August 07, 2016

A Dry White Season by Andre Brink | Book Review

We're told right from the beginning about the troubling deaths of two black South Africans: Gordon Ngubene and his son Jordan. Gordon used to be a janitor at the school where Ben Du Toit, the protagonist, teaches history and geography. Gordon and Ben got to know each other better after Ben helped Gordon out of a tight spot. Ben also took on the responsibility of paying for Jordan's tuition because Jordan seemed like such a promising young kid. All that young promise vaporized when Jordan reached his mid-teens and morphed into a restless fool, boiling with teen angst and unwilling to continue schooling. It's not long before he disappears unexpectedly. There's something really shady about his disappearance and the subsequent police "investigation" that bothers Gordon. Gordon quits his job at the school and goes underground to investigate the circumstances surrounding his son's death but he also disappears and returns as a dead body. Ben Du Toit takes it upon himself to investigate the deaths of these two black men in apartheid South Africa. His hunt for truth and justice come at great personal cost and threatens everything he has - his family, his job, his privacy, his personal safety, and his mental health - but he ploughs on, impervious to the pleas of family and friends. Can Ben Du Toit expose South Africa's police and the country's corrupt legal system?

I dislike forewords, prologues, and introductions in novels. The more pages a writer devotes to his or her prologue, the less chance I'll read the entire thing. I always just want to begin at chapter one. Thankfully, I didn't read this particular foreword until I was done with the novel and its epilogue (I don't mind epilogues) because it would have ruined the entire novel for me. If you do decide to read the thirty-five pages of this novel's foreword there will be little surprise ahead for you and you're going to want to find a reason to keep flipping pages because A Dry White Season isn't that engrossing.

Ben Du Toit is a white man in a racially segregated South Africa who's deeply disturbed by the unjust treatment of blacks and the disgusting cover-ups of their murders by the government. With all of the issues at stake in this novel I expected to be on Ben's side but I'm not moved by him. His naivety is astounding, unnerving and irritating at times. The mere fact that a middle-aged man in that environment still had complete trust in the justice system caused me to lose faith in him and his ability to bring the killers to justice. Is Andre Brink using Ben Du Toit to depict the naivety that results from being in a privileged racial class or is Ben Du Toit just ignorant? Even his confrontation of authority was childish and reckless which is serious because of the potential consequences that could result from being so "fearless". Ben Du Toit is not a martyr for South African blacks but I applaud his earnest efforts and his pushing forth despite all odds. A Dry White Season feels like it's supposed to be a highly compelling portrait of the injustices in apartheid South Africa or something of that sort. I had some difficulty getting through it but in retrospect the novel seems more engaging than it really was. I wish it had been a much better read.

Image via [Goodreads]

July 07, 2016

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee | Book Review

David Lurie is a fifty-two year old college professor in South Africa. He's a two-time divorcee and father to one child, his daughter Lucy. David lives alone and he has sorted his life into a routine that seems to be working well for him. He teaches a college class, grades papers, makes weekly trips to a brothel, and also engages in casual sexual encounters every now and then. He's quite content with the loneliness that comes with this freedom to do as he pleases. One day he runs into a girl who's a student in his college class. He invites her home and sometime later they begin having sexual relations until it all goes wrong. Horribly wrong. In the wake of the ensuing scandal his entire academic career and everything he has worked hard for are on the line. In the chaos you'd be forgiven to anticipate that the plot of Disgrace would head down a certain path but it doesn't. The path it takes instead is shocking and disturbing.

Disgrace is a great novel. I say that reluctantly not because I doubt its greatness but because of the story itself. I'm just a little reluctant to tie the word "great" to what goes on in this book. I put it down a lot so I could pause to sort out and cool the rising disquiet and the occasional horror. Thoughts like "What???", "What's going on???" "What are you saying???", and "Oh my God..." kept surfacing during my reading. Disgrace is not a convoluted tale that seeks to impress. It stays with you because it's so real. You know this is how life works in some parts of the world and it's frightening. It's messed up. It's so messed up. Our world is messed up. The point where Coetzee leaves us doesn't soothe the readers anxiety. I just sat there after I was done, trying to put it all together and also using my imagination to project what happens afterwards. Disgrace won the Man Booker Prize in 1999 making J.M. Coetzee a two time winner of the prestigious prize at the age of fifty-nine. You should read it.

[Image via Middlemiss

June 07, 2016

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangaremgba | Book Review

In Nervous Conditions, Tambudzai is an ambitious young girl living in a small village in Zimbabwe who has a lot of obstacles blocking her path to getting an education. Her father is poor, lazy and obnoxious. He's irritated by Tambudzai's efforts to get an education. "Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables." Tambudzai's mother is less unpleasant when she voices her willingness to farm on a piece of land to raise money for her school fees but she's not rooting for Tambudzai either. Her older brother Nhamo gets his education paid for by their benevolent uncle, Babamukuru, because Nhamo's smart and also because their patriarchal society places more value on male children. Nhamo is vicious and cruel in his treatment of Tambudzai and in his continously taunting dismissal of her ambitions and dreams. When Tambudzai finally gets the green light from her parents to grow maize so she can sell and pay her own tuition, Nhamo sabotages her efforts by stealing her crops and handing them out for free to the girls at Tambudzai's school. The very minute Tambudzai discovers his treachery she attacks him on the football field, knocking him down and dealing him all the blows she can muster before he finally pins her to the ground and taunts her in front of everyone. For Tambudzai, life's a constant battle but she's a fighter. That and a little help from Providence give her the little push she needs as she pursues her heart's desires.

