Five of the best postcolonial novels | Books

Five of the best postcolonial novels | Books

Novelist Chinua Achebe, hailed as the father of African literature, when speaking once of the medium’s complicity in colonialism said: “Literature is not a luxury for us. It is a life and death affair because we are fashioning a new man.”

Luxury or not, generations of writers have long explored the brutal consequences of colonialism past and present. While Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth make for informative nonfiction reads, here is a list of some of the best novels exploring the experiences of history, identity and exile.

The first and most famous novel by Barbadian novelist and essayist George Lamming was published in Britain in 1953. Once described by Lamming as a reconstruction of his childhood and early adolescence, the 295-page novel explores the major labour unrest growing up in 1930s Barbados amid colonial rule and went on to win the Somerset Maugham award in 1957.

“The colonial experience of my generation was almost wholly without violence,” Lamming wrote in the Guardian in 2002. “It was a terror of the mind.”

Hailed as Sudan’s most illustrious literary figure, Tayeb Salih’s 1966 masterpiece tells the story of a Sudanese student returning to rural life after years abroad in Europe. There he befriends Mustafa, who recounts his time in London following the first world war.

In 2002, the novel was voted one of the 100 best works of fiction and was described by Edward Saïd as being among the six finest novels of modern Arabic literature. It was subsequently translated into more than 30 languages.

With her 2019 debut novel, British-Palestinian author Hammad tells the captivating tale of Midhat – inspired by Hammad’s grandfather – nicknamed “the Parisian” for his European ways. From Nablus to Istanbul, Cairo, Montpellier and eventually, Paris, it explores the fall of the Ottoman empire, the British mandate over Palestine and the Arab uprising for independence.

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First published in 1955, the slim translated novel is often hailed as a timeless literary masterpiece. Jorge Luis Borges called it one of the best works of Hispanic literature, Susan Sontag described it as one of the 20th century’s most influential books and Gabriel García Márquez described the pages as being as enduring as those of Sophocles.

Jumping between past and present, there’s uncertainty on where the line between the living and dead is drawn as the novel’s central character travels to the fictional ghost town of Comala to find his father upon his dying mother’s wish.

Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, the novel – close to the author’s own family story – tells of a 1980s rebellion of the ethnic Nepalese in the town of Kalimpong, revolving around an affair between 17-year-old Sai and a maths tutor.

A revealing moment comes when two Anglophilic Indian women discuss VS Naipaul’s Bend in the River, describing the author – often a divisive Nobel laureate known for exploring exile and colonialism unsparingly – as “strange” and “stuck in the past”. At 35, the novel made Desai the youngest woman to win the Booker prize in 2006.

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