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Reviewed by:
  • Lusophone Africa: Beyond Independence
  • Todd Cleveland
Lusophone Africa: Beyond Independence. By Fernando Arenas Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011. xxxiii + 304 pp. ISBN 978-0-8166-6984-4 paper.

Even the most committed "lusophiles" will find themselves edified following an engagement with Fernando Arenas's Lusophone Africa: Beyond Independence. This sweeping account of lusophone Africa, examined via analyses of musical, filmic, and literary expression, showcases Arenas's profound knowledge of these spaces, both as asymmetrical, independent nations and as a postcolonial collective. In fact, Arenas is keenly interested in the ways that the five countries that comprise lusophone Africa "have been shaped by the myriad phenomena associated with postcolonialism and globalization" (xv). This focus necessitates a nuanced assessment of not only the specificities of the Portuguese colonial experience, but also the ways that contemporary lusophone Africans interact with, and are shaped by, the (former) metropole, the Southern Atlantic lusophone behemoth, Brazil, nonlusophone Africa, and, given the analytical attention granted to globalization, the Global North. The book is at its best when Arenas is deftly weighing and weaving together this seemingly dizzying array of local, regional, and global influences on forms of cultural expression to illustrate how lusophone African artists, artisans, and, by extension, the citizens of the constituent nations, have experienced, and continue to experience, independence.

Beyond offering a creative, novel amalgamation of lusophone African music, cinema, and literature to more seasoned consumers of cultural expression and analysis, the book will expose many other readers to these topics for the first time. Only a polyglot such as Arenas, who embeds his English translations of Portuguese, Cape Verdean Kriolu, and Bissau-Guinean Kriol into the text, would be capable of effectively introducing these subjects to anglophone audiences. Indeed, the breadth of songs, music, and written materials originally crafted in these languages that Arenas has accessed, coupled with analyses that are informed by a [End Page 137] wide range of relevant secondary literature, evince the remarkable amount of multilinguistic research that was conducted for this project. Yet, while Lusophone Africa would constitute a much less important contribution had Arenas not adopted this comprehensive approach, the sheer amount of information presented and the decision to craft dense, extended chapters (averaging over 45 pages) have the potential to overwhelm a reader who is newly engaging with these topics, and also, at times, compel the narrative to morph, arguably unavoidably, into detailed discussions of lyrics, films, poems, and novels that are as rich as they are unmoored from the core analytical themes of postcolonialism and globalization. Regardless, the target audiences of the book—academics, graduate students, and, perhaps, advanced undergraduate students, interested in (lusophone) African music, cinema, and literature—will undoubtedly value Arenas's probing, often revelatory, dissections of, for example, the global appeal of Cape Verdean music (ch. 2), Flora Gomes's pioneering films (ch. 3) and Pepetela's affective fiction (ch. 4). As such, Arenas will assuredly realize his goal, via this book, of "fostering future work on lusophone Africa in a variety of topics and across the disciplines for the years to come" (204). [End Page 138]

Todd Cleveland
Augustana College


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