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GEOG 321
Winter 1998
Western Washington University



You are being asked to write a review of a novel by an African author of your choice. A list of possible choices follows; the final decision is up to you. The book review is due during the fourth week of class, on Friday, January 30. It should be about three typewritten, double-spaced pages. Please let Alan Forsberg know by Friday, January 16 the title and author of the book you have selected for review. You can purchase the novel at any bookstore (Village Books stocks various titles by African authors) or borrow the book from a public library.

For example, Village Books had the following titles in stock last January (no doubt there are many more; you could choose from these or select a different title):

Achebe, Chinya (African themes)
Things fall apart, Man of the people, Ant hills of the savanna, Arrow of God, No longer at ease

Mahfouz, Naguib (set in Egypt)
Children of the alley, The palace walk, Palace of desire, Sugar street

Lessing, Doris
The grass is singing

Coetzee, J.M.
Master of Petersburg, Waiting for the barbarians

Okri, Ben
Famished road, Songs of enchantment

Brink, Andre
A dry white season

If you cannot find a novel of interest, you also can try a short story anthology of African authors.


The following comments provide some guidelines for the assignment.

A book review has three parts. First is description. You should describe it well enough for the reader to develop a clear idea of what the book is about. This will likely require that you describe not only what is in it, but also that you clarify where (the place/location) the action occurs. In this context you should present a sense of whether the book is about urban/rural people; farmers/migrants/laborers, or other professions. Generally, then, the idea is to present to the reader a sense of the way of life being described and the constraints addressed in the plot.

Second, you must analyze the book. Don't be too expansive in praise but conversely, don't just concentrate on the weaknesses of the book. Rather, think about the material in this way: what do you think the author was trying to show in writing this book? Did s/he succeed? Fail? How? For what purpose and whom might the book be useful? Was the book able to impart to you a sense of the culture and a different viewpoint that you didn't have before reading it? If so, what is it, that is, what is the lens or hidden assumptions regarding culture in the author's writing? Does the author's gender, ethnicity, or class inform that viewpoint? Why or why not?

Don't be vague . Be sincere and thorough. Show in your review that you have read the novel reflectively.

Finally, appraise the book. How does it measure up when compared to others like it? Is it a disappointment? Does the author appear to capture any broader human experiences or issues in the novel? Would the author have been better advised to write about the topic in another way? You might additionally want to address the potential merits of the book for a person living in the U.S. who does not know the region or culture of the area described by the author.


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