Great African Reads discussion

Anything on Africa > Why are you into African reads?

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message 1: by Alex (new)

Alex I hope it's cool to start a new topic.

I feel like there's been a ton of stuff written by and about Europeans and Americans that's available to me, but it's difficult to learn about Africa; pre-colonialism, particularly, it's tough to find books. At least in English. It's frustrating because that's where we've been the longest, and I feel like we never pay attention to it.

I'm psyched to read King Leopold's Ghost with y'all, because I've heard it's great, but even that is about white peoples' involvement with Africa. I wish I could read about what it was like before white people stuck their noses in it, and I have a hard time finding that.

(I do have a book of African folktales that I totally love.)

I've been only to Ethiopia, which is the most beautiful place I've ever seen.

I'm into it because I love history and I'm really into the cultures that don't bombard us with books; I'd rather read about Nubia than the Tudors, frankly. I'd love to hear why other folks are into it. Have you been there? Are you from there? Are you just, like me, bored with English kings?

message 2: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
it's absolutely cool to start a new topic!!!
i'll add to this discussion later...need to get my thoughts in order. :D

message 3: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I'm curious about the kind of books you're looking for. A lot of stuff about pre-colonial period is written based on archaelogical evidence etc. and it's not written for a general audience. Personally, I'm not an archaeologist so even though I'm interested in the topics, I find it hard to read.

message 4: by Alex (last edited Mar 09, 2010 06:21AM) (new)

Alex Good point, Andrea. I've found myself reading books based on archaeological evidence before - what springs to mind is Michael Coe's (un-African) The Maya - and you're right, they're pretty dry. Because pre-colonial societies outside Egypt were, to my knowledge, illiterate, we end up with the archaeological evidence sortof inevitably.

I guess what I'm looking for is a dude who invented a time machine and can therefore report accurately on pre-colonial societies without a whole bunch of stuff about potsherds. Anyone know someone like that?

message 5: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Yes, he drives a DeLorean.


Anyway, you might do best to look for collections of oral histories, or books that have old people who reminisce about "before." I think you can do this with fiction or memoirs...I haven't written my review yet, but I did get a decent sense of traditional life (family hierarchies, values, customs, ways of learning and doing things) from the memoir of a man who had been a teenager in the Chad civil war in the 1980s. It seems like he came from a prominent family in the south and he had very interesting things to say about how things worked independent from French authority or even northern Chadian authority. I don't know if that's the kind of thing you're looking for or not...

message 6: by Alex (new)

Alex That's close enough, Marieke. My stack is huge right now, but I'm interested. Is that Teenager in the Chad Civil War? Saw it on your shelf a while ago, looked cool.

"Back to the Future" is so frustrating. You built a time machine and went back to the 80s?! What a waste. They should've taken a lesson from Bill and Ted.

message 7: by Sokari (new)

Sokari Ekine (blacklooks) | 3 comments You could read Segu by Maryse Conde which is set in what is today Mali / Burkina Faso.

message 8: by Sokari (new)

Sokari Ekine (blacklooks) | 3 comments In my opinion King Leopoldo's Ghost is a must read as it will help put the present conflict in the DRC in proper historical context particularly the role of multinationals in contributing to the conflict- this is African history.

message 9: by Alex (new)

Alex Sokari, I just started King Leopold's Ghost yesterday, and it's awesome. It'd been on my TBR stack for ages, so I was psyched to see it selected for this group. Thank you very much for the recommendation; Segu looks great.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a "recommend books to Alex" thread though, although it's working out pretty well for me personally. :P I'd really like to hear why other folks are into reading about Africa, too.

message 10: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "That's close enough, Marieke. My stack is huge right now, but I'm interested. Is that Teenager in the Chad Civil War? Saw it on your shelf a while ago, looked cool.

