Has there been any other year that has had so many African-born authors awarded the top literary prizes of the year?
It is without a doubt that Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, David Diop, Damon Galgut and Abdulrazak Gurnah, have all made history by winning the Prix Goncourt, International Booker Prize, Booker Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature, respectively.
It is success that has made the literary world pay closer attention to the works of African authors and fully embrace it.
These wins have reminded the world of the talent that comes from the African continent and how African writers, sometimes ignored by the rest of the world, are not just a niche for a certain audience.
Without a doubt these authors will enjoy greater visibility, and more book sales. It will also mean that there is an opportunity for new audiences to be exposed to African authors and their mostly brilliant contribution to literature.
In our final Editor’s Choice for 2021, here is why you need to read the books they won these awards for.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr
The 31-year-old Senegalese author won France’s prestigious 2021 Prix Goncourt for, La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (Men’s Most Secret Memories). It’s a story of a young Senegalese writer living in Paris who, by chance, comes across a novel published that was originally published in 1938 by a fictional African author named TC Elimane who was nicknamed “the Black Rimbaud” by France’s literati. It is a coming-of-age story and fact-finding mission into the life of a mysterious author. – R304 on Loot.co.za
The Senegalese-French writer, won the International Booker Prize for At Night All Blood is Black. The historical fiction book, which was translated to English by Anna Moschovakis, tells the story full of sadness, rage and beauty. Two Senegalese soldiers, Alfa and Mademba fighting in the Great War, climb out of their trenches to attack France’s German enemies whenever the whistle blows. That is until Mademba is wounded, and dies in a shell hole with his belly torn open. Left alone, Alfa devotes himself to the war, to violence and death, but soon begins to frighten even his own comrades in arms. How far will Alfa go to make amends to his dead friend? – R264 on Loot.co.za
When Galgut won the Booker Prize, it was third time the charm. After being shortlisted twice before, it felt right that be was finally rewarded for his literary work. He won for The Promise, which is described as a literary masterpiece of a family in crisis. It tells the story of a white South African family, the Swarts, living on a farm outside Pretoria. Gathering for a funeral, the younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for – not least the failed promise to the black woman who has worked for them her whole life. It’s a story set in the backdrop of South Africa’s racial tension and as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel’s title. – R307 on Loot.co.za.
Tanzania’s Abdulrazak Gurnah became the first black African writer in 35 years to win prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature this year. The author of critically acclaimed books, including The Promise, Paradise, Desertion and 2021’s Afterlives, was awarded the Nobel for “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”. His latest books is Afterlives, which is described as a compelling novel, one that gathers close all those who were meant to be forgotten, and refuses their erasure. It tells the story of Ilyas, who was stolen from his parents by the German colonial troops. After years away, fighting in a war against his own people, he returns to his village to find his parents gone, and his sister Afiya given away. Another young man returns at the same time. Hamza was not stolen for the war, but sold into it; he has grown up at the right hand of an officer whose protection has marked his life. With nothing but the clothes on his back, he seeks only work and security – and the love of the beautiful Afiya. – R197 on Loot.co.za
This article first appeared in Sunday Insider, Dec 19, 2021