My first self published book: The Native Hurricane – Chigozie John Obioma

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I hadn’t read a self published book before I started this one. I had the impression that they were likely to be of a low quality, published for the author’s pleasure rather than the reader’s. I had no intention of reading one until someone (completely unconnected to the author) mentioned how good The Native Hurricane was. I was still unconvinced, but then a few weeks later I spotted another person raving about it. The coincidence was too much for my curiosity and so I decided to buy a copy.

I can see why it hasn’t been published in the UK – The Native Hurricane is the most African book I have ever read. The narrative hasn’t been toned down for Western readers, every sentence oozing African atmosphere. Initially I loved it, but unfortunately it soon became too much for me. I don’t have much knowledge of African traditions and so the folklore went over my head. I didn’t really understand what was happening, or the significance of each event.

But when I returned to my tent, the cry returned, even louder. I would go out three more times before realising that it was not the voice of a real woman, but just the echo of apparitions that were scattered on every tree in the evil forest, like invisible trees.

There was nothing wrong with the book – the writing quality was good and the characters well developed; the fault was with me, I just don’t know enough about their culture and that saddens me. I love reading books set in other countries, but my failure with this one leads me to question how realistic the books we are reading in the West are.

Are we just reading watered down versions of events rather than realistic portrayals of their society?

Are publishers only picking those books which are packed with clichés we think are representative of the countries mentioned?

This book makes me more determined to find books which show how Africans really live. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to come back to this book and understand what is happening.

I recommend this book to anyone with understanding of African mytholgy.

Have you read a self published book before?

Have you read any books which show the real Africa?

 


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42 Comments

  1. Meghan says:

    I wonder about this myself. How much are non-Western cultures watered down because we just don’t get it? I mean, it’s probably hard for us to learn about ALL cultures, given we have a limited amount of time, but I will be interested in seeing what you find.

    I have read a few self-published books. I only ever purchased one (the rest were sent to me for review). Oddly enough, the one I purchased was the best! It was a book about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn through time, portraying their characters as if they’d been reincarnated from ancient Egypt through to 1960’s America. Very intriguing, original, and surprisingly well-written. The rest fall on the scale from pretty good (by a creative writing prof) to absolutely terrible. I don’t review them these days!

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, The premise of the Henry VIII book sounds bizarre! It would have to be very well written to pull it off – I am intrigued now. What was it called?

  2. Verity says:

    How intriguing! I am interested by your idea that books that we read in Britain may be watered down in some way and look forward to hearing what other people say about it.

    I haven’t had much experience of self-published books either – occasionally I spot them in the library but as one doesn’t tend to see them in the bookshops it’s difficult to find out about them.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I think the problem is demostrated by this book. The way Africans view the world is very different to the way we do. Their beliefs were not explained in this book and so I struggled to follow what was happening. For it to have been published in the UK there would have had to be a lot of explanation added and I think that would have spoiled it.

      Self-published books aren’t easy to find, but you can get them quite easily online. The problem is that there are so many and you have no idea of the quality before buying. I think my attotude towards them will remain very cautious.

  3. Iris says:

    Those are some very interesting questions and I have to say that I tend to think the books we read in the west do contain watered down versions of ‘real life’ in Africa or other non-western countries. Maybve it’s comparable to Indian food being changed towards western tastes in the western world?
    I have been pondering this question myself, since I find itsurprising how most non-western books are about female oppression in these countries. It made me think if there are certain subjects we like to read about when we read about different countries.

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!

      I agree – a massive percentage of non-western books are about female oppression. I am sure that this isn’t what people in those countries want to read about all the time. There must be many more wonderful stories hidden in these countries. I hope I can find them!

      1. This also brings up the question of if we only want to read books set in other countries if we feel there’s a strong political message (that then allows us to feel educated). I’m not saying I’m immune to this at all, just wondering!

        1. Tracey says:

          This is a really good point. I love reading books set in different countries especially for the (hopefully authentic) learning opportunites they provide.

          Hmmm – food for thought.

          1. Jackie says:

            Tracey, It is good that we have at least thought about what we’re doing!

