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Reading the Ceiling
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Tour d'Afrique A-L Books 2008-12 > Forster: Reading the Ceiling | Gambia (Tour D'Afrique) first read: July 2011

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message 1: by Muphyn (new) - added it

Muphyn | 816 comments I've set up a discussion thread for the July & August read - feel free to discuss the book here!


message 2: by Mahriana (new) - added it

Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments my book came today! unfortunately, I need to finish a certain very long fantasy book before I move on to it. ;-) We all have our guilty pleasures!


Andrea | 660 comments I am seriously annoyed with myself for being cheap and ordering this as "media mail" which means I am still waiting! Jeez, the things I do to save a couple of bucks:)


message 4: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - added it

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
mine is on its way!!


Jessica (oldsouldreamer) Mine arrived yesterday! I've read the first page and can tell I'm going to love it. :)


Andrea | 660 comments Got it today! Will be reading and commenting soon.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments I started reading sooner than I thought I would. At first, I was kind of frustrated by the tone of the prologue, but as soon as the book got into the first of the three choices, I became completely engrossed. I simply must know what happens!


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Mine still didn't come. :(


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments finished now . . . looking forward to the discussion. there were aspects of the book I liked, and other aspects that I liked less. in any case, I think there will be a lot to talk about. but I'll wait until others have finished to talk more.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
wow! you finished already?! at least i can say: MINE CAME TODAY! but i have one book i need to read before i start it; i should be done with it quickly though...so i should have this finished by the first half of next week. :D

if others have finished..feel free to start the discussion...


Andrea | 660 comments I've finished the first section. I think there's a real irony that the narrator first thinks that she is just "getting it over with" and what she does will not have long term consequences. But it appears that every action chosen determines the range of choices available later on. It's not just a physical act but a very social one, that involves other people's social expectations (esp. Reuben's) and feelings.


Jessica (oldsouldreamer) I finished it yesterday! I did enjoy most of it, and found the differences in each story interesting. I don't think I could pick a 'favorite choice', but I loved how Adyodele's relationships with people completely changed every time.

I will just write about the first section today. This is my first time ever doing this - I hope it's ok! :)

I didn't favor one story more than the other, but this was a particular chapter where I didn't find myself getting overly attached to any particular character. I could feel Ayodele's disappointment in Reuben, and you could see the effects of that choice all throughout the story. Perhaps she was looking for love more than she thought. When she did end up finding it, she was blinded by it, and thus left heartbroken once again. It seems to leave her quite apathetic for the remainder of the story...taking what she assumes to be the best she can get, not only for herself, but to please her mother.


Sharon (goodreadscombookslinger1) | 47 comments Wait! Wait! My copy is on its way. I'm running late for the train Tour d'Afrique.


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments Marieke wrote: "wow! you finished already?! at least i can say: MINE CAME TODAY! but i have one book i need to read before i start it; i should be done with it quickly though...so i should have this finished by th..."

hehe. I found myself alone for an evening, picked up the book and couldn't stop reading. It goes pretty quickly too. :)


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I'm thinking the book I need to read before this one will be like that so I don't feel too badly waiting until next week...and Sharon will be happy! ;)


message 16: by Mahriana (last edited Aug 06, 2011 04:26PM) (new) - added it

Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments I think I better offer some of my thoughts on the book, before I forget what I thought of it to begin with.

Overall, I was a bit frustrated by the tone. The descriptions of food and dress, though interesting, made me feel more isolated from the society I was reading about, not closer to it. I'm not against glossing terms and explaining meals, but for some reason these aspects of Reading the Ceiling really bothered me. The descriptions of food and the like didn't seem to fit in well enough with the rest of the narrative. That was just my reaction.

As for the story and the three alternate outcomes, I enjoyed the structure quite a bit. Even if it sounds a bit silly to pick a favorite, I kind-of preferred the second version the most. I love that she chose the guy who she seemed to really have the most sexual interest in, even though that part of the story ends up being very tragic. I also like the relationship she eventually develops with Foday, even though there are difficulties there.

Overall, I didn't have much of a reaction to the depiction of the Gambia, women's lives, or the experience of immigrants abroad. The book didn't really seem to do anything that exciting for me. There are two small things that set it apart a bit, though. I liked the internationalism of the book - there are characters from all over the world. So that was a nice change.

I also liked the depiction of immigration/movement within Africa, which is something that is not discussed in African literary studies as much as it should be, given its frequency and importance. This is, in fact, perhaps my favorite aspect of the novel.


