Tag Archive: African Women Writers


It´s International Woman´s day! Usually for this day I would do a list of articles concerning Women´s rights and liberations across the world, but this year comes a decision to change things up a bit. Instead I will list a few feminist books and stories that are more than worth checking out. In order to explain what, in this list, is meant by a feminist read I´ll make a short explanation: it is a story that has three dimensional female characters and either deals with the subject of female liberation or deals with the subject of female oppression. Let´s get started.

Quick Note!: Most of these books can be triggering due to dealing with rape and violence.

1.“Changes: A love story” by Ama Ata Aidoo: This is a classic work of African literature, and for no small reason. The book takes place in the 1990´s Accra, Ghana, where the independent Esi decides to divorce her husband due to having endured a rape at his hands. After that she falls in love with a Muslim man named Ali, which leads her to question whether or not she should become his second wife. “Changes” was published in 1993 and was one of the first African books that dealt with women trying to balance home life with work as well as the stigma of being an independent woman. But it also openly deals with marital rape and its aftermath, which even to this day is still a taboo subject in much of literature and culture (including western). Esi´s struggles against expectations are shown in a complex light; while she is determined to keep her job and independence she finds herself still inclined to forgo her autonomy to please Ali and others. The book is honest and human. As the saying goes, the personal is highly political, especially for Esi.

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2.“Purge” by Sofi Oksanen; This novel takes place in both modern times free Estonia and the Estonia of WWII, when it was under Russian occupation. The story is about an old woman meeting a young woman; Aliide Truu, a woman who was rape and sexually tortured by KGB agents in her youth, and Oksana – a youth who has escaped from the hands of traffickers. Oksanen delves deftly, but horrifically, into a story of two forms of sexual violence; that of politically motivated rape and that of modern day sexual slavery. The novel is heavily disturbing, but the characters, especially Aliide, are wonderfully complex and the illustration of female oppression is powerfully exposed. It´s best to not say too much, since the plot´s enigmatic structure makes it a book best to read blindly.

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3.”The Ribbon Maiden”: This fairy tale, which originates from the Chinese ethnic minority of the Miao, is about a woman who people proclaim as the maker and creator of the most beautiful sowing and ribbons found in the land. The emperor, wanting this skill only to himself, has The ribbon maiden kidnapped and held against her will unless she makes him a continuous supply of the elegant ribbons. She submits to the emperors demands, but due to her great talents she is able to make the emperors bondage of her backfire on him. The tale is laden with female power – from the Ribbon Maidens wish to return home so she can reunite with her female friends, to her refusing to submit to the bully emperor. It is impossible not to cheer on this woman as her many gifts, and powerful sowing, defeats her captors and manifests her freedom in the face of oppressions both political and ideological. A really, really cool fairy tale.

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Miao woman wearing traditional clothing

4.“Blood and Guts in High School” by Kathy Acker: The most absurd and weird novel on this list tells the story of a woman who endures emotional abuse, trafficking and abandonment. The writing is surrealistic and the story is told in a nonsensical order, with Ms. Acker´s own NSFW yet creative drawings. The prose is a surging gush of rage and aggression, delivering a punk-themed punch to the capitalist patriarchy. Beautifully random.

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page from “Blood and Guts in high school”

5. “Ladies Coupé” by Anita Nair: This book is formed of an assorted set of narratives focused on diverse women of Today´s India. A woman aboard a train contemplates if she should run off with a younger man she´s in love with or stay with her conservative family instead. Finding herself in the company of a group of women during her trip she asks for advice. What follows are a myriad of tales of life and struggle – the serene joy of learning to swim, of getting the last wondrous laugh against a bully husband, and the lonely tragedy of being impregnated via rape. The tone continuously pivots from the lighthearted to the cruel throughout the entirety of the narrative, with both the epic and minute of characterizations. Despite some stories being tragic, the novel leaves a clear hope in the end, depicting a happier life just around the corner.

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6.“From a crooked rib” by Nuruddin Farah: This novel takes place in 1980´s Somalia, where a nineteen year old girl runs away from home to escape an arrange marriage, only to find herself having to marry other, equally unpleasant men, in order to survive. Beyond all hope, and needing both men to ensure her social and monetary survival, she navigates a precipice to keep secret her twin marriages from both men (she hasn´t legally divorced either one of them). Farah illustrates the economic and political challenges facing women in Somalia and minutely exposes how the social mores, and legal system is biased against women (and laying bare double standards applied to men, as opposed to women, when it comes to marriage and relationships). While the heroines husbands both indulge openly and continuously in second wives and many lovers, the protagonist finds herself mercilessly slut-shamed, tormented and ostracized by the community for falling outside of the hallow prescripts of monogamy. “From a crooked rib” was Farah´s debut novel, but you would never guess that.

