Burning grass by Cyprian Ekwensi

Burning Grass by Cyprian Ekwensi

Nigerian fiction

Source – Personal copy

One of the things I want to try and do this year is clear my own pile of books and also read more from places I have covered less the last few years and one of these is my small collection of African writer series books I have brought a few as I have seen them so I decide it was time to work down them and I chose this which happened to be the second book on the writer list. Cyprian Ekwensi had a number of books on the African writer series list. He was born in Northern Nigeria where this book was set( the book came out of a journey where he spent times with the Fulani cattlemen. He worked for the Nigerian broadcast company and then became the director of Information for the department of Information he did this before the civil war in Nigeria. He wrote a number of novels and  short stories and he passed away in 2007. This is the first title I have read by him. He is well regarded as one of the first voice of post colonial African Literature he also

When the girl came running toward them they saw the terror in her eyes. close on her heels came a dark-visaged man , frowning and cursing, brandishing a koboko. He stopped when he was the girl throw herself against the old man’s feet and cry out to be saved.

“She is my slave!!”  he roared. “I want her back!she’s running away!”he raised the whip.

“Your slave?” said the old man, leaping to his feet. His son’s glance met the girl’s , caught the mute appeal

I love this as which son was it maybe both !!

The book follows a family from the Fulani tribe a group of wandering cattlemen . The book opens with a runaway slave girl that comes across the family and the head Mai Sunday. He knows the girls master he is a cruel master and he arranges to rescue the girl from her situation but this then cause a knock on effect as his sons all connect with this woman Fatimeh his youngest falls for her. but she and his other son then run away this leaves the youngest Rikku heartbroken the book follows Mai as he tries to help his son get over this loss but also as they live there wandering life as the move with the way they need to feed the cattle and also add to this a dove appears and there is a large number of people falling ill to sleeping sickness. we see a family drift apart but as the book draws to the end the start to draw back together.

Mai Sunday’s first sight of the village on the great river did not excite him.He had been travelling through bush which thickened day after day, sleeping in trees, eating forest fruit, preaching at little villages on the way, and now the thought of seeing Jalla doubled his pleasure.

He followed the earth motor road. At intervals along the road he noticed little clearings lined with stones. Here a traveller might stop and wash his hands and feet in the water provided and say his prayers. When he arrived at the next one he washed his face, hands and feet in the water and said a short prayer before continuing his journey. The road wound ion for another half a mile, and turning beyond a mahogany tree he saw the grass huts. There were about one hundred of the,, all huddled together, and he thought: “if ever a fire should break out here, only Allah from above can save anyone”

Mai as he head to the river and also the fact the tribe is Muslim as the enter the motor road the mix of the future and past.

Now this is one of the earliest in the African writer series and maybe is a world that isn’t there now the tribe is still there infect the Fulani is widespread tribe over north Nigeria and the surround countries. they still like in the book have a very traditional world customs and costume so in fact it is similar to the book what he does so well is capture the coming and goings of the family as they wander the bush feeding the cattle as there family had done for generations with Mai we have a classical Patrica figure  the head of a family but as we see in the opening when he rescues Fatimeh  the slave girl also how he tries to help his youngest son. this was read in a lot of schools when it came out it was aimed by Heinmann the publisher as the cut the length of the book in half from the original manuscript it works as it isn’t a flabby work it is very direct and so well paced as we follow the life of this family as they head from place to place. Have you read any of his book or any others from the African writer series ( which I believe is due to be revived soon which is a great Idea as for me it introduce me over the years to so many great voices and also brought books from countries under represented in English )

Winstons score – B a solid tale of a family wandering North Nigeria as we see the family dynamics and the world they live in.

Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe

Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe

Nigerian Non-Fiction

Source – personal copy

I said I want to try and focus a bit more this year on African and Arabic literature over the next year. I did use cover a lot more when I first started the blog I have always been a fan of the African writer series. Chinua Achebe was the editor of that series in the early days with the first wave of post-colonial African fiction.I had thought I had covered him before on the blog but I haven’t so when I found this the over week. I choose this as my first read as it dealt with African fiction as it was a collection of three essays that he gave as speeches lat on in his life.

