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Quarterly update of African literature titles | books, articles, interviews, book reviews | conferences, seminars, book events

Editorial

Dear reader,

Here's your quarterly update of African literature, poetry and literary criticism. I hope you'll find enough interesting titles in it to read during your Christmas holiday.

Let's find peace in our hearts by reading and reflecting, because, with the end of 2016 nearing, peace in the world seems further away than ever.

I'd like to thank you for your support in the past year; the writers for their lovely books and articles; the publishers for their book alerts; the book reviewers for their writings and you, the readers, for your enthusiasm and continued interest!
I wish you all a merry Christmas and a very happy New YearI

Gilbert Braspenning (Editor Africa Book Link)

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Les littératures de la Corne de l'Afrique. Regards croisés - Paola Ranzini (dir.) | Une critique par Ewout Decoorne

La Corne de l’Afrique, une région aussi diverse que distincte, reste jusqu’à présent sous-représentée dans les ouvrages scientifiques consacrés aux littératures africaines. Une contribution visant à explorer les multiples expressions littéraires issues des quatre États actuels qui constituent la Corne (à savoir l’Éthiopie, la Somalie, l’Érythrée et la Djibouti) et de la diaspora en Europe (principalement en Italie), et ceci dans un volume de grande ampleur thématique, est donc plus que bienvenue. Comme l’indique le sous-titre, ce livre nous présente des regards croisés. Il s’agit de regards extérieurs, provenant de propos des historiens, chercheurs, journalistes, mais aussi de regards venus de l’intérieur du métier littéraire, jetés par des écrivains situés aussi bien dans la Corne de l’Afrique qu’ailleurs. Ainsi, la notion de pluralité fonctionne comme pierre angulaire dans le développement des thèses différentes explorées dans ce vaste projet. Ne vous attendez donc pas à un survol introductoire qui effectue un trajet linéaire, traversant des périodes historiques successives et incluant d’une façon balancée tous les espaces culturels de la Corne. Il s’agit plutôt d’un florilège, composé des meilleures contributions scientifiques récentes, qui constituent ensemble une introduction élaborée qui comprend les multiples traditions littéraires de la Corne et de la diaspora d’une manière aussi polymorphe que l’apparence des littératures de la Corne elle-même.
 
Les auteurs de l’avant-propos, Olivier Favier et Anna Proto Gonzalez, soulignent avant tout leur perspective transnationale et multidisciplinaire en explorant les relations littéraires qu’entretiennent l’Europe et la Corne, et les États de la Corne entre eux. La migration transcontinentale comme phénomène actuel déclenché pour la plus grande partie dès l’époque coloniale, et par conséquent la notion de l’exil, fonctionnent ainsi à la fois comme lien géographique, culturel et historique. Un deuxième point de départ concerne la conceptualisation de l’auteur comme intermédiaire intellectuel qui diffuse les idées de sa communauté d’origine à travers des frontières aussi bien politiques que mentales. La prise de parole des auteurs, et surtout des écrivains femmes, est vu comme un engagement qui dépasse les soucis individuels, mais devient un militantisme au service des causes collectives. Cet ouvrage veut comprendre la transformation du discours littéraire qu’entreprennent des textes dans leur trajet de la Corne jusqu’à la diaspora dans toute son envergure. La structure du livre suit cette démarche.
 
Dans une première partie, Didier Morin, spécialiste des langues et littératures de la Corne, fournit une introduction historique. À cause de l’ampleur de cette entreprise, vu la grande diversité culturelle, thématique et typologique que manifestent les littératures de la Corne, ce chapitre semble devenir trop dense pour faciliter une lecture confortable par les non-initiés. Surtout les passages qui expliquent les technicités des traditions poétiques semblent parfois abstraits. Les explorations théoriques du dynamisme entre la scripturalité et l’oralité risquent de sauter du coq-à-l’âne. L’abondance de termes en orthographe phonétique et d’extraits non-traduits en anglais et en italien intensifie encore le degré de complexité. Tout de même, les éclaircissements profonds de la situation linguistique, de la configuration politique, des fonctions sociales de la poésie et des performances à travers le temps et de la genèse de « la Corne de l’Afrique » comme dénomination d’une catégorie culturelle bien définie restent indispensables pour soutenir les thèses élaborées dans les chapitres suivants. Surtout l’attention consacrée aux transpositions culturelles, religieuses et linguistiques, c’est-à-dire aux influences postérieures des traditions anciennes, permet d’apprécier plus profondément les voix exilées, porteuses de sentiments nostalgiques et schizophrènes selon Morin, comme l’on peut le signaler chez de célèbres exilés comme Nuruddin Farah, Ayaan Hirsi Ali ou Waris Dirie.
 
