Sunday, January 31, 2010

EMAIL FROM AMERICA: Onitsha, Their Onitsha

Ikhide Ikheloa reviews Le Clezio's book,Onitsha
He is of the opinion that the otherwise well-written novel is no better than Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Here's a taste of his's assessment.
"Onitsha written by French author and 2008 Nobel laureate J. M. G. Le Clézio is a beautiful piece of fiction. Originally written in French and translated into English in 1997, it bears prose that steals your heart. Le Clézio can sustain quiet tension in a book and build up suspense. It does get silly in places where it succumbs to a puzzlingly mythical babble in which case it deteriorates from haunting prose to malarial hallucinations about the deities of Egypt and Ethiopia. As for the content and what it says about how the West sees Africans, it is an ugly book; for it reveals the insidious patronising attitudes of white liberals."

Personally I am tired of giving any attention to those works of fiction written by Westerners about Africa. The West seems to have devised an insidious means of pinning our intellect down to the game of defense, always having to redress their messy image of Africa. That pisses me off. The funny thing though, is that if we do not talk back, or at least show our disapproval, the messy image begins to gain some hints of authenticity. Still, I'm pissed off.
Anyway, here is Ikheloa's piece. ENJOY

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A trip to the source of the truth

Percy Zvomuya reviews Mukoma wa Ngugi's new novel, Nairobi Heat, and concludes that the novel's "biggest triumph is the way it forces us to re-examine accepted narratives and received truths. It shows us how cynically minded people won't hesitate to extract money from the skeletons of a genocide even as horrific as the one in 1994."
I love this; I love whatever discourse that forces me to rethink all accepted truths, whatever makes me even question what I know, and ask with Montaigne, Que sais-je? What do I know?
Look at what wa Ngugi is doing here, according to Percy: "Ishmael finds himself in the heat of "Nairobbery", where the bulk of this thriller is set." Ha ha ha, Nairobbey! You get it? What a literary morsel. Here's the whole review gist.

Anyway, please go get your own copy at
Another interesting review of Chinua Achebe's The Education of a British-­Protected Child.
"Adamantly refusing the notion that the British writer’s portrayal of African barbarity might be excused by his socio-historical context, Achebe makes Conrad, the man, answerable for the offensive stereotypes he promulgates as a writer. Comparing Conrad’s novel to other European portraits of Africa and its peoples, Achebe concludes that “without doubt, the times in which we live influence our behavior, but the best or merely the better among us . . . are never held hostage by their times.”

Sometimes I have the feeling that we Africans have given Conrad way too much attention, much more than he deserves. For Achebe to always come back to this guy makes my stomach churn. It's time to move on, friends.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Baptizing the Gun - Uwem Akpan

Uwem Akpan has come out with a new fiction titled "Baptizing the Gun."
Here's a taste:
"After an oil fire killed hundreds of my fellow swamp-dwellers in the Niger Delta, after the mass burials, after negotiating with the leaders of the scores of tribes that make up our church to insure that everybody’s burial ritual was represented during our week of mourning, I came to Lagos two days ago to visit some rich parishes and beg for aid. Now I’m staying at my brother’s place in Ikotun and driving his car. This morning, to my brother’s surprise, I had already sniffed out the black-market petrol crooks. I told him the fuel scarcity wasn’t going to stop me. I dipped my fingers into the liquid they were selling out of huge jars and smelled it—before buying. I sure know Lagosians, and Grandpa used to say, “If you know the people, you know the place.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everyman's Library Presents The African Trilogy and I Am Moved by the Title

I love what Emmanuel Sigauke is doing here. He comments on Achebe's Trilogy now published in Everyman's library.
Here's a bit of the ideas he tackles:
"Comment about the "Africanness" of the trilogy: First, I am very happy that Achebe's publications have been published under the Everyman's Library label, as have those of Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, Frank O'Connor and others. There are ongoing discussions of the Africanity of African writers and their books, or the repeatable question of the Africanicity of African literature(because, of course, this Africanicity is always either questioned or affirmed, dismissed or defended) ..."
I don't want to tell it all, so please check it out on his blog; ENJOY.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In search of the African writer

Over the past weeks I've been in a forced hibernation. My soul had cringed at the barrage of negative events and news in the past weeks. At the home front, the absence of my Head of State for more than two months, sick in an undisclosed hospital in Saudi Arabia, has literally ground my dear country to a halt. Then as if that wasn't enough the earthquake in Haiti struck. And then, those of us interested in Obama registering some success were brought back to the stark realities of American politics when one Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election. I wanted some good news, something to assure me that my world was not coming to an end. This, of course, kept me away from my blog, for I couldn't even think correctly much more type.

