Boubacar Boris Diop is “one of the giants of Francophone African Literature” but sadly not so well known to English-speaking audiences. His most recent novel, Kaveena, was published in French back in 2006 but only came out in English last year. The book is an intense read, about dark deeds in the corridors of power in a fictitious African country – but it’s also a timely meditation on ‘truth’ in an era of lies and ‘fake news’ in both rich and poor countries.
It’s perhaps a surprising thought, but a novel can often give a clearer picture of issues in development than a hundred policy papers or academic articles. If you are flummoxed by the jargon of ‘corruption as a collective action problem’, for example, and want to know what it actually feels like – read Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, or even a Raymond Chandler novel. Both will give you a sense of how difficult it is to be the only person trying to be honest “in a world where it’s out of style”. I’m a great believer in the power of fiction to make issues in development more real, to help them reach a wider audience and even to raise different issues than those brought up by the policy literature. Because, as David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers, and Michael Woolcock, argue in a brilliant 2005 article ‘The Fiction of Development’, policy and academic writing about development tends to construct development problems in particular ways which justify interventions by technical ‘experts’, whereas fiction can emphasise different aspects of the development process – the human, the moral, the political – which are too often ignored in academic or policy accounts.
The first novel I’m going to review here on Development Book Review is Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, shortlisted for the Booker prize last year. It’s a gripping story but has a serious purpose too: the author describes it as “a wake-up call to a dwindling nation – Nigeria.” Continue reading “Chigozie Obioma, ‘The Fishermen’”