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Hey there fellow bibliophiles and those who are open to the idea of being swept off their feet by words. I for one have been struggling to find a good book, but I will review some that I read the end of last year. For the last two years, I have been reading a lot of African writers and I must say, if you have not read books by African writers, you my friend, have not read.
I will be reviewing some of the books I read the last quarter of 2019 and first months of 2020. I am excited to hear from others who have read these books and those who also want to read about them. And not to ruin them for those who have not read, I will give a snippet and not go into detail.
1. Stay with me by Ayobami Adebayo.
This was one of my favourites last year. I could not bring myself to put it down as it was just too good. What I loved was the fact that no one was innocent. It is not one of those books where you side with the victim and have rage for the villain. Set in Nigeria between 1985 and 2008, it is about a couple who met at University and after being married for a while, they fail to be fruitful. The woman ( Yejide) is desperate to have a child, not only because of her in-laws (especially her mother in law) but because she has no family and yearns for that kinship.
Things take a turn when her mother in law brings a second wife for her husband (Akin). He does not seem to love the second wife, not only because he loves Yejide but because he has a secret which will be exposed if he takes her. Yejide does everything in her power to become pregnant but all hell breaks lose as secrets begin to come out. It is a book about love, social norms, betrayal and sacrifice. For a first book, this was superb as Adebayo makes every character feel real and very synthetic.
2. The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin.
I lost my hardcopy of this book and I was so annoyed by it, I traced my steps but I could not find it. I ended up getting a soft copy (this is how you know I really enjoyed this book) and I did not regret it. Baba Segi’s wives HAD secrets, and even at the end of the book, they were all bound by a secret once again.
The protagonist is Bolanle, a University graduate who ends up being a 4th wife. She is married into a family which already has a matriarchy who seems to be in-charge of the household. We learn that Bolanle did not marry Baba Segi for money, but she had a past and family she wanted to escape. We also get a glimpse into the lives of the other wives, getting to their secret, why and who they committed it with. The book focuses on sexuality, betrayal, marriage and family feuds. Shoneyin did an amazing job, giving each character a distinctive voice and personality, tracing back to their childhood.
3. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.
Now, not to be biased because I am a Zimbabwean but this book was not on The Man Booker Shortlist for fun. It is that good and it tagged at my heart as I am someone who is away from home.
We see the world through 10 year old Darling’s eyes as she takes us through her journey before and after moving to America. Just like any 10 year old, she is oblivious to so many things and we see her life through her innocent eyes. We see how she tries to adjust to life in America and how she drifts from her friends back home in Zimbabwe.
The book focuses of friendship, separation, the displacement that comes with migrating, violence, genocide, fraudulent preachers, AIDS and rape ( 10 year old Chipo is raped by her grandfather but no one talks about it.) Bulawayo did this book justice, and wait till you see the Prophet’s name!
4. Harare North by Brian Chikwava.
This book was recommended by a friend of mine and I must say, I was not disappointed. We het to see the world through the eyes of our unnamed character who goes to the United Kingdom for a brighter future. However what he expected is far from what happens. He is a typical Zimbabwean guy, has “strong traditional views” ( he expected his cousin’s wife to pay for everything has he had come to England with no plan at all), trying to escape his past and try and just trying to make $5 000 and go back to Zimbabwe. If I am being honest, this is the first time I have ever read a book where a Zimbabwean character is pro-ZANU.
Chikwava also helped us understand the character and paint a picture by the use of language. The character is not very good at English and I must say, as a Zimbabwean I loved reading it because he spoke English the exact way we speak shona/ndebele, so the translation is a bit hilarious. The book is a glimpse of how life is for undocumented immigrants in England, what they have to go through and how they go about to make a living.
5. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
It took me a while to get into this book, not because it is a bore but because it needs your attention as it has flashbacks. The story is told through Benjamin who is the 3rd born of 5. Through his innocents, we see his relationship with his brothers and parents. Chigozie uses metaphors and mythological conceits. There is suspense,
The brothers, Ikenna, Obembe, Boja and Benjamin, decide to go fishing at a river that was said to be cursed. However, they are exposed after 6 weeks by a neighbour who tells their mother (typical African aunt behaviour). One day at the river, they meet the madman who tells them that their older brother will be killed by one of his brothers. There is a well-managed balance between childhood and adulthood as Benjamin narrates the story. He narrates how his brother withdraws himself, stops eating and rebels. It is a good book, I can not give out too much as I am still reading it and eager to finish.
Please feel free to comment and share some of the books you are currently reading. This year I did not make a list as I always cheat and never commit to it, but I have one book I am willing to try. Not by an African author but I was drawn to the storyline. I guess I am a sucker for suspense.
Until next time, happy reading bibliophiles!