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7.“The Butcher´s Wife” by Li Ang: Based on real events, this story is about a Taiwanese woman, Lin Shi, who after taking years of absolutely ruthless abuse kills her husband in self defense. The story begins when the protagonist’s parents, fearing Lin Shi’s youthful behavior as signs of uncontrollable and uncontainable sexuality, marry her off to a local butcher, who it turns out is fond of making Lin Shi scream in agony. He abuses her both physically and sexually, and when she starts to defend herself he starves her. One of the toughest books I´ve ever read, but none the less this novel remains gripping and spellbinding. The novel not only showcases abuse, but critiques neighbors and family members that enable abuse through ignorance and acceptance, as well as showing a side of the local Buddhist religion which is not a flattering depiction to say the least. Thought-provoking yet brutal.

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8.“The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros: The story of a Mexican-American family is told in a series of drabbles in this short book. Through the narration of the adolescent Esperanza these petite deft drabbles explore poverty, culture, sexual assault and hope. The stories are like extended poems, with heartbreaking scene after heartbreaking scene. From Esperanza witnessing her father grief stricken by her grandmother’s death to Esperanza being sexually attacked by racist white boys, the novel makes a depressing, memorable quick read.

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9.“The House of Bernarda Alba” by Federico Garcia Lorca: This was not only an unusual play for it´s time for its open brutal criticism of Spanish honor culture, but is also remarkable by even today´s standards in being a play with a all female cast with no speaking roles for men, as well as dealing with female sexual frustration. The play is about a classist, narrow minded mother who rules over her five daughters with an Iron fist, never allowing them to socialize with others in the town or marry. This leads to a major conflict when a young man arrives and three of the same sisters are smitten with him. Things become especially disturbing when the youngest daughter is implied to be pregnant without being engaged. The sisters play off each other perfectly, and the deep seated melancholy and sense of being trapped in being an “honorable woman” echoes through the story with great strength.

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10. “Woman at Point Zero” by Nawal El-Sadaawi: the angriest and fiercest work in this list by fair, El-Sadaawi´s classic novel tells the story of a woman on death row that has killed her pimp. The woman details her life from girlhood to the point where she ended up in prison, describing her ordeal with female genital mutilation, male betrayal and violence. Through the course of the novel the protagonist makes abundantly clear how she has come to be so angry and uncompromising with the world she lives in, where, beginning with her birth as a woman, she was set up for pain. The woman´s narration bursts with a fire at the face and fact of an unjust world. It is provocative and unapologetic, an instant masterpiece.

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Ms. Nawal El-Sadaawi

That´s a few recommendations. What feminist novels, short stories/ fairy tales or graphic novels do you readers recommend? Comment done below and A Happy International Women´s Day to all sisters, Cis to Trans, out there!

(Trigger warning for discussions of poor prison conditions and torture)

It is probable Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does not need an introduction. She´s the writer everybody reads, she tops all the best seller list, and she´s well loved by book lovers of the world. Her most famous work, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, has been adapted into a film. Her books have won numerous awards and to many, she´s an introduction to African Literature. Gushing about “Americanah” or “Half of a Yellow Sun” is expected from everyone. While indeed her novels are masterpieces, very few people have actually talked about her short story collection, “The Thing around your neck”. It is a shame, because in her stories she deals with many important issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia and colonization. Her short story collection is diverse not only by including many LGBT-characters and having a cast full of POCs, but also in different story settings. She has a historical story, stories about rich people, stories about poor people, a story about writers, stories of politics. The narration also differs in tone in many stories. And while perhaps not all the stories are great, they all capture a certain truth about ordinary lives.

Ms. Adichie

Ms. Adichie

“Cell One” is narrated by a young girl, who is in fact not the real protagonist of the story. Her narration is done by casting a cynical, fed-up eye on her rowdy and small criminal big brother, Nnanamadia, and her parents who continually enable his behavior. The family is fairly wealthy and the brother in fact is heavily implied to continually even steal from his own family. His criminal behavior comes from his involvement with gangs at his university, which early in the story leads him into being imprisoned. This comes as a terrible blow to the parents, but the narrator sees this as her brother getting his just deserts. While it´s never explicably stated, this resentment most certainly comes from parental favoritism and a sense of the brother using his male privilege to get his parents to let him get away with terrible behavior. This dynamic reminded me of Jamaica Kincaid’s memoir, “My brother”, where Ms. Kincaid discussed parental favoritism combined with gendered double standards: her mother would allow her brother to be a slacker while being quite tough on her daughter. While the parents are not harsh towards the girl in this story, she on the other hand has become resentful of her brother.

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The plot revolves around the family´s visits to the prison. Nnanamadia first is haughty, but slowly he starts to change over the course of the visits. He starts mentioning an old man who has also been brought to the same prison. This man has been arrested since the police couldn´t find his criminal son, and therefore imprisoned him instead despite a lack of evidence he had broken any laws, and to add insult to injury they also threat him with less respect due to him being poor.