This is a good story about a young girl's ambition and fight to get what she wants in life. Tambudzai isn't surrounded by educated women but she has great examples of women in her life. She has living examples of both the kind of woman she wants to be and the kind of woman she doesn't want to be. She knows women who put their foot down when it's necessary. She knows women who are not afraid to confront the scummy men in their lives. She knows women who fall and get up. She knows women who fight battles every single day. Nervous Conditions was published in 1988, the year I was born. It's almost thirty years old. Readers now will likely label this a feminist text and while it is I would like to point out that these are women all of us knew while growing up. We've known them all our lives. They are normal women. Everyday women. They are our grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters and friends. I like this novel. You should read it.

[Image via Amazon]

May 14, 2016

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi | Book Review

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a collection of nine short stories, four of which have been published previously in various journals. It begins with Books and Roses then continues with Sorry Doesn't Sweeten her Tea, Is Your Blood as Red as This?, Drownings, Presence, A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society, Darnicka and the St. Martin's Day Goose, Freddy Barrandov, and ends with If a Book is Locked There's Probably a Good Reason for That Don't You Think? Of the lot I liked the second, seventh, and ninth stories with the ninth one being my favorite.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is the fourth Oyeyemi title I've read out of the six she has published so far (I'm not counting the book of plays) and I still have the same problems that I always have when I read an Oyeyemi novel. I have a problem connecting with her stories... It's not because her main characters are sometimes caucasian as opposed to being Nigerian or having an African ancestry. I grew up devouring stories about caucasian characters in novels written by caucasian authors just like every other Nigerian in my generation so I can connect to anyone regardless of race, that's not a problem. Oyeyemi has a penchant for penning mystical stories or stories with fairytale-y roots and while that's not my thing in this phase of my life, I still expect to enjoy these stories or at least appreciate them but most of the time I do not. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours was a struggle to read and I was glad when I was away from the book even though I was on a tight reading schedule in the first quarter of 2016. When I finally finished it, I still got the "I finished this story but I don't know exactly what I read" feeling that comes often when I read an Oyeyemi title.

January 30th, 2004 edition of The Guardian
I purchased White Is for Witching via Amazon in April 2013 and I still can't get past the first few pages. I've thumbed through White Is for Witching many times over the past three years just to see if it gets better somewhere (usually that encourages me to give the book another shot) but that hasn't worked. Every now and then I search for Mr. Fox on Amazon and preview it using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature but I can tell it's not good for me so I never buy it. I don't know... Maybe Oyeyemi's books are not for me. I don't want to keep battling through her novels only to arrive at the other end to write a review saying how much I don't like it. That's a waste of my time and yours. Especially here in America where there are millions of novels, sitting in gorgeous, air-conditioned buildings that are too nice to house only books, begging to be read. I have decided that I'm going step back for a while and when I'm ready I'll be much more thorough before I select and purchase another another Oyeyemi book. Someone somewhere is going to call me a hater but I'm not a hater. I really want to connect to Oyeyemi's stories. There are only three Nigerian authors whose interviews/features I have cut out of newspapers and Oyeyemi is one of them. I even brought the 2004 newspaper clipping with me when I moved to America in 2009. Here's a photo of my newspaper clipping along with my copy of this novel. It's from the January 30th, 2004 edition of Nigeria's The Guardian. I clearly did a lot of highlighting lol. I have posted this photo to show I'm not some hater. This review is just me trying to be honest about an author I care about and someone whose career I have followed for quite some time.

Helen Oyeyemi is amazing. It's something I've always admitted. It's something that's unquestionable. Half the time when I read her books I'm wondering how she makes all of this stuff up. She's impressive. I'll wait. I'll try to not just buy another novel because it's an Oyeyemi book. The future will bring me an Oyeyemi offering that will excite me just as much or even more than The Icarus Girl did in 2008. I know it will.
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi - My Thoughts 
The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi - My Thoughts
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi - My Thoughts

[Image via Amazon]

May 07, 2016

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu | Book Review

Stephanos is a lonely shopkeeper living in Washington D.C. He fled the turmoil in Ethiopia almost two decades ago. He has no drive or ambition and is simply content to drift along from day to day. He's not going anywhere with his life and he's not doing anything to change that. After almost two decades in America, the only people he can call on are his Uncle and two friends - Kenneth and Joe. Kenneth and Joe are also immigrants and as a trio their companionship is heartwarming. Their American story began with dreams of grandeur and hopes of a brighter future but life has settled into a routine over the years. They have achieved some of their goals (mostly Kenneth and Joe) but no one has achieved the level of success they imagined. They still have those dreams but their optimism has waned. The loneliness in their lives can be felt and I found it captivating. Along comes Judith and Naomi to Stephanos neighborhood. Judith is a single caucasian mom and Naomi is her eleven years old African American daughter. They soon become a light in Stephanos' otherwise miserable daily existence and he slowly grows to depend their presence to brighten up his day. On the outside Stephanos is a skinny, lonely man who doesn't have his life on track but it's because he's broken on the inside and it's taking everything he can muster to keep it together and get from day to day.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is Dinaw Mengestu's debut novel and it's fantastic. In 2014 I read his third novel All Our Names and I was not impressed but there was something about him that caught my attention. In that book review I wrote:

"I'll buy and review Dinaw's first and second novels [...] One or both of them had to have been mightily impressive enough to get him noticed and I really want to see him at his best. All Our Names is not Dinaw Mengestu at his best. It can't be." 

