In bringing together writings from the Sudan and South Sudan—two warring nations—Literary Sudans challenges the mainstream notion that both countries have little else to offer beyond images of war, violence, and unending political unrest.
In 2013, McSweeney’s published There is a Country, a collection of stories written by South Sudanese authors. The collection was the first of its kind. And South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, had been independent for only two years. But the little bit of time that has since passed has shown that even though Sudan and South Sudan are now politically distinct entities, they have always had a lot in common. In spite of a their shared experience of political conflict, writers in both worlds have always found beautiful ways of documenting and imagining life within but also outside of these experiences of violence. Literary Sudan simply does the much-needed job of making some of the stories available to us in one beautiful collection.
The editor of the collection, Bhakti Shringarpure, is a professor of literature at University of Connecticut. She is also the editor-in-chief of Warscapes Journal, a truly amazing online platform that explores the intersections between war and literature through stories, poetry, essays and so on. She knows, better than anyone else, the damage that has been done to the image of that region thanks to a western media that profits from reproducing the image of Africa as a place of death and violence. In curating the anthology, she carefully selected pieces that in being beautifully written would challenge our simplistic notions of Sudan as a zone of war.
The collection is great on its own, but it is nice that it has the stamp of approval of the literary legend, Taban Lo Liyong. In the introductory essay, he situates the anthology more broadly in relation to African literary aesthetic and calls on contemporary writers to reanimate traditional forms of storytelling such as the folktale and the fable.
With a collection that is so openly built around the idea of the nation, the concern is always that it would be too heavily issues-driven. Literary Sudan, we are happy to tell you, breaks from the mold in this respect. The stories in the collection are delightful. There is something for every taste and every mood. There is the delightful humor of Ahmed Al Malik’s “Satan and the Plastic Soldier.” Dan Lukudu’s “Once Upon a Time in a Garrison Town” is a classic African city story built around the sights and sounds of the market place. Mansour El Souwaim’s “She 1, He and the Other One” is an enthralling and creepy exploration of cannibalism and erotic desire. Leila Aboulela’s “Souvenir” and Agnes Ponilako’s “The Marriage of Napuru” are beautiful family dramas. For fans of genre fiction, there is Bushra Elfadil’s sci-fi story, “Two Space Objects over Bandar. There is also Kenyi A. Spencer’s gun-slinging thriller titled “Twisted Gift.”
Literary Sudans is a collection of delightful stories that re-imagine the city, the household, and the micro-moments of the everyday. It is also a significant addition to a global African literary space that is dominated by writers from Nigeria and South Africa. It reminds us that so much good writing is being produced in other parts of the continent and that we need to do more to celebrate these writers and their work.
Kudos to Shringarpure for putting the collection together. Adil Babikir did such excellent work with his translations. Emmanuel Bara’s cover image also adds to the success of the project. Literary Sudans is a gorgeous book.
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