Les chapitres qui constituent la deuxième partie explorent ces « voix de la diaspora » en grand détail. William Souny commence par examiner d’une façon très claire l’essentialisme somalien de la « nation de poètes », une conception quasi mythique qu’on peut retracer jusqu’au fameux orientaliste Richard Burton. Souny identifie des expressions de soomaalinnimo (somalité) traversant des frontières nationales, de diverses modes de communication (y compris internet), des agendas politiques divergents et finalement la division entre les sexes. À titre d’illustration du raisonnement étendu d’une voix exilée, Madelena Gonzalez explore les différents niveaux narratologiques dans ce qu’elle appelle une « esthétique du doute » dans la trilogie Du sang au soleil de Nuruddin Farah. Élaborant sur les modèles théoriques établis par des chercheurs de signature postmoderniste et postcolonialiste, Gonzalez cherche à démontrer comment cette esthétique aliénante sert comme outil de résistance à l’autorité monolithique, élément si caractérisant des dictatures comme la Somalie de Siyaad Barre. Bernard Urbani, ensuite, nous présente sa lecture d’une autre trilogie, celle de l’écrivain djiboutien Abdourahman Ali Waberi. S’inscrivant dans une littérature-monde, l’œuvre de Waberi remet en question les vérités nationalistes et les identités plurielles par l’usage de références intertextuelles, de réflexions mystificatrices et de l’adoption de la langue de l’Autre, notamment le français. Ce nouvel espace littéraire qui révise la nation et la langue comme éléments définitoires est exploré dans un excellent essai par Daniele Comberiati, dans lequel il tente de trouver une place pour les concepts de maison, patrie et nation au sein de la littérature italienne postcoloniale. Comberiati complexifie des assertions courantes concernant la littérature italienne contemporaine en se reposant fortement sur les idées postcolonialistes de, entre autres, Homi Bhabha, et en soutenant une ré-conceptualisation de la littérature à base d’une taxonomie basée sur des contrastes générationnels. Les processus littéraires en cours dans cet espace postcolonial sont bien concrétisés grâce aux témoignages fournis par Simone Brioni dans un prochain chapitre. Sa contribution parle de trois œuvres artistiques dont deux documentaires auxquels Brioni lui-même a collaboré comme co-auteure.     
 
Une grande partie, c’est-à-dire trois chapitres successifs, est consacrée à une discussion profonde du roman et de la performance Regina di fiori e di perle (Reine de fleurs et de perles) de l’écrivaine italo-éthiopienne Gabriella Ghermandi. Les deux premiers chapitres se penchent respectivement sur la version écrite du roman et sa transformation sur scène. Anna Proto Pisani et Paola Ranzini, les auteures correspondantes des deux études, présentent un exposé exhaustif et fortement plausible sur cet ouvrage intriguant de Ghermandi. Elles mettent vigoureusement en valeur la prolixité méthodologique propagée à travers le livre entier, ce qui reflète la continuité littéraire qui relie langue, culture et société. Un troisième chapitre présente des extraits du roman en traduction. Regina di fiori e di perle, l’histoire d’une fille ayant comme devoir la transmission du passé éthiopien en Italie à travers des histoires, sert comme parfaite illustration de la conceptualisation de la littérature que ce livre nous présente. Les tensions entre l’exil, la migration et la tradition y sont explorés dans un discours qui, dans ses préoccupations éthiques et esthétiques, allie la terre d’origine et le pays d’accueil, la tradition et la modernité, la narration écrite et orale… Les extraits tirés de l’œuvre de Ghermandi, et aussi du recueil de récits Fra-intendimenti de Kaha Mohamed Aden avec les multiples exemples entrelacés à travers les chapitres, enrichissent la rencontre du lecteur avec la complexité et la profondeur des textes littéraires.  
 
