The short story is always a great way to sample authors you’ve never read before (though admittedly, not always) but in most cases, I feel this is true. An African Quilt is a collection of 24 modern African fiction, most of the authors either very well known in their home countries, around the world or both. “Modern” is defined by quite a sprawling date range - from 1906 through 2009, so what you have here is a nice sampling of African literary fiction over the past 100 years.
Not all of the stories in this book grabbed me, nor did I particular care for the writing style of some of them (a little bit “too literary” in the sense that you couldn’t separate yourself from the fact that it was “writing”) but there are some truly wonderful stories and authors in here, some of whom I am now every eager to explore. So allow me to focus on those authors and stories I felt make this collection well worth checking out. Leila Aboulela (Sudan) - The Museum (1997) is a story about a young female student from Sudan, going to school in Scotland, who falls for a Scottish student whose interest in “Africa” is more informed by Europe’s colonial conquests of the continent, and the cultural differences between them that dooms the relationship from the start and reveals to her how little people outside Africa truly understand it; Doreen Baingana’s (Uganda) First Kiss (2005) chronicles an evening of a young teenager who has her very first encounter with a boy and the confusion and disappointment that follows; Nadine Gordimer (South Africa) - Inkalamu’s Place (1965) - an older woman returns to the South African village in which she was born to discover a wealthy man’s old house she remembers being fascinated with now in utter decay as she encounters one of the wealthy man’s children, now an adult; Abdulrazak Gurnah (Zanzibar) - Cages (1992) - A poor shopkeeper keeps giving a pretty young girl free or extra things in order to impress her but things do not go as well as he envisions; Helon Hebila (Nigeria) - Lomba (2002) - a political prisoner does a special favor for one of the prison guards as a way to survive the harrowing conditions; Bessie Head (South Africa) - Earth Love (1993) - A couple’s tranquil life out in the bush is contrasted with horrific domestic abuse among a family in the “civilized” city; Alexander Kanangoni (Zimbabwe) - Effortless Tears (1993) - chronicles a time when AIDS decimates a rural population and the village’s response to it; Farida Karodia (South Africa) - Cardboard Mansions (1988) - An Indian boy and his grandmother in search of an old house in their old village and finding everything has changed; Alex La Guma (South Africa) - The Lemon Orchard (1967) - A harrowing account of a group of Afrikaner men leading a poor black man to his death in an isolated lemon orchard; Charles Mengoshi (Zimbabwe) - Who Will Stop The Dark? (1980) - A bullied and teased young boy draws closer to his grandfather and wants to leave school to learn the old ways and truly become a man; Tanure Ojaide (Nigeria) - Under New Pastoral Management (2009) - A Nigerian Christian community is thrown into confusion when their beloved pastor sells his church to a new pastor and the reasons why; Ifeoma Okoye (Nigeria) - The Power Of A Plate Of Rice (1999) - A school teacher with a sick child gets no sympathy from her patriarchal principal; E.C. Osondu (Nigeria) - Voice of America (2007) - A young Nigerian boy receives a letter from a pen pal from America which sets off a huge misunderstanding; Olive Schreiner (South Africa) - Eighteen-Ninety-Nine (1906) - The life of a woman in the Transvaal just after the Boer Wars; and Zoë Wicomb (South Africa) - N2 (2008) - When a white couple’s car breaks down on the highway and a pair of black men offer to help, all hell breaks loose.
All in all these are very well written stories which chronicle the different aspects of African life across the decades and will be both entertaining and highly enlightening as well as another fine example of how much literary talent there is across the globe. It is also a great showcase of the differing styles and approaches to the art of the short story. Definitely recommended.