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The Joy of Reading: My Books of 2009/2010

A friend and I were talking the other day and she asked me about the technique I use when reviewing books. I don’t know if there is a technique as such. What I can say is that as a books reviewer/critic, I never set out to look for the bad aspects of a book. When I started, it was very hard to put my thoughts into words…I was fully aware that being a writer is tasking mentally and emotionally. It is a difficult job to be a writer…it is not easy because you are up against yourself and no one else. As a journalist, every new story I have to work on, my prayer is let this be the best feature I have ever written. To start each one is always hard because I wonder if I can surpass the last one I wrote. It is mental torture…that much I know. I get butterflies and on few occasions, I have become so anxious, I had to stop, switch off my laptop, sleep, wake up and start again…

So, I told my friend the advice my mum gave me when I was struggling to write my first set of book reviews. “That is someone’s dream. It is not your job to kill it. Look for what you love about the book and balance it out with that which you think could have been different…if it is a good book, don’t play yourself, make sure you say it is a good book and forget what all others have said. If you enjoyed it, go on and gush about it and if you didn’t like it too much, look for words to soften the blow but never set out to kill it.” On two occasions, I have asked someone else to read my reviews and I remember, he too mentioned the choice of words for a particular book review I wrote. Low and behold, the editor of the book, upon reading it, agreed. I was smiling when I read her response  because I got the balance right. Fair to say, she mentioned her bias, after all, she edited the book but for me as a reviewer, I smiled because I found something in the book that I loved and focused on it. That same review got a few good a few good responses from other writers.  This much I know, those who have never written a thing are the loudest critics because they cannot do it, so they feel the need to talk endlessly about a  process they know nothing about…

For every book I reviewed in 2010 and authors I interviewed a big thanks to the publishers and PRs who made it happen. Laura Mell at Jonathan Cape, Random House, you totally rock, you are the best. To the publishers in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, who sent us books at the New African and New African Woman, thank you.  To the writers who independently published their books, Nuff respect!

If you are yet to see your book review in print, be assured, it is coming soon…

If you enjoy reading, this list is for you. If you are yet to decide on Christmas presents for friends and family or if you are like me and do New Year presents instead, this list is for you. Help someone rediscover their love for reading. These are some of the books I have enjoyed in the last year and half…some kept me up because I just had to finish reading. On Black Sisters’ Street by Chika Unigwe, The Long Song by Andrea Levy did that to me. Tail of The Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes had me mesmerised with its language, I didn’t go to church one Sunday for I had to finish the book. Forgive me Lord! Yes, they were that good…others, made me think. Each book had its own swagger, from the political to the downright humourous but if there is a common strand, it was the fact that each one told a story from the African or Africa-Caribbean  point of view that I appreciated, yet they remained universal because their themes cut across the boundaries of race, social, political and cultural limitations imposed by our frigid human ideologies, religion and gender. These books were thought-provoking, exhilarating and sometimes, it was painful to swallow the action taking place on the pages of these different titles but with each story, I realised, Africa  and the universe at large has a wealth of talent, discovered and those that are yet to be discovered. More ink to the pen of these writers.

Some books have carried over into 2011, reviews go to print in the new year but if you are yet to read any of these books, make sure you get them for 2011. It will be worth it because you will cry, cringe and for sure, you will laugh out loud. Enjoy!

The Long Song By Andrea Levy

The Long Song

Levy’s writing is poetic. She paints visual images with her words which is full of dramatic scenes that are painful and disturbing to take in. A sensitive subject to write about but she handles it with adept sensitivity that makes you wince, laugh and at the same time full of hope.

On Black Sisters’ Street By Chika Unigwe

On Black Sister's Street

My Favourite book cover of 2010. Chika Unigwe weaves a spellbinding narrative that is gritty and thought-provoking. (Read full review in a forthcoming edition of the New African Woman...)

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The Memory of Love

The Memory of Love is an exhilarating novel about love, friendship and the unforgiving impact war has on the human mind as it reveals our fragility. Aminatta Forna writes with a deep passion for telling the stories about humanity and the daily struggles we face to atone for our past while grappling after our future.

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna

Tiger Hills

With simplicity, Mandanna is both painting a canvas and weaving a tapestry of intertwined lives against the backdrop of nature and beautiful prose. Her writing is visual, emotional and poignant. If there is a fault to be found, it is perhaps that the book is quite long and could easily put an unmotivated reader off. Once you start reading, however, you are captivated. It is hard to put down this compelling saga. Tiger Hills is an exceptionally accomplished debut novel, and Mandanna is most definitely a new and exciting voice.

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

The Boy Next Door

We must commend Irene Sabatini’s ability to sneak in the multi-cultural Zimbabwe of in its early years. While her use of language and humour is simple, it is effective. This is a story that stays with you long after you are done reading because Lindiwe’s voice is so distinctive when she expresses herself, you feel her heart.

