Roses of Marrakech is a breath-taking romantic fiction, set between 1944 and 2016. The story
follows 36-year-old primary school teacher, Ivy Fielding, who suffers from a lack of self-esteem due
to a facial birthmark. Her great-aunt Rose, who has always been her main source of emotional
support, has just died, leaving her a bequest as well as her Lavenham cottage to Ivy and her mother.
Ivy discovers tragedies in her family’s past while reading her late great-aunt’s diary, and this inspires
her to fulfil a childhood dream and she jets off to Marrakech for the summer holidays.
Set against the backdrop of wartime Suffolk and the present-day spice-scented souks of Morocco,
Ivy follows a trail of discovery that will change her life and those around her, forever.
But when uncomfortable secrets of the past begin to surface, can she find the courage to confront
them, or is it easier to walk away?
This is an engaging fiction novel that tells stories in two different timelines. The first is the story of Ivy, an elementary school teacher who decides to take a trip to Morocco that she has always said that she’ll do “someday.” Her great-aunt recently died and while cleaning out her house Ivy comes across a diary where her aunt has recorded detail of her life that Ivy did not know about including the lives of her sisters and a romance with an American GI during World War II.
The author did a good job of making the trip to Morocco come alive. She gives a lot of details about walking around through the different sections of the city. It makes you want to go and experience it yourself.
I thought that the past timeline was fairly predictable but it was still well written and entertaining.
I wasn’t as fond of the decisions that were made at the end of the story.
Overall this is a good story about the consequences of secrets in a family.
Rachel gained a BA (Hons) in French/English at Liverpool Hope University and an MA in Modern Languages Research at Lancaster University before training to be a journalist. She now lives in Lancaster and teaches French in a primary school. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was a child and coming runner up in a Sunday Express story competition gave her the confidence to write her first novel, Roses of Marrakech.
Whenever I go on holiday, I always take my notebook with me. Visiting Morocco and Lavenham a few years ago, I made notes of my impressions of the places I visited and began writing the book when I returned”, comments Rachel. “In the book, Ivy’s struggles with coming to terms with her birthmark are based on my own experiences with cerebral palsy, whilst the characters, Violet and Eleanor are based on my great-aunts who both died of TB in the late 1920s”.
‘A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat.’
As the land invasions gather pace, the Retzlaffs begin an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.
When their neighbours flee to New Zealand, the Retzlaffs promise to look after their horses, and making similar promises to other farmers along their journey, not knowing whether they will be able to feed or save them, they amass an astonishing herd of over 300 animals. But the final journey to freedom will be arduous, and they can take only 104 horses.
Each with a different personality and story, it is not just the family who rescue the horses, but the horses who rescue the family. Grey, the silver gelding: the leader. Brutus, the untamed colt. Princess, the temperamental mare.
One Hundred and Four Horses is the story of an idyllic existence that falls apart at the seams, and a story of incredible bonds – a love of the land, the strength of a family, and of the connection between man and the most majestic of animals, the horse.
What would you do if you had to leave your home in a few hours? Could you leave your animals behind knowing that animals left on other farms had been killed? That was one of the issues facing farmers in Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe’s government instituted a series of land seizures.
The Retzlaff family didn’t leave Zimbabwe right away like many of the other white farmers they knew did. They moved farm to farm but the chaos followed them. As they moved across the country over a series of years, they collected animals. Eventually, they moved to the neighboring country of Mozambique.
I imagine that this is a book that could have a hard time finding an audience. Readers who care more deeply about people than animals might be offended by the effort and resources that went into moving and housing the horses when so many people were suffering. Horse lovers don’t like to read books where horses are mistreated. Horse lovers do need to be warned. Most of the horses you meet in this book don’t survive until the end. Many bad things happen to them regardless of the efforts of the Retzlaffs.
