1960s Classics

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Armah

The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born (Heinemann African Writers Series)

Five words from the blurb: Ghana, bribes, corruption, temptation, scorn

This week Kinna Reads is hosting Ghanaian Literature Week. Keen to join in I went online to research books from Ghana. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born was described as “a cornerstone of African literature” and “as important as Things Fall Apart by Achebe “. I hadn’t heard of it, but with quotes like that I felt I had to read it.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is set in the mid 1960s and confronts the corruption present in the country after its independence. The central character is an unnamed railway clerk who resists bribes. The book explores issues of integrity and shows what life is like for ordinary citizens who have to live with corruption on a daily basis.

Unfortunately this book was so slow and tedious to read that any impact was lost on me.

Crossing over to the side of the main connecting road nearer the sea, the man walked the whole distance to the Essei area, keeping just behind the breakwater that kept the sea from destroying the road. Now and then the headlights of some oncoming vehicle came and blinded him and afterward the darkness of the night was even deeper and more infinite than before, so that a little of the lost comfortable feeling of the man alone in the world outside, so unlike the loneliness of the beloved surrounded by the grieving loved ones, came back to him in little frustrating sweet moments that were gone before they could be grasped. And yet, in some region of his mind, the thought almost rose: that it should not really be possible for the guiltless to feel so beaten down with the accusation of those so near….

The sentence structure was often awkward and difficult to follow and the pace was so slow that it would take him several pages just to get out of his chair. Lots of profound statements were buried in the text, but I had so little connection to the characters that I didn’t care.

Things picked up a bit towards the end and so I managed to complete this short book (180 pages), but it took a lot longer than expected.

I can see why this is an important piece of African literature and I’m sure that much more would be revealed if you were to spend time studying the text, but I’m afraid I found it a frustratingly slow read.


Head over to Kinna Reads to discover more Ghanaian Literature.

1960s 1970s Non Fiction Recommended books

The Mountain People – Colin Turnbull


…..our much-vaunted human values are not inherent in humanity at all, but a luxury of ordered society.



Five words from the blurb: tribe, starvation, cruelty, individual, society 

In 1964 anthropologist Colin Turnbull spent two years living with the Ik, a tribe living in the mountainous borders of Uganda and Kenya. Crops had failed for two years in a row and people were dying from starvation. This book details the shocking events he witnessed as the people struggled to survive.

Turnbull saw that the basic structure of society seemed to have been lost as everyone cared only about themselves.

Children are useless appendages, like old parents. Anyone who cannot take care of himself is a burden and a hazard to the survival of others.

The old and young were left to die – food sometimes even being stolen from their mouths. The people failed to display any of the characteristics we think of as being common to all humans, failing to show the slightest degree of compassion for those who were suffering.

…she was totally blind and had tripped and rolled to the bottom of the oror a pirre’i, and there she lay on her back, her legs and arms thrashing feebly, while a little crowd standing on the edge above looked down at her and laughed at the spectacle.

The tribe were also unusual in that the structure of the family unit had completely broken down. Children were thrown out of the home at the age of three, elderly relatives were ignored, and even the husband-wife relationship was minimal.

This entire book had me gripped and questioning how strong our own society is. In many ways this book was similar to Blindness, but the scary thing is that Mountain People is true. Human beings actually did these things to one another and there is little to stop it from happening again somewhere else.

This book isn’t perfect – there are some points when the writing is a bit dry or when too many geographical or anthropological details are added to a section, but these are very minor issues.

This book is a fascinating insight into what could happen to a society when there simply isn’t enough food for all to survive. It is my favourite read of the year so far.


So how did I discover this fantastic book?
After my disapproval of Anne Robinson as a host on the recent My Life in Books TV series (because she doesn’t like fiction) I am almost embarrassed to admit that I first heard about this book in an article she wrote for the Radio Times. All I can say is that Anne Robinson has a fantastic taste in non-fiction books and I will be keeping an eye out for more of her recommendations in future.

2009 Other Prizes Recommended books

I Do Not Come To You By Chance – Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2010, Best First Book: Africa.

The short list for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize was announced last month and I was immediately drawn towards this book which centres on the world of a Nigerian email scammer. I am really pleased that I impulsively read this book, as I found it fascinating.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance follows Kingsley, a young Nigerian man who has a good education and a promising career ahead of him. His world is shattered when his father becomes ill and the family is unable to afford the treatment needed to save his life. Desperate to help his father, Kingsley turns to his mysteriously wealthy uncle and gets drawn in to the bizarre world of the email scammer:

At first, it was difficult. Composing cock-and-bull tales, with every single word an untruth, including ‘is’ and ‘was’. Blasting SOS emails around the world, hoping that someone would swallow the bait and respond. But I was probably worrying myself for nothing. They were just a bunch of email addresses with no real people at the other end anyway. Besides, who on this earth was stupid enough to fall prey to an email from a stranger in Nigeria?

