This year, African authors promise to attain another great milestone in their literary endeavours. Blueprint’s OYELOLA OGUNRINDE writes from Lagos on the novelists to watch
Every year many novels are published across the world, while new authors are welcomed on the literary stage. Known authors maintain their stand with new works. Starting from Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc., which already hit the shelves in January. It tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery.
Ike’s plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes.
And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity.
A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the “exotic,” including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods Inc. is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.
Last year when Chimamanda Adiche visited Kenya for the country’s celebration of fifty years in Literature, fifty years of Independence, she spoke in one of Kenya’s foremost universities. The guest speaker in that event was Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, whose novel Dust will be released internationally this year. The novel, already released in Kenya, was scheduled to be on the world stage last January. An evocative debut historical novel of Kenya, it tracks the slow unraveling of the Oganda family after the murder of beloved son Odidi at the hands of Nairobi’s finest. Before he can be buried, Odidi’s devastated mother takes flight, leaving her picturesque home in a remote northern province. Meanwhile, Odidi’s grieving sister, Arabel Ajani, must confront the Ogandas’ demons. Caine Prize–winner Owuor’s prose, though sometimes too sentimental, is both quixotic and archly descriptive.
And while the author may spill a great deal of ink exploring her protagonist’s consuming passions and “the kernel of all their deepest yearnings,” her writing is exceptionally chiseled and achieves a poetic dimension. Odidi had an “addiction to water songs—a liturgy of flowing, bubbliness. Even the camels listened to him. Rock-drill laughter, excavating terror; salt in soup; no sugar in tea made from rangeland herbs.” The author is as at ease evoking the mystical, inflamed Ogandas and the magical Northern Frontier District as she is deconstructing a family of British expatriates, the Boltons, whose destiny intersects with Odidi’s. “The country chose its prey. Seduced them, made them believe they owned it, and then it gobbled them down, often in the most tender of ways—like a python.” There is hardly any aspect of Kenya that Owuor seems unable to tackle with her unique flair in this masterfully executed novel, from the mid–20th century’s Mau Mau rebellion and its aftermath to the stirring personal destinies of her sundry cast of characters.
Another Kenyan who is releasing her stunning debut novel is Wanjiku Wa Ngugi. The Fall of Saints is about a Kenyan expat living the American Dream until she uncovers her husband’s secrets and opens a Pandora’s box of good versus evil. Mugure and Zack seem to have the picture-perfect family: a young, healthy son, a beautiful home in Riverdale, New York, and a bright future. But one night, as Mugure is rummaging through an old drawer, she comes across a piece of paper with a note scrawled on it—a note that calls into question everything she’s ever believed about her husband.
Mugure heads down a dangerous road that takes her back to Kenya, where new discoveries threaten to undo her idyllic life. She wonders if she ever really knew the man she married and begins to piece together the signs that were there since the beginning. Who was that suspicious man who trailed Zack and Mugure on their first date at a New York nightclub? What about the closing of the agency that facilitated the adoption of their son? Who made a threat against her husband’s life? Soon, Zack must pay the price for his greed, and Mugure finds herself wielding a gun, fighting for her life.
Inspired by true news stories of human trafficking and international adoptions, The Fall of Saints tackles real-life political and ethical issues through a striking, beautifully rendered story. This extraordinary novel will tug at your heart and keep it racing until the end.
Nigeria’s Nnedi Okorafor will be releasing her novel Lagoon, a novel about three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist; Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa; Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s legendary mega-city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before.
But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.
Ghanaian Kwei Quartey’s novel, Murder at Cape Three Points, is also expected this year. It is about Inspector Darko Dawson investigating a bizarre double murder with ritual elements. He enters the realm of family secrets, greed and lust in Ghana’s new oil industry.
When Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone was published in 2007, it gathered critical acclaim. Now his first novel Radiance of Tomorrow is due to be on the shelves this year. At the centre of the book are Benjamin and Bockarie, two long-time friends who return to their hometown, Imperi, after the civil war. The village is in ruins, the ground covered in bones. As more villagers begin to come back, Benjamin and Bockarie try to forge a new community by taking up their former posts as teachers, but they’re beset by obstacles: a scarcity of food; a rash of murders, thievery, rape, and retaliation; and the depredations of a foreign mining company intent on sullying the town’s water supply and blocking its paths with electric wires. As Benjamin and Bockarie search for a way to restore order, they’re forced to reckon with the uncertainty of their past and future alike.
With the gentle lyricism of a dream and the moral clarity of a fable, Radiance of Tomorrow is a powerful novel about preserving what means the most to us, even in uncertain times.
Nigeria’s Chris Abani’s novel, The Secret History of Las Vegas, will also be out this year. It is about Las Vegas detective Salazar who is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, he’s sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant doctor who specializes in the study of psychopaths. As Sunil tries to crack the twins, the implications of his research grow darker. Haunted by his betrayal of loved ones back home during apartheid, he seeks solace in the love of Asia, a prostitute with hopes of escaping that life. But Sunil’s own troubled past is fast on his heels in the form of a would-be assassin.
This is said to be Abani’s most accomplished work to date, with his trademark visionary prose and a striking compassion for the inner lives of outsiders.
Our own Helen Oyeyemi will be releasing her fifth novel Boy, Snow, Bird. Set in the winter of 1953 when Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.
A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.
Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.
MacArthur Foundation genius of 2012 Dinaw Mengestu’s novel All Our Names is also expected this year. It is the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying glamour of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart—one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and the other into the safety of exile in the American Midwest. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the beloved friend he left behind, the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.
Elegiac, blazing with insights about the physical and emotional geographies that circumscribe our lives, All Our Names is a marvel of vision and tonal command. Mengestu’s writing has been compared with Naipaul, Greene, and Achebe. He gives us a political novel that is also a transfixing portrait of love and grace, of self-determination and the names we are given and the names we earn.
When Nadifa Mohamed’s first novel Black Mamba Boy came out it sat on the long list of the Orange prize many began to take notice of her writing. Now she has taken on an epic novel The Orchard of Lost Souls which is on her country’s civil war. Already released in England, it is set in 1988 as Hargeisa waits.
Whispers of revolution travel on the dry winds but still the dictatorship remains secure. Soon, and through the eyes of three women, we will see Somalia fall.
Intimate, frank, brimming with beauty and fierce love, The Orchard of Lost Souls is an unforgettable account of ordinary lives lived in extraordinary times.
Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief will be published in the United States and the United Kingdom this year after Cassava Republic published it as Cole’s first novel in Nigeria. Many reviews have been published to welcome the publication and those who already have it will go back to read it. Set in Lagos, the novel is an account of a Nigerian in the diaspora who returns home after many years abroad.
Lastly, there are many reasons you should read Omolara Wood’s Indigo this year, the book which came out December last year in Nigeria will reach the international market this year. Profoundly lovely, there is something you can dance to in the novel and if you are a lover of football, you must read this before this year’s World Cup in Brazil, so you know what to do when your team loses or wins. If you are a lover of children or you are planning to have your child this year please read Indigo, it will make the children in the womb leap for joy and those around you laugh. There is something for everyone in Indigo.