Showing posts from 2017

Vitabu Reads: Best Books of 2017

Here are Vitabu's favorite books for 2017. All of them were published by Sierra Leone Writers Series. Some this year, others in 2016, and even earlier. To read the book reviews, please click on the title.

Landscape of Memories
by Oumar Farouk Sesay

In his first novel, “Landscape of Memories” (2015), Oumar Farouk Sesay has melded his boundless talent for playwriting and poetry with prose to write a stunning story featuring the most defining issues of our time: migration, identity, and common values of a community.

We're Not Our Fathers 
by Joseph Lamin Kamara

On the cover of Joseph Lamin Kamara’s 2016 noir fiction, the lovers in the woods beam promises of a sweet adventure. “Lahai and Kornyaa have adopted a responsibility of giving each other a love their fathers have refused to give their mothers,” reads the hopeful back blurb of the book.

Hybrid Eyes: An African in Europe; Unknown Destination 

by Abdul B. Kamara and Osman Alimamy Sankoh

Abdul B. Kamara’s Unknown Destination and …

Vitabu Reads | Sierra Leone Higher Education: At the Crossroads of Change

Kosonike Koso-Thomas's book, Sierra Leone Higher Education: At the Crossroads of Change, traces the establishment of an engineering faculty in a traditional liberal arts university, but the story is also about how an extraordinary graduate in fast-track leadership started out in his academic career and advanced to success in college administration.

In September 1962, Koso-Thomas arrived in Sierra Leone from England and moved into his new job as head of a fledgling Engineering Department. He had been preparing for the moment for over six months.

“Who else do we have in the department? He quizzed the college principal at the meet and greet.
 “We expect a new staff member to join us during the session,” came the conciliatory response.
“I shifted in the chair thinking I might be gray by the time this [person] arrives,” the young and restless Koso-Thomas thought. 

Organization and culture
Still, there was a lot about the campus organization and culture that the young agent of change had y…

Vitabu Reads: Contemporary Fireside Stories

Tony Jordan might not have been the first to get the idea of “building literary tunnels through which to liberate characters from the constraints of Dickensian novels,” but the thought was on my mind after reading Contemporary Fireside Stories during Banned Books Week.

Let me explain.

Banned Books Week is promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International.

The annual campaign "stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them" and the requirement to keep material publicly available so that people can develop their own conclusions and opinions.

The campaign notes those individuals "persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate, or read." The 2017 date is September 24–30.

Tony Jordan created new lives for Charles Dickens’s greatest characters in a British television series Dickensian, which I watched back to back recently. Contemporary Fireside Stories is a volume of short …

Vitabu Reads: Ponder My Thoughts Vol. 1 by Andrew Keili

Andrew Keili's shrewd, introspective, oftentimes hilarious commentaries in Ponder My Thoughts Vol. 1 are much like the opinion articles he wrote in the mid-2000s, when he explained post-war Sierra Leone, its management, or lack of it, in local, regional, and national government.  How we see things depends on where we stand on Sierra Leonean--ness, society, and politics.

Keili's book, Ponder My Thoughts, captures a year (2013) in observations and stories, but it's not a time capsule. It's information you can use—contemporary Sierra Leonean history pieced together one op-ed at a time.

Remember that debate surrounding misuse of funds from GAVI?  The global vaccine alliance that buys vaccines with Gavi funding, procured through UNICEF directly with the manufacturer, and delivered to low-income countries like Sierra Leone?

Keili's columns start with the uncompromising subject of misuse of funds in public life and how Sierra Leone doesn't learn from mistakes.


Vitabu Reads: Tiger Fist (Two Stories) A novella

Nnamdi Carew was fourteen years old when his science fiction meet fantasy was first published in 2013.

The two stories that make up his colorful novella, Tiger Fist One and Tiger Fist Two, superbly blend superheroes like old Marvel, Captain America, and Superman, while blurring the lines of video game icons in "The "Legend of Zelda" and "World of War craft" with modern-day battles.

Tiger Fist's story starts with how a baby boy, the main protagonist, became Tigerton – a huge cat-like creature with orange stripes and a menacing tail.

Soon after the boy in Nnamdi's story was born to anthropologists Austin and Bianca Blake, the couple was killed by Tigerton, a hybrid of a tiger and a human similar to the mythical Minotaur, which Ovid the Roman poet described as being part man and part bull.

Austin and Bianca had traveled to China to look for fossils and conduct studies into ancient beings and creatures.

