Classics: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe & Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

Hey everyone! Below are mini reviews of two classics written by two, brilliant, African literature pioneer writers. I enjoyed these books over the summer 🙂

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartDate re-Read: July 12th 2015 (previously read in 2007)

Published: January 2010 (originally published in 1958)

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 152

 

The Blurb

Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

What more can I say about this book? Everyone and their grandparents have read this classic. Most readers hated Okonkwo – the main character, for valid reasons. Who would have thought this true-blooded chauvinist would ultimately take his own life? Killing yourself is a cowardly, weak move, no? Despite Okonkwo’s brashness and overt disdain for females and all things ‘womanly’, I understood him, so I appreciated him.

It’s hard not to resent the British colonizers for the damage they caused Africa in the past. The British came with full force, masked in Christianity and denied natives of the African continent control over their own land. Change is never easy, but I guess sometimes it’s necessary? Many harmful indigenous practices which were revered prior colonization have been abolished for example – the killing of twins and thankfully, many other practices that were tagged with superstitious beliefs. Things Fall Apart gives readers a lot to think about: gender inequality, superstition, tradition versus modernity, masculinity versus femininity etc. I’m glad I re-read this during the summer. It was refreshing to reconnect with this masterpiece that Achebe wrote back in 1958. Things Fall Apart will always be a solid 4.5 stars for me.

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

Purchase Things Fall Apart from Amazon

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Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

MatigariDate Read: August 11th 2015

Published: June 1989 (originally published in 1986)

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 175

The Blurb

Who is Matigari? Is he young or old; a man or fate; dead or living… or even a resurrection of Jesus Christ? These are the questions asked by the people of this unnamed country, when a man who has survived the war for independence emerges from the mountains and starts making strange claims and demands.

Matigari is in search of his family, to rebuild his home and start a new and peaceful future, but his search becomes a quest for truth and justice as he finds the people still dispossessed and the land he loves ruled by corruption, fear and misery. Rumors spring up that a man with superhuman qualities has risen to renew the freedom struggle. The novel races towards its climax as Matigari realizes that words alone cannot defeat the enemy. He vows to use the force of arms to achieve his true liberation.

Lyrical and hilarious in turn, Matigari is a memorable satire on the betrayal of human ideals and on the bitter experience of post-independence African society.

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

Matigari is the ultimate African post-colonial, social justice novel. And of course, Ngūgī wa Thiong’o executes the storyline brilliantly with the strength and courage of character,  Matigari ma Njiruungi – a patriot who goes to great lengths to ensure there is justice for the oppressed in a (fictitious) nation. Matigari ensures there is justice for the oppressed with the help of an orphan and a former prostitute and readers follow this team on their brave, almost rebellious journey to peace and justice. Matigari is a satirical novel. Ngūgī wa Thiong’o uses some elements of magical realism and lots of Christian allegory which are very symbolic in this novel.

But I don’t think this book is for everyone. It can be quite dry and may be too ‘political’ for some readers. Matigari was not a fast/easy read for me: I started reading it in May and finished it in August. But if you appreciate African oral literature and post-colonial literary works – read this! It is indeed powerful.

Favorite quotes:

“The true seeker of truth never loses hope. The true seeker of real justice never tires. A farmer does not stop planting seeds just because of the failure of one crop. Success is born of trying and trying again. Truth must seek justice. Justice must seek the truth. When justice triumphs, truth will reign on earth” pg. 84 [one of Matigari’s many meditations].

“Pregnancies are the result of the evil and wild desires. I shall ask the government to ban dreams and desires of that kind for a period of about two years. Fucking among the poor should be stopped by a presidential decree!” (HILARIOUS!) pg. 120 [said a member of parliament – a typical man in power, guilty of squandering government money].

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

Purchase Matigari from Amazon

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The FishermenDate Read: June 4th 2015

Published: April 2015

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Pages: 304

The Blurb

In a Nigerian town in the mid-1990’s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.

Told from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of the unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the omnious, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.

What happens next is an almost mythic even whose impact – both tragic and redemptive – will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and its readers.

Review– ★★★★★ (5 stars)

The Fishermen is a dark, haunting, mythical story about brotherhood, love and madness. Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben are four of six children of the Agwu family in Akure, Nigeria. Ikenna, who is 15 years old is the leader of the pack. Boja is the adventurous 14-year-old, Obembe is the book smart 11-year-old and Ben – who is the innocent narrator of this lyrical tale, is 9 years old. Once their father is assigned to work at a new location of the Central Bank of Nigeria, quite far away from his home, disorder slowly overtakes this family. I believe the absence of the boys’ father is the root of all the evil things that occur in this story. How crazy is it that the prophecy of the neighborhood madman Abulu, who the boys encounter on one of their forbidden fishing adventures to the Omi-Ala river, could be the catalyst for all the twists and turns that the Agwu family endures?

