Reliving histories: African novels

SHAUN SPROULE

Books can have a powerful influence on their readers. They can take readers on an immense journey of imagination, inspire life-long dreams and change closely held opinions. This power can be used for good or bad, and can be an important tool in helping people understand the lived experience of others.

The story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner

The novel follows the stories of three friends – Waldo, Em and Lyndall – from childhood to adulthood. It takes place in 19th Century South Africa ahead of The First Anglo Boer War, challenging the rigid social conventions of the time. The unorthodox views on religion, marriage and societal repression were controversial over a century ago, and still hold some influence now.

Buckingham Palace, District Six, Richard Rive

Set in 1966 during the full thrust of the Group Areas Act, the novel documents the lives of the diverse residents of Buckingham Palace at the base of Table Mountain. Readers can experience the characters victories, sadness and developments all with the backdrop of the crushing Group Areas Act and the damage it will most certainly cause to the community.

Dog Days: An Animal Chronicle, Alain Patrice Nganang

Set in the 1990s in Camaroon, Dog Days tells the story of Maboudjak as he relates his experience of being a “dog’ of the society around him. The other dogs and humans are distant and he finds himself in a world where he can’t even understand the language around him. The novel explores the throes of social and political change and the abuse of some ruling regimes. The novel is propelled by humour, with this as Maboudjak’s most important survival tool.

Hiding in Plain Sight, Nuruddin Farah

Bella is a fashion photographer who lives as she wants, entertaining multiple lovers and a glamorous lifestyle. This all comes to a potential end when Bella’s half-brother is murdered, leaving her niece and nephew possibly orphaned. Bella travels to Nairobi because of her protective instinct for the children. The novel explores family obligations and the ways that a political climate can affect an individual.

Black Moses, Alain Mabanckou

Black Moses was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize this year and follows Moses in the 1970s revolution in the People’s Republic of Congo. The revolution strenghthens the reign of terror in the more rural areas where Moses grew up. This novel is the comic tale of a Congolese Robin Hood, a man who is obsessed with helping the helpless.

The hairdressers of Harare, Tendai Huchu

A story of love and friendship, The Hairdressers of Harare follows Vimbai who owns a successful hair salon in Zimbabwe’s capital. Her business is threatened when Dumisani opens his own salon, drawing customers from her own salon. The two eventually become allies, and more, but this is all threatened by Dumi’s shady past. The novel reflects on perceptions people have and challenges inequality in Africa’s most misunderstood regions.

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