Contemporary African literature in the recent past used to be associated with names like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiongo. Today however, new voices have emerged beyond the continent in the form of African diaspora writers. With fresh, bold and captivating voices, the new wave of diaspora literary voices transcend various topics, blending with various styles and the perspective of Africans living in a globalized world. The evocative voices of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole and Barrack Obama have elucidated the immigrant experience, issues of identity and the place of diaspora Africans in global affairs like trade, politics and their connection to their homeland. Although the books are numerous; this article will explore those that deal with immigration and issues of identity for immigrant Africans.
Barack Obama-DREAMS FROM MY FATHER (1995)
Perhaps one of the most notable diaspora African with a big impact on global politics, former US president Barrack Obama is also a prolific writer with over 20 books under his belt. To most immigrants, two books stand out as a testament to the struggles African Americans face and how to navigate questions of race and identity; Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope.
Dreams from my father is a story of race and inheritance that candidly captures Obama’s dilemma of his divided family history. The son of a black farmer from Kenya and a white American mother from the mid-west, Obama was only 2 years old when their father abandoned them. However, one day he receives a call from Kenya that his father has perished in a car accident. Devastated, Obama goes on a quest to find his roots and it’s a beautiful tale of a man searching for the meaning of his life. Throughout the book, Barack Obama journeys through a heartfelt reunion of family and gives the reader a captivating glimpse of the life of an African American navigating identity, class and race.
Dinaw Mengestu-ALL OUR NAMES (2014)
The Ethiopian-born American writer, Dinaw Mengestu has experienced life in America as an immigrant and the challenges he has faced continually shape the themes in his books. In this captivating tale, he revisits his favorite topics in this passionate tale of African immigration to the United States, the problems of assimilation and race struggles. The protagonist is caught up in a melancholic tale of forced immigration, inter-racial romance and how the relationship falls apart. Set in the 1970s, it follows Isaac and Langston, refugees escaping strife in Ethiopia and land in Uganda where they get embroiled in the revolution at the time.
The story unnervingly engages Uganda’s brutal history of the 70s into the lives of the refugees and addresses the refugee crisis caused by dictatorial regimes in the continent after the departure of colonial powers. Following another narrator, Helen a white American and her Immigrant lover Isaac, the book documents the painful realities of racism in the American mid-West and the difficulties of maintaining multi-ethnic relationships. Mengestu’s works traverse the ways post-colonial Africa tries or fails to rebuild itself and how individual lives of Africans are broken by Imperial history. If you enjoy the themes in this book, it is imperative to read Mengestu’s other book Children of the Revolution that documents refugees, immigration and resettlement.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- AMERICANAH (2013)
In her third novel, Chimamanda enchantingly explores an African perspective of the American experience. Ifemelu is a young Nigerian woman who moves to the United States to pursue her post-graduate studies. In campus, she becomes famous for her blog; Raceteenth where she makes candid observations about American Blacks. She also posts about her relationship with a white American boyfriend and mirrors it with a later relationship with a Black American boyfriend. Later she speaks about the perception of real African beauty, hair straightening and ideally all the complexities of African identity in America.
However, deep down, she craves for the company of Obinze her childhood sweetheart who never got a green card to immigrate to America. Obinze’s life is not as straight as he’d hoped when he illegally settles in London and has a fake marriage in an attempt to get citizenship. However, he is busted and disgracefully deported. However, his life back home starts to look up unlike his life abroad. Soon after, Ifemelu returns to Nigeria with new perceptions about her country and wiser about the American dream. The blog posts are especially riveting and will give the reader a candid review of the African American life and a must read for one who wants to understand African-American culture and the place of African culture in America.
Yaa Gyasi- HOMEGOING
This riveting story set in Ghana and the US successfully reconciles the African and the African American in an intricate weaving of histories and individuals. The characters are human and encompass a wide range of emotions from loss, pride and oppression. We sympathize and empathize with them in equal measure due to their utter vulnerability and humanness. The lives of two sisters in different continents; US and Africa are intertwined as they explore problems created by slavery and race relations in America.
Gyasi confronts the hand Africans played in enslaving their own people and shares the guilt among Africans and the white slavers about this gruesome ordeal. Through her book, the reader is confronted with the reality of how tangled the chains of moral responsibility are and how easily we forget the facts about our history. Beginning in coastal Fanteland/Ghana, in the 1700s about two half-sisters who do not know each other, the story goes on to show two distinct aspects of slavery. Effia is sold by her father to a British governor for 30 pounds and leads a nice life in the governor’s mansion. On the other hand, Esi, Effia’s sister is in a dungeon underground awaiting transportation to the New World.
Gyasi enthralls us with painful story that follows the lives of the two sisters and eventually leads us down generations always keeping up pace with characters in both continents. It creates a kind of time-lapse of the decades between black lives in America and the motherland. This is a must read for anyone desiring to go back in history and revisit the contrasting views of slavery and learn the multifaceted relationships between African Americans and Africans on the continent today.
The above are only a few of the African diaspora books out there today. There are many young and budding Africans writing new and exciting stories about Africans and the African diaspora issues today in the age of technology, social media and multi-ethnic relationships. I would encourage one to read other authors like Teju Cole’s Every Day for The Thief, Chinelo Okparanta’s Happiness Like Water and Chibundu Onuzo’s ‘The Spider King’s daughter’.