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Africa Reading Challenge

March 20, 2008

I’m not that keen to take on more challenges than I’ve got right now, but I’m already almost halfway through the requirements, so why not jump into the Africa Reading Challenge started over on the Siphoning Off Thoughts blog? Discovered it via journalist Rob Crilly’s blog, who a little while ago posted about a book just out on Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, recently back in the news. I already had 4 books in hand for the challenge, so that will be my 5th.

“Participants commit to read – in the course of 2008 – six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues. ” Then you post a review of each & they’ll link to it from the Siphoning site. Cool idea, no? Check out the participants lists and some of Siphoning’s suggestions if you’re interested.

Here is my list of 5. If you have ideas for #6, please send them along. I like plants, especially desert plants; spicy food; inventive design; being in the wilderness; and kooks, especially all-out kooks. Preferably all mixed in together. In Africa or by Africans. (And no point in stopping with 6 books.)

#1. West With the Night by Beryl Markham. Brought it with me to Kenya after owning & ignoring it for a few years. This was the right time to read it, since not only can I better relate to the geography and place names, but can scratch the surface of understanding what it must have been like to grow up here. And then there’s the whole celebrated-woman-pilot bit! Romance galore, and not the boy-girl kind. Almost finished with it.
(Plants: a chapter called “Ivory and Sanseivieria.” Food: undeniably British heritage so only tea so far. Design: she didn’t have a mirror until she was 15. Wilderness: yes, starting with hunting those darling warthogs as a child with her Nandi warrior friends. Kooks: it was Colonial East Africa and she was a racehorse trainer.)

#2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. As posted about the other day. I’ve learned from some work friend’s of Chris’ that there is a “vibrant used book trade” in Kenya, so the shocked look I got for my 1000-shilling paperback might simply have been pity for the idiot woman who paid too much. Almost finished it.
(Plants: yams and more yams, cassava, and medicinal herbs brewed up for a fever. Food: yams, foo-foo (?), sometimes goats, accompanied by freshly-tapped palm wine every day. Design: red-dirt walls painted with wild designs. Wilderness: a midnight moonless trek to the cave where the Ibo Earth god lives, on the heels of a possessed priestess. Kooks: obsessives for sure, but not much humor in them.)

#3. No Picnic on Mt. Kenya by Felice Benuzzi. The story of the 1st ascent of the mountain in 1943 by Italian prisoners of war who broke out of PoW Camp 354, climbed the thing in style, and broke back into camp! National Geographic Adventure did a story on it last year, and our friend Alex guided the author and photographer. Reading a precious 1960 edition borrowed from Sam’s dad, who was kind enough to loan it. Chris already finished it. Need to read and return it soon!

#4. North of South: An African Journey by Shiva Naipaul. Bought it shortly after arriving and realizing I knew nothing about Kenya. I’m a sucker for rear view mirror pictures like the one on the cover, but this description sealed it: “Naipaul shares with Evelyn Waugh the same eye for the ridiculous, the same dark humour, the same ultimate cynicism about the human race.” Expecting a fair share of kooks.

#5. The Wizard of The Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted by Matt Green about Joseph Kony. All I really know about Uganda, besides the documentary on Idi Amin I saw recently on Al Jazeera (part of their “I Knew [insert dictator here]” series), is that it always seems to be in bloody turmoil. And yet this is the direction many Kenyans in the Western Province fled when little civil wars started in their towns. Uganda’s 21-year-old civil war might be over at the end of this month, with Kony avoiding prosecution for war crimes, but he’s on the move again. This story’s definitely not over.

#6. TBD.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2008 12:20 pm

    Hello Bloomlikeflowers,

    I enjoyed this post very much. The title caught my eye in the list of recent posts at

    It caught my eye (strange idiom), because members of our family have been very active in working to generate funding and initiating new wells in Malawi. And, I recently read Doris Lessing’s recent poignant Nobel-in-literature speech about books desperately needed in Africa. I am being presumptive I fear, but I have a strong hunch that you are a person who would be interested in her speech enough to be patient enough to read it in toto.