Another issue in this book is historical accuracy versus personal experience. Reading the book, the land reform movement seems to come on suddenly. I’ve been looking a bit more into the history because I assumed that there had to have been some colonial shenanigans that resulted in all these large landowners being white people. Yes, Rhodesia (the former name of Zimbabwe) had favored whites in land distribution. The black population was put onto the least productive land.
“Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, land legislation was again amended with the Rhodesian Land Tenure Act of 1969. The Land Tenure Act upended the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and was designed to rectify the issue of insufficient land available to the rapidly expanding black population. It reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 45 million acres and reserved another 45 million acres for black ownership, introducing parity in theory; however, the most fertile farmland in Regions I, II, and III continued to be included in the white enclave. Abuses of the system continued to abound; some white farmers took advantage of the legislation to shift their property boundaries into land formerly designated for black settlement, often without notifying the other landowners.”
“In 1977, the Land Tenure Act was amended by the Rhodesian parliament, which further reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 200,000 hectares, or 500,000 acres. Over 15 million hectares were thus opened to purchase by persons of any race.Two years later, as part of the Internal Settlement, Zimbabwe Rhodesia‘s incoming biracial government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa abolished the reservation of land according to race. White farmers continued to own 73.8% of the most fertile land suited for intensive cash crop cultivation and livestock grazing, in addition to generating 80% of the country’s total agricultural output.”
“The Lancaster House Agreement  stipulated that farms could only be taken from whites on a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle for at least ten years. White farmers were not to be placed under any pressure or intimidation, and if they decided to sell their farms they were allowed to determine their own asking prices”
“Between April 1980 and September 1987, the acreage of land occupied by white-owned commercial farms was reduced by about 20%.” – all quoted from Wikipedia
Ok, so they can’t say they didn’t know this was coming. They talk a little about the politics of it and how they weren’t paying any attention. They mention the vote on a referendum in 2000 only because their black workers asked to borrow transportation so they could all vote. It was the day before voting and they hadn’t really considered it?
“The government organised a referendum on the new constitution in February 2000, despite having a sufficiently large majority in parliament to pass any amendment it wished. Had it been approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. Despite vast support in the media, the new constitution was defeated, 55% to 45%.” Wikipedia
It was after this failed that the government started to encourage mob violence to steal land without compensation. I understand that they were both born and raised in Africa and felt protected because they legally owned their land but the writing was on the wall. Things were about to get ugly and they were completely unprepared.
What happened as a result of the seizure of white-owned farms was a complete disaster. They were given as gifts to friends and family of powerful people who didn’t know the first thing about farming. Zimbabwe’s economy was based on farming and when the farms collapsed it collapsed. So no one is saying that this was a good and just plan but it couldn’t have been completely unexpected.
There are also some other statements that come across as very colonial. One time when they move to a new farm she discusses her family moving into the farm house and then talks about her workers settling into the huts around the property. She also has this quote – “John’s was a good old-fashioned cattle ranch of the kind the first pioneers in this part of the world had kept.” Sure, they were the first people in the area if you ignore millennia of existence before then. The author has commented negatively on reviews on Goodreads that bring up these aspects of the book. That’s never a good look.
As a horse person I wish there were more details. They talk about sometimes transporting horses in trucks. Where did the trucks come from? How many trips did you make? How many horses did you have at any given time? The synopsis refers to over 300 but the book doesn’t talk about that number. How are you affording all this?
What happened to this family is bad. But I can’t muster 100% sympathy for them. I would have liked to see a bit more self awareness. This book would have benefited from including the perspectives of the black workers who traveled with them. A few of these people are mentioned once or twice by name but generally they are described as a faceless group of grooms. That’s a big oversight in a book that describes many different white horse owners in detail.
