Kinna Reads

A blog of books, reading and world literature


Additions to the Stack from The Book Trust

Book Trust photo-001

I wanted to publish a blog with the above picture in an enormous size — just the picture and nothing else, so you could all stare at the books since I’ve been doing that for about a week now. It’s not as if one doesn’t have enough books that one hasn’t read but the feels from a recent acquisition books is just … well, I’m sure there’s a Japanese word for such an emotion!

The Book Trust (in Ghana) runs several programs including a prize scheme, workshop and their flagship book selling program. (Apologies, their website is down so can’t link). The trust imports used books from, I’m guessing, mainly America and sells them to the Ghanaian public.  Currently, novels and children books are Ghc3 (roughly $0.85) each. Like all used bookstores, it;s deliberately disorganized so a visit there demands at least one hour to uncover gems – a process that I cherish.

You won’t find much translated fiction nor any African literature – that’s not why one goes there. The store stock quite a lot of American literature, ‘chick lit’ ( we need a better term), popular literature especially those found on the New York Times bestseller lists. Anyway, I’ve never been disappointed with what’s on offer at The Book Trust. My last trip was soooo good. Enough, let’s talk about the books:

Housekeeping and Gilead, both by Marilynne Robinson – I’ve wanted to read the multi award-winning Robinson from the very first that I heard of her many years ago.  Then in 2011, I got her third novel, Home. But then I got it into my head that I had to read her novels in order of publication so I shelved Home and waited patiently for Housekeeping to appear. A gnawing wait it seemed at times. You, my peer book lovers, can imagine the ecstasy at finding not just Housekeeping, but also Gilead, at The Book Trust. May all books find a loving home! Marilynnie Robinson is a Christian – a Congregationalist – and religions themes, the church, pastors, the ideas of John Calvin are frequent themes in her work. Her most recent book is Lila (2014), described as a prequel to Gilead.

The MasterBrooklyn and Mothers and Sons, both by Colm Tóibín –  I hardly talk about my pre-blogging favorite reads on Kinna Reads and I should.  Tóibín’s fictional account of Henry James’ life in the late 19th Century, The Master (2004), is one of my favorite books. It’s profound, sublime and deeply satisfying – just the thought of it meets all my book needs in that moment. There are books like that, right? It wouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve wanted to read more Tóibín, a want easily satisfied since the writer has published ten books of fiction, short story collections included!

March by Geraldine Brooks – Winner of the 2006 Pulizter Prize, it is a retelling, by the absent father, of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The book  has been described as a “dreadfully respectable fan fiction”!  Would a good reading of this book require a re-reading of Little Women? Where is the time?

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates – The novels of this American novelist are a constant on my wishlist. Richard Yates (1926 – 1992) wasn’t popular during the time of my earnest reading of American literature. Thankfully,  he’s back on all the lists. The Easter Parade — which looks at the tragic lives of the Grimes Sisters — along with Revolutionary Road are considered his best books.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – So a thing happened when in 1999 Jhumpa Lahiri published Interpreter of Maladies, a short story collection centered on the lives of Indians and Indian Americans in America. The Namesake is her first novel (folks always make such a fuss over first novels, but I’m not here using first as in their first; Lahiri, by her collection of short stories, is a very fine writer indeed). The book is about a Bengali family, the Gangulis, and their struggles to “become Americans even as theu pine for home”. They name their first son, Gogol, in honor of the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. I want to read this now.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith – Don’t tell the literary establishment — the insiders — but I never finished Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. And I doubt I’ll ever go back to it. I have no explanations. This story of  mixed-race British family in America will be my second attempt at reading Smith.

I think I did good at The Book Trust!

(For those in Accra: The Book Trust store is located opposite the University of Professional Studies (former IPS) in Madina and it’s open M-F, normal working hours.)

Any recent additions to your stack that you care share? Have you read any of the eight above?



“1994” by Lucille Clifton

The-Terrible-Stories-I’ve been feeling rather blah and achy for the past couple of days and also yearning for some poetry.  When this happens, I tend to want to read from a favorite poet.  So I looked up Cavafy, then my favorite Poles, then touched on Walcott, some Hemphill and so on; it’s been a journey of something.  I settled on a Lucille Clifton first-person monologue.

