The People's Right to the Novel: War Fiction in the Postcolony

The People's Right to the Novel: War Fiction in the Postcolony

The People's Right to the Novel: War Fiction in the Postcolony

The People's Right to the Novel: War Fiction in the Postcolony

Synopsis

The ambition of this study is shaped by two somewhat contradictory impulses. The first is to use the novel of war in Africa as a case study to say something broader and bigger about the war novel as a genre across literary traditions and reaching backwards and forwards in history. The second is to deepen our understanding of the novel in Africa by doing a literary history of the genre of the war novel that has been overlooked in relation to the more widely read and canonized Bildungsroman form. Pulling in two different directions, one towards a more global context, and the other inwards, to the specificities of a particular tradition, this book, moreover, stresses the convergence of two sensibilities: the naturalist aesthetic and a humanitarian ethos which takes up the responsibility for the suffering of others. Both these sensibilities are present in culturally hybrid forms in the African war novel, reflecting its syncretism as a narrative practice engaged with the colonial and postcolonial history of the continent. The narration of war broadly evokes some form of these two sensibilities of naturalism and humanitarianism, gesturing towards a universal statement about the experience of war. This study offers a literary history of the war novel in Africa and argues for the genre's distinct contribution to the literary culture of the continent while arguing that the war novel is a form of people's history that participates in a political struggle for the rights of the dispossessed.

Excerpt

War has always occupied an important place in the African novel and, in recent years, has arguably become the dominant literary theme of works about Africa read outside Africa. This study attempts a literary history of the war novel in Africa in order to delineate its formal features and argue for the genre’s distinct contribution to the literary culture of the continent. As a subject war presents particular challenges. It brings to the fore the violence of imperialism and its aftermath, it displays the weakness of the nation state and its pull toward social disintegration, and, in its presentation of social anomie, it threatens to mire us in stereotypes of Africa as conflict-ridden and dysfunctional.

A close reading of the literature, however, reveals a great deal that counters these now static images. The war novel, I argue, attempts a people’s history and sits outside the frame of the Bildungsroman, the genre that dominated the literature of an educated, assimilated class in whose hands the novel took on the confrontation of the individual and society as tradition, modernity, political corruption, religion, and patriarchy. The war novel instead attempts to capture the people’s perspective and give a col-

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