Literature can take us on journeys to distant lands and bridge the gap of cultural differences. We can sink into the pages of a book and live other lives, walk through vastly changed landscapes, and experience other cultures. Literature can help us understand our world. I have enjoyed reading about this fascinating continent. Books allow us to live for a brief while in other cultures and other lands. Reading literature set in far off places expands our world view.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a powerfully written story of the hubris of a missionary bent on bringing the villagers in a remote part of the Belgian Congo to see the light. The story is told from the shifting perspectives of the missionary’s wife and four daughters. Arriving in Africa from a small town in Georgia, they are woefully unprepared, in every sense of the word. Timing is not auspicious either, they arrive as the Africans are seeking independence from Belgium. It is a tumultuous time. Kingsolver’s writing is so sublime she is able to convey the feeling of life in this small African village. This is my favorite of Barbara Kingsolver’s rich body of work.
Flashman on the March by George MacDonald Fraser is historical fiction at its funniest. Handsome Sir Harry Flashman V.C. is marching into Africa, across Abyssinia to rescue a small band of English hostages from a mad Abyssinian King. Of course Flashman is out to seduce the ladies and keep his hide out of danger. Events have other things in mind for him, from going over a waterfall, to avoiding brigands, danger is everywhere. Flashman books are rollicking, outrageous fun. George MacDonald Fraser’s series about handsome Harry Flashman blends real and fictional characters as he brings history to life with some hilarious twists. Flashman books take him all over the globe into major world events; the America West, the 1857 Uprising in India, the Civil War, the Charge of the Light Brigade. I have read them all. They are not politically correct, using the language of the times for indigenous people, but they give an interesting perspective on history.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith begins the series featuring Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s only lady detective. The stories are entertaining and the characters likeable. A witch doctor is preying on children, a woman fears her husband is cheating, they all need help. Mma Ramotswe is on the case.
Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in the 1960’s during Biafra’s doomed attempt to establish independence from Nigeria. Twin sisters from a wealthy family chose different paths. Beautiful Olanna is drawn to fiery professor Odenigbo, an ardent supporter of independence. Kainene is being groomed to follow in their father’s footsteps, to run the family businesses. At a party she meets Richard, a Brit interested in African art. Another strong voice in the story is Ugwu, Odenigbo’s houseboy. Adichie is a talented author, she makes you care about these characters.
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese is best described as epic. Spanning the lives of twin brothers, born to a devout Nun from India who dies giving them life. The twins are adopted by doctors at the hospital and grow up in Haile Selaisse’s Ethiopia. The writing is luminous, the story compelling, and the characters well developed. The story travels from India to Ethiopia to New York. This one will keep you turning pages!
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