The plot was quite simple and the writing wasn’t particularly beautiful, but the insight into the life of an email scammer had me hooked. I was fascinated by their activities – continually amazed by what they managed to get away with. I’d love to know how many of the events in this book had actually occurred. This is one of those books that I was telling everyone about, unable to believe that people actually respond to those dodgy emails we all get.

This book also had a very African feel to it. I loved the snippets of African mythology, all presented in a way that was easy for me to understand. It also raised some thought provoking questions, mainly revolving around whether or not it is OK to steal from the gullible rich, to give to the poorest in society.

Overall this was an amusing, insightful and ultimately uplifting tale about an underground world I previously knew nothing about.

Highly recommended.

Are you planning to read anything short listed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize?

2009 Historical Fiction Orange Prize

Black Mamba Boy – Nadifa Mohamed

 Long listed for 2010 Orange Prize

Last week the long list for the Orange prize 2010 was announced and I discovered that I already owned a copy of this one. I started to read it straight away, keen to discover why it made the list. 

Black Mamba Boy begins in 1930s Somalia and follows ten-year-old Jama as he sets out on a dangerous journey across the desert, searching for his father. He travels through war-torn Eritrea and Sudan, to Egypt, Palestine and finally to Britain.

The plot is based on the true story of what happened to the author’s father; it is amazing to think that one person endured so much hardship at such a young age. The terrible things that this little boy saw and had to endure to stay alive are almost beyond belief.

Unfortunately this book didn’t grab me in the way that it should. In the beginning too many characters were introduced, so I struggled to remember who was who. I failed to connect to Jama and so I felt distanced from the events he was witnessing. It could be that he was forced to grow up quickly, but I also didn’t feel that the book realistically portrayed a child’s point of view – he seemed to understand everything that was going on around him, having an adult’s comprehension of the world.

The book also contained long descriptions, which led my mind to wander away from the page.

Sand scratched in his eyes and blurred the path as it danced around the desert in a frenetic whirling ballet. Jama’s sarong was nearly pulled off by the mischievous sand jinns hiding within the storm. Jama covered his face with his sarong and managed to make slow progress like that. The dust storm had turned the sun a bright orange, until unashamed at its obscured power it crept away below the horizon to be replaced by an anaemic fragile-looking moon. Jama stumbled across the hill, kicking rocks away with bare feet, giant thorns poking and prodding dangerously. Desert animals scurried around looking for refuge, their small furry paws scrambling over Jama’s sand-swathed feet. Exhausted, Jama stopped and collapsed on the sand.

There is nothing wrong with these descriptions by themselves, but when you have to wade through pages and pages of them with no text to break things up it gets tedious. The repitition of the word Jama also began to irritate me.

Overall, I’m afraid I was disappointed by this book. I hope I’ll have more succes with my next Orange read.

There are very few reviews for this book out there at the moment, but it does seem to divide people. I think this is another Marmite book!

an amazing ride through the dusty, noisy but bustling streets of the some of the most important cities of North East Africa in the ’30’s. Lotus Reads

There are, however, moments when Black Mamba Boy stumbles…… Follow The Thread


My Driver – Maggie Gee

My Driver follows Vanessa Henman, an English author, who flies out to Uganda for an African Writer’s conference. Whilst there she seeks out Mary Tendo, a Ugandan who used to clean her London home. Mary now has a good job, but her son has gone missing and in the first of a string of coincidences Mary has recruited Vanessa’s ex-husband Trevor to build a well for her village.

This is my first Maggie Gee novel and I think I may have been disadvantaged by not reading My Cleaner first, as all the other reviews I’ve seen emphasise the role reversal which takes place from one novel to the next (in My Cleaner Vanessa is the dominant one, in her home country). I don’t think I missed out on understanding anything in the book, but think the symbolic importance of this sequel is one of its main positives.

The writing was rich and beautiful, the plot holding my attention and flowing smoothly. Unfortunately much of the novel seemed to rely on satire and gentle humor, which I do not enjoy.

It’s still slightly strange for small land-based mammals to be shot through the air, thirty thousand feet up, with a skin of metal and two fallible engines between them and death, at five hundred miles per hour, which is seven times faster than they drive on motorways. But they have to look calm, for every one’s sake; you can’t have constant hysteria at airports.

All the usual African themes are here, including poverty and war, but life in Kampala is particularly well described. Perhaps because I have been to this city I found these sections especially vivid.

There were powerful events in this novel, but they were written in such a light way that their impact was reduced. I ended the book feeling as though I’d been taken on a pleasant journey, but nothing outstanding or unique had occurred and so I don’t think the experience will be very memorable. 

Recommended to anyone you enjoys gentle, satirical humor. 

Gee’s pen flows with knowing satiric glee… Lizzy’s Literary Life

Maggie Gee’s writing is superb and nearly flawless. Wing’s World Web

Have you read any of Maggie Gee’s books?


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

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?