Book Review – So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

3852633

Goodreads Synopsis:

It is not only the fact that this is the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction that gives distinction to this novel, but also its undoubted literary qualities, which seem to place it among the best novels that have come out of our continent. – West Africa

This novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of articulate women who live in social milieux dominated by attitudes and values that deny them their proper place. It is a sequence of reminiscences, some wistful, some bitter, recounted by a recently widowed Senegalese school teacher. The letter, addressed to an old friend, is a record of her emotional struggle for survival after her husband’s abrupt decision to take a second wife. Although his action is sanctioned by Islam, it is a calculated betrayal of his wife’s trust and a brutal rejection of their life together.

Review:

So this is another book I picked up for my “Read Around the World” challenge, this time from Senegal! It’s a very short novel and so was a very quick read but it was very powerful and incredibly interesting and I feel I learnt a lot about Senegal through reading it.

The book takes the form of letters, and I really enjoy epistolary novels when they’re written well, which this book certainly is. Ramatoulaye’s husband, Modou, has just died and so she has entered the mourning period and discussing this with her friend in a lot of detail and including information about how she dealt with being a co-wife and being abandoned by her husband for a younger woman.

The characters in this novel are all excellent and very well-written. I really loved Ramatoulaye and found myself hooked to find out more of what was happening in her life. The book mentions several other strong female characters and given the time that this book was written, it’s excellent to see how well they are represented and you can really see how strongly the author feels about the role of women in Senegal.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novella and would definitely recommend it as I feel it’s so short and so fascinating that anybody that wants to broaden their reading should give it a go because it doesn’t take long at all to finish it and it was such a rewarding experience.

Advertisements

Book Review – The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta

10787321

Goodreads Synopsis:

A Nigerian girl is allowed to finish her education because a diploma will enhance her bride price, but she then rebels against traditional marriage customs.

Review:

So, this is the second of Buchi Emecheta’s books that I’ve now read and this one was also fantastic. It’s set during the 50’s in Nigeria starting in Lagos then moving to Ibuza and looks at the customs surrounding marriage.

The book starts with the death of Aku-nna’s father due to an foot injury he sustained during the war. This means that his family can no longer afford to live in Lagos and so they all return to Ibuza to life with her uncle. Aku-nna and her brother Nna-nndo both continue their education at school as it is believed that the more educated Aku-nna is, the higher a bride price will be paid for her. However, while waiting for her to begin menstruating and thus be old enough for marriage, Aku-nna falls in love and is determined to marry the man she loves despite the opposition from her family.

I really enjoyed this book and watching Aku-nna as she grew and dealt with the issues in her life. It was a very interesting look at the cultural practices and beliefs of the people of Ibuza and the effects that had on the people of the area.

Again, I would definitely recommend this book to learn more about what was life in 50’s Nigeria for young women in Ibuza. Again, it had a very powerful ending and definitely left a strong impact on me.

Book Review – Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo

33844101

Goodreads Synopsis:

Paris, 1958. An Algerian waiter at the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent is convicted of the murder of two customers. As he is awaiting trial, his long-time friend Jerry Moloto helps an opportunistic and ambitious journalist build a case to defend him.

Through Jerry’s testimony the reader discovers that the waiter is actually Pitso Motaung, a mixed race South African drafted to fight in the First World War. He is also one of the few remaining survivors of the SS Mendi tragedy, which saw the formidable warship sink off the coast of the Isle of Wight, killing 646 people, including many black South African soldiers. So how did a brave soldier become a criminal and will Pitso’s name be cleared before it is too late?

Commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the sinking of the SS Mendi, Dancing the Death Drill is a timely novel about life and the many challenges it throws our way.

Review:

I received this as an eARC from Jacaranda Books, and was first drawn to it because of the stunning cover. I’d not read any Historical Fiction in a while, and this sounded particularly fascinating as I’d never heard of the SS Mendi before this and I really enjoyed reading Salt to the Sea last year about another navel disaster, that of the Wilhelm Gustloff which I had also not heard about before reading the book.

The novel starts off with Pitso serving customers in a restaurant when suddenly he stabs two of them to death and calmly waits to be arrested. A reporter tracks down a friend of his to learn his life story and from there we go right back to the Boar war, following first the story of his father and mother then Pitso right through from when he was a child until he enlists on the SS Mendi and the events that surrounded the sinking and the aftermath of that.

The book was very well written and it was clear that a lot of research had gone into it, and I was particularly pleased with the end where the author discussed his research and even included a suggested further reading section.

Pitso was an excellent character, I really loved reading about his life and the difficulties he faced due to his background. The rest of the characters were all very well written and I really enjoyed the use of language in the book – both the way it was written, and the inclusion of several languages that the characters spoke (the main two being Sesotho and Zulu). The mix of various South African languages really helped immerse you in the novel and I enjoyed seeing the interaction between the different cultures.

I was a huge fan of this book, and ended up staying up until almost 3am to finish it as I just couldn’t put it down. I would highly recommend it to everybody and it also works really well for a variety of challenges that are running – it works as a “Book about War” for Book Riot’s challenge, it’s a South African book for those doing Read Around the World challenges and could count for several squares on #DiversityBingo

Book Review – The Slave Girl by Buchi Emecheta

218445

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Slave Girl follows the fortunes of Ogbanje Ojebeta, a Nigerian woman who is sold into slavery in her own land after disease and tragedy leave her orphaned as a child. In her fellow slaves, she finds a surrogate family that clings together under the unbending will of their master. As Ogbanje Ojebeta becomes a woman and discovers her need for home and family, and for freedom and identity, she realizes that she must ultimately choose her own destiny.

