September Read of the Month is The House of Rust – Khadija Abdalla Bajaber. The Kenyan writer’s debut novel offers a feast of African storytelling, heavily laced with the Arabian Nights. Kjhadija is a fabulous storyteller, as well as a fabulist. On the one level it’s a coming of age story about a rebellious girl who passionately wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, go to sea, have adventures and roam free. Conventional marriage, husband and family, a steady life in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast? Pah! Not a chance.
On another level, the books is an adventure into magical realms peopled with talking animals; two crows and Hamza, the scholar’s cat, among others; plus terrifying sea monsters which she has to vanquish in order to save her father. There’s Zubeir the local magician/medicine man and finally the enigmatic Almassi, the dangerous resident of the House of Rust.
The book won the inaugural Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize. The Prize …. Is awarded for a first novel manuscript by an author primarily residing in Africa. Founded in 2017 to facilitate direct access to publishing in the USA for a new generation of African writers ….
I’m so grateful to the Graywolf Press making this marvelous book available to English speaking readers.
Followed by another African writer’s acclaimed novel – Paradise, by Abdulrazak Gurnah. Again, the setting in East Africa, again Kenya. It’s the early days of the 20th century, before Africa became Westernised. 12 year old Yusuf is pawned to rich, powerful merchant Uncle Azziz, to pay his father’s debts. Uncle Azzis takes him to his property on the coast, where Yusuf learns how to keep shop, and to trade. It’s a coming of age story, against the backdrop of African myth, dreams and Koranic tradition; travel adventures, and a doomed love story.
I was born on the edge of East Africa, so the book resonated with me in many ways – the people, the scenery, the social attitudes. And Gurnah ‘s prose does it justice. I’m still mulling over the final paragraph, on the last page. An open ending, in that another chapter of Yusuf’s life begins – I wonder what happened to him?
If you’re tired of gung-ho safari/male machisomo/adventurers’ version of Africa, this novel provides an insider’s portrait of Africa. Give it a try.
And, P.S. In case you were unaware, Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021.
The House of Rust – Khadija Abdalla Bajaber . Original, magical, labyrinthine, multi-layered as Mombasa itself. A sparkling mix of Arabian nights storytelling and new African fiction. Rave, Rave.
Paradise – Abdulrazak Gurnah. A rich and layered novel set in East Africa. Yusuf’s coming of age story, part adventure story, part love story; always strange and beautiful, and often violent. The genuine old Africa. I really enjoyed the book. Recommended.
The Milk Tart Murders – A Tannie Maria Mystery. Sally Andrew. This is #4 in the series, and I’m a fan. There’s murder /s, there are recipes, Tannie M and Jessie are as intrepid as ever, but more importantly, Tannie M and Henk have a major fallout .The book has more emotional depth and is all the better for it. I particularly enjoyed the background detail about the Little Karoo flora and fauna. I think I put on 2 kgs just by reading about the luscious food. Highly recommended, as a feel-good read.
The Magic Toyshop – Angela Carter. Kudos to Virago Press fore- issuing this 1967 novel in 1987. What a wildly, wickedly exuberant writer she is! Three orphaned children dumped into the seedy South London home of their awful Uncle. Its a modern baroque fairy tale, that grows more and more disturbing but ends with a satisfying bang! Plus, a surprising expose of female sexuality. If you’ve never tried Angela Carter, do so now: she has no equal.
How high we go in the dark – Sequoia Nagamatsu. See my review 23rd on this blog. A powerful novel, in the Speculative Fiction/SF genre. It’s a Plague novel (no, not Covid) that explores humanity’s response to a deadly virus. Powerful, bleak, thought provoking to say the least. Not for everyone, but a memorable read. And, I sincerely hope, not prescient!
Afterland – Lauren Beukes. Another Speculative Fiction Plague novel, right after the above Japanese book, but a very different read. South African writer Lauren Beukes produces a fast paced thriller, well written, enormously readable, exciting read. In a future where most of the men are dead, Cole and her twelve year old son Miles are on the run …. Plenty of action, a real page turner. I enjoyed the book. Recommended.