Good reads about Africa

September 6, 2014

Personally, I love books. I love to enter a bookstore and head to the department that is hiding all the wisdom of the knowledge area that I am currently exploring. I love to open my new books for the first time and slightly fold the rigid pages. I love to be carried away by the unexplored worlds, which are inaugurated via my books.

For that reason, once I booked my tickets to Ghana, I was convinced that a good book would become my best friend to my new adventure. The lady in a big Athenian bookstore, when I let her know what I am searching for, pointed at the shelf with the English books. She recommended a small book with the devastating title “Things fall apart”, by the most popular Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe. She further explained to me that this novel is being taught in the Greek University for “English Literature studies” as a representative sample of African writting.

I will not argue that this read is a little depressing, but at the same time somehow intriguing. It reveals the story of Okonkwo, a hard-working, well-respected man in a village of Igbo tribe. The story is set in the pre-colonial Nigeria in the 1890s and includes many interesting information about local tradition, supersttitions, religion and every day life of the time. The most unique element of this story is that it unfolds the transition from the African religions to the Christianity and also the first traces of the British colonialism.

My second book, concerning Africa appeared in front of me without prior research. Just out of the blue. I was in a Greek Island (Ikaria), shortly before I travel to Africa, when I noticed, right outside my room, a corner with some old and dusty books. One was particularly thick. I went closer and I read its title in big bold Letters: “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles” , by Richard Dowden.

Of course, I grabbed it instantly and read its last page. It is written by a British journalist, who has expertised in African issues. Through the book the reader can follow Dowden in his real-life journeys across Africa. The chapters are divided according to the African countries, which he has visited in different points of his life holding another role each time. Firstly, he traveled in Uganda as a volunteer in a school, exactly what I was going to do. The most captivating characteristic of the book is that the author shares his sincere feelings, concerns and fears about Africa with his readers. He also instills his hard earned wisdom, to his readers. For me, the book was enlightning and soothing, for I felt that my concerns were not unfounded, but someone else, fourty years before, had simillar concerns and wrote them down for me to read.

Last but definately not least, comes my favourite book of all. I also run into it out of luck, while I was strolling around in a big bookstore in the Mall of Athens. It bears the title “Cloth Girl”. The author of this amazing book, Mairilyn Heward Mills, is a Swiss-Ghanian, who was raised in Accra.

The story is set in colonial Gold Coast ( Accra before independence) and was inspired by the grandmother of Heward Mills. The protagonist is Matilda, a fifteen year old poor girl, whose outstanding beauty defined her fate. She was selected by a rich Ghanian lawyer as his second wife at the young age of fifteen. Her dreams to acquire education were shuttered and the family making and maintainig it became her only concern. Despite her age, Matilda served her duties the best way she could. In the novel, many different characters make their appearance. An employee of the British Government, who adores Ghana and his British wife, who on the contrary withers in Africa. The respected Ghanian lawyer, who had studied in Cambridge and adopted many of western habits and manners. His first wife who, although Ghanian, is acting and dressed like British. The family of Matilda, who is thrilled about the new affinity with the lawyer.

The reader indulges the vivid and accurate description of Ghanian scenery, that is not much altered until nowadays. In the course of the story, significant political events, right before the delibaration are also mentioned, contributing in the realistic essence of the novel. This book not only lightened many obscure aspects of Ghanian way of thinking, but also boosted my admiration for the Ghanian family bonds, respect, commitment.

“People had warned me about the culture shock of going to Africa. Nothing prepared me for the culture shock of coming the other way. No matter how much I talked no-one understood what I was saying.” Richard Dowden.

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