The tale of how a novel comes to be published, then gains a reputation at all, as well as the various hurdles in its way, can sometimes be as intriguing as the plot itself. It is ironic that a novel about how it feels to be overlooked can itself be overlooked. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga was initially dismissed by publishers as failing to reflect the thoughts and expression of ‘the African woman’. This is a novel, though, that challenges those very preconceptions of what it is to be a woman. Set in 1960s Rhodesia, it is still resonant today, telling the visceral tale of Tambu, her bid to gain an education, and the battles between Western colonial culture and traditional African culture, which create an unnerving tension throughout the narrative.
There is an exciting new generation of writers exploring Africa in powerful and passionate prose, and I had the privilege of chairing events with them at the Storymoja Hay Festival in Kenya recently. Barassa is a talented young writer also exploring Rhodesia. Her raw and haunting novel Victory examines the devastating effects of genocide, and what happens when two people from different tribes fall in love and disobey their parents’ will.
The Kenyan writer Martin Njaga’s novel The Brethren of Ng’ondu is a vividly evoked love story set in a rural community, compellingly depicting the religious tensions in a modern society. A. Igoni Barrett’s collection of short stories From Caves of Rotten Teeth reflects in striking imagery the day-to-day existence of modern Nigerian life. These are just some examples of those whose lingering and thought-provoking fiction deserves a wider audience across the shores.