Which Books have Influenced Your view of the World?
“Books and all forms of writing are a terror to those who wish to suppress the truth.” Wole Soyinka
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. William Butler Yeats
Living in a world filled with gadgets to keep our minds and eyes busy, it is quite easy to relegate books to the back burner. We can buy a Kindle, iPad, iPod, PS3, portable videos or other contraption to make our learning or entertainment fast and paperless. Yet, I am still drawn to the world of books because I simply love the feel of a book; hard or soft cover; with or without a jacket. To loose oneself in a good book is to feel time stop and all fears and worries slip away; albeit temporarily.
Back in March, New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Ross Douthat wrote a piece, “The Influential Books Game” – about ten (10) books that had shaped his writing or thinking over the years. The idea was not to select your top best or favorite books but instead to choose books that resonated in your gut/memory and addressed the theme: “10 books which have influenced your view of the world.”
Tellingly, I selected several books that held my interest during my salad days and then added a few more that struck a chord because of either the unusual nature of the story or simply because of the sheer power of the message the author tried to covey. I enjoyed the exercise thoroughly and posted, on the NYTimes comments section, my list of 11 books that included the Bible. Since then, I have added one more book to my original list and have decided to share my list with you; the twelve books that shaped and shifted my worldview.
“Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Aside from the Holy Bible, which is a magnificent book with great teachings and stories, the rest of my books are from my African heritage. Books like “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, shaped my earliest views of human behavior. Others like “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are fairly recent. I deliberately chose the twelve books below because my memory is alive with pictures of hot, lazy days sitting on a balcony somewhere in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Enugu reading. Some of the books I read or re-read in London, Bexhill and New York but probably not in Clacton, I was too young to read in Clacton-on-Sea.
Each book opened a door into a captivating world; at times familiar and at times strange. Yet, even in those locations that remained unfamiliar, the emotions were palpable; love, loss, happiness, hate, bravery, betrayal, resilience, resistance and more…
Each book listed below explores themes that are universal and timeless. As always, your feedback and insights are appreciated. Enjoy!
“Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape. They had broken into tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking: ‘Why did he do it?'”
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This is a powerful tale about bravado and betrayal in Umuofia and of a strong man, Okonkwo, whose life is controlled by two debilitating emotions; anger and fear. His treatment of the young sacrificial boy, Ikemefuna, remains one of the most disturbing stories of fate and betrayal.
“In England, Adah couldn’t go to her neighbor and babble out troubles as she would have done in Lagos, she had learned not to talk about her unhappiness to those with whom she worked, for this was a society where nobody was interested in the problems of others … You don’t have the old woman next door who, on hearing an argument going on between a wife and husband, would come in to slap the husband, telling him off and all that, knowing that her words would be respected because she was old and experienced.”
Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta
Semi-autobiography of the author’s dark days in London, struggling to salvage her life as a young black woman alone with her children in a not so welcoming world. The main character, Adah, is brilliant but stuck straddling two worlds; the African one she left behind in Nigeria and the European one she tries to embrace in England. As her marriage disintegrates, she tries to make sense of her place, her marriage, her ethnicity and her destiny.
“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbroke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya – one of the birds of the veld.”
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
This is a great story about a priest, Stephen Kumalo, his son, the tragedy of apartheid era South Africa, and the belief that dreams of peace and unity can prevail over human oppression.
“Why then did women worship her…? Uhamiri was a symbol of hope for all women so that her devotees such as Efuru can taste of her kind of freedom and happiness with or without children. Uhamiri gave Efuru her beauty, her long hair and her riches. She was happy. She was wealthy. She was beautiful. She gave women beauty and wealth but she had no child.”
Efuru by Flora Nwapa
Efuru is the story of a very courageous and successful businesswoman who marries a lout, Adizua, and watches her life and dreams fall apart after the loss of her father, her only child and her husband. Even the water goddess, Uhamiri, who gives Efuru many gifts, cannot bring her child back.
“He had clothed himself with a religion decorated and smeared with everything white. He renounced his past and cut himself away from those life-giving traditions of the tribe. And because he had nothing to rest upon, something rich and firm on which to stand and grow, he had to cling with his hands to whatever the missionaries taught him…”
“His house had a strong Christian foundation and he wanted his daughters to wax strong in faith and the ways of God. Would this not prove to all what a Christian home should be like?”
The River Between by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
The protagonist is a young boy, Waiyaki, who must find the courage to align himself with the missionaries and live out his father’s dream of him as savior to the people. As the Christian Missionaries try to bring religion and education to the region and end the practice of Female Circumcision, two local Kikuyu communities are caught in the middle of the fray and must find a way between the river. Female genital mutilation or circumcision is a dastardly practice that continues to thrive on the African continent even though many women in villages far and wide have come to understand that the practice is dangerous and unnecessary. The River Between explores this subject and more with all the traditional complexities and the stark and haunting ugliness of unpleasant interactions.
