The Russian Spring was such a successful experiment that I am renewing it, and the people—through the medium of a Twitter poll—have spoken: my next themed reading challenge will be African Summer!
The rules, such as they are, remain the same: this is not intended to replace my TBR and proof piles, but to supplement them. I can’t buy any of these new. I have access to Senate House Library, the London Library, Birkbeck College library, Bromley local library, and now the British Library; it should be theoretically impossible for a book to remain unfindable. (If I feel dead set on a title and it’s not available somehow, I have given myself permission to check Abe Books for an un-costly secondhand copy.)
Since five titles with a reserve list of two turned out so well last time, I’m sticking with that again. My preliminary list is as follows:
So Long a Letter, by Mariama Ba(discussed here). One of the titles that came up repeatedly as I researched for this project. Written by a pioneering Senegalese author and feminist, it explores the sorrow of a woman over her husband’s death, and her ambivalent relationship with his second, younger wife. Petals of Blood, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o(discussed here). I read his gigantic speculative novel Wizard of the Crow in the first lockdown and, rather unexpectedly, loved it. Petals of Blood is in a more realist mode, following a murder investigation in a small Kenyan town to reveal the corruption and greed of the government.
- A Question of Power, by Bessie Head (unfinished; discussed here). Sanity, mixed-race heritage and refugee/immigrant status (within Africa) are all in play in this short novel by an author born in South Africa but usually claimed by Botswana. It seems to take a lot of inspiration from psychoanalysis, and to have a very modern/-ist flavour. Edited to add: instead, I replaced this title with The Brave African Huntress by Amos Tutuola, also discussed here.
Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga(discussed here). The modern classic about a young Zimbabwean woman’s education, and the ways in which it changes her. Really excited to get to this. Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz(discussed here). Mahfouz was a Nobel Prize-winner for this and its two sequels, which explore a tyrannical patriarch in pre-war Egypt. I like a family saga, especially when it’s skeptical about the characters it follows.
If I get through all of these, can’t find one and don’t want to buy it, or if there are problems of dullness or lack of interest with any of them, I have two alternates:
6. The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing. Disturbing, Faulknerian vision of racism and violence in apartheid South Africa. I’ve only read one Lessing—The Good Terrorist—and really would like to get some of her African fiction under my belt.
7. July’s People, by Nadine Gordimer. The Smaleses, a white family, are caught up in violence and taken for safety to the village of their servant, July. The shifting power dynamics are what appeal to me about this title, though I don’t know how much sympathy we’re expected to have for the Smaleses.
I’ll give myself until the end of August to have a crack at these. I’m also going to combine them with Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer, although I won’t make it to 20! Along with these five (or seven), I’m also going to re-read A Room with a View by EM Forster when I go to Florence in July, and read The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart when I go to Crete in the same month. That’s nine books that are set; I’m sure I’ll read more than that in two and a half months, but that’s enough commitment for now—everything else can be at whim.
Have you read any of these? Do any of them interest you? Where should I start?