Tag Archives: New Short Fiction from Africa

Review: ID – New Short Fiction from Africa, edited by Helen Moffett, Nebila Abdulmelik and Otieno Owino

ID Selfie

Helen’s ID selfie

We often open books to read stories about characters we can identify with. It is a search for sympathy and understanding. Picking up a book which actually reflects your own image back at you, however, is rather rare. But this is exactly what the latest Short Story Day Africa (SSDA) anthology, ID: New Short Fiction from Africa, does. The book’s cover is partly a mirror in which you can see fragments of your face.

Focusing on the theme of identity – whether we interpret ‘ID’ as short for one’s ‘identity document’ which can official represent you, or as one’s ‘subconscious’ in Freudian terms – the stories in this book are about “who we are” and “who we choose to be” on the African continent and in the world. The collection features the winning entries of the SSDA Prize and twenty other stories by writers from across the African continent.

The story which took the $800 top prize, All Our Lives by Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor, sweeps us along as we follow the trials and tribulations of a group of young men drifting in and out of Nigerian cities. Sew My Mouth by Cherrie Kandie is a touching exploration of the challenges a lesbian couple experiences in urban Nairobi. In Per Annum, a stunning piece of speculative fiction, the Johannesburg-based writer Mpho Phalwane tells the story of a group of young people fighting a corrupt government to keep their memories alive. The entire anthology challenges us to know our diverse selves.

ID: New Short Fiction from Africa

Edited by Helen Moffett, Nebila Abdulmelik & Otieno Owino

Short Story Day Africa, 2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 8 March 2019.

Great, even life-changing – the books of 2015

Another great year of reading is coming to an end, although it did not start that way. I am grateful to the love that has returned my passion for reading to me when reading – when life – became unbearable.
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Knowing how few books one can read in a lifetime (I won’t depress you with the estimate), I have become quite selective and wise about what I read. Thus, out of the sixty-three books I have read this year (until today, some not for the first time), almost all were good, thirty-one were great – among them were a few which were life-changing – and only two I did not finish. Of these two, one was brilliant, but I was reading it on 6 February and have not been able to return to it. The other one I had wonderful hopes for, but I was so disappointed and frustrated that after a hundred pages I decided not to waste more of my time on it. In the spirit of the festive season, the perpetrator shall remain unnamed.

The great ones I have finished, I would like to divide among four categories: relevant, delightful, exquisite, and life-changing (whereas some, of course, overlap).

There are old-time favourite authors on my list like Alexandra Fuller and Ivan Vladislavić, but also new discoveries like Pamela Power or Mark Winkler.

Relevant
Ingrid Jonker: A Biography by Louise Viljoen
Back to Angola: A Journey from War to Peace by Paul Morris
A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
J. M. Coetzee and The Life Of Writing: Face-To-Face With Time by David Attwell
Books That Matter by Marie Philip

Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.
(A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion)

Delightful
The Unknown Unknown by Mark Forsyth
What Poets Need by Finuala Dowling
Ms Conception by Pamela Power
What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
The Chameleon House by Melissa de Villiers
Embers by Sándor Márai
Tribe by Rahla Xenopoulos
The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

I had a very efficient guano maker installed in my bath.
(The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell)

Exquisite
The Long Dry by Cynan Jones
Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
101 Detectives by Ivan Vladislavić
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
The Dream House by Craig Higginson
The Alphabet of the Birds by SJ Naudé
We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Sugar Man: The Life, Death and Resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez by Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom
the myth of this is that we’re all in this together by Nick Mulgrew
Wasted by Mark Winkler
Notes from the Dementia Ward by Finuala Dowling

We have to admit our massive love for people. If we don’t ever need to know its depth, we just feel the light on the surface.
(The Long Dry by Cynan Jones)

Life-changing
Flame in the Snow / Vlam in die Sneeu by André Brink and Ingrid Jonker
Killing Floor by Lee Child
Water: New Short Fiction from Africa
Mountains in the Sea: A Celebration of the Table Mountain National Park by John Yeld and Martine Barker
The Art of the Publisher by Roberto Calasso

