Tuesday, 17 May 2016

An Alternate Modern South Africa: Nick Wood's 'Azanian Bridges'

On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after spending 27 years in prison for his engagement against apartheid. Following his release, the African National Congress (ANC) leader worked closely with President F.W. de Klerk's government - and numerous other political organisations - to draw up a new constitution for South Africa. After negotiations, concessions - and political violence - both sides eventually reached an agreement in 1993, which led to a new constitution for South Africa which took effect in 1994. The same year, the first non-racial elections were held, ANC won and this marked the official end of apartheid
1967: A taxi rank for white people. Source: Mashable.com
Well, in Nick Wood's, Azanian Bridges, Nelson Mandela was never released and 'died an old and broken man on Robben Island' (loc 2875 of 3124); apartheid never ended - indeed it is almost Christmas in 2014 and elections are taking place next year,  'but everyone knows AWB [Afrikaner Resistance Movement] will win hands down; De Klerk is still in prison for trying to dismantle apartheid from the inside and Terre'Blance [white supremacist] carefully ensures the safety of all ballot boxes' (627); and 'Obama and Osama [are] to meet the Soviet bloc in Peace Talks above the Berlin Wall, as the Soviet Union tires of thirty years of haemorrhaging men into their Afghan ulcer' (422).* 

This is the alternate  world where we find the two main protagonists of this story - Sibusiso Mchunu, a young amaZulu man about to start his first year at university and Dr. Martin van Denter, a white neuropsychologist. Their lives intertwine following Sibusiso suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and being sent to a mental health institution after seeing a friend of his shot by the security police during a peaceful protest. Dr. van Denter becomes his psychologist. 

Martin is one of the co-inventors (along with Dan, can't remember his surname) of  a new device - the Empathy Enhancer (EE) (a Feelings Box), which took years and 'carefully filtered research funds' (438) to create. The EE connects two humans together and 'amplifies ... brain waves' (458) enabling them to understand their experiences more easily. In a depressingly racist country such as the one in this story, in the right hands this device could do good - it could end apartheid, it could break down racial barriers as people begin to connect through feelings, thoughts and memories, it could enable people to empathise with each other. The problem is once it is discovered that it exists, everybody, and I mean everybody, wants it. This includes the secret police who could use it in terrible ways during their not-so-friendly interrogations, for instance. 

Interesting though the first time the EE is really used is on Sibusiso and I cannot help but think of the many levels of ethics that have been broken by testing this device on a human subject; but also the racial element as the subject is a black one, a black one currently suffering from PTSD, but then again Martin does not consider himself remotely racist. Martin is liberal, and thinks he does not see colour. And this subtle and not-so subtle racism embedded in the story, is one of the many really wonderful things about this novel. 

Indeed, beyond the amazing (but quite terrifying) alternate South Africa Wood's has created, what is also interesting about Azanian Bridges is that it is not just the state sanctioned violence that is in the novel, such as the security police shooting black students protesting. There is also the different ways in which the State aims to control the public - South Africa is extremely isolated from the rest of the world, which probably allows for apartheid to continue; there are State Firewalls that make it so that banned 'black' music such as Gil Scott-Heron's is very difficult to obtain, and they 'still wait for cam-phones, but they remain banned as a potentially easy source of troubling video' (627-8). There's also the subtle one: Martin being a 'little more racist than he thinks' (506) or later in the book when he reflects briefly that he has 'become more aware of a wider range of living places in the past couple of days that I have experienced in my entire life' (2158). So here we have a man who thinks he is colour blind testing out his device for the first time on a young black man. 

The device works, and no harm was done to Sibusiso, but the problem with the device working as I said is that everybody wants the EE - seriously people just be knowing about things even when you think it's all secret and what-not. The secret police find out and threaten Martin, but he smashes it before they can take it, and ends up making  a new one. He thinks it's safe (for someone so smart ...), but Sibusiso ends up stealing borrowing it for the other side, a radical anti-apartheid group

Indeed, Sibusiso is quite apolitical at the start but becomes more political and aware as the story goes on - in part due to him seeing his friend murdered right in front of him, but the people he begins to be surrounded by such as activists, Nombuso and Mama. He and one of the members of the group, Numbers, end up smuggling it outside of the country - to Zambia - where through the brilliance and mass production skills of the Chinese, it goes from the big, clunky EE to the smaller, portable EmPods - and it only took a few days.