When you think things are getting better and the craziness of this story plateaus, something pops up! I feel like I know/knew Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben – their love and brotherhood are so dear to me, I don’t know why! I felt helpless during many parts of this story. At certain parts I just had to close the book, sit still… and pray. I desperately wanted to help Ikenna. I wanted to whisper into his ear and reassure him that his brothers loved him so much and that nobody was out to kill him. I wanted to goad Boja to have more patience with Ikenna since he (Ikenna) was going through a dark, miserable phase in his life where his faith and confidence were shaken.

Chigozie Obioma wrote about these boys in such a tender way that evoked lots of emotions in me. Obioma actually wrote this novel as a tribute to his own brothers and he discusses this more in interviews with Michigan Quarterly Review and Bookanista. I believe Obioma does a great job at painting the picture of a typical Nigerian household in The Fishermen. He captures classic Nigerian idiosyncrasies through the characters, for example: the way the boys’ mother would shout ‘Chineke!’ (which is an Igbo word that means ‘God!’) whenever she was startled; or how she would vigorously tie her wrapper whenever she was frustrated with the boys; or how their chauvinistic father would shout ‘my friend!’ whenever he was irritated and demanded quick responses from the boys and their mother. If you’ve ever watched a Nollywood film, you would definitely appreciate these entertaining gestures!

The power of Obioma’s lyrical writing style is augmented by his metaphors, which are mostly rooted in animism. This may seem corny, but trust me – it certainly works in making the characters and different incidents in the story feel too real… and every word counts! References to Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, M.K.O Abiola – a popular Nigerian political figure, alongside other contemporary happenings (during 1997) made this all the more a satisfying and realistic read. I’m super proud of this author and I wish him nothing but more success! This has been the best book I’ve read all summer and maybe even this year.

Side note: After reading this book, I’ve had second thoughts about my desire to give birth to only boys – as if I even have a choice, am I God? haha. But I’ve come to the realization that raising boys (and children in general) is truly a challenge. Parental guidance is needed at all times!

The Fishermen needs more attention in the blogosphere! I’m still trying to digest some stuff from the book and I would love to discuss The Fishermen in detail with anyone who has already read it. I’m waiting for my Mom to finish reading the book so we can discuss the ending which slightly threw me off. I hope bookworms around the world catch on and rave about this book as much as they did Adichie’s Americanah. I expect The Fishermen to win some literary awards soon.

Chigozie Obioma definitely took fiction to another level with this book. Please, please pick this up if you get a chance!

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

Purchase The Fishermen on Amazon

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And the 2015 Caine Prize winner is… Namwali Serpell!

A big congratulations to Zambia’s Namwali Serpell for winning the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing!!

Namwali Serpell is the 16th winner of the Caine Prize, which is recognized as Africa’s leading literary award for short stories. The winner was announced last night at a dinner held at the Weston Library, Oxford, England for all the shortlisted candidates.

Namwali Serpell won the £10,000 prize for her short story, ‘The Sack’. Initially I was miffed at how this year’s shortlist was more or less a dichotomy between South Africa and Nigeria, with one story from Zambia. Even though I was more in love with Elnathan’s story ‘Flying‘, I’m happy Zambia won this for once! I look forward to more of Serpell’s work in the future. Her short story, ‘The Sack’ can also be found in the Africa39 anthology which was published in October of last year (2014). Check out Africa39 to read more new short stories by young African writers, under the age of 39!

Namwali Serpell winner

 Read ‘The Sack’ by Namwali Serpell – here

Challenge Update; Currently Reading

Hello everyone!

As I mentioned before, I’m participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2015. This year, I plan on reading 15 books (at least). I really admire those who read 40 plus books in a year! Being a dental student, I wonder if I can ever reach such goals…

Anyways, I recently finished reading the great Ngūgī wa Thiong’o ‘s childhood memoir: Dreams In A Time Of War and Amma Darko’s novel, Beyond the Horizon.

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Don’t you just love the book cover? Ngūgī wa Thiong’o ‘s book was a very touching memoir – Ngūgī is a man I truly respect. I plan on reading the second volume of his memoirs – In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir later this year :).

 

 

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Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko is a compulsory read for an African Studies class I’m currently taking. This book is laden with domestic violence and the main character- Mara, is extremely naive, so it was initially quite a frustrating read. Its a shame that Amma Darko does not get enough shine for her writing. Expect reviews soon!

