On Monday I reviewed The Ghosts of Eden, a beautifully written book about two very different boys who grow up in Africa, and then fall in love with the same woman. I have the pleasure of being able to give away a copy of this great book, so that you can discover how good it is for yourself.
The author, Andrew Sharp, has kindly agreed to judge the competition, and has written a thought provoking question for you to answer:
Authors writing about Africa – particularly white authors living outside Africa – would be glass-eyed not to find themselves glancing up in uneasy self-examination after reading Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s piece in Granta magazine titled ‘How to write about Africa’.
His article is a sound-off against the stereotypes and clichés that appear all too often in books set in, or about, his continent. There are the sunsets: ‘always big and red’. There is the ‘big sky’ and ‘Wide Empty Spaces’. There’s ‘The Starving African’. There’s ‘The Modern African’ who is ‘a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa’.
Subjects never covered in these books include ‘ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans.’ Also: ‘Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances.’ ‘Animals’ as opposed to Africans ‘… must be treated as well rounded, complex characters….’ with ‘family values: see how lions teach their children?’
Oh, and make sure that you mention that ‘monkey-brain is an African’s cuisine of choice’.
Wainaina is hitting out at books that patronise Africans, as well as rolling his eyes at overused description, but the article raises questions about whose perspective a novelist writes from.
A novel’s tone, themes and portrayals come from the imagination of the author, and that imagination rises like vapour from a mind that has been landscaped to a great extent by the cultural background of its owner.
So, finally, the question:
Is it really possible for a writer to take a reader into the viewpoint of a character from a different culture to their own, or is this unattainable – and does it matter?
For a chance to win The Ghosts of Eden, just answer Andrew’s question in the comments section below.
The competition closes on the 2nd July, and is open to everyone in the world!