What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Date Read: September 29th 2017

Published: 2017

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Pages: 232

The Blurb

A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home. 

In “Who Will Greet You at Home”, a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions. 

Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.

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Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is out of this world – literally. I truly enjoyed Arimah’s wild imagination and the finesse with which she created worlds I never knew could exist! This collection embodies what a short story collection should be: ORIGINAL, unpredictable and out-of-the-box.

The title of this collection alone stands out and encompasses the ‘out of this world’ theme of the stories. The 12 short stories follow Nigerians (mostly women) in Nigeria and the Diaspora. Arimah explores: abusive relationships between couples, as well as strained mother-daughter relationships; We get a glimpse of the Biafran war while a father tries to discuss violence with his daughter over Chess; We follow young Nigerian women of the Diaspora trying to find their place in the world; We witness childless women desperately creating children out of durable raw materials while two girls of different social classes express their love through uncertainty and weird, hateful actions.

I wanted to give this collection 5 stars, but I didn’t care for some of the stories, especially the titular story. Furthermore, some storylines felt redundant with most characters’ relatives dead or dying, or something tragic always happening. These things recurring in most of the stories made the reading experience a bit morbid, so What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is really a 4.5 stars rating for me!

Nevertheless, I have a good number of favorites from this collection. My favorite stories were:

‘The Future Looks Good’ –  The ending of this story shook me. I felt a full range of emotions reading this story that briefly delves into the relationship between 2 sisters – Bibi and Ezinma, and their strained family relationship. The thin line between love and hate is wonderfully explored in this story!

‘Wild’ – While reading ‘Wild’, I felt like I knew Ada and Chinyere – the main characters of this story. Ada is a Diaspora kid who’s off to college soon. Her mother sends her to Nigeria to visit her cousin – Chinyere’s family for some time before school begins. Arimah explores women relationships in this story so expertly. We also get a glimpse into a troubled mother-daughter relationship that’s probably the cause of Chinyere’s illegitimate child. There’s a lot going on in this story and I loved every bit of it.

‘Windfalls’ – Arimah wrote this story as if the story belonged to the reader. It starts off like this:

‘The first time you fell, you were six. Before then, you were too young to fall and had to be dropped, pushed, made to slip for the sake of authenticity. You learned to fall out of self-preservation as your mother pushed too hard, dropped from too high a height. You have been living off these falls for years, sometimes hers, but mostly yours. A sobbing child garners more sympathy than a pretty but aging mother of one.’ (pg. 79)

From that first paragraph to the end of the story, my heart was so heavy from all the falling. ‘Windfalls’ is a warped story of an innocent daughter, who’s a pawn in the name of her mother’s thievery. This was excellent storytelling, from beginning to end.

‘Who Will Greet You At Home’ – I will never forget this story. The characters in this story are ordinary human beings, living in an extraordinary world. To be honest, this story was so weird to me as I skimmed through it when it was shortlisted for the Caine Prize this year. But once I gave this story a re-read, I definitely enjoyed and understood it better as a part of this collection! Have you ever heard of a baby made of silky, fibrous strands of hair, who only sucks/eats dirty hair? Ogechi – a childless woman who works at a hair salon, unknowingly creates a demon child and all hell breaks loose!

‘Glory’ – Glorybetogod or Glory (for short), thinks she’s bad luck. She’s almost 30 years old and she’s single as ever. She feels she’s wasted all the wonderful opportunities she’s had in the past and is basically at the point of suicide. This character – Glory, is hilarious. I didn’t know whether to pity her or laugh with her at her miserable life! She finally finds a (Nigerian) man and they start dating. But Glory isn’t sure if she wants to get married after she realizes she and her partner seem to be playing the same ‘game.’ Arimah explores the challenges of modern day relationships so well in this story. Social media and the way it influences how we date today gave this story extra relevance. I especially LOVED that the ending of this story was ambiguous. When executed well, I like short stories that end this way! You get to decide how it ends for yourself.

