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  • Unmasking the African Dictator: Essays on Postcolonial African Literature ed. by Gĩchingiri Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ
  • Kathryn Mara
Unmasking the African Dictator: Essays on Postcolonial African Literature
U of Tennessee P, 2014.
xxxi + 240 pp. ISBN 9781621900559 cloth.

In his foreword to Gĩchingiri Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ's Unmasking the African Dictator: Essays on Postcolonial African Literature, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o aptly states, "African literary criticism was slow in catching up with dictatorship fiction as a particular variant of that which depicted the authoritarian state" and goes on to praise Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ's anthology for "rectify[ing] the situation" (xii). What follows covers an impressively broad span of African literature—geographically, linguistically, and even thematically—however, each essay ultimately represents its own distinct literary analysis, rather than a contribution to a more comprehensive definition of the African dictator novel.

As Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ alludes to in his introduction, the anthology addresses postcolonial realities in Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, the Congo, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda and examines a host of both Anglophone and Francophone literature with relative ease. The collection features twelve essays, which address Nurrudin Farah's trilogy, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, Wole Soyinka's Kongi's Harvest and Opera Wanyosi, Henri Lopè's Le Pleurer-rire [The Laughing Cry], Peter Nazareth's The General Is Up, Giles Foden's The Last King of Scotland, Moses Isegawa's Snakepit, Goretti's Kyomuhendo's Waiting, John A. Williams's Jacob's Ladder, Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, Ahmadou Kourouma's Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Beasts, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's The Wizard of the Crow, Alain Mabanckou's Broken Glass, Emmanuel Dongala's Johnny Chien Méchant, and Sony Labou Tansi's La Vie et Demie.

Appropriately sacrificing further literary breadth for a multitude of perspectives, there are a handful of essays that address the same literary works; however, the collection inevitably presents some voices in an imbalanced way, as there are two authors, editor Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ and contributor Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra, who boast two essays in the anthology and, in the case of the editor, an introduction as well. Nonetheless, of particular note is Armillas-Tiseyra's essay, "The Unfaithful Chronicler: On Writing about the Dictator in Henri Lopè's Le Pleurer-rire (The Laughing Cry)," in which she argues that "to write about the dictator is also to write about the writer's place in the political sphere" (48). Indeed, she convincingly demonstrates Lopè's desire for literature not to be read in the abstract, but rather for it to be substantiated in social action. In addition, Robert Colson's "Diagnosing Dictatorship: Illness, Medicine, and the Critique of Sovereignty in The Wizard of the Crow" is equally strong, as he argues that the diagnostic rumors about the Ruler's illness effectively serve as satirical critiques of his "bodily imaginary" authoritarian regime over the fictive Aburĩria (167).

Other, similarly compelling contributions make Unmasking the African Dictator a welcome addition to a burgeoning field of scholarship; however, for [End Page 215] those seeking a broader, more theoretical analysis of the African dictator novel, the anthology does little to define the genre. Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ acknowledges some limitations of the collection and even urges future scholarship to interrogate a self-identified gap, that is, "the ways women writers have fictionalized dictatorships"; however, future scholars on the topic should also explicitly link their analyses to the genre of the Latin American dictator novel in order to develop a more nuanced, critical understanding of the specificities of its African counterpart.

Kathryn Mara
University of Wisconsin-Madison


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