Diandra Rodriguez's Reviews > Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara

Africa39 by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey
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bookshelves: books-books, short-story-collections

I'm glad to have received an Advance Reading Copy of this book through the FirstReads program, because this is one of the better writing anthologies I've read in a while. The selections in Africa 39 represent sixteen sub-Saharan countries and a variety of genres and experiences. After a very strident introduction by Wole Soyinka (in which I'm not sure I understood all the context for his comments,) the stories begin with solid entries from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ("The Shivering"), Monica Arac de Nyeko ("The Banana Eater"). My favorite piece was Eileen Almeida Barbosa's mellifluous and passionate "Two Fragments of Love," and I hope more of her work is translated into English. Also striking were the simmering anger of Ondjaki's "I'm Going to Make Changes to the Kitchen," the intellectual romance of Edwige-Renée Dro's "The Professor," and the coming-out heartbreak of Ukamaka Olisakwe's "This is How I Remember It."

There are also many novel excerpts, which range in quality. Often, they tend to feel more like promotional previews than self-contained works, but quite a few stand on their own, like Rotimi Babatunde's rendering of a meeting during European colonization, Tope Folarin's engaging family drama, Glaydah Namuka's portrait of a child continually forced from one home to another, and Lola Shoyenin's unapologetic narration for a woman deemed Harlot. Shadreck Chikoti's intriguing sci-fi situation convinced me to look forward to the publication of the full novel of Azotus, the Kingdom. However, I wasn't engaged by the basic police procedural vibe of the excerpt from Hawa Jande Golaki's The Score. A better portrayal of crime comes from Sifiso Mzobe's chapter "By the Tracks," in which a guard for an affluent neighborhood is led to the scene of a ghastly murder. The strongest excerpt, however, is the diptych created by the selection from Dinaw Mengestu's All Our Names, starting with a legend about a city kept alive in dreams, and ending with a beguiling fragment about specific characters living in fear.

Many of the stories are straightforward yet satisfying, like "The Old Man and the Pub," by Stanley Onjezani Kenani, and "Number 9" by Nadifa Mohamed. There's a lingering contemplative mood in "Sometime Before Maulidi" by Ndinda Kioko. Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond renders a capable continent and diaspora allegory in "Mama's Future," while Okwiri Oduor pulls off a surprising perspective flip in "Rag Doll."

Clifton Gachagua writes a psychedelic torrent of words for a story, "No Kissing the Dolls Unless Jimi Hendrix is Playing," that is sometimes baffling but ultimately intriguing. Stanley Gazemba's prose in "Talking Money" is somewhat stilted as he attempts to convey a folk storytelling tone for his fable. The weaker selections tend to be too abrupt, even short stories like Zukiswa Wanner's "Migrant Labour." However, "Hope's Hunter" by Mohamed Yunus Rafiq is an imaginative and graceful conclusion for the volume.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 10, 2014 – Shelved
November 10, 2014 – Shelved as: books-books
November 10, 2014 – Shelved as: short-story-collections

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