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Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Boy Next Door, 2009, Irene Sabatini ****

I finished reading this novel in the month of August, I couldn't write my review then because I was engulfed by our wedding preparations.

The Boy Next Door caught my interest because it was by an African writer but most importantly because it won the Orange Prize for New Writers in 2010. Consequently, I thought it was going to be a great read. I was not wrong. After all, one of my favourite novels "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007.
Irene Sabatini debut novel is not simply about the boy next door, it is mainly about the coming of age of Lindiwe in a deteriorating  and divided Zimbabwe. Its citizens paralysed with fear and nervousness, ready to crack apart any moment soon. To make matters worse, she fell in love with a white boy (the boy next door) who was accused of murder. I crossed my fingers and wished that their love survived in their constantly disintegrating country plagued with racism and corruption. Did it? You would have to read the novel in order find out.

Irene Sabatini did a fantastic job with her debut novel. Believe it or not, writing is an art not everyone can master. So, being her first novel, she really impressed. No wonder she won the Orange Prize. Well done Irene. I took pleasure in reading "The Boy Next Door", somewhat reminded me of Americanah. I recommend. Though, bear in mind it was a long read 400+ pages.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Where is Mary Okeke?

I know.. I know...I have been missing in action for a while. I apologise for my prolonged absence. The reason, obviously was because I have not been reading that much. I have been so busy planning my (graceful) wedding that reading dropped off my radar. Believe it or not, it was incredibly time consuming, especially with a full time job and other daily activities to take care of. 
Well, the good news is, we returned from honeymoon yesterday and fortunately, I have started reading again. I promise to write you in details (with pictures) about the whole planning process, I will be doing so in a different blog called Charmingyellow since Mary Okeke Reviews is exclusively for my reading reviews. So, stay tuned for my wedding reviews in Charmingyellow and Book reviews in Mary Okeke Reviews. I look forward to hearing from you.

My kindest regards,
Mary.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Solitude Issue of Saraba Magazine

Saraba Magazine is excited to share the newest issue of the magazine published with the theme of “Solitude.” This forty-page issue includes poems by Saddiq Dzukogi, Olajide Salawu, Rasaq Gbolahan, Ajoke, Paul Njoroge, Kechi Nomu, Sihle Ntuli, Ekweremadu Uchenna, Yusuff Omoloja, Mathias Orhero and Freeman David. There are short story contributions by Efe Paul, Iquo Eke, Adebola Rayo, and Dare Falowo, as well as a nonfiction piece by Arthur Anyaduba.

From the Publishers’ Note:

“How do we contemplate solitude?

“With silence, hands cradling chin, eyes staring into space in an empty room without articles of interest, an atmosphere of quotidian existence of devotion to matters of the heart?

Find here a cache of short poems and short stories by promising writers from Africa, writing in Africa. Follow them as they grapple with different phases of solitude: from avulsion of romantic partners to a search for solitude that leads to a brief stint in a mental institution. And in your solitary experience, while you grasp at the realities of others, ask yourself what it means to be alone.”

Saraba Magazine is one of the leading literary journals in Nigeria, publishing the work of emerging writers within the country and across the African continent. Our focus is on quality writing that shows immense promise and we often publish writers in the earliest stages of their career. As increased attention is drawn towards contemporary African writing, Saraba offers its readers a unique perspective by promoting the work of writers who have been published little or not at all. The website contains a growing repository of fiction, poetry, essays and interviews by writers based in and outside Nigeria.

Founded in 2009, Saraba has published sixteen magazine issues and six poetry chapbooks. All of this can be downloaded for free on the website as PDFs.

To read the stories, poems, and essay related to the theme, please visit http://www.sarabamag.com/the-solitude-issue/ to download a copy of the issue.

For enquiries, please write Adaudo, Saraba’s Managing Editor at editor@sarabamag.com.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Three Strong Women, 2012, Marie Ndiaye **

Obviously, this novel narrates the story (ordeal) of three women with immigration background in common.  The story started off with Norah. Abandoned by her father who kidnapped her little brother and made her mother go insane. Many years later after seeing her self through school with difficulty, she gave heed to her father's request to do him a favour since she was a lawyer. Seriously? After his psychological abuse and manipulation, you are going back to him? Not just that, he still makes you wet your pants in public? What is more, she is in a relationship with a man she strongly believes to be a failure. Are you kidding me? Why not just leave those that inflict suffering and pain instead of complaining all day long? Truth be told I do not find anything strong about Norah. Her actions and choices were simply annoying.
Secondly, Fanta, whom I did not get to meet, rather, I met her loser of a husband, Rudy Decas, with an itchy anus. Who would not stop blabbing about his misery. I stopped half way, could not put up with him.
Lastly, was Khady, the saddest of them all. Wretched and naive she was. Lost her husband who loved and appreciated her, moved in with her in-laws, who later on sent her away on a road journey to Europe where she let fate decide her destiny.

