I find spy novels ridiculous and, although American Spy is elaborately staged and includes a clever family and romantic back story, I did not enjoy the spying bits, of which they are many. But you might!
Tag Archives: Africa
Alexandra Fuller, although quite young, has written several memoirs (Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight, my favorite, and others here and here) borrowing heavily from per parents’ lives to be sure, and the latest, Travel Light, Move Fast, follows the same formula of plentiful flashbacks to her childhood and even before, this time to talk about the death of her father, and how difficult it was for her, her sister and her mother. She tells of her father’s restlessness, the strong partnership he had with her mother, and their ability to create homes throughout southern Africa. It’s a wonderful mix of grief, battles with airlines, and crocodiles that eat farmed fish.
Things Fall Apart stars a Nigerian warrior whose village and life is about to change forever with the arrival of missionaries and the British empire. The best parts of the story are the many details about pre-colonial mores and customs, and also the wonderful tone and style that the author conjures to evoke a different time and rhythm of life. It’s not the usual, cheap idea of using exotic words (although he does that) but more a cadence of words and sentences. Very skillfully done.
There Was a Country: A Memoir is both a personal memoir of the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe and the story of the Nigerian civil war of the 60s, which left millions dead from both slaughter and, especially, starvation. I found the personal part of the memoir to be especially successful, as it traces the life of a smart child growing up in colonial Nigeria, mostly in the demanding educational system brought by the British but with many familial links to traditional ways. The political memoir is interesting, although more guarded and even stilted at times. Achebe is never afraid of pointing out the weaknesses and especially the corruption of the post-colonial regime. Indeed, he seems to have a very pessimistic view of the future, even as Nigeria seems to be experiencing some strong growth.
The heroine of This Mournable Body is a no-longer-young woman who, having left a dead-en job, finds herself living precariously at the mercy of various landlords, would-be bosses, and family members. The book is a long rumination on how humiliated she is by everyone around her — and indeed how women are treated harshly throughout society. It’s depressing and without escape, and moves so slowly that I almost gave up finishing it.
Clemantine Wamariya was only 6 when the Rwandan genocide started, and she and her older sister took off on what would be an eight-country odyssey, eventually resettling int he United States after years of living in refugeee camps. The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After alternates between the present and the past, with her older sister marrying an aid worker because she saw no other safe outcome for her and her sister (the man turned out to be a cad and a violent one at that), and constantly hustling for survival. Clemantine is ultimately adopted by a generous American family and attends a prestigious university, while her sister cleans hundreds of hotel room to feed her three children, and they both find it very difficult to reestablish a relationship with their parents, who turn out to have survived as well.
The story speaks eloquently of refugees and how we could (but don’t) help them, and even more sadly of the emotional consequences of conflict long after buildings have been rebuilt and prosperity restored.
Dance of the Jakaranda tells the story of three men, two white British settlers and one Indian emigrant, who live in what will become Kenya and initially build the railroad that connect the hinterland to the port of Mombasa. Their personal lives are linked in direct and indirect ways, and will play out through their descendants in the story, which takes us through the early days of independence. The plot is intricate and often has unexpected twists, and the author’s description of the land is affectionate and occasionally lyrical. The history lesson is a bonus.