Novels of Botswana in English, 1930-2006 (African Heritage Press) is by former University of Botswana lecturer in Anglo-African literature, Dr. Mary S. Lederer.
One might be put off by its academic name, but you shouldn’t be.
It is quite accessible. If you have even a hint of interest in the literature of and about the country, you will find this book a fascinating read.
Lederer attempts to look at novels written by people living in Botswana and living outside of Botswana but writing novels set in the country during the period she has stipulated.
Her chapters are set around themes which I found especially interesting.
This is the first book of its kind and she has taken on a mammoth task, as she admits.
She says at the outset “This book is not the first word on Botswana literature, and I certainly do not mean it to be the last.
There will be many errors and omissions, all of them my own, but I hope that my colleagues in Botswana will take up the challenge to set me straight, to consider Botswana’s literature in a regional and continental context, and to put Botswana, including but not exclusively Bessie Head, more firmly and visibly on the world literary map.”
I have a friend, a Zimbabwean writer who I often meet at literary festivals, who teases me about being one of the three writers in Botswana.
I think writers in the country owe Lederer a debt of gratitude for at least telling the world in a firm way that we do write in Botswana and we do have a literary tradition.
For that, I at least, am very thankful.
In the first chapter, the book gives a brief, but surprisingly thorough, overview of the country for people that are unfamiliar with Botswana.
The second chapter is about home and identity as a theme in English novels, especially those written by Batswana.
There is a discussion of the iconic Love on the Rocks by Andrew Sesinyi as well as his other lesser known works such as Rassie.
Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi and Bessie Head’s work is discussed briefly here.
The moralistic tale is a theme discussed in the chapter.
In some ways I feel many Batswana writers have not moved from that type of tale, the feeling that novels must teach something, as Lederer contends, I feel is still very strong.
I think, often at the detriment of the work.
Many might find the chapter on literary novels, many written by people often living outside the country except for Naomi Mitchison, and Caitlin Davies (living here when the book was written), problematic.
Lederer puts in succinctly: “What is written about Botswana by people with apparently limited experience of the place, without their own acknowledgement of their limitations, strikes me as dishonest.”
Other chapters include: adventure novels about Botswana, lady detectives (in which I was very surprised to see myself paired with Alexander McCall Smith, thanks to my Detective Kate Gomolemo seen in The Fatal Payout, Murder for Profit, Anything for Money, and Claws of a Killer- (excuse me for blowing my own horn)), and a fascinating chapter looking at “The Possibility of Justice- Bessie Head and Unity Dow”.
The book brought to light many titles I was not familiar with.
The comparing and contrasting of books around overall themes I enjoyed quite a bit.
This may be common in such academic writing, I don’t know since I rarely read literary research of this sort.
It is an enjoyable, informative book that I would recommend Batswana writers, especially, read to have a better sense of what came before.
Any criticism I could make about the book has already been made by Lederer herself.
This is a first step, and as we all know, the first step is always the most difficult. We should all be pleased that it has been taken.
Now we look to other academics to continue the work, as Lederer herself has challenged them to do.