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This review is taken from PN Review 69, Volume 16 Number 1, September - October 1989.

PARABLES AND PALM-OIL African Short Stories, edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L. Innes (Heinemann) £3.95 pb.

"There's always something new out of Africa", Pliny reportedly said. The twenty stories in the present collection preserve the truth of this. They are sometimes clumsy, often gripping, and thankfully free of fictional anthropology for cultural tourists. Their thematic and stylistic variety splinters off from the single powerful theme of the clash of cultures, not only as between European and African, but between different cultures within Africa itself. 'The False Prophet' of Sebene Ousmane's parable, for example, implants himself among a gullible people until the gods he has lived off catch up with him. The theme of the impact of education on tribal family custom is treated in Bessie Head's 'Snapshots of a Wedding'. A single 'O' level puts a young woman above the zero level of education of the rest of the tribe. To her husband this makes her a sound financial investment, but before she marries her arrogance has to be humbled by the voice of ancestral wisdom and its stock of proverbial knowledge.

"Parables are the palm-oil with which words are eaten", the Ibo tribe reputedly say. The most successful of these stories are nourished by oral and vernacular traditions which existed for generations before African writing in English, less than a century ago, was stimulated by contact with the Western literary tradition. The predicament of the African writer, serving two readerships and cross-breeding the conventions of two literatures, is fabled in Odun Balogun's 'The Apprentice': neither of his two rival masters are pleased ...


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