- Teaching the African Novel
There are few, one would even say too few, novels from Africa that receive special attention of instructors who teach them endlessly. So upon receiving the prospective editor Gaurav Desai’s invitation sometime in 2004 to contribute to this volume (an invitation I graciously declined because of a prior commitment to another project),1 the first thought that came to me was: Why another book on this subject? What is there that can be added to the extensive discussions already provided of those texts, which have been the standard fare, in the four previous books on approaches to teaching African literature, Elizabeth Gunner’s A Handbook for Teaching African Literature (London: Heinemann, 1984), Sara Talis O’Brien’s A Teacher’s Guide to African Novels (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998), M. Keith Booker’s The African Novel in English: An Introduction (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998), and African Novels in the Classroom (Lyne Rienner, 2000) edited by Margaret Jean Hay? Although the Desai book is not an exception in the recent profile of novels featured in African literature courses, it does offer a new spectrum of pedagogical and methodological tidbits.
The African novel is never here satisfactorily and coherently defined nor our map of it redrawn, but one is very favorably impressed by the quality of the essays collected in this attractive tome in which a new generation of scholars rubs shoulders with veteran teachers in sharing from their rich experiences of teaching favorite fiction from Africa. In this attractive volume that could be used in tandem with its predecessors, in addition to vigorously combative and even skeptical debates on regular topics such as the historical context of the African novel, the political implications of the African novel, the question of gender in the African novel, and the character of the African novel in translation, there are entries on regional varieties of the African novel, incorporating discussions of the Arabic African novel, the novel from the Maghreb, the Spanish-language African novel, lusophone African fiction, as well as sensitively explored genre descriptions of the African migrant fiction, of an odd category called “the epic novel,” African popular fiction, the confessional, multicultural fiction, and detective fiction. In formulations that are clear and passionately adumbrated, whether assessing the place of African fiction in a general course on twentieth-century world fiction, the francophone African novel in the French-language classroom, African novels [End Page 147] in a community college web-based survey course, or mapping comparative student responses to Achebe on different African university settings, or managing eroticism and sexuality in an African literature classroom as well as handling race-charged material, the authors turn their critical eyes on the various guises of received opinion of Africa and of Africans that they have to contend with: the Africa of the students’ imaginations, their fantasies and preconceived notions, myths and distortions of a largely misunderstood continent, which must be dismantled before any learning can take place.
Sadly, with the exception of a brief acknowledgment of the epistolary form, the question of the African novel as art is never addressed seriously and in any concrete manner anywhere throughout this book. Instead, it is the vibrancy and piquancy of the sociopolitical observations and commentaries made by the authors that give indication that even as the older teachers of African literatures get closer and closer to retirement they should have few worries about the future of the field because they will be bequeathing it into very politically astute hands. In his introduction, the editor defines the scope and limitations of the volume as follows: “There has been no attempt at comprehensive surveys of national, regional, or language-based literatures or even a comprehensive treatment of themes or major authors. What we offer instead are essays that keep in focus the conceptual, institutional, and practical matters of the teaching of the African novel. In doing so, individual authors have taken into account the available secondary literature on their subject and adjusted their discussions to a suitable and useful extension of this literature in their pedagogically...