We Need New Names

This novel is about the experiences of a young girl, first set in Zimbabwe, and then covering the immigrant experience in the USA. In an interview with the Guardian, NoViolet Bulawayo explains that the inspiration for this novel came from seeing images of a young boy surrounded by rubble following a clean-up operation that was displacing a large number of people in Zimbabwe. This is set against the wider backdrop of the challenges faced by anyone residing in this country during the ’00s.

As a debut novel, it works extremely well. There is something particular about the immigrant experience of young children, the displacement they feel, the sometime partial assimilation of another’s culture and values, the homesickness and rose-tinted views – all of interest and it is great that Bulawayo has taken this topic in hand here.

You can check out an extract of the novel and the rest Bulawayo’s commentary on it at the Guardian website.

You can purchase this novel over at Amazon.co.uk: We Need New Names


Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston’s work, whilst not entirely ignored at the time of publishing (it received both positive and negative reviews) in 1937, it would subsequently fall out of print until Alice Walker resurrected interested in Hurston’s canon of work with her article in Ms Magazine.

The novel follows the story of a young woman, who seeks out that ideal of love that she first witnessed a long time ago between bees and the pear tree. Her subsequent marriages and the lessons she learns from them are explained to us – from the first that treats her like a servant, the second who wants her as a trophy wife and the final one, Tea Cake, who involves her fully in his life and allows her to participate. The latter is also filled with emotion, with jealousy but also with the very love that she had been looking for.

The novel had been informed by Hurston’s own travels and experiences, in particular she brings to life the manner of speech of those times, and this makes it a particular treat to read. You are transported into the reality of life there.

In many respects this novel is a calling to the individual power we are all graced with, and by Janie enacting this as a black women, is particularly powerful to read. Although every single person she comes into contact with has an opinion on the way she lives her life, by the time Janie embarks on her journey with Tea Cake, she has come to realize that she only has one life to live, and she ought to live it the way she wants to in order to be happy – and ignore the naysayers.

We could say a lot more about the impact this novel has had on us, but we would like to encourage you to find out for yourself!

You can purchase this novel over at Amazon: Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel

The Association of Foreign Spouses

Synopsis (from Marilyn Heward Mills’ website)

Marriage to a handsome Ghanaian architect has brought Eva far from the quiet English countryside. He had made it sound heavenly: an easy, warm life, jovial people, exotic food, vibrant colours, a fascinating culture. The reality is quite different. The heat and humidity saps her energy; the general hardship drains her of vitality; the foreign culture still bewilders her. But Eva has her friends – Dahlia, Yelena and Margrit – all of them strangers in a foreign land, who through the years have relied on each other to fill the gaps left by distant relatives.

A sudden coup unnerves everyone, but for Dahlia things become more dangerous still. And as Eva’s relationship with Alfred also unravels, the Association of Foreign Spouses discover that there are dark sides to their lives and that they must scheme and deceive to protect themselves and their families.

Set in Ghana in the turbulent eighties, The Association of Foreign Spouses is a story of love and friendship, betrayal and forgiveness. It is the story of a group of women who live in a land that at times defeats them, among people who often disappoint and baffle them. Through their trials and hardships, the women support each other, unified by their foreignness, their distance from home and the choices they have made, as ultimately they are wooed by this strange place that they come to call home.

Marriage is a struggle and a compromise. Even more so when it transcends borders, nationalities and language. Heward Mills spins a powerful story of foreign wives in Ghana that entertains as well as explains a lot against a rich background of characters and social events.

The four women all have their own stories, but are joined by a common bond – the love they felt for the men that brought them here. In many respects, it is a domestic tale, but made more complex by the frames of reference of the participants in the story, their age, their expectations in marriage and its role in life. The fact that they are immigrants, and what it means to be home. The fact that you have to live as best as you can with the choices you make.

This novel is set in 1980s Ghana, and you get a sense of the intrusion and impact that the changing times have on domestic tranquility.

You can purchase this novel over at Amazon.co.uk: The Association of Foreign Spouses

The Thing Around Your Neck

At approximately 240 pages, this book of short stories consistently draws you in, making you ask – what next? Who did what? Why has this come about? What is the meaning of … ?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a powerful story teller, but her expertise is at leaving you to fill the gaps in the stories. They are glimpses into the lives of the people, but they do not answer all of your questions and this is in many respects, a reflection of the reality of life. Insecurities, lack of self-esteem, love, betrayal, trust – all make their presence known in this collection.

