Year of Publication: 2006
Genre: Short Stories
I picked up this book wondering about the title, ‘African Love Stories.’ I have not as yet read as many short stories with the focus on love-related issues and so was eager to find out how this anthology would play out for me by the ending of reading it. I noticed that the only familiar story I had read before was Doreen Baigana’s Tropical Fish which I very much enjoyed. So before I started my way through the book, I placed Baigana’s story in that pedestal, expecting to meet similar surprises with the others. I must confess that I was not disappointed.
In an introduction to this book by the editor herself (From page xi), she writes… ‘Nor can the notion of contemporary African writers not writing love stories hold much water, except for those who never read novels like Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s The River Between, Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter, Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes, Lewis Nkosi’s The Mating Birds, or Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, in which, in the story of Ona and Agbadi, we encounter one of the most tender, heartbreakingly tragic and extremely short-lived love stories ever.’
Now, having read a book like Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood and Aidoo’s Changes, I could not agree more on the point the editor was making. Truly, those who argue that this genre does not belong to the African writer are telling a blatant lie. I would be the first to point this anthology to the arguer, for the variety of love stories is indeed worth reading.
The anthology boasts of some twenty-one short stories from across the African continent. Let me dwell on a few favorites.
Baigana’s Tropical Fish is one masterly, well-written story about love, betrayal and exploitation. Peter is a foreigner who had come to Uganda to start up a fish exporting business. He obtains the fishes as cheap as it is and then ships them to Britain for better profits. From page 85, it reads: ‘Peter exported tropical fish bought from all over the country – Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake Kyoga and the River Nile. He paid next to nothing to the local fisherman, then sent the fish by tank load to Britain for pet shops – very good profits.’
At the core of issues was the relationship between Peter and Christine. Christine was a student of Makerere University when Zac introduces her to Peter. So many ugly scenes occur in the relationship. One time Christine gets pregnant. She goes to inform Peter about it. Guess Peter’s reactions – very interesting piece.
Véronique Tadjo’s A Sunny Afternoon was a short piece yet very engaging and interesting. A woman meets a man and the man sends her into his home. At home, the woman admires the surroundings, the smells and paintings that hang on walls. So many things run throughout the woman’s mind. She feels a very much part of the home she is in and reads meaning into everything she sees, more so the man standing before him. When the man sends the woman into the bedroom, the woman admires the bedroom beyond reasonable doubts to the extent that she did not want to relocate out of the room. But why does he send him to the bedroom? From Page 213, it says: ‘And he should definitely not have taken her to his bedroom. A bedroom is an intimate space. It is the place where you hide your soul, your secrets, and your vulnerability.’
Other equally good stories in this anthology are Monica Arac de Nyeko’s Jambula Tree, Yaba Badoe’s The Rival, Leila Aboulela’s Something Old, Something New among others.
Also, other important writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta, Helen Oyeyemi, Chika Unigwe among others have interesting stories in this anthology.
Final words – Great collection as is expected when you have a celebrated writer, Ama Ata Aidoo editing such an anthology.