My problem with Joyce Cary’s book was not simply his infuriating principal character, Johnson. More importantly, there is a certain undertow of uncharitableness just below the surface on which his narrative moves and from where, at the slightest chance, a contagion of dostaste, hatred and mockery breaks through to poison his tale. Here is a short expcerpt from his description of a fairly innocent party given by Johnson to his friends,”the demonic appearance of the naked dancers, grinning, shrieking, scowling, or with faces whioch seemed entirely dislocated, senseless and unhuman, like twisted bags if lardm or burst bladders” Haven’t I encountered this crowd before? Perhaps, in Heart of Darkness, in the Congo. But Cary is writing about my home Nigeria, isn’t he ?

HIs problems with Cary’s book Mister Johnson.From the first essay My home under Imperial fire

The three essays are interlocking the first deals with his childhood the nation he grew up in the Igbo people and the fact they are distinctive in themselves. Then the fact that when he first went to school and then university. The books he was given to read were all European in nature and there wasn’t many African books and then the one book that deals with his own country by the Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary. He said it didn’t cover the country in a real way Cary had served in Nigeria but didn’t portray the country and this is what drove Achebe to write his first novel to give a truer picture. The second essay deals with those early years that he was an editor of the African writer series. When Dylan Thomas put his weight behind one of the early success Palm wine Drunkard. elsewhere he mentions Camara Laye, Mongo Beti and Cheikh Hamidou Kane as among those that first made inroads with eh post-colonial voices of African literature I choose those three as they are covered here. The last essay deals with the modern African literature and post-colonial scene and literature about Africa. He talks about a change in language from Conrad times to modern-day.

The Launching of Heinemann’s African Writer Series was like the umpire’s signal for which African writers had been waiting on the starting line. In one short genration an immense library of new writing had sprung into being from all over the continent and , for the first time in history, Africa’s future genration of readers and writers – youngsters in schools and colleges – begn to read not only David copperfield and other engliush classics That I and my genration had read but also works by their own writers about their own people

The series which he edited for many years in the second essay The Empire fights back !

It was an inspiring collection of essays from a writer who was always passionate about his work and the influence of African fiction. Here he shows how the African continent was misportrayed in English literature here he starts to mention Conrad a subject he often wrote about. The terms he used in the heart of darkness, but as he pointed out it still has changed but not much he mentions V S Naipaul use of Bush in his novel Bend in the river as a small change from Conrad’s day. A slim collection but worth looking out if you are a fan of African literature as it has some interesting points about fiction about Africa and post-colonial African fiction. Have you read this collection?

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 .

Lemona’s Tale by Ken Saro-Wiwa


Lemona’s tale by Ken Saro-Wiwa

Nigerian literature

Source – personnel copy

We begin our day by the way of the gun,
Rocket propelled grenades blow you away if you front,
We got no police ambulance or fire fighters,
We start riots by burning car tires,
They looting, and everybody start shooting,
Bullshit politicians talking bout solutions, but it’s all talk,
You can’t go half a block with a road block,
You don’t pay at the road block you get your throat shot,
And each road block is set up by these gangsters,
And different gangsters go by different standards,
For example, the evening is a no go,
Unless you wanna wear a bullet like a logo,
In the day you should never take the alleyway,
The only thing that validates you is the AK,
They chew on Jad it’s sorta like coco leafs,
And there ain’t no police…

I choose one my favourite songs of recent times K’naan what is hardcore maybe captures life under a regime of terror in His home land Somali .

I should put this up yesterday sorry Lisa (Anzlitlovers ) but as I came to write last night I was just to tired to write much so here is my Indigenous week book Choice . Ken Saro-Wiwa a Nigerian writer , was a member of the Ogoni people a small indigenous population from South east Nigeria , Ken Saro-Wiwa held various government post in his country during the early eighties ,.But a regime change and his own worries about what was happening to his people and their land lead him to lead the party that represent them . He fell foul of the military government in the early nineties arrest on a number of occasions , in the end he was sentenced to death and died in 1995 . A fact that chilling makes this book so much more powerful  to the reader .

“Lemona .Lemona . Beautiful woman .Exquisite .She’ll be hanged tomorrow .You know that , don’t you ?  And you insist on seeing her ? Well , I have no objection personally .But I don’t know if she’ll agree to see you .That’s the problem .That’s woman is an enigma .

The opening lines of this book on her last day .

Lemona’s tale is a tale of a woman who had spent 25 years of her life in Jail .She like Ken is a member of the Ogoni .This day we see is the last day of her life she is about to be executed .What we see is the day slowly drawing out , whilst at the same time she recounts her life story and how she end up in jail and how various males she met lead to this .She started of in a Village but has been one of those woman who seems to end up at the wrong side of life and is used by those around her  .This leads to the event that saw her get jailed , but carries on even after she gets to jail as she is abused by those in the jail .

