The Africa Center: Blogger Spotlight + LIT links mélange III

Hey everyone!

The Africa Center – which is based in New York, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, multidisciplinary institution, provides a gateway for engagement with contemporary Africa. They’ve started a Bloggers Spotlight series that features African bloggers who have caught their eye. African Book Addict! is the first feature of the series.

Click the image below to check out the interview where I speak with Evelyn Owen about African Book Addict!, literature by writers of African descent, the literary scene in Accra and more:

Special thanks to Evelyn Owen and the team over at The Africa Center for the feature. I’m super grateful 🙂


Other interesting LIT links to indulge in:

  • Chigozie Obioma: who should I write for – Nigerians, Africans, or everyone? via The Guardian. I know a couple of Nigerians who weren’t crazy about Obioma’s debut – The Fishermen. They simply weren’t blown away by the storyline and some felt the text was laden with petty details – details that seem commonplace to the average Nigerian. I absolutely loved Obioma’s debut, but hearing a couple of readers’ complaints made me question his target audience. In this article, Obioma eloquently asserts that his writing is for everyone as he believes the best literature is accessibly to all.
  • Book bloggers are real readers via The Irish Times. Tunrayo of the blog Tunrayo’s Thoughts tweeted this AMAZING article to me last week. The article articulates and basically defends the role of book bloggers and the influence we hold. I loved it!
  •  We Can Be Heroes via Lenny Letter. In this very timely piece (Black History Month, duh!), black women writers pay homage to the women who’ve inspired them most. Featured writers include Zinzi Clemmons, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Jazmine Hughes and more!

Images via #ReadSoulLit Twitter hashtag timeline

I hope Black History Month 2017 has been inspiring so far! If you’re active on social media (Twitter & Instagram), definitely follow the annual #ReadSoulLit photo challenge (curated by Didi of Brown Girl Reading) to engage with other book lovers of African-American literature and discover many recommendations of books written by Black authors!

2017 New Releases to Anticipate!

Happy New Year, everyone!

What books are you excited to read this year? Below are some (this is just a snippet of books 2017 has to offer!) new African, African-American and Caribbean novels that look very promising.

Please click on the images to read the blurbs and/or to purchase the books.

(this post contains Amazon affiliate links)

Other books to look out for:

What new releases are you excited about? Please do share!

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa GyasiDate Read: July 16th 2016

Published: 2016

Publisher: A.A Knopf

Pages: 305

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

 

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

Yaa Gyasi’s debut – Homegoing, is historical fiction at its best. I honestly thought Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah hit home for me back in 2013 when I read it. But Homegoing IS home. Homegoing is about my home. I never thought I’d read book that perfectly articulates the dynamics of being Ghanaian-American. The only book I’ve read that somewhat touches on the identity complexities of being Ghanaian by blood and American (or British) by birth, was Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (another awesome Ghanaian-American writer). I might have to re-read Powder Necklace and review it on this platform soon!

Homegoing was an emotional read – throughout! I started reading during the wake of the horrific Alton Sterling and Philando Castile police shootings of early July, so you can imagine how haunting these real life events paralleled with this particular historical fiction, which focuses on the legacy of slavery in America and Ghana. Homegoing follows two half sisters – Effia and Esi who live in 18th century Ghana and the generations after them, making Effia and Esi the matriarchs of dual lineages. Effia becomes the wench (not wife) of the British governor of Cape Coast Castle (a slave castle here in Ghana) and is the matriarch of the Ghanaian line of the family; while Esi, who is kept as a slave in the dungeons of this same Cape Coast Castle where Effia resides with the governor, is the matriarch of the American line of the family. Homegoing alternates between the descendants of the two sisters, chronologically from 18th century Ghana to present day (after the millennium), in both Ghana and the US. As with most books of the historical fiction genre, a family tree is provided on the first page of the novel which makes following the two lineages and the different family members pretty easy.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s possible to read Homegoing without harboring some resentment for the insanity white folks forced people of African descent to endure. From the events of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the injustice and discrimination black folks faced in the American south as slaves, to the Anglo-Ashanti wars in Ghana, to present day racial tensions and disregard for black bodies, are all legacies of slavery. I truly admire how Gyasi manages to personalize slavery and its effects through the use of character development in each chapter. In every chapter, readers witness how each generation got some inheritance of slavery – be it through mass incarceration, the need to pass as white, lynching, colorism, the fragmenting of families and so much more.