William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, Africa, a country plagued by AIDS and poverty. Like most people in his village, his family subsisted on the meager crops they could grow, living without the luxuries—consider necessities in the West—of electricity or running water. Already living on the edge, the situation became dire when, in 2002, Malawi experienced the worst famine in 50 years. Struggling to survive, 14-year-old William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford the $80-a-year tuition.Though he was not in a classroom, William continued to think, learn—and dream. Armed with curiosity, determination, and a library book he discovered in a nearby library, he embarked on a daring plan—to build a windmill that could bring his family the electricity only two percent of Malawians could afford. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and blue-gum trees, William forged a crude yet working windmill, an unlikely hand-built contraption that would successfully power four light bulbs and two radios in his family’s compound. Soon, news of his invention spread, attracting interest and offers of help from around the world. Not only did William return to school but he and was offered the opportunity to visit wind farms in the United States, much like the ones he hopes to build across Africa.
This story started slow for me. I’m not a fan of detailed description of childhood in memoirs unless you were doing something very interesting as a child. Most people aren’t.
The main point of this story started with a drought and subsequent famine that hit Malawi in the early 2000s. It was devastating. The author’s family was no longer able to afford his school fees so he had to drop out. He wanted to continue his education so he went to a library and started to read the books there. He applied what he learned in a basic physics book to build a windmill from spare parts. This allowed his family to have lights in their house for the first time. He went on to build other windmills to pump water for irrigation and personal use, freeing up hours a day that were otherwise spent going to and from wells. He even made cell phone charging stations.
“The dynamo had given me a small taste of electricity, and that made me want to figure out how to create my own. Only 2 percent of Malawians have electricity, and this is a huge problem. Having no electricity meant no lights, which meant I could never do anything at night, such as study or finish my radio repairs, much less see the roaches, mice, and spiders that crawled the walls and floors in the dark. Once the sun goes down, and if there’s no moon, everyone stops what they’re doing, brushes their teeth, and just goes to sleep. Not at 10:00 P.M., or even nine o’clock—but seven in the evening! Who goes to bed at seven in the evening? Well, I can tell you, most of Africa.“
This part of the story was interesting. He was dedicated to the idea of building his windmill but scavenging the parts took a long time. It showed a lot of ingenuity.
One strange section was about witchcraft. He reports it as fact.
“The previous famine had led to reports in the southern region that the government was banding with packs of vampires to steal people’s blood, then selling it to international aid groups.“
“Following the strange beast of Dowa, many people across Malawi reported having their private parts stolen in the night, many of them waking up in the morning with their sheets bloody. Men who’d been drinking in bars were the easiest targets. As they stumbled home in the darkness, an evil creature—perhaps a gang of witch children—would pull them behind a tree and remove their parts with a knife. It was later revealed that most of the victims had been virgins, and their parts had been sold to witches, Satan worshippers, and business tycoons.“
“This often happens while we sleep—the witch children can take our heads and return them before morning, all without us knowing. It’s a serious problem.“
He was accused of witchcraft for making electricity from the wind. A bad storm came and the windmill was spinning rapidly. People accused him of causing storms.
This book was published in 2009. Since then William has graduated from college. He has an NGO to support community based projects around his hometown. On his webpage you can even donate to the library where he found his physics book.
This is a great story of innovation and survival.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.
This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.
I had never heard of Seretse and Ruth Khama until I saw an advertisement for the movie adaptation of Colour Bar. It was only playing for one night here and I wasn’t able to go. The story sounded interesting so as soon as I realized that it was based on a book, I got it from interlibrary loan.
Seretse Khama became the kgosi (chief) of his tribe at the age of four. His uncle was installed as his regent. They lived in Bechuanaland which is present day Botswana. At the time this was under the control of England. His uncle made sure that he was well educated by sending him to schools in South Africa and then sending him for a law degree in England. There he fell in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman.
When he announced their intention to marry in 1949, opposition came from all sides. They married anyway. Eventually, he was able to convince his tribe that this marriage was acceptable. He was not able to convince white people though.
