I have not willingly read African literature or any kind or real literature for that matter in a while, preferring the quick and easy dime a dozen mysteries and romances. My excuse has been that I am busy. I still need to read (two days without a book causes me to crawl on the floor, hand outstretched moaning “book”) but I cannot be bothered to read anything I do not already know the ending of. The guy gets the girl or the rich widow did it, nice and easy reads.
My sister has tried to pull me away from them citing embarrassment and except for a few stories, I have remained resistant. C has been a little more successful because she actually puts the book in my hand and if a book is in your hand, what can you do but read it? Lately, however, I am beginning to see that I may have been doing myself a great disservice.
I won Zukiswa Wanner’s Men of the South at the Writivism competition. I do not think I would have read it otherwise and since I went all the way to Pretoria to get it autographed, I decided I needed to at least read it. Perhaps because of my former undue prejudice, at first reading, I did not get into the story and stopped. Two days later, I thought I would just push through and finish it. By the time I was done, however, I wanted to read more from the author. It was funny, it was real, it was good writing. I identified with the characters even envied them, I got lost in the story.
Anyway, it was because of this book that I decided to give NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names a try. I have never been happier. The rich description reminded me of why I loved writing in the first place. It was real and gritty. It was sad but it was also funny. It also reminded me of my childhood. I had forgotten that country game. We played it although I am not sure that was what we called it. The voice and the choice of words was that of the person next door, no unnecessary pretensions. I have already given the book to C otherwise I would have quoted some of my favourite phrases from the book here although they would be very many.
There is something about reading a voice that sounds like yours or any of the number of people that you talk to everyday or hearing a story that is essentially your story. I do not pretend to have experienced everything Darling did but we have been in the same place and I am sure a lot of immigrants feel the same.
What came out of all of this is that we have some really really good writing here. Stories and characters that we can see in people everyday, for which there is no need to really stretch the imagination. And the writing itself, the description, the prose, the similes; we have some good work. I had missed that.
Now to read some real literature, although in no way am I promising to get rid of dime novel addictions, old habits and all that. I am making space for proper work and if I choose more African literature than the rest, you can blame Writivism, Zukiswa and NoViolet.