my keen interest in reading their work in the near future. Poets – Upile Chisala and Ijeoma Umebinyuo were on that list and I finally purchased their collections (for my birthday last year) and enjoyed them at the beginning of this year. Below are mini reviews of their respective poetry collections.

(this is African Book Addict!’s 100th post by the way!)

soft magic. by Upile Chisala

Date Read: January 7th 2017

Published: September 2015

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Pages: 122

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

soft magic. is the debut collection of prose and poetry by Malawian writer, Upile Chisala. This book explores the self, joy, blackness, gender, matters of the heart, the experience of Diaspora, spirituality and most of all, how we survive. soft magic. is a shared healing journey.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

soft magic. is a decent collection, Upile (who is a young storyteller and ‘artivist’ from Malawi) has done well. I liked that soft magic. was healing and self-helpish, but this collection is more of a 2.5 stars rating, for me. It’s hard to rate and review a poetry collection you aren’t really fond of, because poetry is so personal to the poet and his/her journey – who am I to have an opinion on anyone’s journey?

This collection could have benefitted from more editing- the typos were quite annoying to spot. I hate to compare (especially since Upile recently went on a rant on Twitter about how discouraging it can be when people compare African writers to Chimamanda Adichie) but in my opinion, some of the poems felt like a knock-off from ‘salt.’ Also, I felt Upile overused the word ‘darling’ in this collection. I rolled by eyes so hard at every poem (which is about 80% of them) where ‘darling’ appeared; there are so many other words of endearment that could have been used in this collection. On a lighter note, I do appreciate how pro-black this collection is. The poems that expressed Upile’s unapologetic pride for her heritage and blackness were the most powerful.

My favorite poems:

being this ebony.
having this name.
carrying this language in my mouth.
there were times when I only wanted
to blend in
to sit unnoticed,
un-special,
but blending in is fading out

 

here we are,
black and in love with ourselves
and they spite us for it

Even though this short poetry collection is very pro-black, I wouldn’t highly recommend it. I just didn’t find the poems compelling or wholesome. Like I stated before – it is difficult to rate and review a poetry collection, because poetry is very personal to the poet and his/her journey. But you never know – give this collection a try, we all have different tastes! Upile recently published a new collection called Nectar, which I hope is a bit more polished than soft magic. I might purchase Nectar in the near future but until then, I will continue to enjoy Upile’s thoughtful commentary on Twitter and her lovely photos on Instagram.

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase soft magic. on Amazon


Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Date Read: January 27th 2017

Published: August 2015

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing

Pages: 216

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

The artistry of Questions for Ada defies words, embodying the pain, the passion, and the power of love rising from the depths of our souls.  Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s poetry is a flower that will blossom in the spirit of every reader as she shares her heart with raw candor.  From lyrical lushness to smoky sensuality to raw truths, this tome of transforming verse is the book every woman wants to write but can’t until the broken mirrors of their lives have healed. In this gifted author’s own words—“I am too full of life to be half-loved.”  A bold celebration of womanhood.

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

THIS collection right here is pure gold. Questions for Ada by Nigerian poet – Ijeoma Umebinyuo, is full of strength, vulnerability and pride. Every word in these poems is heavy with meaning and purpose. These poems show you that all your emotions are valid and must be felt. Many poetry collections published nowadays feel lazy and words just seem to be thrown onto the pages. But Questions for Ada is a collection that was carefully crafted with love and full awareness of self. I’ve dog-eared sooo many of the pages in this book because the poems truly resonated with me. I found myself reflecting after reading a couple of poems at a time. I love when a piece of writing makes you reflect on your life and society and allows you to think about them critically. Ijeoma did the damn thing with this poetry collection!

