The Book Babes’ radio show on WMNF, an independent FM channel based in Tampa, is debuting this week. (Check out the station’s website at www.wmnf.org). Our first guest is Dave Eggers, publisher of McSweeney’s and author of “What Is the What,” a novel based on the life of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the so-called lost boys of Sudan.
In the interview, Eggers talks about African writer Ishmael Beah, who was conscripted in the army in Sierra Leone at age 13. Eggers writes about Beah and his book, “Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” in Vanity Fair’s July issue on everything Africa, guest-edited by Bono.
You may have seen the book in Starbucks. African lit seems to be popping up everywhere these days. Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, who South African novelist Nadine Gordimer called the "father of modern African literature, " received this year’s Man Booker international prize, awarded biannually for an exceptional lifetime's achievement. Fellow Nigerian writer Chimanada Ngozi Adichie capped this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction for her novel set in Nigeria during the Biafran war, “Half of a Yellow Sun.”
Here are some of our recent favorites out of Africa:
1 "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears," by Dinaw Mengestu
Set in D.C., the central character of this hot new novel is a young man who escaped from Ethiopia. He works in a grocery store and commiserates with two fellow African immigrants about the countries they left behind. Addressing the challenge of adapting and realizing the so-called American dream, Mengestu is obviously not the first to tackle this theme, but he is a darn good writer and tells his tale well.
2. “What Is the What,” by Dave Eggers
Award-winning novelist Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) fictionalizes a true story based on the experiences of a young man he befriended who was caught up in the Sudanese civil war and ended up as a refugee in America.
3. "Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," by Ishmael Beah
Beah, conscripted at age 13, tells the story of his journey from the fighting in Sierra Leone to the United States, where he arrived when he was 18. It's an amazing account.
4. "In the Country of Men," by Hisham Matar
A finalist for Britain's prestigious Man Booker literary prize, this is a story set in Libya under Qaddafi, told from the point of view of a 9-year-old whose father belongs to the political opposition. The young boy in this moving and psychologically complex novel is his mother's confidant, but he's at a loss trying to understand her grief and anger over being forced into marriage with a man she didn't love. What happens to the family and to the mother's relationship with her husband when Qaddafi's thugs close in makes for compelling reading.
5. "Measuring Time," by Helon Habila.
This is the story of twin brothers raised in a Nigerian village. One runs away and becomes a mercenary soldier. The other, more sickly boy, remains behind and becomes a local historian. Habila artfully contrasts the life of the mind and the life of action, and how both can be swept up in violence.
6."Half of a Yellow Sun," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Through a cast of characters that includes twin sisters, a radical professor, and an Englishman, Adichie tells the story of Nigeria in the 1960s. As the colonial order is collapsing, tribal loyalties reemerge, and ideas that sounded good on paper are suddenly swept up in a maelstrom of violence. The novel won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction.
7. "From a Crooked Rib," by Nuruddin Farah
First published in 1970 and just reissued by Penguin, From a Crooked Rib, the debut novel by Somalia’s Farah, is the story of an 18-year-old woman who flees her village to avoid a forced marriage only to find other forms of female oppression in the big city. Also check out Farah’s new novel, Knots, which tells the tale of a Somalian woman raised in North America who returns to her native land and struggles with the fact that its women are expected to wear the veil.
8. "Wizard of the Crow," by Ngugi Wa'Thiong'O
One of the most ambitious novels to come out of Africa lately, Wizard of the Crow by Kenyan author Ngugi Wa’Thiong’O is a satire of African corruption set in the fictitious Republic of Aburiria. It is a mammoth book — nearly 800 pages long – reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch with its elements of magical realism and indictment against the craziness of tyrants.