As much as the terrors white folks caused black people are highlighted in Homegoing, I appreciate Gyasi for not letting Africans off the hook for being complicit in the slave trade. Unfortunately, the role African nations played in enabling slavery are  rarely addressed. All the ethnic wars, kidnapping of innocent people and trading of human beings in exchange for goods from the British, Dutch and Portuguese were all selfish, contributing factors to the slave trade and the inhumane effects they still manifest. While reading Homegoing, I kept thinking about Maya Angelou’s autobiography – All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes and her valid feelings of anger and disappointment she expressed after visiting the Elmina Castle (a Portuguese slave castle here in Ghana) in Cape Coast, Ghana back in the 1970’s. I understood her anger, as she was a descendent of our people who were captured and sold to the Europeans. As upsetting as the slave trade was, I applaud Gyasi for using Homegoing as a way for opening up conversations on the obscure relationship between Africans and African-Americans today, thanks to our disturbed past.

Gyasi’s ability to seamlessly weave Ghanaian and African-American histories into this story was very ambitious and exciting to read! I was impressed with the plethora of themes, actual historical events and icons that made realistic cameos in this novel. Don’t get me wrong – Homegoing is not rigid with historical facts. It’s very much a holistic novel with issues like interracial relationships, sharecropping, homosexuality, racial passing, lynching, homosexuality, mental illness, abelism, colorism and so much more, embedded into the storyline with respect to the times in which the characters live. Real historic icons and happenings like Yaa Asantewaa of Ejisu, The Asantehene, the civil rights movement & non-violent resistance headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Harlem heroin epidemic of the late 1960’s and others are all impressively packed into this novel of 305 pages!

I enjoyed most of the chapters and characters in Homegoing. But my favorite character was Marjorie. I like to believe Marjorie’s chapter is Yaa Gyasi – fictionalized. Marjorie was born in Ghana and raised in the US, just like Yaa Gyasi. In Marjorie’s chapter, I loved how the character articulates how she doesn’t identify fully as Ghanaian or ‘Black American’ which is sometimes used synonymously with the ambiguous term – ‘akata’ by some Africans. I especially loved that Marjorie found joy in reading books by writers of African descent,

Her work was in African and African American literature, and when Marcus asked her why she choose those subjects, she said that those were the books that she could feel inside her. (pg. 295)

Is Marjorie me? That quote is basically the essence of why I created African Book Addict! It was refreshing to read Majorie’s chapter, as I completely understood her identity struggles. While my life story is a little different from Majorie’s/Yaa Gyasi’s, reading a character with a similar background as yours is deeply gratifying. You begin to realize that there are others like you in the world; that you’re not alone in your confusion as to where you call home; that your convictions on your ever evolving identities are valid.

While discussing Homegoing with other book lovers here in Accra, I realized there were some minor inaccuracies in the novel. But I didn’t mind the minor inaccuracies others felt the need to point out. I did however find the ending of this phenomenal book a bit corny. Marcus’s chapter should have ended with a bang – as all the other chapters did! Regardless, Homegoing was emotional and heartbreaking, yet exhilarating to read. I hope Yaa Gyasi makes a trip to Ghana soon or adds Accra to her book tour. I’d love a good ole’ chat with a fellow Ghanaian-American and of course, for my copy of the book to be graced with her signature!

I’d like to extend a special thank you to my new friend – Trish Tchume and publishers A. A Knopf  for my copy of the book.  Homegoing is definitely one of my top 5 favorite books of this year. Don’t be surprised when it is required reading in schools soon.