La troisième partie du livre concerne les « regards européens » sur la Corne. Olivier Favier étudie l’image familière et stéréotypée de la Corne comme un enfer éternel à travers quatre écrivains-reporteurs européens qui, chacun de sa propre manière, ont dépeint ce coin de l’Afrique dans leur écriture. Une entreprise avec beaucoup de potentiel qui manque néanmoins d’esprit synthétisant cultivé dans les chapitres précédents. Le dernier chapitre reproduit le témoignage du journaliste Léonard Vincent sur le fait d’écrire sur l’Érythrée, un pays quasi totalitaire qui interdit toute entreprise journaliste libre. De cette raison, Vincent parle de « trafiquer dans l’inconnu ». Son regard, comme celui de Brioni, provient de l’intérieur du processus littéraire.
 
En tournant la dernière page, le lecteur a parcouru une grande partie de l’univers des littératures de la Corne. Tout l’éventail de genres pratiqués, de personnes impliquées et de traditions soutenues a été dévoilé dans une narration aussi hybride que la conceptualisation de l’objet d’étude. La remise en question des catégories préétablies qui définissent trop souvent nos idées préconçues sur la littérature en générale, et de la Corne de l’Afrique en particulier, reste sans doute le plus grand accomplissement de cette étude. Cependant, à certains moments, le livre comme entité unique risque de s’égarer dans cette configuration fluide. Certains chapitres contribuent peu aux thèses élaborées dans l’avant-propos. Ceci ne veut certainement pas dire qu’ils sont superflus. Il s’agit avant tout d’une sélection inévitablement arbitraire d’essais, de textes littéraires et de témoignages provenant du vaste champ littéraire de la Corne. Grâce à cette ampleur, Les littératures de la Corne de l’Afrique est un instrument convenable pour les dilettantes et étudiants désireux de découvrir les littératures peu connues de cette région. À condition peut-être que le lecteur soit prêt à adopter une perspective sur la littérature aussi hybride que celle exemplifiée ingénieusement par les auteurs.

Paola Ranzini (dir.), Les littératures de la Corne de l’Afrique. Regards croisés (Paris : Éditions Karthala 2016). ISBN 9782811114893 ; Disponible sur www.karthala.com ;
308 p.
 
Ewout Decoorne
 .
 

Dunia Yao. Utopia/Dystopia in Swahili Fiction - Clarissa Vierke and Katharina Greven (Eds.) | A Review by Anja Oed

Recent years have seen a renewed scholarly interest in utopian and/or dystopian literary writing more generally. With regard to postcolonial and, most specifically, African literature, Keith Booker was one of the first to comment on the fact that “while “[p]ostcolonial writers, actively engaged in the construction of cultural identities for their new societies, often include strong utopian elements in their work ... actual experience in the postcolonial world has been anything but utopian” (1995: 58). As he argued, “[i]t thus may not be entirely surprising that recent postcolonial literature has taken a powerfully dystopian turn”. Likewise, Ralph Pordzik, observed an “unexpected new departure” (my translation) for dystopian fiction since the beginning of the 1990s (2002: 10). According to Booker, “[t]his phenomenon is particularly pro­nounced in African fiction” (1995: 58). In the same vein, Abiola Irele noted that “the postcolonial condition has determined a strong dystopian current” in 21st century African novels, the objective of which is “a new discourse of dissidence […] aimed at uncovering the pa­tho­­logies of gov­ern­­­ance that have con­tri­buted so massively to the tragic unfolding of the post­co­lo­nial con­di­tion in Africa” (2009: 10).