You can buy this over at Amazon.co.uk: The Thing Around Your Neck

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria

Saro-Wiwa takes us along with her on her journey through Nigeria, an attempt to reconnect with her home country and build a new relationship that had been tainted by forced visits during her youth and the murder of her father campaigning against government corruption and environmental degradation by Shell.

In doing so, she confronts the reality of being Nigerian in this day and age, the complex relationships with the land, the government, the people and religion. Nigeria is bustling and teeming with life, with great moments and also with many hardships, and this account from Saro-Wiwa is both sympathetic and honest. Her conflicted emotions do show, and this makes the journey from the noisy environs of Lagos to the quieter country areas all the more powerful.

In terms of an honest portrayal of a nation, Saro-Wiwa has certainly succeeded.

You can purchase this book over at Amazon: Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria

Cloth Girl

This is another touching coming of age story, set in Ghana. Matilda is young, too young to have thought of marriage to the good prospect that is “Lawyer”. At the same time as we watch her grow and mature, we are faced with the tale of Audrey, an English woman displaced who slowly unravels under the African setting.

What I loved about this novel is its mostly measured, unhurried pace. The author gives us the opportunity to get to know all of the characters, how they interact and the consequences thereof. We get an insight into the two worlds that these changing times held – the conflict between Christianity and Traditionalism, racism vs social standing, freedom to act and the expectations of others. In many respects this is a powerful novel on the human condition, the fact that it needs tending in order for life to be bearable.

Certainly this novel focuses more on the women than it does on the men, but when it does switch perspective we see a new (and believable) aspect to their behaviour that lends weight to the novel overall.

You can purchase this book over at amazon.co.uk: Cloth Girl

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

What to say about this gem of a novel? Shoneyin draws you into the world of a household full of wives and their children and one husband who thinks he can handle them all. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, what quickly becomes clear is that his first three wives all have tales and thoughts of their own, and they are not planning to have their house unsettled by a young lady who is a “graduate”.

All I can say about this story is that it had me in stitches! The jealousy, sneakiness and secrets of the wives make this tale one to behold, even if there are sadder subject matters enclosed within. Some brilliant one-liners make this a highly recommended novel from us!

You can purchase this novel over at Amazon.co.uk: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

Imagine This

The premise of this novel is simple. Imagine you are taken away from what you know, from what you understand and thrust into a world you had only heard stories of. Stories that are no match to the everyday reality. Sade Adeniran has created in diary format not only a tale about growing up in Nigeria as a displaced child/young adult, but also the ability of a woman to change and persevere in what seems an unrelenting onslaught of change (mostly negative). At times this can seem to get too much, but you have to appreciate Adeniran’s perseverance and commitment to her theme.

This novel won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize 2008 for the African region as Best First Novel – and after reading it I am sure you will understand why.

You can buy this book over at amazon.co.uk: Imagine This

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou’s seminal writings are a poignant tale of childhood confusion, growing pains and the ability of the human spirit to endure many hardships. It had been a long time since I last read the opening pages of this book, and when I picked it up again it became apparent that I had left it very long indeed. My memory did not add up to the words I was reading, and whilst I was reading it, I became intensely gripped by Maya’s experiences. Some I could laugh with, others I felt her pain and desperation.

Angelou writes simultaneously with the spirited mischievousness of her age, the desperation and sadness of the times and then with the heavy knowledge and experience as an adult. As a result, we are invited into a lengthy story of her life has been shaped by poverty, racism, family, religion and politics. She spares us no detail (as far as she can) and only occasionally do you feel that something has been “glossed over” to perhaps protect something that still is too private to share. But we forgive her for her writing is too sweet, too poetic to leave us hungry. This book is an inspiration to us all, and Ms Angelou should be commended for not only writing her biography but for adding to it with four further volumes.

You can purchase this over at Amazon.co.uk: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Nel stayed, Sula left. And when Sula comes back, she is a different woman, a stranger but not, a strong powerful woman with a depth of feeling that shakes the foundations. I have to say that when I first read this, I was gob-smacked by the language in this novel. Toni Morrison does not hold back in weaving the story in front of our eyes, and it unfolds patiently. Patiently we see how the women in this community are survivors, and yet in their own ways, cling to life and their share of joy.

Even now, I dip back into Sula from time to time to remind myself that time changes everything, even you – but you always have a choice.

You can purchase this book over at amazon.co.uk: Sula