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

My copy of Homegoing before and after reading.

P.S: I’ve typed all of the quotes I highlighted while reading and I’m open to sending anyone who’s interested, the PDF file of the compiled quotes via email. Some of the quotes, notes and suggested readings I highlighted would make for amazing book club discussions 🙂

Purchase Homegoing on Amazon

Mini Reviews | Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime & Letter to My Daughter

Hey everyone!

Last year, thanks to finals week, I wasn’t able to review the books I read by legendary mothers – J. California Cooper and Maya Angelou. Below are mini reviews of two books written by two brilliant, African-American literature pioneer writers.

Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime: stories by J. California Cooper

J. California CooperDate Read: December 26th 2015

Published: 1996

Publisher: Anchor Books / Doubleday

Pages: 273

 

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

Whether through her stories or her legendary readings, J. California Cooper has an uncanny ability to reach out to readers like an old and dear friend. Her characters are plain-spoken and direct: simple people for whom life, despite its ever-present struggles, is always worth the journey.

In Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, Cooper’s characteristic themes of romance, heartbreak, struggle and faith resonate. We meet Darlin, a self-proclaimed femme fatale who uses her wiles to try to find a husband; MLee, whose life seems to be coming to an end at the age of forty until she decides to set out and see if she can make a new life for herself; Kissy and Buddy, both trying and failing to find them until they finally meet each other; and Aberdeen, whose daughter Uniqua shows her how to educate herself and move up in the world.

These characters and others offer inspiration, laughter, instruction and pure enjoyment in what is one of J. California Cooper’s finest story collections.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I discovered J. California Cooper back in 2013. But the announcement of her passing in 2014 had me wishing I’d read her work earlier. After reading Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime, I realized I had really been missing out on Ms. Cooper’s yummy ways of storytelling! As I was reading the stories in this collection, I felt as if I was chatting with a good friend in my living room. Cooper’s stories have a juicy, gossipy-feel that make for an exciting, yet comforting read!

My favorite stories were:

‘Femme Fatale’ – In this story, readers are invited into Darlin’s life as she tries to find herself. After losing both parents and her beloved grandmother, Darlin does all she can to be happy and to be loved by a good man, while in the process grooming herself to be a ‘femme fatale’. This story was an emotional rollercoaster and I loved how it ended. J. California Cooper puts a lot of sass into this story!

‘Sure Is a Shame’ 

You know, it’s a fact and I seen it, sometimes when you think you taking a bite out of life, chewing hard on it, life be done taken a bite out of you and done already swallowed. Sho is a shame, sho is (pg. 159)

This is a cautionary tale on the consequences of taking the little things and good people for granted. It was a long-winded story, but also a wake up call and good reminder to appreciate each day in life, as well as the people placed in it.

Most of the characters in Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime are either 50 years and older or they grow well into old age as they recollect different events of their lives. All the stories have an element of self-help to them, as J. California Cooper drops lots of wisdom on how to live a fulfilling life, through the characters in the stories. But I wished some of the protagonists were younger and that there was more variety to the stories in this collection. Honestly, I can only remember about 3 stories out of this collection. I found the rest of the stories redundant, predictable and quite simple – without much depth. With that said, I still look forward to reading some of J. California Cooper’s full novels – like Family and The Wake of The Wind in the near future. Definitely read this if you’re in the mood for a chatty, comforting collection of stories!

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

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Purchase Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime on Amazon


Letter to My Daughter (ebook) by Maya Angelou

Letter_to_My_DaughterDate Read: November 27th 2015

Published: September 2008

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 166

 

 

The Blurb

Dedicated to the daughter she never had but sees all around her, Letter to My Daughter reveals Maya Angelou’s path to living well and living a life with meaning. Told in her own inimitable style, this book transcends genres and categories: guidebook, memoir, poetry, and pure delight.

Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.

