Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Kenyan novelist Yvonne Owuor who brought us the critically acclaimed novel Dust has a new book in the works. The Dragonfly Sea centers on a largely unexplored period in Africa’s past: the Chinese-African encounter via the Indian Ocean.

The novel centers on a girl named Ayana who lived a solitary life on the island of Pate, off the coast of Kenya. Her life soon takes a dramatic turn when she embarks on an odyssey to the Far East.

In a recent interview featured on Publisher’s Weekly, Owuor talks about the inspiration behind the novel, why she decided to tackle that period in Africa’s history, and why it is important to her that East Africa confronts its centuries-long relation with China.

Interviewer

The novel’s protagonist, Ayaana, is a fictionalized version of a real person. How did you decide to write her story?

Owuor

Living along the Indian Ocean, I’d heard different versions of the story of old Chinese friendships dating back 600 years. I’d heard the story of Admiral Zheng He, who underpins so much of the story, and of sailors that had drowned and how a few of them had found refuge on Pate, this little island off the coast of Kenya. The story had bubbled in the back of my mind, and when this girl Mwamaka Sharifu was sent to China [in 2005, after learning of her Chinese ancestry], I thought there’d be a greater noise and maybe a greater understanding about this idea of the return, the final chapter in a 600-year-old story.

Interviewer

Did you have to do much research?

Owuor

I lived in Zanzibar for three years, and I also lived in both Mombasa and Diani in Kenya, so a lot of the sea references come from encounters and experiences. I conducted interviews with all sorts of fascinating souls, including East Africans who had gone and lived in China. Some of the adventures that young Ayaana has in China come from the life stories of real people—those who dared open their mouths to answer my questions. And of course I used lots of historical sources; one of my favorite Swahili scholars was a poet-minstrel who inspired Muhidin, the great poet Haji Gora Haji from Zanzibar.

Interviewer

What do you think most people don’t understand about the relationship between Africa and China?

Owuor

So much of the conversation about China’s relationship with Africa, and certainly Eastern Africa, is presented as something new. Because of where I lived, in Eastern Africa, I had an awareness that China’s “new” engagement with Africa was actually nothing new. I find resonance in that with the way the Chinese are presenting the return of their engagement with the world—the Maritime Silk Road. Part of my own questioning was what—within the East African space—ideas about China’s new engagement with Africa actually means. Very little reference is made to the past, when I think that the past is what is informing this new relationship. So I wanted to write about this idea of return, that some of the answers we seek might actually be found in the past.

There you have it. Read the full interview here.  The Dragonfly Sea is out in March. But the Preorder link is already live. Follow this link to preorder.

 

 

 

Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

The 2019 Gerald Kraak Prize Goes to Nigeria’s OluTimehin Adegbeye

OluTimehin Adegbeye

The 2019 Gerald Kraak Prize has been awarded to Nigeria’s OluTimehin Adegbeye, for her nonfiction piece, “Mothers and Men,” described […]

Binyavanga Wainaina, Bestselling Author, Queer Icon, and Great Literary Influencer, Passes on at 48

BINYAVANGA WAINAINA PASSES ON

Binyavanga Wainaina, the great Kenyan writer, bestselling memoirist, queer icon, beloved literary influencer, and arguably the most gifted prose writer […]

Membrane: A Festival of African Literatures and Ideas | May 23-26 in Stuttgart

Membrane Book Festival Stuttgart (1)

Three major cultural organizations in Germany, Literaturhaus Stuttgart, Institut français and Akademie Schloss Solitude, are hosting a four-day international literary […]

Akachi Chukwuemeka, Poet and Editor of the University of Nigeria’s Literary Journal The Muse, Passes on at 21

Akachi Chukwuemeka - graph

Chukwuemeka “Akachi” Emmanuel Ugwoke, a Nigerian poet and editor of The Muse, the literary journal of the University of Nigeria, […]

The Caine Prize Announces 2019 Shortlist

Untitled design (8)

Five writers—from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria—have been shortlisted for the 2019 Caine Prize, for short stories that explore “the […]

Short Story Day Africa Announces 2019 Prize Theme: Disruption

ssda 2019 - disruption

Short Story Day Africa has announced the theme for its 2019 Prize: “Disruption.” The prize will be open to submissions […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.