All four of Ms. Adichie´s books covers in Finnish

All four of Ms. Adichie´s books covers in Finnish

As time passes on, Nnanamadia begins to mention and talk about the old man whenever the family visits him. He becomes more and more melancholy in his speech, talking about how the guards are nasty and mean-spirited towards a fragile man who´s harmless. He talks about how no one visits the man, and how the guards neglect the old man in favor of other prisoners. Through the dialogue, the reader begins to notice a huge change in Nnamanadia; before he was conniving and self-centered, but after his witnessing of the fate of the old man, he has begun a venture of human maturation into an empathetic person who sees outside of his own world. With every visit he goes further into his metamorphosis. A particular telling moment is when the parents bring food for Nnamanadia during their visit. Nnanamadia looks at the food, and quietly states that he wants to give it to the old man, who is not properly fed in the prison. The guards blandly and blankly state that this is not allowed; Nnanamadia just silently stares at this offering of food from the family torn and distrait at the inhumanities brought up in the gift. He´s attachment to the old man makes him want to for the first time in his life prioritize someone else besides himself.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie´s works were even referenced in

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie´s works were even referenced in “The Simpsons”

In the climax of the story, Nnanamadia is taken into cell one, where he is severely beaten as a form of torture. And frankly, when the guards tell the parents why this horror is visited on Nnanamadia it becomes as intellectually appalling as emotionally wrenching experience for the reader.

Drawing from The New Yorker in these publication of this story

Drawing from The New Yorker in these publication of this story

What makes “Cell one” such an incredibly story is that it packs many social and political issues such as corruption, harsh prison conditions and class into a narrative lodged acutely in the intimate and personal. The issues are deeply tied with the character growth of Nnanamadia and his tale of growing understanding casts the reader into an optimistic stance of the possible and hopeful side of human behavior. It is contrasted by the guard’s cruelty, which makes them a great foil to Nnanamadia. There´s an old saying in the feminist movement, “The personal is political”, which this story captures by showing how politics and corruption affect the old man’s life as well as Nnanamadia´s coming of age. By showing how the machinations of corruption detours, deforms and defeats human lives – and it is the most fundamental aspects of human existence that are at stake in these questions – Adichie´s writing is an ideal example of social commentary done with concerned focus and sure precision.

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Cover for “The thing around your neck” in Swedish

“Cell one” is a breathtaking tale, and despite not being a novel, has all the great elements of a literary magnum opus. It would, in my opinion, be also amazing to see this story adapted into a film. The prose is perfect, even in the advents of the young girl’s resentment, and the wondrous personal honesty of the voice of the narration flings the reader along an engrossing plot filled with heartbreaking events. This is political fiction at largest and finest.

Before I begin this review, I want to tell a small anecdotal story: while skyping with my father one evening, I mentioned to him that I was reading a Zambian novel called “Patchwork”. I claimed it was a novel that dealt with such issues as “alcoholism, the stigma of being a child conceived through infidelity, class, the subtle stress of having a bully father, child molestation and domestic abuse”. My father responded in a bewildered voice: “Oh wow, that´s a lot of heavy subjects for one book to deal with. How long is it?”. “216 pages long” I said before adding: “Also, one of the protagonist´s friends dies due to an unsafe, illegal abortion”. My father was stunned by this bleak description.

For it is true, “Patchwork” is perhaps one of the most pessimistic books I´ve read in quite a while. It is also a book that truly stays in a reader´s mind and is very difficult to put down. It deals with stigma, class, family dynamics, mental health and the negative consequences of insecurity.

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The opening lines in itself already say so much and are so intriguing: “I´m two different people according to the register of births. My birth was registered twice”. The main protagonist explains that her mother named her Natasha, but her father named her Pezo. However, everyone calls her Pumpkin. Pumpkin has always known that she is what´s considered “bad seed”. This leads her to being spiteful towards her neighbor’s children, who are partially her friends and partially victims to her bullying. Pumpkin insists to her friends that her rich self-made father brings her gifts and expensive dolls, but in her inner monologue she admits to herself the sad truth of not even beginning to be in any consideration to her father’s – Tata’s – priority. This situation is worsened by her mother’s alcoholism, which has tainted the previously loving relationship between daughter and mother: “I lay a towel lengthways on the floor. It used to be fluffy and pink. Ma used to wrap it round me and lift me out of the bath. She would jokingly ask me to hold it tight around myself so that no one could see my ´secret´. Now the towel is flat more cream than pink but it still keeps a secret”.

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Despite Pumpkins and her mother’s best efforts, Tata finds out about the mothers alcoholism and at once takes Pumpkin to live with him, without asking his wife beforehand and despite Pumpkins mothers pleading to keep her child. There Pumpkin meets Mama T, her father’s self-centered wife and Sissi, a Zimbabwean housekeeper who takes a liking to Pumpkin.