So I ordered his first two novels and I started by reading this one. I was riveted with this story from the very beginning. I took it in slowly, marking sentences with my colored pens and leaving page marker post-its on almost every page. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is life on two hundred and twenty eight pages. The plot, the narration, everything, seemed so effortless and it was all sooo good. I was hooked. I did not want to put it down. I read it from 7pm on Monday till 5am on Tuesday and I would have finished it if I had been able to fight off sleep. This is that debut novel that pulls its author to the front of the literary pack. I love this novel sooo much but I hated the way it ended. I had been rooting for Stephanos all through the novel in-spite of his flaws and I kept hoping he would shake off his lethargy somehow and grab life by the horns. All of that goodwill went down the drain when I read page 227, the page before the last page of the novel. I hated the choice he made on that page especially because it was one more addition onto the pile of choices he had made that I did not approve of. It was maddening. If someone reaches out to you on this lonely planet, especially someone who genuinely likes you and you like that person back, you ought to reach right back. For a man his age, I hated his hesitancy and his lack of confidence even though I understood it. So I finished the last page of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears with a sudden pulsating headache because I was so mad at Stephanos. What is wrong with you???? In the great words of Tyra Banks:
And then I picked up another novel hoping to get this one off my mind.

I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it. Fantastic job Dinaw! Great job! I'm glad I followed through on my hunch that his third novel wasn't his best. I've got one more novel of his to read, his second book How to Read Air. I'm on a journey to discover Mengestu and I'm really hoping that All Our Names is his worst novel thus far.
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu - My Thoughts

[Book cover image via Amazon; Tyra Banks gif via NewNowNext]

April 28, 2016

Book Release!!! | "Eteka: Rise of the Imamba" by Ben Hinson

Two years ago when I interviewed Ben Hinson for this blog he was still working on his novel "Eteka: Rise of the Imamba". His interview was one of the best interviews I've done for this blog. He shared his personal experiences, talked about this project and gave some advice to aspiring authors. Today, I'm very pleased to announce that his novel "Eteka: Rise of the Imamba" has been released! It's five hundred and sixty-four pages long and you can
buy it on Amazon for $19.99. It was published by his company, Musings Press, which he spoke about in his interview. Ben Hinson sent me a press release with snippets of what to expect from this novel. Here are two direct quotes from his press release:

"Eteka: Rise of the Imamba is a dark, action packed thriller that follows multiple characters across 14 locations around the world, and will appeal to readers that enjoy history, suspense, fantasy and world cultures. It is an original and unusual piece of literary fiction in the fact that it seamlessly fuses African, Asian, European, and American cultures into an unforgettable reading experience."

"The Cold War sets the stage for various proxy wars, nationalist movements, and covert missions across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Out of the Tumult will emerge a warrior. Though his heart is in the right place, he knows that he must make a tough decision that will determine his fate - and the fate of generations to come." 

Ben Hinson
VISIT Ben Hinson's website at or click HERE for more character revelations from the novel and for more insight on the various locations featured in "Eteka: Rise of the Imamba". You could also visit his Facebook page for more information about the author and his new novel. I'll read Eteka: Rise of the Imamba and post my review here as soon as I can.
11 Questions for Ben Hinson
[Image via Amazon]

April 21, 2016

Efuru by Flora Nwapa | Book Review

Efuru is a beautiful young woman who elopes with the young man she loves. Her elopement is a source of embarrassment for her father and the rest of her family especially in a traditional society that prides itself on propriety. Everyone can see that her husband is lazy and underserving of her except Efuru. Eventually after a lot of hard work they are able to put together enough money to settle all the marriage rites required of them traditionally. Soon there are rumors that Efuru is barren because even after the passing of a year she still hasn't shown any signs of pregnancy. Efuru visits a dibia (native doctor) and even considers letting her husband marry another woman who can bear him kids. Eventually she gives birth to a girl and her worries disappear. It's not too long before Adizua abandons Efuru and his child to run off with another wealthy woman. For a while Efuru plays the faithful, long suffering, jilted wife and then she gets up and leaves the marriage. The ending of that marriage isn't the end of Efuru's woes but she remains the same all through - fearless, hardworking, always ready to get up and leave a bad situation - and that's why she survives all that life sends her way.

