A – Z, Alphabetical Africa, Z-A

“Alphabetical Africa” communicates the power of  those who represent or create representation for a people-group or a place.

In this book, we see that the entire story line is dominated by the style of the novel. The content, and the communication of that content to the reader, is overtaken by the way that Abish decides to write this novel. As I was reading the novel, particularly in the beginning and again in the end, I felt as if there was undoubtably information that I was missing out on because I was in the “A” or  “B” chapter. It may be that information vital to the plot was left out of limited alphabetical chapters, or that it was simply scrambled into some code into which the reader is provided no insight.  

In a novel, however, it is hugely problematic that the author would seek to withhold information from the reader. This is so, because the novel itself functions as a means of communication. A form of communication that the author initiates by simply writing. Therefore, if the author decides to keep back vital information from the reader the author becomes un-trustable. The novel becomes incapable of performing its basic function: to effectively communicate some message through writing. 

In “Alphabetical Africa” however, the very style and incomprehensibility of the text becomes Abish’s means of communicating a message to his readers. I believe this message speaks to the problematic representation and understanding of Africa that was & is prevalent in western cultures.

Throughout the novel Abish evokes popular western images of Africa through his description of vast land, animals, guns, diamonds, discussion of corrupt powers (Quat, the monarch) & etc. And yet, while westerners simultaneously accept popular notions of Africa as a place of the above listed words, when Abish puts these words together in a novel we see that they make no sense. They create an incoherent story, at best. What then must the true Africa be, if all of our notions do not create a coherent “Africa”?

Just as we do not know what the real message of the actual content of Abish’s Africa is, we cannot know what the real Africa is like if its representation has been limited in the similar ways that Abish’s novel has been limited through its style. This novel helps the reader to think about the credibility of the author, or the one representing. More specifically, it forces the reader to be critical of the popular global reprentation of Africa, which is dominated by western media. 

Perhaps there is more to Africa than the lens of the West allows us to see…

Of course there is.

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One Response

  1. For me, Abish makes it clear the power (and seeming authority) of authors. He flaunts his power by publishing a book that is difficult to read and interpret, and one that is riddled with the Western perceptions of Africa. Abish makes us question the authenticity (and intention) of his writing. You make a strong point about this. The reader is forced to be critical of Abish’s ( and other author’s) writing, especially with regards to the representation of Africa.

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