At the new home for Pumpkin the nature of Tata’s a bully and pompous nature comes to blatantly reveal itself, and Mama T wallows and spews in open resentment towards the newly displaced Pumpkin. Pumpkin herself responds to this by committing to the fact of family hate and dysfunction directed towards her, and becomes the awful child image imposed on her. In one truly horrifying scene Pumpkin gets a man fired after betraying a promise to the same worker´s daughter – despite that it will probably lead to this family to starve. In an ordinary case this narrative device of the horrific protagonist – and sensitively dead, morally diseased secondary characters – would make a book falter due to its lack of a sympathetic ground and an ethical vertigo fundamentally embedded in the story arc; however Ms. Banda-Aaku´s beautiful prose and psychological insights guide the reader through the messy lives of these frightful and unappealing people.

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The novel carefully shows Pumpkins internal torment and fright. She is in need to have her father talk to her, but he is oblivious to her. Mama T is clearly hurt by her husband’s betrayals and lives in a sphere of utter disrespect created for her by the distains of the patriarch (in one scene he maliciously mocks her activities at the church when she isn´t present). The characters are so superbly written, it´s psychological authentic feeling reminds me off Jelinek or even Dostoyevsky.

Banda-Aaku even deconstructs a number of common tropes in the narrative trajectory. For instance Pumpkins Grandmother, Grandma Ponga, is first introduced as a powerful, strong woman who takes no nonsense from anyone. But it is revealed in the unfolding of the novel that the grandmother secretly resents Pumpkin for causing a scandal in the family. Pumpkin states that while Grandma Ponga is kind to her, the grandmother’s overt and condemning body language places her continually in the depressing depths of self doubt and on the cusp of a constant nagging apology for her personhood. That Grandma Ponga owns a tavern is shown to both make her a cool old lady and a figure of fear: her fights with unpleasant customers are shown as both as awe inspiring in their steadfast resolve, but also as petrifying memories of uncontrolled, impulsive violence for Pumpkin.

“Poster” by Jazzberry Blue

Another character that toys with the readers expectations is Sissi, the housekeeper at Tata´s. While at first Sissi seems happy with her job and to love the family she works for, to be a stable person of few problems, it is soon shown not to encompass the entire truth. Sissi lives in the shadow of an alcoholic and abusive boyfriend who, despite that he drinks away all her money, she can´t find the strength to leave, since she loves him, as she explains to Pumpkin: “Love and hate are same-same”. Sissi also embraces a missing former husband who traveled to Zaire to find a fortune for his family and promised to return to endow Sissi with a slew of “emeralds”. The narration makes it clear that this husband is most likely dead, yet Sissi, turning face from the discouraging truth and reality, stumbles on in the dead dreams of denial: “He promised her he would be back and she´s still waiting. She often says, ´the day he comes back for me my days of washing clothes, polishing floors and referring fights in Tata´s house is over”. Despite her brave face, Sissi feels as much pain as the rest, and is no stereotypical domestic worker who only lives for her boss´ family.

There are brief descriptions of the Rhodesian war of independence which Zambia was partially involved in. It consisted of giving refuge to Zimbabwean rebels, which meant that the white colonizers eventually start bombing in Zambia as well. When bombings take place at Tata´s farm, Mama T enacts her most horrifying behavior in the entire book sending the family careening from the horror of war to the horror of the brutal family and back again.

Art by Patrick Gunderson

Art by Patrick Gunderson

In the later section of the novel we follow Pumpkin as a grown up having negotiated this deadly terrain of her childhood. She has become a woman locked into her past and we travel her adult life through an uncontrollable jealousy dissolving her marriage and a forlorn path of destructive decisions dovetailing in wounds to herself and those about her. Though passing off pains and deceits to the circle of friends and lovers about her, Pumpkin’s mind steps back from the horror of her own action’s and she ineffectually fumes at herself for these shows of torment visited on others.

It is also revealed that one of her playmates, Bee (who it was hinted at was being molested by the houseboy in the neighborhood at the early age of 12), was impregnated by a houseboy and had her first child at age 14. Pumpkin’s mother and grandmothers reactions to this abuse show both disquieting discomfort and horrific rationalizations of how Bee was probably fine with it coming finally to a mild concern that Pumpkin may have also been one of the houseboy’s victims. It is hinted that the adults’ can´t deal with failing the girl, and fear that they neglected the other children as well.

Ms. Ellen Banda-Aaku

Ms. Ellen Banda-Aaku

The book, not to reveal too much, has also a moment where the writing takes a certain skeptical turn. Pumpkin, due to several complications, comes to believe, near the end of the book, that she together with Bee´s mother has cast a curse. In her panic she explains this belief to Bee. However Bee rejects this idea as a paradoxical mixture of unaware superstition and mindful manipulation: “My mother is a herbalist and, yes, she has a strong sense of intuition, but she also sees a lot of things the rest of us don´t. if I took note of all the so-called evil spirits my mother sees around me I would spend my days carrying out endless rituals to get rid off them”. Bee says there are a lot of mind games in her mother’s work, which involve cold reading. It is very similar to the way so-called mediums, psychics and fortune tellers in the West operate. This struck my interest in that it is one of the first books written by an African writer to discuss skeptic viewpoints in a sympathetic way; Bee´s words ease Pumpkin´s guilt. This scene made me wonder if there will be featured more skeptic viewpoints in the future of African literature. Naturally, it would be good to also add here that atheist and skeptic themes are rare in all forms of literary fiction (and I haven´t read any of Wole Soyinka’s works yet, who supposedly talks about his agnosticism/atheism in his memoir).

