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Africa: Stories in the 55


A monthly programme on African authors, book publishing and news throughout the 55 countries on the continent, hosted by RFI's Laura Angela Bagnetto.






A monthly programme on African authors, book publishing and news throughout the 55 countries on the continent, hosted by RFI's Laura Angela Bagnetto.




Camaraderie and Irish attitudes in Nigerian writer’s short story collection

Poignant, upsetting, at times quite funny, the short story collection This Hostel Life, from Nigerian novelist Melatu Uchenna Okorie, elicits a response. Okorie’s stories stem from her life and the lives of others, ranging from childbirth in rural Nigeria to racism in rural Ireland. Okorie drew on her experiences from her eight-and-a-half years in DP, or Direct Provision – the Irish refugee system, which can be draconian. In DP, asylum seekers are housed in old hotels, at times in very remote areas, are generally not allowed to work, and are given a tiny weekly allowance to live. The short story This Hostel Life shows the everyday racism encountered by African women in DP. But amidst the hardship, a camaraderie among the women from various countries shines through in their playful banter. The other two stories in the collection take place in diverse settings – the first, The Egg Broke, speaks of the long-ago "problem" of a woman having twins in a rural area in Nigeria. The second, Under the Awning, concerns a story within a story. A tale, written by the main character about living in Ireland while black, comes under attack by her writers' group. “There was something about not wanting to touch the story, not wanting to add other things to it to appeal to the Irish as I was advised to do within the creative writing workshop,” said Okorie in her interview with RFI's Africa: Stories in the 55. Okorie’s own experiences of taking writing classes and the push by other writers to compel her to tone down her story drove the piece.


Helon Habila's novel 'Travelers' explores the lives of Africans in exile

In Nigerian author Helon Habila’s latest novel, “Travelers”, Habila brings African expat and migrant stories to life in a number of short stories that are woven into a complex narrative of safety, identity, loss, and love. He also reflects on his own experiences, dealing with homesickness in “a new place that you’re trying to make sense of.” In stories that begin and end between Germany, London, Malawi, Somalia, and Libya, in apartment blocks and refugee camps, Habila draws on personal tales why people live outside their countries for various reasons. The first encounter with Mark, a young Malawian who holds a life-changing secret, sets the pace for this look into the lives of others. One character, an elderly Zambian writer, is a political dissident in exile, a familiar person with African expats, the token African writer living outside of the continent. “You leave your country and you cannot be the kind of writer you want, the kind of writer you thought you were going to be,” says Habila.” You become this voice of Africa, you’re interviewed any time there is a coup d’etat,” he says adding that political dissidence because it is the only thing that gives him relevance. Ultimately, each and every one of us has a journey, and a story, says Habila. His experience with talking to Africans in Europe is that they want to be understood. “They feel unseen… anyone who listens to them is validation that they are alive and they are heard.”


Contrasting images of his native Nigeria in Nnamdi Ehirin's debut novel, The Prince of Monkeys

In April's Stories from the 55 podcast, Laura Angela Bagnetto speaks to Nnamdi Ehirin from Nigeria about a coming-of-age story called The Prince of Monkeys. The author also reads an extract from his work. The Prince of Monkeys unites politics and religion through a first-person narration. It's a story weaving in and out of the bonds between four old friends. It contains hints of autobiographical writing, embodied in close observations of Nnamdi Ehirin's own culture at the end of the 20th Century. Of his main character, he says, "The narrator is passive and deliberately so. It's not particularly autobiographical though. When I was growing up I was not the most vocal and I always open to ideas from other people in the group, open to trying out new things. It's not being passive, as being weak. He's open to others' ideas." Also, one of Laura Angela Bagnetto's guests in 2018, Sulaiman Addonia who wrote Silence of My Mother Tongue, shares his favourite novel in the Heinneman African Book series called Season of Migration to the North by Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih. He says, "It taught me that for a writer there shouldn't be any forbidden place ... Tayeb Salih taught me about the freedom of writing."


