The Anchor Book of Modern African Stories
Edited by Nadezda Obradovic
(Anchor Books) $14

The House of Hunger
by Dambudzo Marechera
(Random House) $12

by James Joyce
(Dover) $1.50

Nadezda Obradovic, who is a professor of African literature at the University of Belgrade, edited Modern African Stories, an anthology that attempts to capture Africa as it is today. The stories come from all parts of the continent, and are written by a variety of authors dealing with a variety of issues--AIDS, poverty, racism, sexism, economics, politics, and so on. Some writers are experimental, others are traditional; many write in English, and all are critical of European imperialism.

Initially published in 1994 as African Rhapsody, this new edition includes nine stories from countries that were not, as the editor explains, represented in the first edition: Namibia, Botswana, Ethiopia, and Cameroon. There is also a foreword by Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who, after explaining the history and position of the short story form in West African society, continues his career-long battle with his literary enemy number one, Joyce Cary--the author of Mister Johnson, which was directed into a movie by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) that starred James Bond (Pierce Brosnan).

The best story in the collection is by Dambudzo Marechera, who died of everything (alcoholism, homelessness, loneliness, known and unknown diseases) in 1987. Along with Charles Mungoshi (who has a delightful short story in this anthology called "The Brother"), Chenjerai Hove, and Tsitsi Dangarembga (neither of whom are, regrettably, included in the anthology), Marechera constitutes the very essence of modern Zimbabwean literature. The story, "Thought Tracks in the Snow," first appeared in his collection of short stories, The House of Hunger, which was published in 1979 and shared that year the Guardian fiction prize with Night in Tunisia--a collection of short stories by the then-23-year-old Irish writer and now-famous Hollywood director Neil Jordan.

Speaking of the Irish, the opening paragraph of "Thought Tracks in the Snow" distortedly mirrors the end of James Joyce's "The Dead," which is not surprising because in his short stories and novellas, Marechera--whose head was stuffed with loaves of literature--habitually referenced the "classics."

"Thought Tracks in the Snow" opens with this paragraph:

The skies had been overcast. My affairs were going badly and I was as gloomy as the great gray clouds that hid the sun from view. I had been ill, a fever, and had had to put up with medicines and a great deal of curious attention from my landlady who had taken the position that my writing was certainly not doing me any good. It snowed heavily that Sunday night and I watched the thick white doves' feathers of it come sailing down and pile up everywhere. I could not sleep. A restless refrain was repeatedly flashing though my mind: "You're crazy, you're crazy, you're crazy." And great armfuls of it were snowing down onto the roofs, onto the roads, onto the pavements, snowing down into everything: "You're crazy, you're crazy, you're crazy."

Joyce's "The Dead," which ends his collection of short stories Dubliners (published in 1914), famously ends with this paragraph:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Both "The Dead" and "Thought Tracks in the Snow," as well as many of the selections in Modern African Stories, have this in common: They are about intellectuals who have complex or paradoxical relationships with their oppressors. In short, I recommend buying Modern African Stories, The House of Hunger, and Dubliners.

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!