Being a vicar in two parishes with people from all over the world, I’ve decided to be much more intentional about reading the world in the year ahead. Since quite a number of our church family come from various countries in Africa, and I realise I’ve read very little from Africa, I loved discovering Kinna Reads’ Africa Reading challenge and have signed up. The challenge is simply to read 5 books from, or about, different African countries in the course of a year. Now that must be manageable, especially as I’ve just finished my first and February isn’t quite over yet.
I started in Nigeria (or should I say Biafra?) with a book by an author I discovered last year who immediately joined my favourite authors’ list. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is her 2007 Orange Fiction prizewinning second novel set in the late 1960s at the time of the Nigerian-Biafran war. It tells the story of the build-up to the war and of the conflict itself through the eyes of three main characters: a young Igbo woman from an elite background, her young houseboy, and a white British male university professor. Each of them passes through various experiences that reflect the particular horror of those years, but their stories also feature love, family life and the day-to-day normality of life, albeit in a context of conflict.
The author has such a wonderfully readable style. She captures details in such a way that a reader like me, who has never set foot in Nigeria, can picture the settings in which these events unfold. And she builds detail into her characters – not only the main characters – so the reader develops real empathy and concern for all that is happening to them.
I came away from this book having enjoyed, but also been challenged by, a very good story. The challenge came because, although it is a work of fiction, I’ve no doubt it draws on real experiences lived by those who lived through those years of Nigeria’s history. And so I came away better informed too. That gap in my historical knowledge – I knew the name Biafra but knew nothing of what it stood for. And I hope I now better understand the different tribal groupings in Nigeria and the sensitivities that will still be present in that community today.
I think anyone with any kind of interest in reading about lives lived through real historical events would enjoy this book. And I think many of us would benefit from a better understanding of the history of a great country like Nigeria.
As for my next African read, I’ve got a few possibilities lined up. I could stay in West Africa and move across to Ghana with Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. Or perhaps I’ll head north to read Alifa Rifaat’s Distant View of a Minaret. There are also some South African books on the list and others too. And I’m keen to visit Malawi, Cameroon and Uganda because we have parishioners from each of those countries in our church family here.
So where would you suggest I head next?