Whether she is recalling such lost friends as Coretta Scott King and Ossie Davis, extolling honesty, decrying vulgarity, explaining why becoming a Christian is a “lifelong endeavor,” or simply singing the praises of a meal of red rice–Maya Angelou writes from the heart to millions of women she considers her extended family.

Like the rest of her remarkable work, Letter to My Daughter entertains and teaches; it is a book to cherish, savor, re-read, and share.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

Maya Angelou is one of the writers who got me truly interested in African-American literature and reading in general, back when I was 13 years old. When I was younger, I wasn’t particularly excited about the ‘classics’ I was forced to read, like – Black Beauty, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, To Kill A Mockingbird, Little Women, The Catcher in the RyeAnn of Green Gables, just to name a few. I appreciated those books, but I didn’t deeply connect with the characters of the novels. When my mother suggested for me to start reading Maya Angelou’s autobiography series which she owned in her bookshelf (my mother is an original bookworm. Me and my siblings will inherit a whooole library of books!), I started with – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Angelou’s storytelling grasps all of your attention with her vivid descriptions, poetic writing style and punches of wisdom in each chapter of her work. *sigh* I’m still bitter that she passed away on my birthday in 2014. I really wanted to meet her or just be in her presence at a literary event.

Letter to My Daughter is my sixth read from Maya Angelou’s work and I believe it’s a timeless gem of essays!

My favorite essays were:

‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer’ – This story was very familiar, as I’ve read a similar version of the account in Angelou’s final book in her autobiography series – Mom & Me & Mom (2013). In ‘Accident, Coincident, or Answered Prayer,’ Maya Angelou takes readers back to when she dated a physically abusive man and the (emotional, physical) pain it caused her life as a young woman. To think Angelou could have died in the serious brawl she describes in this essay is horrifying. However her fierce mother – Vivian Baxter, is the real MVP of this account as her love and fearless nature save Angelou. In this account, readers ultimately learn that Maya Angelou believed in the power of prayer.

‘Violence’

Too many sociologist and social scientists have declared that the act of rape is not a sexual act at all, but rather a need to feel powerful… The sounds of the premeditated rape, the grunts and gurgles, the sputtering and spitting, which commences when the predator spots and then targets the victim, is sexual. The stalking becomes, in the rapist’s mind, a private courtship, where the courted is unaware of her suitor, but the suitor is obsessed with the object of desire. He follows, observes, and is the excited protagonist in his sexual drama… I am concerned that the pundits, who wish to shape our thinking and, subsequently, our laws, too often make rape an acceptable and even explainable social occurrence… We must call the ravening act of rape, the bloody, heart-stopping, breath-snatching, bone-crushing act of violence, which it is. The threat makes some female and male victims unable to open their front doors, unable to venture into streets in which they grew up, unable to trust other human beings and even themselves. Let us call it a violent unredeemable sexual act… (pages 39-41).

This is an excerpt from ‘Violence,’ one of the powerful (and self-explanatory) essays from this collection which is ever so relevant to us today in 2016. I wonder what Maya Angelou would make of the several, deeply upsetting rape cases that seem to be pushed under the rug today – especially the terrible Stanford rape case. Angelou picks readers’ brains and questions society’s complacency in combatting violent acts against women. This was a compelling, necessary essay.

Mother Maya Angelou can do no wrong in my eyes! This collection of essays is uplifting and familiar if you’ve read any of her autobiographies. Even if you aren’t familiar with her work, this is nevertheless a riveting collection to start with, as readers can get a feel of her storytelling, essays and poetry. Maya Angelou was a well of wisdom who touched many lives through her wonderful words – she will always be one of my favorites!

P.S: Has anyone seen the Maya Angelou Documentary yet – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise ? It was released June 7th of this year!