Efuru was published in 1966 so it turns 50 years old this year! It was really refreshing to read Efuru because I've been reading tons of African stories with globetrotting characters for the last few years. Efuru takes you back to your Igbo roots. It takes you back in time to the village with all of its superstitions, antiquated practices (female circumcision), local remedies (for seizures, fevers etc), Igbo proverbs, the delicious gossiping and shade throwing, everything. It also brought back memories of all the other authors published by the African Writers Series that I read when I was younger. I had always wanted to read Efuru but I never got around to picking it up. I was finally motivated when I heard that Onyeka Nwelue is researching, filming and producing a documentary on Flora Nwapa. She's touted as Africa's first female novelist! No documentary or movie has been made about her to my knowledge until now. Please, please, please GO TO Onyeka Nwelue's GoFundMe page and DONATE anything you can to support this very important work. His deadline to raise the money needed to finish up this project is the end of this month (9 days!). It's not enough to sit back and applaud Onyeka Nwelue's efforts. Let us all chip in to support this great project!
The Abyssinian Boy by Onyeka Nwelue - My Thoughts
The Onyeka Nwelue Effect 
305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, University of Nigeria Nsukka
10 Questions for Onyeka Nwelue

[Image via Wikipedia]

April 07, 2016

Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman | Book Review

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision - it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." That's a great quote from the late African-American author, Audre Lorde. She was a civil rights activist, a feminist, and a proud lesbian. She died in 1992 at the age of fifty-eight and it's fitting that Diriye opens his collection with a quote from her. The first short story in Fairytales for Lost Children is Watering the Imagination, a two-paged story in which a Muslim mother from Somalia reflects on her daughter's life and defends her daughter's right to live as she pleases. Tell the Sun Not to Shine is the next story and it's a moving and memorable tale about a past lover. It's a loving flashback to what was and a piercing reminder of what can never be. I finished the story, paused, and then I read it again. The titular story Fairytales of Lost Children comes next and I like it a lot. A lot. It might be my favorite of the collection. Hirsi and his family fled Somalia and have started life afresh in Kenya but the move has them constantly looking over their shoulders in fear. The other stories in this collection are: Shoga, If I Were a Dance, Pavilion, Ndambi, Earthling, Your Silence Will Not Protect You, The Other (Wo)man, and finally My Roots Are Your Roots.

All of Diriye's protagonists are gay and lesbian except the mother in Watering the Imagination. I haven't read any other African short story collection with this many gay characters and that's worth noting. I enjoyed the first four stories very much but I wasn't particularly fond of the remaining seven stories. The Other (Wo)man shocked me (I'm probably easily shocked) as I read it on the bus while going home. It was the male equivalent of a pearl-clutching moment. Sometimes in short story collections you can pick up similarities in the various stories and sometimes they seem to reflect the author's personal experiences that are known to the reader. In this collection a lot of the protagonists have the similar backgrounds and characteristics - displaced from their home country, artistic in some fashion, having a Muslim heritage, being mentally ill - that seem more familiar with each subsequent story. Those characteristics and backgrounds are structural beams upon which each story in Fairytales for Lost Children collection is built. Is that bad? No... I just had to point that out.

Diriye doesn't try to appeal to mainstream audiences by watering down the collections' homosexual content or by skimping on the details of sexual activity. Fairytales of Lost Children is outlandish and bursting with a pride that cannot be stamped out. I love the collection's title a lot but not the book cover art. I'm certain that something more creative could have been conceived in its place. Regardless, this is very important work. Michael Jackson's song, Lost Children played randomly in my head while I read this book. It's one of my favorite MJ songs and I think it's fitting too. This collection of short stories is for all the lost children out there, the LGBT family, especially those of African heritage. We're "wishing them well and wishing them home" (italicized words are lyrics from Michael Jackson's song, Lost Children). Kudos to Diriye Osman.

Image via [Amazon]

March 09, 2016

Helen Oyeyemi Will Read in Houston, Texas!

Helen Oyeyemi will be in Houston, Texas on March 28th! She's one of the two authors featured this month in The Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series, one of the best and most popular author series in the U.S.A. The other featured author is Mat Johnson, author of the novel Loving Day. Oyeyemi's new book What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours was released in America yesterday by Riverhead Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House) and my copy arrived yesterday thanks to Amazon's amazing & very reliable "release-date delivery" service. I will post my review of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours as soon as I'm done reading it.

If you would like to see Helen Oyeyemi read from What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours you can purchase your tickets from Inprint Houston. Visit Inprint Houston's website and Facebook page for more information about this event.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi - My Thoughts
The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi - My Thoughts
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi - My Thoughts

[Author image via Green Apple Books]

March 07, 2016

Allah Is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma | Book Review

There's a repulsive quality to Ahmadou Kourouma's Allah Is Not Obliged that's immediately apparent when you begin this novel especially because of the narrator's choice of words. Birahima is a foul-mouthed child soldier who's somewhere between the ages of ten and twelve. He was born in Togobola, a village in Beyla, Guinea, a country on the western coast of Africa. After the death of his mother, his grandma makes arrangements for him to travel to Liberia to live with his aunt because she wants him to avoid the kind of life he's destined to live if he remains in their village. She wakes him up early one morning, puts all her life savings in the palm of his hand, and then tearfully sends him off on a journey to Liberia with Yacouba, a shady money-multiplier/fortune teller/maker of charms and amulets. Their trip is cut short by a marauding troop of rebels who absorb both Yacouba and Birahima into their ranks because Birahima cries and begs repeatedly to be made a child soldier. Allah Is Not Obliged is a memoir of the events that occurred during Birahima's time as a child soldier and he narrates it with an indifference that is surprising for someone his age.