Beneath The Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

Beneath the Lion's Gaze

Mengiste’s ability to skilfully weave emotionally delicate times during this ghastly period of Ethiopia’s existence through this work of fiction is both brilliant and overwhelmingly powerful. You are forced to feel empathy for the thousands of people who suffered during the revolution without knowing them.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Secret Lives of baba Segi's Wives

Narrated through the voice of Baba Segi and his wives, Shoneyin captures what a riotous polygamous household is like from the African sensibility, specifically Nigeria with colourful characters. For a debut novel, you have to commend her ability to maintain a strong and fluid narrative with vivid descriptions and not once does the humour drop. A warm and captivating read, this book will make you laugh out loud in public.

Secret Son by Laila Lalami

Secret Son

Laila Lalami writes with a deep passion for humanity and while she lives outside Morocco, Morocco still lives in her. A thought-provoking offering from a woman of immense talent, Lalami’s visceral approach to life in modern day Morocco will leave you with a hunger for more of the story she has to tell. For a debut novel, Lalami has written a story that reveals the ills and complex dynamics of relationships; the ones we have with ourselves, friends, parents and the society we live. A book worthy of attention from the literary world because Lalami, without a doubt is an exciting voice.

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Black Mamba Boy

Black Mamba Boy is a story which shows the strength of the human mind and how much it can endure when pushed to the limits. This is what Nadifa Mohamed says she wanted to bring out in her book and leave with her readers. “I’m interested in how much people can survive because the human spirit is incredibly strong but also fragile. I also wanted to do justice to the beauty of my father’s life.”

Nairobi Heat by Mukoma wa Ngugi

Nairobi Heat

Ngugi’s ability to weave a complex narrative, which connects crime and racial tensions in the US to an in-depth knowledge of Kenya and its nuances, to Rwanda and its genocide past within this African crime thriller, is nothing but the work of a genius craftsman and wordsmith. It is hard to find any faults with Ngugi’s debut novel. His pen promises us more intriguing stories. This is one book you will not put down until you reach the end because it is that superb a story.

Tail of The Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Tail of The Blue Bird

I read this book in one sitting, didn't even go to church that sunday. The language was of the utmost 'swaggerlicious' level...I don't mean to be playful by putting it like that but Nii Parkes really takes you into a world that African fiction needs to explore more, from the detective/mystery aspect to elements of rural life and practices. I love, love, love this book. You have to read it for yourself to understand why I have a special place for this book. There is something organic about it...It is different.

Court of Remorse: Inside The International Tribunals For Rwanda

By: Thierry Cruvellier, Translated by Chari Voss

Court of Remorse: Inside The International Tribunals For Rwanda

An enthralling read that would make a riveting court room drama series for television, except for one thing; Rwanda’s story and continuous quest for justice is real. It is real life with real people whose national pain and loss is forever ingrained in world history. Court of Remorse: Inside The International Tribunals For Rwanda, is a must read for anyone who is intrigued and has questions about the events of 1994, but has never fully understood what happened in those brutal 100 days or why the international community still cannot keep its promise of ‘Never Again.’

A Rainbow In The Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa

By: Dominque Lapierre

A Rainbow In The Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa

Cannot say much about this just yet as it was recently reviewed for the New Africa magazine.

Last but not least, you can read a full feature here: Conversations With Myself by Nelson Mandela

There are others I thoroughly enjoyed, An Elegy For Easterly by Petina Gappah, Migritude by Shailja Patel, I Do Not Come To You by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Bitter Leaf by Chioma Okereke and Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s In Dependence.

In the meantime, here are some books I strongly recommend you get and read, The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendia Huchu, brilliant book,  Oil On Water by Helon Habila, Say You are One Of Them by Uwem Akpan, Lyrics Alley by Leila Abouela and How to Read The Air by Dinaw Mengsitu. Oh, yes, the genius is back with his master stroke!



6 Responses to “The Joy of Reading: My Books of 2009/2010”

  1. BO, I agree. I believe every book has something to say and it is up to the reader to find this thing. I have read your reviews in the New African and enjoyed them. You do a great job. When I started reviewing books on my blog I had similar problems. I was doing it for myself though. As a writer I know how writers suffer to put pen on paper, or fingers on keyboard and create a whole world from words.

    The Tail of a Blue Bird (Nii Ayikwei Parkes) is on my shelf for 2011 together with other African writers’ books and Fela, This Bitch of a Life (Carlos Moore) the Cassava Republic edition. I read the Hairdresser of Harare this year and loved it. One of very few books I received from authors for review purposes.

    I appreciate what you and the folks at New African are doing. It inspires me.

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Nana, really chuffed at your comment. I hope we continue to inspire you. Have a good one and thanks for reading the blogs and leaving your thoughts. It is appreciated.

  3. Really enjoyed this. Not sure where I read it on your site but was inspired by your reading a book in 2 days. Nice one. Might give it go. Well done. Nice post! Oh and thanks for accepting the FB friend request. I’ll see you around in church (kicc member) maybe! 😀

  4. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks Bess, for your lovely comment…the two days book thing was on my facebook status I think…FB friendship, you are welcome and nice to connect with you too. See you around at church for sure. 🙂

  5. Nii says:

    Thanks for the vote of confidence, Belinda!

  6. Belinda Otas says:

    You are welcome Nii

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