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Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

Imraan Coovadia Welcomes Comparisons to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Tales of the Metric SystemImraan Coovadia chatted to Siphiliselwe Makhanya of The Times about his new novel Tales of the Metric System recently.

At the Cape Town launch of the book a few weeks ago, The Book Lounge owner Mervyn Sloman said: “I don’t think anyone in our country has done anything as ambitious or extremely well pulled off.” In this interview Coovadia admits he may have “ruined” his earlier books “by a certain flippancy”, but says with Tales of the Metric System he welcomes comparisons to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, especially her novel Half of a Yellow Sun, which he especially admires.

Read the interview:

Your book has been likened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Did that surprise you?

It wasn’t too surprising, since I suggested it.

I very much liked the structure and the seriousness of Half of a Yellow Sun.

You’ve said you were unhappy with your first attempts at writing a book in your 20s. How do you feel about the quality of the works that have followed?

I think I may have ruined them by a certain flippancy.

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Nigeria’s Rainbow Book Club Hosts Discussion of Chinua Achebe’s There Was A Country

There Was A CountryThe Rainbow Book Club, which is part of the Rainbow Education for Advancement and Development Foundation, hosted a discussion of Chinua Achebe’s memoir, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra at the Le Méridien Ogeyi Place in Port Harcourt earlier this year.

The Garden City Literary Festival blog, The Voice, wrote up a report of the event, which included input from an ex-Biafran soldier. The report commented the book club members “were more concerned with the content than the delivery of it”, with some questioning whether it was wise to open old wounds and others who felt it was necessary to look at the Nigerian Civil War in light of recent killings by Boko Haram:

“I believe quite frankly this country is at war…” Wole Soyinka’s words at the unveiling of Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 during the 5th Garden City Literary Festival, re-echoed at the Rainbow Book Club’s January Reading of Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country. The reading which held Friday 25th January at the poolside of Le Meridien, Ogeyi Place, Port Harcourt, was explosive! While Professor Soyinka made his comments with reference to the killings of the ‘Aluu Four’ last year, the sentiments at the reading were from 1967-1970, the years of the Nigerian Civil War.

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Excerpt from There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe

There Was A CountryAn extensive extract from There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe has appeared in Guernica Magazine.

This excerpt stretches from Achebe’s childhood and his love of the traditional Igbo stories that his mother and sister would tell him, through to his experiences of post-independence Nigeria:

On November 16, 1930, in Nnobi, near my hometown of Ogidi, providence ushered me into a world at a cultural crossroads. By then, a longstanding clash of Western and African civilizations had generated deep conversations and struggles between their respective languages, religions, and cultures.

Crossroads possess a certain dangerous potency. Anyone born there must wrestle with their multiheaded spirits and return to his or her people with the boon of prophetic vision; or accept, as I have, life’s interminable mysteries.

My initiation into the complicated world of Ndi Igbo was at the hands of my mother and my older sister, Zinobia, who furnished me with a number of wonderful stories from our ancient Igbo tradition. The tales were steeped in intrigue, spiced with oral acrobatics and song, but always resolute in their moral message. My favorite stories starred the tortoise mbe, and celebrated his mischievous escapades. As a child, sitting quietly, mesmerized, story time took on a whole new world of meaning and importance. I realize, reminiscing about these events, that it is little wonder I decided to become a storyteller. Later in my literary career I traveled back to the magic of the storytelling of my youth to write my children’s books: How the Leopard Got His Claws, Chike and the River, The Drum, and The Flute: A Children’s Story (Tortoise books).

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Chinua Achebe Discusses His Work with Iranian Journalist Nasrin Pourhamrang

There Was A CountryThings Fall ApartChinua Achebe’s most famous work, Things Fall Apart, was recently translated into Persian and released in Iran. Nasrin Pourhamrang, a journalist and editor-in-chief of Iranian publication Hatef Weekly Magazine, conducted an interview with Achebe in which they covered a wide range of topics, including Iranian arts and culture and Achebe’s writing career.

Achebe explains why he has only been able to write about the Biafran war now in his latest book, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, and discusses the features of modern African literature:

Recently, the classic African novel “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe was translated into Persian by Ali Hodavand and released in Iran. Nasrin Pourhamrang, Editor-in-Chief of Hatef Weekly Magazine interviewed the author on a wide range of topics from Art, culture and literature;politics, cultural and linguistic preservation;to the legacy of colonialism and his forthcoming book there was a Country-A personal history of Biafra.