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

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I hope to purchase the physical copy of Letter to My Daughter soon! Above is my Mom’s super old Maya Angelou collection from our personal library. I have two books left to read from this pile 🙂

Purchase Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou on Amazon

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird HillDate Read: June 14th 2016

Published: 2015

Publisher: Penguin Press

Pages: 304

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

After their mother can no longer care for them, young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados to live with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother’s limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother’s mysterious life.

When the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family.

 

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

I bought The Star Side of Bird Hill late last year for 2 reasons: I absolutely adored the super chic, sassy cover art (designed by an amazing contemporary Caribbean artist from Barbados – Sheena Rose) and I just had to support Naomi Jackson, as she’s an alum of Williams College – Middlebury’s (my alma mater) sister liberal arts school!

The Star Side of Bird Hill is a decent coming-of-age story that focuses on Barbadian-American sisters – Dionne (16 years old) and Phaedra (10 years old) as they learn new things about their family, culture and even themselves during their summer vacation in Bird Hill, Barbados. I really appreciated Jackson’s easy-going and descriptive writing style in this novel. Her vivid descriptions of Barbados definitely made this a great summer read! I felt as if I was with the characters during the lively carnival and on the sandy, pristine beaches against the backdrop of the serene sunsets. I could even hear the voices of both Dionne and Phaedra during their dialogues – that’s how thorough Jackson’s descriptions were!

But I kept wondering if The Star Side of Bird Hill was considered a YA (Young Adult) novel because it was surprisingly a heavy read. Tough issues like depression, mental illness, death, divorce, suicide, homosexuality, bi-cultural upbringing, Christianity, voodoo etc are all tackled in this book. I must say, Dionne and Phaedra’s grandma – Hyacinth, is the real MVP of this novel. I was in awe of her strength, courage and emotional stability given the series of unexpected, unfortunate incidents that occur at Bird Hill. It seemed as if Naomi Jackson was paying homage to the women of Bird Hill by showcasing the amazing strength the Barbadian women possess.

While reading, I sensed some similarities in this storyline to Haitian writer,  Edwidge Danticat’s novel Breath, Eyes, Memory – even though Danticat takes the themes of mother-daughter relationships, depression, sexual assault and suicide up a notch! I wanted to gift one of my friends who is of Grenadian heritage with this book, as I initially thought she’d easily relate to Caribbean/Caribbean-American storyline, but I’ve been having second thoughts since the story becomes super depressing for a good 100 pages. I wasn’t really blown away by The Star Side of Bird Hill when I finished the book. I enjoyed how most incidents and issues were sort of resolved by the end, but The Star Side of Bird Hill is not more than 3.5 stars for me. I do look forward to whatever Naomi Jackson writes next though!

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

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Purchase The Star Side of Bird Hill on Amazon

Saturday’s Shadows by Ayesha H. Attah

Saturday's ShadowsDate Read: February 27th 2016

Published: January 2015

Publisher: World Editions

Pages: 352

 

 

 

 

The Blurb

The protagonists of Saturday’s Shadows experience the fine line between sanity and madness as they try to find and hold on to love in the volatile world of 1990s West Africa. After a seventeen-year military dictatorship, a country tries to find it’s footing while the members of the middle-class Avoka family lurch towards destruction. They live in a politically complex climate, a time so tenuous that the country could easily dip back into its military past.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Saturday’s Shadows is a multi-voice novel about the Avoka family in an unnamed West African country. Readers meet Theo – the head of the Avoka family, who is working on the president – Dr. Karamoh Saturday’s memoir and might be caught up in dangerous political risks. His wife is Zahra, who works in the farming industry but is pre-occupied with re-living her past love life with an old flame. And there’s Kojo, their only child who is struggling to keep up with schoolwork at the prestigious International Secondary School. Atsu, the Avoka family’s house help is straight out of the village and is busy balancing learning to read and write English while trying to stay out of trouble with a suspicious man who admires her.

