/ 23 April 2020

Books, and words about books

This week Zukiswa Wanner is reading ‘A General Theory of Oblivion’. See what other recommendations the Arts Desk has for you. (Harvill Secker)

With an issue filled with uncannily timed literature and reflections on the world of publishing, we have put together a list of what friends, contributors, interviewees and staff are reading. With the outside increasingly seeming like a distant memory, what better way to remember a world that was, and will be, through the vicarious slow burn of a book, or a podcast about books.

Literary podcasts

Cheeky Natives

Hosted by Dr Alma-Nalisha Cele and Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane, this podcast uses audio to archive black literature through reviews, interviews and readings. Some of the latest episodes feature Ming-Cheau Lin’s Yellow and Confused, Magical Negro by Morgan Parker and Mphuthumi Ntabeni’s The Broken River Tent.

Food 4 Thot

A group of American queer writers have shady, uninhibited conversations about sex, intimacy, race, identity and what they’re reading. Hosted by Dennis Norris II, Joseph Osmundson, Tommy Pico and Fran Tirado.

The Penguin Podcast

The United Kingdom arm of the publishing house interviews best-selling authors about their creative processes. Authors include Zadie Smith, Arundhati Roy and Malorie Blackman and Nigella Lawson.

Books to read

Nigerians in Space by Deji Bryce Olukotun (Unnamed Press)

It’s 1993 in Houston, Texas and Nigerian lunar geologist Wale Olufunmi is unfulfilled by his life in exile. He has always dreamed of visiting the moon, so he takes up the opportunity to go on a space-exploration excursion prompted and funded by a man named Mr Bello. The protagonist then finds himself caught up in the middle of an African illuminati network. What starts out as a dream come true quickly reveals itself to be an inescapable nightmare, when his backers inform him he is to steal a piece of the moon. — Zaza Hlalethwa

Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid by Frank B Wilderson III (Duke University Press)

A couple of forces conspired to ensure that Wilderson’s 2008 memoir of exile to South Africa at the time of the country’s transition was my lockdown read. Wilderson had just released Afropessimism, his second memoir, and I figured this was the perfect time to read his first — which had been a gift from a dear grootman who thought I’d find it more useful. My ongoing research on South Africa’s repression of Black memory required that I consider “ungovernability” as a mode of Black folk resistance to this rainbow nationalist strategy. And who better to read than the man Nelson Mandela thought was “a threat to national security”? In the wake of the several alleged murders of black men by both the police and army, reading Wilderson’s account of the incoming political class’s views on “the masses” was especially jarring. — Njabulo Zwane

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Issues concerning race, class, sexuality and mobility are all at the table when my brand of black feminism has a party. That, and the book’s title, are why I’m keen to get into Hood Feminism, even though its thinking is centred around an American context. As the book’s introduction notes state, it comprises essays that “focus largely on the experiences of the marginalised, and address the issues faced by most women, instead of the issues that only concern a few — as has been the common practice of feminists to date”. — Zaza Hlalethwa

A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa (Harvill Secker)

The story of Ludo bricking herself in her apartment on the eve of Angolan independence and staying there for 30 years had me thinking of our present times. What if being indoors becomes the new normal? Would we deal with it as Ludo does and what world do we then find when eventually we get out? Will it be better? But it’s also a book about the redemptive powers of love and how humanity needs each other. Because although Ludo thinks she is okay being alone, when she finally bonds with Sabalu, a young boy who scales her wall, her life changes. —  Zukiswa Wanner

If You Want To Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais (Penguin Random House)

This novel introduces a 17-year-old girl, Zodwa. She’s visiting a sangoma, and an unplanned pregnancy is fast eating her joy away. Her tale also brings to life stories of three generations of black women and their shattered dreams: Zodwa herself; her mother, on the fringes of the city; and her grandmother in the grip of rural poverty. The dazzling novel also presents the characters of rich Ruth, and Delilah, the shamed nun. — Sandile Ngidi

Festac ’77 (Chimurenga)

Billed as the largest-ever gathering of black people from the diaspora on African soil, Festac ’77’s effects still reverberate among the continent’s cultural practitioners. In a massive tome whose form is inspired by Toni Morrison’s The Black Book, every single aspect of Festac ’77 is relived through reproduced articles, interviews, artwork and artefacts. The result is a decontextualised yet hypercontextual experience, in which the festival unfolds live and in colour, as if one is stepping into a Festac time warp. — Kwanele Sosibo