Stephanie Newell’s article, Perspectives on West African Popular Fiction calls attention to what the west often chooses to overlook in African literature. I found her insight that while Things Fall Apart is vastly popular internationally, many countries in Africa have bookstores that hold local novels in equally high esteem. The concept of the economy largely affecting the type of novels that gets circulated is fascinating to me. It makes sense that one of the reasons that the public reads more local novels is because they are sold at affordable prices, while international novels are expensive due to the high cost of imported paper.
Newell also brought awareness to how quickly western literary scholars judge the level of other cultures’ “enjoyment of pleasure reading”. I appreciated her argument that it is not necessarily true that Ghanaians, for example, only read for information and not pleasure, when considering that the sales of novels in local book stores in that country is high. She suggests rather, that many of the popular novels convey a lesson and learning that lessen is just as important to the readers as the entertainment value. I find it interesting that often times local African popular romantic fiction does not become labeled “chick-flick” merchandise as it does in the U.S. because male African readers value reading these novels just as much as females because they are hoping to “learn to understand the female perspective”. The potential complication of this is that often times the characters in the popular novels are “cardboard characters” that are very different from “real life” people.
After reading this article I wonder if it would be more beneficial to read locally written books in order to learn more about specific regional African cultures than international African best sellers. I think it is most likely important to read both because though the themes of locally written novels are particular to their setting, they still are often times written to serve as escapist novels (featuring action, horror, and romance) while the international novels are often written for their traditionalist value.