The volume co-edited by Clarissa Vierke and Katharina Greven addresses a trend in Swahili literature and, most specifically, Swahili novels since the 1990s, which are often referred to as “new” or “experimental novels” and many of which resonate with aspects of utopian and/or dystopian writing. Dunia Yao, the 2006 novel by Said Ahmed Mohamed evoked in the volume’s title, represents, as the editors say, an “important example of the trend”, being set in a constructed, distant future world and offering “views on nightmarish sceneries of devastation and chaos”. However, the specific focus on utopia/dystopia in Swahili fiction, as indicated by the title of the book, is not shared by all authors who have contributed to the volume. This may partly be explained by the fact that the volume is based on a colloquium (Bayreuth, 2012) in honour of Said Ahmed Mohamed, to whom the book is also dedicated. His work appears to be identified with both the new, experimental novels and the dystopian trend in recent Swahili fiction to such a degree that any topic related to his work more generally might have seemed to naturally fall within the range of the focus of the book. The editors of the volume recognise Said Ahmed Mohamed as  “the most versatile contemporary Swahili writer” (p. 20) who, under the name of Said Khamis, was Professor of Literatures in African Languages at the University of Bayreuth in Germany for many years.

The volume is divided in three parts, preceded by an introduction. In the introduction, the editors highlight the current dystopian trend in contemporary Swahili fiction and delineate the aims of the book. Most specifically, the volume is concerned with the aesthetic as well as the sociocritical dimension of the new, experimental Swahili novels.

The first part of the volume is entitled “A ‘new’ trend: perspectives of literary history” and comprises three chapters. Lutz Diegner’s focus is on the overall achievement of Said Ahmed Mohamed as a “committed writer”, an “opulent rhetorician” and a “valiant artist” (p. 32), which he discusses with close reference to all of this writer’s eight novels published at the time the colloquium was held. Mikhail D. Gromov is concerned with the new Swahili novel and its distinctive features more generally, which, according to him, include “the traits inherent to dystopia as a literary genre” (68). Most specifically, he examines the ways in which the new Swahili novel in Kenya intertextually relates to but also differs from its counterpart and predecessor in Tanzania as well as works in Swahili by earlier Kenyan writers. He argues that one of the distinct features of Kenyan Swahili novels is that they “seem to stress more the dystopian nature of present-day political reality, rather than to give a general philosophical overview and perspective of human existence” (p. 68). The chapter by Clarissa Vierke is the only one in this section which specifically and coherently relates to the overall topic of the volume. Against the backdrop of “nightmarish” representations of cityscapes in 21st-century African literature more generally (p. 75), she explores Said Ahmed Mohamed’s 2001 novel Babu Alipofufuka as an example of the employment of “the unhomely city” as a literary figuration in more recent Swahili dystopian literature. Tracing this figuration back to earlier Swahili texts she claims that “[b]oth dystopia as a narrative pattern as well as the ‘unhomely’ city are part of a Swahili intellectual history” (p. 88).

The second part presents “Readings of the novel beyond realism” and also comprises three chapters. Elena Bertoncini more generally discusses postmodern characteristics in Swahili fiction and drama “instead of discussing fictional dystopias” (p. 105), wanting to avoid overlaps with what either she or others have said elsewhere. She points out that the works she examines “employ a postmodernist approach to draw a nightmarish future of destruction for African societies” (p. 105) and notes that “utopia/dystopia and heterotopia” are among “the features associated with postmodernism”, which she exemplifies with regard to at least some of the texts she discusses (p. 107). Alena Rettová’s chapter is concerned with “departures from literary realism” in more recent Swahili fiction as well as their philosophical, ethical, political and economic implications (p. 113). While her discussion of mimesis on the one hand and magical realism on the other has a strong theoretical orientation relevant beyond the Swahili context, her analysis focuses, most specifically, on Said Ahmed Mohamed’s Baba Alipofufuka.

Peter Simatei, in turn, explicitly relates the association of Baba Alipofufuka with magical realism to what he calls the novel’s “utopian/dystopian impulses”. He argues that the novel “construct[s] a dystopia that Tanzania and other African countries have, or would become, as a result of unfettered globalisation”, and “imagines the utopic foundations of such a world” (p. 147).

