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In his introduction, Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri writes that the Caine Prize for African Writing “has turned out to be a regenerator of African literature,” a literature that experienced a boom in the immediate post-colonial era but is less well known today. The mostly young writers represented in the collection have, he continues, delivered “tales political, tales harrowing, tales humorous, tales told with vitality and passion and intelligence.” All that is abundantly evident in the editors’ choices. The inaugural piece, by the Egyptian writer Leila Aboulela, mirrors her own life as an immigrant to Scotland. Shadia, a young woman, has fallen behind in a statistics class and asks a Scottish classmate for his notes: “Her ignorance and the impending exams were horrors she wanted to escape,” Aboulela writes, but at the price of striking up a conversation with a man who has a disagreeable ponytail and earring: “The whole of him was pathetic,” she sniffs, and even when the young man, barely comprehensible because of his accent, expresses an interest in Islam (“Ah wouldnae mind travelling to Mecca), she can find no bridge to him. Other pieces speak to the difficulty of crossing cultures, the Nigerian writer Rotimi Babatunde’s “Bombay’s Republic” being a sidelong case in point: A Nigerian soldier finds himself fighting the Japanese in Burma, save that the enemy has vanished because the British have put out the word that “the Africans are coming and that they eat people,” a calumny that demands a response—and finds one when he returns to his homeland. All the stories are excellent, but some are especially memorable, among them Henrietta Rose-Innes’ “Poison,” the 2008 winner, which presciently speaks of an environmental apocalypse that finds the sun over Cape Town “a pink bleached disk, like the moon of a different planet.”

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