The main objection came from South Africa. They were in the process of codifying apartheid law. They did not want the leader of a country on their border to be in an interracial marriage. Since this was an hereditary position, the next leader would be mixed race. If Bechuanaland was successful, it would make of mockery of the South African laws. South Africa was an important part of the British Empire. They fought to make sure that Seretse Khama was unable to lead his people.
What followed was years of exile from Africa and abuse at the hands of British officials. This book is exhaustively researched. It quotes from many, many letters and official documents to let the English racism speak for itself. It is brutal. There is also a lot of discussion about what type of woman Ruth must be to be willing to marry a black man.
This book was fascinating but it is a slow read. It is very dense with details of meetings. It focuses on the political aspects of the story, not the human ones. You don’t get much of a sense of Seretse and Ruth’s personalities except for in a few of their reactions to what is being said. It doesn’t delve much into what is going on in their minds or the true stresses on their relationship while all this is going on.
I wasn’t surprised by the racism that they encountered but there times when I had to take a minute to digest the absolute depth of the hatred and ignorance in the writings and public statements of British officials. They were so willing to appease the hatred of whites living in southern Africa that they would go to ridiculous lengths. There was always a problem of getting the Khamas to and from Bechuanaland from England. They had to land in Rhodesia which was strictly segregated. You’d think they were negotiating a nuclear treaty the way they had to deal to allow planes to land with them onboard or to let Ruth and the children stay in a hotel overnight. (They basically had to promise that the children would not be seen so they didn’t offend delicate white sensibilities.)
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
“In a time of death and terror, Leymah Gbowee brought Liberia’s women together–and together they led a nation to peace. As a young woman, Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts–and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace.”
War came over Liberia in waves. First Charles Taylor took power and then a group of rebels fought him. Each group terrorized the citizens. The soldiers were boys with guns who were told to take what they needed as they moved through the country. They murdered and stole and raped their way across the country.
Leymah Gbowee had just graduated from high school when the fighting started. She had a bright future ahead of her and it all collapsed. Suddenly, getting food and water and a safe place to sleep was the only priorities. She went from being an aspiring doctor to being a mother of four children trapped in an abusive relationship in a few years. She got a job working with trauma counselors during a time of relative peace. She loved the work and was able to move into working with women who were the most impacted by the fighting.
When the war started again she mobilized the women in the capital and in the refugee camps to stage sit ins to protest for peace. She claims that her story shows how God worked in Liberia through the women’s prayer. I say that it shows the exact opposite. The mass protests (and prayers) were not effective until they were paired with direct political action. They would protest for weeks and then she’d get mad because nothing was happening. At this point they would get in the faces of the men who were obstructing the peace and cause change to happen.
To give all the credit for this to God erases the power and bravery of the women who stepped up and said, “Enough!”
This isn’t a fairy tale about bringing peace. Their world was cruel and heartbreaking. Leymah sacrificed her family over and over. She is open about drinking to cope with what her life had become. This book was published in 2011 just before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
A documentary about her work called Pray the Devil Back To Hell was made. You can watch it for free on Amazon. It puts faces to the women who she writes about.
I’d recommend this for anyone who loves women’s history and the power of women to demand change in the world.
“Everfair is a wonderful Neo-Victorian alternate history novel that explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.”
Laurie Albin has a complicated home life. He has a wife named Daisy with whom he has children. He has a secretary/mistress named Ellen living in his house with whom he also has children. He has just brought home Lisette, another mistress. He has also decided to move his whole family to Africa to help set up a new country. He promptly then abandons Daisy, Lisette, and most of the children when he heads back to England with Ellen and one son forever. They don’t really miss him though. Daisy and Lisette have been lovers since Laurie brought Lisette home.
That’s just part of one family to keep track of in this sweeping stories that takes place over decades in many countries across Africa and with a huge cast of characters.