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He was raised in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centers of Anglican missionary work in Eastern Nigeria, and is a graduate of University College, Ibadan. His early career in radio ended abruptly in 1966, when he left his post as Director of External Broadcasting in Nigeria during the national upheaval that led to the Biafran War. Achebe joined the Biafran Ministry of Information and represented Biafra on various diplomatic and fund-raising missions. He was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began lecturing widely abroad. For over fifteen years, he was the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. He is now the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and professor of Africana studies at Brown University.

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Image courtesy QW Magazine

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There Was A Country: Chinua Achebe’s Long-awaited Memoir of the Biafran War

There Was A CountryThis month from Penguin:

Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, is a writer whose moral courage and storytelling gifts have left an enduring stamp on world literature. There Was a Country is his long-awaited account of coming of age during the defining experience of his life: the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War of 1967-1970. It became infamous around the world for its impact on the Biafrans, who were starved to death by the Nigerian government in one of the twentieth century’s greatest humanitarian disasters. Caught up in the atrocities were Chinua Achebe and his young family.

Achebe, already a world-renowned novelist, served his Biafran homeland as a roving cultural ambassador, witnessing the war’s full horror first-hand. Immediately after the war, he took an academic post in the United States, and for over forty years he has maintained a considered silence on those terrible years, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry. Now, years in the making, comes his towering reckoning with one of modern Africa’s most fateful experiences, both as he lived it and he has now come to understand it. Marrying history and memoir, with the author’s poetry woven throughout, There Was a Country is a distillation of vivid observation and considered research and reflection. It relates Nigeria’s birth pangs in the context of Achebe’s own development as a man and a writer, and examines the role of the artist in times of war.

About the author

Chinua Achebe is a prominent and prolific writer, poet, professor and literary critic, renowned for novels that describe the effects of Western customs and values on traditional African society. He is probably best known for Things Fall Apart (1958), a novel that has sold more than ten million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than fifty languages. Achebe is the winner of numerous honours and awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction, honorary doctorates from more than thirty colleges and universities, and Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award.

Chinua Achebe’s book Girls At War was published by Penguin Books SA as part of the Penguin African Writers Series on the 1st of August 2009.

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Ben Okri Shares His Thoughts on Writing and the State of Nigeria with Percy Zvomuya

Dangerous LoveBen Okri was recently in South Africa to deliver the Steve Biko Lecture at the University of Cape Town. Percy Zvomuya from the Mail & Guardian and Neo Maditla from Daily News have written about Okri’s first trip to the country and his lecture on Biko.

Okri spoke to Zvomuya about the double challenge of writing in the wake of an older generation of African writers as well as the context of current Western literature. He also shared his thoughts on Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic militant group, saying that it is “the greatest danger we have faced in 50 years”.

Maditla wrote about Okri’s decision to visit South Africa for the Biko Lecture after turning down other invitations. Okri referenced South Africa’s complex past and said that “the way in which one enters the country, the land, is very important”. He said that this invitation felt “magical”.

Ben Okri was born left-handed and was forced, as was the custom in those days, to become right-handed. As Okri wrote the book that would be published under the title The Famished Road, which won the Booker prize in 1991, his right hand gave in.

“When I was writing The Famished Road, which was very long, I got repetitive stress syndrome. My right wrist collapsed, so I started using my left hand,” he said in a 1993 interview with the Independent.

Ben Okri is a celebrated author and poet who has won numerous literary awards, including a Booker Prize for Fiction for his 1991 novel, “The Famished Road”. But until last week, the Nigerian writer had never set foot in South Africa, despite numerous invitations.

On Wednesday, he described his visit as “almost a spiritual pleasure”.

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Penguin African Writers Series Releases Titles by Bessie Head and Ben Okri

Penguin Books South Africa has added two new titles to its African Writers Series, A Question of Power by Bessie Head and Dangerous Love by Ben Okri:

In this semi-autobiographical novel, Head tracks the protagonist, Elizabeth’s, struggle to emerge from the oppressive social situation in which she finds herself, and from the nightmares and hallucinations that torment her.

Elizabeth, like the author, was conceived in an out-of wedlock A Question of Powerunion between a black man and a white woman of social standing – a union outlawed by her country of birth, South Africa. Elizabeth leaves South Africa with her young son to live in Botswana, a country that has escaped some of the worst evils of colonial domination. But in rural Botswana she is once again faced with a constricting social system as the villagers are suspicious of her urban ways and frown upon her individualistic behaviour. They also bear her ill will on racial grounds because she is light skinned like the ‘Bushmen’ who are a despised tribe there.

Elizabeth suffers not only social isolation, but intellectual deprivation as well. One of the few people with whom she can converse as an intellectual equal is the American Peace Corps volunteer, Tom. During the four years in which Elizabeth is plagued by mental, social and economic challenges, it is Tom, and her own love for, and obligation to, her young son that help her to survive this ordeal.

