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Dr. Y. Vidya’s Review of K. V. Dominic’s (ed) African and Afro-American Literature: Concepts and Contexts

Book Review

K. V. Dominic, ed. African and Afro-American Literature: Insights and Interpretations. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2012. xvi+345pp. Hb. Rs. 1200. ISBN: 81-7273-683-5

Y. Vidya

The impact of colonised experience on native consciousness, the social problems of the new liberated nation, the erosion of indigenous culture and values through continued western domination, the dilemma posed by biculturalism, the search for identity and alienation in the products of a dual culture and the strident self-assertion and urge for decolonization in the liberated Africa all these are persistent themes in post-Independence writing. The African novel, in general, is known for its depiction of various cultural tensions and conflicts arising out of a clash between tradition and modernity. Sometimes it is the conflict between the individual and the society. Literature had often been used as a vehicle to express a country’s political, cultural and emotional attitudes. Mostly African Literature is an expression of its country’s social change. The writers are concerned about the past of their country and their concern is reflected in their works. The social change that it had been subjected to since the colonization by the country, the cultural, political and missionary influences, its present state of achieved Independence with a growing awareness of both national identity and modern problems finds expression in most African fiction. African and Afro-American Literature: Insights and Interpretation edited by K. V. Dominic was published in 2012. This book consists of a collection of essays written by specialists on African Literature. The essays are preceded by a preface and Notes on contributors. Some essays deal with individual authors and their works and others with a specific issue or trait of Africanness. In addition to its preliminary pages, the book has been provided with a short index of names and main issues of African interest. Mahboobeh Khaleghi’s article “Cultural Alienation and Depersonalization in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby” explains how the black community struggled to regain their cultural values. The characters struggle for their individual identity. It deals with distress and difficulty of the individual amidst contemporary social, economic and political problems of Africa. Ibrahim Sufyan Qasem’s Article “The Cultural Exile in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby” holds the view that Toni Morrison is one of the committed female writers who marshalled her scathing criticism against the influence of western culture of African countries. Roya Vakili’s article “Mental Slavery in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye” talks about black identity and black self-concept. It exposes the devastating effect of racism on the self-image and psyches of Afro-Americans. The black characters are marginals who strive to initiate themselves into the American society dominated racist whites. Mahboobeh Khaleghi article “Racialized Aesthetic and Female Identity in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye” argues that the survival of black women in a white rapist society depends upon their emphasis on loving their own culture. She makes it clear that black women are the victims of both sexual and racial discrimination. Farhana Parveen’s article “Societal and Colour Prejudice in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye” exposes inequality, racism and social injustice of black communities. The African societies are caught in a deep identity crisis. A deep chasm divided the traditional African life and the materialistic western life which the Africans have assimilated. The article suggests a future course of action for the society. The minute analysis of society and deep insights into the African Psyche lends variety and depth.  Ibrahim Sufyan Qasem’s article “The Journey Within: A Reading of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon” presents a family history which reflects the collective history of Afro-Americans. Doris Thomas’s article “The Emergence of a Womanist Paradigm in Song of Solomon” condemns the immortality of slavery particularly the oppression of black women at the hands of the whites. Mahboobeh Khaleghi’s article “Crossing the Boundaries of Cultural Values: Sexuality in Toni Morrison’s Sula” concentrates on moral issues. W. S. Kottiswari’s article “Sexual Power Politics: A Post-Modern Reading of Atwood’s The Edible Woman and Toni Morrison’s Sula”   constitutes a violent indictment of the sexual power politics through social myths of feminity.  It figures women who embark on their individual quests for selfhood which are precipitated by different attitude towards the human condition.  Roya Vakili‘s article “African-American Identity in Toni Morrison’s novels”  depicts not only the experiences of harsh suppression of African-Americans, but penetrate the mind of the victims and uncover their feelings, dreams and long-lasting thirst for freedom.  It examines the impact of gender and racial discrimination. It focuses the construction of new identities among them while struggling for the freedom and equality in Diaspora in the face of exploitation, dehumanization and degradation by colonial power.  P. C. K. Prem’s article “Agonized Mindscapes in J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace” gives graphic details of oppressing conditions and brutal instincts man nurses. It transports a reader to a new world of experiential shocks and philosophic tensions that connect a man to a woman.  It is about human unrefined emotions and crude passions.  A study of S. Ambika’s article “Racial Issues and Concerns: A Postcolonial Reading of J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace” points out taxonomic differences between different groups of people. The article engages with a vast literary heritage, and brings into question the investment of authority in literary discourse, as well as the power dynamics and oppression in society.  It unfurls the postcolonial themes and situations where the natives take an upper hold in their native land and the whites have to accept their position of reversal.  Sunil Sharma’s article “On Language, Writing, Community and Ngugi” deals with Ngugi’s radical views on writing, language and its politics, the experience of postcolonial societies.  