I would like to single out two books I haven’t written about. Yet. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins and Roberto Calasso’s The Art of the Publisher.
A God in Ruins
Atkinson’s novel is one of the most exquisite books I have read in my life. Its beauty and its declaration of love for the power of literature to capture eternity, to heal, to open up spaces in us we never even knew existed are staggering. Personally, I will always associate the novel with two seminal moments in my life. While reading it during one of those serene nights when you are at peace with yourself and the world, I saw something beautiful and drew a sketch of the scene at the back of the book. It is also engraved in my heart. And when I finished A God in Ruins, I was crushed by the inability to share it with André, but then something happened which gave me comfort and hope and the book will always be at the source of these feelings when it comes to reading. I hope to write about it before the year is over.
The Art of the Publisher
Calasso’s book speaks about everything I have ever known, felt, dreamt about or hoped for in publishing. I have known for years that one day I would become a publisher myself. The Art of the Publisher made me realise that the time has come to make that day become reality.

How to quench literary thirst?

Water coverSimple: with Water!

There is a wonderful anthology of short stories coming our way at the end of the year, and I am not only saying this because I had the privilege of co-editing it (with the multi-talented Nick Mulgrew): Water: New Short Fiction from Africa, curated by Short Story Day Africa.

Life should be about all those half-full glasses, and this particular one is overflowing with talent and inspiration. The great thing about most short fiction anthologies is that they give you samples of writers’ work which can lead to amazing discoveries. Most of the contributors to Water were new to me, but all of them, without exception, will remain on my radar of literary interests and I will follow their careers with anticipation.

I think that if you can read a short story a few times (which I had to do for all the stories in the collection) and can still enjoy it, discovering new aspects with each turn and deepening your appreciation, then it has to mean something. Next week, I will proofread all of them one more time before the anthology goes into print, and I do not dread the task at all, but actually can’t wait.

Short Story Day Africa has been doing incredible work since it came into being, offering a space for African authors to express their desires about the African story (as writers and as readers), connecting, inspiring, developing ideas, celebrating a genre that is without equals. A good short story is a good short story, and despite all the rumours that nobody writes, publishes, or reads it, the short story will survive and thrive, because many of us LOVE to write short stories, and we LOVE to read them! It’s all very simple, actually.

All of the contributors to the anthology are good writers and I salute them! When I single out only a few in what I am about to say, it is not because of favouritism, but because I feel that I am only at the beginning of a journey which Water is taking me on.

Efemia Chela: Every time she publishes a story, its exquisiteness astounds me. I know three. All three belong to the best of the best I have ever read. This is someone with a talent so precious that it should be cherished and nourished, so that it can grow strong roots in our literary community. One day, Chela might tower over it like one of those majestic baobabs which grace the African landscape.

Alex Latimer: His story in the anthology is bizarre, to say the least, but it speaks about grief in a way that has touched me deeply. Its handling of the emotion is so subtle and so beautiful, it will stay with me for a very long time. As will Alexis Teyie‘s story about the most unbearable of losses. When you get to the last line, it literally knocks you off your feet.

Megan Ross: After reading her story, I cannot wait to get my hands on the novel she is writing at the moment. May the muse be good to her.

Mark Winkler: He has already published two novels which I might not have looked at, hadn’t I fallen in love with his story in Water. I am nearly finished with his latest, Wasted, published earlier this year (the sense of humour and the unusual, totally unpredictable, plot!), and I will read the first, An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything) (2013), as soon as I can.

And then there is Dayo Ntwari: His story is exceptional as a story, but the world and the characters he creates in it are so fascinating that one feels there could be more to them than just this one incarnation. I would love to get to know them and the scary futuristic-mythical place they live in (which is such an astute reflection of our own times) better. Any literary agents out there looking for fantasy/speculative fiction/SF from Africa? Look no more. Just saying.

I can’t wait for readers to dive into Water and discover these treasure among twenty-one excellent stories. And I promise to report more on the journey these waters are taking me on.

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