South African novelist Mphuthumi Ntabeni shines a light on the Xhosa narrative

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, South African writer Mphuthumi Ntabeni describes his twenty-year journey into the mind of Maqoma, a chief in the Xhosa community who lived in the 1800s. Ntabeni uses Maqoma's lifelong struggle against the British as the backdrop for his novel The Broken River Tent, as Maqoma guides modern-day character Phila through the realities of fighting for their land. Writer Mphuthumi Ntabeni speaks of the difficulty in writing about such a painful time in Xhosa history, but he says inspiration came from the fact that there are no books that speak of the land invasions in the Eastern Cape in the 1800s from a Xhosa point of view. "I put psychological emotions and thinking behind the actual historical events," says Ntabeni. Also included in this podcast: Nigerian writer Nnamoi Ehirin, author of Prince of Monkeys, his debut novel out in April, speaks about his favorite book from the Heinemann African classics series.


Life and sensuality in a refugee camp in Suliaman Addonia's "Silence is My Mother Tongue"

In "Silence is My Mother Tongue", the latest novel by Eritrean-Ethiopian writer Sulaiman Addonia, teen Saba and her brother Hagos arrive at a refugee camp in Sudan, where she is determined to continue her studies, while he is content to take care of her. The other Eritrean refugees bring their conservative views to the camp, especially when it comes to women. Addonia brings Saba to life through her fight to determine her own future, refusing the traditional restrictions imposed on her gender. "We need to take responsibility and accountability for the war we commit, especially against women," says Addonia, speaking of the struggle Saba has to assert herself, and her quest to finish her educaiton. "If there are crimes committed by women, or seem to be committed by women, they are extremely highlighted," he adds. Also included in this podcast: Helon Habila, Nigerian author of "Travelers", a novel coming out in June, speaks about his favorite book from the Heinemann African classics series.


Somali writer Ubah Cristina Ali Farah speaks of trauma intertwined with beauty in her story "Jujube"

In this month’s Africa: Stories in the 55, Somali-Italian writer Ubah Cristina Ali Farah speaks about her character, Ayan, a Somali refugee seeking asylum. Ayan tells part of her own story that may not be clear, or true, due to the trauma she had suffered. Ayan’s tale is featured in “Jujube”, one of the short stories in Banthology, a compilation of short stories of writers from the seven Muslim-majority countries banned by the United States: Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Sudan. “Even if you are in a different place, you can explain things though the different tales of your culture, with other imagery,” says Farah, who speaks of how the Jujube tree, an important symbol in Somalia, featured in her story. Listen to Farah's interview here as she reads an excerpt of "Jujube".


Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga explores post-war trauma in "This Mournable Body"

The lasting aftereffects of the Liberation War on Zimbabwe's society creates the backdrop for Tsitsi Dangarembga's new novel, "This Mournable Body". The story is set in 1999, 10 years after the war, taking a look at the daily life of Tambudzai Sigauke, a Zimbabwean woman who is trying to get ahead. It is part of Dangarembga's groundbreaking trilogy that began with her award-winning novel "Nervous Conditions", but can be read as a standalone book. Dangarembga spoke to Africa: Stories in the 55 about this poignant look at Tambudzai, a Zimbabwean everywoman. Life is tough for university graduateTambudzai Sigauke-- she is sick of being taken advantage of at work, but she can't seem to catch a break... and then there is her living situation and rural family putting pressure on her. But societal pressure related to the aftermath of the Liberation War seems to ultimately undermine Tambudzai. Will she recover? Novelist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga speaks to Africa:Stories in the 55 about her strong female characters, and the lasting effects of war on society.


The perils for Zimbabweans crossing the border into South Africa personified in Sue Nyathi's new novel, The Gold-Diggers

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, Zimbabwean author Sue Nyathi delves into the dangers of crossing into South Africa illegally in the hopes of finding work and a better life. The Gold-Diggers explores the lives of six people who illegally cross the border in a combi, or van, and how their hopes and dreams-- independently from each other-- are thwarted as they try to start their lives in South Africa. For characters like Portia and her son Nkosi, life is a struggle, but finding the right people to help you makes a difference. Lindani, a young woman, uses her body to get to South Africa, becoming a vulnerable migrant as she struggles to live. Guglethu, a little girl sent by her grandmother to find her mother, never makes it to the meeting point. "When people come in illegally, there's so many dangers that they face, and I wanted to highlight this as well, in terms of the desperation that propels people to come into a country using this kind of method," says Nyathi, a Zimbabwean writer based in South Africa. Listen to Sue Nyathi speak about developing her characters and reading an excerpt from The Gold-Diggers.


