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Granta Book of the African Short Story Paperback – Oct 31 2011
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A timely anthology of short stories [that] reveals the strength of contemporary African fiction. Ruth Franklin, Prospect (01/09/11)
Granta's continuing energy and brio make it shine among publishers. Many of the writers deserve an audience beyond their national boundaries; Granta has manoeuvred itself into a unique position where it is the only publisher which not only can do this, but do it fantastically well. Helon Habila has made a good fist of an almost impossible task. The overall feel of this collection is big, brave and intricately interwoven - There is a clutch of terrific stories here for almost every kind of reader. Chris Dolan, Herald (03/09/11)
The majority of authors in the collection are lively and innovative and paint a good picture of emerging African talent. Granta's new collection shows a generation of engaging and talented writers coming out of Africa. Habila suggests that with the spread of the internet across the continent in the past fifteen years, short fiction has found a new outlet for publication and will continue to gain exposure across the globe where previously it would never have done. Things can only get better, Habila hints, although to be honest they were pretty good to start with. Tom Little, Think Africa Press (06/09/11)
The skill and sophistication of African authors is on display throughout this rich and rewarding book. Joan Smith, The Times (10/09/11)
Brings together some of the most exciting voices from this generation of Afropolitans. Ellah Allfrey, Daily Telegraph Review (10/09/11)
A sense of often painful transition echoes through these "snapshots," as does a defiance in the face of all that can be thrown at these modern Africans. Siobhan Murphy, Metro Book of the Week (15/09/11)
The Granta Book of the African Short Story introduces a group of African writers described by its editor, Helon Habila, as 'the post-nationalist generation'. Presenting a diverse and dazzling collection from all over the continent - from Morocco to Zimbabwe, Uganda to Kenya - Habila has focused on younger, newer writers, contrasted with some of their older, more established peers, to give a fascinating picture of a new and more liberated Africa.
Disdaining the narrowly nationalist and political preoccupations of previous generations, these writers are characterized by their engagement with the wider world and the opportunities offered by the internet, the end of apartheid, the end of civil wars and dictatorships, and the possibilities of free movement around the world. Many of them live outside Africa. Their work is inspired by travel and exile. They are liberated, global and expansive. As Dambudzo Marechera wrote: 'If you're a writer for a specific nation or specific race, then f*** you." These are the stories of a new Africa, punchy, self-confident and defiant.
Includes stories by:
Rachida el-Charni; Henrietta Rose-Innes; George Makana Clark; Ivan Vladislavic; Mansoura Ez-Eldin; Fatou Diome; Aminatta Forna; Manuel Rui; Patrice Nganang; Leila Aboulela; Zoe Wicomb; Alaa Al Aswany; Doreen Baingana; E.C. Osondu
Top Customer Reviews
Habila's highly informative 'Introduction' gives us a sense of his difficulty in selecting stories from the vast available material covering "fifty three countries with more than a thousand ethnic groups". He also comments helpfully on previous efforts to anthologize African writings and explains why his take is somewhat different and more contemporary in its objectives. Rather than highlighting the many common themes pertinent across the vast African continent, his aim is to provide examples of the diverse themes and approaches that have emerged since independence and/or are of importance to the younger, postcolonial generation of writers ("the third generation"). Of course, Habila adds, it is impossible to capture the diversity of African writing, even with the restriction on "the short story" in a "continent the size of China, Europe and the United States put together".Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Included were authors from 19 countries in the north, west, center, east and south. The nations represented most frequently were Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria, with 3-4 authors each. Missing were authors from places like Ghana (which contributed important writers in earlier decades), the Dem. Rep. of Congo (a large nation often under-represented in English-language anthologies) and the Ivory Coast.
About three-quarters of the works were written in English, the rest (2-3 each) were translated from French, Arabic and Portuguese. As is often the case with anthologies for this continent, there was nothing from the many indigenous languages.