Honestly, the world Nick Wood created is rather terrifying - one where apartheid never ended. What  happens when apartheid doesn't end - state firewalls, police brutality and the likes, but it seems no one is safe - black or white; as while black south Africans are overtly abused, discriminated, harmed and even murdered; white South Africans that might support the cause in any way are also affected. Still, in the words of old Kanye, not new Kanye, 'racism still alive' they just aren't concealing it in this alternate South Africa. 

Case in point towards the end of the story, when both Martin and Sibusiso are interrogated by the same person, the outcomes and treatment are different - with Martin getting the 'better' experience. We know they get different experiences because Azanian Bridges is told from a two person perspective, which allows us to know through words, thoughts, feelings and memories what apartheid South Africa is like for these men of different races, and I should say also economic backgrounds. 

This is also a really clever novel, weaving political history with technology and thriller and in very cunning ways. For instance, Room 619 where Sibusiso is interrogated in, tortured and kept at the end of the novel, is also where Steve Biko was taken for interrogation in 1977 and severely tortured. But as I read and then finished Azanian Bridges, for me the question really is can this EE that everyone wants so badly really bridge the divide between people of different races in this alternate South Africa? Or is it but one element that can help to end apartheid, or indeed any form of racial hatred, by getting people to look beyond skin colour (as but one element) and be open to different possibilities. 

A thoroughly enjoyable and intelligent read, that not only makes you think about technology, about ideas, about discrimination, about thoughts that we may never be comfortable enough to share with others; but also makes you glad for activism and the series of events that did take place in real life that ensured apartheid ended in 1994. 

*Read on my older generation kindle [yes the one with the keyboard :)] so these are the locations on mine, which might be slightly different for another e-reader. Will update with page numbers when I'm able to.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Exciting Works by 10 Female 'Millennial' African Writers and Poets

This post is inspired by a conversation I had the other day about millennials  - the generation, my generation, born between the early 1980s (some sources say 1980, others say 1982/3) to around early 2000s. 'Millennials' certainly get a lot of bad press: 'The Me Me Me Generation", "whiny entitled youth" and more. The conversation centred on the labelling of millennials, how the term as it is understood does not relate to all people born between 1980 and 2000, and more. 
Me, Me, Me
Well, not all 'millennials' fit into that 'entitled and whiny' category - so to sort of disrupt this notion and challenge that stereotype, and because I am really in need of some serious inspiration this weekend, here are ten young women writers and poets of the so-called 'millennial' generation who have been producing very exciting work.  Also these women are very accomplished and I haven't included all of their awesomeness in this post, but do follow the links to find out more. And a little disclaimer - I am using the more widely used category of 'millennials' - that is from 1982 - so books by female writers, such as NoViolet Bulawayo and Nadifa Mohamed - both born in 1981 - are not included. With that said, let's go!!!

25-year-old Panashe Chigumadzi is a Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean storyteller interested in the narratives of black and African women. Chigumadzi is also the founder and editor of Vanguard Magazine - a black feminist platform for young black women coming of age in post-apartheid South Africa; as well as the co-founder of The Feminist Stokvel -  a collective of 8 young black women in media and arts aimed at addressing social issues specific to young black women in South Africa. Her debut novel, Sweet Medicine, was published in October 2015 (when she was 24) by Jacana. It tells the story of Tsitsi, a young woman who seeks romantic and economic security through 'otherwordly' means. Read an excerpt here.

Safia Elhillo is Sudanese by way of Washington DC, by way of NYC. She is a Cave Canem fellow and received an MFA in poetry at the New School in New York. Safia Elhillo is also the co-winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize - winning at the age of 24 - and is the winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. Asmarani, a term of endearment for a brown skin person, is one of the eight poetry chapbooks in Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani's New Generation African Poet, and has been described as interweaving family history and autobiography with a broader analysis of Sudan's socio-political history. Her first full-length collection, The January Children, will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2017.

In April 2015, it was announced that Yaa Gyasi, had her debut novel purchased in a seven-figure deal. 25 at the time of the deal, the novel, Homegoing, traces the descendants of two sisters torn apart in eighteenth-century Ghana across three hundred years in Ghana and America. Gyasi is a Ghanaian-born writer who was raised in Alabama and is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. 

Karen Jennings was born in Cape Town in 1982 and holds Master's degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her debut novel, Finding Soutbek, was published in 2012 and shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for African Literature. It is set in the small town of Soutbek and centres on the lives of the inhabitants of this very divided town that has experienced recent hardship.

Kopana Matlwa, born in 1985, is a South African medical doctor currently undertaking her PhD in Population Health at the University of Oxford. Matlwa has also published two award-winning novels. Coconut, her debut novel, won the European Union Literary Award in 2007 and was a joint winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in African in 2010. Both Coconut and Spilt Milk are social commentaries on post-apartheid in South Africa. Coconut focuses on growing up black in white suburbs in modern Johannesburg, and fitting in when you are too white for black people and too black for white people.