I stumbled upon this beautiful piece on the question of African writer by Ikhide. It somehow reminded me of my duty as an African writer, someone who owes something to the black world, whether I like it or not.
Here's Ikhide:
"Much has been made about recent statements ascribed to Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah, in which she expressed unease at being called an African writer." ENJOY!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Yar'Adua and the ghost of Biafra

Ogaga Ifowodo is one of the few Nigerian poets I admire so much. His poems about the Niger Delta read like prayers to a silent God, but also supplications to his fellow Nigerians to please not elbow his people to extinction. For those who have been following the saga of the Nigerian president, who has been sick in Saudi Arabia for more than 56 days now, Ogaga's recent essay is more than a prayer. It is a dire warning. He combines the prophetic sensibility of a poet and the sharpness of a lawyer to plead on fellow Nigerians to wake up to the call of time. Here's an excerpt:

"Yar'Adua's determination, even "at this stage," to spit on the constitution reeks of the divine right to governance that the Northern power oligarchy has publicly boasted. No less an oligarch than Alhaji Yussuf Maitama Sule articulated God's allocation of national talent thus: to the Hausa-Fulani, leadership; to the Yoruba, diplomatic skills; and to the Igbo - of course, commerce! As for the minorities? Well, they do not exist, not even those from under whose feet the oil is drawn that made it possible for Maitama Sule to gain the prominence and perch for his gratuitous insult. And if they do not exist, how can you hand over power to one of them, to a "ghost?"
ENJOY and Pray for my beloved country.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We Are No Longer at Ease

Here is the text of an open letter released by Nigerian Writers in reaction to the current political situation in Nigeria. Over thirty writers have currently signed up to the letter which has this morning been released to the media. You can add your own signature, and support, in a comment box beneath. You can also listen to and download an audio version by clicking on this link: Audio
We are no Longer at Ease.

An Open Letter from Nigerian Writers

Nigeria’s failure to make the progress commensurate with 50 years of nation-building is not just a failure of leadership. It is first and most catastrophically, a failure of followership.

As ordinary Nigerians, we have failed to create an environment where good leadership can thrive. By glamorising fraud and ineptitude, we have created a country hostile to probity. Our expectation from Government House is mediocrity, so that good government surprises us pleasantly and excellence continues to amaze us. Instead of an environment of accountability, we have fostered sycophancy. We have been content to follow every stripe of leader, from the thief to the buffoon. The consequence is that for months we have been happy to be ruled even in absentia.

Today, we say, no more.

Protest is not a dirty word. Even babies have a voice, long before they learn language or discernment. The child that is too docile to cry when it hungers or ails might die in the hands of the most benevolent mother. A leadership, however benevolent, requires an intelligent, demanding, and courageous followership to excel.

It is the responsibility of every Nigerian to voice the legitimate expectations of nation and to establish the standards to which our leaders must be held. We must expect great things from this country, so we must look for the leaders who can deliver. There is an acceptable standard of leadership, and then there is an unacceptable standard. We must honour leaders who excel, and censure leaders – at every level, and in every arm of government – who betray our trust.

If failure is not censured, there is no incentive in pursuing excellence. If sacrificial leadership is not recognised, then leaders of merit will not come forward, and the heroes in our cenotaphs will be the very architects of our failure as a nation. Although we are justly famous for our generosity of spirit, for our ability to forgive and forget the gravest transgressions, Nigerians must also now boldly condemn the errors of leadership, and end the complacency that has brought us so low as a country. The only reason for the existence of political leaders is to offer service to nation. Leadership is not an end in itself. It is a privilege to serve your country; leadership is not a right to be served by your country.

Today, Nigeria stands on a precipice. Behind us is a history that can push us, irrevocably, over the brink. Yet, we are writers. If we bring anything collectively to society, it must be the imagination and the inspiration to bridge impossible gulfs. Today, we must plumb our history, not to evoke despair, but to inspire resolve. Today, we call on Nigerians to hold hands across the trenches of our deep divisions and, somehow, find the resolution to dream again. Let us, as ordinary Nigerians, reject the ethnic fictions that local despots have used to colonise this country over the past five decades.

Let us dream a simple dream made fantastic by our present circumstances. Let us dream of a Nigeria that works, that evokes pride, and that inspires faith. Let us dream of a Nigeria of servant-leaders and sacrificial statesmen, a Nigeria which calls the best characteristics out of ordinary men and women. Let us call on that capacity for renewal to bring opportunity out of this crisis.

Let us recreate the excitement – and the possibilities – with which we approached the Independence Day of 1960. In 50 years, the resources and destiny of this great country have been hijacked by private carpetbaggers and adventurers. Let us take back the sanctity of our polls. Let us rejuvenate the recall process. Let us police our resources, our leadership. We must liberate Nigeria anew. Today, we must take back our country.

As writers, the past and the future are fertile fields for the work of our imagination. Today, in this love-letter to our nation, we call on all Nigerians to take authorship of our nation’s next 50 years. Our destiny is in our own hands. Shall we write into it a bigger civil war? Another half-century of mediocrity and international disgrace? Then we need do nothing.