        2. Jackie says:

          Lija, Great point! I’m not that interested in politics. I am much more interested in how the human mind works and in feeling real emotion in a book. I want books to be original and unpredictible. I often find they are more likely to be unique if they come from a country I haven’t read about before. I do like it if I’m educated at the same time though :-)

        3. Iris says:

          That is a good point. I think it is likely that most of us share a feeling of wanting to learn about other countries, whether it be ‘real learning’ of facts or just trying to grasp the ‘feel’ of a country.

          And I agree with the comments below, it seems to me that it is inevitable to participate in things like reading about different countries, because we want to learn about them. Thinking about what makes us feel interested in that way must surely be important.

  4. Beth F says:

    The reason I don’t read self-published books is because I can’t stand to read a book that has not been professionally edited — All I see are the editing, punctuation, and grammatical errors, and it drives me nuts.

    I think books aren’t so much watered down for a Western audience as much as rewritten in terms (words) that are more familiar to us. But all books that are translated, whether from a different language altogether or from a patois or from a different culture will have lost a bit.

    Books published first in the UK are sometimes Americanized before being published in the U.S. We have different vocabularies and different slang that are sometimes confusing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, I find it really weird to know that books are changed between release in the US and the UK. I only recently found this out and am quite sad about it. I don’t want to read a book that has been made more English just for me – even if it is only from the US. I imagine the process is even more brutal from other countries.

  5. Andreea says:

    Interesting post! I must admit that I don’t know much about African culture myself, therefore, I don’t think that I would understand this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andreea, I thought I knew a bit, but this book proves I know very little!

  6. Andi says:

    I have read a few self-published books, and for the most part I have not had good luck with them, I’m sad to say. The ones I’ve run across did seem self-indulgent and of lower quality writing, though I understand that’s not always the case.

    As for how “true” to culture the books are that we read in the West, I’ve often wondered. I suppose the only solution is to talk amongst ourselves and read widely to see if we can get a feel for a culture if we don’t know about it first hand. I would also think translations might be more trustworthy or reputable since they’re drawing on “authentic” info.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, I think heading for translations is a good idea. I have found the most interesting Asian literature through translation so it makes sense to find some African books via the same means. I’ll let you know if I find any.

  7. Aarti says:

    I really dislike the phrase “the real Africa.” Or “the real” anything. It implies that a lot of what you read that doesn’t include certain aspects of writing or life somehow makes it less authentic. My life in America is real- just because it’s not like someone else’s, that doesn’t mean I’m not experiencing “the real America.”

    1. Jackie says:

      Aarti, Sorry for using a phrase you hate! I don’t mean that the books I have been reading are untrue, what I mean is that they always seem to focus on immigration or war. I want to read about the lives of normal people, from their perspective – not from the perspective of white immigrants.

      1. Aarti says:

        I’m sorry for sounding like such a jerk, Jackie! I didn’t mean to imply you used that term in the “wrong” way- just that I feel there are a lot of different versions of “real” and one being true doesn’t preclude others from being real, too. But I agree- there’s a lot more to life than the narrow topics some of the writing available to us covers.

        1. Jackie says:

          Aarti, Don’t worry – I think I understood what you meant! Let’s hope we have a wider range of topics to read about in the future.

  8. Stujallen says:

    i like the sound of this book and after seeing ben okri last year my head was full of african myths then

    1. Jackie says:

      Stujallen, Thank you for reminding me about Ben Okri. I loved The Famished Road, although some of the mythology in that went over my head too. I would love to hear him talk – lucky you!

  9. Sussan says:

    Jackie, the fact that the author is Nigerian intrigued me a lot. I goggled the name and saw a few short stories he’d published on line. I was wondering why nothing has been heard of him despite the fact that African writers no matter how little they’ve done are heard in their continent most especially those in Nigeria.

    I was intrigued by the title of this one and read it. Jackie, to say the least I was blown. “Portrait of The Nirvana.”
    http://www.blueprintreview.de/17nirvana.htm

    I believe this guy, Chigozie John Obioma is a writer to watch. Jackie I also found another review of his, this one coming from a Nigerian media based in the US, you might like it too.

    Thank you for revealing this.