About the author

Bessie Head was born of mixed parentage in 1937 in South Africa. She lived with foster parents until she was 13 and then attended a mission school until she was 18, before working as a teacher and a journalist for Drum magazine. An unsuccessful marriage, together with involvement in the trial of a friend, led her to apply for a teaching post in Botswana.

Her first novel, When Rain Clouds Gather (1969), grew out of her experience living as a refugee in Botswana, and was followed by Maru (1971) and A Question of Power (1974). In 1977 she published The Collector of Treasures, a book of short stories exploring the position of women in Africa. In 1981, Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind was published, a portrait of a village brought together from notes and interviews spanning a hundred years.

Bessie Head died in Serowe, Botswana in 1986, aged only 49.

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Dangerous LoveSet in post-civil war Nigeria, Dangerous Love tells the story of a young man, Omovo, an office-worker and artist, who lives at home with his father and his father’s second wife.

In the communal world of the compound in which he lives, Omovo has many friends and some enemies, but most important of all, there is Ifeyiwa, a beautiful young married woman who he loves with an almost hopeless passion – not because she doesn’t return his love, but because they can never be together.

Okri builds a vivid picture of Nigerian life: of the compound with its complete lack of privacy, the gossip, the good times, the street life, the complex nature of family relationships and the kindness and treachery of friends. Overshadowing everything is the image of a nation struggling to come to terms with the atrocity of the recent civil war, the echoes of which presage the story’s tragic tale.

About the author:

Ben Okri is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Having spent his early childhood in London, he and his family returned to Nigeria in 1968. He later came back to England, embarking on studies at the University of Essex. He has received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Westminster and the University of Essex, and was awarded an OBE in 2001. Since he published his first novel, Flowers and Shadows, Okri has risen to international acclaim, and he is often described as one of Africa’s greatest writers. His best known work, The Famished Road, was awarded the 1991 Booker Prize.

He also won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Africa, the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, and a Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in London.

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Chinua Achebe on the Penguin African Writers Series:

The Penguin African Writers Series will bring a new energy to the publication of African literature. Penguin Books (South Africa) is committed to publishing both established and new voices from all over the African continent to ensure African stories reach a wider global audience.

This is really what I personally want to see – writers from all over Africa contributing to a definition of themselves, writing ourselves and our stories into history. One of the greatest things literature does is allow us to imagine; to identify with situations and people who live in completely different circumstances, in countries all over the world. Through this series, the creative exploration of those issues and experiences that are unique to the African consciousness will be given a platform, not only throughout Africa, but also to the world beyond its shores.

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The Value of Nothing‘s Raj Patel and Other Penguin Authors at the Time of the Writer Festival

The StreetThe Value of NothingThis month we’re excited about the annual Time of the Writer Festival, which takes place in Durban from 14 to 19 March and brings together writers from around the world in a week-long programme of stimulating literary events.

“Freedom of Expression” will feature as an underlying thread within the festival and audiences can expect to hear the opinions of leading writers on creative processes, which inform their writing, as well as on the enabling or constraining forces of political, social and environmental contexts within which they write.

Penguin authors attending the festival include Value of Nothing’s Raj Patel, Ellen Banda-Aaku, winner of the Penguin Prize for African Writing for Patchwork (due for release in June), as well as Biyi Bandele, author of The Street.

For more information on the festivities, visit the Centre for Creative Arts website.

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Four New Titles for the Penguin African Writers Series

Penguin Books SA is proud to announce the addition of four wonderful new novels to the Penguin African Writers series: A Shattering of Silence by Farida Karodia, The Street by Biyi Bandele, The Blind Fisherman by Mia Couto and The Dark Child by Camara Laye.

Penguin is committed to ensuring that the voices of the African continent can by heard by a wider global audience.

A Shattering of SilenceFarida Karodia’s book A Shattering of Silence follows the character of Faith as her childhood is shattered when she witnesses a massacre in her rural Mozambique. She escapes, but loses everything – her parents, her home, her identity and her voice. A Shattering of Silence charts Faith’s quest to find a place for herself in war-torn Mozambique, where she is caught between the white colonials and the local resistance. Karodia’s fast-moving novel undermines traditional views of the role of women and the nature of resistance. It is a spirited response to the brutalising effects of war.
About the Author

Farida Karodia – novelist, short story writer, playwright and film-maker – was born and raised in a small town in South Africa. In 1968 – after stints teaching in South Africa and Zambia – the South Africa government withdrew her passport and she left the country of her birth for Canada, where she produced her first, acclaimed novel, Daughters of the Twilight. Two collections of short stories, Coming Home and Other Stories and Against an African Sky, and three novels – A Shattering of Silence, Other Secrets and Boundaries – followed. Returning to South Africa in 1994, Farida now divides her time between Johannesburg and Vancouver.