Andrea | 660 comments I actually found the "true love" story a little irritating. I can absolutely understand the shock of what happened to her, but since she seems like a fairly healthy person otherwise, I really can't quite be convinced that she would still be so totally traumatized six years after her lover's death. Excuse my elderly cynicism, but I think young people grow up and move on over that period in their lives. It just doesn't seem realistic that in all that time, no one would have interested her. So I'm kind of annoyed by the narrator. She seems determined to live her whole life dependent on that one tragic event. Maybe I'm being too cynical, but I don't really understand well enough why for those six years she was in such an emotional limbo. It might be partly because the story is so brief that she can't illustrate what was happening between the nervous breakdown and the ultimate recovery.


message 18: by Mahriana (last edited Aug 07, 2011 08:00AM) (new) - added it

Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments Even though I liked the second story, I do agree with you Andrea. I didn't fully "buy" her extended devastation either.


Elizabeth (elizabethinzambia) | 73 comments I loved this book- I loved just about everything about it- the voice, and how it changed over time, with each of the three scenarios. I felt that she really did capture the essence of the Gambia (though I confess I have not been there, I have been around Africa long enough to believe that what she conveyed is accurate).

I did not find her character to be a "fairly healthy person"- I think that Ayodele had a lot of issues, but I guess I came to that conclusion because she never found love (except Yuan, and even that was really an evolution, seemingly more sibling-like at times). She was a character lacking in passion (of any kind), and I found that to be a sign of an unhealthy psyche. If I were a psychologist, I imagine I could find all kinds of explanations in her father's abandonment of her mother and the absence of men in her world.

But I really enjoyed reading the book. I found the writing style easy and comfortable. The author was able to turn a phrase in a very casual, unassuming way. I found her descriptive prose captivating and keeping me in the moment, on so many occasions.

And, I appreciated the whole concept of the book- looking at the choices one can make and seeing how life plays itself out, depending on each of three different choices- cleverly done, well written, and enjoyable to read!


Sharon (goodreadscombookslinger1) | 47 comments I've been thinking about Reading the Ceiling for a couple days now, trying to figure out what I think about it. I didn't love it but I really liked it. I'm always screaming for real African writers, as opposed to European & North American transplants. I so wanted to read a novel that takes place in The Gambia, because I know quite a bit about the country. I admired the author's novel approach to the WHAT IF theme, the possible consequences of seemingly inconsequential decisions. The main character Ayodele, like women everywhere, charts her path with decision, but ultimately her decisions focus on which man she's going to latch onto. Unfortunately, the book did not meet my requirements of a great book which are that it make me laugh, cry AND think. It only made me think.

Instead of presumptuously stamping this book "AVERAGE", I take my hat off to African writer Dayo Forster. As a Gambian author living in Kenya, she presumably wrote the book for African audience. Right?

Nevertheless, Forster infuses some good, meaty innuendo about Gambian life. Muslims and Christians get along in Gambia, as demonstrated in the story. Does it seem strange that Christian Ayodele becomes second wife in the third scenario and everything is cool? I love the food descriptions because ALL OF US treasure their childhood food. Food is a good peek into culture. The author also hints about the government of Gambia, especially when Ayodele earns a government job in Scenario 2. As a foreign reader, I delighted in the embedded cultural tidbits.

I sure enjoyed the recommendation and look forward to moving on to Ghana someday soon on Tour d'Afrique. Feel free to disagree with my perceptions of Reading the Ceiling...I have some more thinking to do on the subject.


message 21: by Mahriana (last edited Aug 08, 2011 02:35PM) (new) - added it

Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments Sharon wrote: As a Gambian author living in Kenya, she presumably wrote the book for African audience. Right?

Sharon, I am really wondering about who the intended audience was now that you mention it. My version of the book was published in the UK, but in reality that doesn't give all that much of a clue to intended audience (though it certainly could influence actual audience). The idea that she wrote the book for a pan-African (I mean across the African continent) audience is kinda appealing. I honestly can't decide what direction to go with this, so I'm curious what others think.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Wow...all your thoughts are really interesting. I've just started the first story so I'm curious to see how I'll react to the various scenarios. But so far I've enjoyed the food bits (I just get excited about food, that's all), the mention of immigrants, like the Chinese, and seeing their kids going to the same schools as Gambians. But Yuan had one Gambian parent, is that right? I was also interested in her mentioning Ahmadiyya mosques.

