Crime Beat: The Afrikanissimo – Festival of African Literatures
Here are some quotes from the festival being held by litprom (the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literatures) at the Literaturhaus Frankfurt. There is snow everywhere. It is cold. But the people come and queue to fill the hall. Equally importantly they buy books.
Thomas Wörtche (krimi reviewer, publisher and one of the voices behind crime fiction in Germany in a reading – Germany is big on readings as opposed to discussions – under the heading: Investigations across Borders – crime fiction from South Africa and Ghana): “Ten years ago we would not have had such a panel.” I was on that panel together with Nii Parkes (a poet and author of a cop procedural, Tail of the Blue Bird. The subtext to this remark was that a decade ago there was very little crime fiction coming out of Africa, no disputing that, and that a German reception of what was being written would not have been, well, enthusiastic. Things have changed. For the better. Thankfully.
Nii Parkes: “After I’d written the novel people told me it was a crime novel. I didn’t set out to write a crime novel. I just thought these things would work for the story.”
Mike Nicol (the question from Thomas Wörtche was could I have written Killer Country as another sort of novel? Did it have to be genre?) And so for the record: “I wanted to have some fun. I didn’t want to write it any other way. I deliberately set out to write a genre novel, and thoroughly enjoyed doing so.”
Helon Habila (his Oil on Water has been really well received in Germany. Although it is certainly an investigation into a crime it is not strictly genre. In an earlier panel – under the heading The World is like a Masquerade Dance – New Stories from Africa – which was less about crime fiction, in fact it wasn’t about crime fiction at all, and more about, you got it, new stories from Africa): “There is an image of Africa propagated by book reviewers, journalists and academics, an idea of Africa, that stopped in the 1960s. Africa is a multiplicity of things. Africa has opened up, it has changed.” And then the kicker: “We have cellphones.” He went on to talk about the subject of novels. “Stories are about people – that’s it. People fall in love, they die, they go to war. That’s it.” His implication was that this is a world-wide story. And then the kicker again: “If readers can’t see themselves in the books then that might be their problem.”
Quote of the evening from Helon Habila: “When you move from totalitarianism to democracy you have a chaotic situation. Look at South Africa. It has a crazy situation.”
Afterwards much wine was drunk and I was introduced to a small time biltong smuggler. Quite an unlikely smuggler as it turned out…