The poem “1994” is included in Clifton’s the terrible stories, a collection she published after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She went into remission but unfortunately, the cancer (the bastard!) recurred. Clifton died in 2010 after a long battle with the disease.

I want to say a lot more about this poem, about this poet whose work is essential for me, but words fail. So, here is the poem:


i was leaving my fifty-eighth year
when a thumb of ice
stamped itself hard near my heart

you have your own story
you know about the fears the tears
the scar of disbelief

you know that the saddest lies
are the ones we tell ourselves
you know how dangerous it is

to be born with breasts
you know how dangerous it is
to wear dark skin

i was leaving my fifty-eighth year
when i woke into the winter
of a cold and mortal body

thin icicles hanging off
the one mad nipple weeping

have we not been good children
did we not inherit the earth

but you must know all about this
from your own shivering life

- by Lucille Clifton

More poems by Lucille Clifton at Kinna Reads:


Top 10s: Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet

(I doubt I’ll ever get the the Top Ten Tuesday meme done and posted on the right Tuesday. This was last week’s topic. At least I’m posting one and that’s an amazing batting average of .50; I’ll take a baseball stat to improve my tardiness any day!)

The topic is

 Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor  – I listed Dust in an earlier To Be Read post. I need to reiterate that I want to read this book that everyone is raving about. If you’re among those not talking, or you haven’t heard, about this book, then do add it to your wishlist or something!

Kintu by  Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi – A historical novel based a creation tale of the Baganda people from Uganda. Another dazzling (I hear) novel from East Africa!

Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique –  I keep saying that my reading of Caribbean Literature is woeful compared to a decade ago. So wanting to read Yanique would be good for catching up purposes but, I really just want to read her.  How to Escape a Leper Colony, Yanique’s award winning collection of short stories, is already on my list of collections to read in 2014Land of Love and Drowning is about two sisters in early 1900s Virgin Islands.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay –  My timeline on Twitter has introduced me to a number of writers, perhaps I’ll do a post on that one day. Anywho, yes Roxane Gay!  She’s also an essayist and has written for many online publications, so Google her.  She released two books this year (yes, that’s right: TWO) — Bad Feminist ( a collection of essays) and An Untamed State, about a Haitian American woman’s trauma from, and survival of, a kidnapping.

A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava – Back in the blogging-day, I had a somewhat regular feature titled “Oh, I Should Read That, Or Additions to My Wishlist”.  Adding to wishlists is a favored activity of book bloggers (and that feature was fun, maybe I’ll bring that back). I added this 700-page novel about a public defender to the seventh edition of the wishlist, in 2012. It was initially self-published then later traditionally published after some bloggers raved about the book. I heard the critic James Wood calls is ‘hysterical realism’. What is that? I still want to read it.

For Collage

 Zone by Mathias Énard – Another book added to the same list as the one above. My desire to read it was recalled and triggered by a review at Winston’s Dad. That it’s a 512 page one-sentence novel is apparently not the most sensational thing about this book. It doubles as a spy thriller, and a historical account of happenings in the Mediterranean. (Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell).

Satantango by László Krasznahorkai or The Door by Magda Szabo – I’m a fan of Peter Nadas which means I should want to read more Hungarian Literature. And I do. Also, how can one escape the acclaim of Krasznahorkai in translated circles?  Satantango is set in a bleak village where the inhabitants wait for something to happen.  And it reads that a messiah does come. Well.  The Door is about the relationship between a young Hungarian writer and her cleaner.  I’m not picky; either one will do. (Santantango is translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes, The Door is translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix).

Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante – Rave, rave about Ferrante is all I see now. So I’ve bitten. Any of her novels will do. Days of Abandonment is about a “woman’s descent into devastating emptiness after being abandoned by her husband with two young children to care for” (  Ferrante is considered one of the greatest Italian writers and isn’t wonderful that she’s a woman? I’ve read mostly men, of Italy – Calvino, Di Lampedusa, Bufalino.  So looking forward to reading Ferrante. (Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein)

Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye – This book has been on my mind since it won the 2009 Prix Goncourt.  It looks at family histories and moves between France and Senegal. (Translated from French by John Fletcher)

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar – (I shan’t moan about not reading enough North African lit, I shall not). Aaron Bady (@zunguzungu) did a four-part serial treatment of this book and I was hooked. A child narrates the effect of Qaddafi’s rule on his family.

