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Under African Skies: Modern African Stories

Under African Skies: Modern African Stories

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by Charles Larson (Editor)

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Spanning a wide geographical range, this collection features many of the now prominent first generation of African writers and draws attention to a new generation of writers. Powerful, intriguing and essentially non-Western, these stories will be welcome by an audience truly ready for multicultural voices.


Spanning a wide geographical range, this collection features many of the now prominent first generation of African writers and draws attention to a new generation of writers. Powerful, intriguing and essentially non-Western, these stories will be welcome by an audience truly ready for multicultural voices.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Modern Africa's senior writers join a selection of promising new voices in this splendid sampler of short fiction from more than a dozen nations. Larson, a professor at American University, includes his own illuminating introduction and prefaces each story with a succinct author biography. Reflecting a variety of narrative styles and voices, many of the stories address similar themes: the effects of political turmoil on ordinary citizens; the mysterious presence of spirits; the importance of resilience and family. Some of the most moving stories concern tensions between native Africans and their European employers. These include "Black Girl," by Sembene Ousmane of Senegal, in which a maid's suicide comes as a surprise to her dangerously nave employers, and "Mrs. Plum," by Es'Kia Mphahele of South Africa, in which a liberal, well-meaning woman and her daughter have a complex and troubling relationship with the young African girl who works in their house. Other notable stories, particularly from postcolonial writers, concern events purely African. In "Two Sisters," Ghana's Ama Ata Aidoo explores the sexual compromises women must make for material possessions they see no other way to acquire. In Malawian Steven B. M. Chimombo's autobiographical "Another Writer Taken," an author gradually uncovers exaggerated but alarming rumors of his disappearance. Larson makes a convincing case for concern about the future of Africa's writers, and this valuable collection will no doubt serve two noble ends: to spread the underappreciated literature of a continent and to show the need for protected literary speech, in Africa and around the world. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Editor Larson continues his work on modern African literature (e.g., The Emergence of African Fiction, 1972) with this impressive collection of short stories from sub-Saharan Africa. Published between 1952 and 1996, some translated from French, Portuguese, and Arabic, these stories share a common outrage against Africa's decay, whether from oppressive colonialism and corruption or the repression of tradition and ignorance. These are not folk tales about great chiefs but heart-rending stories about ordinary peoplemaids, insurance salesmen, fathers, and motherstrying to make a life for their families, caught up in the political and spiritual struggle for Africa. Larson accompanies each story with a brief biographical sketch of the authors, many of whom have experienced exile, imprisonment, and execution because of their writing. An excellent introduction to African literature and an important complement to any African American collection. Highly recommended for all libraries.Ellen Flexman, Indianapolis-Marion Cty. P.L., Ind.
Kirkus Reviews
An overview of contemporary writing from Africa, drawing together 27 stories produced over the past three decades. Editor Larson offers a judicious mix of familiar figures (Amos Tutuola, Sembene Ousmane, Chinua Achebe, and Ben Okri) and less well known writers, among them Luís Bernardo Honwana ("Papa, Snake & I") from Mozambique, Vèronique Tadjo ("The Magician and the Girl") from the Ivory Coast, Tijan Sallah ("Innocent Terror") from Nigeria, and Mandla Langa ("A Gathering of Bald Men") from South Africa. A deeply moving (and prophetic) short story by activist Ken Saro-Wiwa ("Africa Kills Her Sun"), who was executed in 1995 by the Nigerian government, reminds us how deadly dangerous the pursuit of literature can be. Clear themes emerge here: the terrible struggle to preserve tradition, the conflicting pull of Western and African beliefs, the awful disruptions still visited on Africa by the West. These are expressed in a variety of forms, with stories ranging from straightforward realism to soaring blends of traditional storytelling and magic realism. Larson's biographical notes on the writers are terse and useful. A necessary volume for anyone seeking an introduction to modern African literature.

