In Search Of Africa / Edition 1

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Overview

"There I was, standing alone, unable to cry as I said goodbye to Sidimé Laye, my best friend, and to the revolution that had opened the door of modernity for me--the revolution that had invented me." This book gives us the story of a quest for a childhood friend, for the past and present, and above all for an Africa that is struggling to find its future.

In 1996 Manthia Diawara, a distinguished professor of film and literature in New York City, returns to Guinea, thirty-two years after he and his family were expelled from the newly liberated country. He is beginning work on a documentary about Sékou Touré, the dictator who was Guinea's first post-independence leader. Despite the years that have gone by, Diawara expects to be welcomed as an insider, and is shocked to discover that he is not.

The Africa that Diawara finds is not the one on the verge of barbarism, as described in the Western press. Yet neither is it the Africa of his childhood, when the excitement of independence made everything seem possible for young Africans. His search for Sidimé Laye leads Diawara to profound meditations on Africa's culture. He suggests solutions that might overcome the stultifying legacy of colonialism and age-old social practices, yet that will mobilize indigenous strengths and energies.

In the face of Africa's dilemmas, Diawara accords an important role to the culture of the diaspora as well as to traditional music and literature--to James Brown, Miles Davis, and Salif Kéita, to Richard Wright, Spike Lee, and the ancient epics of the griots. And Diawara's journey enlightens us in the most disarming way with humor, conversations, and well-told tales.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World

In Search of Africa is a smart, rewarding study by a native-born African attempting to recapture the mystique of a distant past. In his search, we are enlightened as we grapple with his conclusion that 'the salvation of Africa lies in modernization, the creation of a secular public sphere, and the freedom of individuals.' Diawara convincingly demonstrates that we left not only our minds in Africa but a portion of our hearts and souls.
— Herb Boyd

Voice Literary Supplement

In Search of Africa is not contained neatly like an American mall, but operates like the stalls of an African market, offering from chapter to chapter a bit of memoir, a study of Black American and African cinema, African music, 20th-century art, and political and economic theory. But the African market is more than a metaphor...Diawara believes the market has the potential to liberate women...and reduce Africa's dependence on European aid and economic models.
— Charles Mudede

Sage
This is a serious book by one who cares deeply for Africa. It does not descend into the level of travelogue or voyeurism. The book raises deep questions about Africa, its people and culture, and its future. Although the book concentrates on West Africa and on Guinea in particular, the issues examined are continental and applicable to the social and political situation of Africa today. The author writes with deep knowledge of Africa and is able to connect Africa with the diaspora. His view of Africa is thoughtful, rather than romantic...This masterful book deserves the widest circulation.
Vancouver Sun

While friendship quest provides the basic narrative structure of Diawara's In Search of Africa, the book is interspersed with a series of important 'situational' essays that give the text an additional rich layer of intellectual depth. From considerations of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay Black Orpheus, which served as an introduction to Leopold Senghor's landmark 1948 Negritude anthology of new African poetry in French, to contemporary Afro-American hip-hop, 'homeboys,' and the films of Spike Lee, Diawara's meditations on African and Afro-American culture and politics are wide-ranging, provocative, and never less than engaging...Once more, a sometimes abstract 'search for Africa' bumps up against real-life experience. The result is illuminating not only for Manthia Diawara, but equally for those of us for whom Africa remains an unknown continent.
— Stan Perksy