So that’s my ten.  I hope some of these books sound interesting to you!

What’s on your list of “book you want to read but don’t own yet”?

1 Comment

On Writers and Honorifics

I tweeted on the issue of Writers and Honorifics today; I was triggered by a tweet on my TL. I’m sure it’s not an issue for most but for a few of us (irreverent Africans perhaps), this irks.

Me, I think the Prof. title doesn’t make the writer. Instead, the writer makes the academic institution!


(Those wanting to respond with “but this is African culture; in our culture, we respect our elders’ or some such need not respond to this post. Thank you)


“Yaa” by Nana Nyarko Boateng

Libation pouring is a thing in my life. During my childhood, my grandfather poured libation (he was a chief); my mother poured libation (for special events and also when a new bottle of something was opened); my mother’s friends poured libations (lots of late night discussion on leftist issues and on no-vision leaders).  Ghanaians poured libations a lot more than we do now (Monotheistic beliefs have us abandoning a lot!).

These days, I pour libations whenever a wine o’clock means new bottle. I pour libations when the Black Stars are facing a tough match but even the ancestors despair, so…  We pour libations to pray.

I love Nana Nyarko’s “Yaa”. Its simplicity, its openness, its honesty; its supplication: everything.  “Schnapps and words”!


On the red soil
my feet are bare
with prayers
as I pour down
unto earth
spirit from a glass
to spirits
who make things fall
like rain
on a Thursday night
when schnapps and words
are everything I have left
to believe in.

- by Nana Nyarko Boateng

With permission from the poet.

The poem is published in The Prairie Schooner ‘s latest edition, Fusion #9: Libations, which features poets from Ghana.



Jerome Reviews Alifa Rifaat’s Distant View of a Minaret

(This is Jerome Kuseh’s third review for Kinna Reads; his previous reviews are Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen and Bessie Head’s When Rain Clouds Gather.  Jerome is a “Ghanaian who mostly blogs about politics and business. He is also a fan of literature and has sometimes written poetry. His business blog is and for his posts about politics, social issues and his attempts at creative writing, visit”)

distant_view_of_a_minaretDistant View of a Minaret is a collection of fifteen short stories by Alifa Rifaat (real name: Fatimah Rifaat 1930-1996,) written in Arabic and translated by Denys Johnson-Davies and was first published in 1983. This is the first book I’ve read by a writer from North Africa. This book also has the distinction of being in Kinna’s top 10 by African writers.

The title of the book, taken from the title of the first story in the collection, is indicative of the pervasiveness of the Islamic culture in the stories. The call to prayer, quotes of the Qur’an and the description of Islamic rites and beliefs give the stories an authentic Islamic Arab feel.
The stories are mostly told from the point of view of female protagonists. The issue of marriage is prominently featured, and a recurring theme is the giving out of girls to marriage by their family while they (the girls) are in love with other men.

The first story, ‘Distant View of a Minaret’, is about a sexually frustrated wife. Over the years, she got weary of the repeated refusal of her husband to attempt to satisfy her, as well as his infidelities, to the point where she was no longer bothered. The extent of her indifference is expressed in the closing scene, where she calmly drinks coffee and sends her child to call the doctor after her husband had died from a heart attack.

‘Bahiyya’s Eyes’, the next story in the collection, is a short but compelling portrayal of the life of a woman from childhood to old age. The story is an unhappy one, as the young protagonist is forced to undergo a clitoridectomy; forced to marry against her wishes; becomes a widow and is then left with the task of raising her children alone; and finally is overwhelmed by loneliness in her old age. Below are two quotes which nicely summarize the experience of the woman.

The fact is there’s no joy for a girl in growing up, it’s just one disaster after another till you end up an old woman who’s good for nothing and who’s real lucky if she finds someone to feel sorry for her. (AWS, 1987; Page 8)

Daughter, I’m not crying now because I’m fed up or regret that the Lord created me a woman. No, it’s not that. It’s just that I’m sad about my life and my youth that have come and gone without my knowing how to live them really and truly as a woman. (AWS, 1987; Page 9)

The story addresses the poor treatment of women in the society through the account of the woman’s life. Through the unhappiness of the main character, Rifaat shows the suffering of several other women who have been suppressed their whole lives.