The third part of the volume – the only whose title explicitly relates to the topic of utopia/utopia – is headed “Utopia as socially committed narrative” and comprises four chapters. Abdilatif Abdalla and Geoffrey Kitula King’ei, whose chapters are written in Swahili and for information on which I have had to rely on the editors’ introduction, both “concentrate on realist writing, to expand the view on the novel beyond the ‘new’ trend, offering a base for comparison but also to challenge the neat dichotomy between realist and magic-realist writing” (p. 18). Abdilatif Abdalla highlights “the sociopolitical dimension of the realist Swahili novel”. He suggests that its ability to “offer a panoramic view of society [...] is an important means to change it” (p. 18). Geoffrey Kitula King’ei, in turn, examines “the utopian aspect in Said Ahmed Mohamed”, stressing the responsibility of writers “to critically react to social dismay” in but also beyond their own society (p. 18). Most specifically, he analyses Said Ahmed Mohamed’s “particular use of language and imagery” in ‘Sikate Tamaa (p. 19), an anthology of poetry.

Magdalina N. Wafula’s chapter relates the concepts of utopia and dystopia to the theme of generational conflict in Said Ahmed Mohamed’s Dunia Yao. She concludes that “[b]y envisioning a utopian past and contrasting it with the dystopian present, the [novel’s] ‘implied author’ attempts to come to terms with the marked differences between the colonial, postcolonial and postmodern realities in most [...] African countries” (p. 198). Her chapter also contains a longer section on magical realism with regard to Dunia Yao, which, as she suggests, “has been utilized to depict the utopia/dystopia dichotomy manifested in the generational conflicts” in the novel (p. 206). Ken Walibora Waliaula, whose chapter also focuses on Dunia Yao, takes up the riddle posed by the novel’s title, “Their World”, asking which and whose world is meant and whether there is “an antithesis to this dunia yao” (p. 211). His analysis is playfully staged as “unravelling the mystery of Dunia Yao” (p. 224). He concludes that the household of Ndi, the novel’s protagonist, should be perceived “as a national allegory of a nation imagining itself as ‘developing’, whether it is Zanzibar, where the author was born, or any other African country” (p. 224). In his final sentence, he suggests that in a sense, Dunia Yao might even “be said to be the autobiography of Mohamed, his world and our world” (p. 225). In a way, this seems a fitting conclusion to this volume as a whole, whose first chapter represents an “Appraisal of Said Ahmed Mohamed’s novels” and all of whose chapters – as the editors highlight in the introduction – “focus on at least one of his writings”, or even exclusively on one or more of his works (p. 20).

As a scholar with a strong research interest in African-language literatures I emphatically welcome book-length studies as well as edited volumes on topics in literary criticism on creative writing in specific African languages and I am, therefore, most delighted to see the publication of this volume. I have a minor issue with the fact that the editors substantiate the relevance of its thematic focus by claiming that African-language literatures have not “been described in terms of their utopian/dystopian perspectives” (p. 8). On the one hand, this may well be true, especially in view of the fact that research on this topic in African literatures more generally (i.e., including literature in the former colonial languages) has likewise been rare. On the other hand, as research on African-language literatures might very well be produced in an African language, scholars would, in my opinion, be well advised to avoid claims like this. Apart from inadvertently marginalising literary criticism conducted in African languages such claims seem to imply that research on a topic in literature in one specific African language is not a valid enough project in itself but somehow requires to be made more widely relevant with reference to literatures in other, or even all, African languages. In fact, the volume itself, with two of ten chapters written in Swahili, serves as an excellent reminder of the fact that literary research produced in the same African language as the object of study is not always the exception and may even be a preferred option, co-existing with research in internationally more accessible languages such as English or French.

English- or French-language literary criticism on literatures in African languages obviously plays a significant role in increasing the latters’ international visibility and enhancing their accessibility as well as the possibility of comparative analyses. While access to literary criticism of works written in a particular African language does not, of course, render it unnecessary to read those works for oneself, preferably even in the original language, it may afford international literary scholars a more balanced and sophisticated view of African literature and the numerous and extremely diverse literary traditions assembled under its umbrella. As English- and French-language criticism on African-language literatures implies a (most welcome) invitation to wider, international scholarly readerships, an edited volume should clearly indicate which language/s it is written in, regardless of how natural, legitimate and desirable literary criticism in African languages in principle is. While the publishers’ website does specify that the book comprises contributions written in English as well as Swahili neither the book’s title nor its back blurb indicate this fact. Once again, this is, of course, a very minor issue. Also, the “Overview of the content” section in the editors’ introduction does include a few sentences on the two chapters written in Swahili. Additionally, it might have been helpful to provide English-language abstracts of these chapters to allow readers not familiar with the Swahili language a more detailed insight into the two authors’ lines of argument.

