Gods and Soldiers

by Mark Reynolds

15 December 2009

 
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Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing

Rob Spillman

A smartly assembled collection might well be the best way to dive into the diversity of literary talent and perspective on display across the continent. Gods and Soldiers is just that type of starting point. Rob Stillman, editor of the literary magazine Tin House, has first-hand knowledge of the scene, both from submissions by African writers to his magazine and from his participation in a literary festival in Kenya. That experience and understanding informs the depth and scope of this anthology of 30 distinctive African voices, with those new to Western readers writing with the same crackling passion and insight as the more familiar names.

Ultimately, this is a collection of, by and about modern Africa, of writers and characters negotiating their way through timeworn realities and new possibilities. The concluding selection, a short story by Ivan Vladislavic, shows how difficult that negotiation can be, as a discarded piece created for a South African museum exhibit bears the power to elicit reactions based on age-old, discredited power dynamics. It’s as if to say that no matter how far they’ve come as people and as nations, in Africa the past is never really, completely gone, at least not yet.

Perhaps the strongest theme emerging from Gods and Soldiers is that there’s no singular “voice of Africa”, no overarching cosmology to unify the continent’s literature. But that’s a great thing, in that more and more writers are finding their places within our global literary landscape.

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