Chibundu Onuzo was born in Nigeria in 1991 and is currently a PhD student at King's College London, exploring The West African Student's Student Union and West African nationalism. Her debut novel, The Spider King's Daughter, won a Betty Trask Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize. The Spider King's Daughter, is a modern love-story set in Lagos following two seventeen-year-olds - wealthy Abike Johnson and street hawker, Runner G. 

Where to even begin with Helen Oyeyemi, born in 1984, who already has seven books published - the first being Icarus Girl when she was still in secondary school; and her most recent  - a short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, with nine stories joined thematically by a lock or key. Her works all tend to be infused with elements of the fantastical.

Born in 1988, Warsan Shire, is a Kenyan-born Somali-British poet and writer. She was awarded the inaugural Brunel University's African Poetry Prize in 2013 and was the first Young Poet Laureate for London in 2013. Shire is the author of three collections: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Her Blue Body and Our Men Do Not Belong to Us - one of the chapbooks in the Seven New Generation of African Poets. Her full collection will be released in 2016. Our Men Do Not Belong to Us deals with trauma and loss, absent men, women's lives, about motherhood, sisterhood and more. You can read an abridged version here

Born in Zimbabwe in 1988, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's short fiction has been featured in numerous anthologies including A Life in Full and Other Stories: Caine Prize Anthology and Bed Book of Short Stories. In 2009, she won the Yvonne Vera Award for short fiction and is one of the Africa39 writers. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is also Deputey Editor of the pan-African writers' collective, Jalada.  She is currently working on her debut novel, and her first collection, Shadows, consists of a novella and selected short stories centred on the realities of daily life in Zimbabwe and the peculiar intricacies of being a foreigner in Johannesburg. 

So I'm completely guessing with Chinelo Okparanta that she is a 'Millennial'- I couldn't find any information on her date of birth so I could be completely off. She was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and has a BS from Penn State University, MA from Rutgers University and an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Okparanta that she is under 36, is the winner of a Lambda Literary Award and an O. Henry Prize. Under the Udala Trees, her debut novel, is set in Nigeria during the civil war and centres on two young girls from different ethnic communities that fall in love.

Well, that's my list, and I am in complete awe of these writers doing amazing phenomenal things in the field of literature and beyond.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

'The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu' by Joshua Hammer

Here's another fascinating new release for 2016 - The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscript. Written by Joshua Hammer and published by Simon & Schuster, it focuses on a band of librarians in Timbuktu who pull off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean's Eleven to save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda.

Ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu. Photo taken in 2006 by Sebastien Cailleux. Image via The Guardian
I remember first reading about these group of librarians, and particularly Abdel Kader Haidara - who controls the largest privately held library of documents in the city- in 2014 in a piece featured on The Guardian about a dangerous operation to smuggle Mali's ancient manuscripts to safety:
Abdel Kader Haidara is a tall, 50-year-old librarian who wears a moustache and a pillbox kufi prayer cap. Over sweet mint tea in his office ... Haidara tells me the story of how he masterminded the smuggling of the manuscripts to safety from under the noses of the jihadists. 
As the rebels approached, Haidara knew the libraries would be vulnerable to looters: they were relatively large, prestigious buildings. So he began contacting families and told them to work out how to move their manuscripts into their homes. He bought steel lockers and, in the quiet of the afternoons when the jihadis were resting, the librarians and their assistants took the boxes to the libraries and began carefully transferring the manuscripts. 'We brought them back to the family homes little by little, ' he says.
Abdel Haidara with his manuscripts in 2009. Image via New Republic.
There's been so much destruction of cultural heritage as a result of violence and armed conflict that I was so impressed and inspired by the risks they were taking to preserve the cultural history contained in the libraries. And in my true fashion, I scoured the internet reading more about the 'manuscript smugglers' in Timbuktu - including The Brave Savage of Timbuktu and Brazen Bibliophiles of Timbuktu - as well as anything I could find about preserving cultural heritages in times of conflict. 

