Discussion Points for Book Clubs
African Chronicles – a memoir is a work of “literary non-fiction”. This is an established genre, also known as “creative non-fiction”, in which the writer uses the strategies and tools of a novelist to tell a true story – e.g. narrative construction, character development, direct speech, suspense, drama, the building of conflict and the resolution of conflict. How well does the author make use of these literary devices?
The author wrote (p. 17) that he had originally wanted to call the book, Journey without Maps. Which do you think would have been the better title: Journey without Maps or African Chronicles?
“Characters” / Characterization
1. Who is the most memorable “character” depicted in the memoir? Why do you think so?
2. Are you old enough to remember some of the Canadian public figures described in the memoir – e.g. Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Norman DePoe? If so, do you think they are accurately portrayed?
3. The author makes a link between Cecil Rhodes, Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe (“Brothers under the skin” – pp. 239-40.) Do you find this argument persuasive?
4. How did you find the author’s portrayal of missionaries?
5. How did you find his depiction of Canada’s diplomats in the 1960s? Do elements of this portrayal still resonate in Canada’s response to international crises today?
6. Are any stereotypes presented? If the author has avoided presenting stereotypes, how has he achieved this?
7. Are Burris and Louanne Devanney genuine flesh-and-blood characters in the story or merely the windows through which we witness the other persons and events depicted in the memoir?
8. The author was surprised (but pleased) to read in Dr. James H. Morrison’s review that African Chronicles was “a love story.” What is your response to Dr. Morrison’s comment?
1.The author identifies as a major theme of the memoir the question: What happened to the bright prospects of Africa in the post-colonial period? What answer(s) did you find to this question? Did you find the answer(s) convincing?
2. Are there other themes that run through the narrative?
- Are there other themes that run through the naative?
1. Did you learn some things about apartheid in southern Africa from the memoir that you did not already know?
How does African Chronicles compare or contrast with your own experience (if any) in this part of the world or with other works you have read or movies you have seen on apartheid in southern Africa? For example: Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country; Peter Abraham’s Tell Freedom; Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight; some of the writings of Doris Lessing; and movies such as Cry Freedom, A Dry White Season and Invictus.
1. Kathleen Tudor, novelist, publisher, retired university professor, wrote the following in a letter to the author: “I learned a lot, especially about Nigeria – I'm a great reader and follower of politics, but it was hard [at the time] to understand all that was going on in Nigeria. You clarified the situation for me.” Do you agree with Kathleen Tudor that the author was able to present clearly and lucidly this complex – and tragic – historical event?
2. How does African Chronicles compare or contrast with your own knowledge of this period of Nigerian history, or with other works you have read on this event – e.g. Chimamanda Adichie’s recent novel Half of a Yellow Sun?
African History and International Development
Do you agree with the following comments:
1. Julius H.E. Uzoaba: African Chronicles is “a well-researched must-read for anyone who wants to understand why Africa is still held in the doldrums of poverty years after colonialism has ended” (Back cover).
2. Dr. Uzoma Esonwanne: “African Chronicles offers us a searing indictment of [the] ‘Masters of Development’ [who] control the purse strings in the Great Game of Development.” (Foreword)
Citations, End Notes and Bibliography
1. What value is added to the memoir by the quotations (at the beginning of many chapters), the end notes and the bibliography?
2. Have the author’s references to works of literature and books on international development caused you to want to read some of these books? (Or have you indeed read some of them?)