As Nigerians like to say – ‘Naija no dey carry last,’ they finish first and this collection shows the excellence of Nigerian storytelling. So please believe the hype – What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky deserves all the praise, literary nominations and awards it’s received thus far. Reading this collection was an exciting experience and I have no doubts that Lesley Nneka Arimah’s future debut novel will be EPIC.

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

Purchase What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky on Amazon

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

Date Read: May 25th 2017

Published: 2012

Publisher: Riverhead Books

Pages: 217

The Blurb

From the award-winning author, a stunning collection that celebrates the haunting, impossible power of love.

On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In a New Jersey laundry room, a woman does her lover’s washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses.

In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, these stories lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart. They remind us that passion always triumphs over experience, and that “the half-life of love is forever.”

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Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

This Is How You Lose Her is a short story collection with brilliant writing and absorbing storytelling, but I was not a fan of the stories. In this collection, readers get a glimpse into the life of Yunior and his family who are originally from the Dominican Republic, residing in New Jersey.

I hated ALL the characters in this collection (Yunior’s brother – Rafa, really struck me though. I wanted to know more about his cancer and I wished readers got a closer look into how Yunior reacted to his brother’s fate). The characters in this collection can easily make you lose faith in humanity by their shitty actions and intentions (especially towards women). This collection tackles issues of immigration, infidelity, misogyny, love, grief, racism & colorism within the Dominican / Dominican-American community, family, brotherhood, illness, (hyper)masculinity and disappointment.

I usually love when a writer’s skill allows me to have strong feelings towards the characters, but the misogyny in this book was too strong for me. On Goodreads, other readers had issues with Díaz’s use of the word ‘nigga’ and the superfluous vulgarity of this collection. I had no issues with Díaz’s colorful choice of words – the vulgarity in the dialogue between the characters actually gave this collection so much life! But I wonder how the average Dominican feels reading this book – how much of the portrayal of men from the Dominican Republic is exaggerated?

Another thing that bugged me was the arrangement of the stories in this collection. I felt the stories were arranged haphazardly –  for example, the story entitled ‘Invierno’, which explains how Yunior and his family migrated to New Jersey and coped through winter as new immigrants from the Dominican Republic, should have been the first story and the rest of the stories should have followed chronologically – in my opinion.

Junot Díaz is no doubt a brilliant writer, but this collection was a stressful read for me. I will read his debut collection – Drown, just to experience more of Yunior; as well as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at some point.

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

Purchase This Is How You Lose Her on Amazon

And the 2017 Caine Prize winner is…

YES, it’s that time of year again! In less than two weeks, the 2017 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in year 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator, Lyrics Alley among other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel This House is not For Sale and collection Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names

Previously shortlisted writers include: Mia Couto from Mozambique (2001), Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria (2002), Laila Lalami from Morocco (2006), Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria (2013), Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone (2013), Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe (2014), Elnathan John from Nigeria (2013 & 2015), among others!

The Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa. Many Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ works here on African Book Addict!


This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with unique short stories (left to right):(Image via caineprize.com)

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) – Read her short story: Who Will Greet You At Home

Chikodili Emelumadu (Nigeria) – Read her short story: Bush Baby

Bushra al-Fadil (Sudan) – Read his short story: The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away 

Arinze Ifeakandu (Nigeria) – Read his short story: God’s Children Are Little Broken Things

Magogodi oaMphela Makhene (South Africa) – Read her short story: The Virus


The Caine Prize shortlist wouldn’t be a shortlist if a previous shortlistee isn’t back on the list, right? I’m no longer shocked or disappointed when I see previous shortlistees and winners back on the shortlist – the Caine Prize is good for that.