He always refrained from speaking about his family , particularly his wife , to me . I respected that , because I was likely to get jealous if he spoke about her .Indeed I remember that once when he dared to mention Aduke (his wife ) , I threw a tantrum , most uncharacteristically . I don’t believe he thought me capable of anger . I displayed on that occasion .After that , “The family ” became the code for his wife .

She was a mistress , but is this a glimpse of something that happens later ?

This book is a powerful slice of recent history in Nigeria .What makes it so haunting is that my  book was first published her the year after Ken Saro-Wiwa himself had been executed in his homeland for Murder like Lemona , a charge he denied ,unlike the heroine (not sure that is the right word , but she lived through her trouble life ) he said he hadn’t done the murder he was accused off .Lemona’s tale is not just the story of the Ogoni people but a hundred small tribes and people who fell foul of regimes and dictators then and still now in some places in Africa .I find it scary that we in the uk tend to hear less news from Africa and what is happening in places than we did twenty years ago when there would often be stories about Nigeria and numerous other former british colonies .I feel if we still reported the news her we would maybe understand the current Refugee crisis in more depth !!This is first of a few african books in the next few weeks ?


Burma boy by Biyi Bandele

Biyi Bandele is a Nigerian born writer who currently lives in London a playwriter as well he adapted things fall apart for the stage and is considered one of the leading voices of post colonial writing ,he has written a number of novels since the early nineties including the street ,this was his latest published in 2007 by Jonathan Cape .

The book revolves around the story of  farabiti a young thirteen year old lad that joins the army during the second world war and ends up in the jungles of Burma .Where he is involved with the adventurous army commander Wingate a maverick who lead a almost guerlia like war in Burma ,Wingate also appears at the start of the book in a prologue set in Cairo .

This strange man ,dressed in a british army uniform that hung loosely on his shrunken frame ,and wearing a major’s rank was in the grips of a fierce and crippling fever .He shivered under the blistering heat ,his teeth clattering as if he were in the deep chill of an english winter ‘s day .

an introduction to Wingate .

The story reaches a huge battle in a large fortified place called the white city . Against the hard fighting unforgiving Japanese forces .

What Biyi has done is wonderfully brought to life part of his own family history as his father also fought in the second world war in the Burma campaign ,the book brings many different voices from Nigeria as we meet other characters in the unit .The story is reasonably well paced and maybe drags in a couple of places ,but the true beauty is a heartfelt tale of the African experiences in the second world war ,which to a large degree have been overlooked in the past .

This was meant to be part of Amy reads Nigerian challenge last month but I ran out of time to review it in June ,The book’s title in the US is” the Kings rifles” .

Winston’s score –

lion cub fierce and independent like farbiti in the jungles of Burma .

A way of being free by Ben okri

Ben okri

Notes –  

Ben Okri is one of the greatest living writer born in Nigeria and educate their and in england ,he won the booker for the first of the famished road trilogy ,he is vice president of the english centre for international PEN ,he has published a number of novels ,poetry and this non fiction collection his last book tales of freedom which i heard him reading from is a collection of very short almost haiku like stories . 

The book – 

The book contains 12 essays from Ben that were written over a ten-year period for a number of different publications and events .the ones that stood out for me firstly a pair of essays about the art of storytelling ,where the role and power of a writer are questioned and how writers have to try to tell the truth ,how it originate in africa . these essays remind me so much of his talk the passion he invokes for the reader and how he said it is for the reader to interpret the writers words not for the writer to tell the reader .Another essay dealt with Othello and why he is still played from time to time by white actors ,when the role is a moor ,ben asks do people still have a fear of a single black man on the stage in a lead role .elsewhere poets ,a painting featuring a minotaur are discussed . 


It is in the creation of story , the lifting of story into the realm of art , it is in this that the higher realms of creativity reside. 


A   good story keeps growing .A good story never dies . 


stories are the wisest surving parts of a peoples stupidities or failings . 

some of the short phrases in the joy of storytelling part 2 

My view – 

I am a huge fan of Ben Okri and really enjoyed these essays ,they reminded me of his talk you can sense the passion floating of the page and surrounding you like a blanket ,you want to grab the next book on your T.B.R pile after this and read it cover to cover ,a bit like Manugel Okri has a passion for the written word and portraying this to the reader . 

the score – 


owl – the owl is always portrayed with books and being wise this suits this book and the beauty with in it

June 2023


%d bloggers like this: