This book was published in 2011 and contained 29 works by as many writers. There were 26 short stories, two excerpts from novels and an essay.
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).