Some of the estimated 4,000 ancient manuscripts that were burned. Photo by Marco Dormino. Image via PBS.org
So this morning when I woke up and did my usual 'Let's see what's happened in the world while I've been asleep' thing, I noticed an article posted on Facebook about The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, that was featured on The Washington Post and became the first of my morning reads. There I read about Joshua Hammer's new book - with the same title as the article - which focused on Mali, but not from the point of view of the 'growing radical Islamist movement [that] came perilously close to seizing the entire country' but from books:
Mali ... offered Hammer a most unusual way in, and he took it. Here the centrepiece is not bombs ... but books: centuries-old manuscripts. There is a marvellous, if bloody, cast in these pages, including Moammar Gaddafi, al-Qaeda in the Islmaic Maghreb leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar and the wonderfully named French Legion Captain Raphael Oudot de Dainville. But the main characters are not fighters or politicians, but scholars, book hunters, librarians.
Above all, there is the book's hero, Abdel Kader Haidara, and the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts he helped collect and then save. 
A book about books! Now you're speaking my language WP!!! After reading that article, my thoughts went to many different places all at once, but the main one really being - 'There's a book about the "manuscript smugglers" I read about a couple years ago', 'Wait! there's a book!!!', 'Bad-ass Librarians! That's a pretty bad-ass title'. So I googled the book to find out more about it and if like me you are intrigued by a book about literature, and the cultural preservation of it, particularly in the time of conflict - the book is published April 19. Here's some more detail:

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world's greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law ... and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organised a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali. 

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the story of Haidara's heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali's - and the world's - literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city's manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants' march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism. 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Even More New Releases for 2016

It's been over six months since my New Releases for 2016 post; and four months into the year there's already even more amazing books to be excited about. Since then, Yewande Omotoso's second novel's cover was revealed and Cassava Republic Press UK launched on April 1st; and with that came three new releases - including the UK edition of Born on A TuesdayCassava Republic Press' 2016 Catalogue also reveals some really exciting 2016 titles to look forward to including The Carnivorous City by Toni Kan - a crime novel set in Lagos; and Longthroat Memoirs: Soups,Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala - 'a sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian food'.
Some of the forthcoming exciting titles from Cassava Republic Press.
Blurry camera phone images courtesy of the CRP 2016 catalogue
 Also Nii Ayikwei Parkes has two upcoming works - The City Will Love You, a collection of short stories and Azucar - his upcoming novel. Also, the US editions of Lauren Beukes' Zoo City and Moxyland will be published August 16. 

Here are some other books to add to your reading list. 

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle (April 1 2016)

Published by Cassava Republic Press, Guy Collins, a British hack, is hunting for an election story in Lagos. A decision to check out a local bar in Victoria Island ends up badly - a mutilated female body is discarded close by and Collins is picked up as a suspect. 

In the murk of a hot, groaning and bloody police station cell, Collins fears the worst. But then Amaka, a sassy guardian angel of Lagos working girls, talks the police station chief around. She assumes Collins is a BBC journo who can broadcast the city's witchcraft and body parts trade that she's on a one-woman mission to stop.

With Easy Motion Tourist's astonishing cast, Tarantino has landed in Lagos. This page turning debut crime novel pulses with the rhythm of Nigeria's mega-city, reeks of its open drains and sparkles like the champagne quaffed in its upmarket districts.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice-cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyinka (April 1 2016)
Also published by Cassava Republic Press, Morayo Da Silva, a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman, lives in hip San Francisco. On the cusp of seventy-five, she is in good health and makes the most of it, enjoying road trips in her vintage Porsche, chatting to strangers, and recollecting characters from her favourite novels. Then she has a fall and her independence crumbles. 

Without the support of family, she relies on friends and chance encounters. As Morayo recounts her story, moving seamlessly between past and present, we meet Dawud, a charming Palestinian shopkeeper, Sage, a feisty, homeless Grateful Dead devotee, and Antonio, the poet whom Morayo desired more than her ambassador husband. 

A subtle story about ageing, friendship and loss, this is also a nuanced study of the erotic yearnings of an older woman.

When Nyamugari, an adolescent mute, attempts to ask a young woman in rural Burundi for directions to an appropriate place to relieve himself, his gestures are mistaken as premeditation for rape. To the young woman's community, his fleeing confirms his guilt, setting off a chain reaction of pursuit, mob justice, and Nyamugari's attempts at explanation. 

Young Burundian novelist Roland Rugero's second novel Baho!, is published by Phoneme Media  and is the first Burundian novel to ever be translated into English, explores the concepts of miscommunication and justice against the backdrop of war-torn Burundi's beautiful green hillsides.

