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These stories were a very mixed bag. Whilst most of them were very short there was the odd longer one in there. Their material was diffuse and they often seemed to be delicate ephemeral affairs. It’s a difficult book to describe because the stories are so varied, and there isn’t even the voice of one author to run as a common thread through it all. And the subject matter varies from legend and myth, through colonial and into post colonial Africa.

There are some gems in here. For example,  Minutes of Glory by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, about a prostitute’s search for meaning and love in her life, for a moment of recognition of her existence and that she is a soul, or Nadine Gordimer’s searching tale, The Bridegroom, about a white man’s struggles with his conscience over how his relationship with his black workers in a remote outpost will change when he brings a wife out there.

But there were many others that were beyond me, confusing me, alienating me, or just leaving me unmoved. So, overall I have mixed feelings about this book. Many of the stories moved me, especially the ones about women protecting their daughters in the face of a male world, but I think less than half of them affected me. I’m not sure of the reason,  maybe my lack of understanding of many of them was cultural.

The book does order the stories from where in Africa they came from and, as described in the introduction, I think this is helpful, as certain patterns do emerge: the predominance of race in the south, the sparseness of the northern stories, although all the stories still have an ‘other’, Africa, flavour, at least to me. 

So, a mixed collection, some very good, some mediocre. Worth dipping into through, as there are sparkling pleasures.

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Fo some reason I’d never really fancied reading this book, so when I saw it was on my list for a course I did with the Open University I thought I’d just have to read it as part of the curriculum and get through it, but not really enjoy it. And how wrong I was, instead I fell hook, line and sinker for it, and found one of the most life affirming books I’ve ever read.

The novel is written in the epistolary form, mainly letters from Celie to God, although later it also contains letters from and to her sister Nettie. Celie is raped by her step-father (although at the time she thinks he is her father) as a child, bears him two children who are sold, and she is then bargained off as ‘spoilt goods’ to a violent and abusive man. She is then estranged from her sister, as her husband hides her letters from Celie.

But through all of this Celie survives, due to support, help and lessons from a series of women. She learns not to side with the abuser through Sofia when she talks about her husband and says, ‘…I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me’. Through her husband’s mistress, the glamorous Shug Avery, she learns sexual love, and when she discovers the hidden letters from her sister realises that she is loved. This, with Shug’s help, gives her the strength and ability to support herself, and to curse her husband, wearing who she is as a badge of pride, ‘I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook…But I’m here’.

The only off note in the novel is the Africa section. I understand the purpose, how Walker wants to celebrate African-American heritage and history, but through trying to encompass an entire continent in a few letters the end result seems to me strained and false. Also, there is the question of whether Walker has the necessary authority to speak on ‘Africa’s’ behalf.

But that aside I love this book. Yes, the characters are not necessarily ‘realistic’ but they speak of how through solidarity women can survive and flourish in spite of deprivation, abuse and misuse at the hands of men, and retain their ability to create and be a someone in spite of it all.