Review:

I first heard of Buchi Emecheta when she passed away and resolved to read at least one of her books, if not more, for Black History Month. I ended up with three out from the library and this just happened to be top of the pile when I was looking for my next read.

The story begins with Oganje Ojebeta being born and her father, having previously lost many daughters during childbirth, has gone and got charms to hang around her arms and back in order to protect her. Unfortunately, disease comes to their land and both her parents pass away. Her brother, Okolie, brings her to their rich relative and sells her for the small sum of £8. Ojebeta must now adapt to life as a slave along with a group of other young girls. The book follows Ojebeta as she grows up and then as an adult, how she deals with the death of her master.

This story is set in the early 20th century in Nigeria, not long after the British have taken control. The novel was very immersive with excellent descriptions and interactions between the characters. One thing I really enjoyed was the ending, which I won’t say much about as I don’t wish to spoil it, but it was very powerful and was the perfect way to end the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to those wishing to read more Nigerian literature as it gives you an excellent insight into the culture and about the treatment of women at that time period. It’s quite a quick read and is very much a “just one more chapter” book as you just keep wanting to find out what will happen to Ojebeta and I couldn’t put it down until I finished!

Book Review – Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

18753656

Goodreads Synopsis:

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

Review:

So, this was the first book from my post on SFF by Black Women that I managed to read, and I loved it! As the synopsis says, it focuses on three people who happen to be in the same place at the wrong time and how they cope with the fact that an alien ship has landed just off the coast of Lagos. Each of the three have a mysterious power that will help them in this adventure.

The three characters lives become intertwined as they work to find the missing president and deal with one of the aliens. The story jumps around a lot, between different POVs including even those of sea creatures dealing with the changes the ship has brought to them.

One thing I really loved about this book was the setting. So many books have the first contact as being in the USA or the UK and so it was really refreshing to see it located somewhere else and how it differs. The book itself mentions how if it were the USA, the government would have rushed in and controlled everything while in Nigeria the main characters actually have a chance of getting the alien to meet with the president. The book also includes dialogue in pidgin English which helps with the immersion and there was a useful glossary at the back which helped make sense of a lot of it. Finally, the book also included several LGBT+ characters although they didn’t appear too much in the novel and were mostly just in a few scenes. I would have liked to have seen more of them and found out what happened to them, but the focus was more on the aliens rather than on them.

I would definitely recommend this book – it was really refreshing and an excellent novel dealing with “first contact”. I really enjoyed the writing and would definitely like to read more of Nnedi’s work – especially Binti as I’ve heard so many great things about it.

Book Review – Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

 

Goodreads Synopsis:

‘There are things even love can’t do… If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love…’

Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.

Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.

Review:

This is another book I received as an eARC as I thought it would an interesting book to read for the final Book Riot Challenge – “Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.”. I was drawn to it by the cover and because I’ve been reading a lot of Nigerian literature recently and wanted to read some more.

I really enjoyed this book, although it’s going to be hard to write a review without spoilers due to the nature of it as it follows Yejide and her struggles with her husband as they try their best to conceive a child. All the characters are really well written and very realistic in their actions. You both like and dislike characters and they’re all very much painted as neither good nor bad, but simply human. The POV alternates between Yejide and her husband, Akin, and so seeing the story from both sides is particularly interesting. The story also jumps around in the timeline from their current struggles, to their courtship in the past and then to over 10 years after the main events of the book. I really enjoyed the story and loved how it ended – especially as the writing was just so lovely to read.

I would definitely recommend this book to those wishing to diversify their reading more, it’s an excellent story focusing on the everyday lives of an ordinary couple and their struggles.

Book Review – Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie

25730083

I picked this book up from the library both for #DiverseAThon and because it seemed like a perfect choice for task number 2 of the Read Harder Challenge – “Read a debut novel”. I didn’t know much about it before I started, but the cover really appealed to me and the blurb sounded interesting.

The book focuses mainly on two characters. Joy is a young woman in modern day London, coping with the death of her mother and has received a strange inheritance of a brass head and the diary of her grandfather. Adesua is a young woman from a village in the Benin Empire (now Nigeria) and has just been chosen as the latest wife of the King. She is given a gift of a brass head by him and has to deal with the jealousy of the other wives. The book alternates between the two of them, along with a couple of chapters focusing on Queenie, Joy’s mother, and then also starts sharing entries from the diary. The book is a journey, focusing on Joy discovering more about the history of her family and all the characters are linked together by the brass head.

The writing in this book is an absolute delight to read, the descriptions and choice of language is wonderful and made you want to read slowly and savour it. My favourite character was Adesua and I would keep reading to get back to her chapters. I found it quite slow to start as at the beginning, I was not the biggest fan of Joy but I grew to like her more as the book went on and by the end I was hooked. All the characters are really well developed, including all the side characters like the wonderful Mrs Harris, Joy’s neighbour, and the various settings were fantastic. I really enjoyed reading about Benin and plan to read some non-fiction to learn more about the empire.

This is a book I would definitely recommend, particularly to those readers who enjoy magical realism.