In Cameroon in 1931, Sara is taken from her family and brought to Mount Pleasant as a gift for Sultan Njoya, the Bamum leader cast into exile by French colonialists. Just nine years old and on the verge of becoming one of the sultan's hundreds of wives, Sara's story takes an unexpected turn when she is recognized by Bertha, the slave in charge of training Njoya's brides, as Nebu, the son she lost tragically years before. In Sara's new life as a boy she bears witness to the world of Sultan Njoya--a magical yet declining place of artistic and intellectual minds--and hears the story of the sultan's last days in the Palace of All Dreams and of the sad fate of Nebu, the greatest artist their culture had seen.

Seven decades later, a student returns home to Cameroon to research the place it once was, and she finds Sara, silent for decades, ready to tell her story. In her serpentine tale, a lost kingdom lives again in the compromised intersection between flawed memory, tangled fiction, and faintly discernible truth. In this telling, history is invented anew and transformed--a man awakens from a coma to find the animal kingdom dancing a waltz; a spirit haunts a cocoa plantation; and a sculptor re-creates his lost love in a work of art that challenges the boundary between truth and the ideal. The award-winning novelist Patrice Nganang's lyrical and majestic Mount Pleasant is a resurrection of the world of early-twentieth-century Cameroon and an elegy for the men and women swept up in the forces of colonisation.

Safe House: Explorations in Creative NonFiction edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey (May 2016)
Published by Dundurn, this collection includes illuminating African narratives for readers both inside and outside the continent. 

A Nigerian immigrant to Senegal explores the increasing influence of China across the region, a Kenyan student activist writes of exile in Kampala, a Liberian scientist shares her diary of the Ebola crisis, a Nigerian journalist travels to the north to meet a community at risk, a Kenyan author travels to Senegal to interview a gay rights activist, and a South African writer recounts a tale of family discord and murder in a remote seaside town. 

In a collection that ranges from travel writing and memoir to reportage and meditative essays, editor Ellah Wakatama Allfrey has brought together some of the most talented writers of creative nonfiction from across Africa.

Song for Night by Chris Abani (May 2016)
A new edition of Song for Night is being published to mark the tenth anniversary of Telegram Books. Winner of the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, Song for Night is a devastating portrait of a boy soldier in West Africa who has been separated from his platoon whilst fighting in an unnamed civil war.  

Even with the knowledge that there are some sins too big for even God to forgive, every night my sky is still full of stars; a wonderful song for night.
Trained as a human mine detector, a boy soldier in West Africa witnesses and takes part in unspeakable brutality. At 12 his vocal cords are cut to prevent him from screaming and giving away his platoon’s presence, should he be blown up.

Awaking after an explosion to find that he’s lost his platoon, he traces his steps back through abandoned villages and rotting corpses – and through his own memories – in search of his comrades. The horror of past events is relived and gradually come to terms with as he finds some glimmers of hope and beauty in this nightmarish place.

Taduno's Song by Odafe Atogun (July 14 2016)
The day a stained brown envelope arrives from Taduno's homeland, he knows that the time has come to return from exile. 

Arriving full of trepidation, the musician discovers that his community no longer recognises him, believing that Taduno is dead. His girlfriend, Lela, has disappeared, taken away by government agents. As he wanders through his house in search of clues, he realises that any traces of his old life have been erased. All that was left of his life and himself are memories. But Taduno finds a new purpose: to unravel the mystery of his lost life and to find his lost love. Through this search, he comes to face a difficult decision: to sing for love or to sing for his people. 

Taduno's Song is a moving tale of sacrifice, love and courage. It is published by Canongate and is the debut novel from Nigerian writer Odafe Atogun.

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole (August 9 2016)
Published by PenguinRandomHouse, this is a blazingly intelligent first book of essays from the award-winning author of Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief.
With this collection of more than fifty pieces on politics, photography, travel, history, and literature, Teju Cole solidifies his place as one of today’s most powerful and original voices. On page after page, deploying prose dense with beauty and ideas, he finds fresh and potent ways of interpreting art, people, and historical moments, taking in subjects from Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, and W. G. Sebald to Instagram, Barack Obama, and Boko Haram. 

Cole brings us new considerations of James Baldwin in the age of Black Lives Matter; the African American photographer Roy DeCarava, who, forced to shoot with film calibrated exclusively for white skin tones, found his way to a startling and true depiction of black subjects; and (in an essay that inspired both praise and pushback) the White Savior Industrial Complex, the system by which African nations are sentimentally aided by an America “developed on pillage.”
Persuasive and provocative, erudite yet accessible, Known and Strange Things is an opportunity to live within Teju Cole’s wide-ranging enthusiasms, curiosities, and passions, and a chance to see the world in surprising and affecting new frames. 