This novel was such an underwhelming and disappointing experience. The writing style left me unengaged, not sure who to blame, the writer? Or the translator? Since the novel was originally written in French. I was expecting a mind-blowing read and not unjustified pain and misery. Again, the title was downright misleading, though, after reading, one can easily guess that the writer was being ironic. Should I recommend? Unless you want more understanding of what I am talking about. Finally, I wonder what the standards are, by which prizes are awarded to novels.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Cloth Girl, 2006, Marilyn Heward Mills ***

Cloth Girl is a novel set in Gold Coast today's Ghana, during the end of the British colony. Innocent fourteen-year-old Matilda, caught the eye of Robert Bannerman. A prestigious black lawyer from an important family, who knew that the only way he could have Matilda is making her his wife. Since he was already married, he made her his second wife by their tradition. Poor Matilda had no idea what was happening to her neither had she control over her life and somewhat lived in a state of confusion. Nevertheless, her family members were so excited to be associated with the Bannermans. They couldn't care less.
On the other side of the colony Audrey, a British lady was on the verge of madness as she discovered that the Gold Coast was not a place for her. However, she could not take her courage in both hands and leave without her husband. Fortunately, her meeting with Matilda changed the course of her destiny. In their meeting each other, Matilda also came to discover the actual meaning of love, as well as realising that she, in fact, does not feel anything for her husband. Though at that time she had already borne him five children (there around). Will she deny her fate and surrender to real love?

Cloth Girl was not a novel that swept me off my feet, I just have this feeling that something was lacking, I cannot pinpoint what exactly it was. Perhaps, the novel should have been shorter, perhaps the author should have just concentrated on the life of Matilda and her surroundings and not Audrey who was more often than not, inebriated. Perhaps... perhaps. It was an acceptable but not outstanding read, anyway. According to my fellow blogger Nana Fredua-Agyeman, he said  
"This is a book I would highly recommend to all those who love to read and all those who enjoyed Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood".
Please click here to read his review on this novel. The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta is my favourite novel and in my opinion far enjoyable than Cloth Girl. Have you read both novels? What is your opinion?

Sunday, 6 July 2014

2014 Spring Read Progress (SpRP)

This year has been quite a busy one, I have not been reading as much as I would have loved to because I got my mind on other events going on in my life at the moment. I am not trying to give excuses, I wish I could help it. However, I promise to fill you in with details concerning the circumstances. Coincidentally, it happens to be that I am also reading book with almost or over five hundred pages. I just finished Cloth Girl by Marilyn Heward Mills, which took me more than two weeks to read through.
Furthermore, I did not even celebrate my second anniversary with you, 22nd of May. I  apologise. As already said, I am extremely busy at the time being. Although, no matter what the excuses, I promise to be as constant as possible.

What did I read in the Spring of 2014?

       

     

The picture above is me in Montseny a biosphere reserve on the coastal hills of my city, click here  for more info. So far this year, I have only read ten books with a total of 2711 pages. Please click here to see my Winter Read Progress.

What about you? have you read any of the novels mentioned above? Have you heard about them before? Or did you find out about them on my blog? How is your reading progress so far this year? I hope that it is better than mine. I look forward to hearing from you.

Reading must go on!

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Consequences of Love, 2008, Sulaiman Addonia ****

When war erupted in Eritrea, Naser's mum had to smuggle her children out of the country to a "supposedly" safe Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia with their uncle, while she stayed behind. Few years later, Naser was kicked out of his uncle's house. He was accused of being an apostate. Quite hypocritical on his uncle's behalf, since he sexually offered his nephew to their Kafeel. As I learnt from the novel, Kafeel is a sponsor, all immigrants in Saudi Arabia has to be sponsored by a Saudi. The Kafeel system gives full control to the Saudis over the lives of the foreigners they sponsor. They have the power to withhold the passports of those under their control and deport them whenever they choose. So, you could imagine what such hierarchy involves.
As Naser was abandoned by his uncle in the streets of Jeddah, he went through circumstances where he was sexually exploited. Which, was even justified by his perpetrator...
"My dear, in a world without women and in the absence of female glamour, boys like you are the perfect substitute. Why hide your attractiveness and your tender physique like a veiled woman? You are the closest my customers have to a beautiful and sensual person roaming freely in their world"
Fortunately, he managed to fall in love with a veiled woman in a country where falling in love is a crime, where lovers stand the chance of being lashed in public or stoned to death. In "The Consequences of Love" you will find out how a love affair unfolds in a society as oppressed as  Saudi Arabia.

