Last month, I only read books from Africa. Living in the Netherlands, it’s easy to read only European or North-American literature, so sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself to read from another place as well. And even though I have issues with approaching the whole continent of Africa as one place, the availability of books from Africa made me choose to do it this way nevertheless.
As I’m specialized in South African literature, and always have a lot of South African books I need to read, I forced myself to constantly read either a book from South Africa or from somewhere else in Africa. This way I made sure to also read from places I would normally forget about.
I started out with a small book of essays by Chinua Achebe, Africa’s Tarnished Name. It was a quick read, but also very impactful. Achebe addresses how colonialism has impacted his own country, Nigeria and discusses the racism he himself encountered while traveling in Africa. His writing style is quick paced and engaging and as the book is quite small, I would recommend it to everyone who wants to know more about these subjects but isn’t a big reader.
The next book I read was from South Africa, Spertyd by Elsa Joubert. Joubert is the grande dame of Afrikaans literature and I had only read one of her first novels before (Die swerfjare van Poppie Nongena). She is one of those authors I should really know more about but hey, there are so many authors on that list that sometimes I just don’t know where to start.
Spertyd is an autobiographical novel which she wrote when she was 95. In this book, she tells us about the process of becoming older: and not just 60-years-old, no, 85+-years-old. It is quite intense to read about her experiences. Some parts are really funny, when she tells about a dinner party she organized and how it was a whole adventure to even get her friends out of the car. Sometimes it gets more emotional as well, for example when she tells us about a friend of hers, the last person she knows who knew her parents.
After Joubert, it was time for something from somewhere else in Africa again. I chose Modern Poetry from Africa, edited by Gerald Moore, a collection of poetry from all over the continent. These kind of anthologies are of course a great way to get introduced to more writers. My personal favourites from this book were Léopold Sédar Senghor form Senegal and Wole Soyinka from Nigeria. Maybe also the two biggest names in this book, but apparently for good reason? Although I might have missed some, because I’m not very familiar with the different African naming tradition, I do feel like this book includes a lot of male writers and very little female writers. My collection was from 1968 so maybe a more updated edition would not have the same problem. There’s also a small section on South African poetry in this book, which focusses mostly on English poetry and black authors – and I kind of like that. N.P. van Wyk Louw has been in enough anthologies, someone else should get a chance as well.
My next book was Buys by Willem Anker. I’ve had this book for years, I got my edition from my stepmother a few years ago when she accidentally bought the Afrikaans instead of the Dutch version. The Afrikaans was actually a bit difficult, lots of names of plants and dated words, which is great because these kind of challenging texts are the way to improve my vocabulary. The story is less my cup of tea but it has been an important novel from the last few years so it’s good that I’ve read it anyways.
After Buys I should have read a non-South-African book but I got asked for a review of an Afrikaans book of poetry, Ekke by Klara du Plessis, so I quickly had to read another Afrikaans book in between. Lovely book, very complex, I’m still letting everything sink in a little bit for my review.
I ended this month with an Egyptian book, The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa al Aswani. I saw Aswani read at a literary festival in The Hague a few years and bought a signed copy, but I hadn’t come around to reading it yet. It turned out to be my favourite book of the challenge: it had romance, good food, socialism and wholesome friendships, everything you look for in a book. It was so engaging, I couldn’t put it down. I normally go to bed pretty early but I just couldn’t stop reading and if I finally forced myself to stop I just kept thinking about it. I’m currently just going through life recovering from this book and telling everybody they should read it.