How not to talk about African fiction

The history of modern African fiction is essentially 100 years of branding disaster. In marketing African fiction, the conventional practice among publishers both in Africa and the west has been to simply tag a novel to a social issue. “Such and such a novel explores colonialism.” Done. “So and so offers a searing representation of the scourge of misogyny.” Done. “Corruption takes center stage in so and so’s novel.” Done.

African fiction is packaged and circulated, bought and sold not on the basis of its aesthetic value but of its thematic preoccupation.

.. Here are the opening sentences of the Amazon blurb of Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

A postmodern visionary and one of the leading voices in twenty-first-century fiction, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending, philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick. The result is brilliantly original fiction as profound as it is playful. In this groundbreaking novel, an influential favorite among a new generation of writers, Mitchell explores with daring artistry fundamental questions of reality and identity.

Compare this to the only opening sentence of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.

.. To reduce all the flirty, humorous beauty of Adichie’s novel to “a tender story about race” is just wrong and borderline patronizing. But it also demonstrates the inherent bias in the way readers are invited to encounter African novels.

..‘I’m wary of “getting tagged”’: author Helen Oyeyemi