This novel was narrated through the eyes of a young adult, a twenty year old Naser, meaning that the narrative was rather simple, though the content was deep and most of the times troubling. I almost stopped reading because of the revolting images it conjured up. Men are forced to quench their sexual desire with young boys, since their women are under the veil. Sometime, this include sexual exploitation and abuse of young immigrants from war-torn countries.

I recommend, especially if you would like to know how a love story unfolds in a sexually oppressed society.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Mary Okeke Reviews listed as one of 10 African literature rich spaces online

I am so pleased, delighted and excited to announce that James Murua named Mary Okeke Reviews as one of 10 African literature rich spaces online. Please, visit his blog to read more and to also discover other amazing spaces promoting African literature with so much zeal, including his. It goes with out saying that I am happy to be one of them. Click here to read more.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

By The Sea, 2001, Abdulrazak Gurnah ****

Old and weary Saleh Omar, find himself seeking asylum in England. 
"How much danger is your life really in? Do you realise what you're doing? Whoever persuaded you to do this is not doing you any favours, let me tell you that....You'll be lonely and miserable and poor, and when you fall ill there'll be no one to look after you. Why didn't you stay in your own country, where you could grow old in peace? This is a young man's game, this asylum business, because it is really, just looking for jobs and prosperity in Europe and all, isn't it? There is nothing moral in it, just greed. No fear of life and safety just greed. Mr. Shaaban, a man of your age should know better."
The immigration officer had no idea what Saleh Omar had been through. He did not that the man before him, in the last eleven years, had always been at the brink of loosing his life. Torn down by the consequences of dictatorship and a long drawn-out family drama that has just began to unravel. Actually, that began to unravel when he met Latif Mahmud with whom he is (mischievously) related to. There, before them, the story of their past began to unfold. The story of love, lost, betrayal, inheritance and possession that transpired during the independence transition of their country that ended up in a disaster.
Latif Mahmud who thought that Saleh Omar's has come all the way from Zanzibar to England to laugh in his face, to tell him that not only was he able to dispossess his (Latif's) father of their family houses but also he was brave enough to steal his name and seek asylum. However, he was mistaken. It has got nothing to do with pride nor bravery this time, Sale Omar knows better. It is all over, now it is a matter of survival and finding peace of mind.
"By The Sea" is a novel that narrates on a family dilemma many years later when most of the family members are dead or missing. One gets to understand that most of the time in life there is no guilty or not guilty, we are just responsible for our acts.
I am so excited to add another writer to my list of Favourite Writers, I am aware I have to read more of his works in order to completely make up my mind. However, I am hopeful that they would be as poetic and entertaining as "By The Sea", which was an engaging read. Quite a complicated story it was to narrate on since many characters were involved; nevertheless, Gurnah wrote it in a way that would leave you without a shadow of a doubt. This novel is a good example of the meaning of being a good writer and having a strong story to tell. Unfortunately, both characteristic do not always go hand in hand.

Abdulrazak Gurnah was born in Zanzibar, a Tanzanian writer whose work has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. At the moment, he is a professor at the University of Kent. By the way, my first read from Tanzania.

I highly recommend.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

#BringBackOurGirls

Thank you my sister and friend Adaobi Nkeokelonye for letting me use your essay on my blog. It expresses how I feel with respect to the not so recent tragedy that plagued our home country, Nigeria. How dare they try to turn a blind eye! Hopefully they will bring back our girls, daughters, sisters and friends alive. We want our girls back!

Many nights have gone and you are not home. The other me seems lost, lost because you are not here.   At first I tried to think it will be for a day, but one day passed, then another and another. Many nights have followed, you are still not here. Sometimes Mama thinks it was your voice she just heard, we still hear your giggle and imagine your young and beautiful frame swaying around the house in colourful African prints. Time and time again, we gaze on the side of the bed where you sleep, on your favourite little wooden chair where you sit, hoping you will just appear on them in a flash. Your clothes are here, but you are not. These days I inhale their smell, I grab your dresses close to my nostrils, hoping to cling to your smell which lingers in my head but is now disappearing for lack of your touch. But how can this be? How could you go with the night? Women and girls were never taught to befriend the night. Oh, how you cried dear little sister? Even now I hear your cry piercing the forest as you are being forced in the cold black night?  I am hurting; we are broken, because while men slept, the enemies came and snatched you all away.

