Book Pairings: Xala & His Only Wife

If you liked His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie, I have a #bookrecommendation for you: Xala by Sembène Ousmane (Senegal, 1974).

This is the story of a prominent businessman with two wives and 11 kids, who in his 60s decides to marry a 19 year old. On his wedding day to his young third wife, he is stricken with Xala (impotence). The ripple effects will be felt in all aspects of his life.

This story is funny, witty and very entertaining. Meant to be a satire on post-colonial Senegal, it ends up saying a lot about capitalism, political corruption, and polygamy.

It is one of those books that once you finish it, you feel compelled to read it again from the beginning to see what clues you missed pointing at that ending that I didn’t see coming.

Book Pairings: She Would be King

She Would Be King by Wateyu Moore is an amazing and touching story of three gifted teens: a girl named Gbessa exiled from her village in Liberia for fear that her red hair and dark skin is evidence of witchcraft; and two young boys who end up in Liberia after escaping slavery in the Americas. Together they set out to protect the indigenous population of Liberia against slave-trader and European settlers. Its set in the 1800s, peppered with magical realism and told in beautiful language.

On the other hand, Dream Country by Shannon Gibney, is the story of a Liberian boy who gets into a bit of trouble in America so he is sent back to his relatives in Liberia. But more than that, it is the story of his ancestors and their fight against slave-traders and former African-American slaves taking up their territory and forcing them into servitude. The language in Dream Country is harsh and real, and the realities portrays can be overwhelmingly sad. But both stories are equally thrilling and mesmerizing. They are two different points of view of the same historical period and stories that will entertain you and educate you at the same time.

I had very little knowledge of the history of Liberia, aside from the re-settling of African Americans and had never thought about the impact it must have had in the local communities. This has open my eyes and allowed me to differentiate the fairy-tale story about freedom for African Americans in Africa that we have been told, from the harsh reality of conflict between settlers and indigenous people. If you loved She Would be King, you will love Dream Country. I encourage you to give it a try.

Book Pairings: 1984

The world is crazy. The news are crazy. More and more it feels like we are headed to a 1984 world. If you loved Orwell’s classic “1984” as much as me, you’d love Nihad Sirees’ “The Silence and The Roar”.

This is the story of Fathi Sheen, a famous writer in an unnamed Arab country (that sounds a lot like Syria but could really be any Arab country pre-Arab Spring) that has been silenced by the ruling party for refusing to sing the dictator’s praises. On his way to visit his mother, he finds himself in the middle of a match and has his ID confiscated by the police. What follows is a hilarious, kafka-esque, series of absurd events.

This is a masterly narrated political satire. It is beautiful and funny (and quite sexy, like soap-opera steamy). It greatly captures the difficulties of those wanting to remain independent in a regime that seeks to silence individuality.

Book Pairings: Black Panther

If you loved the movie “Black Panther” (seriously, who didn’t?!) or Marlon James new release “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”, you’d love “Memoirs of a Porcupine” by Alain Mabanckou.

Very much like “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”, in “Memoirs of a Porcupine” we see African mythology and folklore come to life; supernatural beings roaming the Earth and troubled narrators. “Memoirs of a Porcupine” a young boy in a Congolese village is subjected to a magical ritual that creates an evil double and links him forever to a porcupine. This magical ritual will plant the seed of evil in his heart and turn the porcupine into his instrument of murder. But he is not the only one with an evil double roaming around…

This is a fantastic tale, that will have glued to it; devouring it until it is done. It is a very short read which, in my opinion, is an added advantage. I think James has nothing on Mabanckou. But you be the judge.

Book Pairings: Shipwrecks

We all love survival stories. Especially those of shipwrecks. Who can forget Cast Away, staring Tom Hanks and the Wilson ball? Or more recent, Life of Pi by Yan Martel. A beautiful movie and heart-breaking book. If you, like me, loved it.. you’ll love Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Story of a Shipwreck.

It is the true story of a Colombian sailor who was lost at sea for 10 days. Unlike many movies and books that don’t tell you what happens after he is back home and gets a heroe’s welcome here we get the whole story; how he survived, was welcomed home, kissed by beauty queen, made money out of tale and then was forgotten. That’s how Gabo sums it up in the title in Spanish (English title is spoiler free).

Gabo was not even 30 when he interviewed the sailor, as a reporter for an obscure paper. And this story forced him into exile, launching him onto the path that gave us One Hundred Years of Solitude. But whether you are a fan or not, this is a must read story.