I considered putting this book down so many times right after I started it. It took so long to plough through to page twenty-five because I wasn't captivated by any of it. There's an annoyingly large amount of political talk scattered throughout the book that is completely unnecessary. Some of it was needed to understand the ongoing wars but a lot of it should have been cut out of the book. This is not another child soldier story with an endearing protagonist. Birahima doesn't exhibit the kind of childish innocence that pulls you in and makes you wonder if he can ever be rehabilitated like I wondered when I reviewed Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Birahima's not like Biyi Bandele's protagonist, Banana in Burma Boy or Agu in Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation and that's fine with me. Birahima himself warns us on page four "Number six... Don't go thinking that I'm some cute kid, 'cos I'm not. I'm cursed because I did bad things to my maman [mother]." In the end, there isn't the overwhelming sympathy you might have come to expect from novels like this, just a numbness and an appreciation of a good story.

[Image via Goodreads]

February 18, 2016

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile | Book Review

Paul tells his younger brother that he's off to his friend's house then he buckles his sandals, picks up his backpack and heads out the door. When Paul doesn't return that evening, his family isn't alarmed. Paul's the exemplary child. He's the smart, dutiful firstborn who has never given them cause for worry so there had to be a good explanation for his failure to return home. His father suggests that Paul might have decided to spend the night where he was instead of risking a nighttime trip on Port Harcourt's roads.  "We will see him in the morning" his father says confidently to the family before sending Ajie and Bibi, Paul's anxious siblings, off to bed. He and his wife remain in the living room, awaiting the return of their son. Paul doesn't come back home the next day or the day after. In the days following his disappearance radio and TV announcements are made and missing person flyers are distributed. Where is Paul Utu?

Jowhor Ile's debut novel And After Many Days was released on February 16th by Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House. I liked And After Many Days a lot especially in the beginning. Jowhor's prose has a beauty and clarity that is enviable. The tale begins with Paul's disappearance and then it travels back and forth between the past and the present in its narration of the events leading up to that fateful day. The answer to Paul Utu's disappearance finally arrives in the last twenty pages and it's disappointing. Couple that with the flat, undramatic wrap up of this tale and I ended up feeling like I had invested my time in a novel that hadn't rewarded me generously in return. Regardless of my feelings there's no denying that Jowhor Ile's a very gifted storyteller and I'll be waiting in line with everyone else to buy his next book.

[Image via Random House]

February 07, 2016

Thirteen Cents by K. Sello Duiker | Book Review

Azure's parents were murdered about three years ago in Cape Town, South Africa. He's twelve years old, almost thirteen, when we meet him in Thirteen Cents, hustling with other street urchins, doing anything to survive each day. Cape Town has a market for sex with underaged boys so Azure sells sex to the white men who pick him up from the dark streets. Selling his body fetches a paltry sum that he uses to eat, cloth himself, pay for protection on the streets, and any leftovers get put away in savings. It's a rough life out there on Cape Town's dangerous streets. It's crazy.

Thirteen Cents is unsettling and very compelling. It's just the right size at 190 pages and I kept wishing I could read it in one sitting without interruptions. The story contains bits of foreign language without any English translations. It didn't affect my reading and I appreciated the absence of translations. Thirteen Cents is bold, dark, and violent. Kudos to the late K. Sello Duiker.

[Image via Amazon]

January 07, 2016

Tomorrow I'll Be Twenty by Alain Mabanckou | Book Review

Michel's a precocious young boy who lives with his parents in Pointe-Noire, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country located in sub-Saharan Africa. Tomorrow I'll Be Twenty is told from Michel's perspective and he provides great insight into their lives. He watches his surroundings intently, internalizing everything and using his vivid imagination to fill any gaps. His opinions on everything - mosquitos, world dictators, capitalism, inebriation, and materialism - are hilarious and adorable. While he spends most of his time doing what kids do his parents try to find answers to why they can't have any more kids.

Tomorrow I'll Be Twenty was great from the very beginning and I loved it until I became frustrated with the excessive political talk. Most of Michel's knowledge about politics comes from his stepfather and it's a good read until it turns into a dull lecture on local and international politics. The bulk of the political talk was unnecessary and it should have been chopped out of the novel. Even though that soured my reading experience I still love this novel. It's very entertaining. You should read it.

[Image via Amazon]

December 28, 2015

The Caine Prize for African Writing 2015 Anthology | Book Review

The Caine Prize for African Writing 2015 anthology is titled Lusaka Punk and Other Stories. It contains seventeen short stories. Five of the stories were shortlisted for the 2015 Caine Prize while the remaining twelve were authored by participants of the 2015 Caine Prize African Writers' Workshop. I'll begin with the shortlisted stories.

Shortlisted Stories 2015
Nigeria's Segun Afolabi opens this collection with his short story The Folded Leaf. It's about a group of physically challenged Nigerians who travel by bus to receive miracles at the spiritual retreat of famous evangelist, Pastor Fayemi. They head out with hearts full of hope and pockets full of donations raised by an entire church over a period spanning several months. They're the poor ones who scrape up money out of the little they have because the pastors have stressed the importance of giving monetary donations in direct proportion to the amount blessings you want to receive. When it's all over the group heads back home in silence. It's no surprise there's such a distrust of religion worldwide. We need to do something about these globetrotting monsters who swindle gullible devotees of millions in exchange for "blessings" and then use those donations to buy private jets and mansions in different countries. Segun Afolabi is amazing and he's a good choice to open this collection.