All in all, the volume represents an important and valuable contribution to a growing body of book-length critical studies of topics in Swahili literary discourse. By focusing on more recent developments in Swahili literary history, it provides a fascinating perspective on aspects of, as well as critical discourse on, the aesthetics and sociocritical concerns of contemporary Swahili literature. This makes it relevant not only to scholars of Swahili literature but of African literatures more generally. To international scholars primarily interested in utopia/dystopia research, the volume may be of more limited interest, as not all chapters (including some of the otherwise most profound ones) specifically address this topic or do so only indirectly or in passing (Diegner, Rettová, Abdalla, Waliaula). Some chapters approach it from a much wider perspective, as only one among several aspects of the “new” or postmodern Swahili novel/literature (Gromov, Bertoncini). The chapters which do explicitly focus on specific aspects of Swahili literature in relation to the utopia/dystopia theme vary in terms of theoretical foundation and analytical depth. Even so, however, the volume fills a major gap, drawing attention to the perhaps obvious, but sometimes underestimated fact that African-language literatures partake of and creatively interact with global discourses and paradigms in multiple ways. In this respect, it enhances future comparative research.

Works cited:

Booker, M. Keith, 1995: “African literature and the world system: dystopian fiction, collective experience, and the postcolonial condition”. Research in African Literatures 26, 4, 58-75.

Irele, F. Abiola, 2009: “Introduction: perspectives on the African novel”. In: F. Abiola Irele (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to the African Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-14.

Pordzik, Ralph, 2002: “Utopischer und post-utopischer Diskurs in den neuen englisch­spra­chi­gen Literaturen”. In: Ralph Pordzik and Hans Ulrich Seeber (eds.): Utopie und Dystopie in den neuen englischen Literaturen. Heidelberg: Winter, 9-26.

Clarissa Vierke and Katharina Greven (Eds.), Dunia Yao. Utopia/Dystopia in Swahili Fiction, Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe, 2016, ISBN: 978-3-89645-736-3, 232 pp.

The Yearning -  Mohale Mashigo | A Review by Beverley Jane Cornelius

“The Yearning never stops till we embrace everything that brought us here. In our quiet denial, The Yearning devours us,” explains the narrator and protagonist at the beginning of Mohale Mashigo’s novel, The Yearning (2016). Marubini Khumalo tells the story of how she comes to learn about the secrets of her own past in order to embrace a deeper meaning of life. It is a tale of trauma revisited, not only her own trauma, but also that of her family and her community. 
 
‘Yearning’— with a capital ‘Y’— is central to Marubini’s tale. Yet the nature and object of these feelings of longing are not explained at the outset, and she, herself, is initially unaware that there are hidden desires and traumas submerged in the deep recesses of her psyche. However, within the 185 pages of the novel, which is divided into five sections, Mashigo, the author, systematically introduces the protagonist’s latent longings, searches for their origins, and proposes their satisfying resolution.
 
Marubini appears to be a thoroughly modern and emancipated, 21st century South African woman: successful in her marketing career, confident in her sexuality and her relationship, and happy in her friendships, she is enjoying life. Until uncanny experiences begin to unsettle and disrupt her contentment. A series of strange events begins with the glimpse of something not-quite-seen out of the corner of her eye as she works quietly at home one evening, a dark and ominous presence that threatens her equilibrium and has her questioning her sanity. As these episodes become more persistent it is impossible to brush them aside merely as symptoms of work related stress.   
 
