Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing edited by Yvonne Vera

Date Read: March 7th 2014

Published: 1999

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 186

yvonne vera

The Blurb

African women are seldom given the space to express their concerns, their ideas and their reflections about the societies in which they live.

 In situations where a good woman is expected to remain silent, literature can provide an important medium for the expression of deeply felt and sometimes shocking views. In this anthology the award-winning author Yvonne Vera brings together the stories of many talented writers from different parts of Africa. They act as witnesses to the dramas of private and public life. Their stories challenge contemporary attitudes and behavior, leaving no room for complacency.

Contributors include Ama Ata Aidoo, Veronique Tadjo, Farida Karodia, Lindsey Collen and Sindiwe Magona.

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Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

This is a powerful collection of fifteen stories by African women writers from various countries such as: Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, Nigeria, Mozambique, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Namibia and Zambia. It was cool to read stories from countries that are not very active in the African literature scene- like Mauritius, Mali and Sudan.

These stories tackle the positives and negatives of being an African woman in their own unique ways. Some themes in the stories are: coming-of-age, motherhood, women empowerment, polygamy, abortion, death, political instability, faith and many more!

My favorite stories were:

‘The Museum’ by Leila Aboulela (Sudan) – This is the story that won the first Caine Prize in 2000! It’s a tale of the challenges a Sudanese girl- Shadia, faces as she is studying Mathematics in university in the United Kingdom. Despite the fact that she has a fiancé back home in Sudan, she starts to fall for fellow Scottish classmate- Bryan, who seems to be the brightest in the class. As Shadia and Bryan spend more time together, Aboulela teaches readers about the importance of religion (Islam). After Shadia and Bryan take a trip to a museum and Shadia is disappointed at how wrongly the West portrays Africa, I learned that Africa will always be where the heart is, for Africans living abroad.

‘The Power of a Plate of Rice’ by Ifeoma Okoye (Nigeria) – A hilarious tale of a single mother, who is a schoolteacher, struggling to keep her family alive. The principal of her school refuses to pay her salary while her children are sick and starving. This schoolteacher ends up doing something unpredictable which shocks her principal. This was a fun and easy read.

‘Stress’ by Lília Momplé (Mozambique) – A mistress of a rich married man sits in her luxurious apartment and spends her days staring out of her window, desperately desiring and fantasizing about her neighbor across the street. Meanwhile, this neighbor barely notices this mistress across the street as he struggles living as a deeply stressed schoolteacher. I enjoyed the unpredictability of the story’s ending!

‘The Barrel of a Pen’ by Gugu Ndlovu (Zimbabwe) – This was a heart-wrenching tale of two girls who spend their afternoon in a hotel. An unqualified nurse visits the girls in the hotel and executes an abortion on one of them. The gory descriptions of this story had me cringing. But I loved how the friendship between the two girls was strong enough to save a life.

This collection was published in 1999, but the stories, themes and the lessons learned are still relevant to readers today, in 2014. I recommend this!

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

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Women Are Different by Flora Nwapa

Date Read: June 10th 2014

Published: 1992

Publisher: Africa World Press (African Women Writers Series)

Pages: 138

The Blurb

Women are Different is the moving story of a group of Nigerian women, from their schooldays together through the trials and tribulations of their adult lives. Through their stories we see some of the universal problems faced by women everywhere: the struggle for financial independence and a rewarding career, combined with the need to bring up a family, often without a man.

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Review – ★★ (2 stars)

This book was quite painful to read… the details of the storyline were superfluous, Nwapa’s writing style wasn’t great and there were too many characters to keep track of in the book. Furthermore, there were spelling and grammatical errors in my copy of the book (I have the African Women Writer Series- First Africa World Press, edition 1992).

I love that Flora Nwapa sought out to enlighten readers on the lives of Nigerian women from the 1940’s to the 1970’s- after the Biafran war, but I did not enjoy the writing style. It was written in third-person, but quite shabbily. The sentence structures were very simple and I felt like I was reading a child’s novel.

I will commend Nwapa for raising various issues women faced in Nigeria, like: arranged marriages, child marriages, poverty, the importance of girl-child education, prostitution, spinsterhood, betrayed love etc. Nwapa portrayed all of these issues through the lives of Dora, Rose, Agnes and Comfort from their high school days to their late motherhood days. The girls’ different personalities and opinions on life were basically a microcosm of the opinions and lives of other women in Nigeria. I enjoyed Comfort’s character the most, as she was vivacious and fearless- typical of Nigerian women!

But several parts of the novel were dragged out. For example: the food strike in the girls’ secondary school went on for about ten pages; Dora complaining to Rose about her wayward daughter’s failed marriage dragged on for another ten pages; Agnes’ prostitute daughter’s plight went on forever as well.

The girls’ lives did not end up how they wished it would romantically, but they were quite successful, strong women by the end of the novel.

I initially wanted to purchase Nwapa’s popular novel, Efuru but after reading this simple book that took me 18 days to complete, I think I will pass. I love African literature and I admire Flora Nwapa for being one of the pioneering African women writers, but unfortunately I do not recommend this book.

BUT!! Another African literature book blogger, Mary Okeke, loved this novel! Check out her positive review of Women Are Differenthere.

★★ (2 stars) – Thumbs down. I do not recommend this.

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