My favorite poems:

Your mother was your first mirror.
tell me,
didn’t she carry herself well enough
to make you feel like a God?
(pg. 16)

Freedom-

Your feminism
wears a wrapper,
cooks for her husband
changed her surname
(pg 33)

you are not alive
to please the aesthetic
of colonized eye
(pg. 117)

You asked your father
how you should say your name.
He said if they cannot say your name
then they must try,
but you will not soften it,
you will not break the magic apart,
you will not be ashamed of it.
(pg. 160)

 

Questions for Ada –

Ada, are you in love? Yes.

Is being in a relationship hard work? Yes

Do you write love poems for your lover?

Every day.

Does you lover believe in you?

Yes, but sometimes I fear my lover does not

comprehend her light.

What do you do on those days?

I bathe her, I play some Jazz,

I fed her, I weep for her.

Describe her in a sentence.

Her eyes carry strength,

her words scratch, she speaks love.

Ada, are you in love? Yes.

Is being in a relationship hard work? Yes.

Who is your lover? Myself.

(pg. 78)

If I could quote all the poems in this collection, I would – but I have to respect the writer’s copyright terms! Please purchase the book to enjoy the rest! A couple of weeks ago, AFREADA featured Questions for Ada in their weekly #AFREADS recommendations on Instagram and used my short review from Goodreads as the caption for the post. I was elated to see that Ijeoma appreciated my words (which don’t even do this collection’s excellence justice).

I had to screenshot this before it got deleted 🙂

Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo is beautiful work. I like to believe her target audience is women of color/ black women in Africa and the Diaspora; the poems speak on blackness, womanhood, relationships, brokenness, Africa, Diaspora, heritage, loving thyself and others. But I wholeheartedly recommend this collection for everyone to experience these poems, even if you aren’t a woman or a person of color – you would still appreciate Ijeoma’s artistry and even learn something about yourself. We’re only in the month of May and I’ve already re-read the whole collection for a second time; I plan on re-visiting and mulling over certain poems throughout the year.

If you don’t plan on reading many poetry this year, please endeavor to add Questions for Ada to your 2017 reads! And if you’re not really a fan of poetry, be assured that this collection will make you understand the beauty of poetry, as a pure literary form.

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

Purchase Questions for Ada on Amazon

The January Children by Safia Elhillo

!important;margin:0!important;" />Date Read: December 14th 2016

Published: March 1st 2017

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

Pages: 80

 

 

 

The Blurb

The January Children depicts displacement and longing while also questioning accepted truths about geography, history, nationhood, and home. The poems mythologize family histories until they break open, using them to explore aspects of Sudan’s history of colonial occupation, dictatorship, and diaspora. Several of the poems speak to the late Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez, who addressed many of his songs to the asmarani—an Arabic term of endearment for a brown-skinned or dark-skinned person. Elhillo explores Arabness and Africanness and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds.

No longer content to accept manmade borders, Elhillo navigates a new and reimagined world. Maintaining a sense of wonder in multiple landscapes and mindscapes of perpetually shifting values, she leads the reader through a postcolonial narrative that is equally terrifying and tender, melancholy and defiant.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Safia Elhillo is a Sudanese-American poet based in the U.S and I believe The January Children gives readers some insight into what it’s like to be Sudanese and an American. In this collection, the narrator is constantly grappling with her complex identities and it’s evident in poems like,

republic of the sudan ministry of interior passport & immigration general directorate alien from sudanese origin passcard‘ (yes, this is the title of the poem):

at the khartoum office a veiled woman made the card in microsoft paint told me my arabic was [not bad for a foreigner you can barely hear the accent] i board the plane with grandma’s voice crackling through the phone [come home again soon] my blue passport made me American place of birth maryland usa

& in the months since my last visit syrup settle back to coat my r’s i am ambiguous browngirl

i feel american

& in new york [but your english is so good you can barely hear the accent]

mama still speaks to me in arabic but we eat with fork & knife we play adbelhalim but mostly motown to remind mama of those swaying eighties nights in the garden before it turned to dust before the old country crumbles & mama came here to give me the blue passport & last time i was home a soldier stopped the car asked where i was from laughed when i said here

