Gloria’s Book Picks

Gloria Reinbergs Recommends:
(All available at Toronto Public Library and amazon.ca)

1. Angelique Kidjo ‘Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music’ Harper Collins, 2014

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Grammy Award-winning singer Angélique Kidjo is known for her electrifying voice and fearless advocacy work. In this intimate memoir, she reveals how she escaped Communist Africa to make her dreams a reality, and how she’s prompting others all around the world to reach for theirs as well.

Born in the West African nation of Benin, Angélique Kidjo grew up surrounded by the rich sounds, rhythms, and storytelling of traditional Beninese culture. When the Communists took over, they silenced her dynamic culture and demanded that she sing in praise of them. In Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music, Angélique reveals the details of her dangerous escape into France, and how she rose from poverty to become a Grammy Award–winning artist and an international sensation at the top of Billboard‘s World Albums chart. She also explains why it’s important to give back by sharing stories from her work as a UNICEF ambassador and as founder of the Batonga Foundation, which gives African girls access to education.

 

2. Helen Oyeyemi ‘Boy, Snow, Bird’  Picador, 2014

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In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman.
A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

3. Dinaw Mengestu ‘All Our Names’ Knopf, 2014

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 All Our Names is the story of two young men who come of age during an African revolution, drawn from the safe confines of the university campus into the intensifying clamor of the streets outside. But as the line between idealism and violence becomes increasingly blurred, the friends are driven apart—one into the deepest peril, as the movement gathers inexorable force, and the other into the safety of exile in the American Midwest. There, pretending to be an exchange student, he falls in love with a social worker and settles into small-town life. Yet this idyll is inescapably darkened by the secrets of his past: the acts he committed and the work he left unfinished. Most of all, he is haunted by the beloved friend he left behind, the charismatic leader who first guided him to revolution and then sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.

4. Yvonne Adhiambo Owufur ‘Dust’ Knopf, 2014

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From a breathtaking new voice, a novel about a splintered family in Kenya—a story of power and deceit, unrequited love, survival and sacrifice.

Odidi Oganda, running for his life, is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi. His grief-stricken sister, Ajany, just returned from Brazil, and their father bring his body back to their crumbling home in the Kenyan drylands, seeking some comfort and peace. But the murder has stirred memories long left untouched and unleashed a series of unexpected events: Odidi and Ajany’s mercurial mother flees in a fit of rage; a young Englishman arrives at the Ogandas’ house, seeking his missing father; a hardened policeman who has borne witness to unspeakable acts reopens a cold case; and an all-seeing Trader with a murky identity plots an overdue revenge. In scenes stretching from the violent upheaval of contemporary Kenya back through a shocking political assassination in 1969 and the Mau Mau uprisings against British colonial rule in the 1950s, we come to learn the secrets held by this parched landscape, buried deep within the shared past of the family and of a conflicted nation.

Here is a spellbinding novel about a brother and sister who have lost their way; about how myths come to pass, history is written, and war stains us forever.

5. Nadifa Mohammed ‘The Orchard of Lost Souls’ Farrar,Straus and Giroux, 2014

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From one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, a stunning novel illuminating Somalia’s tragic civil war

It is 1987 and Hargeisa waits. Whispers of revolution travel on the dry winds, but still the dictatorship remains secure.
Soon, through the eyes of three women, we will see Somalia fall.
Nine-year-old Deqo has left the vast refugee camp where she was born, lured to the city by the promise of her first pair of shoes.
Kawsar, a solitary widow, is trapped in her little house with its garden clawed from the desert, confined to her bed after a savage beating in the local police station.
Filsan, a young female soldier, has moved from Mogadishu to suppress the rebellion growing in the north.
As the country is unraveled by a civil war that will shock the world, the fates of these three women are twisted irrevocably together.
Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa and was exiled before the outbreak of war. In The Orchard of Lost Souls, she returns to Hargeisa in her imagination. Intimate, frank, brimming with beauty and fierce love, this novel is an unforgettable account of ordinary lives lived in extraordinary times.

6.  Teju Cole ‘Every Day Is For The Thief’ Random House, 2014

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Fifteen years is a long time to be away from home. It feels longer still because I left under a cloud.
 
A young Nigerian living in New York City goes home to Lagos for a short visit, finding a city both familiar and strange. In a city dense with story, the unnamed narrator moves through a mosaic of life, hoping to find inspiration for his own. He witnesses the “yahoo yahoo” diligently perpetrating email frauds from an Internet café, longs after a mysterious woman reading on a public bus who disembarks and disappears into a bookless crowd, and recalls the tragic fate of an eleven-year-old boy accused of stealing at a local market.

Along the way, the man reconnects with old friends, a former girlfriend, and extended family, taps into the energies of Lagos life—creative, malevolent, ambiguous—and slowly begins to reconcile the profound changes that have taken place in his country and the truth about himself.

In spare, precise prose that sees humanity everywhere, interwoven with original photos by the author, Every Day Is for the Thief—originally published in Nigeria in 2007—is a wholly original work of fiction. This revised and updated edition is the first version of this unique book to be made available outside Africa. You’ve never read a book like Every Day Is for the Thief because no one writes like Teju Cole.
 

All of the fiction is by young writers of African origin living in the diaspora.  Makes for interesting works,

*Notes reprinted from Amazon.com

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