The longest story in the collection, at 16 pages, is ‘My World of the Unknown’, a bizarre tale of a woman who falls in love with a djinn (spiritual being which can be good or evil) that appears in the form of a snake. In this story, the woman (who is married) has a sexual relationship with the djinn when it appears in two forms – as a snake, then as a woman.  Below are some quotes that reveal Rifaat’s brilliance in storytelling.

There was no doubt but that the secret of my passion for her, my preoccupation with her, was due to the excitement that had aroused, through intense fear, desire within myself; an excitement that was sufficiently strong to drive the blood hotly through my veins whenever the memory of her came to me, thrusting the blood in bursts that made my heart beat widly, my limbs limp. (AWS, 1987; Page 71)

An idea would obtrude itself upon me sometimes: did Cleopatra, the very legend of love, have sexual intercourse with her serpent after having given up sleeping with men, having wearied of amorous adventures with them so that her sated instincts were no longer moved other than by the excitement of fear, her senses no longer aroused other than by bites from a snake? And the last of her lovers had been a viper that had destroyed her. (AWS, 1987; Page 71)

But it is natural for you to be a man,’ I said in a precipitate outburst, ‘seeing that you are so determined to have a love affair with me.’

‘Perfect beauty is to be found only in woman,’ she said, ‘so yield to me and I shall let you taste undreamed of happiness…’ (AWS, 1987; Page 75)

This love story ends when the woman’s husband, who is oblivious to the affair, kills a snake. This breaks the treaty the woman had with the djinn, and she and her husband move out of the building in which dwells the djinn. This story explores the sexuality of a woman. The sexual pleasure the woman feels is in direct contrast to the woman in the first story,’ Distant View of a Minar’et, who has lived her whole life in sexual frustration.

Alifa’s writing is not critical of Islam. It does not also seem to challenge traditional gender roles. It appears to criticize the failure of a lot of the characters (usually husbands) to live up to moral standards. It highlights the neglect of wives and the society’s disregard for the aspirations of the women characters.

The thing about a collection of short stories is that everyone can have a different story which they feel was the most compelling. So which of the 15 stories is my favourite? Well, why pick a favourite when I have the whole book? This is a must read and a delight at only 116 pages. Go get a copy.


Notes on Okwiri Oduor’s ‘My Father’s Head’

(The 2014 Caine Prize-winning story ‘My Father’s Head’ is this month’s assigned reading at Women Writers Forum, which is hosted by Mbaasem. I have notes,)

A story of loss, of grieving, of memory; ‘My Father’s Head’ begins with:

I had meant to summon my father only long enough to see what his head looked like, but now that he was here and I did not know how to send him back.

Then later in the story:

“I said to Bwibo, “We have to send him back.”
Bwibo said, “The liver you have asked for is the one you eat.”
“But I did not really want him back, I just wanted to see his head.”
Bwibo said, “In the end, he came back to you and that should account for something, should it not?”

Perhaps my father’s return accounted for nothing but the fact that the house already smelt like him – of burnt lentils and melting fingernails and the bark of bitter quinine and the sourness of wet rags dabbing at broken cigarette tips.”

1.  Weeks after my godfather’s death in Nairobi, I saw him in New York where I was living at the time. He first appeared to me in the living room of my Washington Heights apartment. I was watching TV.  One of my roommates had installed a 70s era furniture set and had placed a loveseat, brocaded in bluish-green to the right of the TV, in a nook. I can’t recall now what show I was watching. Perhaps it was lunchtime and as I lived a block from work, maybe I was home eating a bowl of my New York style Ghanaian pepper soup. In which case a repeat of Law and Order? Or it was in the morning and I was drinking tea while watching Teletubbies (an optimistic show to start anyone’s day in New York).  Anyway, I saw something move in the right-hand corner, I turned my head and there was Uncle Jonathan, sitting legs crossed in the loveseat, smiling one of his toothy grins at me. I just stared at him and turned back to the TV as though it had not happened. Not like I wanted to ignore or to unsee him. More like okay, there’s that.