In this anthology, the oldest writers were Guinea's Camara Laye (1924-80), South Africa's Alex La Guma (1925-85) and Angola's Manuel Rui (1941-). The youngest were Sierra Leone's Olufemi Terry (1973-), Egypt's Mansoura Ez-Eldin (1976-) and Nigeria's Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (1977-). Others included Zimbabwe's Dambudzo Marechera, George Makana Clark and Yvonne Vera, Egypt's Alaa al-Aswany, Congo's Alain Mabanckou, Morocco's Laila Lalami, Sudan's Leila Aboulela, Nigeria's Uwem Akpan, and Kenya's Binyavanga Wainaina. Two-thirds of the writers were born after 1960; earlier authors were included by the editor for the sake of comparison. Many of the younger writers selected were recent prize-winners of one kind or another. Nearly half were living abroad, in the US, UK or Europe, often in teaching positions, or had died abroad (Camara Laye and La Guma).
In his introduction, the editor categorized many of the book's authors under 50 as "third generation" and "post-colonialist." Many lived or worked outside their home countries, and just under half were women. They disdained colonialism, distrusted nationalism and held fairly cosmopolitan attitudes on gender, class and sexuality. On the other hand, they faced criticism by some for lacking a political ideology. As two factors stimulating publishing and especially the short story, the editor cited the Internet -- which reached much of urban Africa from the late 1990s -- and the launching of the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000.
Two-thirds of the works in the book had been written or published since 2000; from the 1980s and 90s, there were 3-4 pieces each. There was one story each from the 1950s (Camara Laye), 60s (La Guma) and the 70s (Rui). Each of these early works was interesting for its style. Camara's hallucinatory writing would've been at home in a collection on French surrealism. La Guma's story portrayed with gritty realism some working-class people and a double standard in race relations, and Rui depicted counter-revolutionary "puppet forces" in Angola in a local version of socialist realism.
Works enjoyed most by this reader included Clark's story, narrated by a boy in the Rhodesian countryside employed at a white-run orphanage in decline; in it, the imagery succeeded in making the landscape an oppressive character in the story. Al-Aswany's work, narrated in Cairo between the 1960s and 90s, showed the decline of an ethnic minority and succeeded in a few pages in depicting a lost world. An excerpt from Lalami's novel showed a man's culture shock on his return from Paris to his family in Morocco. Themes in other stories included various types of oppression of women, hedonistic life and poverty in the cities, war and repression, conflicted feelings caused by living abroad, a student's growing sexual awareness and sexual tourism by foreigners.
Some of the works were set abroad: brides from arranged marriages arrived in a foreign cities and tried to get along with their husbands (Adichie, Aboulela), an African woman battled racism in Europe with mordant wit (Diome), and an African had an ominous encounter with racism in 1913 Berlin (Nganang). A father and son fled strife in Ethiopia for the US (Mengiste), an author pondered hatred directed at him by another black man in Paris (Mabanckou), a doctor sought out a lost love in a British sanatorium (Forna), and a dissolute African man experienced Oxford (Marechera).
In comparison with themes from earlier African writers and anthologies, there was little or nothing on reimagining the precolonial past or depicting the legacy of colonialism, the shift from country to city, fables, or communion with the spirit world.
For the most part, the style of the stories was straightforward. Exceptions were one story on women's communication with river spirits in Egypt that switched back and forth between several unclear viewpoints (Ez-Eldin). And a comically grotesque description of various deaths that might've been related - ironically -- to a white man's curse (Ba Ka Khosa). Postmodernism was represented by an incomprehensible piece from South Africa's Vladislavic seeking parallels between the end of apartheid and the collapse of the USSR, and one from Kenya's Wainaina on contemporary attitudes around the continent, whose point seemed to be that no narrative could encompass the chaos. In another story, a boy described fighting play-swordfights inspired by Tolkien; others mentioned MTV and rappers and referenced Granta. In passing, stories from other anthologies have mentioned Bogart, American presidents and Michael Jackson. As globalization proceeds, it's possible to imagine future works continuing the allusions in a manner similar to the MacOndo writers of Latin America.