Zambia´s flag

Zambia´s flag

This book is full of little moments and reflections on many more issues than I can mention in this blog post. It is intense, complex, sad and thought provoking. It is cynical in that mistakes are continually made, communication is neglected and past secrets remain secrets. A bitter take on humans, “Patchwork” claims that some relationships are broken beyond repair.

(Trigger warning for brief discussions of sexual abuse)

Kopano Matlwa is known as one of South Africa’s most exciting young writers. She has a degree in Medicine, which makes her both a writer and a doctor. In fact, while studying to get her degree, Ms. Matlwa simultaneously wrote “Coconut”. Her debut won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literary in Africa in 2008, sharing the prize with “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and “Tenants of The House” by Wale Okediran. Ms. Matlwa has also written “Split Milk”, which appeared in 2010. Both novels describe racial relations in South Africa.

Kopano Matlwa

“Coconut” tells the story of two very different young black girls living in modern-day Johannesburg. The novel is written in two parts, the first part focusing on the rich Ofilwe and the second part focusing on the poverty stricken Fikile. Through depicting these two girls’ lives, “Coconut” addresses racism, the lost of one’s own culture and identity, sexual abuse and colonized consciousness.

Ofilwe is shown being a girl who takes her family’s wealth for granted. She lives a pampered life, but faces racism from her white school mates and authorities. Ofilwe lives her first years in blissful blindness to the prejudices around her, but as Ofilwe gets older, she realizes more and more how much racism she has faced in her early years. This racism runs from open disgust to her “dark lips” and refusal of the “racial contamination” of the kiss, or when her classmates decide her ethnic characteristics innately imply that she could only be born in a “stink-hole”. She also realizes with help from her brother, Tsempo, how much of her own culture, identity and history (through the mechanisms of the oppressive former apartheid system) she (as many black South Africans) has lost.

In one of the first paragraphs of “Coconut” illustrates the lost of the cultural field by means of racism when we are lead through Ofilwe and Tsempo arguing over religion. Tsempo argues that being Christian goes against their black identity, since they were forcefully converted by whites. He points out that the original beliefs of the Africans were quite different. Ofilwe can barely stand hearing this, since she’s a devoted Christian. In this sequence Matlwa confronts the fact that when Christianity (as other abrahamic religions) was spread, the black South Africans lost a part of their culture. This is an interesting fact which is rarely pointed out, despite these violent conversions causing many African and many non-African people to lose parts of their own culture*.

Another example of lost heritage and discrimination is the use of language and presumptions of inclusion and exclusions founded on the identifier of people’s linguistic talents. Ofilwe is first proud of the fact that her family speaks English at home. However, due to her skin color, no one believes this to be the case; when a few men come to her classroom to collect data on the different mother tongues among children, the men refuse to believe her when she states she speaks English at home. Her teacher even punishes her for lying to the men. After some discoveries about her parent’s backgrounds, Ofilwe then realizes that her parents purposely didn’t speak their mother tongue to her, thus leaving Ofilwe to try and learn this language by memorizing words she overhears during her parents arguments. Matlwa beautifully captures the struggles of a person longing to learn about her roots and culture while simultaneously being denied proper information about it.

Old statistics chart of linguistics in South Africa

Ofilwe suffers a crisis, since she is forced to confront that despite being economically privileged, she is unfortunately marginalized due to her skin color. Ofilwe as a character is shown as pampered, but the reader still sympathizes with her and her situation.

Johannesburg (City Skyline)

In the second part, the reader is introduced to Fikile, a poor young woman from a slum. She lives with her uncle since her mentally unstable mother rejected her when she was extremely young. Fikile in her first depiction is shown having an intense revulsion for her uncle. The reader later learns that this hatred is justified (as more is revealed about Fikiles life) as the reader comes to understand that Fikile while a child was repeatedly molested by her uncle. Fikile did not at first understand what her uncle was doing to her, but after learning about rape and sexual assault at school through an awareness presentation, Fikile at once recognized the actions as similar to the ones her uncle committed, and comes to the revelation that she herself has been a victim of sexual abuse. One of the finest details Matlwa gives in “Coconut” is how strong this shocking revelation is to Fikile, as Matlwa has her protagonist, forced to this realization of abuse, is convulsed by vomiting in the class room as the presentation is being held. It’s an honest portrayal of a young girl suddenly understanding that she has been severely abused.