I was happy to see Bushra al-Fadil, a writer of Sudanese heritage on the list! I think the last time a Sudanese writer was on the Caine Prize shortlist was back in year 2000, when Leila Aboulela won the first Caine Prize. But I wasn’t able to finish al-Fadil’s short story- The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t get it. The Virus by Makhene is 26 pages and I haven’t found the time to enjoy it yet. Maybe I’ll listen to the podcast/ audio of the story if I have 1 hour 11 minutes to spare. I found Lesley Nneka Arimah’s story – Who Will Greet You At Home, softly magical. I recently purchased her short story collection – What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky (which was the title of her last year’s shortlisted story) at it’s full price, so I hope it’s worth it. Hmm, I wonder if Arimah will compete to win next year’s prize as well, even with all the positive buzz around her new book.

Chikodili Emelumadu’s story – Bush Baby, is one hell of a rollercoaster! I was initially hesitant to read the story, as it’s a long read of 17 pages. But once I started reading, I just had to stay on the intense ride and endure every bit of it. I love Emelumadu’s succinct writing style. She manages to accurately capture the tiniest nuances which I found impressive. Bush Baby is a haunting story that follows adult siblings Ihuoma and Okwuchukwu (or Okwy) as they battle being tortured by an evil spirit that is out for Okwy. Ihuoma is back home in Nigeria from studying/living abroad and Okwy has resorted to satisfying the desires of his flesh – drugs, gambling, prostitutes and juju. YES- juju! Without giving too much away, just beware – there is black magic/ juju/ voodoo/ magical realism (however you choose to call ‘evil spirits’) in this story. Emelumadu’s palpable descriptions had be cringing and feeling deep sorrow for Okwy and his demise. I discovered Emelumadu’s blog, Igbophilia late last year and find her commentary/stories hilarious and very entertaining. I’m proud of her for making it on this year’s Caine Prize shortlist.

Arinze Ifeakandu’s story – God’s Children Are Little Broken Things MUST win the 2017 Caine Prize. Arinze is one heck of a writer! God’s Children Are Little Broken Things follows 2 university students, Lotanna and Kamsi. They are both young men and they become lovers. However, their relationship is very complicated. Lotanna is a soccer player and lover boy who is dating Rachael but he’s attracted to Kamsi – a piano player who’s small in stature. I don’t want to give too much away but I urge everyone to read the story – it’s the perfect short story for this month, which is considered LGBTQ Pride Month in the US. The story is deeply compelling and layered with many themes, such as – love, homosexuality, domestic violence, family, grief, illness, masculinity etc.

Reading God’s Children Are Little Broken Things got slightly confusing as it’s a second-person narrative, but I believe Arinze writing in this point of view made the story very personal and hence, powerful. I’m curious to know more about Arinze Ifeakandu and what compelled him to write this important story. I’d love to know how other readers feel about this story and the types of arguments/ conversations it will open up, especially among Africans who believe sexual fluidity and homosexuality are abominations. Arinze Ifeakandu must win this year’s Caine Prize and expand this riveting short story into a book! *fingers crossed.*

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced in London at Senate House Library in partnership with SOAS, on the 3rd of July. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

You can also check out past commentary on the Caine Prize below:

2014 | 2015  | 2016

Lizard & Other Stories by Marcelle Mateki Akita

Date Read: December 27th 2016

Published: December 18th 2016

Publisher: Marcelle Mateki Akita

Pages: 63

The Blurb

Follow the stories of five young characters who try to make sense of loss, sex and sexuality in Lizard & Other Stories. Marcelle Mateki Akita explores how topics such as broken family and romantic relationships, sexual violence and masturbation impact a young girl and woman’s development. The collection’s short stories and flash fiction focus on girls and women of Ghanaian and mixed heritage. Written in an imaginative and sobering style, Lizard & Other Stories will unsettle and surprise you.

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Review – ★★★ (3 stars)

How cute is the cover art of Lizard & Other Stories? The beads are truly attractive! Lizard & Other Stories is the good debut of short stories by reader, researcher and co-founder of Afrikult. (a literary platform that discusses, explores and celebrates the diversity of African literature) – Marcelle Mateki Akita. The collection consists of five stories that focus mainly on girls and women of Ghanaian or mixed heritage. The stories in this collection are vivid, bold and told in a calm manner. Once I started reading, I was drawn into Marcelle’s comfy, calm writing style, which allowed me to get to know the characters at relatively good paces. Some issues explored in this collection are: coming of age, religion, family, sexuality, (domestic) violence, naivety and betrayal.