The narrator has conflicting ideas of home, belonging, family, immigration, perceptions of beauty and so much more. All of these issues are juxtaposed with the narrator’s obsession with Egyptian musician – Abdelhalim Hafez, and his provoking lyrics. For most of this collection, the narrator obsesses over Hafez’s skin color, his perceptions of beauty and his singing voice. I found it weird how the narrator was fascinated with this famous Arabic musician who has been dead since 1977; but she finds meaning in her fascination with Hafez and confides in him on the things that keep her up at night – like not feeling Sudanese enough and/or feeling lost.

The January Children is a very unique poetry collection. Most of the poems lack punctuations, so it takes a while to read each poem to decipher full sentences and the meanings of them. Every word (especially the few Arab words and their translations) in this collection gave the poems profound meaning – which was interesting, yet a bit overwhelming as it takes a while to understand what some of the poems are actually about. Hints of magical realism in some poems provided sprinkles surprise and added to the slightly daunting nature of the collection (for me).

What I appreciated most about this collection was that I got some insight into African-Arab life and how African-Arabs perceive other Africans and Arabs. When I read Minaret by Sudanese writer- Leila Aboulela, I yearned (but to no avail) for commentary on the realities of being African-Arab. I’m glad this collection shed some light into this complex, very unique identity through the tensions the narrator faces. Even though The January Children is complicated and not the easiest poetry collection to read, Elhillo shows immense talent of capturing emotion in a somewhat abstract way. I think I prefer seeing and listening to Safia Elhillo performing her poems. From all the YouTube videos I’ve watched of her performing at various events, it’s absolutely breathtaking and inspiring to see and hear Elhillo speak her words, with mighty conviction.

NOTE: Reading the Forward of this collection by Kwame Dawes is imperative if you want to totally understand and appreciate this collection.

Thanks to Netgalley via University of Nebraska Press for this e-ARC. The January Children will be published and in stores in 3 days! March 1st 2017 🙂

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

Purchase The January Children on Amazon

As the Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo

veroniqueDate Read: October 27th 2016

Published: 2001

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 106

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

An illicit love affair that turns sour is the starting point in this lyrical and moving exploration of the human heart.

Véronique Tadjo weaves together a rich  tapestry of voices to tell stories of parting and return, suffering, healing and desire.

Like a bird in flight, the reader travels across a borderless landscape composed of tales of everyday existence, news reports, allegories and ancestral myths, becoming aware in the course of the journey of the interconnection of individual lives. A new consciousness of the links between self and other, today’s society and that of future generations is revealed as the key to creating a more just world and more understanding and fulfilling relationships, for ‘love is a story that we never stop telling’. 

Translated from French by Wangūi wa Goro.

 

Review– ★★★★ (4 stars)

As the Crow Flies was originally written in French by Véronique Tadjo who was born in Paris and raised in Côte d’Ivoire – a Francophone, West African country. Kenyan academic, writer and translator – Wangūi wa Goro, who contributed to African Love Stories: an anthology and also translated Ngūgi wa Thiong’o’s novel – Matigari, (which I loved!) translated this work of art as well. I’m grateful to Wangūi wa Goro, because without her superb skills of interpreting and transforming this work into English, some of us would really be missing out on some awesome texts!

But I have to admit – this novella is not for everyone. On the first page, as if to caution the reader, Tadjo writes: “Indeed, I too would have loved to write one of those serene stories with a beginning and an end. But as you know only too well, it is never like that.” With that, I knew As the Crow Flies would be different.

Some readers may have issues with the format of this book, which is full of fragmentation and changing points of view between several voices. It’s made up of several (interconnected) poems, prose and observations. I read this novella as if I was on the back of a bird in the air (a crow, if you may), watching various people and situations in their various settings – in Abidjan (the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire) and anonymous Western countries. I believe writers would absolutely love the unique, heartfelt, lyrical anecdotes Tadjo spills onto the pages. It’s actually difficult to review this book since it sporadically touches on many different issues, like: desire, homesickness, (unrequited) love, immigration, poverty, privilege, and so much more. But almost anything and everything that can be humanly felt and observed, are portrayed in this book.

