Wednesday, April 23, 2008

on african literature...

why all this reading? and why all the african literature? the first question is easy enough to answer. peace corps volunteers have a lot of free time on their hands, even after all the work and socializing! most of that time is often spent alone or traveling. all this makes for much reading. good books are passed around or left behind by volunteers who’ve gone home. not to mention all the good books you bring with you or have friends and family send in the mail.

beside the obvious fact that i was living and working in africa, i’m not sure why i first started reading african literature. a lot has to do with chinua achebe. i read his Things Fall Apart back home... a year or so before i left. and i loved it. i suppose that helped pave the way for further reading. a friend then recommended Cry, The Beloved Country. same effect. loved it and wanted more.

but you’ve probably noticed that there was/is something else to all this reading for me in cameroon. namely, the insight into african life and culture that it afforded. i think i made the connection pretty quickly. back in babadjou. with the Old Man and the Medal and laughing to keep from crying, among a number of other themes which resonated with my cross-cultural experience at the time.

i’m also not sure why i made it a point to respond to the books i was reading in my journals they way that i did. part of processing the texts. and the links that i saw and felt to the new world around me. part of me must’ve known that i was drawing lessons out of the books. but it was subtle. contemplative. enjoyable. that’s how african literature slowly began to give me insight into african culture. and, in some ways, to ease the process of adjusting and adapting to it.

agian, this was especially the case with quality literature like achebe’s... cameroonian literature (like that of oyono, beti and jumbam) also helped shed light on the life and culture of the place i was living in, no doubt. but there’s something about achebe’s work... perhaps it’s also about how close the connections are b/w nigerian and cameroonian culture. indeed, the two countries share a porous border, a political history and many tribal/cultural links.

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