Sharon (and everyone else, too, of course), I've been thinking of starting another side project here (since I've done such a stellar job with Themes), of reading a piece of contemporary fiction each month...I have quite a list of books published in the past decade that I'd like to read and perhaps organizing it as another project here with likeminded reading partners would help me. And I sense there is interest in reading more outside of the tour? I will set up separate folder for that, though...just wanted to toss it out there because of Sharon's post...


message 23: by Nina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nina Chachu | 205 comments Not in reply to anyone in particular, and perhaps reacting to some of what others have said: I know I was one of those who recommended this book, having read some time ago. I liked the food aspects, and the three different ways her story turned out. It is contemporary - with the author Gambian but living in Kenya - which rather appealed to me. You could say Forster is a diasporan African writer, but one that exists within the African continent as opposed to outside it.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Nina, many of us have UK editions...do you know how widely this book has been published in Africa and if it is popular?


message 25: by Nina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nina Chachu | 205 comments I bought mine from Silverbird in Ghana, and I suspect they source books from South Africa or Europe, so it is hard to tell how widely Forster's book has been available. Possibly more in Kenya, as that is where she is resident?

Going slightly off the subject of Forster's book, it can be quite difficult to get works published in other African countries in Ghana, even those published in Nigeria which is less than 400km away!

Maybe others in the group who are based in an African country can recount their own experiences?


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Mahriana Rofheart | 84 comments Marieke, about your side project idea - I am always interested in contemporary African fiction and am most likely to choose a contemporary fictional work out of tour choices as it is (unless there is a significant classic missing from my knowledge base, which is sometimes the case). Not sure how much time I have to do tour books plus additional books, but it all depends on what the choices are ;)


message 27: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - added it

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Nina wrote: "I bought mine from Silverbird in Ghana, and I suspect they source books from South Africa or Europe, so it is hard to tell how widely Forster's book has been available. Possibly more in Kenya, as ..."

that makes sense...authors have to find markets. once a Ghanaian, Kenyan, Nigerian, or South African author (for example) finds a publisher in his or her home country (is that even common, that an author is able to publish at home first?), which foreign markets are most popular? U.S.? UK? Europe? it gets so complicated but i'm genuinely interested in how African authors get their books out to readers.

I think this has been discussed elsewhere in this group, but how hard is it for a country (like Ghana) to import books from other countries? is it common for bookstores to carry Nigerian or Kenyan books? Is Silverbird a bookstore or a publisher?


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
mahriana wrote: "Marieke, about your side project idea - I am always interested in contemporary African fiction and am most likely to choose a contemporary fictional work out of tour choices as it is (unless there ..."

goody! i would love for this group to be more dynamic. Muphyn and i want to keep the tour going, but i would like to have some more activities going on. obviously members shouldn't feel pressured to participate in everything and also it's fine to participate in conversations without actually reading the books. :D

so i'll set up a brainstorming thread shortly. but now, back to the regularly scheduled programming... :D

I still haven't read further (i want to finish The Killer Angels, which is fascinating and excellent if anyone is interested in the American Civil War) but i'm really interested in Yuan and so far i think that is one of my favorite aspects of Forster's book. Is it common for contemporary fiction to include Chinese immigrants (or Lebanese, for that matter) as characters?


Sharon (goodreadscombookslinger1) | 47 comments All this discussion of African authors and their audiences got me to thinking about an article I read a few years ago in BBC Focus on Africa. I leafed through my old magazines last night and found it! The article is called "Literary Sensations: Gordon Glyn-Jones Detects an Appetite for New African Writing in the UK." (July-Sept 2007). My favorite author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is shown on the front page signing copies of Half of a Yellow Sun. More important, the Glyn-Jones recommends six novels, including our current selection Reading the Ceiling!

In the article, Dayo Forster herself comments on the questions our group is asking about Reading the Ceiling. Here is the whole paragraph from page 56. What a find--& timely too!

"So, do these novels represent a new approach to writing or are they simply marketed better? Mary Jay of the African Book Collective, a conglomerate of independent publishers in Africa, thinks that new writers do not necessarily follow the more traditional African novel that has a more oral tone, with emphasis on parable and moral content. As Dayo
Forster, a Gambian whose new novel Reading the Ceiling was published in the UK in May, says, 'For some reason there's a whole bunch of emerging African writers who are writing differently. Writers like these explore African-ness in a new way, different from the very ideological and political novels that came out of Africa in the 1960's and 1970's. I think there's a huge scope for presenting the new emerging Africa to the outside world; by that I mean a wider range of experiences and backgrounds which may be informed by political reality, but want to show how individual characters live, think and breath.'"

Notice that Dayo mentions presenting her country to the outside world by showing how "individuals live, think and breathe." I wonder who writes for Africans. I'm also curious about this African Book Collective and non-European publishing options for African writers. I know that the author Adichie supports Nigerian writing and publishing...Send information that you might have.


