We wrap up book news for our readers in our Book Digest feature. Today our focus is books from Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Véronique Tadjo, Nana Nkweti, and Kalynn Bayron.
Unbury our Dead With Song, Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Publisher: Cassava Republic Press
Publication Date: September 21, 2021
Genre: Literary fiction
Where to find it: Cassava Republic
Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Mukoma Wa Ngugi is an Associate Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of The Rise of the African Novel: Politics of Language, Identity and Ownership, the novels Mrs. Shaw, Black Star Nairobi, Nairobi Heat, and two books of poetry, Logotherapy and Hurling Words at Consciousness. He is the co-founder of the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature and co-director of the Global South Project – Cornell.
Unbury our Dead With Song
Unbury our Dead With Song is a novel about four talented Ethiopian musicians – The Diva, The Corporal, the Taliban Man and Miriam, who are competing to see who can sing the best Tizita (popularly referred to as Ethiopian blues). Taking place in an illegal boxing hall in Nairobi, Kenya, the competition is covered by a US educated Kenyan journalist, John Thandi Manfredi, who writes for a popular tabloid, The National Inquisitor. He follows the musicians back to Ethiopia in order to learn more about the Tizita and their lives. As he learns more about the Tizita and the multiple meanings of beauty, he uncovers that behind each of the musicians, there are layered lives and secrets. Ultimately, the novel is a love letter to African music, beauty and imagination.
In the Company of Men, Véronique Tadjo
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: February 23, 2021
Genre: Literary fiction
Where to find it: Penguin Random House
Véronique Tadjo is a poet, novelist, academic, and artist from Côte d’Ivoire. She earned a doctorate in Black American Literature and Civilization from the Sorbonne, Paris IV, and went to the United States as a Fulbright scholar at Howard University in Washington, DC. She headed the French Department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg until 2015. Her books have been translated into several languages, from The Blind Kingdom (1991) to The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda (2001) and Queen Pokou: Concerto for a Sacrifice (2005), which was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature d’Afrique Noire in 2005.
In the Company of Men
Drawing on real accounts of the Ebola outbreak that devastated West Africa, this poignant, timely fable reflects on both the strength and the fragility of life and humanity’s place in the world.
Two boys venture from their village to hunt in a nearby forest, where they shoot down bats with glee, and cook their prey over an open fire. Within a month, they are dead, bodies ravaged by an insidious disease that neither the local healer’s potions nor the medical team’s treatments could cure. Compounding the family’s grief, experts warn against touching the sick. But this caution comes too late: the virus spreads rapidly, and the boys’ father is barely able to send his eldest daughter away for a chance at survival.
In a series of moving snapshots, Véronique Tadjo illustrates the terrible extent of the Ebola epidemic, through the eyes of those affected in myriad ways: the doctor who tirelessly treats patients day after day in a sweltering tent, protected from the virus only by a plastic suit; the student who volunteers to work as a gravedigger while universities are closed, helping the teams overwhelmed by the sheer number of bodies; the grandmother who agrees to take in an orphaned boy cast out of his village for fear of infection. And watching over them all is the ancient and wise Baobab tree, mourning the dire state of the earth yet providing a sense of hope for the future.
Acutely relevant to our times in light of the coronavirus pandemic, In the Company of Men explores critical questions about how we cope with a global crisis and how we can combat fear and prejudice.
Walking on Cowrie Shells, Nana Nkweti
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Genre: Literary fiction, Short story collection
Where to find it: Graywolf Press
Nana Nkweti is a Cameroonian-American writer, AKO Caine Prize finalist, Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate, and the recipient of fellowships from MacDowell, Kimbilio, Ucross, Clarion West, amongst others. Her new book, Walking on Cowrie Shells – a “boisterous and high-spirited debut” (Kirkus starred review) “that enthralls the reader through their every twist and turn” (Publishers Weekly starred review) – was recently published by Graywolf on June 1, 2021. The collection is a June 2021 Indie Next pick which has been lauded by The New Yorker, Oprah Daily, The Root, AFREADA, Open Country, Buzzfeed, and Thrillist, amongst others. The collection features elements of mystery, horror, myth, and graphic novels to showcase the complexity and vibrance of African diaspora cultures and identities.
Walking on Cowrie Shells
In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child.
In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves. In between these two ends of the spectrum there’s everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con to a murder investigation driven by statistics to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character.
Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures. A dazzling, inventive debut, Walking on Cowrie Shells announces the arrival of a superlative new voice.
This Poison Heart, Kalynn Bayron
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: June 29, 2021
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Where to find it: Click here.
Kalynn Bayron is the bestselling author of the award-winning YA fantasy Cinderella Is Dead. She is a classically trained vocalist and when she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.
This Poison Heart
Darkness blooms in bestselling author Kalynn Bayron’s new contemporary fantasy about a girl with a unique and deadly power.
Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.
When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.
When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.
From the bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead comes another inspiring and deeply compelling story about a young woman with the power to conquer the dark forces descending around her.