A grain of wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o


A grain of wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Kenyan fiction

Source – Personnel copy

Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh-oh-oh, yea-eah!
Men and people will fight ya down (Tell me why!)
When ya see Jah light. (Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!)
Let me tell you if you’re not wrong; (Then, why?)
Everything is all right.
So we gonna walk – all right! – through de roads of creation:
We the generation (Tell me why!)
(Trod through great tribulation) trod through great tribulation.

Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!
Oh, yeah! O-oo, yeah! All right!
Exodus: Movement of Jah people! Oh, yeah!

I choose Exdous a Marley sung about freedom this lyric is influenced by a biblical text as is the title of the book .


I add a second from the list of names in the nobel Betting for this years Lit prize the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o  has been high on the betting the last few years .He studied in Both Kenya , Uganda and Leeds in the uk,which is where he wrote this book in 1967.He is an active campaigner for maintaining African languages and has written a number of books in his own Gikuyu language .

Mugo felt nervous .He was lying on his back and looking at the roof .Sooty locks hung from the fern and grass thatch and all pointed at his heart .A clear drop of water was delicately suspended above .The drop fattened and grew dirtier as it absorbed grains of soot ,Then started drawing towards him.He tried to shut his eyes.The would not close .

The opening sets the scene so well .

A grain of wheat is set in the time just before,during and after the independence of Kenya . WE see the story of how Kenya gained independence  in a series of flashback stories as we are in the present with Mugo ,a lonely man in his village as the prepared to celebrate Independence day .Add to this a revenge for a traitor that is to be dealt with on this day or as it is called by the villagers Uhuru day (freedom day ) . Mugo sold people out to the brits but he wasn’t the only one Karanja did as well where as others in the village fought with the rebels and killed a brutal police man  and were capture and sent to prison whilst the wives were left behind with men like Karanja need I say more,add to this a Brit ex pat that is in one man all that was wrong with Brits in Africa John Thomson is that man .All this in one small african village the whole country in a group of a few men each showing a side of the conflict and how it effect each one of them .

Kenya Regained her Uhuru from the British on 12 December 1963 .A minute before midnight , lights were put out at Nairobi stadium so that people from all over the country and the world who gathered there for the midnight ceremony were swallowed by darkness .In the dark ,the Union Jack was quickly lowered .When next the lights came o the new Kenya flag was flying and fluttering and waving,in the air .The police band played the new National Anthem

Near the end we see the Freedom regained for Kenya .

What we see here is one of the books that is considered the main books in the cannon of African fiction a book that breaks away in style somewhat of earlier novels .The feel is of using the oral tradition in the village in the way the story of them all getting to Uhuru are woven into a complex novel  that shows how Britain was in Africa , how Kenya found freedom  is a blueprint for a number of other countries that found freedom afterwards  .This book is still as powerful as when it was written .I have had him as nobel winner for a few years it just the look of the draw who will win next week .

Have you read Thiong’o ?

Our Musseque by Jose Luandino Viera

Our Musseque by Jose Luandino

Angolan fiction

original title – Nosso musseque

Translator – Robin Patterson

It’s in a person, it’s in a person
I’m warning you, I’m warning you
It’s the truth

Africa land for preachers gold
Land for everybody young and old
The place that holds for some bright future,
But for others the future tend to torture
Ma’ Africa.

What went wrong with your brains?
You kill each other you destroy human dignity
People of Africa lets stand together
And make it the land of hope!

I want to tell everybody about myself.

Todays lyric is Ma africa from the one giant leap album ( a collection of singers and songs from around the world )

I often think there isn’t enough fiction of Lusophile origin from Africa , so every time one cross my path it is a welcomed with open arms by me . Jose Luandino Viera is a writer who grew up in Luanda in Angola , the setting of the book in the 1940’s .He grew to be a political activist who had a trail in 1959 that start the uprising in his country .He spent a lot of time after that in prison until the collapse of the Salazar regime .He wrote this book in the 60’s whilst in prison although it didn’t see the light of day until 2003 .

And so the nickname was born . When people who lived further away from the Musseque heard the story , they chuckled to themselves , made fun of it and said our group of boys had even stooped to messing around with goats ,From then on they started referring to our dead companion as Xoxombo the goat shagger .

The book opens with talking of getting a nickname and how everyone had a nickname in the Musseque .