As the novel continues, Fikile starts to express strong troubling comments regarding blacks. She states that they are lazy and blame whites for everything to cover up for their irresponsibility. She recalls telling her school teacher that she wants to be white when she grows up. While referring to the customers she waits on at her job at a fancy restaurant/café, Fikile says that they represent everything she wants to be:“rich and white”. In contrast to everything she does not want to be: “black and poor”. Fikile buys into the myths of the poor and black being to blame for their misfortunes and believes that she will one day be rich as well. This resembles the divergent and ubiquitous mentalities of a colonized consciousness among a deceived lower classes all over the world. The American author John Steinbeck for instance lampshaded this mentality by stating: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Fikile has a noticeably similar way of viewing her situation. She believes that she will be able to escape all her problems if she just adapts to behavior of the white upper class and totally hates her black heritage.

Fikile has developed a colonized consciousness, meaning that she has adapted and identifies (takes the values of the oppressing class as her own) with a white supremacist way of looking at people of color. She refuses to see the faults in any whites she encounters, but is quick to give many irredeemable (and made up) flaws to all blacks she meets. Fikile faces racism herself, but fails to see it; she has adapted the beliefs of the oppressors and therefore demonizes blacks. This phenomenon happens among all sorts of oppressed and marginalized groups. Like Steinbeck commented on colonized consciousness being the ideological means for the capitalist upper class for stopping socialism making a root in the US, colonized consciousness prevents people from being aware of their situation and fighting for more rights. Fikile does not see that her opportunities are limited and through her hate actually adds limitations for herself and other people of color in South Africa.

Desperation for a better life and the environment around her play an important factor to her mentality, but Fikile’s intense dislike for other blacks may also be a result of the trauma from being abused as a child. Fikile at some point decides at once that a black man talking to her is a probable rapist. Due to her relationship to her uncle, this comment does raise the question of her idea of blacks being lazy, and good for nothing, as being inexorably linked to her horrific childhood memories of her uncle. Are Fikile prejudices because she has bad experiences, because she’s too desperate too see straight, or just the simple, but inevitable, brainwashing by society ruled through prejudice? Or are all three symptoms equally to blame for the disjunction of class, ethnicity and identity and the upended consciousness of Fikile?

Luckily, “Coconut” is a coming-of-age tale alongside a depiction of modern day South Africa, so Fikile’s world view is challenged as the novel proceeds.

Kopano Maltwa being congratulated by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka

“Coconut” is a highly impressive novel which deals with many important issues. It highlights topics that are necessary to talk about. It’s also a captivating tale about identity and growing up.

South Africa’s flag

*As a half Finn, I can mention that for instance the Finnish people originally had pagan-like beliefs. This changed through the conversion and influence from the Swedes. In fact, at some point Birger Jarl thought the Finnish weren’t becoming Christian quick enough, and sent a small crusade to Finland (which was at the time just another part of Sweden).

Yvonne Vera (1964-2005) was one of the first women writers from Zimbabwe to get international attention and acclaim. Even though she lived major parts if her life in Canada, her fiction took place in Zimbabwe and centered on the lives of young Zimbabwean women. Vera described her home lands dark history under British colonization and oppression while also giving a sharp, feminist critique to the domineering and repressive attitudes of the men in the country. Yvonne Vera was an extraordinarily astonishing writer who died much before her time due complications of AIDS. Luckily she has left a great literary legacy behind.

Vera’s definitely most famous novel, “Butterfly Burning” centers around the life of a lively young and ambitious woman called Phephelaphi, who falls passionately in love with a much older man, Fumbatha. The two lovers move in together in hopes of happiness. But Phephelaphi wishes to educate herself and become a nurse, while Fumbatha pushes Phephelaphi for her life to find its only dedication to him alone (as the roles of men and women should play out in this culture). This causes a major conflict in the relationship, and Phephelaphi is forced to reconsider her love.

“Butterfly Burning” is Vera’s manifesto to independence and female liberation. Phephelaphi fights the patriarchical society to get the freedom she earns for. Through the character of Phephelaphi Vera portrays the difficulty women face when their strength and liberty is made clear. Phephelaphis only weapon is her determination. The novel has a bittersweet tone; even if Phephelaphi is strong and is ready to fight for her rights, she still must suffer continual heartbreaks at the hands of the patriarchical society.

In Fumbatha Vera depicts both an intolerant patriarch, but also a victim of the colonization. As a child he’s father is mercilessly and brutally killed at the hands of the Englishmen. Vera makes it clear that such crimes were too often committed during the colonization of Zimbabwe and gives the reader a clear image of the traumatic modern history of the country. Many habitants of Zimbabwe suffer from this history. Fumbatha’s anger is understandably due to his past; but Vera still gives him little sympathy when he tries to hold back Phephelaphi only because she is a woman.