What makes this collection special is the ambiguous nature of all the stories. If you read this collection more than once – which I highly encourage, you will realize that there are various interpretations and extra, juicy details you probably missed during the first reading. When I got the chance to discuss Lizard & Other Stories with Marcelle during Christmas break, I realized I interpreted the stories, especially the final one, entitled Kwesi, in a completely different way than she did. It takes talent to pull that off, even if it’s never a writers’ intention to give stories various meanings. Another thing that’s great about this collection is the unpredictability of the stories. I felt really cozy while reading the first story, entitled Ama, until the story took an unexpected turn and left a sour taste in my mouth. From the way the stories commence to their finality are polar opposites, which was refreshing!

I would’ve been more satisfied with these stories if the characters were developed a little further for readers to fully understand their actions. Also, some passages in this collection seemed overly descriptive, which isn’t my preference when reading short stories and flash fiction. But I must say, the vivid descriptions certainly allow one to picture exactly what is being observed, which was appreciated.

If you want to indulge in bold, unpredictable stories written in a calm voice, definitely look into reading this collection! I eagerly look forward to Marcelle’s future projects – a novel soon, maybe? Pretty please?

Special thanks to Marcelle, for the free copy of Lizards & Other Stories, in exchange for an honest review 🙂


To get a feel of her writing, check out Marcelle’s story that was published by AFREADA last year – Cassava’s Finest

Read more of Marcelle’s work on her websiteShe posts wonderful musings of the mind and soul every Monday and 100 word stories every Wednesday.

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

Purchase Lizard & Other Stories 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

And the 2016 Caine Prize winner is…

Yes, it’s that time of year again! In about two weeks, the 2016 Caine Prize winner will be announced!

For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in 2000 is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).

Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):

  • Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator, Lyrics Alley among other works. 
  • Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines.
  • Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
  • E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel, Voice of America: stories.
  • NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names

Previously shortlisted authors include: Mia Couto from Mozambique (2001), Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria (2002), Laila Lalami from Morocco (2006), Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria (2013), Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe (2014), Elnathan John from Nigeria (2013 & 2015), among others!

The Caine Prize and its shortlisted stories play a huge role in the authors I read from the continent. Many Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ works here on African Book Addict!


This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented young writers with unique short stories (top left to bottom right):

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(Images via caineprize.com ; collage created by African Book Addict!)

Tope Folarin (Nigeria) – Read his short story: Genesis

Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe) – Read his short story: At Your Requiem

Abdul Adan (Somalia/Kenya) – Read his short story: The Lifebloom Gift

Lidudumalingani (South Africa) – Read his short story: Memories We Lost 

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) – Read her short story: What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky

I was surprised to see Tope Folarin shortlisted AGAIN, since he won the Caine Prize back in 2013 for his moving story – Miracle. Why does the Caine Prize always shortlist past shortlistees and winners? Every year, many writers submit stories in hopes of being shortlisted – they couldn’t give someone else a chance to compete to win?

Anyways, Folarin’s Genesis reminded me of his Africa39 story, New MomGenesis is a semi-autobiographical story on Folarin’s family – more specifically on his mother’s mental illness and how it affected him as a child. Genesis made me uncomfortable. I felt stressed reading the story as Folarin freely shares with the world his mother’s plight. The story is an easy read and quite engrossing which I expected, since Folarin’s strength is in his ability to write moving stories – as seen in Miracle. I appreciate Folarin shedding light on mental illness and depression – topics we Africans usually shy away from. But for some reason, I’m not okay with his mother’s illness and antics being shared with the world (MY opinion!). If he wins the Caine Prize again, I anticipate some uproar from readers and critics.