"Back to the ..."

yes, that's the chad book. i'm very sad that i must turn it in today. sniff sniff. it's not an easy book to get into and it definitely requires a bit of background on the upheaval in chad in the late 70s and 80s. but once you've got a handle on the major figures and you get used to the author's style, it's a pretty amazing book. imho.

hahaha...bill & ted...excellent...i used to have a tigerbeat centerfold poster of alex winter. hahaha.

message 11: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "Sokari, I just started King Leopold's Ghost yesterday, and it's awesome. It'd been on my TBR stack for ages, so I was psyched to see it selected for this group. Thank you very much ..."

i'm enjoying the alex book recommendations. i just fetched Segu from the collections at work and will be picking it up this afternoon! thanks, sokari!

i like to read about Africa because it's a place that grabs you and doesn't let go. major influences include my ghanaian soccer coach, the fact that my dad went to live in Kenya for a few years, i visited Egypt once, i tutored a woman from Sierra Leone who had never been to school in her life, and i spent three years of my work-life studying a particular issue throughout all of Africa and much of my work still focuses on parts of Africa. i am currently thoroughly entranced with the Sahelian region. i also tend to get excited about Libya. i don't really know why, precisely.

message 12: by Alex (new)

Alex Cool, Marieke! Thanks. What's that particular issue, and what do you do? Sounds really interesting.

There's a buried memory trying to dredge itself up about the Sahelian region; something about global warming potentially causing an interesting shift in the ecology there. Does that ring a bell for you, or am I just making it up?

message 13: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
oh, it was HIV/AIDS...apologies i didn't specify. i was typing furiously on my lunchbreak. I just do research at the Library of Congress. not all my projects are really interesting, but many are! (lucky me! haha)

ummm...i think there is a real problem with desertification in the Sahelian region, but i don't think it's solely because of global warming, although my guess that global warming/climate change/whatever you want to call it, definitely exacerbates the problem there. but this is not something i have i am not going to pretend to know anything about it! :D

message 14: by Alex (new)

Alex Ah, here it is. Global warming is gonna do a lot of really bad things, but it might be contributing to a "regreening" of the Sahara and the Sahel. How weird is that? So...y'know, I bet land is pretty cheap there right now.

You are lucky! That sounds like a dream job.

message 15: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
wow! so i was thinking all in the wrong direction. good thing i don't pretend to be an expert!

message 16: by Alex (new)

Alex Well, you can hardly be blamed for that. I don't think a ton of people are looking for the silver lining in the global warming cloud.

message 17: by Wendy (new)

Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments Marieke gets my vote for coolest job!

To get back to Alex's initial query though -- I would have to say that what makes me interested in reading about Africa (and I suppose this reason would hold for other topics I enjoy reading about) is that I am a sucker for a good story and Africa is a continent with so much interesting history, so many fascinating people, and an endless amount of diversity that I think you could read about it your whole life and never get bored. I'm really interested in learning about colonialism and the effects it had on a given region and then following it through to the effects on that region post-colonialism. It seems that so many of the conflict zones in Africa today can trace their roots to colonialism. The way so many countries colonized areas of Africa, exploited the people and the resources and then left when they were done and things were in a terrible mess is really appalling. Learning how these various countries (that exist due to random lines drawn on maps by random colonizers and have no relation to tribal/ethnic divisions that exist) have tried to contend w/ the aftermath of all of this is really interesting to me. It seems that the more I read about Africa the less I know and the more I realize I need to learn. I've read a fair amount about South Africa and Zimbabwe (which was what initially triggered my interest), but have jumped around all over the continent and have yet to find a "boring" part.

Goodreads is great b/c I get to "meet" other people of a similar bent (since none of my real life friends seem to grasp my obsession w/ Africa I'm afraid). I've found so many books to add to my list that I hope to get to soon as a result of this group -- so thank you to all :-D

PS -- Although I agree that if I had a time machine I don't think I'd go back to the 80's, is it bad to admit that I'm kind of looking forward to the Hot Tub Time Machine movie coming out soon? Does this make you think less of me ;-)

message 18: by Alex (new)

Alex Oh hell no, Wendy! Hot Tub Time Machine has the black guy from the Office in it. No, the other black guy. Yeah, that one. He's hilarious.

