Five Women’s Lives in Africa

[amazon_image id=”0805093621″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories[/amazon_image]Destination: Ghana, Africa

Book: The Civilized World, a NEW book (April 2011)   by Susi Wyss

We have taken a look at a book that shows an old, tribal Africa and travel literature about the days of the explorers. Recently I talked about The First Grader, a film that shows the results of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya from the 1950s. With The Civilized World, we get a new view– a look at contemporary Africa, Africans living in a modern world, and non-Africans who live in Africa.

Elmina Window
Ghana Window

I always come away slightly puzzled from the kind of literature that ends with unresolved conflicts, or at least not solidly resolved. So if you are like me, be warned, the characters are intriguing and solid, but the story line expects you to use your imagination a bit. The women have plenty of self-doubts, but all do something gutsy. One of the Americans has lived in Africa so long, working at non-governmental organizations, that she hardly thinks of herself as American any more. One African woman opens her own business, and despite her insecurity becomes a success. One American woman marries an African man and although she has trouble fitting in to his family in Africa, manages to juggle job and family back in the United States. One African woman believes she knows best for everyone and only seldom questions her interference.  At the extreme edge of this circle, the third American woman never will fit in. She is engaged to a man who works in Africa, and planning to start a family, but she never feels quite safe.

A reviewer at Publisher’s Weekly says, “Wyss offers nuanced takes on vastly different corners of Africa, transcending travelogue to achieve resonant narratives–sometimes funny, sometimes stark–with both grit and heart.”

Accra Ghana street scene
Accra Ghana street scene

I am not sure why the writer of that blurb decided on “transcending travelogue” because these stories do not even pretend to tell of people traveling in the usual sense to a different place. Perhaps because it is a book about Africa, there is a built-in assumption that there will be landscape and safaris involved.

Instead each character tries to adapt to blending and conflicting cultures. Most are successful at negotiating that path, and even the least successful ones reach a hopeful kind of self-awareness.

Each time I read another book or see another movie about Africa, I learn something new and begin to feel that the dark continent is becoming lighter.

Map of Ghana
Map of Ghana

Photographs from Flickr with Creative Commons license, except map which comes from Ghana Web, another source of info about  the country. Please click on picture or the map to learn more about the photographer and see more of their photos, for a fuller view of Ghana.

Please keep the suggestions coming for good literature to help us all  understand Africa.

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

One thought on “Five Women’s Lives in Africa

  1. Would definitely like to read this book- loved seeing the pic of Accra’s downtown road scene. As I looked at it, I was trying to place the exact location this picture was taken. I’ve been gone from Ghana for 3 years now…wow can’t believe it has been that long! But once you’ve lived in Africa for an extended length of time (ten years for me)- I believe it can never leave your heart. I’m not familiar with other parts of Africa- but I do know Ghana is a special place and it is special because of its people- so open hearted and wonderful!

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