Speak Gigantular by Ireonsen Okojie (September 29 2016)
Published by Jacaranda, Speak Gigantular is a startling short story collection from one of Britain’s rising literary stars. These stories are captivating, erotic, enigmatic and disturbing. Irenosen Okojie’s gift is in her understated humour, her light touch, her razor-sharp assessment of the best and worst of humankind, and her unflinching gaze into the darkest corners of the human experience.

In these stories Okojie creates worlds where lovelorn aliens abduct innocent coffee shop waitresses, where the London Underground is inhabited by the ghosts of errant Londoners caught between here and the hereafter, where insensitive men cheat on their mistresses and can only muster enough interest to fall for one- dimensional poster girls and where brave young women attempt to be erotically empowered at their own peril. Sexy, serious and at times downright disturbing, this brilliant debut collection sizzles with originality.

Also check out this list from BooksLive on (mainly) South African fiction to look forward to in 2016 (January to June). It includes The Powers of the Knife, the first book in the Shadow Chaser trilogy - an African fantasy adventure by Bontle Senne. What if you discovered that you come from an ancient family of Shadow Chasers, with a duty to protect others from an evil Army of Shadows? Nom is an outsider at school. When she and Zithembe become friends, life still seems ̶ well ̶ a little ordinary. But when an army of monsters threatens their world, it’s all up to the two of them … and the start of a journey into the dreamworld on a quest that will change their lives. As well as Outside the Line by Ameera Patel - a thriller and family drama about two women: Cathleen, a troubled young woman living in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg who disappears; and Flora, who is the domestic worker at Cathleen's house.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Meet: 'An Indigo Song for Paradise' by Efe Tokunbo Okogu

Today brings the final part of this extra, extra special 'Meet' series with the novella An Indigo Song for Paradise by Efe Tokunbo Okogu. 

Efe Tokunbo Okogu is a Nigerian writer who was born in the UK on Dia de los Muertos. He now lives in Mexico where he is developing various projects in the areas of holistic health, body-mind activation, spiritual science studies, and multi-disciplinary artistic expression. His words have been heard live and published in various magazines, literary journals and anthologies in digital and print form. His novelette, Proposition 23 was nominated for the 2013 British Science Fiction Association awards, translated into Italian, and is available online. He believes that life is real SF and far stranger than anyone can conceive.

There is a lot going on in An Indigo Song for Paradise, and I have so many questions to ask, but I’ll start with, how did the story came about?
First up, I'd like to give a shout out to the Jaguars in the Cave, kicking cosmic ass on the daily. As for the novella, the story began with the line, ‘My father always told me no one owes you a living. I took that to mean “fuck off kid” so I did, signed up to TerraCorp straight outta high school’ ... Everything else just flowed from there.

Paradise City also seems like a pretty fucked up place with evil corporations ruining the environment, brainwashing us, not caring about children (which brought to mind what’s happening in Flint), gangs everywhere and so on. 
Could you speak to the themes of corporate greed, evil corporations and so on in the story? And is our only way out a xombie apocalypse?
The evil machinations of the greedy people who run most of the world’s corporations and indeed governments is a theme that is increasingly entering the public mainstream consciousness. I recently found out that the richest 62 individuals in the world own as much wealth as the poorest 50%. If those 3.5 billion people were to meet those 62 people face to face, what do you think would happen? 

Really, Really, Really Rich. Image via CNN Money
Thanks to sites like Wikileaks, Conspiracy Theory is proving itself to be Conspiracy Fact about how the system operates. Intentionally poisoning the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the minds we operate in order to make a profit and keep the people from seeing the truth or believing it when they do hear it might appear to be clever tactics, but those responsible forget that they must also suffer the consequences for the whole world is an intricate and finely balanced interdependent ecosystem.

In other words, we are one being, each of us akin to individual cells in a larger organism. Those who forget this truth lose their ability to empathize with others and begin to act on selfish desire alone without consideration for the consequences to the rest of organism, similar to cancer cells. Rather than blame or demonise them however, we should understand that THEY are sick with a spiritual malady which affects most human, and the only cure is for each of us to be the change we seek in the world. Meanwhile, 50% of the planet's wildlife has gone extinct in the past 40 years alone thanks to human activities so the sooner we start the better because I have no doubt that if we do not clean up our mess, mother nature will do it for us. The last time such a drastic move was necessary, there was a great flood, stories of which are found in ancient myths and legends throughout the world. The next time will probably be fire in order to purify the non-biodegradable plastic, fragments of which have been found in plankton, the base of the planets's entire food chain. Can the Apocalypse be avoided? Only God knows.