Thanks for that post; interesting stuff. And yeah, I agree: my other friends are not into Africa, or anything else I read, so it's pretty awesome to find you people.

message 19: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Well, if we're allowed to give recommendations that we have already read, The Lunatic Express: An Entertainment in really one of my favorites about East Africa. It's out of print, but most libraries have it and it's widely available used.

message 20: by Nina (new)

Nina Chachu | 208 comments I have to admit that I haven't been able to always read the particular books the group agreed to for particular countries, but that doesn't matter. I enjoy hearing of suggestions - even if I read them several months later - and reading posts, even if I don't agree with them. I read about Africa because I live in Ghana, and indeed in West Africa for the last thirty-five years or so. It is home, and I try to read at least one "African" book every month. Many are often written by Ghanaians, and on some occasions published in Ghana, at other times elsewhere. It is part of living here, and getting to know better different aspects of Ghanaian history and culture.

message 21: by Alex (new)

Alex Wow Nina, that is super cool. You're a librarian there? I checked out your blog. :) What brought you to Ghana?

message 22: by Nina (new)

Nina Chachu | 208 comments Met my future husband, who is Ghanaian, while studying in Nigeria, and here I am!

message 23: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments That is such a neat story, Nina. Maybe you should write a memoir?

message 24: by LDB (new)

LDB | 66 comments I was introduced to Africa as an undergrad and got hooked through three events: 1) a professor who had done work in Botswana and always used Botswanan anecdotes in his classes; 2) a cultural anthropology professor who often used African examples or stories in his classes; and 3) reading the book Things Fall Apart (Alex - if you haven't read this one it definitely gives a better look at African life, with a focus on the tension between tradition and modern life). I now focus a large part of my time work-wise on Africa and love to travel there as much as possible for work. When I do travel there, I always try to bring a book about that country or by an author of that country; as well as try to bring back books from local authors. Every country and every period has so many stories to learn from that I find African-related literature to be continually rich and interesting.

message 25: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Speaking of Things Fall Apart, we have a discussion going on about that right now. Please join in! and if you do, be sure to read Richard's blog entry (he provided a link) about his own reading of the book.

Sorry, I'm not very saavy with the html...Alex some pointers, please, on how to post links in a sophisticated style?

message 26: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod it saavy or savvy?

message 27: by Alex (new)

Alex LDB, I read Things Fall Apart many years ago; it's definitely on my list to read again.

It is savvy. :)

This may be the first time anyone's asked me for advice on sophistication, so I'm just gonna bask in this for a moment....ah, that's nice. Marieke, here's how I do it:

<a href="your link here">the words you'd like underlined.</a>

message 28: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "LDB, I read Things Fall Apart many years ago; it's definitely on my list to read again.

It is savvy. :)

This may be the first time anyone's asked me for advice on sophistication, so I'm just gon..."

thanks, alex! you are much savvier than me at both spelling and linking. i will try my hand at this a little later. i guess you just told me what the "(some html is ok)" link says...but i didn't understand it until you posted it. i am a little slow when it comes to things like this.

message 29: by Alex (new)

Alex 'sokay, you can pretty much go your whole life without knowing HTML and aside from impressing the occasional person on message boards, it's really not gonna exactly impact your quality of life.

message 30: by Lynne (last edited Apr 18, 2010 12:34PM) (new)

Lynne (lmsindel) | 30 comments To answer the original question:

I got into reading about the South African apartied system as an outcropping of my interest in the Civil Rights movement in the United States. I always thought that it would be fascinating to write a masters thesis which compared and contrasted the two (but alas, I was a math major). In college I took every South African History course my university offered and from there I have slowly branched out.

It has been really exciting for me to join this group on goodreads because most of you have so much more knowlege and experience with Africa and her literature than I do. Sometimes I feel grossly underqualified to be a member of this group, but since none of you will ever really know who I am, I keep plugging away, all full of my USA good intentions.

Like others, I sometimes don't get to the group reads during the correct month (thank goodness some books cover two months!) and many of the books are not available to me, or not available in English, but my TBR pile is certainly getting longer.

message 31: by Alex (new)

Alex It's okay Lynne, I don't know anything either.

You reminded me...I got interested in Africa during the apartheid days, because I was just starting to understand injustice and that was the most obvious example. I was in 8th grade then. I worked with a crazy old hippie lady from Northampton, Mass to distribute fliers about apartheid.