    Yrs, Sussan Okoro.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sussan, Thank you for doing some further research for me! One of the people who raved about this book stated it was the best book they’d ever read. He was African and I can believe that this could be a fantastic book if you have knowledge of African mythology. I’m really pleased that you like the writing you have discovered. Perhaps he will be a famous author one day…

  10. Sussan says:

    sorry didn’t put the other link. Here, the Nigerians themselves, having a profound knowledge of African myth, rates it ahead of even raved African books. Here:

    http://www.kwenu.com/publications/obaze/2009/chigozie_native_hurricane.htm

  11. Teresa says:

    I avoid self-published books because so few of them are professionally edited. I have to read unedited writing for my job; I don’t want to read it in my leisure time as well. I’m sure that means I might miss a gem or two, but it’s not worth using up my valuable reading time.

    Regarding the whole question of authenticity and watered-down versions of Africa (or any other nation), I am trying to make a point of reading books by people from those countries, rather than just books about those countries. I imagine the books that actually get translated and published in Western countries are those with a more Western appeal, but at least the voices are authentic African voices. Bessie Head, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Tsetse Dangarembga are a few African authors whose books I’ve acquired recently. (I haven’t read them yet, so I can’t speak to how good they are.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, I see your point about the editing process. I think this book did suffer from a few editing problems, but I am willing to overlook things like that if the story is good enough. I can see why it would be a big distraction if that were your job though!

      I haven’t heard of the authors you mention. I’ll be keeping an eye out for your reviews.

  12. Jenners says:

    I’ve never read a self-published book before. I think I have a prejudice against them as being “indulgent” or “not good enough to get published.” Perhaps I need to get over that feeling.

    And what an interesting thought that perhaps we are being given watered down versions of other cultures.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I think most self-published books are indulgent, but I am sure there are a few good ones out there – not sure I want to be the one to find them though!

  13. I haven’t read any self-published books either.

    As opposed to a watered down version, I think we oft’ get a version that exaggerates the perceptions we may have of a country. Think Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire) is a prime example of that, where reality has been exaggerated and the reader is left confused as to the justice the book does he culture/country.

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, Q&A is a great example. It was a good book, but I agree that some of the things were exaggerated and it only focussed on certain things that would be entertaining to read about.

  14. Violet says:

    wow this sounds like something I would really enjoy. Indian and African mythologies are very similar, Indians have pagan culture just like Africans. So I’m assuming and hoping that I can relate and understand this book.

    Have you read Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe? I don’t think it’s about how people in Africa today but it will help you understand their deep rooted culture and traditions.

    Self Published books are lacking in quality in the terms of editing and stuff. I do review self published books but I am very careful while accepting them.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, I haven’t read Things Fall Apart yet, although I do have a copy here. I would love you to read this book and let me know your thoughts – I hope you decide to get a copy.

  15. caite says:

    I have to join those who have not had a lot of luck with self published books. Not cry out for a good editor…or even a not that great editor.

    1. Jackie says:

      caite, LOL! I can only imagine how bad some of the are!

  16. Dorte H says:

    I have read one self-published book in Danish – it was embarrasingly naive, and I can understand why she couldn´t sell it to ANY publisher. I have also written one American crime novel, Margot Kinberg´s Publish or Perish. A really solid police procedural. So perhaps there are all kinds?

    1. Jackie says:

      Dorte, I think that a lot of self published books will be terrible, but I’m sure there are a few fantastic ones too – especially in niche areas like this one.

  17. Dan Holloway says:

    I must say this sounds like a fascinating read. I really hope this encourages people who would enjoy this kind of book to buy it and give it a chance.

    I notice your comment to Dorte above and I think you’re right, that niche areas like this are JUST where self-published books come into their own. Very nervous to see what you’ll make of my self-published offering.

    You also raise an important question about what publishers do and don’t look for – my impression is that “world literature” for want of a better term is very much a growing market. I hope we continue to have the opportunity to enjoy more and more of the wonderful books from all parts of the globe.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, Your book is getting closer to the top of my TBR pile!

      I hope that we start to get more world literature published in the UK – especially in translation. The more research I do. the more I am surprised by how many fantastic, often award winning books we are missing out on.

  18. Stewart says:

    For African literature, get in at the ‘start’, with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Pick over the bones of the now defunt Heinemann African Writers’s Series (just type ‘african writers series’ into Amazon) and rub your hands in expectation of the phoenix from its flames, Penguin’s African Writers Series. To head off the beaten track, there’s the African Book Collective.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stewart, I have a copy of Things Fall Apart and hope to get to it soon. Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll enjoy browsing the African titles and hope I don’t spend too much money in the process!

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