While January dragged for quite a while, February was its literal antithesis – it simply zoomed past by! Aside from achieving my highest number of views in one month, February was also one of my busiest reading month. In total, I’ve completed reading seven books, which is way above my normal reading average of four to five books in a month. My goal of reading at least fifty pages a day is definitely helping me gain some badly needed reading momentum.
After being immersed in 2019 Man Booker nominated books in January, I decided to immerse in African literature in February. I’ve already done Asian and European literature months previously so I thought it is high time to do an African literature month as well. Although I’ve read a couple of African works such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, it is nonetheless a part of the literary world that I’ve rarely trudged on.
To set the records, I resolved to have February as my African literature month. I’ve been thinking about this since last year and early 2020 presented that opportunity. Come to think of it, My African literature month already started in January when I read Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, the co-winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize. Moreover, I closed out January with two Man Booker Prize nominated books, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer and Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities. I wasn’t able to complete the latter in January, thus, it was the opening salvo to my venture into the depths of African literature.
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize and was one of the nominated books that immediately caught my attention. I was filled with so much curiosity, that set upon hunting for a copy of the book. Fortunately, I was able to find a copy in my local bookstore. The novel relates the story of Chinonso, a young poultry farmer who fell in love with Ndali. I enjoyed the first parts of the novel. Obioma highlighted many facets of African culture in a very vivid manner. Everything unraveled towards the end of the story when a light novel turned dark and the dark turned even darker. Chinonso’s altered attitude is reminiscent of Captain Ahab. I am pretty torn on this book, to be honest – the writing was good but the plot just went south.
The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany
From Nigeria, my African adventure next brought me to one of the cradles of civilization – Egypt. Al Aswany is my second Egyptian writer after Nobel Prize in Literature winner Naguib Mahfouz. I bought The Automobile Club of Egypt during the first staging of the Big Bad Wolf Sale in the Philippines in 2018. However, it ended up gathering dust in my bookshelves. It relates the story of the Gaafars, once rich landowners from North Egypt who were forced to move to Cairo as they were on the brink of bankruptcy. It is a story that is filled with so many dreams. However, these dreams were painted on a very turbulent canvass. Grief, political turmoils and standoffs, physical abuse formed a rough contour to a story that sailed with hopes. For most parts, I loved the book. The ending, however, was a dampener.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
From Nigeria, to Egypt and now, to Ghana. I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback on Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, Homegoing. These positive commendations made me want to dive into the heart of this historical novel. The start was a little bit rough as I had a difficult time appreciating the story. It began in Ghana where two half-sisters from the Asante kingdom were separated. The plot then follows the story of members of the two family lines. Homegoing is a novel packed with heavy punches, tackling timeless and complex subjects such as colonialism, racism, identity, and the slave trade. History and the African culture were craftily fused by Gyasi in a powerful tale about bloodlines and homecomings.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Unlike the first three novels I read, my fourth African novel for the moth, Imbolo Mbue’s (again) debut novel, Behold the Dreamers was set mostly in the United States. Jende Jonga moved from his native Cameroon to New York City in order to give his young family a bright future.With the guidance of his cousin, he was hired to be the personal chauffeur by Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive. His gainful employment enabled him to bring his wife and son to New York City. Everything was going well until the famous 2008 financial crisis that was instigated by the fall of the Lehman Brothers. Behold the Dreamers is a very thought-provoking book about the plight of African immigrants and the quintessential American dream.
Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
For the third consecutive book, I was immersed in a stellar literary work. Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s debut novel (yes, I know it, most of the books in this list are debut novels, surprisingly), Stay With Me. It is the story of a young couple, Yejide and Akin who were longing to have children. Try as they might, every effort they had was futile. Because of the years of barrenness, Akin’s family forced their way into their married life and caused havoc that pushed Yejide to the brinks of her sanity. Stay With Me is a very heavy drama of a book. It is filled with many moral intersections that keep the readers engaged despite the heavy and dark themes. It is, so far, my best read of 2020. Adébáyọ̀’s writing was straightforward and discernible. It flowed smoothly and makes me want to read more of her works.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Okay, I admit it, I have never heard of Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black until I came across a list of New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year (2018). Me, being a man of reading lists and recommendations, was immediately curious of the book. Moreover, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Oh, I am reading quite a lot of books connected with the Man Booker Prize lately. Anyway, Washington Black is part-historical novel, part-coming-of-age novel, and part-adventure novel. The fusion of these different elements gave the story a different texture. There were some parts that were too graphic, some parts that were too eccentric but, overall, it was a great read about love, loyalty, and (surprise) homecoming. Well, not really homecoming but close to it.
Freshwater by Akwaeki Emezi
I closed my February 2020 African literature month with yet another Nigerian writer (fifth for the year actually). Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel (yet another one), Freshwater, was part of my 2018 Books I Look Forward to List. Unfortunately, I never got to purchase a copy of the book until I came across a copy of it in the recently concluded Big Bad Wolf Sale. Of the books in this list, this definitely has the most interesting premise as it is an interpretation of dissociative identity disorder (or more popularly referred to as multiple personality disorder). The author’s interpretation, however, is grounded on Igbo cosmology and culture. It was a stellar way to close out my ironically long reading month.
Without a doubt, these seven books (and nine for the year) written by African authors gave me so much. They painted colorful images of Africa, its people and its culture that I want to further be immersed into this foreign world. Albeit there were some misses, there were mostly hits. I am cognizant that what I’ve read is just the tip of the iceberg but this is a good start to a venture into parts of the literary world that I have never been to before. To more African works in the future!
Current Read: Kim by Rudyard Kipling
After diving deep into African literature, it is time to go back to basics. Not really basics because you can hardly call English literature basic. Yes, March is going to be for British authors, both past and present and I am kicking it off with Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. I was originally planning to read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House but, at over 1,000 pages, I found it too tedious, for now.
Widely regarded as his best work (and his last novel as well), Kim is the story of an orphaned young man who is living a vagabond existence in British-ruled India. I had quite a difficult time making a decent headway into the story as it is taking me time to adjust to the language. Nonetheless, I am very hopeful on this book as it is also one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
Reading Challenge Recaps:
- My 2019 Top 20 Reading List: 4/20
- Beat The Backlist: 0/12
- My 2019 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 0/10
- Gooodreads 2019 Reading Challenge: 12/60
- Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: 2/15
Book Reviews Published in February:
- Book Review # 156: Angela’s Ashes
- Book Review # 157: A Town Like Alice
- Book Review # 158: Stay With Me
- Book Review # 159: On Beauty
How about you readers? How was your February reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!