African Settings in Contemporary American Novels

African Settings in Contemporary American Novels

African Settings in Contemporary American Novels

African Settings in Contemporary American Novels

Synopsis

British and American novels written before World War II established popular conventions and stereotypes about Africa that have been increasingly challenged by contemporary American novels set in Africa. Kuhne's book argues that these recent American novels with African settings are largely didactic, that they convey specific lessons about Africa and Africans, and that they compare African and American cultures to evaluate and critique the two worlds. After a summary of how British and American writers have traditionally depicted Africa, Kuhne looks at such topics as contemporary American novels set in invented African nations, the African novels of African American authors, genre fiction set in Africa, and postcolonial novels with African settings.

Excerpt

American novelists have placed their stories in a multitude of Africas: the jungle rain forest of the Congo basin, the vast deserts of the Sahara and the Kalahari, the highlands of Kenya, the badlands of southern Ethiopia, and the veldt of South Africa. American authors have not limited their use of African settings to wild or natural Africa; they have placed their novels in African cities from one tip of the continent to the other, from Tangier to Cairo, from Lagos to Nairobi, from Dar es Salaam to Cape Town. As if actual African landscapes, nations, and cities did not provide adequate literary settings, a number of contemporary American novels are set in invented African nations meant to represent the characteristics, values, and conflicts of the entire continent. Americans have written about Africa of the past, Africa of the present, and Africa of the future. African settings have been featured in numerous genres: postmodern fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, and action and adventure fiction.

For many American authors, the appeal of Africa is its "otherness," its difference from the contemporary United States. Africa is a place where Americans go to discover the truth about themselves by comparing their values with African values. Africa is a testing ground that provides numerous challenges; Africa, as Harry Veer--a character in William Harrison Africana--explains, is where you go to "take your gut temperature" (46).

In Landscapes of Fear, Yi-Fu Tuan observes that attitudes toward place are not fixed. What one culture fears, another reveres; the rain forest of the Congo, which seems so frightful to European explorers, is a friendly, nurturing, idyllic place to the Mbuti, the Pygmy people who inhabit the forest (37). A similar forest, however, is described by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart as the home of evil spirits, the place where one disposes of twins and other blasphemies (21).

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