Claiming History

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Although postcolonial studies has explored the historical influences and connections among literatures throughout the world, it has considered African writing unique. By looking at African novels--written in both French and English--of the colonial and postcolonial periods, Claiming History places African literature in its proper context within this field. Eleni Coundouriotis shows how historical narration not only "answers back" to Europe's colonialist legacy, but also serves as a complex form of dissent among Africans themselves.Exploring subjects such as human sacrifice as portrayed in the historical novels of René Maran, Chinua Achebe, Paul Hazoumé, Yambo Ouolguem, and Ben Okri, Coundouriotis argues that these authors are part of a tradition of dissent, shattering the myth of national unity. Rather than focusing on resistance to Europe--the outsider--these works reflect a variety of voices among Africans. Through their historical narratives, African novelists seek to break down and re-create their communities. Novels such as Things Fall Apart and The Famine Road have traditionally been read as ethnographies, authentically depicting the everyday life of Africans. But the emphasis on "authenticity" decontextualizes these books and neglects the ways they grapple with history. Since literature of dissent resists any single or absolute authority, it is in both colonialist and ultranationalist interests to silence it. By exploring the dialogue between literature and history, this book gives voice to African novelists' defiance of colonialism and nationalist ideology, and adds significantly to our understanding of a body of work that has long been ignored or misunderstood.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Bruce Robbins
This is an extremely refreshing contribution to a much-plowed field. It answers a crying need in colonial and postcolonial studies for work of serious historical detail and nuance that is also theoretically and politically informed.
Simon Gikandi
A major and innovative intervention in the ongoing debate on the place of Africa­­and African writing­­in the shaping of colonial culture, on the relationship between ethnography and the institutions of the novel, and on the historical foundations of postcolonial identities and theories. With its wide comparative reach, this work is a vivid example of how crossing literary boundaries can move postcolonial and cultural studies to a new frontier in which history, ethnography, and literature are brought into a productive conversation . . . . a very influential book in the field.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231113519
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 0.51 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Eleni Coundouriotis is assistant professor of English at the University of Connecticut.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 The Traditional Cultures of Rene Maran and Chinua Achebe 21
2 History, Human Sacrifices, and the Victorian Travelers to Dahomey 45
3 Contesting Authenticity: Paul Hazoume, Ethnography, and Negritude 73
4 Resistant History in Paul Hazoume's Doguicimi 97
5 History as Transgression in Le Devoir de violence 116
6 Temporality and the Geographies of the Nation: "The Future Present" in The Famished Road 141
Afterword 165
Notes 173
Works Cited 193
Index 205
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