In comparison with the diversity of writing contained in some earlier anthologies on Africa, much of the writing in this book seemed a bit restrained. This reader would've enjoyed a few more pieces that were politically aware, more stylistically experimental without being opaque and focused on love between people -- men and women, parents and children -- or on first-person monologues dynamically expressing a character. These can be found elsewhere in stories like "The Man" by Emmanuel Dongala, "As the Crow Flies" by Véronique Tadjo and "Babyface" by Koffi Kwahulé. Pieces containing things as mundane as people working in the government and the private sector were likewise absent from the collection. Nor was there much apparent impact on the religious attitudes of those who went overseas. Some of the longer stories in particular seemed nearly formless and for this reader were among the least interesting.
Large anthologies of the past 50 years or so include African Voices (a.k.a. Darkness and Light) (1958), An African Treasury (1960), Modern African Stories (1964), Africa in Prose (1969), African Short Stories (1985), Looking for a Rain God (1990), the Heinemann Book of Contemporary African Short Stories (1992), Under African Skies (1997), the Picador Book of African Stories (2000), the Anchor Book of Modern African Stories (2002), the 900-page Rienner Anthology of African Literature (2008) and Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing (2009). Gods and Soldiers, the closest recent counterpart to Granta's book, offers nonfiction as well, though its fiction contains more excerpts from novels than short stories. A recent anthology of French-language writers is From Africa: New Francophone Stories (2004).
An anthology containing very brief excerpts from 200+ works by African writers and travelers in Africa, together with much enlightening background, is Africa: A Traveller's Literary Companion (1995).
"It's a sad but apparently undeniable fact that the short story has always taken second place to the novel in Africa. Some of the best African writers simply don't write short stories." Included in those who don't write short stories are Coetzee, Soyinka, Galgut, and many more. The editor believes that currently we are witnessing a renaissance in African literature. A boost to the short story is the Caine Prize for African Writing which originated in 2000. Many of the writers in this anthology have won this prize or have been short-listed for it.
The editor asks a valid questions: "How can you gather together the stories of a continent that is larger than China, Europe, and the United States put together? How can you 'anthologize' fifty-three countries, a billion people and over a thousand ethnic groups?" The anthology is organized "generationally, starting with the youngest writer and ending with the oldest". "Africa's strength is not, contrary to what most people like to think, its homogeneity, but in its diversity of cultures and languages and religions and skin colours. It is a large place; it contains multitudes." These multitudes are reflected in the stories included in this wonderful anthology.
My favorites, alphabetically, are the following:
The Arrangers of Marriage by Chimamda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is one of my favorite writers and this story was included in her published work, This Thing Around My Neck. Ms. Adichie is NIgerian and is the author of two novels and a short story collection. She is a MacArthur Fellow. The story is about a Nigerian woman who enters into an arranged marriage with an American physician from NIgeria and feels like her identity is slowly being stolen from her.
An Ex-Mas Feast by Uwem Akpan was included in his collection Say You're One of Them which I have read previously. He, too, is Nigerian but now lives and works in the U.S. The story takes place in the slums of Nairobi where a family tries to survive by living off the proceeds of the oldest daughter, Maisha, a prostitute. She is planning to leave home and this turns the whole family dynamic upside down.
Street of the House of Wonders by Rachida el-Charni was new to me. Ms. El-Charni is from Tunis and continues to reside there. In this very short story, a woman is the victim of a thief who steals her necklace right off her neck. She chases him down and confronts him while others cowardly watch and offer no assistance.
