It’s Monday so I’ll be focusing on short stories today for Ghanaian Literature Week. There’ll be three posts – two on books/resources and I’ll end the day with a review of The End of Skill by Mamle Kabu.
As a reader, short stories are my favorite length of prose fiction. I’ve traced my love for the form to my childhood and my mother’s subscription of Ms. Magazine. The Ms. of the 1970s included a feature titled “Stories for Free Children”. The stories excited my imagination. Looking back now, those stories were more like flash fiction. They started this lifelong appreciation.
As common as the form is, short stories are not easy to write. The space to delight with a short story is far less than that given to a novel. The best novel can be flawed in some parts and yet emerge triumphant in its totality. Such a posture can totally ruin a good short story. The best short stories are perfection itself.
Here are five short story collections from Ghana that everyone should read:
Published in 1970, the stories in this collection are framed by post-Independence disillusioned realities and viewed as such, issues raised in No Sweetness Here are still very relevant in today’s Ghana and Africa. This collection begins Aidoo’s signature themes of African women’s rights and the wider societal development against a backdrop of our struggle against neo-colonialism. A course that she’s remained faithful to, especially through her three short story collections. The big themes aside, it’s the characters in this collection that draw us in; their humanity under exceptional circumstances; their humor, dialogue and ways of relating to each other that delights.
2. The Girl Who Can and Other Stories by Ama Ata Aidoo
Geosi Reads argues that this collection should have been named “Choosing and Other Stories” and goes on to recommend that “all would-be-writers and even established writers to go look for this story (“Choosing”). You’ll learn so many lessons from it.” Adjoa’s legs are the focus in the titular story, The Girl Who Can. The girl’s grandmother worries that Adjoa’s hips and legs cannot sustain childbirth. But at age seven, Adjoa asserts that her legs were meant to do more than just support childbirth. Aidoo has always interrogated the use of women’s bodies as arenas of cultural expression and suppression. These stories give expression to the different forms of African womanhood and she does it with such humor and frankness.
3. Prophet of Zongo Street by Mohammed Naseehu Ali
Several commentaries on this book repeat the idea of a mixture “of African folklore and myths with modernity”. This just means that Mohammed Nassehu Ali is at home in the Zongos of Ghana and portrays Zongo communities as they are and without apology! From a review by Amy Reads:
I really loved Ben Okri’s books and Amos Tutuola’s, and would definitely agree that Ali lives up to the comparison. The writing was incredibly tight, the characters so real and believable, and the stories fascinating. Usually there are stories that don’t live up to the rest in the collection, but I can’t think of one that I didn’t enjoy in this one. The stories are all based around the community of Zongo Street. Some are set in the Ghanaian community of Zongo Street, others are set in the United States with expatriates. I loved the combination of stories and how seamlessly they all flowed, even though based around different characters and with little to no link between them.
4. My Happy and the Hammer of God by Martin Egblewobge
From my review of the collection – “These stories are not burdened by the “African” condition. And those looking for a familiar Ghanaian/African setting will have to look elsewhere. And yet I recognized my street, my city and my people. Collectively, this book is a portrayal of our inner struggles, torments and our psyche. …Time and again, the author turns to the metaphysical and how it relates to our minds, our states of being and our pursuit of happiness. Here is a Ghanaian author who wants to know how it all feels? He is asking this using wit and humor; and he bravely and sensitively continues to engage with us even when the answer is an outpouring of misery and desperation.”
5. Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories by Ama Ata Aidoo
From review at ImageNations – “Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories by Ama Ata Aidoo is a collection of twelve beautifully written short stories, which confirms the author’s position as a foremost writer in Africa and beyond. Treating everyday subject with unique perspectives and a delicate style that she alone possesses, Aidoo opens up old traditions and questions long-held views with fresh views. Whether it is about the story of a woman who leaves the country of her birth swearing never to return or the story of a group of girls trapped in an alien culture where issues of feminine proportions are at variance with what they had grown up with, Aidoo shows that her sense of observation is as sharp as ever and that there is tradition in every situation that could be questioned.
I think these five collections have something for everyone. I cannot make any other links between the short stories by Aidoo, Ali and Egblewogbe besides that all three writers are Ghanaian. That is good thing because it means that there’s much to say about the diversity and multiplicity of Ghanaian lives and ways of being. To cliche, there’s no single story here!
Have you read any of these books? Please add your yea or nay.