The Heinemann Book of African Women’s Writing- Charlotte H. Bruner

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It’s often difficult for me to review short story collections but this book is such a great example of diverse literature and I noticed that not many people have read it. Hopefully that will change.

It’s always nice to be reminded in literature that Africa is not a country I think the editor did a pretty good job of showing the diversity of the continent. The book is divided into four parts: North, South, East and West Africa. Each section begins with an essay that sheds some light on the general state of African literature in that area, the languages that the writers wrote in, how they were received and so on. This anthology was compiled in the 1990s so I’m sure some things have changed.

The stories themselves showed a lot of diversity. Through them one learns more about the effect of colonialism on the African culture, as well as the effect on migration, which lead to some pluralistic societies were Islam, Hinduism and Christianity were part of the culture. Each regional section does have a different feel, probably because of the difference in themes discussed. The stories are a mixture of average to really stunning. I have to say, some of the stories despite not being literally stunning helped showcase African life and some important issues, so although not always brilliant, always educational.

African womanhood was discussed quite a bit and reminiscent of Buchi Emecheta’s “The Joys of Motherhood”, we see how important it was (is?) for an African woman to bear children:

“You’ll never know maternal love, barren woman that you are.”-

“What a crime is it not to bear a child! The fault is automatically imputed to the woman! Sterility is unacceptable and shameful. True death consists of living no image of oneself in this life.”

– Aminata Maiga Ka- New Life at Tandia

I enjoyed the Southern African stories the most but perhaps I’m a bit biased:

“For after all, if you were, as you believed, decent and humane, capable above all of standing up for your beliefs, then how on earth were you to define yourself in the framework of your country’s values, in the confusion of ambiguities and compromises and evasions you were forced to live by? Vehemently you expressed an image of yourself, but your emotions were fed only by the thin gruel, the unsustaining trickle of personal animosity and the nervous irritation engendered by boredom.”

“My life is like my knitting. Even, monotonous, sometimes one notices a small mistake. A perfectionist would start unravelling but the eye can be trained not to see. In all things the habit of evasion is easily acquired. My life is like that. I put it away and start again, just where I left off.”

– Jean Marquard, Regina’s Baby

The North African stories focused on feminism. There was also a discussion in the opening essay about whether they are truly African. I saw some discussions on Twitter last week about whether East Africa is a part of Africa so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me when people tell me Egypt isn’t African. I did like this quote from El Saadawi:

“Egypt is Africa. The term Middle East is a political colonial term (Middle: relative to whom?). Also the division between black and white Africa is a colonial division. We are one continent.”

Not a bad collection. I did think some countries were over-represented but that is to be expected and probably speaks to the writers who are out there and which countries actually support their arts. I would love to see Heinemann come up with an updated anthology; I think the continent has some amazing female writers right now.

A list of the contributors:

Northern Africa —
• Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt)
• Assia Djebar (Algeria)
• Gisele Halimi (Tunisia)
• Leila Sebbar (Algeria)
• Andree Chedid (Egypt)

Southern Africa —
• Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)
• Bessie Head (South Africa/Botswana)
• Jean Marquard (South Africa)
• Zoe Wicomb (South Africa)
• Sheila Fugard (South Africa)
• Farida Karodia (South Africa)

Eastern Africa —
• Evelyn Awuor Ayodo (Kenya)
• Violet Dias Lannoy (Mozambique)
• Daisy Kabaragama (Uganda)
• Lina Magaia (Mozambique)

Western Africa —
• Catherine Obianuju Acholonu (Nigeria)
• Ifeoma Okoye (Nigeria)
• Zaynab Alkali (Nigeria)
• Orlanda Amarilis (Cape Verde)
• Aminata Maiga Ka (Senegal)


4 thoughts on “The Heinemann Book of African Women’s Writing- Charlotte H. Bruner

  1. I wonder which writers would feature in an updated anthology of African Women’s Writing. There are so many new, great, contemporary African female writers right now. I was surprised Ama Ata Aidoo was not among the western Africa section of writers… I should look for this book 🙂

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