Also, what is Paradise City?
Paradise City is a city on an alternative Earth, a dark and stark mirror to our own reality. In 2003, Nick Bostrom published the 'Simulation Hypothesis' according to which,
‘A technologically mature "posthuman" civilisation would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:

   1. The fraction of human-level civilisations that reach a post-human stage is very close to zero;
   2. The fraction of post-human civilisations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
   3. The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

 If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching post-humanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilisations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation. In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).

Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation.’

Paradise City is in Amerika, but the language of the huemen’s especially made me think this was set in a post-apocalyptic American city. This also brought to mind racial tensions - especially as the elite (the vampires) are white and the heumen’s are Black - could you speak to the themes of racial divides and tensions in the story?
One of the names of Paradise City is Amerika. It is located on a continent shaped like a gun which probably looks similar to Africa but as I stated, it is set on an alternate earth where the people speak like Americans. The reason for this is simple. In our world, the USA was built with the blood, sweat and tears of African slaves and the American Empire is till this day, run on the blood sweat and tears of African (and other non-white) slaves. Many of these modern day slaves live under the same conditions as the slaves of yesteryear. Most of them are given the illusion of freedom but nevertheless waste their lives slaving for the system in exchange for bad health in body and mind.

In Paradise City, as in our world, a minority population of Vampires live by sucking the blood (metaphorically speaking) of the rest of the people. As I mentioned earlier, the richest 62 people own as much wealth in our world as the poorest 50%. The fact that the vampires in Paradise City are white and the remaining huemen are people of colour was my way of addressing the racial divides and inequalities in our world. Till this day, the average person of colour has to work far harder to survive and thrive than the average white person. Till this day, the average person of colour is far more likely to be brutalised by the government (especially via the police or institutionally racist policies) than the average white person. Till this day, the portrayal of people of colour by the mainstream media are full of the kind of racist barbs that cause little black girls to think of white barbie dolls as beautiful and dark skinned ones as ugly so they use harmful chemicals to bleach their skin and straighten their hair, denying the sun/kissed blessings of their roots. Till this day, the educational system around the world teaches a distorted view that places the white race above all others. Till this day, the commonly used map of the world shows Africa as being far smaller than it is in reality as a psychological tactic to make Africans seem inferior. The list goes on and on and on...

There is also a lot of activism going on in the story, but I wanted to ask about what I felt was activism through music – there is also lot of music in this story. What was the significance of music in An Indigo Song for Paradise?
Music is a primordial and primal thing that touches people on a deep level, beyond the conscious mind, which is why it is an effective tool which people can use to free their minds from the false belief systems they have been programmed into them by the educational system, the media, the corrupted versions of religion, the legal system and society in general.
Music and Activism
Final question (which I’m asking everyone) what’s next?
Good question. The short answer is I don't know. With any luck, the long answer will be the apotheosis of wonderful.

... and that's a wrap on this series of interviews centred on the five AfroSFv2 novellas, with a protest story that has a lot of activism embedded in it. Thank you Efe Tokunbo Okogu for taking the time to answer the questions.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Excerpts of 'The Domestication of Munachi' by Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu

Today I'm hosting Nigerian author, Nigerian author, Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu as part of a week-long online book tour for The Domestication of Munachi. Join the tour here, where you can ask the author questions. Here, I share excerpts of this debut novel along with readings from the author courtesy of Paressia.  Copies of the book can be purchased at the Magunga bookstore for readers in East Africa.

First up a reading and excerpt from page 62:   