Some of my favorite anecdotes / poems/ observations:

XLVI

I need to feel the heat and sweat running down my back, feel warm nights humming with insects, the dust and the mud. At home, life sprouts everywhere. You have nowhere to hide. You can never forget that there is still much to be done.

(pg. 62)

 

I especially loved this one below:

LIV

I think of my country, far away, and my eyes open beyond space.

In this vast city, words travel fast. I am bombarded with ideas. I see myself in that large conference room listening keenly to writers from Africa – Angola, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria… One of the speakers proclaims:

‘It is our duty to understand our place in the history of humanity. An African literature cannot exist until the day we liberate ourselves from the arrogant criticism of the West.’

(pg. 72) 

 

LXIX

I remember. A day like no other. The air was mild. I had not eaten breakfast; just had a cup of coffee and my belly was empty.

I remember. His scent filled my nostrils. His sweat made my mouth salty. I lapped up his force and energy, and discovered how famished my desire was…

(pg. 87)

As the Crow Flies is a super short novella – it’s about 106 pages. I would advise readers to devour it in one sitting in order to experience, observe and feel everything this book has to offer at once. Thanks to school work, it took me over a month to complete it. But I’m glad I pushed through and finished it despite the discombobulated format which was initially confusing but truly wonderful by the time I finished reading.

With the increasing popularity of contemporary African novels, I feel like lovers of African literature are forgetting about the books of the African Writers Series, which were published since 1962 by Heinemann. Books in this series have been translated into English from French, Zulu, Swahili, Gikuyu, Portuguese, Afrikaans, Luganda, Arabic, Sesotho. Yes, some of the books in this series may be printed in (silly) small fonts; yes, some books in this series may have unappealing book covers. But books of the African Writers Series are timeless and will always be true African classics, just like As the Crow Flies.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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Purchase As the Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo on Amazon

Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi

sweet medicineDate Read: June 3rd 2016

Published: 2015

Publisher: Blackbird Books

Pages: 203

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Sweet Medicine is the story of Tsitsi, a young woman who seeks romantic and economic security through ‘otherworldly’ means. The story takes place in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Sweet Medicine is a good debut! Don’t you love the book cover? It’s one of the reasons I just had to have this book. In between reading, I watched interviews and talks on YouTube that featured Panashe, where she spoke on racism in South Africa (where she was raised. She’s originally from Zimbabwe), feminism and the makings of an online magazine she founded – Vanguard Magazine, which is a womanist platform for young black women in South Africa speaking to the intersectionality of queer politics, Black Consciousness and pan-Africanism. Panashe is simply an amazing inspiration, and she’s only 25!

Set in present day Zimbabwe, Tsitsi – the main character, seems to be a victim of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Throughout this novel, she does all she can to achieve economic and romantic stability through ways that seriously contradict her staunch Christian upbringing. I must say – it was hard not to judge Tsitsi while reading this novel. Her forbidden relationship with Mr. Zvobgo (a rich man who’s recently divorced from his wife) was uncalled for, yet understandable, I guess? Unfortunately, just like Tsitsi in Sweet Medicine, many young women find themselves at the mercy of rich men as they try to survive in the midst of economic crises. This novel tackles several dichotomies of dilemmas Tsitsi and other ordinary women (even with university degrees) suffer thanks to the terrible economic states of their nations, like – desperation versus true love; spirituality versus worldliness; feminism versus patriarchy; tradition verses modernity; poverty versus abundance, and much more.

