Thursday, March 22, 2012

See Africa! Read a Novel!

It’s been a little while since our last "See The World" post (previous entries can be found here and here), and with winter finally coming to a close, we’ve probably all got a touch of cabin fever. In my case, it’s a full-blown case of stage 4 Wanderlust. To set us free I thought we’d kick off the shackles of cities and towns, and strike out into the wilds of East Africa, present-day Kenya and Tanzania. Here are three great books that will take you there:

Out of Africa, by Isak Denisen (pen name for Karen Blixen.) Published in 1937, but set in 1920’s colonial British East Africa (Kenya), this is a book Hemingway called the best he’s read on Africa (fine praise from someone who’s written some great books on Africa himself.) You’ll probably recognize the first line from the 1985 film of the same name:
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet.  
“In the day-time you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.  
“The geographical position, and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent.”

True at First Light, by Ernest Hemingway- Or Under Kilimanjaro, by the same author. Both were published posthumously, and both were born out of the same 1950s-era manuscript that he had left unpublished:
“It was a clear and beautiful morning as we drove out across the plain with the Mountain and the trees of the camp behind us. There were many Thomson’s gazelle ahead on the green plain switching their tails as they fed. There were herds of wildebeests and Grant’s gazelle feeding close to the patches of bush. We reached the airstrip we had made in a long open meadow by running the car and the truck up and down through the new short grass and grubbing out the stumps and roots of a patch of brush at one end. The tall pole of a cut sapling drooped from the heavy wind of the night before and the wind sock, homemade from a flour sack, hung limp. We stopped the car and I got out and felt the pole. It was solid although bent and the sock would fly once the breeze roze. There were wind clouds high in the sky and it was beautiful looking across the green meadow at the Mountain looking so huge and wide from here.”

Weep Not, Child, by James Ngugi (early pen name for Ngugi wa Thiong’o). This 1964 book is the first English novel to be written by an East African. You can imagine that its point-of view (native African) and its subject matter (the Mau Mau Uprising) provide a pretty interesting contrast to the two books above:
“There was only one road that ran right across the land. It was long and broad and shone with black tar, and when you travelled along it on  hot days you saw little lakes ahead of you. But when you went near, the lakes vanished, to appear again a little farther ahead. Some people called them the devil’s waters because they deceived you and made you more thirsty if your throat was already dry. And the road which ran across the land and was long and broad had no beginning and no end. At least, few people knew of its origin. Only if you followed it it would take you to the big city and leave you there while it went beyond to the unknown, perhaps joining the sea.”



  1. I must add Things Fall Apart. An amazing novel in every respect.

    1. Great suggestion. We may just have to write up a separate list for West Africa, or Nigeria specifically. I'm thinking:

      Things Fall Apart
      Purple Hibiscus
      and some other book... I guess I'll have to do a little research.

    2. Have you ever read Poisonwood Bible? Ignore the Oprah seal, it's actually fantastic.

    3. I haven't. But I want to. I've heard it's great. (And I have an unhealthy fascination with these types of settings)