Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Six First Novels for African Heritage Month

We've talked more than once on this blog about the pleasure in discovering authors through their first novels. Looking for a new and interesting way to explore African Heritage Month?

Why not take a peek at one of these first novels, which explore different facets of the black cultural experience. While the settings are varied - historical and contemporary, local and global - each offers an introduction to a talented new novelist.

The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (M)
by Esi Edugyan

After her nomination last year for the 3 major Canadian fiction prizes and the Booker Prize, there are few Canadian Literature fans who don't know the name Esi Edugyan. In the end, Half Blood Blues took the Giller Prize and gained the Victoria, BC author a much wider readership. Following all the prize attention, I wonder how many readers took time to revisit Edugyan's first novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne. Set in late 1960s Alberta, it is the story of a Ghanaian man who moves his family to a small town after inheriting a home there. Part historical novel and part suspense tale, Library Journal described the book as a "hauntingly elegant debut" that "effectively blends sharp existential observations with spare, graceful prose to provide a wrenching portrait of one man's lifelong struggle with alienation".

Where the Line Bleeds (M)
by Jesmyn Ward

Another author whose recent win of a major book award (the 2011 National Book Award for Salvage the Bones—her second novel) makes revisiting her first novel seem like a very good idea. Where the Line Bleeds is set on the Gulf Coast, post-Hurricane Katrina and follows twin brothers trying to make it in a world of economic hardship: one lands a job, but one turns to drug dealing to make ends meet. A moving character study, in their starred review, Publishers Weekly said "A fresh new voice in American literature, Ward unflinchingly describes a world full of despair but not devoid of hope."

Open City (M)
by Teju Cole

Thirty-six year old author Cole was named one of the New Yorker's 20 best authors under 40 in 2010. Born in New York and raised in Nigeria, his first novel blends both settings in a reflective story about identity and isolation. From the book jacket: "Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present, his past. Though he is navigating the busy parts of town, the impression of countless faces does nothing to assuage his feelings of isolation."

Minding Ben (M)
by Victoria Brown

We actually did a post last spring on Victoria Brown's first novel Minding Ben, the story of a young Trinidadian nanny living in New York and suffering the many demands of the rich Manhattan family who have hired her as a nanny. The publisher dubs the book "The Nanny Diaries meets The Help" for its mix of cultural and economic commentary: Library Journal called it " fascinating, tender, and heartbreaking." The novel got a lot of buzz when it was first released, and continues a popular choice for bookclubs.

Kameleon Man (M)
by Kim Barry Brunhuber

Stacey Schmidt is a young man from suburban Ottawa who is suddenly pulled into the fast paced world of the Toronto fashion industry. "But does he really want the glitz? Deep down he hungers to make it as a serious photographer, but the gaudy lures and traps of male modelling never cease to tempt him." Brunhuber uses the backdrop of the fashion industry to ask questions about race and identity in a novel that George Elliott Clarke called "snappy with subversive comedy and glimmering with beautiful writing..."(quotes from book jacket)

Chasing Freedom (M)
by Gloria Wesley

Nova Scotia poet Gloria Wesley released her first novel this past fall. A historical story set primarily in Nova Scotia, but beginning in South Carolina at the close of the Revolutionary War, Chasing Freedom follows the teenage Sarah Redmond, a freed Loyalist slave and her Grandmother Lydia to their new home in Nova Scotia. The promise of freedom and fertile land is far from the reality of their lives in Birchtown. In accessible prose, Wesley tells a important story of African Canadian history in our province.

Please note that Gloria will be reading tonight at the Keshen Goodman Library at 7:00 pm and at the Spring Garden Road Memorial Library on Thursday, February 24th, 12:00 pm. All are welcome!

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