African Novels in the Classroom. .
Article Type:
Book Review
Ngwarsungu, Chiwengon
Pub Date:
Name: College Literature Publisher: West Chester University Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Literature/writing Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2002 West Chester University ISSN: 0093-3139
Date: Spring, 2002 Source Volume: 29 Source Issue: 2
NamedWork: African Novels in the Classroom (Book)
Named Person: Hay, Margaret Jean Reviewee: Hay, Margaret Jean

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Hay, Margaret Jean, ed. African Novels in the Classroom. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner, 2000. $55.00 hc. $29.95 sc. iv + 314 pp.

African Novels in the Classroom, edited by Margaret Jean Hay. is an important addition to the existing pedagogical works on the teaching of African literature such as Thomas Hale and Richard Priebe's The Teaching of African Literature (1989) and Elizabeth Gunner's A Handbook for Teaching African Literature (1984). It is also an appropriate follow-up to Misty Bastian and Jane Parpart's Great Ideas for Teaching about Africa (1999). Hale and Priebe's study focuses on students and the problematics of teaching African literature. Bastian and Parpart's edition is, inversely, primarily concerned with the litegration of technology and African arts in the discipline and in the undergraduate curriculum, methods of teaching controversial issues, and the objective representation of Africa. Hay's African Novels, likewise, scrutinizes the various ways novels can mirror and humanize the history of Africa even though literature does not provide "literal and historical truth" (9). Its significance in the field resides in its examination of pedagogical issues. It explores the reasons "why [instructors] choose a certain novel, what corollary readings they assign, what background information they present in lecture" (1). The collection skillfully delineates the themes of the novels, student assignments, study or discussion questions, and student engagement and responses to the literature. Hay's collection of essays on the teaching of African novels is indeed an excellent handbook for teachers who are considering integrating African texts into their courses as well as accomplished Africanist scholars. All instructors of African Literature will find useful pedagogical information on what motivates instructors' choices of texts, teaching methodologies in our contemporary classrooms, and student responses to the sundry texts discussed in the study.

The collection--encompassing 24 chapters on prominent Anglophone and Francophone novelists--covers well the diverse issues, writings, and countries of the continent. The authors also attempt to transmit the African world to Western students through Africans' perspectives and to personalize history. Richard Rathbone's chapter on Peter Abrahams's A Wreath for Udomo, for example, does an excellent job of demonstrating how Abrahams's novel constitutes "a major component in the processes of historical recovery of cultural identities" (8). In this essay he demonstrates how A Wreath for Udoino gives students a better understanding of the nationalist movement of Kwame Nkrumah and the socio-political atmosphere of the era. Martin A. Klein also details in his chapter on "Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart" how African literature is a port of entry to history. Emmanual Akeamong in "Ai Kwei Armah's The Beautiful Ones Arc Not Yet Born" also affirms the power of literature to lend a human dimension to history. Other chapter s in this hook, such as Janice Spleth's "Driss Chraibi's Mother Comes of Age" and Beverly Mack's "Lindsey Collen's The Rape of Sita," discuss the difficulties of teaching certain literary texts and provide, like the majority of chapters in the book, insightful thematic studies of the African novels and secondary teaching resources. Collectively, all the chapters provide helpfbl synopses, writing assignments, author biographies, study questions, bibliographies, and information on student responses. Barabara M. Cooper's "Ferdinand Qyono's Houseboy" and other chapters also provide historical and literary contexts, information on the place of the novel within the syllabus, and possible methods of generating class discussion.

While one cannot include all African novels within the collection, more Francophone samples would have enriched it. Indeed, Central Africa and Uganda are totally absent from the book while South Africa and Nigeria have five entries apiece. Despite this minor shortcoming, that the editor justifies on the grounds of the disparity in literary production, the book provides the teacher of African literature with a wide gamut of writings, including oral literature represented by Niane's Sundiata epic.

The choice of works studied is thus appropriate yet intriguing. The inclusion of works such as Lindsey Collen's The Rape of Sita, Else Joubert's Poppie Nongena and Maryse Conde's Segu raises stimulating questions about authorship, the very definition of African literature, and the plasticity of its literary canon. Interestingly, the white South African Joubert narrates Poppie Nongena, a story of a black South African. Similarly, Collen, born in South Africa and currently living in Mauritius, is recommended for a course on Mauritian history or politics. Conde's Segu is also listed despite the fact that she is from Guadeloupe. She may have an apt understanding of the socio-political and economic transformations Africa has undergone, but does this make Richard Wright an African writer because he wrote about Ghana in Black Power? What then are the criteria for defining African literature? Is it point of view, themes, setting or geographical origins? The inclusion of Vassanji, on the other hand, brings to the coll ection the marginalized Indian perspective and experience, if it presents an African-Indian experience of Africa and not the perspective of an Indian expatriate. If theme and setting alone are the determining factors, why not include post-independence non-African expatriates? At best the Western, Caribbean and Indian selections compel the critic of African literature to ponder on issues of canonization in African literature, academic representations of Africa, and the plasticity of African Literary studies that tend to absorb all black or colored identities under its umbrella.

In all, this is a much-needed book for any professor of literature who wishes to revamp or enrich his/her syllabus. Through its synopses of texts, biographies, and excellent pedagogical information and resources, this book empowers the instructor who is not conversant with one of the African texts discussed or is uneasy about teaching non-Western literature to make informed decisions about what to include in his/her syllabus. This book not only provides the instructor possible assignments but also various teaching methods and approaches to writing. Teachers of African literature should read this book to reflect on their own teaching as well as the future and the nature of African literature.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.