In the days you have been gone, it was as though the leaders did not care. I had wondered what calibre of leaders sleep sound when children especially daughters are not home by midnight? What father or husband waits for weeks to calm a broken wife, mother or sibling? Just when did protection elude our daughters? When did they become endangered species?

But then morning came and leaders are wiping away the comfort of yesterday of their eyes. Since then, you have become one thread that runs through humanity. The world is enraged, the social media is in frenzy, #bringbackourgirls, #bringbackourdaughters, #wewantourgirlsback is the loud cry everywhere. You have gained more brothers and sisters of different race, tongue, lands and clime. Our women are willing to march naked into the forest to bring you home, people who know not your name, your faces nor your life before now have showed they care. Nations and leaders of the world are offering their hand to pull you out of captivity. Yet in all of this, one thing is clear, as a nation, our battle is between us.

I am sorry that our fathers could not at least afford you the uncivil security we had years ago. In my teenage years, violence was music on the street but not the loudest, girls were not missing and our boys were neither slaughtered. But life is changing and our days are fast turning into night. These changes have altered your lives forever. Far from the city, deep in the forest where men dread to go, not because of the wild animals, but for the fear of wild humans who dine on human blood and glory in trading innocent girls is where you are now. We are not afraid you will be attacked by lions and wild animals; we are troubled that these men with their misplaced rage will leave you with scars that will traumatize you daily.

I know not all your faces but I know you look like me. I feel your pain; it is becoming so long, so strong and so visible that I want to cut it quickly with a knife.  Your captors are killers; they stink with blood on their hands, anger blows through them, they fight with everything in the name of their angry god. Perhaps in trying to reinforce dominance, they will violate your will and desecrate your deepest recess. With force, they will try to inject shame into you. Dear Sisters, never accept shame, for this shame is eternally theirs and not yours. They may cut your dignity and self-esteem and slice them apart, but still, come home so that we will stitch them back together.

I imagine that your hearts are roving the wide forest landscape each sleepless night wondering what Papa and Mama are doing, wondering if the world cared to rescue you all from the rusty chains of your kidnappers.  You ask yourself, do they hear when we cry? The other you feel lost, the part that was free. Day after day, your faith in freedom is nibbled away but please do not lose hope. Dear little sisters, they may be more than you now but they are not more than all of us.

You are not lost, remember that. Unknown to you, your captivity has made you silent revolutionaries. Yes I hear the sound of the coming storm. Your roaring captivity is gathering the storm of revolution. It is my hope that your freedom will be an epoch for dusting our society of despair.When finally this day comes, I hope it will be the epoch for the future where our daughters are safe again, where our bodies are ours again, where the daylight and the nights are kinder to us.

For now, we stand anxious, firm and hopeful at the gates of freedom. We wait for you to arrive and run into our waiting arms.  We wait to lead you home to the safety of your warm beds again. Until then, every night, I will send you myrrh to heal your bruises, aches and sprain with a prayer that if hell exists, then to your captors, I wish the devil’s speed, a high speed to the hottest recess of its inferno.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Mary Okeke in Africa Positive

I am incredibly excited to announce that I was featured in Africa Positive Number 53. 2014. A quarterly publication in German that writes about positive news about Africa that do not make it in the mainstream German media. Thanks to Ann Wanjiku who did the interview. We discussed mainly about my motivation to start reviewing African Literature, response I get from writers, African Institutions and publishing houses. If it is a full time job and if I do charge for my services. I felt so much at ease talking with Ann Wanjiku, that we discussed at length even about other issues that were not strictly African Literature.
A week ago I was sent a couple of copies of the published magazine, even though I do not speak nor understand German, I am so happy to have them. If you understand German I strongly recommend you get your copy of Africa Positive or visit www.africa-positive.de to find out more about them and subscribe.


I have also been featured in Come-To-Nigeria Magazine, Voice Write Africa, La Plume Burundaise. I am so happy and more than grateful.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Unwinding Thread,1994, Women in Africa (Charlotte H. Bruner) ***