Sweet Medicine might be one of the few African novels I’ve read, where I can confidently say is written for Africans – Zimbabweans to be exact. Panashe unapologetically throws readers into Zimbabwean slang & Shona and into the happenings of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis – as if we are natives! Initially, Sweet Medicine was a little challenging for me to read as it took me a while to adjust to the writing style and the myriad of Shona expressions and phrases blended into the dialogue. But once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed the measured suspense of Tsitsi and Mr. Zvobgo’s undulating relationship issues, as well as the glimpses of Zimbabwean life Sweet Medicine fed me.

If you get the chance to read Sweet Medicine, just immerse yourself into the atmosphere of 2008 Zimbabwe for about 200 pages. Cringe at the silly interactions and exchanges between Tsitsi and her super bold sister-friend, Chiedza. Appreciate Tsitsi’s relationship and her tortuous quandary of wanting to live a comfortable life (and provide for her family) with the man of her dreams versus wanting to honor God and her mother. And when you’re done, go back and admire the ultra-chic book cover which I believe, embodies Tsitsi’s persona. Sweet Medicine made for a decent summer read! I recommend this – especially to readers who’ve been longing to read a contemporary African novel, written for us – Africans.

P.S: I have an extra, brand new copy of Sweet Medicine which I will be giving away- amongst other goodies during my hosting the second and last give-away of the year. Stay tuned! 🙂

★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.

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Purchase Sweet Medicine on Amazon

African Love Stories: An Anthology edited by Ama Ata Aidoo + GIVEAWAY!

aidooDate Read: January 23rd 2016

Published: 2006

Publisher: Ayebia Publishing

Pages: 249

 

The Blurb

African love stories? Is that not some kind of anomaly? This radical collection of short stories, most published in this edition for the first time, aims to debunk the myth about African women as impoverished helpless victims. With origins that span the continent, it combines budding writers with award-winning authors; the result is a melting pot of narratives from intriguing and informed perspectives.

These twenty odd tales deal with challenging themes and represent some of the most complex of love stories. Many are at once heart breaking yet heart warming and even courageous. In Badoe’s hilarious ‘The Rival’, we encounter a 14 -year-old girl who is determined to capture her uncle’s heart. His wife, she decided would just have to go. Mr. Mensah the uncle is all of sixty years old.

Crafted by a stellar cast of authors that includes El Saadawi, Ogundipe, Magona, Tadjo, Krog, Aboulela, Adichie, Oyeyemi, wa Goro, Atta, Manyika and Baingana, there is hardly any aspect of women’s love life untouched. From labour pains to burials, teenagers to octogenarians, and not to mention race-fraught and same-sex relationships, the human heart is all out there: beleaguered and bleeding, or bold, and occasionally triumphant.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I think I have a soft spot for anthologies. Anthologies help me discover new writers. African Love Stories: An Anthology is the second African women’s anthology I’ve enjoyed. In 2014, I reviewed Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing edited by Yvonne Vera (1999) and was thrilled by the diverse stories and cast of African women writers. I even took interest in the writers who were unfamiliar to me at the time, like Leila Aboulela and Lília Momplé.

I know what you were thinking when you saw the title, ‘African Love Stories’ – no, this is not a collection of sappy, romantic, unrealistic, happily-ever-after tales. African Love Stories: An Anthology is a collection of 21 contemporary short stories laden with breathtaking originality. The stories speak on: the issues inter-racial couples face, a woman’s wrath when she discovers her lover is married, the lengths a village boy goes to rescue his wife-to-be, domestic violence, a child born out-of-wedlock who is scorned at her father’s funeral, same-sex relationships, sisterhood, a mother’s love, sacrifice and so much more. There are layered complexities in all 21 stories and the writers skillfully consummate each short tale such that readers ponder and cherish them, even days after enjoying the stories.

