Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Voice of America by E. C. Osondu

An editor at Harper sent me a review copy of this book. I’d never heard of Osondu, though the first story in this book, Waiting, won the 2009 Caine Prize, which is a literary prize for the best original short story by an African writer who is writing in English.

Waiting is a very moving story of young people living in a refugee camp, waiting for what? They wait for food, for clothing, for things to change, for a chance to go to America. Most stories in this book are set in Nigeria but a few are set in the U.S. I liked the Nigerian stories better, especially a story called Jimmy Carter’s Eyes, which is available online here.

What I found really interesting was the way Osondu explored the relationship between Africans and African Americans. Several stories (some set in the U.S., others in Nigeria) deal with the expectations that Africans have regarding African Americans, and vice versa. The cultural divide between these groups is huge, and Osondu exploits it for purposes both comic and tragic.

Osondu’s writing style is spare but not macho. He makes his observations with a minimum of fuss, so even a drama-filled story about a beachfront firing squad is an exercise in control. And while it is clearly not Osondu’s intention to remind his U.S. readers how good they have it, he achieves this nevertheless. I read Waiting from the comfort of my warm house, surrounded by my loving family, and was grateful for everything I had.

(Book 56, 2010)


Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting book. From some reason 2010 could have been my "African" year. I read several books about Africa and found them all fascinating.


Amy said...

I can't wait to read this myself :) It sounds similar to Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck (set in both Nigeria and the US, stories revolving around immigrant experiences and the like). Glad you enjoyed it!

olusola akinwale said...

E.C. Osondu's is one writer whose style of writing has influenced mine. Like the Acapulco, I'm waiting to read his debut collection. Olusola Akinwale, Nigeria.

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