Another addition to my African Writers Series Challenge. "Unwinding Threads" is a collection of short stories written by women in Africa and edited by Charlotte H. Bruner. It is divided into four parts; stories from Western, Easter, Southern and Northern Africa.
I did not particularly take pleasure in the reading experience since some of the stories where extracts from novels that I happen to have already read and enjoyed. I read them again anyway. For instance, "A Man Needs Many Wives" by Buchi Emecheta was an extract from the "Joys of Motherhood", "Rejection" by Mariama Bâ from "So Long a Letter" There were also some more extracts from other novels. Therefore, instead of purchasing this book to read extracts from novels, I'd rather recommend you buy the original novel and read the story from beginning to end. Unless, you feel like experiencing and discovering, all at once, classical female writers from Africa  the likes of  Ama Ata Aidoo, Mariama Bâ, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Hazel Mugot, Grace Ogot, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Marguerite Amouroouche and so on, then this is your book.
Even so, some featured real short stories, in my opinion, were not engaging enough. Finally, I am not sure if to recommend or not., it's up to you.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Americanah, 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie *****

A year has passed since I published about Americanah's release, please click here to read. Luckily, I was able to borrow an electronic copy from a library.
Firstly, "Americanah" is (not only) a captivating love story. Ifemelu and Obinze were lovers from high school in Nigeria, they went to the same university, and swore never to stay away from each other. However, due to the continuous strikes (which still take place today), Ifemelu, eventually, had to leave for the United States of America. The lovebirds promised to stay in touch. Nevertheless, Ifemelu was forced to lock Obinze out of her life after going through an unpleasant experience.
As the story unfolds, Ifem started to discover and embrace her new identity in the U.S.A, especially as a "black woman", she went into a romantic relationship with a rich white American, who really loved her. Though, their commitment was put to an end for reasons Ifememlu was sorely to blame. In my opinion, she somehow wanted it to happen. Following that, she started seeing an African American, with whom, still, she felt something was lacking. That was when she considered moving back to Nigeria.
On the other hand, Obinze still confused about Ifemelu's silence, finally was able to travel to the UK when his plans to travel to U.S.A ended in a fiasco. His experiences as an undocumented immigrant was tough that he disgracefully ended up deported.
After all those years of separation, the lovebirds met where they initially started, and the feelings they have for each other was just as strong as before.

Personally, "Americanah" fulfilled its aim; I had a nice, pleasant, entertaining and enjoyable read, but despite the pleasure derived, the storyline was overly clichéd. Again, the sense of disconnectedness in Ifemelu's (interesting) blog posts was evident. I also felt that the writer (Chimamanda) was unrelenting in how she intervened in the telling of the story, I would have much more loved to reach conclusions myself. Furthermore, this novel should not have been that long, Adichie could have wanted to save her opinion in a collection of essays like Chinua Achebe did in The Education of a British-Protected Child. So said, Americanah was neither mind-blowing nor about anything in particular. Well,
“Why did people ask "What is it about?" as if a novel had to be about only one thing.”
Who said that novels must be mind-blowing in order to be enjoyable? What are novels made for anyway? If not to read and to have fun? So, regardless of my criticisms, Americanah was a page-turner. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an impressive story teller. Moreover, she has made a name for herself and can write about whatever that pleases her, which of course I will always read. Nonetheless, I will always try as much as possible to call a spade a spade. Lastly, I highly recommend (to adults). It was a quick and easy read.

Another similar novel I'd recommend if you enjoyed Americanah is In Dependence

Please click here to read review on ImageNations and here to read review in Spanish by Literafrica.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Rant on Representation of African Immigration Experience in Literature

After reading Amy's Misrepresentations in Literature, if you have not, please click here and here, I decided  to write about the representation of the African Immigration Experience in contemporary African Literature. Perhaps, it is because I read "Americanah" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie right after reading "We Need New Names" by Noviolet Bulawayo. Both of which, have African characters who were struggling to survive and fit in the American culture. Taking on jobs they dreamt unworthy of in the U.S.A., at some point resorting to sexual encounters in order to make ends meet. As well as, trying to Americanize their accents by mimicking in front of a mirror or devouring American series on line and television. Following that, comes the feeling of disappointment, self-loss, cultural clash, depression maybe? And, finally, a new being would be born. It is all just so clichéd. Do not get me wrong, the novels were extremely engaging, page-turners  that I wholeheartedly recommend.

However, my question is, is there a single (African) immigrant experience? U.K and U.S.A are always in the spotlight, and making it seem like they are the only countries Africans emigrate to and as if we all go through the same settling in process. Hence, assuming that there is only one (African) immigrant experience. I know fully well it (African immigration in U.K and U.S.A) is a fact , and I am in no way trying to dismiss nor downplay its existence and importance. I am simply stating that the (African) immigration is a uni-personal experience and should neither be generalized nor stereotyped. The only similarity is the fact that each person involved in the process left their home country to settle in another; which in time, might end up becoming theirs or not. The rest is highly individualistic and will continue to surprise us.

What is your opinion about this topic?

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