Ama Ata Aidoo (2006) editor
African Love Stories: An Anthology is compiled and edited by Ama Ata Aidoo. I first worked with Ama Ata Aidoo in Kenya in 1969. She then moved back home to Ghana and I visited her at the University of Cape Coast where she was teaching. Eventually she became Minister of Education in Accra in the 1980s.
In the States she has taught at Brown and Stanford universities. She is currently Executive Director of Mbaasem, a foundation to support African women writers. I have always liked Ama Ata Aidoo's plays, short stories, collections of poetry and novels, beginning with The Dilemma of a Ghost (1965) and including her novel Changes (The Women's Press 1991, Heinemann African Writers Series 2004). Changes won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Africa in 1992.
There are 21 selections in this volume. Most of them have not appeared in print before. The two that are republished are Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana (see Mmegi 17 March 2006) and The Veil by Nawa el Saadawi. As a result African Love Stories is a mine of wonderful discoveries. Most of the authors are significant women writers and accomplished academics in their own right. The collection is arranged in alphabetical order by surname. Ama Ata Aidoo has not included anything of her own.
The first one in this collection of love stories is by Leila Aboulela. Something Old, Something New conveys very well the culture shock when returning home to her country, after meeting her fianc in Scotland at a mosque and the many small adjustments necessary before they could get married. The author is half Egyptian, half Sudanese and has written three novels and is the winner of the first Caine Prize for African writing.
Tony Adiega in Marriage and other Impediments writes about coming home to Nigeria and having to convey the difficult news that she is to marry a German.
The two families have equally negative attitudes about racial intermarriage and the story delightfully turns it around to being a happy learning about each other's cultures, what had seemed utterly impossible.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (for a review of her novel Half of a Yellow Sun see Mmegi 19 January 2007) in Transition to Glory shows a relationship to an older man, seemingly perfect, but he was married; she conveys the pressure from her family to get married yet she goes home to her mother in Nsukka to get over his death. Sefi Atta from Lagos, in The Lawless writes about an acting group trying to work out a shared life in a house while desperately trying to scare up business for the theatre troupe after the Abacha regime closed down the university. There is an unusual excursion to raise money for one of their member's baby.
In a brief but well crafted story The Rival, Yaba Badoe describes a man with a soft heart, whose wife knows what happens when his beautiful sister Esi, "an Ashanti to the core", comes to stay, but she resolves that for once she will we prepared and not let the usual softness destroy her life. Doreen Baingana's Tropical Fish is set in Kampala in 1987. Christine, a sociology student at the Makerere University becomes involved with Peter, a mzungu (lekgowa) trying to start an export business of freshwater fish for aquariums in Europe. Peter becomes her comfortable habit until she meets him at his work, there seeing another side to him. Ugandan women are the rare tropical fish and expatriates the predators that devour them.
Also set in Uganda, Mildred Kiconco Barya in Scars of Earth, writes about a journey home to mourn the loss of love with an understanding mother. "That day I chose to become earth. To embrace each season, each love, each friendship in its lifetime. To release each season when it goes without questioning why or when it would happen again".
Ojo and the Armed Robbers by Rounke Coker about Ojo Olatunji, a lecturer at the university, who "was steeped in the practices and folklore of the Yorubas of his poor rural upbringing". When the "armed robbers" arrive she writes, "My reaction makes me proud to be a Yoruba woman ... I was five foot two of podgy city life. I do, however, believe in revenge ... I wrecked the joint".
"Rumour and the match-making mills had it that a woman alone with a car was not a good thing; for the men." Anthonia C. Kalu writes in Ebube Dike! about Adaaku's travails as a female driver in Aba. The moral of the tale is "that you must always share things that make you feel sweet with the people you love".
The scene shifts to South Africa with Antjie Krog's Three [Love] Stories in Brackets. This is followed by Sindiwe Magona's Modi's Bride. "He went to Qutsa to marry off a sister ... But instead he returned raging, in fever, for a warm grass mat". In Sara Ladipo Manyika's Modupe a Nigerian woman takes a job at UNESCO in Paris, where she falls in love with a Hugh Masekela tune. In Counting down the Hours by Blessing Musariri, one of the best stories in this collection, Rumbidzai, a young Zimbabwean girl "just pretending to be a woman", comes to terms with what it means to be making love to men.
In the Nakawa Housing Estate next to Kampala, Monica Arac de Nyeko, in Jambula Tree, explores shame and identity. Sanyu returns from London to Nakawa to find her mother, Mama Atim. This tale is different as it is told by her lover, Anyango, who stayed behind in Uganda. His mother had warned him: "Don't walk back home with Sanyu after school. Don't pass by their home each morning to pick her up. Don't sit next to her in class. Don't borrow her textbooks. I will buy you your own. Don't even talk to her. Don't, don't, don't do anymore Sanyu".
Promise Ogochukwa's Needles of the Heart explore violence in relationships. Molara Ogundipe in Give Us That Spade! Considers the lives of been-tos decades after they returned to work in Nigerian universities. Death and a funeral also release love. The Telltale Heart by Helen Oyeyemi, who wrote the novel "The Icarus Girl" (see Mmegi 7th April 2006), introduces us to a seeker, a runt of a boy born to an unusual future at Asyut, east of Cairo and a girl born in Osogbo in Nigeria with a heavy heart, and the story of an unusual art collector.
Nawa el Saadawi's The Veil is an intriguing story on the use of eyes and the nature of love. Vronique Tadjo, is a prize-winning novelist from the Ivory Coast currently living in Johannesburg.
Her A Sunny Afternoon examines the nexus of same-sex love. Chike Unigwe is a Nigerian writer who lives in Belgium. Her first novel "De Fineks" was published in Dutch. Unigwe's Possessing the Secret of Joy is about poverty, a marriage of convenience, pregnancy and childbirth.
The final selection, Deep Sea Fishing, when the woman is the "ocean, deep and wide", is from Kenya and is by Wangui wa Goro. Wangui now lives and works in London. She has gained recognition as a translator, both of Vronique Tadjo's novels, and of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's writings.
In all, this is a most impressive collection. It should be read, and then over again, then shared with your friends.
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