African Literature Book Club – film adaptation of “Xala”

To the announcement of the fourth ceremony of El Hadji Abdou Kadar Beye’s marriage to a third wife, a group of Senegalese businessmen and politicians who pride themselves of having expelled the colonisers and taken over the reins of power and capital, chant ‘Vivre l’Africanite’ (Long live Africanity!).

Xala (1975), takes us from the optimism of this nationalist chant to the story of our protagonist and third time groom-to-be, El-Hadji, who is inflicted with xala (Wolof term for impotence) and cannot complete the ultimate step to taking a new wife.

In this satirical work, Ousmane Sembene takes us through the struggle by this independence pioneer to affirm his virility and reclaim his dignity. The image of his impotence is cast a synecdoche of the failures of the postcolonial state – its inability like the protagonist to function. The protagonist women – his wives and daughter – are symbols themselves of a transforming nation and its negotiation between the tenuous binary of tradition and modernity.

Xala is an important commentary on the predicament of a postcolonial state, creatively satirized by a pioneer writer and filmmaker of the post-independence period. It speaks to the impotence of the immediate post-colonial state, the possibilities of a Pan-African future, African womanhood, amongst other themes. The text is heavy with symbolism as is typical of Sembene’s oeuvre.

The African Literature Book Club is delighted to be discussing Xala at our next meeting. We invite interested publics to watch the film adaptation by Sembene himself, and available to watch for free on YouTube with the link provided below:

We are also delighted to be inviting a guest moderator, Oluwatobiloba Akinde, who is a film programmer at the Thursday films series, run at the institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. He is also the co-coordinator of ‘Is that Jazz’, a film club at the Jazzhole (books and records store) in Lagos.

Tobi is a student of Law in the University and has over 3 years’ experience in film screenings and discussions in the University and beyond. A budding film maker himself, Tobi has been part of organizing the black history film festival in Ibadan.

To join us on Saturday June 20th, 15:00-16:30 BST, please sign up via our Eventbrite page, you will receive details on how to join our Zoom discussion via email the day before the event.

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African Literature Book Club moves online! Join us for Albert Camus’ “The Plague”

‘In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn’t always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions.’
The Plague, Albert Camus

The story is set sometime in the 1940s, in the town of Oran – a large French port of the Algerian coast.  The city is filled with dull business-like people who are too sophisticated and caught up in their modernity to at first take seriously the strange event of rats turning up dead at street corners and doorsteps.

This town has no rats, must be some kids playing silly pranks. Dead rats increase like a bad omen heralding doom, and people are strangely falling sick and winding up dead in the same pattern.  The town must look into this but not take it too seriously because things like this don’t happen in Oran, they happen elsewhere and there is no reason to panic.

Dr Rieux, the central character – a town doctor and the first in touch with the sick and dying – is quick to catch on a sense of crisis but the town leadership is complacently in waiting until the numbers are impossible to ignore. But what do the mere
numbers of the dying mean to the living and unbereaved?

The town is shut down. It can happen to us; it is happening to us. Communications must adapt to the urgent – the only – task of survival.  The meanings of relationships are changing by necessity. What does all this teach us about the meaning and experience of life?

Albert Camus’ The Plague is strangely apt for the times. In the midst of sickness, death, isolations, and lockdowns in the context of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, The Plague is increasingly getting reinvigorated attention as an important read to think about our collective condition today.

We had planned to read Mia Couto’s A River Called Time for our next meeting, but we have decided to bring in Camus’s novel for its profound relevance at this time.

Join us at our virtual meeting of the African Literature Book Club as we discuss this novel. Let’s think together about how this book helps us to reflect on our current condition – a global one and how we may specifically think about its relationship with Africa.

To make this interesting and personal, we encourage everyone who can join us at the meeting to pick a favorite quote from book with which they can discuss how they are experiencing the times.

We are looking forward to seeing you and listening to your important interventions at the next meeting.

Diekara Oloruntoba-Oju –  African Literature Book Club Coordinator

Meeting via Zoom: Saturday 9th May, 15:00-16:30

eBook on iDiscover (Cambridge Uni members):


(also available on Audible)

Please sign up via our Eventbrite page to receive an invite to our Zoom meeting:

African Literature Book Club – 14th March

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We are happy to introduce Small Country” by Gaël Faye (originally written in French as: Petit Pays) as our text for discussion in the forthcoming book club meeting to be held on the 14th of March, 2020.

