Gods and Soldiers
This anthology of both fiction and non-fiction features thirty pieces from a wide variety of African writers from across the continent—from the West, Sub-Saharan, North, East, and ending in the Southern Regions. Editor Rob Spillman (the editor of Tin House) claims in his introduction that “this anthology is intended as a snapshot of recent writing as seen through the lens of one editor, after consulting with many, many editors, writers, scholars, critics, and everyday passionate readers.” He also speaks to the point that this anthology covers themes reflected in recent history, including anti-colonialism, the struggle of Western influences, the rise of women’s voices, the personal and national influence of domestic and imported religions and lastly, what it means to be an independent-minded African in a globalized world. This literary spider web offers not just a perception of African culture, it opens the gate to the concepts of heritage, history and the continuing struggle of a prideful people. Which is quite unique considering how few African works are published in America
One of the best pieces in the collection is “Lomba,” the story of an imprisoned Nigerian man by the same name. Lomba is a journalist imprisoned because it’s believed that he took part in an anti-government demonstration against the military legal government. Even though Lomba was merely a reporter at this event, he was forced behind bars with no chance of winning the case against the government. While in prison, he begins to write a diary of his experiences, thoughts, fears and dreams, which lands him in solitary confinement after the prison guards catch him with his writings.
I express myself. I let my mind soar above these walls to bring distant, exotic bricks with which I seek to build a more endurable cell within this cell. Prison. Misprison. Dis. Un. Prisoner. See? I write of my state in words of derision, aiming thereby to reduce the weight of these shoulders, to rediscover my nullified individuality.
His “saving grace” becomes the superintendent, who makes him write poetry for his soon to be fiancée, Janice. While the superintendent believes that he is doing Lomba a favor by letting him write, he is slowly taking away Lomba’s dignity by stealing his words.
Another powerful piece in the book is “The Senghor Complex” by Patrice Nganang. This story was very complex and different from that of the more personalized “Lomba” in that it spoke to the literal meaning of a concept, Negritude “anti-racism racism,” which stemmed from a Black Nationalist movement struck up by the Harlem Renaissance. Spillman looks at this as an “anti-assimilationist philosophy . . . which is closely identified with Senghor, a Senegalese poet who became the first president of independent Senegal.” We venture into Cameroon, a Sub-Saharan area of Africa which tries to defy the same ongoing complexities that we face in our society. The struggle to defend and protect the roots of our existence is a world-wide acknowledgement. Nganang does an outstanding job of analyzing the logic, ethics and politics behind the indignity that was taken from her Africa, specifically Cameroon, and this teaches us that we, as interpreters, should not comply with the sort in which people pretentiously place us. She analyzes the Senghor Complex on “four axes,” logic, that of episteme, ethics and politics. The grave impact categorizing people into stereotypical groups can have on an individual’s self-perception is abundantly clear in this essay.
The excerpt from Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero is a short yet piercing story of an Egyptian woman who was raised to accept that she was not worthy of being anything more than a prostitute. The story opens up with this unnamed woman stabbing an aggressor who tells her that she could never have control over him. The aftermath of the situation brings her to the street where she holds the confidence of a princess walking tall and untouchable. She envisions people staring at her with no clues to the fact that she is, in fact, a prostitute. Her rage continues as she accepts the offer of an Arab Prince at the price of two thousand dollars. In the mist of their sexual encounter, she becomes enraged and tells him that she has strength that can kill. After she persuades him of this ability and sees the fear in his eyes, she reflects on all the men, referenced as criminals, who deserve the ultimate for their savage behaviors in her culture. This story took me by surprise, in that it gave me a little more perspective of how women are viewed in Egypt and the rage that lies within a woman who has been mistreated all her life. Although this is shown through pure violence, I believe that this was an effective strategy written by Saadawi to make a point about the vengeful soul of a woman.
Collectively, this anthology offers an abundance of viewpoints from a range of African traditions. As Rob Spillman states in the opening of his introduction, “African writing is ready for international spot line.” These African writers offer a standpoint that is clearly visible within their writing and the standpoint is this; the gap of remote understanding of Africa and its people has exceeded its boundaries to a vast multitude. The “palpable sense of urgency” that lies at the mercy of their pencil tips is indulgent and a plea for a greater understanding; which is rightly deserved.