Most contemporary African fiction known in the West is written in English: Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka and South African novelist Nadine Gordimer come to mind. Fiction in translation from non-English-speaking Africa, however, is scarce. For its attempt to bridge that gap, Heinemann is to be commended. Pepetela, nom de plume and nom de guerre of Angolan writer Arthur Carlos Mauricio Pesta?a, also deserves a nod for this richly detailed recounting of Angolan history (1890-1975) through the saga of the Semedo family. A Portuguese colony from the 15th century, Angola was the only African country used as a penal settlement. Portuguese-born residents were officially "first-class" whites; Angolan-born whites were given second- or third-class status. Their intermingling with Africans created a unique population mix. Against this background, Angolan-born Alexandre Semedo, a convict's son, seeks his identity. Over his lifetime, lives of black Africans and whites increasingly commingle, the two peoples uniting eventually to fight first for independence then against a new invader, South Africa. The novel promises but never delivers-the pace is slow; the characters creepy and largely unsympathetic, the transitions from first to second person are confusing, and the literary device of Alexandre's Yaka warrior statue as knowing observer throughout the epic is poorly woven into the narrative. It rather makes one wonder if this 1986 winner of Angola's National Prize for Literature didn't lose something in translation.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Pepetela is the nom de plume and nom de guerre of Artur Carlos Mauricio Pestana. Born in Benguela in 1941, he went to Portugal in 1958 to study engineering. Four years later he went to France and then to Algeria, where he studied sociology and was involved in founding the Centre of Angolan Studies. In the late 1960s he was sent to the Cabinda front and took part in the guerrilla war against the colonial army. He was a member of the first MPLA delegation to fly into Angola at the end of the war for independence. Among other responsibilities, Pepetela has been Deputy Minister of Education and a leading member of the Angolan Writers' Union. Pepetela is the author of many novels including Yaka (1984), which won Angola's National Literature Prize in 1986. The novels Yaka and Mayombe (1980) are also published in Heinemann's African Writers Series. O Desejo de Kianda (The Return of the Water Spirit) was first published in 1995. In 1997 Pepetela was awarded the Camoes Prize, which is the most prestigious literary award in the Portuguese-speaking world.