The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2017, with an introduction by Lizzy Attree [in Booklist]
The Caine Prize is regarded as “Africa’s leading literary award.” The 18th Caine Prize was selected from 148 entries from 22 African countries. This resulting collection highlights the five short listers, with 11 additional stories chosen from the Caine Prize workshop, a 12-day retreat for new and established writers held, this year, in Tanzania.
Sudan’s Bushra al-Fadil won the 2017 Caine Prize with “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away,” an atmospheric meditation on elusive (and illusive) connections amid chaos. Al-Fadil’s co–short listers were Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “Who Will Greet You at Home,” which introduces a baby made of human hair; Chikodili Emelumadu’s “Bush Baby,” featuring a man terrorized by his careless greed; Arinze Ifeakandu’s “God’s Children Are Little Broken Things,” about a student’s homosexual awakening (and suppression); and Magogodi oaMphela Makhene’s “The Virus,” about the price of survival after global destruction.
Of the latter 11, Esther Karim Mngodo’s titular “The Goddess of Mtwara” is a love story that goes awry; other notables include Agazit Abate’s “Fidel,“ which justifies a romantic breakup with Fidel Castro’s death, and (again) Arimah’s “Shells,“ in which seashells cause a woman’s mysterious memory loss.
As laudable a collection this is as both introduction and celebration of contemporary African writing, further contextual support – for example, a glossary for non-English interjections – would have certainly been enlightening and appreciated. That readers must discern this year’s winner via web-search (the November U.S. publication date should have allowed for adding the July 3 announcement) feels like oversight. Despite a few lapses in production details, Goddess is an otherwise admirable and essential gateway to current African fiction.