Academic journal article ARIEL

Weaving Memories of Childhood: The New Nigerian Novel and the Genre of the Bildungsroman

Academic journal article ARIEL

Weaving Memories of Childhood: The New Nigerian Novel and the Genre of the Bildungsroman

Article excerpt

Currently in Africa, there is the constant apprehension and anxiety over the inability of the African literati to acquire and assess novels of the third generation of African writers. The dearth of novels of this generation has no doubt created a creative hiatus psychologically. Most of these novels are published abroad and the writers are resident in the West. Thomas Hale describes the phenomenon as a "permanent African literary diaspora" (18). The novels of these exiles are either not found in Nigeria or are too expensive for many people, taking into consideration Africa's generally weak economy. If one is able to find these books, the price is intimidating. Bernth Lindfors describes this threat as the "constraints on the globalization of African Literature" (17). While Charles Larson laments that, if the situation is not approached pragmatically, African writers will "be read almost exclusively in the west" (5), and "the African writer will become extinct" (6).

In an editorial in African Literature Today, Ernest Emenyonu asks a barrage of questions which articulate the compass of the African writer's thematic concerns and express the urgent need for the writers to evolve new templates to redirect and sustain the hopes and aspirations of the African peoples. Two ol Emenyonu's queries are ultimately of monumental significance to African literature: "What should be the concerns of African literature in the 21st century?" and "What challenges does African literature pose for writers, critics, teachers, publishers and the book industry in the 21st century?" (xii).

The last decade of the twentieth century and the beginning of the third millennium exhibit a subtle shift in the artistic curve of African literature, especially in the novel genre. This shift is not total, as it were, but it marks the beginning of a new epoch. This curvature does not denote that the new writers have signaled a complete distinction from the narratives of the succeeding generation--making them new wine in antiquated kegs. Their styles and thematic concerns do not only bequeath the badge of newness and "nowness" to their arts, but also give them a discrete position in the development of the African novel. Prominent among these resurgent and rhapsodic voices are David Odhiambo, Zakes Mda, Ike Oguine, Biyi Bandele-Thomas, Okey Ndibe, Uzodinma Iweala, Unoma Azuah, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Moses Isegawa, Diane Awerbuck, Phaswane Mpe, Chimamanda Adichie, Chris Abani, Sefi Acta, Helon Habila, Maik Nwosu, Akin Adesokan, Amma Darko, Shimmer Chinodya, Yvonne Vera, Calixthe Beyala, Zoe Wicomb, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, a first generation African novelist, and Tanure Ojaide, a seasoned poet of the third generation of African poets, to mention only a few. Most of these writers employ oral "poetics"such as proverbs, myths and folktales to address post-independence concerns. Charles Nnolim contends that "the Nigerian novel is dynamic rather than static and blends the new with the old. ..." ("Trends" 53). Nnolim s contention explains why the novel in Nigeria in particular and Africa ar large still reads like a jeremiad. African writers continue to create their arts on tear-soaked canvases.

It becomes glaring that literature cannot escape contemporary history which furnishes it with raw materials. One still notices the contortions on the faces of Africans, foregrounding Africa's bleak political landscape which is characterized by government misrule and arrogance, the moral depravity of rulers, mindless civil wars, ethno-national conflicts and the passivity of the ruled. Brenda Cooper aptly captures this bleak kaleidoscopic landscape as "the paradox of the unity of opposites, the contested polarities such as history versus magic, the pre-colonial past versus the post-industrial present and life versus death ... the mode that combines a mixture of profound pessimistic view of life in disarray and a glimpse of a hope in the twilight of tomorrow" (1).

The experiences of the third generation of African writers are not too distant from the first and second generations of African novelists; only the political atmosphere differs. …

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