Saturday’s Shadows is a decent novel and Ayesha H. Attah does an amazing job with character development. Character development is a huge strength of Ayesha Harruna Attah’s and I remember truly enjoying the character development of characters like Sugri and Akua-Afriyie in Harmattan Rain back in 2014. My favorite character in Saturday’s Shadows is Kojo. He is such a witty, hilarious, typical teenage boy with insecurities and worries of growing up. I was always happy to read his chapters in this novel as he finds young love and struggles with bullies and Math at school. My least favorite character in this novel is Kojo’s mother – Zahra. She’s such selfish mother and wife! Throughout the book, she only lives to satisfy her own wants and needs, which put her health and marriage at risk. Theo Avoka’s chapters are intriguing as well. He gives the novel a political feel, which is a different dimension to the family-oriented theme of this novel.

Because this story takes place in an unnamed West African nation, the different characters have various names of West African origin. For example, some characters have Nigerian names like Kunle and Ngozi ; Ghanaian names like Atsu and Kojo ; Senegalese names like Ndeye and Diouf. This may seem trivial, but I really loved how there was a cute blend of West African names in this novel! But it took me 2 months to finish Saturday’s Shadows – I started it a day after Christmas and ended up taking a break from the book when I got to page 260 or so. I think I was just craving a story that was more fast-paced and exciting. Why did all the good action have to happen on page 300, almost towards the end? After I picked this up again in February, I found the storyline to be a bit predictable. I’m a huge fan of Ayesha H. Attah’s work, but this book wasn’t as exciting for me as Harmattan Rain. Definitely read this book if you enjoy character development and a family themed story!

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

Check out some photos from the Saturday’s Shadows book reading I attended back in 2015 – here.

Ayesha H. Attah is working on a new novel called One Hundred Wells! Read more about it – here. I’m excited for it!!

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Purchase Saturday’s Shadows on Book Depository

Summer in Igboland (ebook) by Ifeanyi Awachie

AwachieDate Read: January 4th 2016

Published: July 1st 2015

Publisher: Pronoun

Pages: 73

 

The Blurb

Ifeanyi Awachie, a Nigerian-American Yale University student, was tired of images of terrorism, corruption, and poverty– the only images Western media seemed to use to portray her birth country. So she went back to Nigeria for the first time in nineteen years to change the narrative.
Through Awachie’s vivid photos and honest, poetic writing, Summer in Igboland presents contemporary Nigeria from a unique perspective. The book takes on everything from Nigerian nightlife to the politics of hair to vibrant foods to meeting extended family for the first time as an adult.
As intimate as a diary and as informative as a travel blog, Summer in Igboland is a story of finding fun, personal struggle, and most importantly, one’s roots in a country whose negative stories are often the most prominent. Explore it, and discover modern Nigeria through the eyes and voice of an adventurous, passionate first-generation Nigerian.

Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

Ifeanyi Awachie, a rising senior of Yale at the time won a fellowship to conduct an independent study in Nigeria. The aim of the study was to use photography to challenge the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria. Ifeanyi was born in Nigeria, left when she was eighteen months old and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She had never been back to Nigeria since her move to the United States, so this summer project was supposed to be a great way to connect with her heritage.

Summer in Igboland is a travelogue where Ifeanyi takes readers to different towns in Nigeria and discusses random happenings of the places she visits, while trying to gain a sense of belonging at the place of her birth. This was a fast and easy read! I enjoyed how the travelogue was written with a personal diary feel and that it wasn’t heavy with historical facts about Nigeria.

As Ifeanyi interacts with Nigeria natives and some relatives, she begins to feel her ‘Americanness’ is a flaw, as her differences are very apparent, like: her American accent, her natural hair (she did not wear a weave as most young Nigerian women did), being a vegetarian (even though she hides this from her family) and her inability to speak the language – Igbo. She poses a lot of thought provoking questions with respect to her identity as she navigates her way through Nigeria. When people call her oyibo (which means ‘white person’) or make a fuss about her not speaking the language, she found that her own people tended to relegate her and made her feel less Nigerian. I could completely understand Ifeanyi feeling her Americanness was a flaw, especially with respect to sounding American and not being very fluent in the native language. Why is it that whenever people find that you are different from them, they tend to make you feel guilty for being different? Will we ever live in a world where differences are appreciated?

