Lizzy Attree at the LA Review of Books:
ARE WE ON the cusp of a new age of African literature? If so, the key to new novels from African writers seems to be the fresh use of historical fiction to articulate a new future.
South African writer Marlene van Niekerk’s 2004 masterpiece Agaat (first translated into English from the Afrikaans as The Way of the Women by Michiel Heyns in 2006) is a candidate for the Great African Novel. Her second novel, it resonates far beyond the seminal Triomf (1994), and went unmatched for that title until Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu was published in Kenya in 2014. Winner of the Kwani? Manuscript Project (as The Kintu Saga, of which I was a lucky pre-judges reader), Makumbi’s novel is a Ugandan One Hundred Years of Solitude, a family saga that reaches back into that country’s history with an assurance and readability that makes its historical depth feel light as water. The wide acclaim it received in East Africa led to its publication in the United States by Transit Books in 2017 (with a controversially “unnecessary” introduction by Aaron Bady) and, in March 2018, a prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize, an award worth $165,000. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust, also published in 2014 (by Knopf in the United States), provokes a similar excitement.