This is the story of a Musseque , a township , a shanty town .This is a portrait of te shanty town of Luanda told through the eyes of our child narrator .A world of people with nicknames , a close-knit but rough community of prostitutes labourers and those that provide for them .A tough life for Zeca , Buenu and Xoxombo are a group of boys growing on these streets , watching life on the tough side of the streets as they find girls and fighting .But at the same time there is rumblings in the background of their world that are pieced in glimpses .The book is a collection of glimpses into this world and the lives around it vibrant , colourful but most of all a world on the cusp of something that in the end took more than forty years to get there .

As evening slowly fell , children made their way back home , some of them heading up to Ingombota , others going down towards Mutamaba .They were laughing and teasing ,showing off their toys .ZEca and Xoxombo walked with their arms around each other , not speaking to anyone .They walked very slowly through the alleyways and up the sandy tracks , Xoxombo crying sometimes and Zeca heaping insults on the man in the white suit , the teachers ,the school kids , everyone , nobody escaped his fury

The boys heading through the night one the way home angry at the world but friends together .

I read this book last december then as is the case with me I put it to one side so sad ,I am at times a bad reviewer as this is one that had stuck with me .Not so much for the characters in the book The narrator and his friends are well drawn child characters . For me what last is the sense of place the vibrant shanty town the place that was their home but also a place that at the time was dangerous for them , but they didn’t see that we do as the reader to them this is their everyday life .I feel Viera who wrote this whilst in prison is looking back with fond memories of his youth seeing the tough side of his life but also the comrades friends and characters he grew up with .this book is considered an important book in the cannon of fiction from Angola as Viera is one of the most decorated writers and acknowledge .I’m so pleased Dedalus took a chance and published this book as it is a gem .

Have you read any Lusophile fiction from Africa  ?

From Algeria to Cape town Further journeys through Africa

African fiction

From Algeria where I plan to read Yasmina Khadra who I have three books on my shelves including the two recent Gallic book editions The african equation and the dictators last night .Two great books of Nigerian fiction Chinua Achebe things fall apart (a reread ) and second class citizen by Buchi Emecheta together with the short story collection Under african skies .Then more classics A grain of wheat by Ngugi , The gab boys by  Cameron Duodu , The long claws of fate by uche Bialonwu and lastly from Senegal Birago Diop with the tales of Amadou Koumba .Then cutting edge writng from Eben Venter from South Africa wolf ,wolf Ghana’s Ayesha Harruna Attah Saturday’s Shadows , her second novel and from Sierra Leone Pede Hollist These are some choice of books from Africa I hope to add in between now and the end of the year after the last few days of blogging about this years books from Africa I have read , I was reminded how much I haven’t read and how much I need to know to build a picture of what is lit from Ghana , Nigeria , South Africa not just Africa as a whole we don’t talk about European fiction but of French , German and so on canon’s .

the confines of the shadow

First up later today is this which I have had for a few month from the publisher Darf publishing Alessandro Spina epic this is the first of three volumes told the history of Bengazi in the 20th century .What most appealed to me is the quote by Claudio Magris on the front an Italian writer whose book I read last year was just perfect so I expect a book he would like I would like as well .

What books from Africa have you enjoyed ?

This house is not for sale by E C Osondu

this house is not for sale


This house is not for sale by E C Osondu

Nigerian fiction

Source – review copy

Tell ’em that the house is not for sale
We’re still livin’ here, how come nobody can tell
They’re takin’ all the furniture, movin’ our things
Come on little honey, put your head on my knee
Tell ’em that the house is not for sale
And calm down, calm down, calm down
Calm down, calm down, calm down

Do you remember when we even bought this thing?
I danced you across the wooden floor and you signed the lease
What happened in the car that night?
What happened in the car that night?
Tell ’em that the house is not for sale
And calm down, calm down, calm down
Calm down, calm down, calm down
Calm down

I couldn’t miss the chance that one of my favourite singers had written a song with the same title as this book so This house is not for sale by Ryan Adams

So another trip to africa and this time a rising star of Nigerian fiction E C Osondu , has already won the Caine prize for african writing in 2009  for his story waiting here it is online .He has an MFA from Syracuse university , he currently teaches in Rhode Island in the US .This is his second book following Voice of America that came out in 2011 .That was a short story collection so this is his debut novel .

When we asked Grandpa how the house we called the family house came into existence , this is the story he told us .

A long , long time ago , before anybody alive today was born , a brave ancestor of ours who was a respected and feared Juju man woke up one day and told his family , friend and neighbours that he had a dream ,In the dream he saw a crown being placed on his head .He interpreted this dream as signifying that he was going to be crowned a king soon .

I loved the story of how the house became the house so to speak .