I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes on Ifeanyi’s new love for fufu*. Before her trip to Nigeria, she detested fufu. Whenever she was forced to eat fufu as a young girl, she would take bites of it with a fork. Fork? WHO EATS FUFU WITH A FORK? is what I asked myself as I read this. In Ghana, when you don’t use your fingers to eat fufu, you simply use a spoon! But then it occurred to me that Nigerians eat fufu differently from Ghanaians – Ghanaian fufu is usually embedded in bowl of soup. Whereas, the dense pounded yam of Nigerian fufu is usually in a separate bowl from the preferred soup. Once I remembered these differences, I was able to understand why Ifeanyi used to eat fufu with a fork, I guess. Check out what Nigerian fufu looks like – here ; Check out what Ghanaian fufu looks like – here. (Nigerian readers, please correct me if I’m wrong with the fufu comparisons!)

Throughout her exploration of different types of fufu and soups, Ifeanyi even states some fufu facts she learned while in Nigeria:

  1. One does not eat fufu with utensils.
  2. One does not chew fufu – one simply swallows.

With respect to the latter, lots of people chew fufu – myself included! *sigh* I can write a whole thesis on this swallowing of fufu phenomenon but I’ll save that for another day. But it was cute to read on Ifeanyi’s love for a dish she initially disliked as I could completely relate to her fufu-eating experience.

I’m glad I read this ebook. I just wish some of the anecdotes were concluded in a more cohesive way. From the blurb, Ifeanyi wanted to change the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria, but I didn’t really get that from this short ebook. Nevertheless, Summer in Igboland made me think back to the time when I first arrived in Accra at the age of 10 and how I now identify as Ghanaian as well as American. Reading books like Summer in Igboland affirm my love of reading books written by people of African descent / people of the Diaspora because you see yourself in these stories! You start to see and feel that your experience as African, African-American, Caribbean, Black – whatever your heritage or (bi-)cultural upbringing, are all valid. Please consider reading this book, I’d love to discuss it with other readers!

 

  • fufu* – Fufu is a West African dish that consists of pounded boiled yam, cassava, plantain or coco-yam tubers; usually pounded into a dough-like consistency and eaten with soup.

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

Purchase Summer in Igboland on Amazon

Book Chat :: Do you lend your books?

Hey everyone!

From time to time, I’d like to pick your brains on different topics that I think interest and affect all book lovers. Today, I’m really curious to know from you all: Do you lend your books to others?

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Image via EpicReads

Let’s chat, shall we?

There have been times when friends have NOT returned the books I lent them. To this day, one of my best friends still has one of my favorite books in her possession (I gave it to her back in 2009 and I eventually had to stop asking for the book back, since she didn’t seem to know where she put it -_-). Other friends who eventually returned books I lent, brought them back with either oil smudges on the pages, discombobulated book spines or limp-looking, torn paperback covers – basically, damaged books.

I feel very connected to the (physical) books I own – am I alone here? I’ve connected with various characters, places and incidents from the books I read. Some of my books have notes I jotted down on the pages, some passages are underlined and some pages are marked for future referencing and whatnot. So right now, I do not like to lend my books to anyone anymore (well, I do share my books with my Mom. She’s an original book lover, so she respects books! And I usually read her books, so its only fair to share mine too haha).

I’m learning to say ‘no’ to lending my books. But it’s not easy to say no – I don’t want a friend or family member to feel offended or think I’m being selfish for not wanting to lend them. Books shouldn’t be the cause of sour relations between individuals… but honestly, after all the bad experiences I’ve had with lending, I’d rather purchase the book of interest for a friend, instead of loaning my copy.

