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THE GONJON PIN BOOK REVIEW

How about first impressions? Do they still count? When it comes to short stories, especially the 2014 edition of The Caine Prize for African Writing, published by Jacana, there are 17 introductions to stories, and therefore 17 first impressions. In total, 140 stories were submitted to make this, the 15th annual Caine Prize shortlist, which was announced by Nobel Prize winner and patron of the Caine Prize, Professor Wole Soyinka, as part of the opening ceremonies for the Unesco World Book Capital 2014 celebration in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

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All five authors on the shortlist are included in The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories, with further stories by authors who took part in the Caine Prize workshop held earlier this year. As a sample of present-day literature in Africa, The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories has pickings from writers in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Somalia and South Africa.

South Africa is represented by Diane Awerbuck, and Kenya by Caine Prize-winner Okwiri Oduor, with her masterful storie ‘My Father’s Head’, which deals with memory and loss, and the unspoken shame and taboos surrounding death. Isabella Matambanadzo from Zimbabwe takes you romping through a beach scene and into a kitchen, where you feel almost pressed to try a new recipe from Tanzania in the comfort of your own home, except that you can’t put this book down and so cooking dinner is neglected. With themes of isolation and homesickness, its plot reveals dictates and diaspora. Like most good stories, it confronts the reader with issues of identity, and the message becomes universal. ‘The Gonjon Pin’ by Martin Egblewogbe from Ghana is a type of pep-me-up, a tonic, infused with a spirit that Roald Dahl might have used; there’s just something frivolously happy and omnipotently offbeat about the style. It makes you smile.

Throughout the compilation, themes in Africa are still familiar: Life and death; the animal kingdom; religion as an unplanned yet entrenched heritage; questions about patriarchy, fertility, how to make a living, and hope. The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories is a must-have on the bookshelf.

More about the Caine Prize for African Writing:

The first recipient of the prize was Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela, in 2000, for The Museum. In that year, the prize attracted entries from 20 African countries, and was awarded at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Harare. The winner is announced in July each year, and the event affords all the candidates much media coverage and exposure. See more at caineprize.com

Which Caine Prize-winner or finalist is on your list of favourite reads? Tweet us @ELLEmagazineSA #ELLECulture, or leave a comment below.

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