I keep swearing that I’m done reading books about Africa by white people. Or non-Africans. Or RPCVs. Or hard-bitten journalists. Or whatever author most recently annoyed me about his or her experiences as a white man/ woman in Africa. Occasionally I am also annoyed by how blacks choose to write about their experiences in Africa as well. But the point is, I want to read more about African’s experience in Africa.
Except, I don’t really care about Africa. I want to read about a Nigerian’s experience in Nigeria. Or a Beninese’s experience in Cotonou. Or a Kenyan’s experience in Kenya. In fact, I want to avoid any and all literature that :
One. Treats their experience in Africa like it’s something out of the ordinary. That’s right. Millions of people live here and YOUR story about YOUR difficulty catching a taxi is trite and annoying.
Two. Treats Africa like it’s one big country. Africa has THOUSANDS of ethno-linguistic groups. Yes, I know it’s more exciting and exotic to talk about being in “Africa,” and yes, there are some generalizations to be made (see above taxi example), but no, your poorly written travelogue is probably not the place to be doing it.
All this is why I was wary when another PCV recommended The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski.
Kapuscinski writes with voice I’d like to use to describe my experiences here. The Shadow of the Sun is a collection of essays by a Polish journalist who first arrived in 1957. It is intelligent, sympathetic, and most important, doesn’t make the mistake of grouping Africans all into one lump. With a journalist’s respect for facts and crisp clear writing, he avoids showboating (“Look! I did the insane in Africa!”), while, of course, telling of his insane exploits in Africa (specifically Zanzibar . . . wow).
The Wall Street Journal describes the book as “a highly detailed, heartfelt, but unsentimental indtroduction to Africa’s afflictions and a quiet love song to its profound appeal.”
I couldn’t have said it better.