The British settlers are one aspect of Everfair. There are also African-American missionaries led by Mrs. Hunter. She’s a woman who believes that absolutely nothing is more important than converting souls to Christianity. She’ll stand in the way of humanitarian aid if it doesn’t include Bibles. She’ll refuse to work with other people for the good of everyone if they aren’t Christian. She also is upset with the French woman Lisette because she is mixed race but living the life of a European white woman.
Tink is a Chinese man who was being held by Leopold’s men. He escaped and now is the mechanical guru of Everfair. He loves making ever more advanced artificial limbs for people maimed in wars. He invents better and better airships.
King Mwenda and Queen Josina are the African leaders of the area that Leopold seized and then sold to the colonists of Everfair. They maintain that it is still their land to govern. They were willing to work with the colonists to get rid of the Belgians but now they want to take control back.
Other characters come and go. The book takes place between 1889 and 1919. There can be large jumps in time and/or place between chapters. It is important to pay close attention to the notations of where and when the action is taking place.
I think this book was ambitious in its scope and ultimately didn’t stand up to it. There is so much going on that some story lines just disappear. There are characters that are in the story and then you just never hear from again.
I enjoyed the characters and their interactions with each other. But there was a time when a character heard that another war was looming and expressed frustration that there was yet another one. I felt the same way. It was one world conflict after another with a lot of the time in between compressed or skipped over.
The technology that is so important in the steampunk genre didn’t feel fully formed either. The imaginative artificial limbs were wonderful. Everyone had several to wear for different occasions. Some were weaponized. Others were just pretty. I didn’t get a great feel for the airships though. They were being powered with some sort of local magic earth that was never explained. I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a nod to the uranium of the area or not.
This is a hard book to decide if I liked it or not. What is on the page is interesting and worth reading but you are left with a sense that something is missing. It could have been more. Perhaps if the scope was narrowed, it could have gone more in depth and I would have liked the overall story more.
“The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.”
This book is amazing. That is all. Go preorder it.
I was reading this on my Kindle app and was highlighting like crazy. Trevor Noah has been an outsider all his life. In South Africa under apartheid there were four racial categories – white, black, colored, and Indian. Colored people were the descendants of interracial relationships in the past. There was no category for 50/50 black/white children because it couldn’t legally happen. He chose to identify as black because that’s what his mother was but he wasn’t accepted there either.
Growing up both defined by and outside of such a strict racial hierarchy sharpened his insights.
“That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero.”
“British racism said, “If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.” Afrikaner racism said, “Why give a book to a monkey?”
He talks about history when describing why having a friend named Hitler wasn’t considered strange.
“Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.”
“Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and rightly be horrified. But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It’s harder to be horrified by a guess.”
This is the story of growing up illegally because his mother fought to make a place for him even before the fall of apartheid. She was a visionary. However, even after apartheid there wasn’t a place for him to make a legal living as easily as it was to make an illegal one in the townships. He talks about the saying about teaching a man to fish vs giving him a fish. He points out that it doesn’t work if you don’t also help him get a fishing pole.
This isn’t the story of how he became a comedian or how he ended up taking over for Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show. That all comes later. This is the story of the world that shaped him into the person he is today. It is funny. It is horrifying. It is necessary reading.
“AfroSF is the first ever anthology of Science Fiction by African writers only that was open to submissions of original (previously unpublished) works across Africa and abroad.”
Short story collections take me so long to read. I’ve had this book on my iPad for years. Here are some of my favorites.
Moom by Nnedi Okorafor – This is the short story that was reworked into the opening of her novel Lagoon. What if alien first contact on Earth was made by a swordfish?
Home Affairs by Sarah Lotz – I loved this story of a bureaucratic nightmare taking place in a modern city. When I think of African sci fi I tend to think of monsters and countryside. This turns those assumptions around and makes a nightmare out of the most annoying aspects of modern life – waiting in line.
The Sale by Tendai Huchu – Third world countries have been sold to corporations and citizens’ health is monitored at all times in these new perfect cities. But what if you want to rebel?