    Her speech is found here; it is quite long, but beautifully written (of course), it speaks to my heart and I really got lost in it and savored every word. Imagine tearing Anna Karenin into sections and leaving them as one travels! I was hooked by her writing about: writers speaking to other writers about their “special place”, and ended up reading the whole speech. If you are interested, I found it here:

    When our family members and their friends made multiple trips to Malawi, they did not carry their own clothing. Instead, they always carried inexpensive but practical clothing. They shopped Goodwill and Salvation Army stores looking for clothing in good condition and serviceable. They left them with their new African friends when they returned to the states. I think no one thought to take books.

    I noticed you read WEST WITH THE NIGHT. It is one of my favorite books, along with OUT OF AFRICA.

    My husband just finished reading WHAT IS THE WHAT, by Dave Eggers. It is based on the true stories told by the Lost Boys of Sudan. Achak Deng told the founder of the Lost Boys Foundation in Atlanta that he wanted to reach a larger audience than his public-speaking events accessed; that he wanted to write a book about his life, but he was not a writer. She put him in touch with Dave Eggers. If you don’t know about the Lost Boys, this book is a must read. They agreed that the author’s proceeds from sales would be used to improve the lives of Sudanese in Sudan and elsewhere.

    I’m afraid this is too long. Thank you for your patience. Best wishes to you in your travels and endeavors.

  2. robcrilly permalink
    March 21, 2008 10:39 am

    Welcome aboard. Will be particularly interested in your thoughts on North of South. I’m saying no more…

  3. andrea permalink
    March 24, 2008 1:25 pm

    This book has been on my “to-read” list for a while. You’ve inspired me yet again to take action on it.

    “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”
    Ishmael Beah


  4. bloomlikeflowers permalink
    March 25, 2008 2:04 am

    Thanks for the recommendations and the welcome! Just finished “West…” and looking forward to diving into more. I had heard that Ms. Lessing’s speech was incredible but hadn’t read it, same with “Boy Soldier,” so they’ll go on the list, too.
    Been a fan of Lessing since reading “The Veldt” as a schoolchild, so maybe I should revive my interest in her. Thanks again. xo -L

  5. bloomlikeflowers permalink
    March 25, 2008 2:19 am

    P.S. Rob, interested to see what if any correlation North of South has to South of West. Thanks.

  6. Petra permalink
    March 26, 2008 4:27 pm

    Hi — I got your blog link from my friend Meredith and think that’s a great idea to start an Africa reading list. I was in the Peace Corps in Cote d’Ivoire from 1998-2000 and am very interested in contemporary issues about the continent. The best recent history of Africa I have read recently is “The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence” by Martin Meredith. It looks like a weighty tome — but it is actually a great read that is written by a journalist/ historian so it is a very engaging. Also, one of the best books I’ve ever read is about South Africa under apartheid called: “My Traitor’s Heart: A South African Exile returns to face his country, his tribe, and his conscience” By Rian Malan. It is a heart-wrenching book I would recommend to anyone interested in the South Africa’s painful history. Good luck in Kenya, I’ll be sure to check in on your blog, Petra

  7. April 1, 2008 8:57 pm

    Have you read ‘The Camel Bookmobile?’ by Masha Hamilton? It is a wonderful novel set in Africa.

  8. bloomlikeflowers permalink
    April 2, 2008 3:17 am

    Kate, I haven’t read that one but will keep my eyes out. Thanks for the recommendation.

  9. June 21, 2009 8:12 pm

    ooh – If you haven’t read “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” by Alexandra Fuller you’ve absolutely got to-got to!

    • June 22, 2009 9:25 am

      Thanks, Kris. I have heard that one is good, too. My review page is so behind, since there are only 2 but I read 3 more before we even got back last year. Then reading about Africa stepped aside for writing an annual report for work and gardening my butt off the rest of the summer. It’s been in the back of my head to finish them off and post them. Thanks for the reminder! I was also given a book called, “Monique and the Mango Rains,” about a midwife in Mali (her story written by a US aid worker) that is next on my list to read. This “Challenge” began as a 1-year thing but could easily become a life-long thing!

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