This house is not for sale is a story of a house and the man who managed to get the house many years before and has been the driving force of the house .The house in Lagos is seen through the eyes of those who have lived in the house over the years .Grandpa life and those living there is recounted through the eyes of his grandson .From Grandpa story of how he got the house of the King .Through thieves entering the house .A cousin Ibe that makes money in many ways not all that honest that bring life to the house  .Then there is husbands playing away , murder and many other things going on inside the walls of “The Family house “.What we see is a vibrant house through our young narrator eyes .

The british love tea and will drink tea when they are happy and drink tea when they are sad .They’ll drink tea when they are hungry and when they are full .They love their cats and their dogs and all their pets ,They have a society for the protection of animals and none for the protection of their fellow humans .

I highlighted this as it made me laugh ,well just to note this Brit hates tea but does love his dogs .

I said E C Osondu first book was a collection of short stories , I feel he loves this form as the second book is a novel but one of those loose novels that seem very much the fashion these days (I say this knowing that the great american novel  winesburg Ohio is a cycle of stories ) .This is also the fourth book I can remember that has used a house as a framing device for the book .The nearest to this of the ones I have read is The yacobian building .But this book also has a great child narrator as the darkness of some of the events in the house are told in that childlike way of ttwelling things straight but not tainted by expereince or judgement .What comes accross is a vibrant house run by a sly old man who has managed to keep this huge house despite the city around it changing but has also provide a roof over the head of a number of people that have washed up at the door of  Grandpa’s house over the years .

The lights of Point-Noire by Alain Mabanckou

IMG_20150425_104736 (2)


The lights of Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou

Congolese memoir

Original title – Lumieres de Pointe-Noire

Translator – Helen Stevenson

Source review copy


“Back To The Old House”

I would rather not go
back to the old house
I would rather not go
back to the old house
there’s too many
bad memories
too many memories

When you cycled by
here began all my dreams
the saddest thing I’ve ever seen
and you never knew
how much I really liked you
because I never even told you
oh, but I meant to

I choose “The smiths ” as back to the old house is about return to your youth as well .

Well the second stop ion a few days I am spending on the blog in Africa .I am now in Congo , with one of my favourite writers Alain Mabanckou has featured on the blog three times before with his fiction with the books Black Bazaar ,Memoirs of a porcupine and broken glass . This is his latest to be translated to English and is a memoir of his return to Congo and his home town .Since he last featured here on the blog Alain Mabanckou has been on the Man international prize list and was on  this years Priz Goncourt longlist for his latest novel in French .He is also one of my favourite writers ever !!

For a long ttime , then , I let people think my mother was still alive .In a way I had no choice but to lie , having picked up the habit way back in primary school when I brought my two older sisters back to life in an attempt to eacape teasing of my classmate , who were all very proud of their large familes , and offered to  “lend” my mother their offspring

He remembers his mother and being at school , the school now named  after a leader once hated by the locals .

The lights of Pointe-Noire follows Alain Mabanckou as he returns to his home .He left in 1989 , he didn’t return when his m other died but many year later in 2012 . What faces him is his home town Pointe-Noire a busy port town that he left and he has written about in his novels , was no more the sights he remember have changed vastly in the time he was away .The cinema he loved is now a church , the faces he knew have aged .WE see him in the two weeks he spends there in a flat from the French goverment pieces together past and present the brutal nature of what was his bringing up (brutal maybe to us , but he doesn’t turn this into a misery story , no it is littered with that wit , I so love in his fiction ) Mabanckou is able to mix humour with the deepest darkest sides of the human soul .As characters from his past reappear not only do you see them as they are now but as they were and also the sense of how he used them in his books .

Now I notice various details that I haven’t seen before .For example , my mother’s right shoulder seems to be crushing me , while my father ‘s trying to keep us propped up .that’s why his head is pressed up against mine .I can see , too , my t=father’s finger on my mother’s left shoulder .I think it must be his left arm holding us up and without it we wouldn’t have managed to hold the pose . Lastly , the marks left by the bottles on the surface of the table suggest the waiters didn’t wipe them very often

Looking at an old photo , don’t we all notixce how odd we can seem , I remember one of dad , mill , my brother duncan and I that seems so posed now .

It’s often said the past is a foreign country and this is shown to be so true in this book although the places look familar to Alain as he revisited where he grew up after nearly a quarter of a century away .The sense of the place has moved on and he is returning but more like a figure captured on a sepia toned photograph of the place he want tpo escape did escape , but has used so much in his fiction he never real escaped the people that surrounded him , do we ever really escape our past just put it in a different box in our memory .

Have you a favourite book from Alain Mabanckou , if not you should read him ?

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