Book Review | Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atogun

tadunos song coverAs Atogun’s debut novel, Taduno’s Song is a real winner. This novel takes place in a present day African military dictatorship. Taduno is a renowned musician who returns home after months away to find the country has forgotten him entirely, save for his voice. The government has kidnapped his girlfriend to use as a bargaining chip to get him to sing their praises instead of using his music to stand up for the people. Involving a colorful cast of supporter’s, Taduno’s quest to regain his voice and save his lover provides a very inviting tale.

This novel is thought provoking and entertaining, relaying a story that will stay with the reader long beyond the book’s end. As soon as I finished reading it, my thoughts were of how to get my hands on more of Atogun’s writing. His clean and concise style makes the text very easy to follow. This is not often an easy task when employing surrealism in literature. This book will appeal to fans of Haruki Murakami, having some stylistic similarities. Readers may also gain insight or additional understanding of the inner workings of a military dictatorship. A highly recommended quick read, check out Taduno’s Song from a library near you!

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Book Review | Songs of the Baka and other discoveries : travels after age sixty-five by Dennis James

songs of the bakaIgnore the subtitle: though the protagonists are over 65, it has little to no bearing on the content of this book, which would appeal to readers of all ages. In Songs of the Baka, James provides instantly immersive tales from his travels (with his photographer wife Barbara Grossman) to diverse, off the beaten path destinations world-wide. James conveys their travel experiences in ten countries*, sharing insightful observations on various topics from transportation to indigenous cultural practices, architecture, art, politics, and beyond.

This is a great book. It is clear and concise, proceeds at a moderate pace and includes captivating color photographs. Chapters are of appropriate lengths with frequent breaks, making this book a quick read. Songs of the Baka would appeal to aspiring travelers, the well-traveled, people with anthropological or cultural interests, and possibly Fulbright applicants. I’ve recommended my local library purchase this title. Check it out from a library near you!

*Countries visited and included in this text: Papua New Guinea, Algeria, Nepal, Cameroon, Cuba, Mali, Iran, Venezuela, Palestine and Ethiopia. 

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

leopard at the door.jpgTaking place in 1950’s Kenya, Leopard at the Door focuses on a young lady’s return to the farm where she grew up. After the death of her mother, Rachel was sent to boarding school in England, far away from her father and home. In the six years she has been away, there have been some changes in Kenya. In addition to having to deal with her father’s new live-in paramour, the formation and actions of a political activist group, Mau Mau, threaten the family’s safety. Rachel finds herself in difficult situations as she attempts to rebuild her Kenyan life.

Excellent for fans of historical African fiction or women’s fiction, this novel moves at a relaxed pace, while still keeping the reader’s attention. Characters are developed enough for the reader to have strong feelings about them. The writing is clear and easy to follow, with chapters of varying lengths. McVeigh’s solidly researched text provides insight into Kenya as a British Colony at the time. Check it out from a library near you!

I received this uncorrected proof as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Leopard at the Door, you may be interested in October by Zoë Wicomb (2014).

Mosi-oa-Tunya, Thunder Smoke, Victoria Falls, Zambia

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Explorer David Livingstone is said to have first seen the splendor of Victoria Falls, a massive waterfall at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa from a tree. This tree has since been outfitted with steps and a platform where visitors can climb up for their own view of the falls. Different seasons yield different views, often only the “smoke” (mist) of the falls can be seen.

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The local name for the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya literally translates to Thunder Smoke. The roar of the falls sounds as loud as thunder and the Zambezi River water that ricochets back looks like a giant smoke cloud. Crossing the Knife Edge bridge at the falls, it can be hard to see from one end to the other with all of the water raining and re-raining back down when water is in high season, February-June.