“Butterfly Burning” illustrates independence which freshly emerges in women born into a male dominant society as well as habitants of a colonized land. Both must face great challenges to free themselves and gain self control. Vera’s novel tells in poetic and lyrical sentences of the harsh lives of the subjugated. The novel describes in frank words that the road to liberation is long, but reachable.

In “Without a name” the young woman Mazvita goes to drastic measures after first becoming pregnant and therefore being kicked out by her live-in lover. After giving birth to her child, Mazvita walks the streets of Harare ( the capital of Zimbabwe). Riots are breaking out in the politically hostile environment. Mazvita can barely survive the restless streets and sees little hope of being able to feed her child. As the riots unevenly rise and accelerate, Mazvita makes a heartbreaking decision.

“Without a name” gives, as the title suggest, an image of a woman with little identity in society. No one notices or cares about her and her child. The riots don’t scare her since she is not really a part of them, even if she witnesses vicious violence. Her own fate is already too ferocious for her to care about the fate of others.

“Under the tongue” tells the story of a girl who is left alone with her grandmother after her father is murdered by her mother. Zhizha, the girl, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father. The mother, unable to turn to any help, defends her daughter by killing him. She is then imprisoned. Zhizha loses her ability and courage to speak up and express her. As she vaguely remembers the horrors she’s lived through, her grandmother bound, teaching Zhizha to finally to talk and once and for all confront the abuse.

In “Under the Tongue” Vera illustrates the importance to talk about the dark and harsh realities. She sharply attacks cultures where women and girls (as well as men and boys) are hushed and denied the chance to tell their stories and therefore denied the right to properly heal. “Under the Tongue” is a dedication to language and the beauty of dialogue; it is through these two things that a society can end violence.

Yvonne Veras prose is unique in its use of blending versus with prose. Nature, humans as well as events are gracefully and elegantly portrayed. As nature is described as beautiful, the events and actions of humans vary from horrible to depressing to hopeful. The major theme of the novels being the lack of freedom. Too often must the women suffer and pay for the gender they were born into.

Yvonne Vera’s novels are must reads for anyone interested in women’s issues.

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Leonora Miano was born in Douala, Cameroon in 1973 and moved to Paris, France in 1991. She has written three fictional works in French, two which have been translated into Swedish, but only one in English. Miano has also gotten shockingly little attention. This puzzles me since Mianos works are so stunningly original and well written. She deserves a lot more notice as a writer than she has gotten.

Her debut novel, “L’Intérieur de la nuit” (”Nattens Inre” in Swedish, ”Dark Heart of the night” in English) tells the story of a young woman named Ayané who returns to her home village in the fictional African country Mboasu. Her arrival is not smiled upon, which makes her feel alienated. Most of the men in the village have gone away to work, leaving the village in a vulnerable state. As Ayané wonders off by herself, a group of militant men invade the village. Ayané, being lucky to have wandered off, is able to climb up into a tree, and is witness to the horrors the villagers suffer under the intruders.
The plot of the book sounds simple, but Miano does an interesting twist to the relationship between the villagers and the militants. These invaders who now infest the village want to “restore” old African cultures; however they have weird and delusional ideas of what African culture is. Their leader kills one of the villagers and starts to demand that the rest must eat him. The villagers in utter horror say they will do no such thing. The intruders do not listen to the villagers, which results in that the killed person is cooked and eaten in order to bring back African culture – despite the obvious fact that the African villagers have never practiced cannibalism in their entire history, and are disgusted by the idea. The act forced upon them is torture. The intruders are also African, but Miano hints that they may have been brainwashed by white travelers to believe old clichés about Africans, which in this case is the supposed Cannibalistic rituals. The reality being that the people in Mianos country never even heard of this kind of “tradition”.

Ayané watching the violence while hiding up in the tree is a perfect way to narrate the Novel’s macabre story. Ayené, like the reader, is an outsider to the village. She is a bystander, who knows that as soon as she can she must climb down from her hiding place and help the survivors. As a main character, Ayané was the perfect pick; easy to identify with yet in touch with the villagers.

Leonora Mianos third novel, “Contours du jour qui vient” (“Konturerar av den dag som nalkas” in Swedish. Don’t know what it would be in English…) centers a young girl named Musango. She is chased away by her mother, accused of having “the evil eye”. The novel begins when Musango is twelve, and hasn’t seen her mother in three years. Yet she still feels such a strong connection to her that throughout the entire novel she speaks with her mother as if they where communicating. On her journey to find her home again, Musango takes solitude in a local church- only to find out that the two priests running it are also involved in forced prostitution and enslave Musango. After spending a long time under their abuse, Musango is able to escape and tries to inform the authorities on the secret trafficking the priests are guilty of – only to realize that some people are so powerful they can get away with anything.

Mianos third novel is one of the most remarkable novels to have come out in the past years. It deals with many complex, rough issues, yet handles them delicately. Miano critiques the hypocrisy done by religious organizations as well as society’s habit of letting “important” people off the hook for serious crimes. She also pictures a country torn by civil battles and restlessness (the country this takes place in is the same as in her debut novel).