Elnathan John (Nigeria) follows Afolabi's lead with the tale Flying. I love the first five sentences of Flying.  In this tale, a young boy named Tachio lives in an orphanage under the proprietorship of Aunty Keturah. She's the one person he can confide in and she provides some sort of stability in an otherwise routine existence. I won't say more. I like it a lot. It's simple and quite moving.

FT Kola (South Africa) follows with A Party for the Colonel, a story about a troubled Indian family in apartheid South Africa. Ibrahim is a man who works really hard to make something out of nothing for himself and his family. He's sure that wealth is the ticket out of oppression and into respectable ranks. It's a story that seems doomed from the beginning and I like it a lot.

Masande Ntshanga (South Africa) penned Space, a story about a gang of young boys who run around a lot without parental supervision. The ending felt abrupt and thus the story felt somewhat incomplete. I didn't really get this story.

Namwali Serpell (Zambia) penned The Sack. An elderly man lives alone with a young boy named J. They've both lost Nana, a woman they both cared about. Serpell shuffles between dreams and the present and it was disorienting. I'm not really sure what's going on in this story...

Workshop Stories 2015
#Yennenga was written by Jemila Abdulai (Ghana). A well-known journalist has been arrested for murder. Her arrest has the nation taking sides with social media hashtags #FreeYennenga vs #DeathToYennenga. The public has its theory on how she rose to fame and whether or not she's innocent of the charges brought up against her but only Yennenga knows the truth. It's a decent story.

The Road Workers of Chalbi was written by Dalle Abraham (Kenya). I loved it immediately. Chinese workers arrive to a little village, the villagers marvel at their proficiency and gossip about their foreign habits. Everyone co-exists in peace for a while but you already know this can't possibly last forever. It's an interesting tale and one that I like.

Nkiacha Atemnkeng (Cameroon) wrote Wahala Lizard. I got excited a few minutes into it because it seemed fresh and different. An aircraft passenger falls terribly sick and is overheard saying that he hopes he hasn't caught the ebola virus thereby sending the plane's occupants into a panic. A story about an aircraft passenger with ebola, aboard a plane? I prepped myself for the drama I was sure would enfold. There wasn't enough drama to satiate me. There was a discussion among the passengers and then the tale veers off from where you think it's all headed.

Diane Awerbuck (South Africa) wrote Nehushtan, a tale centered around Malan. Malan is an engineer currently working on the construction of a dam located close to a small village. He's still trying to cope with the death of his only child and the effects of that loss on his marriage. He's also concerned about the quality of work on the construction project, a responsibility recently passed on to him after the previous engineer bailed out. I like this story.

Swallowing Ice by Nana Nyarko Boateng (Ghana) is that "sweet center" buried deep at page 157 in this 267 paged collection. In Swallowing Ice a journalist, who writes under the pseudonym "Vivian Quack" for Ghana's Daily Times, lives out her routine existence mostly in her apartment. Everything seems fine until life happens. I love this story so much. I paused for a while before moving on. I'll keep an eye for out anything by Boateng. Much respect.

Efemia Chela (Ghana/Zambia) wrote Lusaka Punk, the titular story of this year's collection. It's about teenagers living life during the holiday. Without much to do they focus their energies on teenage proclivities and punk rock. It's not an exciting page-turner but looking back now I appreciate Chela's work.

The Writing in the Stars was written by Jonathan Dotse (Ghana). This story starts out with a character called "Guardian", there are people on horses, wearing cloaks, bearing swords, and there's a kingdom that needs to be protected... Right from the first page I started thinking: Oh gawdd... This is not really my thing... When will this end... The guardian part of the story represented the past and after that introduction we're taken forward in time to the year 2036, the present. Sarah's working on her second Ph.D. and she has discovered a book buried deep in a shrine. The book is encrypted and she works hard to decode it because she believes it holds some secret from an ancient past. This is a creative story but I appreciated it after I was done reading it.

Burial was written by Nigeria's Akwaeke Emezi. In Burial, a young girl deals with the life-changing death of her beloved father. His burial brings in relatives from all corners and this coming together leads to her discovery of some troubling secrets. I love it a lot. Emezi writes really beautifully. I can't wait to read the novel she's currently working on.

In The Song of a Goat by Pede Hollist (Sierra Leone), a young girl arrives home to tell her mom she has been suspended from school for two weeks. She's surprised when her mom sits her down for a talk instead of punishing her immediately. The talk is a trip down memory lane, a trip her very disappointed mother deems necessary and possibly more effective than thrashing Stella.

Princess Sailendra of Malindi by Kiprop Kimutai of Kenya. A crazy girl believes she's a princess. She and her brother seem to be wanderers and they do drugs. It's a bit confusing and it ends as badly as you'd expect. I don't like this story. It's so murky as though it needs to be read twice but much more slowly the second time.