Lesley Nneka Arimah’s story, What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky was an engaging story. This is a story about Nneoma who is a Mathematician that can detect grief and sadness from fellow Nigerians and has the power to heal them. She seems to be searching to find the next genius mathematician to train with healing powers as well. The ending had me a bit confused… But this was an enjoyable read. I’m not a big fan of science fiction but I loved the afrofuturism vibes I got from this story!

Abdul Adan’s story The Lifebloom Gift is my favorite! This story is sooo bizarre. The Lifebloom Gift is a story about a TSA officer who has an encounter with Ted Lifebloom – a 30 year old man who seems to thrive off touching moles on other peoples’ bodies. Once Ted Lifebloom touches another person’s mole, the person he’s touching is transported into a land of “green pastures where they hear the song of birds and sneezes of horses, smell the fur of dogs, feel a twitch in one of their nipples which, in turn, transforms into a brown lactating nipple…” or in short, the person understands the meaning of love (whaaat?!). The TSA officer later conducts a case study on Ted Lifebloom and goes on an adventure to find other Lifebloomers, by accessing moles on the backs of potential Lifebloomers. The story starts off a bit confusing, as it’s hard to picture what Abdul Adan is describing. But as the story unfolds, it all starts to make sense even though its still very strange. It’s actually hard to explain this story. But it was hilarious to read and oh so weird! If you don’t read any of these stories at all, at least read The Lifebloom Gift! It’s truly an original and creative story. I hope Abdul Adan wins the 2016 Caine Prize!

Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?

The winner will be announced on the 4th of July at the Weston Library, Oxford, England. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!

You can also check out my commentary on the Caine Prize from 2014 – here & 2015 – here :).

LIT Links mélange

Hey everyone!

Here are links to some great resources, literature finds and gems I’ve been loving and just had to share. Enjoy!

Thanks to my 2016 Reading Goals, I’ve been slacking on my Carib reads this year – but that will be rectified very soon! The annual Bocas Lit Fest – Trinidad and Tobago’s Literary Festival took place about a week ago and some great Caribbean writers received prizes for their awesome works. The OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature is a major award for literary books by Caribbean writers. Books are classified in three categories: poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction. Below are the book covers of the works that made the OCM Bocas Prize Shortlist:

2016-ocm-bocas-prize-shortlist-covers

The winner of the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature was announced last weekend to be Jamaican writer, Olive Senior for her collection, The Pain Tree! Olive Senior has been on my TBR for a while and this win just reminded me to bump her up my TBR list. As one of the pioneer Caribbean writers, in my opinion I don’t think Olive Senior gets enough shine for her contribution to Caribbean Literature. Below is a showcase of some of her work from 1987 to present day:

Add Olive Senior to your TBR, maybe?

  • Self-published short stories collection: Flight

Fellow book blogger – Stephanie, of Steph Hearts Books (check out her blog!) published a collection of short stories called Flight back in December (2015) on Tumblr. From her blog, she describes the collection – ‘Flight is a multimedia collection of short stories that uses photo, film, and written text to explore themes of escapism for black women. The collection features 4 short stories, films, and photosets’.

I finally just finished reading the collection and I’m really impressed! The first story entitled ‘Thelma’ (which actually ties in well with present day police brutality in the U.S and the constant fear black mothers face for their sons) will reel you in to reading the rest of the stories in this great collection. Stephanie is a talented writer and a lot of emotions are accurately expressed in these stories! Please do check out Flight and share the collection with your friends once you finish reading! Stephanie is also a contributor for Blavity and I enjoy the content she produces there as well.

  • How Not To Talk About African Fiction by Ainehi Edoro

Ainehi Edoro of Brittle Paper wrote an important essay that was published in The Guardian, entitled How Not To Talk About African Fiction. The title of the essay reminded on me of Binyavanga Wainaina‘s satirical essay (2005) – How To Write About Africa which I thoroughly enjoyed in an Anthropology class I took junior year in college (2010/2011) – shoutout to Prof. Sheridan! Anyways, with regards to Ainehi Edoro’s essay – I wholeheartedly agree with everything that’s said. African fiction deserves to be seen as literary work of art instead of solely being appreciated for its ‘anthropological value’. It’s unfair to market African fiction around the social/political issues they address because there’s so much more to these stories that go unseen from how they are described by publishers and even reviewers of African fiction. I think book bloggers and reviewers should try and rectify this issue by adequately portraying the layered complexities of African fiction. What do you all think?

