Mwangi, Evan Maina. Africa Writes Back to Self: Metafiction, Gender, Sexuality.

Author:Ilieva, Emilia
Position:Book review

Mwangi, Evan Maina. Africa Writes Back to Self: Metafiction, Gender, Sexuality. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009. 346 pp.

Evan Mwangi's Africa Writes Back to Self represents a broadly conceived, well-informed and original reading of the African novel from the mid-1980s to the present. It argues that a defining (perhaps, the defining) characteristic of most contemporary African novels is their employment of metafictionality to highlight the African society's shifting perspectives on its various forms of being, and especially on gender and sexuality. Derived from this and equally significant is the standpoint that, contrary to the entrenched view in the study of African literature, owing to the influence of postcolonial theory, African literature's main preoccupation has been to "write back" to the empire so as to subvert Western discourses and aesthetic practices, this literature has an agenda entirely its own, i.e., to write back to itself, to draw attention to it is literariness as it strives to address the problematic issues of its local environment. Careful to avoid a misreading that may suggest that not "writing back" to an imperial center entails an acceptance of Euro-American neo-colonialism, the author axiomatically states that African literature is "first and foremost about self-perception" (p. 3).

Conceptual clarity and validity of purpose are crucial to such a reinterpretative project, and the scholar begins his study with significant definitions and elucidations. The first of these concerns "Metafiction in African Contexts." Mwangi draws attention to the importance of recognizing both the indigenous roots and specific location of metafictional practices, and the commonality of the technique wherever it occurs. Pointing to terms in indigenous African languages that convey the meaning of fiction that crosses the boundaries of the fictional, and is conscious of and fascinated by its fictionality, the author specifies that he will use the term metafiction "to describe that form of African literature that is self-conscious, self-reflexive, and self-referential" (p. 6). He resists the distinction between "African metafiction" and "Western metafiction" drawn by Madelyn Jahlon in her Black Metafiction (1996) on the basis of the understanding that a technique of writing cannot be linked to individuals, social groups and races, but its use can be unique as a result of the specific way in which it is deployed in specific...

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