On Sunday 7 July at Africa Writes 2019, we hosted our popular flagship panel African Books to Inspire with a special focus on masculinity featuring Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, Peter Kimani, Sulaiman Addonia and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed. This panel examined the construction of African masculinity and focused on books that critiqued and inspired notions of masculinity selected by our panellists. If you missed this event you can find the selections from our panellists below. Have you read any of these? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Facebook!
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀: A Man Who Is Not A Man / The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives / Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol
To the dismay of her ambitious mother, Bolanle marries into a polygamous family, where she is the fourth wife of a rich, rotund patriarch, Baba Segi. She is a graduate and therefore a great prize, but even graduates must produce children and her husband’s persistent bellyache is a sign that things are not as they should be. Bolanle is too educated for the ‘white garment conmen’ Baba Segi would usually go to for fertility advice, so he takes her to hospital to discover the cause of her barrenness.
Weaving the voices of Baba Segi and his four competing wives into a portrait of a clamorous household of twelve, Lola Shoneyin evokes an extraordinary Nigerian family in splashes of vibrant colour.
3. Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol by Okot p’Bitek (Uganda)
Peter Kimani: A Grain of Wheat / Coming to Birth / Sula
1. A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya’s independence from Britain, A Grain of Wheat follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952–1960 Emergency. At the center of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village’s chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. As we learn of the villagers’ tangled histories in a narrative interwoven with myth and peppered with allusions to real-life leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, a masterly story unfolds in which compromises are forced, friendships are betrayed, and loves are tested.
2. Coming to Birth by Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye (Kenya)
In this quietly powerful and eminently readable novel, winner of the prestigious Sinclair Prize, Kenyan writer Marjorie Macgoye deftly interweaves the story of one young woman’s tumultuous coming of age with the history of a nation emerging from colonialism.
At the age of sixteen, Paulina leaves her small village in western Kenya to join her new husband, Martin, in the bustling city of Nairobi. It is 1956, and Kenya is in the final days of the “Emergency,” as the British seek to suppress violent anti-colonial revolts.
But Paulina knows little about, about city life, or about marriage, and Martin’s clumsy attempts to control her soon lead to a relationship filled with silences, misunderstandings, and unfulfilled expectations. Soon Paulina’s inability to bear a child effectively banishes her from the confines of traditional women’s roles. As her country at last moves toward independence, Paulina manages to achieve a kind of independence as well: She accepts a job that will require her to live separately from her husband, and she has an affair that leads to the birth of her first child. But Paulina’s hard-won contentment will be shattered when Kenya’s turbulent history intrudes into her private life, bringing with it tragedy—and a new test of her quiet courage and determination.
Paulina’s patient struggles for survival and identity are revealed through Marjorie Macgoye’s keen and sensitive vision—a vision which extends to embrace the whole of a nation and a people likewise struggling to find their way. As the Weekly Standard of Kenya notes, “Coming to Birth is a radical novel in firmly asserting our common humanity.”
3. Sula by Toni Morrison (USA)
This rich and moving novel traces the lives of two black heroines from their close-knit childhood in a small Ohio town, through their sharply divergent paths of womanhood, to their ultimate confrontation and reconciliation.
Nel Wright has chosen to stay in the place where she was born, to marry, raise a family, and become a pillar of the black community. Sula Peace has rejected the life Nel has embraced, escaping to college, and submerging herself in city life. When she returns to her roots, it is as a rebel and a wanton seductress. Eventually, both women must face the consequences of their choices. Together, they create an unforgettable portrait of what it means and costs to be a black woman in America.
Sulaiman Addonia: Woman At Point Zero / Season of Migration to the North / Lives of Great Men
1. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt)
2. Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (Sudan)
The story of a man undone by a culture that in part created him, Season of Migration to the North, is a powerful and evocative examination of colonization in two vastly different worlds.
When a young man returns to his village in the Sudan after many years studying in Europe, he finds that among the familiar faces there is now a stranger – the enigmatic Mustafa Sa’eed. As the two become friends, Mustafa tells the younger man the disturbing story of his own life in London after the First World War. Lionized by society and desired by women as an exotic novelty, Mustafa was driven to take brutal revenge on the decadent West and was, in turn, destroyed by it. Now the terrible legacy of his actions has come to haunt the small village at the bend of the Nile.
3. Lives of Great Men by Chike Frankie Edozien (Nigeria)
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Image by Ivan Gonzalez