This is the first book I’ve reviewed on Goodreads written by a Goodreads friend, but I have a feeling it won’t be the last. My friend and colleague Mialy is one of 27 writers featured in Dreams, Miracles and Jazz. From her bio:

Mialy Ravelomanana Andriamananjara started writing when she was eight, mostly because she was a lonely child, despite having three older brothers. She spent a lot of time daydreaming and making up stories, which she would then enact in a game called kindriandriana, which little Malagasy girls know well. In this game, girls gather stones and use them much as a western girl would play with dolls. Later, she started playing with words, because she loved books and she knew she liked to tell stories. Now that circumstances and family have taken her away from her beloved homeland, she writes when she is homesick and because her stories keep her closer to her past and her culture. the first story that she wrote, The Shred, was published in SABLE Litmag in 2005.

Among all this blogs-versus-books hubaloo, Mialy’s story reminded me just how complimentary blog posts and short stories/novels are when it comes to better understanding a foreign place. For the last eight or so months I have been following many of the Foko bloggers as they write about their daily lives in Madagascar. Their posts have an informal, conversational tone to them that make you, the reader, feel like you’re all sitting in the same cafe. But Mialy’s story, in just 11 short pages, was able to reveal parts of Malagasy culture, values, and idiosyncrasies that I would have otherwise never come to appreciate.

Mialy’s story is especially inviting and accessible for an American like myself because it is based in the United States. In fact, of the 27 authors featured in this anthology of “new Africa writing”, at least 60 – 75% of them now live outside of Africa. The same was true with the Caribbean writers who read at Calabash a few months ago. Like Mialy’s bio says, writing for expats is a powerful form of nostalgia, of honoring and connecting to one’s homeland. But it also often makes for a particular type of short story. Many of the themes in Dreams, Miracles and Jazz deal with issues of identity and belonging, of defining ‘Africanness’, of trying to find that line that divides those who are entitled to African identity and those who are not.

Among my favorite stories, besides Mialy’s of course, were The End of Skill by Mamle Kabu, In the Clarity of a Third Class Compartment by Pumla Dineo Gqola, Random Check by Ken N Kamoche, Native Sun by Akin Adesokan, and The Browns’ Safari Honeymoon by Tony Mochama.

Representative of the stories I didn’t care for as much is Kadija Sesay’s Love Long Distance, a diary-like recollection of an African-Briton returning to her parents’ homeland and worrying that the size of her buttocks is somehow not African enough.

The first story in the anthology, An Affair to Dismember, comes from Binyavanga Wainaina a young author from Nakuru, Kenya currently living in New York. Wainaina’s story describes an awkward and angry affair between a Kenyan butcher and the daughter of his deceased adoptive (and White) mother. Among bloggers interested in Africa, Wainaina is probably best known for his satiric essay “How to Write About Africa.” The essay is pretty right-on when it comes to describing much of the literature written about Africa in the 20th century. What is a surprise, however, is how much the essay also applies to many of the stories in Dreams, Miracles and Jazz. I remember the first time I read Wainaina’s essay [via Ethan], thinking that he was clearly writing it for a Western audience, to make a point. I felt the same way during most of my reading of Dreams, Miracles and Jazz – that even though all of the stories were about Africa, the audience the writers had in mind was not African.