Bearing Witness: Readers, Writers, and the Novel in Nigeria
Greed, frustrated love, traffic jams, infertility, politics, polygamy. These--together with depictions of traditional village life and the impact of colonialism made familiar to Western readers through Chinua Achebe's writing--are the stuff of Nigerian fiction. Bearing Witness examines this varied content and the determined people who, against all odds, write, publish, sell, and read novels in Africa's most populous nation.
Drawing on interviews with Nigeria's writers, publishers, booksellers, and readers, surveys, and a careful reading of close to 500 Nigerian novels--from lightweight romances to literary masterpieces--Wendy Griswold explores how global cultural flows and local conflicts meet in the production and reception of fiction. She argues that Nigerian readers and writers form a reading class that unabashedly believes in progress, rationality, and the slow-but-inevitable rise of a reading culture. But they do so within a society that does not support their assumptions and does not trust literature, making them modernists in a country that is simultaneously premodern and postmodern.
Without privacy, reliable electricity, political freedom, or even social toleration of bookworms, these Nigerians write and read political satires, formula romances, war stories, complex gender fiction, blood-and-sex crime capers, nostalgic portraits of village life, and profound explorations of how decent people get by amid urban chaos. Bearing Witness is an inventive and moving work of cultural sociology that may be the most comprehensive sociological analysis of a literary system ever written.
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What does this literary relic of eighteenth-century England have to do with the
lives of contemporary West Africans, anyway? The novel, a relatively new genre,
took its ultimate shape at a time when a growing, increasingly literate middle
While one might expect Nigeria and Ghana, for example, to have close literary
ties, multiple contacts among authors, common literary media, and much back-
and-forth, in fact they do not. And if this is the case for English-language
This rough-and-ready sense of the genre corresponds to what one finds in
dictionaries of literary terms. For example, one defines the novel as “a fictional
prose narrative of considerable length. . . . [Earlier long prose narratives lacked]
And the neo-Marxists, regarding the first two as just different forms of idealism,
emphasize the social and economic context of African literary production. In his
book The Growth of the African Novel (1979), Sierra Leonean critic Eustace
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CHAPTER 2 The Nigerian Fiction Complex
CHAPTER 3 Nigerian Novels
CHAPTER 4 Capturing the Past and Inventing the Future
APPENDIX A Nigerian novels
APPENDIX B Nigerian authors
APPENDIX C Coding forms