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Global African Voices

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Global African Voices

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Blue White Red

A Novel

Alain Mabanckou. Translated by Alison Dundy

This tale of wild adventure reveals the dashed hopes of Africans living between worlds. When Moki returns to his village from France wearing designer clothes and affecting all the manners of a Frenchman, Massala-Massala, who lives the life of a humble peanut farmer after giving up his studies, begins to dream of following in Moki’s footsteps. Together, the two take wing for Paris, where Massala-Massala finds himself a part of an underworld of out-of-work undocumented immigrants. After a botched attempt to sell metro passes purchased with a stolen checkbook, he winds up in jail and is deported. Blue White Red is a novel of postcolonial Africa where young people born into poverty dream of making it big in the cities of their former colonial masters. Alain Mabanckou's searing commentary on the lives of Africans in France is cut with the parody of African villagers who boast of a son in the country of Digol.

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Cruel City

A Novel

Mongo Beti. Translated by Pim Higginson

Under the pseudonym Eza Boto, Mongo Beti wrote Ville cruelle (Cruel City) in 1954 before he came to the world's attention with the publication of Le pauvre Christ de Bomba (The Poor Christ of Bomba). Cruel City tells the story of a young man's attempt to cope with capitalism and the rapid urbanization of his country. Banda, the protagonist, sets off to sell the year's cocoa harvest to earn the bride price for the woman he has chosen to wed. Due to a series of misfortunes, Banda loses both his crop and his bride to be. Making his way to the city, Banda is witness to a changing Africa, and as he progresses, the novel mirrors these changes in its style and language. Published here with the author's essay "Romancing Africa," these texts signify a pivotal moment in African literature, a deliberate challenge to colonialism, and a new kind of African writing.

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Harvest of Skulls

Translated by Dominic Thomas. Abdourahman A. Waberi

In 1994, the akazu, Rwandan’s political elite, planned the genocidal mass slaughter of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsi and Hutu who lived in the country. Given the failure of the international community to acknowledge the genocide, in 1998, ten African authors visited Rwanda in a writing initiative that was an attempt to make partial amends. In this multidimensional novel, Abdourahman A. Waberi claims, "Language remains inadequate in accounting for the world and all its turpitudes, words can never be more than unstable crutches, staggering along... And yet, if we want to hold on to a glimmer of hope in the world, the only miraculous weapons we have at our disposal are these same clumsy supports." Shaped by the author’s own experiences in Rwanda and by the stories shared by survivors, Harvest of Skulls stands twenty years after the genocide as an indisputable resource for discussions on testimony and witnessing, the complex relationship between victims and perpetrators, the power of the moral imagination, and how survivors can rebuild a society haunted by the ghost of its history.

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The Heart of the Leopard Children

Foreword by Dominic Thomas. Translated by Karen Lindo. Wilfried N'Sondé

A nameless young man lives in the housing projects outside of Paris. When he was a child, his parents moved with him from the Congo to France, hoping in vain to escape poverty and violence. His best friend, Drissa, is in a psychiatric hospital and now Mireille, his girlfriend, the woman with whom he has shared his childhood and hopes, has left him to reconnect with her Jewish roots in Israel. During a night out to drown the pain of his heartache, there is a fight with a policeman, the policeman dies, and the young man is arrested and taken to jail. Between police beatings and abrupt interrogations, his memory becomes his sole ally to escape from the exiguous space in which he is confined. Half-conscious and delirious, he reflects on his journey from the land of his ancestors to his life in the projects with Drissa and Mireille. In The Heart of the Leopard Children, N’Sondé explores the themes of love and pain, belonging and uprooting, desire and fear—all with an implacable and irresistible accuracy. Wilfried N’Sondé’s first novel awakens the reader with an urban symphony of desire and lost love, attuned to the violence that accompanies the struggle for social ascension and a sense of belonging, and the paralyzing sentiment of betrayal that inhabits a young man caught between traditions and cultures. Awarded the Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie and the Prix Senghor for the originality of his work, the author captures the sounds, rhythms and pleas of a young man who pulls on the alarm from his prison cell to warn against the multiple barriers of confinement that risk the future of certain sectors of French youth today.

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I Was an Elephant Salesman

Adventures between Dakar, Paris, and Milan

Pap Khouma, Edited by Oreste Pivetta. Translated by Rebecca Hopkins. Introduction by Graziella Parati

A landmark bestseller in Italy, I Was an Elephant Salesman gives a name and a face to the thousands of anonymous African street vendors in cities across Europe. Through the voice of a thinly veiled first-person narrator, Pap Khouma offers us a chilling, intimate, and often ironic glimpse into the life of an illegal immigrant. Khouma invents a life for himself as an itinerant trader of carved elephants, small ivories, and other "African" trinkets, struggling to maintain courage and dignity in the face of despair and humiliation. Constantly on the run from the authorities, he finds insight into the vicissitudes of law and politics, the constraints of citizenship, national borders, skin color, and the often paralyzing difficulties of obtaining basic human needs. His story reveals a contemporary Europe struggling to come to terms with its multiracial, multireligious, and multicultural identity.