 

 

Other books I’ve read from January till now:

January 12th 2015: We Should All Be Feminists (eBook) by Chimamanda N. Adichie

January 18th 2015: You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down by Alice Walker

January 28th 2015: A Deeper Love Inside: The Porsche Santiaga Story by Sister Souljah 

February 1st 2015: Wife Type: Her take on real love and healthy relationships (eBook) by Sheri Gaskins (on Goodreads)*

February 3rd 2015: The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola 

February 16th 2015: Sula by Toni Morrison

February 27th 2015: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham (on Goodreads)*

March 22nd 2015: Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

March 31st 2015: Beyond the Horizon by Amma Darko

 

I’m currently on my 10th book:  The Trouble with Nigeria which is a very short, almost history-like book by Chinua Achebe. Since Nigeria recently had their elections, which have been peaceful thus far (thank God!), I thought this would be a good read for the times.

 

What are y’all currently reading?

Valentine’s Day Anthology 2015

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Ankara Press gave us a special treat today, by publishing a Valentine’s Day anthology featuring 7 short stories by some great contemporary African writers. According to Ankara Press, this lovely collection shows that “romance can be empowering, entertaining, and elegantly written, by men as well as women.”

Some of the writers and readers of the stories include: Sarah Ladipo-Manyika, Eghosa Imasuen, Helene Cooper, Chuma Nwokolo and my favorite- Binyavanga Wainaina, amongst others!

The stories are written in English with some translations in Pidgin, Kiswahili, Yoruba, French, Kpelle, Igbo and Hausa languages. There are also audio versions of the stories in this anthology- such an awesome treat!

I’m enjoying all the stories thus far, I hope you all enjoy them too!

Read, listen and download (for free!) Valentine’s Day Anthology 2015HERE

To find out more about Ankara Press – A New Kind Of Romance, click – here or follow them on Twitter @ankarapress.

2014 Recap & My Top 5!

If you’ve been following my book blog for some time, you would know that I participated in the Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge and I pledged to read 12 books this year. Since I have a strong passion for African literature, as well as African-American and Caribbean literature, I challenged myself to indulge in books of those genres this year. I successfully surpassed my goal and ended up reading 15 books in 2014.

I started this blog because I needed to express my views on the books I read, especially with people around the world who have read some of these books. Over the years I’ve realized that simply discussing the issues of the books I read with friends doesn’t suffice for me, for many reasons. Writing reviews on this blog and expressing my opinions on the books I’ve read has beIMG_8741en fulfilling! It would be nice to actually discuss in detail the things I liked and disliked about the books, but I can’t include spoilers in my reviews – its always so tempting!

Check out all the books I read and reviewed this year in the Book Reviews section of the blog!

(note: I wasn’t able to finish reading Sozaboy: A novel in Rotten English by Ken Saro-Wiwa and The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola. I just wasn’t feeling them at the time… And I think my ‘Currently Reading’ posts were jinxing my reading progress 😦 )

 Top 5 faves of my 2014 Reading Challenge

1. One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina

2. Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

3. The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

4. Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou

5. Harmattan Rain by Ayesha Harruna Attah

I plan on participating in the Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge as well. I’d like to read more Caribbean novels next year, so we’ll see how that goes!

What were your favorite books of 2014?

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Thanks for all the support! See you in 2015 🙂

The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

Spider King's Daughter coverDate Read: September 4th 2014

Published: 2012

Publisher: Faber and Faber Limited

Pages: 288

 

The Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Abike Johnson is the favourite child of her wealthy father. She lives in a sprawling mansion in Lagos, protected by armed guards and ferried everywhere in a huge black jeep.

A world away from Abike’s mansion, in the city’s slums, lives an eighteen-year-old hawker struggling to make sense of the world. His family lost everything after his father’s death and now he sells ice cream at the side of the road to support his mother and sister.

When Abike buys ice cream from the hawker one afternoon, they strike up a tentative and unlikely romance. But as they grow closer, revelations from the past threaten their relationship and both Abike and the hawker must decide where their loyalties lie.

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Did you know that Chibundu Onuzo wrote The Spider King’s Daughter when she was 21 years old? I find that incredible! Her attention to detail of all the intricacies that could happen in a story involving two people are thoroughly explored, and I am very impressed! When I was reading this book, it felt like I was watching a Nigerian movie. The storyline is full of suspense, speculations and assumptions that could actually push this novel into the ‘thriller’ genre. The Spider King’s Daughter is a novel centered around two characters: Abike and Runner G.

Abike is a 17 year old spoiled brat, child of the Spider King- a mysterious, very wealthy man in Lagos. One day as she is chauffeured home from school, she spots a handsome hawker, Runner G, selling ice cream on the street. For days she tries to catch Runner G’s attention through her characteristic manipulative ways and finally starts a conversation with him on the street as she sits in her car. After some weeks, Abike and Runner G become friends and they spend their weekends together. Abike even invites this hawker, Runner G to her huge palace (againsts her father’s will) where they simply enjoy each others’ company and slowly fall in love. Their relationship seems to turn sour when Runner G starts to act strange around Abike, as others warn him of Abike’s true character.