In Blood Match by Jonathan Mbuna, Hilda needs a kidney transplant to save her life. Her husband and a few relatives offer to help but their blood type and hers aren't compatible. Salvation comes from an unexpected source and leads to an unforeseen revelation.

Colored Rendition by Aisha Nelson (Ghana) closes out this collection but not at all in the amazing, mind-blowing way a Caine Prize anthology should end. A small school welcomes Marcia and Cliff, two teenage lovers who've come down to Africa for philanthropic purposes. The school doesn't seem to be any of the things the expect it to be. I don't really know what the focus of Colored Rendition was. I didn't like it at all. It's another murky one.

Most Memorable Stories of the Collection
1) Swallowing Ice by Nana Nyarko Boateng (Ghana)
2) Burial by Akwaeke Emezi (Nigeria)
3) Flying by Elnathan John (Nigeria)
4) The Folded Leaf by Segun Afolabi (Nigeria)

The Caine Prize for African Writing 2015 anthology is a very eclectic collection. I believe the opening and closing stories are important considerations for any anthology and I do not like the story chosen to close out this collection. It wasn't at all strong and memorable. I'm glad I chose the Caine Prize anthology and I'm excited that I'll be reviewing it every year. I can't wait to see what literary treasures 2016 brings. Have an amazing and fulfilling New Year everyone!

[Image via Amazon]

December 19, 2015

The Caine Prize for African Writing 2015 Anthology

I discovered the African Roar anthology series last year and I reviewed the fifth edition, African Roar 2014, on this blog on December 19th, 2014. It's a series that's put together by StoryTime Publishing and edited by the amazing Ivor Hartman & Emmanuel Siguake. I loved 2014 edition and I promised to make it a goal to review every subsequent edition in the series. I kept an eye out all year, searching Amazon, frequenting the StoryTime blog and checking its Facebook page for updates so I could plan my winter break reading but I still haven't seen any mentions of African Roar 2015. I honestly hope the series hasn't been discontinued. If you have any clues or details please leave me a comment or email me:

It's still my goal to review at least one anthology series on my blog site every year. In the absence of the African Roar series, I'll review this years Caine Prize for African Writing anthology series and I will try hard to review all future editions in the month of December. I love this book cover. For some reason I thought of ankara cloth when I first saw the book cover (pictured). The school semester just ended and I need a few days to recover before I start reading all the novels I have lined up. I'll try to have my review of the Caine Prize for African Writing 2015 anthology before the end of this month. If that isn't possible then I'll post it up some time in 2016.

Have a wonderful winter break and a Happy New Year!

READ: African Roar 2014 - My Thoughts

[Image via Amazon]

December 07, 2015

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah | Book Review

Years after the end of the war, the people of Imperi trickle back home using the many winding, snake-like paths leading to their village. The first arrivals return to find a deserted village strewn with lots of human bones. It's the bones of those who couldn't escape quickly enough on the afternoon that the faraway war finally came to Imperi. Among the arrivals are the elderly, the young, amputees, the people who amputated the amputees, and victims of rape carrying babies. They all hope to reunite with their loved ones and as they come into town they search for familiar faces. The war has left everyone feeling vulnerable and distrustful and they're cautious about getting attached to the new normal because they fear things could change at any time. So as they work hard to rebuild their lives they keep an eye out for plundering enemies from the outside, completely blind to the monsters amongst them who would turn against them in exchange for the most basic of comforts. Change comes to Imperi but it's not the kind they anticipated or the sort of change they desire.

I approached this novel warily when I found out it was another war story because I was worried it might be a rehash of sorts. However, I picked it up because Ishmael Beah's firsthand account of war in his debut novel A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier was incredibly moving and very memorable. In Radiance of Tomorrow, the combination of the plotline and the narrative angle left me deeply dissatisfied. If A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is a ten on a scale of one to ten then Radiance of Tomorrow is a three. Radiance of Tomorrow is a fairly interesting novel but very, very, very putdownable.

READ: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah - My Thoughts

[Image via Amazon]

November 07, 2015

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin | Book Review

Bolanle is Baba Segi's newest wife and her arrival threatens to destabilize his household in all the
ways you'd expect but there's more. Bolanle is an even bigger threat because Baba Segi's three other wives are guarding a secret so scandalous, it's in their best interest to get rid of Bolanle. Iya Segi, Baba's first wife who's also the one with the most to lose if everything crumbles, takes it upon herself to make Bolanle leave using every trick she can think of. When nothing seems to be working she decides to go for the kill...

We meet Baba's wives, see their individual reactions to the brand new, college educated wife whom their husband is smitten with, and then Shoneyin delves beneath their outward appearances to show us what lies beneath. Every wife has her own remarkable life story and our knowledge of their private struggles and the journey to this point in time affects how we react to them. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives is a delightful page-turner. You should read it.

[Image via Amazon]

October 24, 2015

TBR Book Tag!

I got tagged to put up a "To-Be-Read" post by Darkowaa of the beautiful and inspiring blog, African Book Addict. Here are my responses to the TBR questions. Enjoy!

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
I have a post-it widget on my computer that I use for everything. There's a post-it with my To-Do list of everything academic and then there's a post-it with my TBR list for my blog. I'm constantly moving around the titles, adding to the list, and changing my book review choices for any particular month. It's always there when I turn on my computer. I like it a lot. It helps me keep track of everything I need to do.

2. Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
It's 99% print. I only read e-books when I have to. E-books are actually really convenient but I prefer print. I think I always will.

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?
I buy the books I'm interested in reading and I keep them on my bookshelf. Selecting what book to read next from my bookshelf is random a lot of the time. Book covers are very enticing so I could reach for a book on my shelf based on that. Sometimes it's based on the number of pages because I have a fixed window of free time between semesters. Sometimes I select a book based on who the author is.

4. A book that has been on your TBR the longest?
Right now it would be between Tolulope Popoola's Nothing Comes Close and Eghosa Imasuen's To Saint Patrick. I'll get to them one day I promise. 

5. A book you recently added to your TBR?
Darkowaa posted today because she got tagged. I read her post and ordered Baking in Kigali by Gaile Parkin AND Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okoroafor on Amazon before settling down to pen this post. Good job Darkowaa :).  

6. A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?
I like the cover of Alain Mabanckou's Tomorrow I'll Be Twenty a lot and so I bought it. It's not the only reason I bought it but it's one of the main reasons. Again I saw it featured on the African Book Addict blog soo... Good job Darkowaa! My money go soon finish. 

7. A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
I wouldn't say I "never plan on reading" but I know deep inside that it would have to be the only unread book on my shelf before there's even the slightest chance that I will read it. I won't mention the book title. 

8. An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited for?
Right now it's The Longings of Jende Jonga by Imbolo Mbue (I'm aware the title has changed but whatever). It's the book whose movie rights were sold for seven figures. I can't wait. I wasn't aware that Teju Cole had a new book coming out until I read Darkowaa's post so I'm excited about that. I hope I can finish Open City before the new release. It has been on my TBR for a while.

9. A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?
White Teeth by Zadie Smith and The Famished Road by Ben Okri have been recommended to me since forever. I need to finally read them. I've booked them for 2016. 

10. A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?
The Famished Road by Ben Okri. 

11. A book on your TBR that you're dying to read?
The Longings of Jende Jonga

12. How many books are in your Goodreads TBR shelf?
I use Shelfari more often than I use Goodreads and I have the Shelfari bookshelf widget on my blog. My Goodreads TBR shelf has 6 books. 

October 07, 2015

Bitter Leaf by Chioma Okereke | Book Review

Bitter Leaf is set in Mannobe a small regressive village located somewhere in Africa. We meet Jericho as she returns to Mannobe under the cover of darkness. She has lived in the city for a long time and is finally pulled back home to Mannobe by the guilt induced by her mother's letter. Babylon is a gifted musician and local sex object who's more interested in bedding numerous village women than furthering his career. He's smitten by Jericho but her heart belongs to her boyfriend back in the city. While he courts Jericho's affection Magdalene, a dutiful village girl who has never felt anything close to the consuming love she has for Babylon, tries desperately to keep his attention. This is an engaging tale of love, pain and lust with lots of interesting characters.

The book title paired with the author's Igbo name made me expect a Nigerian tale but Bitter Leaf isn't Nigerian. It comes across as a story set in some other African country when you take in the way the characters talk and the snippets of a local language I can't identify. I found Okereke's descriptions of lust and the convoluted feelings of sexual attraction humorous and very enjoyable. I'm impressed by her narrative style and attention to detail in the 409 pages of this novel. I assume I'm late to the party considering that this novel was published in 2010 but the more I read Bitter Leaf, the more I wondered why I haven't seen Chioma Okereke's name floated around more often on the various lists of contemporary Nigerian authors. We need to applaud the verve and skill that Chioma Okereke greatly displays in this beautiful debut. Kudos to Chioma Okereke.

[Image via Amazon]

September 28, 2015

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta | Book Review

Ijeoma is a young Nigerian girl, an only child, who lives with her parents in Southern Nigeria.We are introduced to her family in the time period of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Everything around them is crumbling down and it's not long before Ijeoma's dad dies from an air strike. Ijeoma's mom sends her off to live with her father's close friend because living conditions in Ojoto are getting worse even though Ijeoma would prefer to follow her to Aba. When they both reunite one and a half years later it's because Ijeoma has been caught doing something "abominable" with another girl, Amina. Her mother decides to nip this in the bud by conducting protracted daily Bible studies with Ijeoma, painstakingly covering the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelations, and coupling that with loud, fervent prayers, beseeching God, begging Him to banish all abominable desires from her daughter. That was many years ago. An older Ijeoma looks back on her life as she narrates this tale, taking time to describe surroundings, seasons and dreams as she lays the groundwork for this very important story.

Okparanta explores and questions the complexities of the Bible's teachings in a way that Christians are often taught not to. Her selected scriptures, especially those from the Bible book of Lot, are fitting, poignant, and thought provoking. In the telling of this tale Okparanta grabs the bull by the horns and forces you to confront this controversial issue in the hopes that you (especially her countrymen) reexamine your thoughts on the subject matter. Under the Udala Trees is shamelessly honest, a moving tale of forbidden love by the amazingly gifted and incredibly courageous Chinelo Okparanta. This is a tale well told, a job very well done. You should read this.
Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta - My Thoughts

[Image via NPR]