I watched Aunty Chimuanya turn five shades of red before she lifted her hand to halt my story mid-way. Her right foot tapped against the floor; her bangles clattered; her head made rapid movements from side to side. I was enthralled because I had never seen her this angry. I had never seen her angry, period. I had expected her silence but I had not expected her to turn around and spit on my feet, which was what she did two minutes later. She was careful that the spit did not land on her Italian rug which Friday had told me was imported from Dubai. I was worried that I had been too quick to tell the story. Maybe I should have waited for her to rest from her Dubai trip. 
“Are you a child?” A red painted finger pointed at me. “Ehn? Munachi?”
I shook my head. 
“Were you born yesterday that you will disgrace me like this?” 
“Aunty, I did not do anything oh.” I lifted my hands in the air to prove my innocence. I expected an angel to poke down from heaven and corroborate my story, but nothing happened. “He came at me like a…like a…” 
“And so what?” She said and thought for a moment as her face took on the incandescent glow of someone who had just got an idea. “No wonder he refused to take my call. Hey, this girl you have killed me.” 
I was at loss what she was talking about. Was it that my aunty could not understand what I was trying to say? Maybe I should have painted the story exactly as it happened instead of blocking off some crude parts? 
“Aunty, Chief Momoh tried to rape me.” 
She laughed. I could see a half chewed bitter kola lodged on a molar as she threw her head back and guffawed. Tears coloured her eyes. 
“That small man? What can he possibly do to you?” She raked a hand up and down the length of my body. “All he wants is just a little play, that’s all. He likes small girls, didn’t I tell you before?”
I shuddered as the image of his cold snake eyes and quick fingers slithered through me. I pressed a finger to my temple and shut my eyes to calm the throbbing there and was unaware Aunty Chimuanya was studying me. 
“My dear,” she said softly. “I wouldn’t want something bad for you. Mbanu. You are the child I would have wished to have had I been more homely. If you left Eliza far back in Awka and travelled all the way to Lagos to hustle like the rest of us, then you need to hustle to the very end.” 
I heard a rustling and saw that Aunty had moved closer to me. 
“Have you heard the latest?” 
“What latest?” 
She thought for a moment and shook her head chasing the thoughts away. An easy smile crept along the line of her mouth deleting the worry brackets that had appeared around her mouth. 
“My dear, you don’t have all that time to waste looking for a half-baked job in this Lagos. Chief Momoh would have given you an easier and faster route up those ladders that many women will not find even if they go searching for it. My sales girl, Njideka? She holds a Masters degree from University of Lagos. Engineering. But life has taught her nwiiiii,” she dragged her bottom lids down to show the red mushy part of her eyes. 
“Now that she has suffered enough, she is now a common sales girl. Do you want that to happen to you?” 
I shook my head. 
“Or wait oh…” She studied me with piercing eyes. I grew uncomfortable. 
“Are you a virgin?” 
I squirmed in my seat. How do you answer that question to an older woman who happened to be your mother’s sister? 


Second, a reading and excerpt from page 117: 

NJIDEKA GOT ME thinking about my new lover. After sharing my body in the most intimate way, I was curious to know more about him. I was not sure I was ready yet to know about his family because I was desperate to keep that part of him away from our visits. I had asked about his full name the last time we met.
“Kolade Johnson,” he had replied with amusement dancing in his eyes. “Did you not look at the card I gave you the first day we met?”
Shamed stained my cheeks. I had looked at the card just once—the day I returned his call—and I had not even taken time to memorise his full name. 
This weekend, as I watched him stroll naked to the bathroom, I resisted the urge to lean over and rummage through his things for any other information that I could tie to him. His perfume, rich like the smell in the air after rain kissed hot earth, teased my nostrils. We were in the same hotel we had been the last time and it occurred to me that this may be his lovers’ nest where he took all the women he claimed as mistresses. The thought angered me but humbled me as I thought of what this life could mean for me. 
Few minutes later, he returned and slipped into bed beside me. He nuzzled an ear and I giggled as his goatee brushed my cheek. 
“What are you thinking, sweetheart?” 
“That was too quick a reply. You know what I am thinking?” 
“I am thinking we should spend the whole day together since I don’t really have anywhere to go.” He gently pushed me up. “I got you something.” 
A ripple of excitement churned through my belly as he bent over and retrieved something from the drawer beside him. He held open a little box. It held the most beautiful ear rings I had ever seen or owned in my life. Tiny gold lights twinkled in the seductive balls dangling from slender stems attached to hooks. 
“Thank you sir,” I gushed and threw myself at him. 
I felt—rather than hear—him chuckle before he gently pushed me away. “I gave Dotun some money to pay into your account. It should reflect by Monday.” 
I was so excited that I blurted without thinking, “Your wife must be the luckiest woman in the world. You are so generous.” 
A tense minute followed my response after which he stood up and started putting on his clothes in that slow, calculated manner of his. My last sentence hung heavy in the air. Forbidden. 
“Where are you going?” Panic coated my voice. 
“I have decided that I need to go home after all,” he simply said. “The driver will return to pick you up. It’s best you get ready.” 
“KJ…I’m sorry.” Tears burned hot behind my eyes. 
He gave me a wry smile. “You are young and there are lots of things you have to learn which I am ready to be patient for. But one thing you need to learn quickly is separating realities, my dear, because I find it difficult handling two realities at the same time. That’s why I am with you now. For this moment. Now. Here.” 
He leaned over and planted a quick kiss on my cheek. His lips were cold. “For now, this reality is over,” he said quietly and left without looking back. His words felt like the caress of a feather across my cheeks. 
It was what I hated most about him. He never looked back.
Want to know more? Join the online tour here.