Ngugi shows the moral value of dissident, of serious writing that challenges the status quo everywhere–the writer as subversive; the writing as authentic, genuine, well-articulated communal resistance against debasement, oppression and exploitation.  Y. Vidya’s article “Purgatory of Existence in the Turpitude of Sunk Values in Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters” exposes the decadence of modern African society.  It is an authentic portrayal of the corrupt postcolonial Nigerian society.  The article dramatizes the predicament of the native culture at the point of history when it confronted the western interference in its day-to-day life and political administration.  It exposes the Nigerian ways unsparingly–the fears, corruption, nepotism and the incompetence of the African politicians.  Asha Viswas’s article “The Dilemma of the Black Man in the poetry of Derek Walcott” identifies Walcott’s poetry as a black man’s dilemma.  It encompasses within its scope variety of issues that have troubled the African poet.  Some of these are: clash of cultures, identity crisis and evils of capitalism.  It is calculated to blaze the torch for a new era for mankind, a brave new world bereft of suffering, suppression and exploitation with the stigma of tryst with destiny, no more a scourge. Shri Krishnan Rai’s article “Imagery in Derek Walcott’s The Prodigal” projects Derek Walcott’s poetic sensibility and novelty of his perception.  The article artistically endeavours to tackle in an emphatic manner big issues like international brotherhood, globalisation and colonialism etc. K. V. Dominic’s article “Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth: A Saga of of the colonized” argues that the need has arisen today to decode and demystify the banality of colonialism so as to reorder and bring into being a society where there is balance and harmony. The tragedy of the black Americans lies in their rootlessness as they strive to initiate themselves into the European standard of beauty.  C. Rajan article “Authentic Decolonization and National Reconstruction: An analysis of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth” unmasks the ideological disguises of imperialism.  G. Dominic Savio and S. J. Kala in their joint effort explore the themes of racial and sexual subjugation in “Maya Angelou’s Clarion Call to the Blacks in Her Poems  Million Man March Poem” and Still I Rise.” It makes a clarion call to all the black people to rise triumphantly from the quagmire of racial and gender discrimination.  Ayo Kehinde’s article “Postcolonial Writings and Transgression of Boundaries: Reading Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River as a Dialogic Text” voices about slavery.  The article prioritizes a rethinking of the questions of identity and culture contact by going beyond the polarities of self and other.  It represents the most impressive, provocative and objective statement on the issue of slave trade in Africa.  Eugene Ngezem’s article “Grotesquely Crooked: Gender and Race in Afro-American Literature” bring to a central focus that Afro-American women are fenced by hegemony.  It is a raging commentary on inequality of power relationships.  The major concern is to reveal the female quest for identity.  It explores a feminine mystique through a series of female characters. Leelamma Mathew’s article “Myth as Archetype: A critique of Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers” outlines the use of myth.  It employs the mythopoeic mode in order to convey certain deep concerns of humanity in the form of an appropriate vision. There is an inherent dynamism, a primitive vitality about the mythopoeic utterance, as in the African context mythologies are a system of shared beliefs.  Raju George’s article “ Rhapsodic Assertions of the Black Consciousness” in African poetry affirms the total rejection of modern white civilization and celebrates the natural African Landscape, calling black people to value the unique spirit of their own race. It neither preaches reconciliation nor openly condemns western civilization, but demonstrates the sensitivity to the evils of European colonialism while glorifying African cultural values. Vandana Pathak’s article “I would become Strong Enough to Speak: Employing Words as Weapons: Protest in Black American Autobiographies” exposes the oppressive condition of the blacks and the repressive tactics adopted by the whites against blacks.  Autobiographies act as the voice of the community.  James Tar Tsaaior’s article “History, Memory and the Poetic Imagination: Interrogating the Civan Metaphor in Joe Ushie’s Eclipse in Rwanda” valorizes the condition of an embattled society undergoing the throes of transformation from the fringes to the core of life amidst the stupefying odds raging against it.  It advocates the alternative paradigm of harmonious and peaceful co-existence for African progress and development.   Ayo Kehinde’s article “Appraisal of Aderemi Raji-Oyelade and Oyeniyi Okunoye’s The Postcolonial Lamp: Essays in honour of Dan Izevbaye” depicts the landscape of Post colonial African Literature and socio aesthetic conditions of its existence.  The variety of the issues discussed constitutes invaluable data.  It is a treasure house of post colonial African Literature. N. O. Shaju’s article “Identity as Cultural Resistance: A critique of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man” retains a broad political focus on both racial consciousness and national culture by redefining the terms of social reality.  The article is at the vanguard of African-American’s struggle to retrieve their lost identity from spurious invisibility. Ladha Barathan’s article “The Throes of Genocide: Halima Bashir’s Tears of the Desert” seeks to investigate the gruesome acts of genocide committed on Halima Bashir and her community of Black Africans in Sudan by the Arabs. It exposes important facets of contemporary African life.  Aju Aravind’s article “Between Ugly Faces and Innocence: Representation of the Black in Tom and Jerry Cartoons” recognises the binarism that is forcefully at work in comics and cartoons.  An examination of the question of race in America through the lens of ideological discourses, especially in popular culture, will help to unravel the chronic social conflict and the myth of American Dream.

One of the editors’ biggest merits is that he was able to collect a group of essays which revealed a kaleidoscopic nature of African Literature.  I must congratulate the editor and contributors for their successful presentation.  The book is fit for researchers.

Dr. Y. Vidya, Assistant Professor of English, Research Centre in English, VHNSN College, Virudhunagar. Tamil Nadu, India.