While Apartheid gripped South Africa, Sisonke Msimang, author of the memoir “Always Another Country” (out Sept. 4th from World Editions) was born in Zambia. Her’s was a life in exile: her father was a famous freedom fighter with the African National Congress, and her mother steadily supported the family as an accountant. “My sister and I are freedom’s children, born into the ANC and nurtured within a revolutionary community whose sole purpose is to fight apartheid,” she explains in the prologue.
Life in exile, where “home is always another country,” is filled with highs and lows, as Msimang and her family move from Zambia to Kenya to Canada before finally returning to South Africa in the 1990s. In sharp, fast-paced chapters Msimang details new communities and new adventures, as well as racist remarks and cultural misunderstandings. But throughout it all there is the steadfast love of her family, as seen in a myriad of heartwarming examples, such as when young Sisonke and her family, in an attempt to fit into their new Canadian community, set off for an ill-fated camping trip. The girls help their mother, “in her smart jeans and inappropriate shoes” try in vain to set up a tent. “Mummy had no idea what she was doing, but, fortified by African pride and the immigrant’s commitment to blending in, she wasn’t going to ask for help.” Read full review
The latest novel by Bernice L. McFadden, “Praise Song for the Butterflies,” takes place in the fictitious West African country of Ukemby but explores a subject that is unfortunately very real: ritual servitude.
Abeo is a precocious 9-year-old girl living an idyllic life in the affluent section of Port Masi with her Catholic parents: Wasik, a high-ranking government employee, and her mother Ismae, a former model. But all at once her world begins to fall apart as Wasik is suspended from work and the family’s savings dwindle to nothing. Wasik tries to shield his wife, two children, and his mother from their financial situation, but soon it all becomes too much: “Wasik looked around and swore that he could hear his life collapsing.”
At his wit’s end, Wasik listens to his mother, a believer in ancient traditions, who implores him to leave Abeo at a distant village shrine to the gods. “Then and only then,” she says, “will things get better for you.” Read full review
British author Jon McGregor doesn’t waste a moment getting to the action in his latest work, “The Reservoir Tapes,” a haunting compliment to his Man Booker Prize longlisted novel “Reservoir 13.” If you missed the original, don’t worry: “The Reservoir Tapes” stands tall on its own, well accessible for readers (like this reviewer) who showed up late to McGregor party.
Thirteen-year-old Becky Shaw is visiting rural Derbyshire with her parents when she disappears on a family hike. One minute she’s a petulant teenager, lagging behind in her canvas shoes; the next minute she’s simply gone into thin air.
An interviewer arrives in the village and attempts to piece together a portrait of Becky as well as the village itself on the time of her disappearance. In the interwoven stories that follow we catch glimpses of Becky, seen along the road while Claire and Donna go out for a night of drinking; seen swimming alone in a dangerous quarry by Ian, a former quarry worker who lectures her; seen eating an apple in Ginny’s backyard, reminding her of her daughter who ran away. Read full review
Literature has the power to connect us across geographies, cultures, and languages, and the seven short stories collected in “Banthology” do just that. From the horrors of war to the challenges of beginning a new life abroad, each of these stories quickly (and sometimes playfully) confronts a different truth about the exile experience. And while the stories are powerful on their own, read together they form a moving chorus that is too great — and too beautiful, frankly — to be ignored.
First published by Comma Press in the UK, Banthology has recently been released in the United States through Deep Vellum Press. The themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement guide the collection, but the authors address these topics in various ways. In “Return Ticket” author Najwa Binshatwan takes an absurdist approach, as the main character is subjected to one preposterous travel requirement after another when she attempts to leave Schrodinger, a floating village that moves “through time and space, changing its orbit spontaneously as if it were the sun rising in one place and setting in another.” Read full review.
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“The Occasional Virgin” by Hanan al-Shaykh is a fine literary novel wrapped inside a summer read. Poignant reflections about family, religion and memory are juxtaposed with raucous sexual antics and clever displays of friendship, making this novel about upending stereotypes a genre-bending romp.
At the center of it all are Huda, a theater director from Canada, and Yvonne, an advertising executive from London. Both women grew up in Lebanon, and despite their different traditions (Huda is from a Muslim family, and Yvonne grew up Christian), both have similar memories of not fitting in with their families and feeling ostracized and misunderstood.
While confidently pursuing vacation paramours in Italy, the seaside brings old memories to the surface, as Yvonne explains: “The sea brought me face to face with my family and Lebanon and everything again, and made me realize for the first time how these memories ruin my life.” Read full review
‘This Mournable Body” by Zimbabwe author Tsitsi Dangarembga is a gripping, personal story of one woman’s drive to succeed despite mounting obstacles in her path, a narrative meant to mirror the journey of Zimbabwe itself.
Despite her education and training, Tambudzai finds herself middle-aged and living in a youth hostel in downtown Harare, with no job and dwindling savings.
Her previous position at an advertising agency was lucrative, but she tired of “the white men who put their names to your taglines and rhyming couplets,” and quit. Now she spends “much time regretting digging your own grave over a matter of mere principle.”
Yes, the novel is written in second person, to startling effect, as readers are implicated in all of Tambudzai’s actions and decisions, from turning on a housemate to secure her own survival, to refusing to support her rural family, represented as a bag of mealie meal that follows her from residence to residence until, in a moment of both independence and deception, she buries it in the backyard. Read full review
In her new book “It’s Only Blood: Shattering the Taboo of Menstruation,” researcher Anna Dahlqvist traveled to Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh and India to conduct interviews with women and activists about the connection between money, gender, power and menstrual shame.
What Dahlqvist discovers will be unsurprising to many: “that the unmet menstrual needs of women and girls puts them at a huge disadvantage to men, which contributes to their social, economic, and political subordination in the constant interplay between gender and power.”
“In the long run,” Dahlqvist explained, “by being denied access to education and work, women and girls are prevented from becoming equal citizens. They are held back.” Read full review
Written by great Iranian novelist Shahriar Mandanipour, “Moon Brow” is a powerfully imaginative novel about war and its long-lasting repercussions.
Here is the story of Amir Yamini, a young playboy who willed away his days drinking, reading poetry, and chasing women until, after a particularly spectacular bit of drinking, he attacked his father. This event, coupled with the changing political climate, set Amir’s life off on a very different trajectory: he served in the Iran-Iraq war and spent years in a mental hospital before being found by his mother and sister.
Now back at home with an amputated arm, Amir is celebrated as a living martyr but also feared because of his delicate mental state. Amir claims to not be mentally ill — he says he was hiding in the hospital — but his family believe differently and hire guards to keep him confined to the walled garden. Read full review.