Planet X by S.A. Partridge – A new alien society has made contact and the people of Earth are afraid. One girl thinks that humans have more to fear from themselves than from the aliens.
Closing Time by Liam Kruger – Alcohol and time travel shouldn’t be taken together
Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world.
Monsters should be scary
African Monsters is a collection of stories where the monsters aren’t misunderstood or easily turned to the side of good. These are the stories of monsters from sub-Saharan Africa who prey on humans.
The locations of some of the stories in this collection.
Reviewing a collection can be difficult because not every story resonates with every reader. Here are few of my favorites.
On the Road by Nnedi Okorafor – An American policewoman returns to Nigeria and her grandmother but is confronted with a mystery surrounding an injured child.
Severed by Jayne Bauling – A camping trip to a remote lake goes horribly wrong
That Woman by S Lotz – A policeman investigates reports of witches dispensing punishments in the countryside.
After the Rain by Joe Vaz – A man who left South Africa as a child returns and finds himself trapped in a bar in his old neighborhood by werewolves.
Taraab and Terror in Zanzibar by Dave-Brandon de Burgh – A man is brought from South Africa to Zanzibar to clean up a monster problem that he thought he had handled before.
A Whisper in the Reeds by Nerine Dorman – Water spirits tempt a man
Acid Test by Vianne Venter – After Johannesburg is evacuated due to an environmental catastrophe a team returns to monitor the recovery.
Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe by Nick Wood – A girl is put in a fairy tale and refuses to be satisfied with the typical endings.
This is a wonderful chance to familiarize yourself with some African authors. I’m already a huge Nnedi Okorafor fan but I’ve added some of Nerine Dorman’s books to my TBR list too because they sound amazing.
To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.
In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.
Since the 1300s Timbuktu in central Mali has been a center of learning. The city sits at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and on the banks of the Niger River.
This made it popular crossroads for people from many cultures to meet. There were many universities here and intellectual debate was popular. The city became known for its Islamic scholarship. Thousands of manuscripts were written and studied here. Some of them were elaborately decorated.
But there have been periods of invasion and anti-intellectualism too. During these times the manuscripts were hidden around the region. By the time of the European invasions, the existence of the manuscripts was not known to outsiders. That led to quotes like these:
“Perhaps in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none. There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness.”
— British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper 1963
After Mali won its independence efforts were made to start collecting the manuscripts in Timbuktu again. Abdel Kader Haidara’s father spent his life collecting manuscripts. In his will he chose Abdel to carry on his work but he wasn’t interested. Ten years passed before a library in Timbuktu convinced him to start buying manuscripts again. He was so successful that by the early 21st century there were 45 libraries in Timbuktu with manuscript collections. Then Al Qaeda came.
The librarians knew that the manuscripts would be a target. After all, they were written in a very progressive Islamic area. There were manuscripts with sexual advice and rulings on how to treat women fairly. They decided that it was time for the manuscripts to hide again.
It was a big job. There were around 350,000 fragile manuscripts in city in 2012. How do you get them somewhere safe when travel is restricted?
I really enjoyed the part of this book that was about the manuscripts. About half of it though was about the history of the Islamist uprising in Mali. That drug for me. There was kidnapping and crime and torture but I wanted to know about the manuscripts.
This book shows the importance of honoring the history of the a place. I like reading about Henry Louis Gates’ trip to Mali and his reaction to seeing the manuscripts. He had always been told that black people didn’t have a historical culture or anything to be proud of in their past. Seeing these works of scholarship and art made by black people touched him deeply.
In early 20th century British East Africa, there are rules for the British and different ones for the Africans. Vera McIntosh, the daughter of Scottish missionaries, doesn't feel she belongs to either group; having grown up in Africa, she is not interested in being the well-bred Scottish woman her mother would like her to be. More than anything she dreams of seeing again the handsome police officer she's danced with. But more grisly circumstances bring Justin Tolliver to her family's home.
