Abdourahman Waberi’s In The United States of Africa

I have an essay in The National about the work of the Djiboutian writer Abdourahman Waberi, whose most recent novel is In The United States of Africa.

Most African fiction to which English-language readers are exposed seems to be exclusively concerned with the question of “what is?” The plight of child soldiers, the Aids pandemic, life under apartheid, the clash between traditions and modernity – these subjects make up the bulk of what English-language publishers translate. One plausible explanation for this is that too many British and American publishers view African literature through the prism of ethnology. And since their primary understanding of Africa comes from headlines about the continent’s troubles, it makes sense that novels exploring these subjects would attract their attention. Perhaps this is why writers such as the Congolese Wilfried N’Sondé or the Moroccan Fouad Laroui, whose work often addresses broad themes of love, friendship and betrayal, have never been translated into English.

Fortunately, the University of Nebraska Press has broken with this trend. It recently published In The United States of Africa, by the Djiboutian writer Abdourahman Waberi, a novel that seems entirely concerned with the question of “what if?” What if Africa were the world’s locus of power? What if Europe and America were the third world? How would one perceive, think and speak about each continent? Which races and ethnicities would be described with specific and nuanced expressions – and which with vague and essentialist phrases?

You can read the full essay here.

(Photo credit:daad.de)