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Jazz and Palm Wine

Translated and with a foreword by Dominic Thomas. Emmanuel Dongala

Jazz, aliens, and witchcraft collide in this collection of short stories by renowned author Emmanuel Dongala. The influence of Kongo culture is tangible throughout, as customary beliefs clash with party conceptions of scientific and rational thought. In the first half of Jazz and Palm Wine, the characters emerge victorious from decades of colonial exploitation in the Congo only to confront the burdensome bureaucracy, oppressive legal systems, and corrupt governments of the post-colonial era. The ruling political party attempts to impose order and scientific thinking while the people struggles to deal with drought, infertility, and impossible regulations and policies; both sides mix witchcraft, diplomacy, and violence in their efforts to survive. The second half of the book is set in the United States during the turbulent civil rights struggles of the 1960s. In the title story, African and American leaders come together to save the world from extraterrestrials by serving vast quantities of palm wine and playing American jazz. The stories in Jazz and Palm Wine prompt conversations about identity, race, and co-existence, providing contextualization and a historical dimension that is often sorely lacking. Through these collisions and clashes, Dongala suggests a pathway to racial harmony, peaceful co-existence, and individual liberty through artistic creation.

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Kaveena

Foreword by Ayo A. Coly. Translated by Bhakti Shringarpure and Sara C. Hanaburgh. Boubacar Boris Diop

This dark and suspenseful novel tells the story of a fictitious West African country caught in the grip of civil war. The dispassionate and deadpan narrator, Asante Kroma, is a former head of Secret Services and finds himself living with the corpse of the dictator, a man who once ruled his nation with an iron fist. Through a series of flashbacks and letters penned by the dictator, N’Zo Nikiema, readers discover the role of the French shadow leader, Pierre Castaneda, whose ongoing ambition to exploit the natural resources of the country knows no limits. As these powerful men use others as pawns in a violent real-life chess match, it is the murder of six-year-old Kaveena and her mother’s quest for vengeance that brings about a surprise reckoning.

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Life and a Half

A Novel

Sony Labou Tansi. Translated by Alison Dundy. Introduction by Dominic Thomas

Listed as one of the 100 best books on Africa, Life and a Half was Sony Labou Tansi's response to the death of close friends during a bloody military and political crackdown in Congo. The novel takes place in an imaginary African country run by the latest in a series of cannibalistic dictators who has captured Martial, the leader of the opposition, and his family. Though shot, knifed, butchered, and bled, Martial's spirit lives on to guide his followers in their fight against the dictators. Facing censorship, Tansi insisted that his book was a fable and that if he were ever given the opportunity to write about real events, he would be much more direct rather than follow the torturous paths of a novel. This crisp translation by Alison Dundy maintains the fast-paced action and bitingly satiric tone of the original.

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Little Mother

A Novel

Cristina Ali Farah. Translated by Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi and Victoria Offredi Poletto. Introduction by Alessandra Di Maio

When civil war erupts in Somalia, cousins Domenica Axad and Barni are separated and forced to flee the country. Barni manages to eke out a living in Rome, where she works as an obstetrician. Domenica wanders Europe in a painful attempt to reunite her broken family and come to terms with her past. After ten years, the two women reunite. When Domenica gives birth to a son, Barni, also known as Little Mother, is at her side. Together with the new baby, Domenica and Barni find their Somali roots and start to heal the pain they have suffered in war and exile. This powerful yet tender novel underscores the strength of women, family, and community, and draws on the tenacious yearning for a homeland that has been denied.

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The Past Ahead

A Novel

Gilbert Gatore. Translated by Marjolijn de Jager

The Past Ahead is the story of the destinies of two people after their experiences of the genocide in Rwanda. Isaro is orphaned, exiled, and now returned to her native country. Niko is a character in a novel that Isaro writes to help her understand her country's recent horrific past. Isaro's quest to recover the memory of the life she has lost is haunted by her nightmare imaginings, whose horror is given expression through Niko, a mute social outcast. When an army intent on massacre reaches his village, the once gentle young man is forced to become a killer. After the fighting ends, Niko retreats to a cave that he shares with a family of gorillas to try to escape the burden of his guilt. In his solitude, he is plagued with painful memories that will not leave him. As Isaro writes Niko's story, she succumbs to the sadness of death, violence, and the dreadful reminders of her terrible past. Stunning and powerfully written, Gatore's novel lays bare the unfathomable human cost of this international tragedy.

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