Saturday, 25 September 2010

Ancestor Stones - Aminatta Forna

I enjoyed this book, though I expected more from the character who introduces the novel in a prologue, then disappears until the epilogue.

I already used a section of it in the first class of the course - a passage where Mary leaves home to travel to England, and describes her first impressions. I think the group enjoyed it, and I think it was a good introduction to how England looks through African eyes.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The No.1 Ladies´ Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

What a lovely book! Of all the novels and texts I´ve read so far, this is the one I have enjoyed most. The author himself describes it as a crime novel without any crimes, but even so, it's extremely absorbing, and a good deal less predictable than most of the crime-based crime novels I´ve read.

I think the sections I will end up using are the two proposals of Mr. J. L. B. Matakone proposes to Mma Ramotswe (and possibly her dreadful marriage to Note Mokoti as a contrast/background). I think there might be some sort of comparison that could be drawn between these and excerpts from "Maru" (which would tie in nicely as it is also set in Botswana, handles the same themes of love and relationships, but was written by a Motswana).

I am only sorry the library here doesn't have the rest of the series so I can keep reading them for pleasure.

The Last King of Scotland - Giles Foden

This one has good course potential because a film was made of the book, but I think I already have that ground covered with "Disgrace", which is probably a better choice, since the film is a bit older and was far less commercial and there is far less chance that students will have seen it already. Still, it´s a possibility.

REALLY interesting book. Details from the narrator´s childhood in Scotland made me smile, and I thought that the way he tells both versions of his two stories (his life in Uganda and his life in exile in the Hebrides) was cleverly constructed AND pretty realistic. It is not hard to believe that a lonely, guilty man in a croft on an island would sit down and write about the wild experiences he had had in the past.

I think, for course purposes, there are two main points of interest.

The first is the narrator´s descriptions of how he ended up in Uganda in the first place, and what he thought of it. Possibly useful for the first session? His reminiscences and comparisons between Scotland and Africa after his return might be useful too.

The second is the way Idi Amin´s speech is represented in the book. He speaks English to the narrator, and slight oddities of expression are included. I think this might be useful for helping students to stop thinking in terms of mistakes (which students fixate on). They are just, probably, not what a speaker of "Standard" English would say:

"No, doctor, you must not be frightened. To be afraid is a coward, and I do not think my own doctor can be a coward. Not possible. All of you, listen to me!....I want to talk about afraidness and cowardice in Uganda." (p.141)

Yes, I think there is useful stuff here, and it was a great read.

Season of Migration to the North - Tayeb Salih

Ok, ok, this is cheating a bit, because it wasn´t originally written in English (and will probably be discarded in terms of the course for that reason), but I was desperate for other Sudanese authors (apart from Leila Aboulela).

The more I read, the more I feel that all of these books deserve a second reading (at least), but that some of them positively demand it. This is one of those. I liked the very beginning, then there was a section in the middle that I found very dull and plodding, and then things got a bit more interesting towards the end. Is that just me, or is it really like that? I feel like only a second reading will tell.

Anyway, I think the book is mainly about two men who both grew up in the Sudan, then went to England as young men, then returned. I disliked bits of it for the same reason I disliked "Heart of Darkness" - nobody gets to tell such long, involved stories in such closely-remembered, artfully recounted detail. The descriptions of village life are interesting, but most of the characters didn't really feel fleshed out enough to me, especially the ones who are hugely important to the story (the narrator himself, Saeed and Hosna.) The narrator gives very little away about himself, the novel is mostly about his obsession(?) with the other man.

So, I think it´s a no for the course, but I think I should read it again for its own sake. Later.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Famished Road - Ben Okri

The book is interesting in that it is divided between what happens in the real world and what happens in the spirit world. Although I found this interesting as an idea, I found myself skipping over parts of the spirit world sections which ran on too long, because, although they contain bizarre, intriguing images, I didn't feel like they made that much difference to the plot of the real world sections. It is in my nature (or my culture?) to think of the real world passages as the "real", important part of the book, though that probably isn't what Okri intended.

So, while I was reading, I focused on the real-world parts and, if I use this for the course, I will probably do the same there. Azaro´s Mum is an interesting character, I wished more had been written about her than about his Dad, who didn't appeal to me that much. Madame Koto starts out as an engaging character, but gradually loses her charm (she is supposed to, as her involvement in politics deepens and her moral decline takes hold) and then fades into the background as the book goes on. The sections about politics (the bad milk, the van of bad politics, the party of the rich and the party of the poor) seem like they could be productive.

There is also a section in which Azaro, an abiku himself, describes his friend Ade, who is also an abiku. There are strong similarities between this section and a passage in Ak√©, in which Wole Soyinka writes about his neighbours´ abiku daughter. Okri takes it further than Soyinka - he writes from Azaro's perspective within the spirit world, and describes the inner feelings and conflict a spirit child experiences. He also uses the image of the country in the book (which, as far as I remember, is never named explicitly, though some of the tribal groups within it are - can I assume it is - or at least represents - Nigeria?) as an abiku-country, which I find significant. I know I said that my instinct led me away from the spirit world bits but, now that I think about it, there might be something useful here.

African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe - Doris Lessing

Probably more useful as background reading than as a text I will use directly in the course, but I'm glad I read it all the same.

It's especially interesting to read about how Mugabe was perceived in the 1980s, which is completely different to the way he has been portrayed in the (British) media since I became aware of him, in the last 10 years or so.

Since finishing this book, I have also started reading around the methodology side of the course, and have come across activities that might work well with short excerpts from this book. Doris Lessing includes lots of descriptions of the landscape which, to me, weren't as interesting as the events and the people she describes, but might be useful in introducing Zimbabwe or doing some activities I read about which make use of descriptions of settings. Not sure yet.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Some Kind of Black - Diran Adebayo

I enjoyed most of this book. Some bits are very powerful, but there were also a few points where I found it hard to want to continue reading.

The main character, Dele, was born in England and is of Nigerian descent, though he has never been to Nigeria.

There's a particularly interesting chapter in which Dele, goes to a student party at Oxford. His views of the other people at the party are interesting and unforgiving, and reminiscences written into the party scene also describe intriguing events in the life of a black student at a predominantly white university in England. He mentions a sort of continuum I hadn't given much thought to before of how strong different acquaintances´ roots are. His inner thoughts regarding black stereotypes are arresting as well; sometimes he intentionally subverts them, while at other moments he deliberately plays up to them and exploits them.

The language throughout the book is creative - especially the representations of dialogue, not so much Dele´s own speech, but of his friend Concrete's, which is transcribed patios - though sometimes it got a wee bit much for me, personally. A wee bit too clever, sometimes.

Really, though, what sealed the deal on this book as a No for the course is that it's too London. As well as having a very dense lexicon, it has too much slang and too many cultural references which I think would be impenetrable. Even selecting carefully and cutting down, I think it's too much. It's tempting, though, because of the point of view it offers, so I might change my mind on this one later.
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