2016 Etisalat Prize Shortlist

The 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature Shortlist is out and brings us 3 novels from the African continent.  This year two Nigerians and one South African are vying for the prize.

The Seed Thief by Jacqui L’Ange

the-seed-thief-by-jacqui-lange“Sometimes the thing you find is not the one you were looking for. When botanist Maddy Bellani is asked to travel to Brazil to collect rare seeds from a plant that could cure cancer, she reluctantly agrees. Securing the seeds would be a coup for the seed bank in Cape Town where she works, but Brazil is the country of her birth and home to her estranged father.  Her mission is challenging, despite the help of alluring local plantexpert Zé. The plant specimen is elusive, its seeds guarded by a sect wary of outsiders. Maddy must also find her way in a world influenced by unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies and the selfish motives of others.  Entrancing and richly imagined, The Seed Thief is a modern love story with an ancient history, a tale that moves from flora of Table Mountain to the heart of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism.” (GoodReads)

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

and-after-many-days-by-jowhor-ile“During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.  In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.  And After Many Days introduces Ile’s spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.”  (GoodReads)

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya

Mr and Mrs Doctor by Julie Iromuanya“Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspirator—that is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job’s tenuous balancing act.” (GoodReads)

2015 Etisalat Literature Prize Shortlist

At the end of last year the Etisalat Prize for Literature released their 2015 longlist which Professor Ato Quayson describes:

“The range of submissions for the Etisalat Prize this represents the vitality of literary writing on the continent, and the longlist is a selective showcase of the best to be found. The subjects covered in the longlist are so fascinating and varied that it would take another novel just to describe them all. Magnificent!”

From the impressive longlist three novels have been shortlisted for the African Etisalat Prize for Literature.  Two are from South African authors and the third from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo), Tram 83

Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo), Tram 83

“In an African city in secession, which could be Kinshasa or Lubumbashi, land tourists of all languages and nationalities. They have only one desire: to make a fortune by exploiting the mineral wealths of the country. They work during the day in mining concession and, as soon as night falls, they go out to get drunk, dance, eat and abandon themselves in Tram 83, the only night-club of the city, the den of all the outlaws: ex children-soldiers, prostitutes, blank students, unmarried mothers, sorcerers’ apprentices…  Lucien, a professional writer, fleeing the exactions and the censorship, finds refuge in the city thanks to Requiem, a youth friend. Requiem lives mainly on theft and on swindle while Lucien only thinks of writing and living honestly. Around them gravitate gangsters and young girls, retired or runaway men, profit-seeking tourists and federal agents of a non-existent State.  Tram 83 plunges the reader into the atmosphere of a gold rush as cynical as, sometimes, comic and colorfully exotic. It’s an observation of human relationships in a world that has become a global village. It could be described as an African-rap or rhapsody novel or puzzle-novel hammered by rhythms of jazz.” (GoodReads)

Penny Busetto (South Africa), The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself

Penny Busetto (South Africa), The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself

“Anna P lives on an island off the coast of Italy but can no longer remember how she got there. She came from South Africa but has almost no memory of the place or people there. The only person she has a kind of personal relationship with is a sex worker whom she pays by the hour. It is only when she begins to connect emotionally with a young boy that she finds some value in herself, some place which she will not allow to be abused, and her life gradually changes. This meticulously crafted, atmospheric debut novel asks a number of difficult questions about the nature of memory: who are we if we lose our memories? What does it mean to have no identity? And if we have no identity, can we still make ethical choices?” (GoodReads)

Rehana Rossouw (South Africa), What Will People Say?

Rehana Rossouw (South Africa), What Will People Say?

“Rehana Rossouw’s unique voice gives life and drama to this family saga.  Hanover Park. The heart of the Cape Flats. It is 1986. Michael Jackson and Brenda Fassie rule every hi-fi. Princess Di and George Michael hairstyles are all the rage. There are plans to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 1976 student uprising.  Neville and Magda Fourie live in Magnolia Court with their three children. They are trying to ‘raise them decent’ in a township festering with gang wars and barricaded with burning tyres.  Suzette, the eldest, is beautiful and determined to escape her family’s poverty. Nicky, the sensitive middle child, has ambitions to use her intellect as a way out. Anthony, the only son, attracted by power and wealth, is lured away from his family by a gangster.  In What Will People Say? a rich variety of township characters – the preachers, the teachers, the gangsters and the defeated – come to life in vivid language as they eke out their lives in the shadows of grey concrete blocks of flats.  Which members of the Fourie family will thrive, which ones will not survive?  Generously spiced with Cape Flats slang; lots of vivid and gritty description that give an authentic feel to the story; plenty of plot – the writer draws us in and makes us curious about what will happen next; and very human characters we come to care about.” (GoodReads)

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2014 Etisalat Prize Shortlist

Three African novels have been selected for the shortlist of the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature and I am proud to see two of the three novelists are South Africans; Nadia Davids and Songeziwe Mahlangu, together with Nigerian Chinelo Okparanta.

“From a strong long list we are now delighted to announce this year’s shortlist which showcases hitherto untold stories from across the continent and beyond.”

