“Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Have you ever listened to a song and felt like the artist had you in my mind when he or she penned it down? Sometimes we find healing, peace and answers through listening to a song, watching a movie or being surrounded by paintings or sculptures. The ideas I wrote above are some of the reasons why I enjoy reading novels written by African authors.
I prefer reading African Literature to other genres because I can relate to the stories. While reading a particular novel I can connect with the characters and have a clear picture in my head. Reading African novels is effortless for me because it is different from reading something that will only be a fantasy, it is reading stories and being able to relate to the situations simply because I know of someone who once faced that particular situation. Reading novels written by African authors is not foreign to me, although I am in Zimbabwe through reading African Literature I can travel to different parts of the continent. I can smile, laugh and cry and fall in love with the characters.
Personally, reading African Literature feels like reading a collection of our African situations that we encounter every day. African authors write about our identity and how some Africans fail to fit in when they relocate to the Diaspora. Many people experience culture shock when they relocate to the Diaspora because some of the practices that are common back home do not exist in Europe. Instead of mocking or fault-finding the Africans in the Diaspora, the authors write the story through the eyes of the migrants. In Manchester Happened by Jeniffer Nansubuga Makumbi, the reader can sympathise and know what the characters are going through. Thus through reading African Literature you become enlightened and you become kind to the next person.
The family structure is a common theme in the novels written by African authors. Family members are there for one another during the good and the bad times. The family members help one another and while other relatives can take care of a brother’s or sister’s child like his own. This fosters unity in the families.
Women help in ensuring that the ship (home) does not sink but in many cases, they are not given the credit they deserve. If the readers do not do their part in changing the narrative, women will forever be the unsung heroines. The women have the duty of raising and taking care of the children, being the sources of knowledge and in some cases they might have to give up their dreams to take care of the family and children.
Failure to bear children remains a cancer in our African society. When a couple gets married, the society expects to see the bride experiencing pregnancy symptoms and her tummy beginning to bulge. If the couple fails to bear a child, the woman is always at fault. In Stay With Me written by Ayobami Adebayo, Yejide’s mother-in-law brought in a second wife because she believed that Yejide was struggling to bear a child for Akin. It is every woman’s dream to carry a child in her womb, nurse and raise the child. Yejide tried to do everything in her power so that she could have a child. The author raised awareness of barrenness and how one’s mental health can be affected.
In some of the African homes, boys are discouraged from crying because it will make them weak. Boys are then raised in a way that they believe that asking for help makes them weak but in some cases, they hurt the people they love. Akin from Stay with me written by Ayobami Adebayo knew that he was impotent but he let his wife visit an Apostle sect and breastfeed a kid in the hope that she would bear a child from Akin. In Nearly All The Men in Lagos Are Mad, Dele who is a character from a short story titled A Lover’s Vendetta, knew that he was infertile since he was a teenager but they had paid the doctors to lie to Orode that nothing was wrong with them when they went for the tests.
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to raise mental health awareness in Africa. Some people believe that mental health is an attention-seeking mechanism and instead of seeking help, they suffer in silence. When Mqoqi committed suicide in Mess written by Dudu Busani-Dube, Nkosana chose to tell everyone (the wives and the children) that Mqoqi had a bike accident. Lastly, when Gifty’s brother from Transcedent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi suffered from depression and his mother blamed herself for her son’s death.
Writers raise awareness for different issues, and I hope that the next time you read African Literature you will be able to highlight some of the themes and the message the writer is trying to send to his or her audience.