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Archive for October, 2012

So Long a Letter

Each of us has that book which for the longest time has been on our reading list but somehow we just haven’t gotten round to reading it yet. For me, “So long a Letter” by Mariama  Ba is that book. Or actually, not anymore since I just read it. Yayy!!

I am glad I finally read it.  When I picked it up from the library, there were no expectations in my mind.  I opened and discovered a gem. Human emotions are universal.  They are not defined by place or time.  In So long a letter, the troubles that Ramatoulaye and her bff Aissatou go through are the troubles that most women in many parts of the world still go through.

Divorce, man marrying a girl young enough to be his daughter, a woman widowed and left to raise 11 kids etc. But however, the main character, Ramatoulaye is a strong woman. I guess having 12 kids to look after leaves you n time to wallow in self pity. Even though her content is heavy, (abuse in marriage, early marriage, teenage pregnancy), Mariama is able to keep her reader entertained and lighthearted.  It is the simplicity and honesty in her language and the clarity in her prose, I think

Mariama Ba is a Senegalese paved the way for several authors like Nafissatou diallo and influenced others like Calixte  Beyala. She was one of the first few girls to receive post secondary education and was an activist for women in Senegal. She had nine kids and divorced her husband. Unfortunately, death took her away in 1981, just two years after “so long a letter” was first published. She has another book, Scarlet Song, which I am going to add unto my ‘to read’ list.

RIP Aunty Mariama and

Happy  Reading.

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A few people asked me what influenced my picking of the book “N0 1 Ladies Detective Agency” meanwhile I found myself in a library full of best sellers.  Very true but I had promised myself that for the next three months I would read African books and share them with my besties; you all! The reason for that promise…. Here it goes…

It was Sunday and I decided to do my favorite thing for a Sunday. Go and spend some time in the book store. I was also shopping for some presents and I wanted to buy a copy of “Half of a Yellow Sun” for a friend. Isle after row of patiently looking and still no Chima. So I go to the front desk and ask the lady if they have any books by Chimamanda Adichie. She asks me if I have looked properly under the “A” section of fiction writers.  L .  I calmly tell her I think I looked pretty well. Then she looks it up and their system and comes up with a

            “Ma’am we usually carry more mainstream authors in the store. You will have to place an order for it and we will call you when we get it.”

If the lady had simply told me the store doesn’t carry this book it will be fine. After all nobody expects a bookstore to carry a million books.  But no. she checks out my big fro, dismisses my central African accent, and coupled with the “did you look properly?” remark I kind of lost it.

         “What exactly is mainstream anyway? A book is a book and an author is an author. I am sure your reading list is ultimately determined by the New York Times bestselling list. Snap out of it. You are missing out on a lot of great reads.”

But of course, I don’t tell her that. I place my order for the book and continue to the magazine section.

My exchange with the lady got me thinking that maybe my reading list was affected by the New York Times bestselling lists. Maybe I, too, was missing out on a lot of great reads. So I made myself the promise that for the next one year, I would dig and discover all those rare gems from all parts of the world and of course I would share with you all!

My ancestors say charity begins at home and I agree. So for the next three months I will be looking around the African continent for less well known but equally gifted writers and/or poets. I would have started this theme with my boo Khaled Husseini and big sis Chima but then, I consider them mainstream!

Happy Reading!

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Wow!  Time passes faster than I can grasp and more so this year. It has been an extremely long time since the last post.  But hey, I am a newbie to this blogging thing. My first pick is not an undiscovered author but is a gem alright.  At the local library, it was one of the new African books which I had not yet read and which piqued my interest.

I came in contact with the N0 1 Ladies Detective Agency about 2 years ago on one of those Saturdays of channel surfing and snacking. Who said TV was all bad? (Even though I have been TV free for 2 months now, I admit TV does have some good points. But more on my new TV free life in another blog post).  What caught my eye was Jill Scott, coupled with the fact that it was a movie with an African setting.

Fast forward two years and I am at a library trying to pick an African book. “So long a letter” is not available right now and while putting that on hold, I take Alexander McCall Smith’s popular book.

I am usually a bit apprehensive when having to read a book about Africa written by someone who in my opinion has some patronizing, paternalistic feeling towards the continent. I am ashamed to have ever thought that way; branding someone as ‘not a real African’.  So it was with this same apprehension I approached this book. After the first few pages, however, I felt differently about this one. There is a beauty and honesty in his prose which can only come from someone who has spent a lot of time contemplating his beloved and who for a long time searched for words to describe how he felt. Then when he had stopped searching the words came to him and he captured them just as they came.

Pure, unadulterated.

I did not always agree with how easily people were willing to give Precious Ramotswe information without any form of ID but then again, maybe that is Botswana. I also think that some of his stories are too unreasonable even for fiction; like the story of the twin brother who posed as the doctor.

However what the book lacked in content and realistic characters, I think it more than made up for in style and language. Blame it on my old soul but I am a little bit more attracted to beautiful prose than I am to the page turning, heart racing Robert Ludlum’s.

But I am most especially glad that my preconceived notion of ‘Real African’ has been shattered. Africans are not necessarily people born and raised on the continent but people who identify with the simple yet true principles of a balanced society. Politeness to neighbours,  respect to elders, honour of one’s parents, looking after the earth because it feeds you and being your sister’s or brother’s keeper.

Happy Reading!

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