Honoring those who lived through Zimbabwe's Gukurahundi in Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's novel, House of Stone

In Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's debut novel, House of Stone, readers are regaled with a story of the Mlambo family, as told by Zamani, their lodger and a master manipulator. In his quest to re-write his own personal history, he delves into the lives of 'surrogate parents' Abednego and Mama Agnes, and unravels their family secrets that are seemingly tightly wound amidst the backdrop of the post-liberation massacre in Ndebeleland, the Gukurahundi. Zimbabwean author Tshuma speaks to RFI's Africa: Stories in the 55, about the impact writing this book has had on her, and how the characters reflect the spirit of Zimbabwe. Tshuma says that the novel came from a desire to examine first-hand accounts of the violence, the disappearances and the deaths in Ndebeleland in western and southwestern Zimbabwe during the early 1980s. "We speak about the Liberation War all the time. But when it comes to the genocide, it is always a matter of shutting it down," she says, adding that by not addressing the psychological, social and communal issues, by not acknowledging people have died, healing cannot begin. House of Stone unwinds tightly held secrets, touching on the role that Black Jesus, a fictionalized version of Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe's current agricultural minister, played during the Gukurahundi. Ultimately, can history be rewritten? Can personal history be rewritten? Tshuma examines this and more, as she presents Zimbabwe's past that some find hard to remember.


Kenyan writer Kiprop Kimutai's short story speaks about the privilege of wealth in a queer environment

In his short story "The Man at the Bridge", Kenyan writer Kiprop Kimutai explores the conflicted feelings of a closeted gay man-- a story that has garnered the 2018 Gerald Kraak Fiction prize. RFI's Africa: Stories in the 55 speaks to Kimutai about his inspiration for this piece.


Does trauma define the person? Aminatta Forna's latest novel, Happiness, explores love and loss

The chance meeting of a Ghanaian psychiatrist and an American urban biologist tracking foxes in London sets the pace for Happiness, the latest novel by award-winning writer Aminatta Forna. Does experiencing a traumatic event damage a person forever? Dr. Attila Asare, bucking traditional trauma research, examines his theory partially through flashbacks for the reader, as well as his attention to a case that he is indirectly tied to. Noted trauma specialist Dr. Attila Asare comes to London for a conference, plans to visit a relative and see an old flame. He is recovering from the recent death of his wife. Scientist Jean Turane is tracking foxes in London for a project when she becomes involved in Asare's life. She engages a team she has created of fox spotters-- immigrants to the UK who work at night as street cleaners, doormen -- to look for his lost young relative on the streets of London. Forna sets up the back story of Dr Attila Asare, a civilian trauma expert, as she reads an excerpt from her novel, Happiness. Loss and newfound love come together on the page in her latest work.


Musician examines his integrity in Nigerian magical realism novel Taduno's Song

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, Nigerian writer Odafe Atogun, author of the novel Taduno's Song, discusses how he believes the arts, which are usually undervalued, could be the key to saving humanity. Taduno, his main character, is afraid of losing his values after making a pact with the despotic government. He explains how society as a whole suffers when an artist is compromised. Modelled on the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, Taduno, the main character in Nigerian writer Odafe Atogun's novel Taduno's Song, returns from exile to try and save his girlfriend, Lela, from the clutches of The President. Atogun uses magical realism to create a place where people no longer recognize artistic crusader Taduno, but they vaguely remember a powerful singer who criticized the government and put everyone in peril.


The struggle in Ethiopia continues - there's no stopping half way, says political poet Hama Tuma

For Ethiopians, the struggle continues, veteran exiled poet Hama Tuma says in this month's Africa: Stories in the 55 literature program. Banned by three Ethiopian governments, Tuma talks about how new momentum is boosting the country. He speaks through his poetry, reading his poems entitled "Perserverance" and "Their Ethiopia". Ethiopian poet Hama Tuma reads his poetry in English and Amharic for listeners, reflecting on the various regimes, including the abolishment of the monarchy in Ethiopia. Are you interested in owning a signed copy of Just a Nobody by Hama Tuma? Write in to to enter the contest to have his book of poety sent to you!