Musango represents the forgotten children in society. She is abandoned by her parents and other adults. No one wants to take responsibility of her. Musango also represents unconditional love a child can feel towards its parents. Musango is determined to be reunited with her mother, even if through her memories we find out that her mother tried to kill her before chasing her away. Yet Musango feels a need to meet her mother. As she states after escaping the priests secret brothel: “I will find you, Mother. And then I will say what you won’t believe is true. I will tell you I love you”. Unconditional love is a fascinating, if not tragic. Miano shows that a child’s undying love to a parent can be unbelievable painful. It is also unfair. However there is a disturbing beauty to it which touches you. A lot is written about a parent’s unconditional love to his/her child, but rarely can you see portrayals of the other way around. Amy Tan briefly explored it in her novel “The Joy Luck Club”, where one of the stories told by the Chinese women is of when her mother mutilated herself to cure the family’s grandmother, who constantly in return had insulted the mother. Also Brian De Palmas movie “Carrie” can be seen somewhat dealing with this issue. Carrie seems to, in one way, love her abusive mother, even if the treatment she receives from her mother drives her insane and into a killer. All of these tales capture the brutality of loving a mean parent, ultimately somehow destroying themselves in a big or small way.

Leonora Miano writes about the rawest subjects, but has a beautiful way of telling them. The novels are downright disturbing; what she is talking about is important and though provoking. I surely wish that more of her works will be translated into English as well as her second work will be translated into Swedish, due to her talent. Both her novels which I have read are nothing less than masterpieces.

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Buchi Emecheta is a Nigerian born writer living in London. She was born in Lagos to Igbo-parents (a minority in Nigeria). Emecheta was married at the tender age of sixteen and moved to London with her husband. After six years of marriage, they separated. She took an honors degree in sociology while supporting her five children all by herself. Her first book, “In the ditch” was published in 1972; it was a short story collection about her experiences as a poor single mother in London. After that she has published several works, including the highly-praised “The Joys of motherhood” and “Second-class Citizen”.

“Second-class citizen” tells the story of Adah, whose life events are similar to Emechetas. The novel starts by telling about Adah’s childhood. She is lucky enough to go to school, to only be promised as a wife to a man she’s never met. When she has her 16th birthday, Adah moves to London to live with her student husband, with home she has two children with. Her husband, Francis, takes his time with his studies, while Adah struggles along to try and feed the whole family. As time goes on, Francis becomes less and less interested in his studies, while bullying Adah to bend to his will. Adah also realizes that the Londoners don’t like blacks very much.
Adah suffers racial discrimination out in the world and gender discrimination at home. She realizes that since she is a black woman; she will be viewed by society as a second-class citizen.


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Emecheta’s language is gentle and frank. Emecheta looks at Adah’s situation with sharp eyes: she critics Francis and other African men for being male chauvinist and patriarchal, but she also critics the Londoners and other Europeans for being racist and not very understanding towards African immigrants. Adah is shown as a typical Nigerian woman: her value is measured by the number of sons she gives birth to. Adah’s hard work is being taking for granted; when she voices her opinion she is met by anger. She does what she can to help her children, knowing that she is the only one they can rely on.

Emecheta gives a pretty hopeless image of the role women have in the Nigerian society. At the very first page of the book it is told that Adah’s parents didn’t even bother to record her birth since “She was such a disappointment to her parents” that were expecting a boy. When Adah has her first child, Francis’ parents become deeply disappointed and angry that their first grandchild is a girl. Emecheta makes it clear to the viewer that Adah has to deal with people that don’t even consider girls to be worth giving birth to. Adah also gets to start school later than her brother Boy. Unlike Boy, she must give up her studies for the family. Her job is to make her husband look good and fortunate. Adah is also just people always blaming women when things don’t work out. There’s a scene where, after fighting with her husband and being beaten by him, she goes to a church to pray. There she meets another Igbo person, a man, who is able to guess that she has had a fight with her husband. The man then offers Adah that they can pray together, asking God to get her husband to forgive her. Adah then thinks to herself: “Typical Igbo way of thinking. It is always the woman’s fault if there’s been a fight between a husband and his wife”.

Violence is also a subject that is explored in this novel. It is not graphic or a major part of the book, but it’s still a powerful subplot. Francis occasionally beats Adah when he thinks she’s not being obedient enough. Adah just lets it happen, until she decides that she’s had enough. After a while, she starts to defend herself by hitting him back. Showing him that she won’t be intimidated by his fist.
Adah’s ideas and own wishes also collide with the English society. She is unable to get help when she needs it because of cultural misunderstandings and prejudices. She can feel the hostility from whites as she walks down the street.

“Second-class citizen” is a book that deals with the subject of oppression in a realistic, touching way. Emecheta’s prose is easy to read and truly gives an insight to what it’s like to be a Nigerian woman.