Africa: Stories in the 55 - Helon Habila's novel 'Travelers' explores the lives of Africans in exile
In Nigerian author Helon Habila’s latest novel, “Travelers”, Habila brings African expat and migrant stories to life in a number of short stories that are woven into a complex narrative of safety, identity, loss, and love. He also reflects on his own experiences, dealing with homesickness in “a new place that you’re trying to make sense of.”
In stories that begin and end between Germany, London, Malawi, Somalia, and Libya, in apartment blocks and refugee camps, Habila draws on personal tales why people live outside their countries for various reasons.
The first encounter with Mark, a young Malawian who holds a life-changing secret, sets the pace for this look into the lives of others.
One character, an elderly Zambian writer, is a political dissident in exile, a familiar person with African expats, the token African writer living outside of the continent.
“You leave your country and you cannot be the kind of writer you want, the kind of writer you thought you were going to be,” says Habila.” You become this voice of Africa, you’re interviewed any time there is a coup d’etat,” he says adding that political dissidence because it is the only thing that gives him relevance.
Ultimately, each and every one of us has a journey, and a story, says Habila. His experience with talking to Africans in Europe is that they want to be understood.
“They feel unseen… anyone who listens to them is validation that they are alive and they are heard.”
Africa: Stories in the 55 - Contrasting images of his native Nigeria in Nnamdi Ehirin's debut novel, The Prince of Monkeys
In April's Stories from the 55 podcast, Laura Angela Bagnetto speaks to Nnamdi Ehirin from Nigeria about a coming-of-age story called The Prince of Monkeys. The author also reads an extract from his work.
The Prince of Monkeys unites politics and religion through a first-person narration. It's a story weaving in and out of the bonds between four old friends. It contains hints of autobiographical writing, embodied in close observations of Nnamdi Ehirin's own culture at the end of the 20th Century.
Of his main character, he says, "The narrator is passive and deliberately so. It's not particularly autobiographical though. When I was growing up I was not the most vocal and I always open to ideas from other people in the group, open to trying out new things. It's not being passive, as being weak. He's open to others' ideas."
Also, one of Laura Angela Bagnetto's guests in 2018, Sulaiman Addonia who wrote Silence of My Mother Tongue, shares his favourite novel in the Heinneman African Book series called Season of Migration to the North by Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih.
He says, "It taught me that for a writer there shouldn't be any forbidden place ... Tayeb Salih taught me about the freedom of writing."
Africa: Stories in the 55 - South African novelist Mphuthumi Ntabeni shines a light on the Xhosa narrative
In this month's Africa: Stories in the 55, South African writer Mphuthumi Ntabeni describes his twenty-year journey into the mind of Maqoma, a chief in the Xhosa community who lived in the 1800s. Ntabeni uses Maqoma's lifelong struggle against the British as the backdrop for his novel The Broken River Tent, as Maqoma guides modern-day character Phila through the realities of fighting for their land.
Writer Mphuthumi Ntabeni speaks of the difficulty in writing about such a painful time in Xhosa history, but he says inspiration came from the fact that there are no books that speak of the land invasions in the Eastern Cape in the 1800s from a Xhosa point of view.
"I put psychological emotions and thinking behind the actual historical events," says Ntabeni.
Also included in this podcast: Nigerian writer Nnamoi Ehirin, author of Prince of Monkeys, his debut novel out in April, speaks about his favorite book from the Heinemann African classics series.
Africa: Stories in the 55 - Life and sensuality in a refugee camp in Suliaman Addonia's "Silence is My Mother Tongue"
In "Silence is My Mother Tongue", the latest novel by Eritrean-Ethiopian writer Sulaiman Addonia, teen Saba and her brother Hagos arrive at a refugee camp in Sudan, where she is determined to continue her studies, while he is content to take care of her. The other Eritrean refugees bring their conservative views to the camp, especially when it comes to women. Addonia brings Saba to life through her fight to determine her own future, refusing the traditional restrictions imposed on her gender.
"We need to take responsibility and accountability for the war we commit, especially against women," says Addonia, speaking of the struggle Saba has to assert herself, and her quest to finish her educaiton. "If there are crimes committed by women, or seem to be committed by women, they are extremely highlighted," he adds.
Also included in this podcast: Helon Habila, Nigerian author of "Travelers", a novel coming out in June, speaks about his favorite book from the Heinemann African classics series.
Africa: Stories in the 55 - Somali writer Ubah Cristina Ali Farah speaks of trauma intertwined with beauty in her story "Jujube"
In this month’s Africa: Stories in the 55, Somali-Italian writer Ubah Cristina Ali Farah speaks about her character, Ayan, a Somali refugee seeking asylum. Ayan tells part of her own story that may not be clear, or true, due to the trauma she had suffered.
Ayan’s tale is featured in “Jujube”, one of the short stories in Banthology, a compilation of short stories of writers from the seven Muslim-majority countries banned by the United States: Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Sudan.
“Even if you are in a different place, you can explain things though the different tales of your culture, with other imagery,” says Farah, who speaks of how the Jujube tree, an important symbol in Somalia, featured in her story.
Listen to Farah's interview here as she reads an excerpt of "Jujube".