Intrigued by the hapless toddler, who had somehow go…

How Sugar Loaf Got Its Name, and Other Stories | Fantasy History 13

From the harbour, a long sand-bank stretches across the entrance, or rather estuary, and it must be approached on the south point, on which is Carpenter's rock, to be seen at low water but covered at high, which ships safely avoid by taking a wide berth...The only danger to be apprehended is during the Tornado season, when such is its violence that ships are frequently driven from their anchors.
The appearance of the Colony from sea is particularly marked by a high-peaked mountain, which, from its conical shape, is commonly called the “sugar-loaf” in the neighborhood of which are three other hills of minor attraction. The most elevated is seen above the clouds, and may be described at the distance of thirty or forty miles, perhaps more, long before the low land. (William Whitaker Shreeve. Sierra Leone: The Principal British Colony on the Western Coast of Africa, 1847 pp 21.).

Freetown's peninsula is about 18 miles long from north-west to south-east by about 12 broad. It lies bet…

A Big-headed Boy Confesses in Mohamed Gibril Sesay's Latest Novel

No doubt about it the book's title is a great hook. The Fate of the Foetus draws in the reader with its striking, blood -red cover.  But it's not till you get to the chapter with the same headline as the title that the novel really begins to find its focus.

Mohamed Gibril Sesay's new novel was published early in 2017.

First impressions are always in the eye of the beholder, but I found the book cover quite similar to a National Geographic Channel photo, published by The Guardian in the review of Ian McEwan's new book.

McEwan's “Nutshell” is described as an adaptation of  Shakespeare's Hamlet from the perspective of a fetus. In Sesay's comparably-sized novel, however,  the fetus isn't the narrator at all.

The spirit talking to us in first-person halfway through Sesay's new book is roaming the universe looking for birth as a human. I dubbed the unidentified spirit a lifetron, a word reportedly coined by Hindu yogi Paramahansa Yogananda to describe the…

Vitabu Reads | Kinship Bonds by Shek Gibril Kamara

Shek Gibril Kamara's landmark book “Kinship Bonds” is an all West African story.

Compressed into about 180 pages, the book's storyteller frames the empires of the past against Bamako, Mali.

No doubt, the narrator is teaching history. Told for you, me, and West Africa's population today of over 335 million people.

Kamara's narrative voice and griot in “Kinship Bonds” is omniscient; an interpreter/superlative source of information.

One problem though is the book's confusing estimation of time; although we get copious examples of location.

Iconic villages such as Kindiaso, Sokudala, Kurudala, and bigger towns like Makeni drive or influence the nostalgic theme of the book.

Compared to similar literature in Sierra Leonean Writers Series, “Kinship Bonds” informs about rural life in the Mano River basin and the empires of medieval West Africa.

Of note, Kamara's previous work, The Spirit of Badenia, is a university textbook on African Studies and Cultural Anthropology…

Vitabu Reads: From the Land of Diamonds to the Isle of Spice

When young Christopher Williams ventured out of Freetown on a merchant ship bound for Matadi in 1925, little did he know that he would leave footprints in the sand that an unborn grandson would track.

Using the figurative milestones planted by Christopher almost a hundred years ago, Sigismond Henry Tucker creates an intricate picture of his family's migration story of love, endurance, and hope through the pain of separation.

Sigismond's autobiography “From the Land of Diamonds to the Isle of Spice” is a complex lattice of intersecting interests.

On the one hand are black Africans like Sigismond's grandfather, arriving by ship at trading ports dotted all over the continent's big coast; people native to the Congo, Malinke merchants from Senegal carrying out trade on routes throughout west and central Africa; and the bold Americans, English, and Welsh exploring opportunities in old ports of  slavery.

Sigismond doesn't say what set his grandfather's travels in moti…

Ahmed Koroma's Letters from America - Part 2

Ahmed Koroma’s Letters from America were first published five years ago. This is Part 2 of the six-part series, which ran on July 30th, 2012. Suba Ranka picked up his cutlass, wiped the blood with his fingers and smiled. He had killed again. Only this time, the victim was a goat. He meticulously picked his nose and looked around. He was getting really good at this; chasing goats and chickens around the baffa and killing them one after another.  Last night, as he ran around the village looking for goats and chickens, he realized that the moon had suddenly disappeared. The place had gotten dark and his victims were hard to find. He had killed the moon, too.He took one more look at the dead goat. I am going to pluck the wings off the goat before it flies away.  He was really good at this. Last night, just before the moon disappeared, he had sworn that one day he would take a big knife, climb the court barre wall and take a stab at the moon. He didn't know why and he didn't care. H…

Vitabu Reads | Dilemma of Freedom: A diary from behind enemy lines in Sierra Leone's civil war

The harrowing events of May 25, 1997 in Freetown, Sierra Leone fell far short of the lofty ideals of 25 May 1963, when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded.