I'm ashamed to say that I told my mom I wouldn't cut my hair until Nelson Mandela was freed, because I knew my mom couldn't argue with that. I got to grow my hair long...but only a couple years later, he was freed. Very inconsiderate of him. But I got to see him on his tour a couple years later, and that...Mandela was the first symbol of oppression that I understood. To see him free was honestly life-changing. It meant everything to me.

message 32: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Lynne, it's great having you as a member of the group. This group is such a good incentive for me to branch out in my reading. We all have our own favorite regions or experiences that we like to read about, that it's good to be encouraged by others to try something different.

message 33: by Lynne (new)

Lynne (lmsindel) | 30 comments Thanks for the support, guys. Alex, you remind me of something my father said to me about the things he had seen in his life. He said, he never expected to see something like the Berlin wall go up, yet he got to see it torn down. He never expected to see Nelson Mandela freed from prison, yet he got to see him elected President. What a world. My dad rocks.

message 34: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments My dad said, at the end of a long life, he never expected to be able to raise 8 kids and have none of them become a lawyer or "end up in jail", lol. Sorry to lawyers out there, it was such a good quote I couldn't resist. Lynne, your dad's quote is very inspiring. We should look for what we can celebrate in life!

message 35: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
My dad is a retired gov't attorney and would love this quote. When he was in Kenya he counseled all the young peace corps volunteers not to go to law school. Haha.

message 36: by Wendy (new)

Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I'm a lawyer and concur wholeheartedly w/ Andrea's dad. I'd much rather my kids chose some other profession :-)

Alex, I'm so impressed that you were so politically aware at such an early age -- even if you did use it to your advantage to grow your hair long! I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to really begin to clue in as to what apartheid really meant. I finally read the book "Kaffir Boy" by Mark Mathabane and it really opened my eyes. I'm so ashamed of myself for being a stupid American and not paying attention sooner!

message 37: by Alex (last edited Apr 20, 2010 11:58AM) (new)

Alex Oh, I read Kaffir Boy! I liked it but it's been ages...someday I should re-read it.

My wife's a lawyer. Sorry, dad-in-law! You have failed.

message 38: by Lynne (new)

Lynne (lmsindel) | 30 comments I am a "stupid American" as well, but I try not to judge myself too harshly, just as I would not judge the average German during Hitler's reign or someone who was raised as a Boer in RSA. We are in large part a product of what we know and how we were raised, ignorance is not the same as stupidity. Hopefully, we all raise the next generation to do a little bit better than we have done ourselves.

message 39: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments No Lynne, you are not stupid; you are part of our group, after all! haha

message 40: by LDB (new)

LDB | 66 comments I also feel like I came to Africa and other things later in life than I feel I should have. I am not sure I really understood what the South African Apartheid was or who Nelson Mandela was until perhaps even after undergrad studies - isn't that sad? When I started my love affair with Africa, though, I threw myself into it! And love that I have others here that I can share my interest with!

message 41: by Alex (new)

Alex LDB wrote: "And love that I have others here that I can share my interest with!"

Yeah, it's so exciting to have found this group of really cool, interesting, informed people who share my interest in Africa. I'm way more educated now than I was before I found y'all; you've encouraged me to read a couple of great books, and we've had some great conversations.

This group is super cool.

message 42: by LDB (new)

LDB | 66 comments I second that coolness motion! Of course, the side effect is that my to-read list just keeps growing...

message 43: by Ingy (new)

Ingy (ngnoah) | 33 comments Hi everybody..
Although I'm Egyptian, I must admit I don't read African sub-Saharan literature much (I read stuff on Africa though, mostly politics, folks and other issues).
I hope this group will help me to get to know African literature better..
Cheers.. :)

message 44: by Alex (new)

Alex Hi Ng! It's okay, I don't read stuff about America much. :)

message 45: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
and i hardly ever read about Canada or Mexico (not to mention the Western U.S.)! :D

message 46: by Chrissie (last edited Sep 12, 2010 09:52PM) (new)

Chrissie I am in the group simply b/c I enjoy learning about other places and cultures. I was born in the US, but moved to Sweden when I was 18. I currently live in Belgium. I am quite simply curious.

message 47: by Ingy (new)

Ingy (ngnoah) | 33 comments Great! I guess our mutual curiosity will do us real good in the African tour :D

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