Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gods and Soldiers Book Review


The Many Shades of Africa
By Sidik Fofana— Literature Editor
Sep 8, 2009, 13:23

With Gods and Soldiers, Rob Spillman compiles a unifying anthology of African writing. Whereas the literary feat of the day has been to corral essays and stories from

Africa and identify their intertwining aesthetic, the literary disservice has been the inability to individualize diverse regions within the continent itself. To put it simply, we know what makes Africa, Africa, but what makes Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone and Zaire, Zaire? Rob Spillman, in this collection, offers those distinctions, presenting the magical realist propensities of the Portuguese countries alongside the anti-assimilation attitudes of the francophone nations, the post-apartheid exhalation of South Africa and other regional predilections.

With a palette of authors that range from Nobel Prize winners to writers just coming of age on the literary magazine circuit, Gods and Soldiers doesn’t aim for regional consistency. However intentionally or unintentionally, the majority of the selections in the anthology share the common thread of political unrest and a voice raised against colonial authority. Chinua Achebe’s essay, “The African and the English Language,” may seem like it contradicts this theme in urging African writers to write in their colonial language, but Achebe clarifies that his position supports audience and not necessarily patriotism. “...On the whole it [colonialism] brings together many peoples that had hitherto gone their several ways. And it gave them a language with which to talk to one another,” he writes. “If it failed to give them a song, it at least gave them a tongue.”

Representing South Africa, Nadine Gordimer’s short story, “A Beneficiary,” tells the story of a young woman who finds out that her real father is a famous stage actor. It’s one of a few selections in the book that does not possess a regional trait with Gordimer’s mastery of plot development transcending her South African identity.

A storylike Mohammed Naseehu Ali’s “The Manhood Test,” however, sounds distinctly West African with its cynical commentary on sketchy marriages. The tale, about a married man whose wife wants to publicly prove her husband’s impotence, is similar to many contemporary African comedic films that satirize relationships. The absurdity of the main character’s plight drips with his melodramatic pleas, “And to those who doubt my manliness ya Allah…prove to them that all power comes from You. Equip me with the strength to perform this test, to which I am maliciously being subjected!”

Gods and Soldiers is by no means a canon of staple African writers. It includes those with a steady literary presence, such as Chimamanda Achidie and Jose Andalusa, who are also still in the position to define their respective regional tastes. If anything, the anthology shows that Africa may be too big to compartmentalize although it’s not too scattered to hold certain trends. Documenting local trends, however, may be very well be the best way to reveal the complex portrait of earth’s second largest continent.

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