  • Big Belly Ache

Big Belly Ache is captivating artwork I discovered on Instagram months ago by New York based illustrator and writer, Elaine Musiwa. She showcases her work at @bigbellyache where she boldly portrays images that represent varied black women experiences. I enjoyed a conversation Elaine Musiwa had with LAMBB (Look At My Black Beauty)here. Key quotes I got from this interview were:

“The name Big Belly Ache came out of this idea; tackling the topics that are hard to stomach or admit. When I was growing up it took a long time for me to embrace having bold features like a wide nose, large lips, puffy hair, thick thighs, a large ass; all the things that were part of my genetics. This statement art is representative of my progress in self-acceptance”

“Words often leave a need for translation but the beauty of images is that they can be understood worldwide” (Yesss!)

“I hope my images are inspiring young black girls to tell their stories and support each other. As black women, one of our biggest challenges has always been to encourage each other and find our voices in mainstream dialogue”

(quotes taken from Elaine Musiwa’s insightful interview with LAMBB (Look At My Black Beauty)

Below are my favorite illustrations from Big Belly Ache. Enjoy!

Images via bigbellyache.com

  • More Short Stories!

Have y’all been keeping up with AFREADA? There are some really talented writers from the continent and in the diaspora who have been sending in brilliant stories which I have been enjoying! Some stories I really, really love are: The Disappearance of Self by Zainab Omaki (Nigeria), A House in the Sky by Mirette Bahgat (Egypt) and My Father’s Shadow by Kariuki WaKimuyu (Kenya). There are also photo-stories as well as book reviews (by yours truly) on AFREADA‘s website. Head on over there and indulge in great short fiction 🙂

Let me know which of these LIT links intrigued you the most and please share some interesting links you’ve been loving as well! 

Fairytales For Lost Children by Diriye Osman

Date Read: January 7th 2016

Published: September 2013

Publisher: Team Angelica Press

Pages: 156

Diriye Osman

The Blurb

Fairytales For Lost Children is narrated by people constantly on the verge of self-revelation. These characters – young, gay and lesbian Somalis – must navigate the complexities of family, identity and the immigrant experience as they tumble towards freedom. Using a unique idiom rooted in hip-hop, graphic illustrations, Arabic calligraphy and folklore studded with Kiswahili and Somali slang, these stories mark the arrival of a singular new voice in contemporary fiction.

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Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

*sigh*

Is it too early to already know my favorite book of the year? Fairytales For Lost Children just might be the best book I’ve read this year. I read two stories a day from this collection, to adequately absorb everything in little bits. I even smoothed the velvet-textured book cover against my cheeks after reading some of the stories (no, I’m not a weirdo… maybe a little haha). And when I was done reading Fairytales For Lost Children, I wanted more. I need Diriye Osman to write a full novel soon!

This collection of short stories is raw, erotic, sassy, vivid, devastating and most importantly, liberating. These stories are set in modern day Somalia, Kenya and London. The characters of these stories just want to be loved for who they are. They desire to live their lives free from hate, criticism, and scrutiny, while trying to understand the intersectionalities of their own identities.

There are eleven stories in this collection and I loved how Diriye Osman precedes each story with his beautiful artwork, which visually summarizes each tale. Osman also incorporates lots of Neo-Soul (my ultimate favorite music genre) and old school Hip-Hop music into the stories. He refers to Meshell Ndegeocello’s 2002 soul album, Comfort Woman in about three of the stories, so I just had to purchase that album after I read this collection! Osman also blends languages like Somali, Arabic and Swahili into these stories, which make them feel authentic. I deeply enjoyed each and every one of the stories (which is rare for a short stories collection – there are always one or two stories I don’t care for) but my faves were:

Shoga‘ – This tale was pretty explicit but entertaining and heartbreaking at the same time. A displaced seventeen year old Somali boy lives with his grandmother, Ayeeyo, in Kenya. He falls in love with Boniface – the domestic help who is a refugee from Burundi. After enjoying many nights of listening to Bob Marley, smoking marijuana and sleeping with Boniface in his quarters, this seventeen year old later has to deal with the consequences of his pleasures by facing his grandmother – before her time is up.

