Literary Review

Creativity and dissidence

Africa 39: New Writing from Africa; ed. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Bloomsbury, Rs.450.

Africa 39: New Writing from Africa; ed. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Bloomsbury, Rs.450.  


Moving stories of African cultural history, human cruelties and excesses of power.

Freedom was never easy for the Africans. Leadership at various times imposed its authority on the writer or co-opted him/her for its political agenda. However, writers at variance with the state ideology could not be silenced, and literature became an agency of dissidence.

For the young African writers, the problem was confronting what Wole Soyinka calls ‘the confusion of cultural transitions and mixed values’, a struggle to locate an ideological anchor in a world that is constantly undergoing new configurations and reconfigurations. Thus, the writer became the target of authoritarianism and its strategies of bringing ‘intellectual submission to the prevailing ideology’. In the last few decades, we have seen the rise of a creative consciousness and vibrant revolutionary dissident writing from Africa. Literature survived the constrictions of the mind, the shackles of prejudice and the nightmare of history.

For Shadrek Chikoti from Malawi, one of the 39 African writers featured in this volume, “African writers should be able to write whatever they want to write, because writing is liberating.” This was the spirit behind the Port Harcourt Book Fair held on October 21, 2014, when authors from across Africa and the Diaspora met in this Nigerian town. Moving from issues of tension and conflict within the domestic environment to civil war, from homosexuality to religion and the onset of western influence on Nigerian society, the extracts from novels, short stories, and fables create a moving story of African cultural history, of human cruelties and excesses of power.

“To denounce atrocities, to allegorise the unspeakable, to ridicule the perverse and puncture afflatus,” writes Soyinka is the cry of the writers that come together here. In Okwiri Oduor’s short story ‘Rag Doll’, we see the blending of the surreal and the childlike, the fantastic and the uncanny as a reaction to the threat of thuggery lurking in an unstable world where the mother and daughter make a living through what the ‘dust devil’ brings to them, often pain and sometimes new forebodings in the form of broken household items that the two can put to use. When the mother’s lover asks her name after making love to her, she “turns in the bed, so that she lies with her back to him. ‘My real name is the marks on my body,’ she says. ‘Call me by the chinks in my chin and the discolourations in my toenails. Call me Trembling Eyes. Call me Torn Ear’.”

‘The Banana Eater’ by Monica Arac is also a story of a mother and daughter who construct their own space by growing a garden in their backyard. In a world of patriarchal oppression, this amounts to an act of rebellion. Into the sanctity of that space stray vendors from a nearby market; an encroachment that the mother has to stand against.

Another story ‘Shivering’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi is about a Nigerian woman and a man at Princeton who get friendly and share a common past of pain and longing. The story — apart from being about student life, immigration problems and rigid native customs — offers views on faith in adversity: “She wanted to tell him that life was a struggle with ourselves more than with a spear-wielding Satan; that belief was a choice for our conscience always to be sharpened.”

‘The Pink Oysters’ by Shafinaaz Hassim is about Afghan émigrés and Somali traders in Johannesburg. Ukamaka Olisakwe’s gripping ‘This Is How I Remember’ is about adolescent romance, deception and yearning. ‘Number 9’ by Nadifa Mohamed is about a Somalian woman searching for a man she has been dating on the web in the alien environment of London.

The collection shows that this new generation of writers has moved away from the postcolonial world of Achebe and Ngugi. However, politics runs through their veins and writing becomes an act of struggle with their past. Writing becomes a mode of survival. The survival of literature is the survival of imagination. And if imagination survives, man survives.

Africa 39: New Writing from Africa; ed. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Bloomsbury, Rs.450.

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Printable version | Nov 15, 2018 3:10:04 PM |

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