The African Novel in English: An Introduction,
M. Keith Booker. Portsmouth:Heinemann. 1998 227 pp. $24.00 paper.©
Francophone African Women Writers: Destroying the Emptiness of Silence,
Irene Assiba D'Almeida. Gainesville:University of Florida Press, 1994.
222pp. 34.95 cloth.©
After giving an introduction on how to read the
African Novel, Keith Booker gives a brief historical survey of the ways
in which postcolonial theorists have engaged with African literature.
Booker has chapters on important African texts and their authors and
the countries they come from with a brief overview of that country's
history. Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo,
Nadine Gordimer, Alex La Guma, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Tsitsi Dangeremba
are some of the writers whose texts and historical location are included
in this book.
Even in its title, Booker's text makes no tall claims
about bringing additional information to our scholarly understanding
of African literature. His introduction will provide an intelligent
undergraduate with a historical and political background of the African
novels they are reading in class without having to do additional research
elsewhere. Perhaps as a teaching tool this oversimplification is a bit
too convenient, for this encourages students not to go to the library
since it provides sketchy but nonetheless excellent socio-historical
information. Booker quite rightly cautions that teaching African literature
"requires constant vigilance and, in many cases, radical reformulation
of lifelong habits of reading." The problem, in my opinion, is
that he encourages such reading habits by giving a rather skimpy and
predictable analysis of the various texts he chooses. I do want to reiterate
however, that as a point of inception, this book will become a very
useful tool for teachers of African literature in this country simply
because Booker makes it unnecessary to consult other information and
does chart the sequence of criticisms offered by other critics.
Booker's style is direct and simple, and therefore
quite appealing to teachers engaged in representing African literature
to an audience of students. His selection seems curious, for even as
he includes some of the people taught most as African literati in the
American academy, the exclusions are rather glaring. Wole Soyinka is
prominent among the exclusions. It is true, however, that he does give
information about Nigeria and Achebe, but it seems that he favors one
inclusion and not the other though he never states why. The Maghreb,
though as much a part of Africa as Southern Africa, is also left out.
I particularly like Booker's inclusion of Tsitsi
Dangeremba's text Nervous Conditions, for she is one of the new women's
voices from Africa, but again, the exclusion of Bessie Head is notable.
In addition, he does not question the political significance of how
the West has valorized Nadine Gordimer in the classroom and the academy
in general, a study much needed, but assumes that indeed one must perpetuate
a rather problematic area of South African literary discourse. Again,
as in other areas, he does not offer any new thought or analysis of
Gordimer, simply paraphrasing Burger's Daughter without saying why that
is necessary. This kind of critical text does not illuminate further
any area of African discourse but rather charts it. However, we cannot
fault Booker because what he does is useful. Indeed, the first two chapters
seem to suggest a critic who is not only very thoughtful about texts
but who has spent considerable time learning and no doubt teaching the
authors and texts mentioned here. It is clear that Booker's knowledge
about colonial and post-colonial discourse in Africa is considerable.
My question then is why does he not include his students at the same
level of sophistication in the following chapters that we know he has
from the first two?
Irene D'Almeida, on the other hand, divides her
book differently, not with authors but rather with ideas. The three
chapters on women's discovery of the self through autobiographical writing,
through a disclosure of family life, and through criticizing society's
intervention in women's lives, are important points of beginning an
in-depth analysis of Francophone African Writers. The introduction engages
her own analysis with the writing of other feminist critics of African
literature and provides an excellent survey of the problematic issues
that this criticism raises.
D'Almeida's book is startling in its honesty and
scope. She brings to the reader's attention a very specific way of reading
Francophone African women writers. Her focus on what she calls "destroying
the emptiness of silence" is especially interesting since Minh-ha
critiqued Western feminists for assuming that the "silence"
of third world women was indeed empty and could be filled by Western
feminist discourse. I was particularly pleased to read D'Almeida's book,
for it afforded the opportunity to look at it very closely. She brings
to this book a thorough knowledge of Francophone African women's texts
and a considerable sympathy for the plight of women as illuminated by
such writers as Nafissatou Diallo, Ken Bugul, Andree Blouin, Claixthe
Beyala, Angele Rawiri, Werewere Liking, Aminata Sow Fall, and Veronique
Tadjo. This book will bring to the Anglophone world information which
was previously elusive.
D'Almeida's book brings Francophone women into the
discourse of third world feminism as instigators and subjects. Silence
and the silencing of women, and indeed the breaking free from that imposed
silence, the main concern of her book, is very thoughtfully elaborated
within the contexts of the chosen texts. She obviously has a thorough
knowledge of Francophone women writers and explains her selection of
authors and texts meticulously. D'Almeida's book is very enjoyable.
She is direct and clear and never leaves her reader in a quandary if
they have not read all the Francophone Women's texts that are the concern
of her book.
Department of Ethnic Studies
Bowling Green State University