Guest Reviews

The Statecraft of Winning Elections in Africa

By Seye Bassir


  • Title: How to Win Elections in Africa
  • Author: Chude Jideonwo with Adebola Williams
  • Publisher: Kamsi Farafina
  • Number of pages: 280
  • Year of publication: 2017
  • Category: Politics

How does one win elections in Africa? A humorous answer to this question might be that you do not. Chude Jideonwo in his book, How to Win Elections in Africa, writes that the African continent is ‘mostly defined by dictatorship’, despite an ‘exceptionally high number of elections’ having held in recent years. A good extension of this point would be that several recent elections across Africa have been flawed or have been smokescreens to create false legitimacy for undemocratic governments. More…

The Animist Swath

By Tade Ipadeola


  • Title: Animist Chants and Memorials 
  • Author: Harry Garuba
  • Publisher: Kraft Books Ltd
  • Number of pages: 79
  • Year of publication: 2018
  • Category: Poetry

‘Can we ever again shred the drapery of the word

and return to the fullness of the spell and the chant?’ – Harry Garuba, ‘In the House of the Tongue’

‘What heart is large enough to store a question so long

it troubles every answer that history trades and analysts provide’ – Harry Garuba, ‘Girl and the Dancing Hoop’

The poet Harry Garuba has now published two volumes of poetry 35 years apart. The first of the volumes came from a 24-year-old mind and the second a 59-year-old consciousness, if consciousness can be reckoned by the calendar. Again, installing an eskhatos of any sort to benchmark the poetic output of Harry Garuba may not be a terribly useful undertaking because, like Rilke, even when Harry Garuba is washing his hands, he cannot help being a poet. In the annals of African poetry, the two events matter all the same because they touch – tangentially at first and then emphatically, on a way of seeing, and a way of reckoning and rendering reality that is closer to the geologic than it is to the chronologic – on ‘modern’ temper. More…

Our Poet for the Ages

By Tade Ipadeola


  • Title: Remains of a Tide (Poems 2014–2017)
  • Author: J P Clark
  • Publisher: Mosuro Publishers
  • Number of pages: 70
  • Year of publication: 2018
  • Category: Poetry

‘Yes, calls will come of all kinds in the course

Of the day; some on notice; others

At random, the nice with the nasty; then

Finally, of course, the call, that will be

Recorded missed, the caller, having come

And gone away with the one for whom it rang’. – ‘Waiting for the Call’, J P Clark

 

Though praised early for his lyricism and by mid-career lauded for his stunning mastery of idiom, what stands the poetry of J P Clark apart has always consisted of a certain je ne sais quoi. The scholars search for it in his syntax and rhythm, exercise themselves in mapping it throughout his staggeringly varied oeuvre and now have a chance to plumb for it in Remains of a Tide (Poems 2014–2017), coming out of his octogenarian years and as stalwartly Clark as any collection from his youth. You will not find him changed from the man you knew, only surer of what he always held true as man and artist. More…

A Loom and Star-Crossed Love

By Tade Ipadeola


  • Title: Between Two Worlds
  • Author: Amma Darko
  • Publisher: Sub-Saharan Publishers
  • Number of pages: 524
  • Year of publication: 2015
  • Category: Fiction

Generations of novelists from Ghana have added to the variety of styles and substance of African fiction in many ways. From Ama Ata Aidoo to Ayi Kwei Armah to Kojo Laing and Amma Darko, no two styles of writing are even remotely the same and the paths each have chosen have found followers from all over the continent. A certain pith, a certain depth and scope characterise the best fiction from Ghana and the land has not failed to yield new discoveries to date. More…

Still Waters and Kaizen

By Tade Ipadeola


  • Title: Little Birds and Ordinary People
  • Author: Deji Haastrup
  • Publisher: Bookcraft
  • Number of pages: 406
  • Year of publication: 2017
  • Category: Memoir

Recent Nigerian memoirs that are not at the same time hagiographies are very hard to come by indeed. The pleasure of encountering Little Birds and Ordinary People, a work straddling the nexus between the written meditation and the compte rendu was therefore welcome relief from the monuments of literary dross littering the landscape much like what passes, for the most part, for contemporary Nigerian architecture or legal practice or broadcasting. More…

A Far Cry from Cairo

By Tade Ipadeola


  • Title: Otared
  • Author: Mohammad Rabie
  • Translator: Robin Moger
  • Publisher: Hoopoe
  • Number of pages: 341
  • Year of publication: 2016
  • Category: Fiction