“They had lost their faces, their names, their tomorrows…”
Reine Pokou by Veronique Tadjo
Winner of the 2005 Grand Prize in Literature of Black Africa, Reine Pokou by Veronique Tadjo is a tale of Queen Abraha Pokou’s ultimate sacrifice, her son, to save her beloved Baoule people. Tadjo retells the story as she examines many themes that shape the human experience particularly relationships, the African ethnic wars, corruption and oppression that persists in neo-colonial Africa; particularly the loss of place, the abject poverty and disintegrating infrastructures that persist.
“The Tropicana to her was a daily drug, a potent, habit forming brew… She (Jagua Nana), She knew that, seen under the dim lights of her favorite night spot, the Tropicana–and from a distance–her face, looked beautiful.”
Jagua Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi
Jagua Nana is the story of a brave, bold woman; a prostitute who dreams of finding true love and the comfort of a middle class home and respectability in the fast paced city of Lagos. With a heart that is alternately harsh and soft, Jagua searches for the elusive lover who will accept her as a liberated woman and lover in post-colonial Nigeria. A beautiful, evocative story that examines the roles and responsibilities of African women and their impact in society…
“Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story. It was a long and painful process for me, that process of expansion.”
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Another semi-autobiographical tale of two cousins, Tambu and Nyasha, from different socioeconomic worlds; one traveled and well off and the other home grown and rather provincial. They struggle to meet each other somewhere in the middle of their differences during a stint away in boarding school.
This was a time of tense colonial change and political shifts on the continent. People felt it in their bones and struggled to transform the status quo and transcend their colonial legacy; sometimes with disastrous results. The story encapsulates the lives of their mothers, Maiguru and Lucia, as they create a complex web of hurts and miscommunications; ultimately, learning life lessons from each other.
“Yet nothing should be more striking for someone without preconceptions than the extraordinary diversity of Africa’s people and its cultures. I still vividly recall the overwhelming sense of difference that I experienced when I first traveled out of western to southern Africa. Driving through the semiarid countryside of Botswana into her capital Gaborone, a day away by plane from the tropical vegetation of Asante, no landscape could have seemed more alien.”
In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture by Anthony Appiah
Appiah uses this collection of essays to address the cultural assumptions, generalized preconceptions and racial stereotypes many have about the African continent and her people. By carefully reviewing both the history and colonial past of Africa/Africans, Appiah sees that western perceptions, its social-cultural constructions and definitions of race and culture have had an enormous impact on Africa, Africans and her Identity.
“All the men I did get to know, every single man of them, has filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face. But because I am a woman, I have never had the courage to lift my hand. And because I am a prostitute, I hid my fear under layers of make-up.” – Firdaus
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
Nawal shares an explosive, brutal story of the mistreatment of not only Firdaus, a local prostitute, but also of many women in the community. The book speaks out against the prevailing misogynistic attitudes men have towards women and the growing rage these attitudes create in women. It is a study on the oppression of women globally. As the protagonist Firdaus suggests, women need to be supportive of each other. For even women who look down on prostitutes are not exempt from the title of whore; sooner or later their sexual favors are exchanged for comfort, attention and protection.
“Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant and with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.”
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book shares the trials and tribulations an Ibo family endures and eventually overcomes. 15 year old Kambili Achike lives a privileged though abusive middle class life in a household controlled by her father – Papa Achike. Papa, aka Omelora, is a religious fanatic who rules his home with an iron fist and routinely and viciously beats up his wife, his daughter and his son, Jaja. As the family comes to terms with their situation, the greater challenge becomes maintaining a semblance of order amidst chaos and shame.
“And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.” Isaiah 29:18, 24
The Holy Bible, Word of God: Numerous authors
The Holy Bible is the most famous religious text central to Christianity and Judaism and divided into two main testaments; The Old and the New Testament. The New Testament centers on the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles whilst the Old Testament centers on the prophets, the wise kings and other important books. The Bible is an alive text of blessings, teachings and prayers that serves as a foundation for an ethical, every day lifestyle.
Yes, 11 authors from the African Continent and the Bible make 12 … What are your worldview shifting books? It could be 1 or more; remind me. Thank you for staying a while and reminiscing or sharing your memories of reading. I could have added more but these should suffice for now. I hope you enjoy this great exercise as much as I did!
Stop by later for more updates on all the books and more…
Stacks of Books ~ via Wikipedia
Amazon Books ~ via Amazon
Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©