Abdulrazak Gurnah is the author of Cages. He hails from Zanzibar and currently teaches at the University of Kent in the U.K. He is the author of seven novels. In Cages, Hamid works in a small bodega in exchange for his room. One day a woman begins to come in as a new customer. Hamid is smitten with her and sees her as someone "to be sung to, to be won with display and courage" unlike some women who can be bought with a few shillings. Hamid obsesses about her and feels shame because of that. Ultimately, she is not as he has imagined.
Alex La Guma is the author of Slipper Satin, the last story in the anthology. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, he was a political figure in his nation. He has written several novels. In Slipper Satin, Myra returns home after four months in jail for having an affair with a white man. This was against the law. The women in her village call her names and say she brought shame upon them. Myra is filled with bitterness and loss. The only redeeming thing in her life is the upcoming marriage of her sister Addie.
Laila Lalami is from Morocco. She has won several awards for her writing and currently teaches at the University of California at Riverside. Her story, Homecoming, is about Aziz who leaves Casablanca and his wife for five years to work in Spain. His plan is to earn enough money and then return to Casablanca to start a business. When he returns, things are very different than he had anticipated.
Alain Mabanckou, the author of The Fugitive, is a Franco-Congolese novelist and teaches at the University of California in Los Angeles. He is the author of several novels. His short story is about a young man who reflects about an incident in his life that took place seventeen years ago when he was a young African man. He did not buy his tickets for the Paris metro and gets chased by three ticket inspectors all through the station. The most angry and vehement about catching him is the black inspector who thinks all Africans should go back where they came from - they are ruining Paris. The young man ends up at the police station, pays his fine and believes that the black inspector "was probably hoping for the death penalty, which would have somehow returned a little dignity to his race. But what dignity? That was the question, and remains the question I feel sure I'll keep asking myself, in every book I write."
Maaza Mengiste was born in Ethiopia and now lives in New York City. She has received several fellowships and her debut novel has been translated into several languages. Her short story, A Good Soldier, is about Mesfin who has fled from Ethiopia to Los Angeles with his son. However, he can not flee his personal demons.
This collection really wowed me. I found that there was one common theme in several of the stories. The anticipated outcome rarely ever came to fruition and the protagonist was surprised with what came to pass. The stories are varied in theme and narrative. However, they all carry with them a taste of the life and ambiance of Africa. I loved the collection and highly recommend it.
Habila's highly informative 'Introduction' gives us a sense of his difficulty in selecting stories from the vast available material covering "fifty three countries with more than a thousand ethnic groups". He also comments helpfully on previous efforts to anthologize African writings and explains why his take is somewhat different and more contemporary in its objectives. Rather than highlighting the many common themes pertinent across the vast African continent, his aim is to provide examples of the diverse themes and approaches that have emerged since independence and/or are of importance to the younger, postcolonial generation of writers ("the third generation"). Of course, Habila adds, it is impossible to capture the diversity of African writing, even with the restriction on "the short story" in a "continent the size of China, Europe and the United States put together".
The stories, many selected for this anthology in dialog with the authors, address everything from the intimate domestic to the broad spectrum of social and political tensions, from immigrant/emigrant experience to glimpses into life on the margins of society, from power games and exploitation to racial issues. Some are highly satirical, e.g. Banyavanga Wainaina's "Ships in High Transit" or the re-imagined historical encounter with "The Moustached Man" as presented by Patrice Nganang. We find familiar names, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose story "The Arrangers of Marriage", a touching and profound story about a new immigrant to the USA, already published in her own excellent collection, The Thing Around Your Neck opens this anthology. Many others are less familiar or not known in North America at all.
It is impossible for me to highlight any stories as my favourites, there is none that did not touch me and made me reflect after I had turned the page. Many of the authors live and work outside their country of birth now, for shorter or longer periods, the majority of them in North America or Europe. That in itself gives reason to pause. Reading their brief bios at the end of the book, (followed by some googling) helps us to better appreciate them and their work. Hardly any of the authors represented in this anthology collection are debut authors. More than half have won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing, and are known also for their novels and other writings. [Friederike Knabe]
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