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Two Nigerian born authors: two great books

What are the odds? And within two weeks of random reading.

I did not set out to plumb Nigerian-born female writers but here we are – two books very worth reading. The first, Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, I have not yet finished but offer the passage below as a teaser.

Like many books I like it is one of a tale containing many more tales. I suppose I might label its genre as constrained fantasy.

Young men at Madame de Silentio’s Academy learn practical skills that set us in good stead for lives as the husbands of wealthy and educated women. Here is a sample of the things we are taught:
Strong Handshakes, Silence, Rudimentary Car Mechanics, How to Mow the Lawn, Explosive Displays of Authority, Sport and Nutrition Against Impotence.

Our Decisive Thinking examinations are conversations conducted before the whole class, and your grade depends not on the answer you give but on the tenacity with which you cling to your choice. You earn a grade A by demonstrating, without a hint of nervousness or irritation, that you are impervious to any external logic. You earn an A+ if you manage this whilst affecting a mild and pleasant demeanor.

In an interview, it was reported “Despite her impressive success so far, Oyeyemi doesn’t see writing as a full-time career, thinking it would be weird not to do a “proper job”. ” I hope she has changed her mind on that.

The second book is Ndeki Okorafor’s Who Fears Death.

I’m going to take the easy way out and quote from a Village Voice review of the book that describes it better than I could.

In the process of constructing this unabashedly neofeminist fable, Okorafor critiques Africa’s endemic poverty, gender prejudices, female circumcision, and the twin plagues of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism.

It’s an ambitious agenda for a single book, particularly since Okorafor also reworked the prose style of her award-winning teen fiction to better suit this, her first adult novel. But with few exceptions, it all comes together beautifully. Her pacing is tight. Her expository sections sing like poetry. Descriptions of paranormal people and battles are disturbingly vivid and palpable. But most crucial to the book’s success is how the author slowly transforms Onye’s pursuit of her rapist father from a personal vendetta to a struggle to transform the social systems that created him. SF and fantasy already claim many classic tales that are thinly veiled allegories of the Holocaust, the Stalinist purges, even China’s “cultural revolution.” So little wonder that Okorafor appropriated the narrative strategies and loopholes of speculative fiction to tell a cautionary tale inspired by the more recent political horrors of Biafra, Rwanda, and Darfur.

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