An editor at Harper sent me a review copy of E.C. Osondu's Voice of America. I'd never heard of Osondu, though the first story in this collection, "Waiting," won the 2009 Caine Prize, a literary prize for the best original short story by an African who is writing in English.
"Waiting" is a very moving story of young people living in a refugee camp. Waiting for what? They wait for food, for clothing, for things to change, for a chance to go to America. Most stories in this book are set in Nigeria, but a few are set in the U.S. I liked the Nigerian stories better, especially a story called "Jimmy Carter's Eyes," which is available online.
What I found really interesting is the way Osondu explored the relationship between Africans and African Americans. Several stories (some set in the U.S., others in Nigeria) deal with the expectations that Africans have regarding African Americans, and vice versa. The cultural divide between these groups is huge, and Osondu exploits it for purposes both comic and tragic.
Osondu's writing style is spare but not macho. He makes his observations with a minimum of fuss, so even a drama-filled story about a beachfront firing squad is an exercise in control. And while it is clearly not Osondu's intention to remind his U.S. readers how good they have it, he achieves this nevertheless. I read "Waiting" from the comfort of my warm house, surrounded by my loving family, and was grateful for everything I had.
Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.