The Magic Doll by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen (tr. Paul Kelly)

cover of magic doll with young girl illustrated and doll and chickens

a nutshell: narrated from the perspective of Adjoa, a young child, this exquisite book shares a deeply loving story of her mother’s journey towards pregnancy and birth through the support of a Akua’ba fertility doll

a line: “Words do not have legs, but sometimes they can run fast!”

an image: one of my favourite parts was when the mother goes to the market to buy rice, millet, yams (see a glimpse below)

a thought: without a shadow of a doubt, this is the most beautiful book of all those I’ve read during my project – on its arrival I couldn’t stop turning each page to study the drawings and I loved how the story gently portrayed a struggle which many women face globally, often in silence

a fact: Yabouza closes with some fascinating insights into the geography and history behind the story – including her relationship with an Akua’ba doll that she came across in Bangui, the capital of her home country the Central African Republic, during childhood

want to read The Magic Doll? visit here

illustrations of women in a marketplace with many fruits and stunning patterns

Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel

a nutshell: through the traditional Samoan storytelling form of su’ifefiloi, Figiel tells the fascinating story of a teenage girl, Alofa, trying to make sense of the violence & sex she encounters in society

a line: “‘I’ is always ‘we,’ is a part of the ‘aiga [family]… a part of Samoa’ [also, read the book to discover just how extraordinary the first line is]

an image: I loved the moment when the narrator shared how she imagined a daffodil was a dancer that lives in the sky during their school recitals of Wordsworth’s poetry

a thought: among the book’s vignettes is a scene in which an incomer mocks Shirley Girl, who is fa’afafine (someone who dressed as a girl), following which the locals ignore her and her Samoan rugby player partner breaks up with her – I learned more about fa’afafine in Samoan culture here

a fact: this was the first ever novel by a Samoan woman to be published in the United States – it is striking that Figiel considers herself first & foremost a performance poet

want to read Where We Once Belonged? visit here

Des Contes pour la Lune by Edna Merey-Apinda

N.B. I read this book in its original French language, but I would LOVE to discover that an English-language translation of these beautiful & heart-warming short stories from Gabon might someday become available!

a nutshell: an owl plays the role of storyteller for his friend, the moon, to help her shine brightly – fantastic stories of Lulu the dragonfly’s woes at the Ball of the Fireflies, Cali the chief monkey’s nightmarish choice for successor, Sieur the raven’s tendency to see la vie en noir, and the songs & strife of Beauty the turtledove

a line: “Luna was his only daughter, the pupil of his eyes, his sun, the sugar in his banana” (I will always love that very last phrase)

an image: there were many magical images, but to pick just one – ahead of the Ball of the Fireflies, we hear of the stars’ plans to wear their most sparkling jewelry to ensure the party is dazzling

a thought: I was interested in how, more than once, the wind was the cause of angst among these wonderful animals’ comings and goings – the natural elements were also  anthropomorphised, and the wind very much held the position of mischief-maker

a fact: having grown up in Gabon’s second-largest city and leading seaport, Port-Gentil, Merey-Apinda writes in her blurb that it was from meetings across her birthplace’s borders that she came to want to share her love for words

want to read Des Contes pour la Lune? visit here

I Still Miss Him by Walije Gondwe

a nutshell: recalling her childhood in 1950s Malawi, the narrator – Kamu – tells the story of her fraught teen romance with a European boy named Charlie

a line: “Unfortunately, love, amour, kutemwa, kupenda – call it what you will – is not that rational”

an image: it has been some time since I read such a quintessentially teenage moment as when Kamu finds herself pondering whether ‘that boy’ had a PhD in being handsome

a thought: this short novel is not all just fleeting lust and angst-ridden teen dramas, it also delves into the racialised society in which Kamu grows up – the young girl’s ongoing struggle with the taboo of associating with white Europeans is made very clear from the earliest pages

a fact: born in 1936, Gondwe was the first Malawian woman novelist to have her work published – in 1999 she founded a charity, Vinjeru Education, to provide educational resources to schools in Malawi’s remote regions

want to read I Still Miss Him? visit here

Weep Not, Refugee by Marie-Thérèse Toyi

a nutshell: this novel follows the endless trials of a Tutsi boy, Wache Wacheke Watachoka (‘Let Them Laugh, They Will Eventually Get Tired and then Keep Quiet’), who was born in a refugee camp to a Hutu teenager raped while she fled Burundi

a line: “Nothing is static under the sun. Rain goes back to clouds, dust feeds life and returns to dust, a refugee goes back home, and a free man goes into exile.”

an image: at one moment, the child viscerally depicts their country as having vomited the refugees out of its bosom, with machetes & bullets, giving their new host nothing to love in them

a thought: there were so many aspects of this book that piqued my curiosity – from the dedication to Mr Bill Clinton to the observations about conceptual/practical intelligence (fluent in speaking French but could they eat a language?) to the eloquence with which Toyi writes of how a nose shape could trigger enmity

a fact: in 2018 I interviewed Burundian journalists running a radio station in exile while I was working with the Rory Peck Trust (under the org’s old management, I hasten to add) and was seriously moved by their stories – you can read the interview via PDF

want to read Weep Not, Refugee? visit here*

(*Sorry for linking to Amazon Kindle – it’s the only edition I could find)

Always Coca-Cola by Alexandra Chreiteh (tr. Michelle Hartman)

a nutshell: Abeer, a 20ish-year-old woman from a conservative family in dusty Beirut, lets us into the concerns preoccupying herself and her friends (think: virginity/pregnancy, sanitary pads, appearances)

a line: “Should I wait for an Always pad to fall from the heavens like rain, or a white dove, flapping its wings that keep the moisture from leaking out onto my clothes?”

an image: a boy informs Abeer that just as lemonade has three essential ingredients – water, lemon, sugar – so does a woman have three attributes; she must be a virgin, a wife, and a mother, in that order (blergh)

a thought: even with its attempts at humour, this is a sad novel voiced by a young protagonist with a blinkered attitude to women’s rights & essential freedoms; also, the second half contains a harrowing incident that is somewhat skimmed over

a fact: according to the blurb, the book received a stormy response in Lebanon (“an electric shock … grave social anomalies”) despite Chreiteh centring the book around Abeer, rigidly conservative & dogmatic, with her friends as the far more progressive characters

want to read Always Coca-Cola? visit here