How about you all:

Do you let people borrow your books? Are you attached to the physical books you own? Have you had similar instances where loved ones misplace or ‘abuse’ your cherished books? How would you tell others that you don’t usually lend out your books?

I’d love to hear your opinions, experiences and tips on your book lending policy!


By the way, I’m currently (slowly) reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel: In Other Words. It’s very passionate thus far!

I also attended a book reading for Elnathan John last weekend (he was shortlisted twice for the Caine Prize) and I purchased his debut novel – Born On A Tuesday, as well as Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore which I spotted at the bookstore where the reading was being held (Vidya Bookstore; Accra). I hope to enjoy them during summer break!

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Image via my Instagram: @AwoDeee

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

RhimesDate Read: January 14th 2016

Published: November 2015

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Pages: 311

 

The Blurb

In this poignant, hilarious and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How To Get Away With Murder, reveals how saying Yes changed her life- and how it can change yours too.

 

Review –  ★★★★ (4 stars)

Who would have thought Shonda Rhimes’ sister’s six words: ‘You never say yes to anything’ during their Thanksgiving dinner preparations in 2013 would push her to a Year of Yes Challenge? Shonda Rhimes – television producer, writer and Hollywood powerhouse is a hard worker and used to drown herself in work to keep her two, super popular television shows –Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal on ABC (television network). Work was Rhimes’ excuse to avoid attending interviews, red carpet events, speaking engagements and the like. Shonda Rhimes was just your typical introvert: focused on reading, writing and just sticking to herself without being in the spotlight. Her sister’s words pushed her out of her comfort zone to dare to say yes to everything and all the invitations that came her way. Through this challenge, she learned to become more comfortable with herself, to love herself more, to have less awkward conversations, to take her health seriously and to even speak at Dartmouth College – her alma mater, during commencement in 2014.

Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand In The Sun And Be Your Own Person was a relatively easy and entertaining page-turner. I finally understand the magic behind Rhimes’ badass career (in the book, she coins the word ‘badassery’ haha), especially after her Year of Yes challenge to herself. This was an inspiring read with lots of positive affirmations and quotes. Some of my favorite quotes were:

Lucky implies that I was handed something I did not earn, that I did not work hard for. Gentle reader, may you never be lucky. I am not lucky. You know what I am? I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me badass. (pg. 181)

An awesome quote on what she wishes to achieve through her television shows:

The need to hear the words: ‘You are not alone’. The fundamental human need for one human being to hear another human being say to them ‘You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone’. I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in ‘diversity’ on television. ‘Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?’ they say. I really hate the word diversity. It suggests something… other. As if it is something…special. Or rare. Diversity! As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women, people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television NORMAL. I am normalizing television. You should get to turn on the TV and see your tribe. Your tribe can be any kind of person, anyone you identify with, anyone who feels like you, who feels like home, who feels like truth. (pg. 235)

 

I especially appreciated the commentary on the challenges of balancing motherhood and being a successful career woman. Having 3 successful shows on prime time television AND being a mother of 3 young girls are not easy feats! Rhimes constantly has to find balance when it comes to either being in the studio during writing and filming sessions or finding time to attend her daughters’ recitals and simply spending enough time with them at home. With more women in the workforce nowadays, I feel a lot of women readers who balance motherhood and their careers would identify with Rhimes’ hilarious and thoughtful discourse on finding balance.

I have been a faithful fan of Grey’s Anatomy since 2009, and the writing style of this book is quite similar to that of the show – chatty, funny and conversational. But one thing that bugged me about Year of Yes was how chatty Rhimes’ thought process was in the beginning of the book. It reminded me of the ever so annoying Dr. April Kepner character of Grey’s Anatomy and I was almost put to sleep at times by this. But all in all, I admire Rhimes and I can’t wait to see what other groundbreaking projects she has up her sleeve in the future. Even if you aren’t a fan of her shows, please do read this – its a motivating, brave memoir by an incredible black woman. You might even want to try the Year of Yes challenge for yourself!

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

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Purchase Year of Yes 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!