Friday, 21 September 2012

Farewell to Africa Reading Challenge

Back in January I joined Kinna’s Africa Reading Challenge. The challenge was relatively easy: to read at least five books written by African writers. I read a lot more than that every year. Contrary to the difficulties I read other bloggers have about finding African books in bookstores, Portuguese bookstores tend to be well-stocked with them, with African writers from Portuguese-speaking countries anyway. Rare is the store that doesn’t have a section devoted to Pepetela or Mia Couto. They and others are household names, popular and always making it to the bestseller charts. So five books? Easy.

The list I initially put up was:

Yaka, Pepetela (Angola)
O Planalto e a Estepe, Pepetela (Angola)
O Fio das Missangas, Mia Couto (Mozambique)
A Conjura, José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola)
The Island, Athol Fugard (South Africa)

My plans changed a lot, however, and I ended up reading only two of those. Kinna made some suggestions that I tried to take into consideration. I read books from several parts of Africa:

Angola (Southwest)
Cape Verde (West)
Egypt (North)
Mozambique (Southeast)
Nigeria (West)

I read books in three languages: Arab, English and Portuguese.

Instead of five I read nine books, just so I wouldn’t look lazy, which I am: Luuanda, The Return of the Water Spirit, A Dance of the Forests, Children of the Alley, The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo, Voices Made Night, as well as O Fio das Missangas, Jesusalém and A Conjura, untranslated so far. I tried several genres: a play, novels and novellas, and short-story collections.

One of the many good things about ARC is that it encouraged me to try out writers I had been meaning to read for some time now but kept postponing them for another time. For instance Angolan writer José Luandino Vieira, whose novellas were a great surprise to me. Another author I read because of ARC was the Cape Verdean writer Germano Almeida. I can’t say I loved his novel but I’ll keep reading him until I find something more enjoyable. Others like Naguib Mahfouz and Pepetela were old acquaintances Overall, I was happy with the books I read. Alas, I didn’t read any female writers. I did, however, write about the Angolan poet Ana Paula Tavares, even if I didn’t officially include her in the challenge. But she was another writer ARC encouraged me to read.

If I focused a lot on Angola it’s because it’s one of the most productive African countries in terms of literature. That its writers are so under-translated into English is a shame and a loss to fans of good literature.

Well, nine books are enough for me. That’s not to say I’m done with African books this years, but it’s time to say farewell to Africa Reading Challenge. I’d just like to say thank you to Kinna for the good moments it provided me.


  1. I wanted to join but I knew I would fail. I studied African literature for a few semesters so I'm familiar with French African novels but lately I haven't read a lot of African literature.
    I'm quite amazed... You read Arabic? That must be great to not have to read in translation.
    I would be interested in a good suggestion from Cape Verde. I'll try and browse your reviews once I get time.

    1. Oops, perhaps I wasn't clear enough. Arab? Ah, I wish! What I meant is that Mahfouz writes in Arab, but I read him in Portuguese. One of Kinna's suggestions was not to read only from English-speaking writers.

      Cape Verdean books?

      Germano Almeida's The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo, in English.

      Baltasar Lopes' 1947 novel Chiquinho, available in Italian.

      Manuel Lopes also has I flagellati del vento dell'est available in Italian too.

      Then there's Henrique Teixeira de Sousa's Un domaine au Cap-Vert in French.

      These are also new names for me, I'm just now discovering Cape Verdean literature.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Wanted to read one book from each of the PALOPs but I'm having difficulties finding a book from Guine Bissau. Any suggestions?

    So far I've only done Cabo Verde (O Testamento do Sr. Napumoceno da Silva Araújo by Germano Almeida) and Sao Tome e Principe (O País de Akendengué by Conceição Lima)

    1. Helo, Alex.

      You may try Filinto de Barros' Kikia Matcho, but that's a hard novel to find. I'm still looking for it in bookstores :)

  3. It's not at all difficult to find African-penned novels in bookstores where I live, Miguel, but finding the time to read them is another story. That being said, this post made me reconsider whether I ought not to try to join the Africa Reading Challenge late in the year. I have a number of books I could read for the challenge that I'm looking forward to, but they tend to keep getting pushed back for one reason or another. In any event, glad to hear you had such a good experience participating in the event. Cheers!

    1. Well, Richard, the time you have for African books is the same time you have for other books :)

      It's all a matter of managing time, making reading choices, isn't it? I joined ARC exactly because I knew it'd force me to keep focused on African books for a while.

      Join the challenge, it'll be interesting to read your thoughts about your choices.

  4. It is high time that I begin to read some African literature and I am determined to do so this year. I think that I will use your commentary on some of these writers as a resource on what to read

    Of course I have not evan read Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" thus I am thing that it would be a good place to begin.

    1. If you can find anything by him, read Pepetela. He's a great writer. I never read Achebe, but his reputation precedes him.

  5. I'm happy you have completed Kinna's ARC challenge. I've also completed it. I enjoyed it very well. I read Mahfouz's Palace Walk (in English) and others. I think I read The Return of the Water Spirit by Pepetela this year too (not sure).

    It's interesting to meet someone who has great love for African literature. After reading Mia Couto and Jose Agualusa Eduardo, I agree that it's a pity that most of the Lusophonic authors have not been translated into English. I've enjoyed their unique writing styles with heavy infusion of magical realism and sometimes voodoo.

    1. Well, I don't think I have a great love for African literature, I just love books. And African writers write many good books.