The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

E

East African Fiction
EVAN MWANGI

Critics and historians of African literature use the term “East Africa” heuristically to describe a diverse geopolitical entity that covers Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, and sometimes Ethiopia and Eritrea. Fiction from this area is as diverse as the demographic and linguistic characteristics of each county, encompassing a wide range of aesthetic and political backgrounds. Published both by small local firms and by multinational presses at home and abroad, the fiction appears not only in English but also in indigenous languages, especially Kiswahili and Amharic. Even the English-language fiction often assumes an audience conversant with local languages, with characters and narrators implicitly speaking in a particular local language that has been “translated” into English.

White writing by settlers and explorers dominated the first third of the century and reached its height in the 1950s. Male settler writers specialized in pseudo-scientific memoirs that tended to justify whites’ occupation of Africa. Authors such as Charles Wilson, J. F. Lipscomb, William Baldwin, Ian Henderson, and Frank Kitson sought to show white settlers’ contribution to the development of East Africa and to dismiss nationalist liberation efforts. American Robert Ruark’s Something of Value (1955) was one of the most widely read accounts of the Mau Mau war of independence (1952–6). Although sympathetic toward Kenyans, the novel not only dwells on their supposedly backward practices but also portrays the Mau Mau liberation movement as misguided, a perspective that would be challenged by later African writers like Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Ruark’s other novel Uhuru (1962) has a similar theme but bemoans the loss of innocent pastoral life to encroaching modernity as Kenya enters the new era of uhuru (Swahili for “independence”). Ernest Hemingway’s short stories based on his journeys to East Africa, especially “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936) and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936), contributed to a romantic image of the region as a site for adventure – especially hunting big game and flirting with innocent tribal girls. Hemingway’s fictional memoir True at First Light, published posthumously in 1999, offers a similarly idealized image.

For their part, women settler writers exposed the empire’s masculinist underpinnings but also sometimes supported colonialism. Like Karen Blixen’s famous memoir of Kenya, Out of Africa (1933), the novels by settler women (such as Joy Adamson and Elspeth Huxley from Kenya) would be praised in Western venues for the reasons they were found to be offensive in Africa. By contrast, Kenyan Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, who arrived as a missionary in 1954, adroitly uses African culture and landscape to present the plight of women under colonialism and neocolonialism and to link the HIV/AIDS scourge to the neocolonial dilapidation of African institutions. Her most acclaimed novel is Coming to Birth (1986), about a rural girl whose life seems to parallel Kenya’s political developments. Acutely sensitive to African cultures, Macgoye so consistently rejected the privileges

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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