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  • Esk’ia Continued
  • Abdul Samed Bemath
Esk’ia ContinuedED. James Ogude et al.Rivonia, Johannesburg: Stainbank, 2004. xxvii + 438 pp. ISBN 0-620-32984-X cloth.

This selection of forty-nine essays is based on benchmark works, most of which are unpublished, and is a revistation of the first volume, titled Es'kia, published in 2002. As in the initial volume, the essays are divided into four categories: Literary Appreciation, Education, African Humanism and Culture, and Social Consciousness. Chronologically, they cover the period 1960–2004. The Educationsection is the largest, with fourteen essays.

These two volumes of eighty-nine essays on the writings of the doyen of South African literature, Es'kia Mphahlele (1919– ), cover four decades and are a small selection of his literary output, which spans two autobiographies, three novels, more than twenty-five short stories, two verse plays, two edited anthologies, essay collections, and more than one hundred sixty essays. Most of these are listed in the "Select Bibliography." The two autobiographies are Down Second Avenue(Faber, 1959) and Africa My Music: An Autobiography(Ravan, 1984). This literary output is all the more remarkable as in his fifth grade of school, "[t]he principal said I was backward. My aunt said I was backward. So said everybody. My mother did not know. I had no choice but to acknowledge it" ( Down Second Avenue47).

Andries Walter Oliphant says in his foreword, "His continental and transatlantic African outlook and commitment has no parallel in South African letters" (xxii). An outlook developed over his years of exile from South Africa from 1957–77 that led him to teaching in Nigeria, Zambia, France, and the United States of America, where he obtained his PhD. at the University of Denver. James Ogude [End Page 210]states in his introduction that African humanism is the major theme in his writings, making it "difficult to separate Mphahlele the educator from the literary critic, the philosopher from the cultural activist" (xxvi).

Es'kia Continuedhas an insightful essay by Peter Thuynsma, who served under Es'kia's tutelage in both Zambia and the United States and succeeded him as Head of the Department of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand. This essay covers various themes on Es'kia's writings, stating that Mphahlele's "[p]ersonal experience, whether fictionalized or not, formed his creative impulse [. . .]" and that "[i]t is not merely the exile on alien soil that dominates his work, but also the exile from ancestral soil" (403). It is these features that characterize his personality and writings, according to Thuynsma. Unlike the first volume, this one includes an interview by Richard Samin of the University of Nancy 2, France, in which Mphahlele outlines the influence of the Russian short story and of African American writers on his works.

Coming to the various essays in this volume, his inaugural lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in October 1983, titled "African Literature and the Social Experience in Process," traces the renaissance of African literature to the initial slave narratives of the eighteenth century, the works of Frederick Douglass, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Afro-American and Caribbean influences on the development of African literature. Alf Stadler makes an interesting point about Mphahlele in his note of thanks, that "[m]en like Zeke have decolonized the English language" and that "he has appropriated the language, and fashioned it with delicacy and strength, infusing it with Africa's metaphors, rhythms and traditions, transforming it into a medium for interpreting and expressing the history and culture of his people and its contemporary experience" (30).

According to Ogude, the essays on education bear testimony to his prophetic vision in that he anticipated four decades earlier the problems of curriculum development faced by the postapartheid government ("Africanising South African Education"). The African Humanism and Culture section has an essay dedicated to anti-apartheid activist and writer Richard Rive and urges that African snap out of its cage of victimhood and face up to contemporary challenges . . . in his "Africa Day 1998"address.

The essays on social consciousness bring to the fore Mphahlele the political and cultural activist as illustrated by his essay "Let's Stay African...


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