More than 30 years earlier, the OAU had been set up to support the work conducted by freedom fighters, and improve living standards across member states. At the ‘63 meeting in Addis Ababa, Africa Freedom Day was renamed Africa Liberation Day.

According to records, the renamed celebration of Africa Day continued to be celebrated on May 25 in respect to the formation of the OAU. Haile Selassie reportedly exclaimed, "May this convention of union last 1,000 years."

By May 1997, the union was just over 30 years old.

That was the day Bailah Leigh’s life took an ominous turn. The German-trained obstetrician and gynecologist, who’d returned to his native Sierra Leone in 1978, was midway through his career when Sierra Leone was upended by yet another military coup.

Coup d’états had been a part of Sierra Leonean li…

The Year of the Un-Opposed by Ahmed Koroma | Fantasy History 12

On May 6, Akibo triumphed. And that song, the one about Akibo, became an instant hit and would forever remain part of the legacy of a community.

APC Central One, 
Na Akibo we want oh
Ah say APC Central One, 
Akibo we want oh
Ah May 6 oh, Akibo win election
For go na palimehnt 
For woke for di nation
Ah Nancy Oh, e lef pan you oh
Akibo Betts! 
Na man way we want oh
For we minister

Nineteen seventy-seven was a turning point in Salone (Sierra Leonean) history. It was one of the most intense campaign-elections in Freetown. [With] the Fourah Bay College (FBC) Student protest during Convocation, January 29, 1977; an attack by All People’s Congress (APC) party supporters at the Mount Auroel campus, January 31, 1977; premature dissolution of parliament, April 4, 1977; and a hurriedly held election on May 6.

It was the year of the "un-opposed" but in Freetown Central One the election was anything but 'APC un-opposed.'

The stage was set not (just) between the two major parties, Sierra Leo…

Milo and All That Jazz | The Golden Era of Salone Music – by Kitty Fadlu-Deen

Milo and All That Jazz is the most recent work of Dr. Kitty Fadlu-Deen, published by Sondiata Global Media.

The book takes the reader on a journey through Sierra Leonean culture expressed in her distinctive music.

Milo and All That Jazz explores the history and creative breadth and depth of Sierra Leonean music from the 1960s to the 1990s. Considering the vast choice of bands and artists during that period, this is no mean feat.

Aminatta Forna, a renowned Sierra Leonean author, says:

“Dr. Fadlu-Deen has commemorated Pino and all the most talented of Sierra Leone’s array of musicians over three decades in a fascinating story that has been meticulously researched and elegantly written… Sierra Leone boasts a powerful voice that moves to its own distinctive beat." 
This is a must-read for music lovers the world over. It is a book that connects the development of Sierra Leonean cultural music and its sources of inspiration from the African Continent and beyond. Above all, it recognises…

Vitabu Reads | Manners Maketh Man: Adventures of a Bo School Boy

At104-pages Siaka Kroma’s  novel Manners Maketh Man: Adventures of a Bo School Boy is a fraction of  Sama Banya’s 484-page autobiography Looking Back, My Life and Times, but the cross references and descriptions of Bo Town and Bo School are fascinating.  Together, both books make a study of how one school enforced national consciousness in Sierra Leonean education.

In Banya’s story, it is the second week of March 1940 when he arrives at Bo School, which by then had only about 90 pupils enrolled. From Looking Back, we learn that Bo School was patterned after the British public school system.  The boys were divided into dormitories named after European cities: London, Liverpool, Paris, and Manchester. Equally, we also learn about the school’s original mission to integrate the “sons and nominees of chiefs” from Northern and Southern Sierra Leone,  “promoting nationally-unifying doctrines, beliefs, personalities, and languages.”

One of the highlights in Banya’s “Bo School Years” chapter i…

Vitabu Reads | A Pillar of the Community

Two weeks later it was Easter Sunday. The atmosphere suited Jedi’s mood even more, for the whole church was decorated with flowers and buntings in happy celebration of Christ’s glorious resurrection and triumph over the forces of Satan, sin, death, and hell. Jedi felt he, too, had triumphed over the forces of evil that had sought to destroy him. He, like Christ, could be said to have trodden the forces of Satan underfoot and to hold the keys of death…So he sang the Easter hymns with as much joy and fervor as though they had been written specifically for him.
Little did Jedidiah Thomas know his victory celebration that Easter Sunday was premature. Moral hypocrisy is what ultimately bring about his downfall.

When we first meet the 49-year-old Jedidiah on the balcony of his five-year-old mansion he fondly calls 'My Repose,' Jedi enjoyed a very powerful position as Permanent Secretary in the civil service. He was also serving as a People’s Warden in his home church, and had been…