On one occasion a particularly menacing visitation manifests in a seizure that renders Marubini unconscious for two days. She wakes with bandaged wrists, unable to explain the cause of the lacerations — attempted suicide is suspected — and her family and friends become wary of her mental state. Here, the author skillfully depicts the feelings of isolation that compound the suffering of those with mental ill health, and their need for meaningful engagement and empathy. Mashigo furthermore explores the relationship between psychiatry and spirituality. Despite (or perhaps because of) the intervention of a psychiatrist, Marubini’s strange experiences persist, prompting a process of determined questioning about the past that leaves her emotionally exposed and vulnerable. The juxtapositioning of strength and vulnerability is foreshadowed by the book’s striking cover design: it bears the image of a woman’s eye staring directly at the camera with a steadfast, determined gaze that, simultaneously, renders her vulnerable.  
 
Ultimately, the protagonist has no choice but to explore her past.  As the voices in her head prompt fractured but insistent memories, Marubini visits her childhood home in Johannesburg asking the questions that have thus far been avoided. Questions, for example, about her father’s sudden death.  As she moves physically between Cape Town and Johannesburg in the narrative present, she also imaginatively revisits these same places at an earlier time: she remembers walking the streets of Johannesburg with her father, for example, listening to her grandfather’s stories on the verandah of their house, and participating in a traditional rite of passage into womanhood at her maternal grandmother’s rural village home in the north of South Africa. Most importantly, she remembers — now, more vividly — her father’s and paternal grandmother’s practices as traditional spiritual healers (known locally as sangoma). Finally, it is with her much younger brother, Simphiwe, that Marubini finds a resonating understanding. A talented artist, he uncannily captures the images of Marubini’s dreams, nightmares, and visions in his drawings. 
 
In this exploration of ancient spirituality and African tradition, then, the author raises the question of how profound practices are to be incorporated into African life in the 21st century. The novel presents an entanglement of spirituality and political affinity, and of traditional and modern practices, and highlights the questions and responses prompted by the cultural overlapping and integration of blended South African communities. These are the issues that Marubini grapples within a narrative that progresses from a prologue, ‘The Yearning’, through four chapters — ‘The Name’, ‘The Father’, ‘The Son’ and ‘The Holy Spirit’ — and ends with a suitably titled concluding epilogue, ‘Amen’, which indicates an embrace of ‘everything that brought us here’.
 
Gradually, by recognizing ancient spiritual and traditional practices, together with modern psychotherapy and family counsel, Marubini is able to ‘embrace everything that brought [us/her] here’.  She is able, as a consequence, to face the unresolved traumas of her past; and, because there is no longer a ‘quiet denial’, the feelings of yearning cannot ‘devour’ her or dominate her life.
 
The Yearning examines profound themes and its subject matter may appear dark at times, but it is by no means a sombre read as the author has employed an accessible and enjoyable tone. The contemporary setting and characters are carefully rendered and recognizable, which is enhanced by the natural dialogue. The more serious concerns of the narrative are offset by the normal concerns of a modern young woman, including platonic and romantic relationships, sex (here Mashigo has a deft touch), and the politics of family gatherings. The pacing of the action is consistent and there is a steady intensity to the introduction and processing of traumatic memories, leading to a satisfying conclusion. The Yearning is a well-balanced and thoughtful novel. 
 
The Yearning (2016) is Mohale Mashigo’s debut novel, published by Picador Africa, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-77010-484-6

Board

  • Editor: Gilbert Braspenning
  • Advisory Board:
    • Dr. Daniela Merolla (Associate professor Leiden University)
    • Dr. Julius-Adeoye Rantimi Jays (Redeemer’s University, Nigeria)
    • Dr. Elisabeth Bekers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
    • Dr. Gitte Postel (De Klare Lijn / Campus Coaches)
    • Dr. Abdelbasset Dahraoui (Prins Bernhard Culture Fund)
    • Dr. Elisa Diallo (S. Fischer Publishing)
  • Editorial Board:
    • Prof. dr. Austin Bukenya (Makerere University)
    • Dr. Elizabeth Mahenge (University of Dar es Salaam)
    • Katrien Polman, M.A. (African Studies Centre Leiden (retired))
    • Prof. dr. Ruth Finnegan (The Open University, Londen)
    • Dr. Sola Adeyemi (University of Greenwich)
    • Prof. dr. Inge Brinkman (Ghent University)
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