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Under African Skies

Amos Tutuola


Amos Tutuola's writing career began in 1948, when he mailed The Wild Hunter in the Bush of Ghosts to the Focal Press in London. In an earlier letter, Tutuola had described the ghost narrative, claiming that the text would be accompanied by photographs of Nigerian spirits. According to Bernth Lindfors, when the Focal Press received the work, "the 77-page handwritten manuscript had been wrapped in brown paper, rolled up like a magazine, bound with twine, and sent via surface mail. When the sixteen negatives accompanying it were developed, all but one turned out to be snapshots of hand-drawn sketches of spirits and other phenomena featured in the story. Tutuola had hired a schoolboy to draw these illustrations and had photographed them. He had also included a photograph of a human being sitting by the lagoon in Lagos because he felt that she adequately represented 'the old woman who sat near the river' in the story."

In Tutuola's enchanting narrative, there are illegitimate and cannibalistic ghosts, a sixteen-headed ghost, and a Salvation Army ghost, plus an educated ghost who teaches the narrator to read and write. More disturbing, the Yoruba afterworld (the domain of the spirits described in the story) has become fully bureaucratic, so complicated in its red tape that it's surprising that anyone ever passes on.

The Focal Press—publishers of photography books—quickly lost interest in Tutuola's novel, which languished until Lindfors edited the work for publication in 1982. Well before that time, Tutuola had become a worldfamouswriter, primarily because of the publication of The Palm-Wine Drinkard , in 1952. Reviewing the book, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas noted: "This is the brief, thronged, grisly and bewitching story, written in young English by a West African, about a journey of an expert and devoted palm-wine drinkard through a nightmare of indescribable adventures, all simply and carefully described, in the spirit-bristling bush." The term "young English" confused the literary world, which quickly assumed that all subsequent Anglophone African writers would write in a similar style.

Clearly, Amos Tutuola's creative world is bewitching, extraordinarily vivid, and unforgettable. The Yoruba cosmology, which is central in each of the author's seven published books, often springs spontaneously alive when a character opens a door (perhaps in a tree) and enters into an entirely new world. As I wrote years ago, Tutuola's eschatology provides "a bridge between the internal and the external world (the ontological gap), between the real and the surreal, between the realistic and the supernatural."

Amos Tutuola was born in Abeokuta, Western Nigeria, in 1920. He completed six years of primary-school education, followed by training as a blacksmith, while serving in the R.A.F. in Lagos throughout World War II. The Palm-Wine Drinkard was written while Tutuola was working as a messenger for the Department of Labor. "The Complete Gentleman" has been excerpted from The Palm-Wine Drinkard as an example of oral storytelling incorporated into a written narrative. Other versions of this story exist in many West African languages. (See, for example, "The Chosen Suitor," from Dahomean Narrative, edited by Melville and Frances Herskovits, 1958.)

Introduction copyright © 1997 by Charles R. Larson

Meet the Author

Charles R. Larson pioneered courses in African, African-American, and Third World literature. The author of numerous critical volumes, including The Emergence of African Fiction, he teaches at American University in Washington D.C.

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Under African Skies: Modern African Stories 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Joan_Opiyo More than 1 year ago
Under African Skies features a star-studded line-up of African writers, with short stories arranged to form a time-line from pre-independence Africa to Africa of the Nineties. Here are some notable pieces. His prose and imagery perfection, Camara Laye allows us a breathtaking view of the remnants of an ancient Guinean ruin through The Eyes Of The Statue; while Sembene Ousmane tells the story of a Black Girl eager to leave Senegal for Paris, only to soon enough learn, and with tragic consequences, that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Es'kia Mphahlele shares about Mrs. Plum, an Afrikaner woman of the Apartheid years who is always quick to profess her love for Africans, yet her actions remain wanting. Kenya's own Grace Ogot's Tekayo takes the reader back to high school days, although this time it makes for delightful reading due to the absence of the numbing fear of imminent exams. In Ken Saro Wiwa's haunting piece Afrika Kills Her Sun, which was published six years before his own execution/ murder, he tells an evocative tale of a death row inmate writing a letter to a childhood sweetheart on the eve of his execution. Nuruddin Farah dazzles in My Father, The Englishman And I as his protagonist reminisces about the role his father played as translator to the English during the signing of the 1948 treaty that saw Ethiopia take over Somalia's Ogaden region. As the reader takes her seat at the feet of Africa's finest storytellers, Under African Skies, they will be regaled with the most splendid tales from the continent... tales that only Africa can tell.