Tense, compelling Zimbabwean tales in Behind Enemy Lines short stories

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, Zimbabwean author Joe Ruzvidzo explores coming-of-age in the years after the Liberation War, in his short story collection, Behind Enemy Lines. Ruzvidzo writes on the cutting edge-- his characters pawns or kings, depending on the readers' perception. In "The Order", set in 2023, Ruzvidzo's story of a military takeover of the country reveals some interesting parallels to Zimbabwe's own recent history and new president. His characters live through bullying, love, even deception by a parent, packing a seven-story punch with a bonus ending poem.


Naivo's Beyond the Rice Fields crafts an epic historical tale set in the highlands of Madagascar

This month is Africa: Stories in the 55, Malagasy author Naivo, speaks about his historical saga, Beyond the Rice Fields, which weaves the beauty of Hainteny, a traditional form of Malagasy poetry, with the coming-of-age story of Tsito, a young slave, and his one love, Fara. Set in volatile 19th century Madagascar, both characters try to find their way amidst genocide and religious persecution. Malagasy author Naivo talks about of the traditions of highland culture in Madagascar, and the extensive research he did in creating main character Tsito's world. The intricate smaller characters come to life as Tsito and Fara encounter them-- at home, on the road to the 'City of Thousands', aka Antananarivo, the country's capital, and even abroad, in England.


Karim Miské dazzles readers with award-winning crime novel "Arab Jazz"

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, we sit down with Karim Miské, author of Paris-set crime thriller "Arab Jazz". The Franco-Mauritanian writer and documentarian speaks about his Paris, why keeping an open mind is crucial when formulating characters, and how his upbringing has influenced his work. In this extended interview, Miské reads an excerpt of his novel, "Arab Jazz" and talks about his current work-in-progress:


Characters haunted by memories, prejudice in Nigeria novel "Crocodile Girl"

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, Nigerian novelist Sam Omatseye talks about his book Crocodile Girl, a modern tale steeped in oral tradition. He tells the story of Alero, a woman too beautiful to be accepted by her village and the pain and suffering carried through the generations. Omatseye also addresses prejudice and stigma through his American character, Tim, who is on a quest to discover his family's controversial past and how it connects to Orogun village near Warri, Nigeria. The complex story explores how the past can haunt the present, seen through the eyes of villagers and foreigners in Crocodile Girl.


A glimpse into the lives of Lagosians in Nigerian Ayo Sogunro's short story collection

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, we speak with Nigerian novelist Ayo Sogunro, who brings to life- and death - the spirit of Lagos and Lagosians in his collection of short stories and poetry "The wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales." From beleagured politicians to self-proclaimed prophets, bridge touts to sentimental thieves, Sogunro weaves stories about the Lagosian spirit in "The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales." Original poetry breaks up the 14 stories in a nod to traditional storytelling. Sogunro speaks of death in the preface of the book as sometimes banal, but also extraordinary, as many of his characters make choices that affect the lives of others.


Love and infertility issues in "Stay with Me", a new novel by Ayòbámi Adébáyò

The pain of infertility for a couple is just the tip of the iceberg in Stay with Me, a new novel by Nigerian writer Ayòbámi Adébáyò, published by Cannongate Books. The book, short-listed for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, is a complex web of family politics, Yoruba culture and a number of crippling health issues makes this a rich, event-filled piece of literature. Is the love between the two main characters Yejide and Akin enough? Set in Ilesa, Osun State, Nigeria, against the backdrop of the Babangida regime of the 1980s, a young husband and wife struggle to come to terms with secrets that could affect their future together.


Young Congolese man trying to deal with life and school in JJ Bola's new novel; Nommo Awards for African Speculative Fiction

In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, we take a look at the new Nommo Prize for African Speculative Fiction, which includes fantasy, sci-fi, the supernatural and even horror. We also talk to JJ Bola, whose debut novel, "No Place to Call Home" about a Democratic Republic of Congolese family living in London, shows how the main character Jean struggles to fit in at school and home. Young Congolese boy Jean is growing up in a cramped household in London full of TonTons (uncles), aunties, as well as his parents and smart yet snooty younger sister. "No Place to Call Home" looks at how Jean tries to manoeuver though school and family life while trying to belong. The Nommo African Speculative Fiction Awards cover an array of genres, from science fiction to fantasy to horror and the supernatural. The long and short lists have been released for 2017, and the prizes will be awarded in November 2017 at the Aké Festival in Nigeria. We spoke to Mame Bougoume Diene, a Nommo spokesperson, about why African speculative fiction is such a hot topic.