Gabriel turns 33 at the beginning (or perhaps, the end) of the story.  An immigrant in Paris, on his 33rd birthday, he recalls how often he is asked: ‘where are you from?’ by women he meets on dating sites.  This existential question preludes the story in the novel. Gabriel takes a trip down memory lane to his 11-year-old self – a middle class son of a Rwandan mother and French father, never quite fitting in.  An innocent and perhaps spoilt child of a marriage on the brink of crisis, Gabriel tells us about his childhood, stealing mangoes in the city of Bujumbara, as the events of the most devasting carnage of the genocide unfolds.  At the time Gabriel experiences this heartbreaking conflict, he is still 11 years old but no longer a child.

Set in Burundi-Rwanda and exploring themes of hate, identity, childhood, loss and memory, Faye’s Small Country is pure poetry and will touch you deeply.  The author, Gaël Faye, is a Rwandan-French rapper and poet based in Paris.  This is his debut novel – it has been well received and was the winner of the 2016 Prix de Goncourt de Lycéens.

The novel is less than 200 pages long and in big print.  We hope that you can read the text (it is absolutely rewarding) and we look forward to hosting you at the Centre of African Studies Library and listening to your wonderful contributions during the book discussion.

Please join us 15:00-16:30(ish) on Saturday 14th March, on the third floor of the Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road.

Please sign up via our Eventbrite page:

Or do get in touch with Jenni Skinner for more information:

eBook on iDiscover:

Purchase a copy:

Print copies at the University:

After this, we will read Mia Couto’s “A River Called Time” at our first meeting after the Easter break, scheduled for May 9th, 2020.

Diekara Oloruntoba-Oju – current MPhil in African Studies student, and organiser.

African Literature Book Club – 15th February

We are delighted to invite you to the maiden edition of the Cambridge University African Literature Book Club series, 3:00-4:30 (ish) on the 15th of February, 2020, in the African Studies Library, up on the third floor of the Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road.

Who are we?

This book club is an initiative of the African Studies Library and our members. Inspired by the simple idea that stories are important – in their variance; connections with pasts; relevance to present dilemmas; their prophetic meanings, the book club seeks to create an informal space where people at Cambridge can engage with a myriad of African stories. The book club will hold monthly meetings, during which a book by an African writer – on the continent and in the diaspora – will be discussed. Members of the general public who are interested in African literature are welcome to join us. In subsequent meetings, people will also be encouraged to pitch books they are interested in for the club to read and engage with.

Why is this important?

The book club creates a space to celebrate African Literature over casual conversations, to privilege the multiple genres and themes that make up African stories and by extension, African experiences. As Toni Morrisson has noted, however, the former is not a substitute for the latter but what we celebrate in language is ‘its reach for the ineffable’.  The book club thus provides a relaxed context for book lovers to interact and engage with exciting African texts. It encourages participants to engage the specific issues that each chosen example of literature raises. It also broadly allows participants to engage the more overarching questions of what African Literature is, and what perspectives it offers to contemporary debates about Africa.


The friendly Centre for African Studies and its library opens its doors for these meetings. At the heart of CAS, the library offers a warm environment for interactive and intellectual pursuits. Home to over 30,000 books on Africa ranging diverse subject areas and genres and home to a diverse number  of students interested in Africa, it is a welcoming environment for book lovers to hangout once monthly.

The Maiden Edition

This edition will feature Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

Short Synopsis

In the vibrant city of Ibadan, Bolanle a young university graduate marries into a polygamous family to her ambitious mother’s dismay. Baba Segi, the proud patriarch, comfortable in riches and surrounded by wives and children is convinced he has it all, but does he? Things begin to fall apart when Bolanle cannot have a child (or can’t she?). What revelations might threaten years of imagined stability for the patriarch? Profoundly poetic and extremely witty, this book by Lola Shoneyin is a commentary on the meanings of family life, parenting and how issues of gender and class shape these meanings and experiences.

Lola Shoneyin is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Her novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives was published in 2010 and has since received awards and has been adapted into stage performances. She is the creative director of the Ake Arts and Book Festival in Nigeria.

eBook on iDiscover (Cambridge University members):

Print copies on iDiscover:


Please sign up using Eventbrite here:

We look forward to welcoming you on Saturday 15th February.

Instagram: @afrlib

Twitter: @AfrStudiesLib


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