One reads like Alexander McCall Smith’s African lore (which has its place, and is thoroughly enjoyable on train rides and as gifts to non-African aunties as an introduction to how ‘civilised’ Africans can be); the second reads like another tale of suburban/elite-set angst, so de jour in Tina Brown-New Yorker fiction, circa the ’90s. Katherine Mansfield knew how to do it gorgeously (see “Bliss”, 1920). But Mansfield’s ability to get to the heart of wrenching ecstasy and horror, possible even in well-heeled domesticity, is not evident here.
It’s a wonder that choices such as these for a prominent prize don’t create disillusionment in more talented African writers. And there’s no dearth of excellent writing in the vast land of Africa, as evidenced in journals like Chimurenga and Kwani? Happily, the Caine judges have picked a few brilliant gems during past years, like that of Binyavanga Wainaina, who won the prize in 2002 (and founded Kwani?).
Instead of a review, I’ll link us to an excellent interview with Wainaina (subsequent to the recent publication of his memoir, One Day I Will Write about this Place), by Rob Spillman in the current issue of BOMB magazine. The obvious blip in the introduction is a claim that the Caine Prize is “commonly referred to as the African Booker” – if so, that’s a poor assessment of the Booker. Read it here.