Thursday, August 20, 2015

My African Literature Summer Course is Over

Yesterday, August 19, was the last day of my African Literature summer course. During the last week or so we had been reading Leila Aboulela's Minaret. In my syllabus, I had planned to conclude the course with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck. As it turned out, however, we found ourselves going slowly through Minaret, having worn ourselves out in the previous five weeks of meeting daily, except on Saturdays and Sundays.

Nevertheless, I am pleased we were able to read Minaret, a novel that had a major impact on my students when I first taught it. Its deft and nuanced exploration of the world of Muslims was a valuable learning experience that was also aesthetically satisfying.

I was able this time to focus on aspects of Minaret that I had not dwelt on when I first taught it. Given the works we had read before, I made connections across them. I was interested, for example, in the occurence of letter writing in Minaret, a feature we had observed in Mia Couto's The Tuner of Silences as well as in Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. I also gained a deeper understanding of the thematic aspects of Minaret and of the relationship among its characters.

Thinking about letter writing as a literary device led me to bring up the tradition of the epistolary novel. I explained this concept and cited examples that came readily to my mind, including Mariama Ba's So Long a  Letter and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Poor Folk.

Concluding the course yesterday, I gave the students the following final examination:

Answer Two Questions.

1) Based on the works we have discussed in this course, write an essay titled, "Language in African Literature."

2) Write an essay titled, "Religion in Leila Aboulela's Minaret."

3) What kind of person is Najwa, the main character in Leila Aboulela's Minaret?

4) Discuss the Western (i.e. European and American) influene or presence in Leila Aboulela's Minaret.

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