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The drive from Zambia’s capital Lusaka to Livingstone is about 6-7 hours. This takes you nearly 500km along the T1 two lane highway, which is paved. Speed bumps and potholes are the biggest dangers as you pass through multiple small roadside towns and villages. There are also a few larger cities on the way, Kafue, Mazabuka, Choma, and several random police checkpoints with radar to make sure drivers aren’t flying at twice the posted limit.

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Whether you’re hunting for rainbows or monkeys, you’re likely to find them at Mosi-oa-Tunya. A short hike down to the boiling pot yields a picturesque view of the bridge to Zimbabwe, wildlife and jungle-like green plants thriving in from the mist of the falls. If you forget to bring your raincoat, you can rent a poncho or crocs before exploring because with high waters, you’re sure to get wet.

Book Review | Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila

tram 83 english book coverTranslated from the French, Tram 83 is Mwanza Mujila’s first novel and takes place in an unnamed African city-state resembling the DR Congo. Two middle-aged men, old friends Requiem and Lucien are the main characters. Requiem is heavily involved in illegal activity and Lucien, with a history degree, is trying to make it as a writer. Their meetings take place mainly in Tram 83, a seedy night club, influenced by surrounding mines, crooked statesmen, student activists, tourists and prostitutes.

Mwanza Mujila’s nonconforming writing style adds flavor to the text, but also at times makes it difficult to understand who’s saying what. Perhaps limiting the aliases and one line repetitions would have served this same purpose. The author has a remarkable talent for humanizing objects and concepts, through detailed descriptions. It was also refreshing for the character of the writer to stick to his ethical guns, despite having an unpopular and uncommon view in his surroundings. This book took nearly 30 pages to become interesting and is not recommended for those sensitive to sexuality in literature. Read the NPR article about the book and if you’re interested, check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe

arrows of rain coverArrows of Rain takes place in the imaginary African republic of Madia. The scene is set with the death of a prostitute being investigated on a beach. Split into three parts, the book relays the stories of two male protagonists: Femi, younger, a reporter, and Bukuru, older, a vagrant whose sanity is in question. Femi observes the arrest of Bukuru for murder and is later summoned to jail as the press recipient of Bukuru’s life story. This recounting is the meat of the novel and reveals a past riddled by trials of love, violence and political corruption.

Ndibe has received much critical acclaim for this novel. Beginning with a murder is one way to draw the reader’s attention. The text is straightforward and easy to read, with chronological jumps being very clear. Some situations seem more devoid of emotion than a reader may prefer, but this also allows for not becoming too caught up in or disturbed by the violence. This text does have graphic parts that may not be suitable for sensitive readers. Overall, the book was well written, but took longer to finish than I had anticipated because I was not very interested in the outcome, although I did enjoy cultural references. Check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Every Day Is for the Thief by Teju Cole

book cover Every day is for the thief As the book begins, the unnamed narrator is arriving back home in Lagos, Nigeria after having been away in New York for many years. Maturing as an NYU student in the city has allowed for a completely new view of his home upon return. Every Day Is for the Thief traces the narrator’s encounters during a short trip home as he reunites with family members, a few old friends, the public transit system and the inner workings of Lagos, a city that is both familiar and unfamiliar to him. This slice of life novel allows the reader to watch as bribes are extorted by police officers, piracy is conducted by shop owners and everything is kept afloat by the communal belief that just the general idea of something is enough to get by.

The book consists of short chapters with black and white photographs. Most chapters tell their own short story and could stand alone. Bound together they allow the reader to see a new place through familiar glasses. While the book was fairly short (around 160 pages with generous spacing on fairly small pages, frequent chapter breaks and photos), it took me a while to get through it. Contrary to raving reviews, I found the book mostly dull and didn’t have much desire to continue. Perhaps this is partly due to the number of past African fiction reads I’ve enjoyed much more. Though not Nigerian, J. M. Coetzee, Zakes Mda, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Zoë Wicomb told stories that provided a similar slice of life perspective, but with a more interesting story to bind everything together. Check out Every Day Is for the Thief at your local library.