Sunday, November 20, 2011
Kenyan author attacks insularity of British fiction
"Binyavanga Wainaina says authors fail to tell 'universal' stories, leaving their books 'indigestible' for modern Africans." The Guardian.
I understand that Wainaina's words need some contextualization in order to understand where he's coming from. At any rate, it does appear that he makes the same mistake he accuses the West of: generalization, slippery slope, and perhaps, some degree of ideological antithetical positioning. When he claims that Africans don't understand British writing, what on earth, does he mean by African? Who, exactly, does not understand British writing? Wainaina? Kenyans? When has Wainaina become representative of Kenyans, and when have Kenyans become the sum of Africans? Has Wainaina read Ian McEwan?Julian Barnes? Zadie Smith? Monica Ali? And what, on earth, does he mean by "universal?"
As one who owes his life to good luck and the empathic gestures from Europeans during the Biafran war, I find it somewhat disturbing that Wainaina, who was born circa a decade after the Biafran war, and far removed from the scenes of Biafran horrors, would make a sweeping condemnation of rescue/aid agencies such as Oxfam. In my case, in 1968/69, it was the Irish aid agency "Concern" that saved me and many other famishing, kwashiorkor Biafran kids. Without Concern, and perhaps, Oxfam, I would have perhaps succumbed to the famine that was orchestrated by fellow Nigerians/Africans. Why would any person in his right mind ever condemn Bob Geldof for having responded to the human tragedy that took place in Ethiopia and Somalia? I am sincerely baffled. I get the impression that Wainaina's need to save the good image of Africa has blunted his sensibility to the pains of the African bodies. I only hope that this is a special case of an ideological pitfall, which time and intellectual maturation would take care of. But this, of course, does not imply my support of the contemporary African beggarly mindset. Quite the opposite. I have been saved so that I can help save others.
Listen to Binyavanga's interview on the books podcast