Runner G is a street hawker who sells ice cream. He was not always a street hawker. He came from a middle-class home in the past. But after the death of his father- who was a lawyer, Runner G’s family fell into poverty. His mother is currently bed-ridden and depressed and he had to stop school and start hawking in order to pay his younger sister’s school fees. Runner G becomes Abike’s friend after she initiates conversation with him from her car in the street. He slowly falls in love with her, but later realizes she isn’t actually the person she portrays herself to be. Runner G hence starts to dig for information about Abike from her family members and her close friends who have nothing good to say about her. He later finds out that her lavish lifestyle, grâce à her father’s wealth, might actually be the reason why his family is in abject poverty.

The once cute-turned-dark love story between Abike and Runner G results in a truly unpredictable, shocking end, that pushes me to pity both Abike and Runner G.

The book was written from both Abike and Runner G’s perspectives- which was a bit confusing for me in the beginning. But it was great to see how two people could interpret an event or a day together in two completely different ways. Readers get to understand both Abike and Runner G’s thoughts and feelings towards the dynamic of their relationship and how possibly incompatible they actually are. I appreciated Onuzo’s commentary on hawker-life through Runner G’s character. It pushed me to actually put myself in their shoes and question the terrible economic disparities of our African nations.

Onuzo’s attention to detail was very impressive. Everything about this book, down to the smallest detail was great…it’s actually difficult to discuss this book without giving away spoilers. But I really really recommend this!

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

Purchase The Spider King’s Daughter on Amazon

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Workshop & Reading with Kwei Quartey

On Saturday, Dec 20th, author Kwei Quartey had a workshop and reading session at Totally Youth in North Ridge, Accra which was hosted by Writers Project of Ghana. I only attended the book reading and it was fun! Kwei Quartey read excerpts from his 3 novels of the Inspector Darko Dawson crime series: “Wife of the Gods” , “Children of the Street” and his latest novel, “Murder at Cape Three Points”. After the book reading we asked Quartey questions and had short discussions on how he decides the themes of his books- which are mostly in the crime/mystery genre, his experience with good and bad book reviews and his future plans of the Darko Dawson series.

I’m not a big fan of the crime/mystery/thriller genre, but I love that the Darko Dawson series are based in various regions of Ghana. Readers who have never been to Ghana will definitely get a glimpse of the various sceneries, smells, accents, sounds etc of the nation. Kwei Quartey was truly pleasant, and he seems to really find joy in writing novels. Readers are not obliged to read the series in chronological order, but I think it’s best to do so. I’m particularly interested in picking up a copy of the second book in the series – “Children of the Street” which takes place in the slums of Accra (I think the Korle Bu area of Accra).

Ayesha Harruna Attah, author of “Harmattan Rain” (check out my review of that book – here) also attended the reading and I got to meet her! Her new book, “Saturday’s Shadows” is currently on sale in Europe and will be available for purchase in Ghana soon- I hope! I love meeting the authors of the books I adore/of African literature in general. I admire African writers and I will continue to support their work. I feel more connected to Ghana and Africa as a whole through their books and it’s a great feeling 🙂


Above are pictures of the reading session and shots of me and Kwei Quartey and Ayesha Harruna Attah.

Follow Writers Project of Ghana on Twitter if you are in Ghana, for more info on African author workshops/book readings etc, here -> @writersPG.

 

And the 2014 Caine Prize winner is… Okwiri Oduor!

A big congratulations to Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor for winning the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing!!

Okwiri Oduor is the 15th winner of the Caine Prize, which is recognized as Africa’s leading literary award for short stories.

The winner was announced last night at a dinner held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England for all the shortlisted candidates.

Okwiri Oduor won the £10,000 prize for her short story, ‘My Father’s Head’. In the short story, the narrator deals with the loss of her father and tries to recollect buried memories of him. Even though the story is laden with issues of loneliness, mourning and sadness, its actually quite moving and has a courageous outlook on loss/death. Oduor is currently working on her debut novel and I can’t wait to read more of her work in the near future!

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 Read ‘My Father’s Head’ by Okwiri Oduor – here 

 

“New Wave of African Writers With an Internationalist Bent” – NY Times

Are positive changes in African nations giving rise to the increasing number of writers and readers of African literature?

Read the New York Times article by Felicia R. Lee, where she discusses the increasing popularity of African literature in the United States.

 

What do you think: Are African writers and African novels in vogue now?