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Archive by tag: Maaza MengisteReturn
May 29, 2021

As our thoughts turn to life after the pandemic, authors from this year’s Hay festival choose books that have inspired lasting change in them

Ali Smith, novelist
Books, and all the arts, naturally and endlessly inspire change because they free up the possibilities between reality and the imagination, and the possibilities for change in us. They never stop doing this. It’s one of the reasons the current powers that be are hellbent on controlling the arts, devaluing them, removing easy access to them and controlling history’s narratives. Last week I read a debut novel called Assembly by Natasha Brown. It’s a quiet, measured call to revolution. It’s about everything that has changed and still needs to change, socially, historically, politically, personally. It’s slim in the hand, but its impact is massive; it strikes me as the kind of book that sits on the faultline between a before and an after. I could use words like elegant and brilliantly judged and literary antecedents such as Katherine Mansfield/Toni Morrison/Claudia Rankine. But it’s simpler than that. I’m full of the hope, on reading it, that this is the kind of book that doesn’t just mark the moment things change, but also makes that change possible.
Ali Smith, the author of Summer (Penguin), will present an exclusive film in collaboration with Sarah Wood at Hay festival on 6 June at 6pm.

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Nov 13, 2020

With the winner due to be announced next week, the six novelists up for the Booker prize reveal their inspirations

Shuggie Bain

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Oct 24, 2020

How is America faring after four years of Donald Trump? Which way will voters turn? US authors including Richard Powers, Ocean Vuong and Kiley Reid share their hopes and fears

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Sep 29, 2020

This compelling novel focuses on those enduring German rule in East Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century

Until recently, most conversations about the European colonial presence in Africa have excluded Germany. Established in the late 19th century, the German empire on the continent included colonies in present-day Namibia, Cameroon, Togo, parts of Tanzania and Kenya, and eventually claimed the kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi. German colonial rule was brutal, as colonial enterprises were; in an arena known for its oppression and violence, it is Germany that perpetrated the first genocide of the 20th century in the 1904 extermination campaign to quell the Herero and Nama uprising in Namibia. Across the continent in East Africa, or Deutsch-Ostafrika, Germanys military tactics were equally deadly. Abdulrazak Gurnah’s sprawling yet intimate new novel Afterlives is set against the backdrop of these atrocities. Unfolding in what was then Tanganyika, now mainland Tanzania, it opens with a gentle and unassuming sentence: “Khalifa was twenty-six years old when he met the merchant Amur Biashara.”

Khalifa marries Biashara’s niece, Asha, in 1907, as the Maji Maji uprising is “in the final throes of its brutalities”. Gurnah recounts the horrifying consequences of resistance to German rule but then pivots back to the lives of the young married couple. By the time confident, affable, German-speaking Ilyas arrives at the unnamed coastal town where Khalifa and Asha live, the uprisings and colonial reprisals have faded from the story. Instead, Gurnah pushes aside the larger sweeps of colonial history to focus on those who have managed to carve out a relatively calm existence. But though their lives may be quiet, this does not mean they have escaped the physical and emotional ravages of colonialism. One character remarks wearily that “the Germans have killed so many people that the country is littered with skulls and bones and the earth is soggy with blood”. When Ilyas, who was sent to a mission school by the same Germans who owned the coffee farm where he worked since childhood, speaks up in defence of the colonisers, “His listeners were silent in the face of such vehemence. ‘My friend, they have eaten you,’” someone eventually replies.

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Aug 21, 2020

The Booker nominated author on the influence of Homer, struggling with Moby-Dick and feeling changed by Ama Ata Aidoo

The book I am currently reading
I read a few books at once, and am working on strengthening my reading in Italian: Scholastique Mukasonga’s Igifu, translated by Jordan Stump. Paul Mendez’s Rainbow Milk and Helena Janeczek’s La ragazza con la Leica.

The book that changed my life
Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy blew open my conceptions of what a book could do and what subjects it could address. I felt seen and acknowledged as an immigrant, an African, a young woman navigating white culture. It had a profound and lasting effect on me: I was not alone.

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