Vera’s uncle is the doctor at the Scottish mission where Vera lives. His body is found with a Masaai spear in his back. The colonial government wants a suspect in custody rapidly and seizes upon a local witch doctor who has been highly critical of the white doctor. The African people know that he would never have done this in this manner. A cursory investigation points at several English suspects but this is not acceptable to the local authorities.
Vera, Justin Tolliver an English policeman, and Kwai Libazo, a half Masaai/half Kikuyu policeman are left to investigate on their own if they want to get the real killer before an innocent man is executed.
This book captures an era where British landowners were running roughshod over the local tribes in Kenya. There were African police employed by the British but they were not allowed to be seen having any authority over Europeans. They weren’t allowed to speak in meetings about cases. Police investigations did not bother to interview Kikuyu people who may have information about crimes. The goal was to show that this was a safe place for British people and to keep Africans subjugated.
Vera was born in Africa to Scottish parents. She was raised by her Kikuyu “second mother”. She understands the unfairness of British rule and the resentments of the African people but can’t do anything about it because of her sheltered status as an unmarried European woman.
Justin has come to love Africa. He is the second son of an Earl but his local status fell sharply when he joined the police. Now he is ostracized from society in Nairobi.
Kwai wants to learn about how the British investigate crimes but is seen as a traitor because he works for the occupiers. He has never fit in anywhere because of being half Masaai. He has never been fully accepted by either tribe.
There is a casual racism throughout this book that was probably typical of the time. Even characters who are supposed to be enlightened are dismissive of most Africans. Attempts are made to include the Kikuyu point of view but I’m not sure how effective it is. They seem a bit too passive for everything that is happening to them. This may be because we are only hearing the stories of Africans who have chosen to work closely with the British.
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth.
Enter the world of Kagaya-hime, a sometime woman warrior, occasional philosopher, and reluctant confidante to noblemen–who may or may not be a figment of the imagination of an aging empress who is embarking on the last journey of her life, setting aside the trappings of court life and reminiscing on the paths that lead her to death.
In a blazing hot desert in Saudi Arabia, a search party is dispatched to find a missing young woman. Thus begins a novel that offers rare insight into the inner workings of a country in which women must wear the abaya in public or risk denunciation by the religious police; where ancient beliefs, taboos, and customs frequently clash with a fast-moving, technology-driven modern world.
When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.
Noah’s wife is Na’amah, a brilliant young girl with a form of autism (now known as Aspergers). Na’amah wishes only to be a shepherdess on her beloved hills in ancient Turkey–a desire shattered by the hatred of her powerful brother, the love of two men, and a disaster that threatens her world.
Jessica Jacobs-Wolde worked hard to rebuild her life in Miami after the disappearance of her husband, David, and the death of her daughter Kira at his hand. Four years later, she is still coming to terms with a shocking truth: David, who is part of an ancient group of immortals — a hidden African clan that has survived for more than a thousand years — gave Jessica and their second daughter, Fana, the gift of his healing blood. – Book 2 in a series
Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped by all that her strong personality will temper the young Amunhotep’s heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods, overthrow the priests of Amun, and introduce a new sun god for all to worship.
Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.
Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.
But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.
In The God Who Begat a Jackal, the 17th-century feudal system, vassal uprisings, religious mythology, and the Crusades are intertwined with the love between Aster, the daughter of a feudal lord, and Gudu, the court jester and family slave. Aster and Gudu’s relationship is the ultimate taboo, but supernatural elements presage a destiny more powerful than the rule of man.
When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.
This gloriously written tale—set in modern-day Rwanda—introduces one of the most singular and engaging characters in recent fiction: Angel Tungaraza—mother, cake baker, keeper of secrets—a woman living on the edge of chaos, finding ways to transform lives, weave magic, and create hope amid the madness swirling all around her.