The women writers and the stories of this anthology span across the African continent – from Egypt to South Africa. Well-known authors such as: Nawal El Saadawi, Veronique Tadjo, Chimamanda N. Adichie, Leila Aboulela, Sindiwe Magona, Sefi Atta, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Helen Oyeyemi amongst others, are featured in the anthology. But I expected more diversity with respect to the countries represented in this collection. I didn’t expect a lot of the stories (11 of them) to be written by Nigerian women – this is not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong! I just wish there was a better mix of countries represented, as was in Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing edited by Yvonne Vera (1999). (I’m not comparing… but I’m comparing haha)

Anyways, I enjoyed all the stories from this collection (well, except two) and my faves were:

“Something Old, Something New” by Leila Aboulela (Sudan) – This is a story that chronicles the events that occur prior to a wedding between a young, muslim, dark-skinned Sudanese woman of the diaspora and a white, muslim man from Edinburgh. During their trip to Khartoum for the ceremony, several events occur that threaten their impending wedding. I really admire the calm manner of Aboulela’s storytelling, especially in this tale.

“The Rival” by Yaba Badoe (Ghana) – The Rival has got to be the most absurd story I’ve ever read! In this story, a wife tries her best to keep her marriage from falling apart by the twisted, affectionate love of her husband’s niece. Since when did nieces start falling for their uncles and dreaming of being the ‘madam’ of the house? How awkward! Yaba Badoe created a masterpiece with this strange story.

“Tropical Fish” by Doreen Baingana (Uganda) – University student – Christine, finds herself sleeping with a British expat who exports fish to the UK. The story takes us through the inner thoughts of Christine as she tries to find herself – because she truly seems lost. I was disgusted and at times mad at Christine for tolerating the intolerable in this story. I loved how Doreen Baingana kept me on the edge of my seat while reading this! (I have Doreen Baingana’s novel Tropical Fish which this story is an excerpt from, and I’m excited to read it soon!)

“Needles of the Heart” by Promise Ogochukwu (Nigeria) – I enjoyed the easy, simple nature in the writing of this story. A woman marries a man who she discovers is a chronic abuser. She constantly finds herself making excuses for her husband, even while she suffers on hospital beds from his fury. The ending of the story had me wondering if the author actually condones domestic violence… This story is pretty scary, but holds a great message if you read in-between the lines.

The editor, Ama Ata Aidoo urges readers to enjoy this collection slowly:

Dear reader, it is highly recommended that you take these stories one at a time, so that you meet these African women properly and individually, and listen to them and their hearts: whether Sudanese, Kenyan, Ghanaian, Nigerian or Zimbabwean… (pg. xiv)

and I totally concur with her. I read these stories slowly and savored them. Why rush through such a rich anthology? That’s no fun!

Even though this anthology was published in 2006 – about 10 years ago, I believe the content is ever so relevant to this day. I wholeheartedly recommend this collection to everyone. These contemporary stories may be set in countries in Africa, but the theme of love is universal to all!

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

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Purchase African Love Stories: An Anthology on Amazon


GIVEAWAY ALERT!

February is the month of love, and I’d like to give away one brand new copy of this lovely anthology! Enter the giveaway below to stand a chance at winning African Love Stories: An Anthology. The winner will be announced a day after Valentine’s Day – so you have about 10 days to try your luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway TERMS & CONDITIONS:

  • Giveaway starts Feb 4th 2016 at 12am GMT & ends Feb 15th 2016 at 12am GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
  • This is an international giveaway – it is open to everyone, worldwide.
  • You must be 18 years and older to participate in this giveaway.
  • The winner will be selected by Random.org, through Rafflecopter and will be notified by email.
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the email before a new winner is selected.
  • If you are the lucky winner of the book, Darkowaa will be shipping your prize to you directly.
  • Once the winner is notified via email, providing shipping details will go to Darkowaa only and will only be used for the purpose of shipping the prize to the winner.
  • The item offered in this giveaway is free of charge, no purchase is necessary.
  • If there are any questions and concerns about this giveaway, please email: africanbookaddict@gmail.com

Good luck, everyone!

Update: This giveaway has ended. Thanks to those who participated! Congrats to the winner!