Mention African literature and these familiar themes and buzz words come to mind: post-colonial, war/conflict, poverty, disease, famine. So it comes as a total surprise when one encounters a collection of short stories titled African Love Stories and edited by Ama Ata Aidoo. Love, an idea and theme not often associated with Africa and the lives of its people. It is pleasing to see, listed in the contents, twenty-one stories penned by some of the best writers of the current African literary scene. The stories span the continent from Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana to Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa. As you scan the names of the writers; Aboulela, Adichie, Atta, Baigana, Coker, Magona, de Nyeko, Ogudipe, Oyeyemi, El Saadawi, Tadjo, wa Goro; the best surprise of all is revealed — all the stories are by African women.
The collection deals with the full gamut of love and loving; the process of falling in love, the joys and the pain, the illusions, the betrayals, the forbidden and the consequences. The cast of characters and their relationships are varied; opposite and same-sex lovers, parent and child, uncle and niece, native and foreigner, a citizen and her community. These stories are diverse, complex, nuanced as the African continent. However, each character’s love plays out against the familiar African issues of socio-economic inequalities and political upheavals. Yet, the stories reveal dissimilar reactions against the familiar terrain. Proponents of the notion of the ‘one African story, of a ‘real Africa will be disappointed. For this collection shows Africa in all its colors and complexities.
This is a collection with something for everyone. All the stories are beautifully crafted and most are exquisitely told. Some are heart-breaking, some are joyful, but all take unexpected turns. Like Africa, they can turn on a dime; you might cry and then laugh till your stomach aches. Some of my favorites stories in the collection include:
The Rival by Yaaba Badoe. A story of matrilineal allegiance and love in which the rival of a wife turns out not to be any woman but surprisingly, his fourteen-year-old niece.
At night, the bitterness in her heart turning her blood to bile, Mrs Mensah dreamt of fruit bats, while the child in the corridor, imagining that she was ruler of the house, delighted in having her uncle at her beck… Ever watchful, Mrs Mensah felt the chord running between her husband and niece thickening, growing plumb as a maggot; she felt the fruit of her labour withering as the child’s teeth, becoming sharp and strong, revealed the strength of her desire.
Jambula Tree by Monica Arac de Nyeko deals with a relationship full of promise between two young girls and the consequences when their friendship strays into forbidden territories.
You said it yourself, we could be anything. Anything coming from your mouth was seasoned and alive. You said it to me, as we sat on a mango tree branch. We were not allowed to climb trees, but we did, and there, inside the green branches, you said – ‘we can be anything’.
Give Us That Spade by Molara Ogundipe in which a young woman courageously claims her rights to a dead father, who had failed in life to recognizes her as his child. A story of transformation and identity.
A Sunny Afternoon by Véronique Tadjo in which a woman completely misreads a situation and conjures up a relationship with a man who turns out to be unavailable.
He shouldn’t have shown her his home…. And he should definitely not have taken her to his bedroom. A bedroom is an intimate space. It is the place where you hide your soul, your secrets, and your vulnerability. Only a few carefully chosen people are normally allowed it.
Possessing the Secret of Joy by Chika Unigwe describes a young woman who plots to leave her husband but is betrayed by the joys of motherhood.
Modi’s Bride by Sindiwe Magona tells of a warrior’s love for his chosen bride. It is the only neo-traditional story in the collection.
In this collection, the African woman exposes her strength and her ability to hope and survive, a reality often overlooked for a more convenient portrayal as victim. The publisher, Ayebia, describes the collection as a ‘radical departure from conventional anthologies’ and I wholeheartedly agree. A highly recommended collection.