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The StreetThe Independent calls Biyi Bandele’s The Street, “Full of colour and charm . . . brimming with wit and optimism . . . wonderfully perceptive.” In this mesmerising novel Biyi Bandele recreates the unique atmosphere of a multiracial community in contemporary Britain. The Street is populated with a series of amazing characters – Midé the bookseller, who moonlights as a stand-up comedian; the Heckler, who, outside the tube station, wittily taunts public preachers; his cousin, Dada, who writes for a magazine for ‘kooks, nuts, schizoids and Meshuggenahs’; and Haifa Kampana, who stalks women he loves. Using these characters, Bandele creates the backdrop against which he positions the painter, Nehushta, and explores her restored relationship with her father, Ossie Jones, who has awakened from a fifteen-year coma. Bandele’s blend of humour, sentimentality and the fantastic is an invigorating literary exploration of diasporic reality in contemporary Britain.

About the Author

Biyi Bandele was born in 1967 in Nigeria. He left his parents’ house at age fourteen to earn his living doing odd jobs, while also going to school and writing his first novel. From 1987–90 he studied Drama at the University of Ile-Ife, where his play Rain won him a scholarship to stay in London. His first novel, The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond, was published in 1991. He published his second novel, The Sympathetic Undertaker and Other Dreams, the same year. His plays have been staged at the Royal Court Theatre and have been performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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The Blind FishermanThe Blind Fisherman is a compilation of Mia Couto’s early short stories – as first presented to the English-speaking world in his two collections Voices Made Night (1990) and Every Man is a Race (1994). It was in these collections that Mia Couto first announced himself as a writer of international importance, constructing stories that blended the unique history of Mozambique with a magic realism that was both inspired by and transcended the legacy of Portuguese colonialism and the subsequent civil war.
About the Author

Mia Couto was born António Emílio Leite Couto in 1955 in Mozambique. At the young age of fourteen some of his poetry was published in a local newspaper, Notícias da Beira. Considered one of Mozambique’s most important writers, he was the first African writer to win the prestigious Latin Union literary prize. His writing is influenced by magical realism, a style characteristic of Latin American literature, and he is known for creating proverbs, also known as “improverbs”. Currently, he works for the Limpopo Transfrontier Park as a biologist, while he continues to pursue his writing projects.

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The Dark ChildThe Dark Child is a distinct and graceful memoir of Camara Laye’s youth in the village of Kouroussa, French Guinea, a place steeped in mystery. Laye marvels over his mother’s supernatural powers, his father’s distinction as the village goldsmith, and his own passage into manhood, which is marked by animistic beliefs and bloody rituals of primeval origin. Eventually, he must choose between this unique place and the academic success that lures him to distant cities. More than the autobiography of one boy, this is the universal story of sacred traditions struggling against the encroachment of a modern world. A passionate and deeply affecting record, The Dark Child is a classic of African literature.

About the Author

Camara Laye was born in French Guinea in 1928. As well as being a novelsit, he was a prolific essayist. In 1953, while at college, he published his first novel L’Enfant noir, loosely based on his own childhood, followed by Le Regard du roi. These two novels stand amongst the earliest major works in African Francophone literature. Laye died in 1980 of a kidney infection in Senegal.

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Chioma Okereke’s Debuts with Bitter Leaf

Bitter LeafBitter Leaf is a richly textured and intricate novel set in Mannobe, a world that is African in nature but never geographically placed. At the heart of the novel is the village itself and its colourful cast of inhabitants: Babylon, a gifted musician who falls under the spell of the beautiful Jericho who has recently returned from the city; Mabel and M’elle Codon, twin sisters whose lives have taken very different paths, Magdalena, daughter of Mabel, who nurses an unrequited love for Babylon and Allegory, the wise old man who adheres to tradition.

As lives and relationships change and Mannobe is challenged by encroaching development, the fragile web of dependency holding village life together is gradually revealed.

An evocatively imagined debut novel from a promising new writer about love and loss, parental and filial bonds, and everything in between that makes life bittersweet.

About the author

Chioma Okereke was born in Benin City, Nigeria. She started her writing career as a poet and performed throughout Europe and the United States before turning her hand to fiction. Her work has been shortlisted in the Undiscovered Authors Competition 2006, run by Bookforce UK, and in the Daily Telegraph‘s ‘Write a Novel in a Year’ Competition in 2007.

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