The Ukrainian poet, Yuri Andrukhovych, once said that the formula for being human is memory plus hope. It is a neat formula and if he is correct, no novelist alive has subverted his vision as exhaustively as Mohammad Rabie. In a sprawling meditation on the phenomenon of Cairo, Egypt, the Arab Spring, colonialism and capitalism, Rabie presents his reader with a world utterly savage in the extreme. Otared is as far removed from the Cairo of Naguib Mahfouz as is imaginatively and stylistically possible. More…

Resolve and Dissolution

By Tade Ipadeola


  • Title: Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun
  • Author: Sarah Ladipo Manyika
  • Publisher: Cassava Republic Press
  • Number of pages: 118
  • Year of publication: 2016
  • Category: Fiction

The newest novel by Sarah Ladipo Manyika tackles the human phenomenon of ageing and loss. It begins in an old house far away in San Francisco. It is a house that has survived significant stretches of time and even earthquakes. The novel ends in the same city, in a fast, low car fondly named Buttercup by its owner, the heroine of the tale. In between the opening movements of the novel and the denouement, the reader is taken on a wide-ranging journey through literal time zones and through varying geographies. The tale touches India and Nigeria, it touches French and Yorùbá, it slaloms through passages of love and perfumed mists rising from the wake of obdurate passion, it pants as a determined, quixotic, mule dripping with voluptuous confectionery meant for a sizzling, enigmatic sun. More…

Prisoners of Jebs: Satire and the Clichés of History

By Benson Eluma


  • Title: Prisoners of Jebs
  • Author: Ken Saro-Wiwa
  • Publisher: Saros International Publishers
  • Number of pages: 178
  • Year of publication: 1988
  • Category: Fiction

Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Prisoners of Jebs does not spare anybody or anything. In the finest tradition of satire, Saro-Wiwa does not spare himself. His dramatis personae make up a bewildering gallery. Figures of world-historical stature share a platform with puny potentates. Stock characters taken straight from Nigerian life jostle for a place alongside sheer monsters conjured up by the fertile and unforgiving imagination of the writer. First appearing in Vanguard, from January 1986 to January 1987, in weekly instalments of mocking guffaws at events of the day and of recent history, the publication in 1988 of Saro-Wiwa’s yearlong offering of jibes at the failures and foibles of Nigerian society, its leaders and citizens alike, must have been the occasion of much laughter at the time, and, needless to add, much offence, more than doubling the effects of instantaneous reactions that had earlier followed in the wake of his Vanguard column. More…

The Event of Song of Lawino

By Benson Eluma


  • Title: Song of Lawino
  • Author: Okot p’Bitek
  • Publisher: East African Publishing House
  • Number of pages: 216
  • Year of publication: 1966
  • Category: Poetry

A popular event, yes. A great event? Yes. Since there is literary drought’. – Taban lo Liyong

But the text exists as linguistic, as historical, as commercial, as political event. And while each of these ways of conceiving the very same object provides opportunities for pedagogy, each provides different opportunities – opportunities between which we must choose’. – Kwame Anthony Appiah

Yes, of course, the text can exist as an event in any of those dimensions. Sometimes in all of them at once, thus ensuring that certain texts, for all the bravura they may display or conceal, confront us as multidimensional entities, larger than mere rhetorical projects. They exist, as it were, as assemblages of artefacts, as archaeological precincts inhabited by transactions of social life which may coalesce into a pattern. And they, according to established formula, may over time come to accrete into that complex of ruins which every literary archaeologist knows she has to preserve with the care of attentive criticism. Otherwise, what would be the point? More…

The Purchase of Song: Ṣẹnwẹlẹ Lawino at Fifty

By Tade Ipadeola


  • Title: Song of Lawino
  • Author: Okot p’Bitek
  • Publisher: East African Publishing House
  • Number of pages: 216
  • Year of publication: 1966
  • Category: Poetry

‘A song is a form of linguistic disobedience, and its sound casts doubt on more than a concrete philosophical system: it questions the entire philosophical order’. – Joseph Brodsky

In 1966, Okot p’Bitek, who wrote first in Acoli, then English – who made his mother his main muse – published Wer pa Lawino or Song of Lawino to wide acclaim, in Africa, by the East African Publishing House. At the time, there was no way of telling just how far Song of Lawino would travel. What was evident was that the poet had inaugurated a practice which defied easy categorisation and which ruptured the established conventions of poetry written in English or French or Portuguese and published on the continent. More…