Does ‘the African expatriate novel’ exist? Living and working in Africa – as well as reading and writing there – has led me to reflect on novels which share this basic premise.
Sokoke Scops-Owl pair by Andrew McNaughton
We walk single file in silence, threading our way through the wispy trees that line the perimeter of the forest, David, our guide, leading the way. He comes to a sudden halt in a small clearing and looks at us expectantly.
What can we know about the lives of animals? Not much, it seems, although we are trying – to parse the diction in the high-frequency calls of Orcas, to decode the complex physical language of Bonobos.
I have always had trouble fully locating the present moment. This is worrying, given that we are supposed to live in the present. If the present moment is our only home but I can’t grasp it, then what’s left to inhabit – a continual reminiscence or an anticipation of the future?
There are few professions that reward youth less than being a writer. Prodigies abound in music, mathematics, even painting, but writing a literary novel of depth, perception, intelligence and ambition is usually seen as a product of experience. And, as we know, experience takes time.
I’ve heard the same story now from several writers of literary fiction. You might have heard it too. Let's say Writer A submits her latest novel to her agent and/or editor. Then follows the deadening wait for the verdict, like awaiting the results of a medical test.
It is 4.30am and we are zipping down the coastal highway on Kenya’s Indian ocean. Our little Maruti (the ‘cash-strapped NGO 4 wheel drive of choice’) judders over speed bumps. There is hardly any traffic competition at this hour. Not even the birds are up.
In Africa, you don’t have to go on safari to see wildlife, you can have a mini-safari in your own backyard – in this case a five-acre piece of land on Watamu beach on Kenya’s Indian ocean coast.
Our aesthetic choices as writers often happen under the radar; we are only dimly aware we are making them, even as we draw upon their elusive power.