By Radiyah Manjoo
So many countries, so many choices.
This month, I took the path most taken – I’m sorry, Robert Frost and hipsters. This month, we review Nigerian books.
Nigeria, the land of many stories. I’ve spoken many times to peers about a certain bookstore and how under “African literature”, one might find Nigerian authors and… that’s it. Africa is more than one country, a message some are still catching up to, I suppose.
Bringing up the observation of the prevalence of Nigerian books, I have been met with various responses. A friend stated, plainly and without hesitation, that Nigerians are simply the best authors in Africa. I argued that we hadn’t been presented with as much literature from other African countries, so is it really a fair remark? Have we read as many books from other countries to consider it a fair comparison?
Another friend spoke of the fact that Nigeria has a lot of connections to the Western world, in that many of them have much more exposure to the West, and that’s where the publishing power is, and that is why we see them more than most. Also, a valid theory that you could argue against as well. Perhaps them being an English-speaking country contributes as well.
I have given it much thought, and I am actively trying to read other African countries’ literature to make a fair comparison. But the facts are that many brilliant authors and pieces of work come from Nigeria. Undeniably so. Let us also acknowledge that Nigeria has a strong creative voice in general. Nollywood and Nigerian music are other examples of Nigeria surpassing a lot of us in their works. So, giving credit where credit is due, I am unashamedly saying that if there were a “Literature African Cup of Nations”, my money would be on Nigeria.
Or perhaps Nigeria does so well in the creative sphere because we are much more similar than we all like to acknowledge. The stories and pieces feel familiar and make us feel like it was told by us all, and that’s why we appreciate them.
A tree: Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
You can’t speak of “African literature” and not mention Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart was first published in 1958, and what a piece it is. A fun fact about this book is that it was the first book to be written from the perspective of those who were colonised rather than from the coloniser’s perspective. This literally blows my mind. It brings to mind the saying, “until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter”. I think this book is extremely significant in the literature world – a claim to Africa’s voice. The story itself is powerful and fascinating. Okonkwo is a strong character whose story is told magnificently. The book leaves you with a greater understanding and a perspective that was always there longing to be told.
A bud: Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
“A breath of fresh air” is a fair description. I had seen quite a bit of talk about this book online, and I was curious, pair this with a friend mentioning it in passing, and I was sold – I had to read the book. So, I found it and read it. Worth the hype? Yes, it’s a good read. It’s an adventure, when last did you read one of those? Throw in the speculative fiction elements, and you have a book in which you can get lost. I didn’t realise that I’ve been reading so many “adult” books lately, and it was refreshing to read something that wasn’t heavy and serious. It is a book aimed at “young adults”, but that’s just a suggestion anyway. Reading this book made me remember how much I loved reading as a kid and left me wishing a book like this had been around when I was a youth. These kids don’t know how good they have it!
A flower: Dangerous Love, Ben Okri
Why do I love this book? It’s dark and about everything – to put it simply. Ben Okri’s writing is magic. He has a way with words. Every line he writes warrants a moment of absorption. His words are laden and delicious. If this book were a painting, it would be vivid, and if it hung in a gallery, it would not allow you to walk past and not stop to ponder. If you haven’t been able to tell by now, yes, I am a bit in love with Ben Okri, I admit – but my standards are pretty high, so it is absolutely warranted. Ben Okri is one of the more famous authors, and it can’t be denied that he is deserving of this recognition. Dangerous Love is a story about a young man in Nigeria and a piece of his life, very beautiful and sombre. In my biased opinion, definitely add it to your “to read” list.
*** A disclaimer: I am most definitely not and do not consider myself an authority on African Literature – not in the least bit. I am simply a girl who loves reading books and telling you what I feel about them. Forgive me for my errors – in advance. I just happened to be the person who talks about books a lot. I am very much open to any suggestions and would love to know your trees, buds and flowers. If you have books from the continent that you feel need to feature, do let me know. Make a girl happy, talk to me about books!