The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa, by Stephen Buoro (Bloomsbury). Andrew Aziza, the Nigerian teen-ager who is the protagonist of this début novel, describes himself as a “genius poet altar boy who loves blondes.” A Christian who lives in a largely Muslim town, Andy feels ashamed of his preference for the West, which he considers to be a foil to his continent and to his Mama, who reads her Bible slowly and believes in ghosts. This shame is expressed in imaginary conversations with his stillborn brother, his schoolteacher, and the first white girl he meets, with whom he readily falls in love. Animated by a lively voice and a spiritual vision, Buoro’s novel also unfolds a touching critique of the false promise of Western transcendence.
My Stupid Intentions, by Bernardo Zannoni, translated from the Italian by Alex Andriesse (New York Review Books). This début novel is narrated by a beech marten named Archy, who is born into a life of hardship: his father dead, his mother barely able—and sometimes failing—to keep the newborn kits alive. Despite its fairy-tale-like feel, the novel is nothing cute. When Archy is lamed in an accident, he is sold to a dealmaking fox, who treats him like a slave before teaching him to read and write. Archy learns about the lives of men, knowledge that prompts a host of religious questions and leads to a restless search for meaning. Life in Archy’s world is a constant fight for survival, and, while Zannoni’s story implies that thinking and instinct may mean different things for animals than they do for us, he provokes the reader to consider just how different their realm truly is.
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