Earthling‘ – This is a story that follows Somali-Brit – Zeytun, who suffers from psychosis and deeply desires love from her family – more so, from her sister. Her only family and support system is her girlfriend, Mari, who admirably stands by Zeytun and aids in her mental and emotional healing. The love exhibited between this lesbian couple was eye-opening and comforting to me.

Your Silence Will Not Protect You‘ – This story is preceded by Diriye Osman’s artwork that actually looks like a portrait of himself (he’s the man on the book cover by the way!), so I’m assuming this tale is loosely based on his personal story. Osman boldly narrates the series of events that lead to him coming out to his family, and how he boldly deals with the pain of rejection.

The Other (Wo)man‘ – I’ve never read a story like this before. Yassin is a young, twenty-two year old Somali man living in London, pursuing his art degree and is ready to start dating. He meets a middle-aged, British-Jamaican man who works as an army pilot on a dating website (Gaydar) and they go on a couple of dates. But one night, Yassin realizes that the British-Jamaican man’s fetishes not only offend him, but actually push him to maybe trying something he never thought he’d consider. This coming-of-age tale had me sooo worried. But I loved observing Yassin as he strived to understand his ever evolving identities.

My favorite quote from ‘The Other (Wo)man‘ as Yassin takes a walk towards Peckham Rye:

He felt his sense of Somaliness slipping away from him and he was afraid of letting it go, afraid of the moral, psychological and social anarchy its loss threatened to create within him. But at the same time, what was he really hanging onto? A sense of social allegiance? But wouldn’t he be automatically excluded from his community because of his sexual orientation wherever his own allegiance lay? He didn’t belong to just one society: he was gay, Somali, Muslim, and yet all these cultural positions left him excluded… He was Somali first, Muslim second, gay third. But perhaps that hierarchy was only a matter of timing: born Somali, raised Muslim, discovered gay. And now he was venturing out into the world without a sense of his place within it and this frightened him. Yet he realized that he couldn’t mourn what was lost but instead had to consider what was to be gained. He knew he would never belong but did he really want to? (pg. 137)

This collection of short stories is probably the best LGBTQ-themed African fiction out there. I totally understand why Diriye Osman won The Polari First Book Prize back in 2014. Osman’s writing style is bold and fearless and I believe this collection is a priceless gem among the myriad of African fiction novels around. Please read this if you get the chance! And try not to judge the characters in the stories; just immerse yourself in the different happenings of the tales and learn from them. These stories speak volumes on being true to yourself, following your heart and the universal human need to love one another, regardless of sexual orientation, race, occupation, religion. Fairytales For Lost Children must have been liberating to write and I truly admire Diriye Osman as a storyteller and visual artist. Readers around the world will find solace in this work of art – I definitely did! I look forward to reading more of Osman’s work in the future. I’m sure whatever he writes next would be as fierce as this collection.

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

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  • Also!! Read Diriye Osman’s essay published in The Huffington Post (2014): To Be Young, Gay and African
  • I really enjoyed this conversation between Diriye Osman and Another Africa, where they discuss Osman’s background, musical influences and his creative process, difficulties he faced in writing this collection, future projects and so much more!

Other Somali writers I plan on reading in the future (click on their names to check out their Goodreads profiles and their collection of work): Nuruddin FarahAyaan Hirsi Ali, Warsan Shire (Somali-British), Ladan Osman (Somali-American), Nadifa Mohamed (Somali-British).

Purchase Fairytales For Lost Children on Amazon