Then he would appear next to me on one of my jaunts on Broadway. He just walked with me, with that strident stepping of New Yorkers meant to signal to those annoying pavement-hugging tourists that this here was our city.  I just accepted his presence and proceeded to brunch. Over a period of weeks, my godfather visited me several times. I gathered up enough nerve to tell my mother, who broke down in tears and asked if I needed to talk with someone. No, I don’t need a therapist, Mummy. Not for this anyway. I knew exactly what was happening. My grief was overwhelming and besides who doesn’t need more of Jonathan Kariara in their lives, alive or dead?

I don’t believe in ghosts; my mind was conjuring up his image in response to the loss and it was comforting indeed.  My godfather’s appearances stopped weeks later. Unlike the narrator in ‘My Father’s Head’, I didn’t summon my godfather; never talked to him; never offered him tea; never lived with him so the community around me thought the person was my lover!; never needed him gone since he never overstayed; and so never thought of asking a Catholic priest to give me protection.  I was, like the narrator, wistful and longing once I realized that he’d left.

I said, “Maybe you could stay here for a couple of days, Baba.’

Maybe stay, definitely not die, live always. The longing never stops.

2. There’s food all over this short story. I went googling, after reading ‘My Father’s Head, and found that Oduor had entered the story in the 2013 Short Story Day Africa’s Feast, Famine and Potluck story competition;  and that she had actually won the contest. So then I saw.  But at first reading, I was smacking my lips, swallowing my saliva on encountering mentions like:

Ghee (even if a sentence later it “went rancid”)
Bread slices dipped in tea (my 8 year old calls that fabom)
Street-roasted maize
Fried eggs and sour cream
Cane juice
Butternut squash and melons
Garlic, salt and pork
Groundnut soup and pumpkin leaves
Chicken bone

Look. ( I could speak here about how great a cook Uncle Jonathan was. About his sumptuous breakfasts; of juices made with five to ten fruits, of curries and stews; of conversations around dinner tables. But one JK story is enough for these notes.)

Mostly this food themed story works well. But then you read a paragraph like -

“Let me tell you: one day you will renounce your exile, and you will go back home, and your mother will take out the finest china, and your father will slaughter a sprightly cockerel for you, and the neighbours will bring some potluck, and your baby sister will wear her navy-blue PE wrapper, and your brother will eat with a spoon instead of squelching rice and soup through the spaces between his fingers.
And you, you will have to tell them stories about places not-here, about people that soaked their table napkins in Jik Bleach and talked about London as though London was a place one could reach by hopping onto an Akamba bus and driving through Nakuru and Kisumu and Kakamega and finding themselves there.”

-  and think to yourself: well, where did that come from? Perhaps you’ll wonder at the nameless, odd characters; the sometimes macabre descriptions and the mysterious pronouncements from Bwibo. You may puzzle at the puzzling happenings. Ask yourself, whatever happened to plot development? Because maybe you forgot that ‘My Father’s Head’ is a story that shows how we mourn and remember. How in our grief, we gather disparate, unrelated groups of things and make them cohere as we attempt to rebuild, grasping on whatever comes. Where else, but in a story about death, can we admit to others that we’ve thought out the dying of our parents and mourned them while they slept in the next room, alive and well?

3. Maybe like me, you also feel this: there’s no making sense of some deaths.  Some of us, here in Ghana, are enduring the first full week of a loss that can’t be explained neatly. I have found in the prose poetry of  ‘My Father’s Head’ a sort of acknowledgement of the mess, of the puzzle, of the grief.

4.  ‘My Father’s Head’  is among my three favorites of Caine Prize stories that I’ve read. The other two are Billy Kahora’s ‘Urban Zoning’ and Lily Mabura’s ‘How Shall We Kill the Bishop’.

5. Read the story, please. Okwiri Oduor is apparently working on her ‘first full-length novel’ (her first book, The Dream Chasers, is listed as a ‘novella’ and what is a novella but a short novel?  Some novels owe their existence to novellas. Let’s stop shading the novella).

6. Okwiri Oduor is from Kenya. And so was Jonathan Kariara. See? (lol, it’s fun reading stories, ain’t it?)

7. Read the ‘My Father’s Head’!


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