Washington Post Book World - Herb Boyd
In Search of Africa is a smart, rewarding study by a native-born African attempting to recapture the mystique of a distant past. In his search, we are enlightened as we grapple with his conclusion that 'the salvation of Africa lies in modernization, the creation of a secular public sphere, and the freedom of individuals.' Diawara convincingly demonstrates that we left not only our minds in Africa but a portion of our hearts and souls.
Voice Literary Supplement - Charles Mudede
In Search of Africa is not contained neatly like an American mall, but operates like the stalls of an African market, offering from chapter to chapter a bit of memoir, a study of Black American and African cinema, African music, 20th-century art, and political and economic theory. But the African market is more than a metaphor...Diawara believes the market has the potential to liberate women...and reduce Africa's dependence on European aid and economic models.
Vancouver Sun - Stan Perksy
While friendship quest provides the basic narrative structure of Diawara's In Search of Africa, the book is interspersed with a series of important 'situational' essays that give the text an additional rich layer of intellectual depth. From considerations of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay Black Orpheus, which served as an introduction to Leopold Senghor's landmark 1948 Negritude anthology of new African poetry in French, to contemporary Afro-American hip-hop, 'homeboys,' and the films of Spike Lee, Diawara's meditations on African and Afro-American culture and politics are wide-ranging, provocative, and never less than engaging...Once more, a sometimes abstract 'search for Africa' bumps up against real-life experience. The result is illuminating not only for Manthia Diawara, but equally for those of us for whom Africa remains an unknown continent.
Houston A. Baker
In Search of Africa is one of the most outstanding works of cultural criticism/memoir I have ever read. It is dazzling in its range and extraordinarily compassionate in its judgments.
Farai Chideya
As a cultural boomerang--someone who has traveled from Guinea and Mali to America and back--Diawara has a unique perspective on the struggles of Africa to define itself in a postcolonial age. For those of us on the opposite side--Americans looking to Africa--this is a crucial new perspective on an Africa in constant transition.
Edwidge Danticat
Part commentary, part memoir, Manthia Diawara's In Search of Africa is a deeply moving and honest exploration of personal and national loss and renewal in today's Africa and black America.
Angela Y. Davis
Whatever our ideas about African culture and politics, Manthia Diawara's In Search of Africa will disturb them deeply. If we insist on the importance of ritual and purity, this book will compel us to take seriously the impact of the political quest for modernity and the hybridity of contemporary West African culture. If we believe that a progressive African future will be predicated on leaving religious traditions behind, Diawara's long lost friend, who carves masks for the tourist market, will convince us otherwise. Like its author, this provocative text crosses borders, boundaries, and disciplines to offer one of the most thoughtful, complicated, and ultimately illuminating reflections on Africa we have seen in decades.
Walter Mosley
In Search of Africa brings us, all of us, home to a place we never knew. By traveling back and forth between cultures, continents, and languages--by wrestling, and momentarily defeating, the deceptions of racial and class identities--Manthia Diawara ís rare intelligence exposes the shared heart of modernity in Europe, Africa, and America.
V. Y. Mudimbe
This is a book the author could have titled 'Ce que je crois: What I Believe In.' It is a testimony, and a very courageous one. Diawara posits himself squarely as a witness and testifies about Africa, being black, and the African-American context.
Robert Farris Thompson
In Search of Africa is a classic--it is very strong medicine for an age of cynicism and pessimism. Diawara blasts a passage through most of what has been written about the vibrant continent which gave us the beats and moves of the world's dances. His honesty and passion for the truth make the text riveting, and the search for his old schoolyard chum has novelistic bite and power. This is a book I will treasure.
Ishmael Reed
Manthia Diawara's In Search of Africa avoids the extremes which characterize contemporary writing about Africa. The scholars and writers whose objective seems to be that of discrediting the continent and its people and the starry-eyed romances about the Africa of the griot. With cogent and brilliant prose, Diawara illuminates our understanding of an Africa caught between the ancient and the modernity, the Africa of the early heroic epics, and that of the Afro-Pessimists. As a bi-continental cosmopolitan writer Diawara not only tells the reader what it means to be an African but an American as well, and Diawara, this African, is more American than any of us.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1996, after a 32-year absence, Diawara, a professor of comparative literature and film at NYU, as well as that school's director of Africana Studies and the Institute of African American Affairs, returned to his childhood home of Guinea, West Africa. This insightful but awkwardly constructed book is his account of that prodigal son's journey. Ostensibly traveling to do some research for a documentary about the country's former dictator, Sekou Toure, Diawara found himself circling around and, ultimately, spinning in confusion about Africa and the continent's uneven quest for a modern identity unbeholden to the West. Though fluent in local languages and deeply conversant with local custom, he was still overwhelmed by Africa: "How many times I have retreated from Africa into my hotel room!" he writes, with typical honesty. He also embarked upon a poignant search to find his childhood best friend, leading to a series of incidents where his writing sparkles. His account of his teenage gang organizing the festival Woodstock-in-Bamako is fascinating. But readers will have to hunt, because Diawara also seems to carry with him another cargo: the weighty academic burden of African American studies, and what was perhaps meant as ballast nearly sinks the boat. In his book's first line, Diawara announces, "I have organized this book into chapters and Situations, borrowing a concept from Sartre." The "Situations" turn out to be big wedges of stiff academic porridge. These essays on such topics as "Richard Wright and Modern Africa" and "Malcolm X: Conversionists versus Culturalists" only bloat what should have been a beautiful, slender book. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674004085
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 0.64 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Manthia Diawara is Professor of Comparative Literature and Film, as well as Director of Africana Studies and the Institute of African American Affairs at New York University. He is the founder and editor of Black Renaissance Noire.
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Table of Contents

Situation I: Sartre and African Modernism

1. In My Home

2. Williams Sassine on Afro-Pessimism Situation

Situation II: Richard Wright and Modern Africa

3. Cémoko's Sékou Touré

4. Return Narratives Djibril Tamsir Niane's Sundiata

Salif Kéita's Mandjou

Afro-Kitsch and Woodstock in Bamako

Toumani Diabaté: A Kora Master

Situation III: Malcolm X: Conversionists versus Culturalists

5. The Shape of the Future

Modernity Is in Evil Forest

Culture and Nationalism as Resistance to Globalization

The Markets in West Africa and the Devaluation of the CFA Franc

How to Compete

6. Finding Sidimé Laye

7. Africa's Art of Resistance

Blinded by My Loss

The Curse of the Masks

The Fang Byeri Statue as Primitive Art

Chéri Samba: The Stereotype Strikes Back

Sidimé Laye's Song of Resistance

8. Sidimé Laye One Year Later

Situation IV: Homeboy Cosmopolitan

The Homeboy and the Myth of Cain

The Black Man in Bondage: The Construction of Mobility in Superfly and Shaft

Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It

The 'Hood in Spike Lee's Cinema

Homeboys and the Reclaiming of the Stereotype in Black Film

Toward a New Common Ground and Mentality

References

Index

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