Andrea | 660 comments The question of audience is really fascinating and tied in to some of Marieke's questions about publishing and distribution. A writer is obviously going to target people who will actually buy and read the book. Kenyans, in my experience (which is mainly limited to one ethnic group and region) are not great leisure readers. But one author who, in my mind, seems to be addressing the Kenyan audience specifically is Marjory O. Macgoye, who is actually an immigrant to Kenya from Scotland, having married a Kenyan student in the sixties. Weird, fascinating things happen when cultures connect and intertwine! On the other side of the spectrum, I've been reading Wainaina, a contemporary Kenyan author whom Manu recommended and his style is so different that it seems to me he's appealing to both Kenyan and non-Kenyan readers. And yet, Wainaina now lives in the U.S.

So with Forster, the question is interesting because there are so many potential audiences. Was she influenced by what her Kenyan colleagues didn't know about Gambia? Or was she thinking of a European audience?


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Sharon, thanks so much for sharing that! i'm going to try to get my hands on the article. Andrea, i had similar thoughts/questions going through my mind and you bring up a good point that has come up now and then in various threads...that leisure reading is not typical in African cultures; i think magazines and newspapers are more popular than books when it comes to reading in one's spare time?

at the same time, some of what sharon pointed out above reminds me of changes currently happening in the Arab world...a generation or two ago literature was more political but there is a new boom going on right now among young writers who seem to be writing more to express themselves the way Forster describes, "...I think there's a huge scope for presenting the new emerging Africa to the outside world; by that I mean a wider range of experiences and backgrounds which may be informed by political reality, but want to show how individual characters live, think and breath." except that i seem to see Arabs writing for each other rather than outsiders (in fact, relatively little is translated into English or other European languages), which right now doesn't seem to be the case for contemporary African fiction?


Andrea | 660 comments The young Kenyans that I know (again, that's largely from one area) tend to be fairly fluent in English and Swahili and less so in their "mother" tongue. Since English is the language of instruction in all high schools, most younger writers would naturally tend to write in English, but they could be writing in English for an African audience. It's impossible, of course, to really pin an author down to a specific limited audience. They might be writing to more than one.


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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Andrea wrote: "The young Kenyans that I know (again, that's largely from one area) tend to be fairly fluent in English and Swahili and less so in their "mother" tongue. Since English is the language of instructi..."

oh--for African literature, i didn't mean to imply that writing in English (or French) would indicate that Africans are writing for outsiders. But because so much is written in English, it's accessible to outsiders even if it's not clear to us if we are the intended audience or the writer's fellow countrymen, or both. But the audience question seems more obvious with literature coming out of Arab countries, because they will be writing in Arabic, which few non-Arabs can read and therefore must be translated.


Elizabeth (elizabethinzambia) | 73 comments Andrea wrote: "The young Kenyans that I know (again, that's largely from one area) tend to be fairly fluent in English and Swahili and less so in their "mother" tongue. Since English is the language of instructi..."

This is rather getting us off topic, but some of you might be interested to know that we did some research on language and literacy in Zambia (which does at least rhyme with Gambia!). I had been working with a team of people developing communication materials for things like HIV and family planning, and other health topics. We were generally producing our print materials in English (the official language and the language of instruction) and our broadcast materials in all of Zambia's 7 national languages (there are another 30-70 dialects, mostly related to the 7, but not all)). People were constantly berating us for not printing materials in the 7 national languages- a huge expense and logistical nightmare- so we decided to do the research to see if people could actually read better in their vernacular. The results were a little surprising, in some ways- reading comprehension was more or less the same between English and the identified, relevant local language, BUT, the challenge was that no matter what language was used, everything needed to be at a 4th grade reading level, at most. (We had been operating on a 7th grade level). Not much of a reading culture!!


Andrea | 660 comments That's really interesting. So perhaps part of the problem is that many people's reading comprehension is so poor, they might not see the point of reading for "fun" or leisure. A recent study in Kenya showed that very few students in upper elementary were reading at grade level, or even close, despite being able to pass standardized exams. The exam's language may be so predictable that teachers are helping their students memorize the wording of standard questions.


Sharon (goodreadscombookslinger1) | 47 comments A Senegalese author presented a lecture in our university town a few summers ago, during intensive African languages workshop. He postulated that authors write best, of course, in their first language. (I sure do!) He called for a survival of dying African languages. He published books in Wolof, but I never read them because I don't speak Wolof. Hmmmm. Whatcha gonna do?


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