The strength of the shortlist is exemplified in the belief that any of the shortlisted writers would make a worthy winner. “Whether it is David’s multigenerational family story set in Cape Town’s Muslim community at the dawn of the new South Africa, or Okparanta’s bittersweet tales of loss and love in Nigeria and abroad, or Mahlangu’s unflinching exploration of mental illness set in contemporary South Africa, each of these books is uniquely compelling. This is a shortlist that delights in the newness of the topics being explored and in the diversity of narrative form. From short stories, to the short novel, to the epic novel – each is a gem in its own right” Manyika concluded. (read more)

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

Happiness, Like WaterHere are Nigerian women at home and transplanted to the United States, building lives out of longing and hope, faith and doubt, the struggle to stay and the mandate to leave, the burden and strength of love. Here are characters faced with dangerous decisions, children slick with oil from the river, a woman in love with another despite the penalties. Here is a world marked by electricity outages, lush landscapes, folktales, buses that break down and never start up again. Here is a portrait of Nigerians that is surprising, shocking, heartrending, loving, and across social strata, dealing in every kind of change. Here are stories filled with language to make your eyes pause and your throat catch. Happiness, Like Water introduces a true talent, a young writer with a beautiful heart and a capacious imagination. (GoodReads)

Penumbra by Songeziwe Mahlangu

Penumbra

Maybe Mfundo shot me that night. This is all a path to my place of rest. I am being shown my life and the things that happened to me. There was also the night I broke the window in my room. I felt trapped. I tried opening the door, but couldn’t. I was woken by Tongai mumbling that I would not be able to go anywhere. Next, I was pushing on the window. Tongai later told me that I suffer from night terrors. Perhaps I threw Tongai out of the window that night. And the guilt made me shut the truth away. Tongai is dead. I killed him a long time ago. Such a decent guy, who never wanted to harm anyone; I murdered him. It is this sin that is eating me up.  Mangaliso Zolo lives in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, near the university. He has an office job at a large corporate, but he does little every day bar shuffle papers and surf the ’net. Penumbra charts Manga’s daily struggles with the twin pull, from friends and acquaintances, of reckless living or charismatic Christianity. A very different Cape Town comes to life – far removed from both the gloss of tourism brochures or the familiar poverty of the Flats – and a certain dissolute South African reality is dissected with haunting precision. (GoodReads)

An Imperfect Blessing by Nadia Davids

An Imperfect BlessingIt is 1993. South Africa is on the brink of total transformation and in Walmer Estate, a busy suburb on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, fourteen-year-old Alia Dawood is about to undergo a transformation of her own. She watches with fascination and fear as the national drama unfolds, longing to be a part of what she knows to be history in the making. As her revolutionary aspirations strengthen in the months before the elections, her intense, radical Uncle Waleed reappears, forcing her parents and sister Nasreen to confront his subversive and dangerous past.Nadia David’s first novel moves across generations and communities, through the suburbs to the city centre, from the lush gardens of private schools to the dingy bars of Observatory, from landmark mosques and churches to the manic procession of the Cape Carnival, through evictions, rebellions, political assassinations and first loves. The book places one family’s story at the heart of a country’s rebirth and interrogates issues of faith, race, belonging and freedom.An Imperfect Blessing is a vibrant, funny and moving debut.(GoodReads)

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2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature Shortlist

This year is the inaugural prize for the Etisalat Prize for Literature.  It is the first Pan-African literary prize created to recognize and reward debut fiction writers in Africa.  The winner will receive a £15,000 cheque.  The shortlist was released on 22 January after a retreat in Morocco where the judges narrowed down the prize finalists. (official press release)  The winner will be announced in a ceremony on the 23 February 2014.  Here are the shortlisted finalists:

Cover_BomBoy_Front_300-dpi1-194x300Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso

Leke is a troubled young man living in the suburbs of Cape Town. He develops strange habits of stalking people, stealing small objects and going from doctor to doctor in search of companionship rather than cure. Through a series of letters written to him by his Nigerian father whom he has never met, Leke learns about a family curse; a curse which his father had unsuccessfully tried to remove. Bom Boy is a well-crafted, and complex narrative written with a sensitive understanding of both the smallness and magnitude of a single life.

Finding Soutbek by Karen Jenningssoutbek_hires-186x300

The focal point of the novel is the small town of Soutbek. Its troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships. Contemporary Soutbek is still a divided town – the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant – and through a series of vivid scenes, the troubled relationship between Pieter Fortuin, the town’s first coloured mayor, and his wife Anna is revealed. In so many ways the past casts a long shadow over the present, not in the least through the unreliable diaries of Pieter Meerman promoted by Pieter Fortuin and Professor Pearson, a retired white historian. They give us a unique insight into the lives of the seventeenth-century Dutch explorers, and hint at a utopian society, suggesting that Soutbek is the birthplace of assimilation and integration. The blossoming friendship between Anna, Sara, a foundling, and Willem, Pieter Fortuin’s nephew, is unsettled by David, Anna’s and Pieter’s son. His father has bought David a bright future, but when he comes back from boarding school David appears alienated from his father and from his old friend, the former gardener Charles Geduld, just as Anna starts to accept him as her son. Is there hope, or are we left with Willem’s conclusion that ‘he would spend the rest of his life working off the debt of his family’s poverty’? A moving story that paints a thought-provoking picture of life in contemporary South Africa.

BULAWAYO_WeNeedNewNames-1-194x300We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.  But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her-from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee-while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own. 

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