By Radiyah Manjoo
As it happens, you will see red clothing constantly until February comes around, and when you need something red for some trite Valentine’s day event, suddenly you cannot find a decent item. This has been me trying to find African literature to read. Somehow, there were always books by African authors “around”, but that was subject to me not needing to read them, so maybe it appeared that there were many but on inspection, they are pretty rare. Now, when I am desperately searching for books from specific countries, I am struggling. I should mention that I tend to be searching for the books with a mere few hours left before my deadline (why Radiyah, why?) but even so, why has this been so difficult? However, I am here to say, if you make an effort, it will most definitely be worth it.
This month: Ghana! Oh Ghana, I stand in humility before what I’ve read. Like Ted Mosby from a (used to be) popular series, How I Met Your Mother, where he says that had he had the chance, he would’ve tried to go back to meet his wife sooner, just so he may have more time having known her. I feel that – but for Ghanaian literature. Now that I know that there is a LOT of brilliance, how I regret that I did not realise this sooner. How I wish I could’ve been enriched earlier, that I had more time with more books. Well, Ted Mosby and I cannot travel back in time, but we both can speak of the brilliance of when, eventually, we found what we were searching for.
I know Ghana in a strange way, like a relative distant in relation and geographically, who I know of by name, and have sometimes heard some stories about, but never took time to get to know. I have always wanted to visit Ghana, having been told many great things about the people and now, as books seem to create, I have an even greater need to travel to the country so that I may search for the things I know only by the words that have described them. And Ghana, how beautifully do your people speak of you.
A tree: This Earth, My Brother – Kofi Awoonor
I am a new person after reading this book.
Originally published in 1971, reading this book felt like a fresh experience today. The book felt so different. What I muse about is that it felt so new to me in style and I don’t think I’ve read something similar. Awoonor tells a “layered” story of a Ghanaian man and many points of his existence. If I were to describe how I felt reading this book, I would say it was like having an elder tell a tale – you are not entirely sure what the moral is but everything feels like something you want to note down. You hold on for more, baited by what you’ve heard already knowing that more brilliance will come but, finding yourself at every moment thinking “how can you beat the brilliance of what was just said?”. It is as if the narrator has taken thoughts from within your head itself and presented them to you in a way you never could. He also tells you of things you’ve never known in a way that makes you feel like you do. I would definitely recommend this book. Read it for the experience if nothing else. Enjoy the beauty that comes with it.
A bud: Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
I came across this title a few years back, just after it had been released. It was described along the lines of “a novel following a generational story of sisters”. What they should have instead said was, “a stunning novel that tells a tale spanning across generations that you absolutely have to read for yourself because we cannot adequately describe how enjoyable it is”.
Last year, I was at a friend’s home and said to her, “give me your favourite book to read. One that you feel I will enjoy”. She handed me this book. I looked at it, opened it and saw the size of the words. I grinned nervously and said, “I’ll try and finish it but I will definitely return it”. How wrong I was – I didn’t even need to try; I could not put this book down! I may have returned the physical book to her, but this story remains with me. The remnants of the story will cross my mind, and I will sigh at the thought of it, embracing the memory of reading this book, grateful for the story and the power of the tale. Thank you Yaa Gyasi, thank you for this book. I have told everyone who I know to read this book, so that they may enjoy it too – but also, so that I can talk about it more. I will never tire of loving it. Everyone who has read it has loved it too. If you were looking for a book to read, look at that, love has found you!
A flower: Ghana must go – Taiye Selasi
It was a strange path that led me to this book. I was reading another book and came across the term “a Ghana must go bag” and, having the world at my fingertips (Google), I proceeded to search what this was on my phone. I found that this refers to what we in South Africa call by another name. I read up a bit about the expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria as the reasoning for this referral. Not long after, I was in a bookstore and saw a book titled “Ghana must go” and I thought two things: (1) destiny! (2) I want to know more about this. I have a terrible condition where I love learning about history but hate reading history books. Novels, however, that tell me about history packaged as a story work really well for me. So, I just bought the book. Turns out, it’s not about the expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria but rather something else entirely.
Taiye Selasi tells the story of a family, connected to Ghana. The story itself is beautifully written. To describe reading it, I felt very much satiated – in the sense that it was fulfilling in the way it was told; in the descriptions it presented, the images it created and in the way she presents thoughts, it was all so full, so ripe and delicious. What was also a joy was reading a story that just felt like someone telling a story but, in this case, the connection was to Africa which added an element of familiarity for myself. What I mean is, it is a book by an author who considers herself a local in Ghana but it’s not merely a tale of the country, but instead of “being”. It isn’t centred around being a “Ghanaian book” but rather a book of people, who just happen to have a Ghanaian connection that is wonderful in and of itself.
*** 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, 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!