But if we, the people of Nigeria, must write an inspirational epic of a humbled nation on her knees, who, breaking free of bondage, soars into the keep of eagles, we must begin by demanding only the best of our leaders. In the days and months to come, we the people must find our voice, our votes, and our true values. And we must make them count.

Thank you.

Chuma Nwokolo • Abdul Mahmud • Afam Akeh • Helon Habila • Paul Onovoh • Chika Unigwe • Jude Dibia • Okey Ndibe • Chilo Zona Eze • EC Osondu • Tade Ipadeola • Unoma Azuah • Shola Adenekan • Amatoritsero Ede • Lola Shoneyin • Uzor Maxim Uzoatu • Ikhide Ikheloa • Uche Peter Umez • Nnorom Azuonye • Richard Mammah • Chike Ofili • Obiwu • Uche Nduka • Ogaga Ifowodo • Richard Ugbede Ali • Maik Nwosu • Akin Adesokan • Obi Nwakanma • Kachi A. Ozumba • Odili Ujubuonu • Emman Shehu • Ibrahim Sheme • Tanure Ojaide • Emmanuel Iduma • Sylva Nze Ifedigbo •

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dreams in a Time of War

You heard it right! Ngugi’s memoir, Dreams in a Time of War, is coming out in Spring. I really look forward to it and to the kind of discourse it will create with Achebe’s The Education of a British Protected Child, and of course Soyinka’s Ake, You Must Set Forth at Dawn. I can’t wait to lay my hand on it.
Anyway, while we wait, here is a great interview Ngugi granted to Ellah Allfrey, Granta’s Deputy Editor. He talks about …, well take a listen. Just beautiful.
By the way, I love the title, Dreams in a Time of War. It is poetry. What else can we do, we, the children of a silent God, we, who have refused to be the wretched of the earth. No, we are not wretched, we are immensely rich. Just allow us to dream.Great interview, thanks to
Ellah Allfrey.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How to enjoy 'Tropical Fish'

This is my review-essay on Doreein Baingana's Tropical Fish. The books is so good that I had to come up with two titles, one for the book: "How to enjoy Tropical Fish"; the other for the author, "Why I love Doreen Baingana." I do, I do, I do. Boy, she's good. The writer in me tempts me to envy her her mastery of words, but the philosopher in me forces me to piece together the many powerful ideas wrapped in the phrasing of those words.

This is how the Pambazuka people introduced the essay:
"Chielo Zona Eze praises Doreen Baingana's 'Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe', describing Baingana as a 'clever wizard who conjures a world of possibilities in the reader’s mind'." ENJOY!

NB: Some part of the essay has been published elsewhere, the other part was first given in a speech on African literature at Princeton. The more scholarly part will appear in my upcoming book on moral imaginations in African literature and culture.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Have you read this?

This is one of the things I love so much about my people, Nigerians: their casual inventiveness, the poetry of everyday life. Ach, ach, I wish we had a government. Anyway enjoy this, courtesy of Naijablob:

A new word has been added to the Oxford Dictionary...

Mutallab;n : A rich kid who attempts to throw his life away for silly reasons. Synonyms- 'Idiot, Ode,' Usage Examples: 'Are you a Mutallab? ' 'Stop this Mutallabness.' 'Get out of the road you Muta-Muta.'

Local Dialect Use>'Wo ma Mutallab ori e', 'Commot... for......diaaaa! Mutallab oshi', 'Aga ma Mutallab isi gi kita kita'

Accepted abbreviation> Mu- Mu

I love what Jeremy Weate of Naijablog is doing. One day he will compile a Nigerian urban dictionary.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Fine Gem

This is to announce the arrival of a fine gem of a literary magazine from Zimbabwe, by Zimbabwean minds, and for the entire world. It is a beautifully designed website that contains well-written, deeply imagined and morally aware essays, stories, interviews, jokes, in fact everything connoisseurs of the word would want of a magazine. It is called Mazwi. Kudos to Tinashe Mushakavanhu, the editor at large. Emmanuel Sigauke says that it is a "rich little journal."
Yes, it is little in the tradition of the "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Congratulations to the Zimbabwean spirit. I love it, love it, love it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Of Writers, Writing On Conflicts and Wars in Africa

In his latest review, Ikhide Ikheloa asks the type of questions that keep me sleepless, questions that add to the existential and moral anguish I face as a writer of African descent. "What is the role of the writer in shaping events in today's Africa? What is the best medium for forcing the people to focus brightly on the fires that burn so fiercely all around Africa? Is this generation of African writers self-absorbed and narcissistic, and why?"
These questions appear to be parts of what the book he is reviewing either directly or indirectly do. The book in question, a collection of essays, edited by Okey Ndibe and Chenjerai Hove.
As usual, a beautiful review. ENJOY