Gendereed voices from the Gambia

In this book, Pierre Gomez and Isatou Ndow skillfully employ their expertise in Gambian literature, education, and gender studies to produce a note-worthy and accessible book that analyses the influence and significance of gender in contemporary Gambian fiction. Drawing on Gloria Chukukere’s work Gender Voices & Choices (1995), this book builds on and contributes to the growing body of academic literature analysing gender, including the impact of women writers, on African fiction.  Focusing primarily on contemporary Gambian women writers across genres, the authors call attention to several impressive works produced by Gambian women, including the way in which they utilise their writing to subvert and challenge gender norms and practices that perpetrate inequality and abuse. This book will be particularly informative to students, scholars and laypersons interested in African literature, gender studies and Gambian studies. 

 

More specifically, this book explores how the gender of Gambian writers potentially impacts the inclusion, representation and portrayal of gender issues in their written works. In their analysis, the authors critique the selected writers’ representations and engagement with a set of gendered themes that emerged across the selected works, this includes girls’ education, domestic violence, female circumcision, motherhood and power and decision-making. The authors also consider the role of masculinity within Gambian literature, critiquing how certain attributes and roles are associated with, or assigned to ‘maleness’ and ‘masculinity’, especially in relation to marriage, sex and sexuality, promiscuity, male dominance, and religion. 

 

Gomez and Ndow’s findings illuminate the distinctive perspectives and unique voices Gambian female writers bring to these complex and challenging gender issues. Compared to their male counterparts, women writers in the selected works placed a greater emphasis on acknowledging and representing a more in-depth, nuanced exploration of the female experience, as well as more directly engaged with the struggles and challenges women face due to gendered norms, stereotypes and practices. The book also highlights how Gambian female writers are rejecting the limited portrayal of female characters that are often found within works authored by Gambian male writers. Gomez and Ndow note how male authors often portray one-dimensional female characters as idealised version of womanhood that centre on their reproductive roles as mothers or wives, with limited or no agency of their own. In contrast, the selected women writers were noted for portraying their female characters as nuanced and complex, creating female protagonists as strong, intelligent girls and women, with the drive and perseverance to chart their own paths despite the abuse and limitations they encounter based on socially constructed gendered norms and expectations. 

 

Furthermore, through this book, readers are exposed to a variety of pieces of modern Gambian written literature that span a period of 37 years. The seven primary sources selected for analysis include a range of fictional works across genres, including novels, a play and poetry. The book focuses mainly on Gambian female writers; however, it also includes two Gambian male writers for comparative purposes. Pieces produced by female writers selected for analysis include Dayo Forster’s first novel Reading the Ceiling (2007); Juka Fatou Jabang, Matilda Johnson and Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta’s anthology of poems entitled The Repeal and Other Poems (2005); Ramatoulie Kinteh’s play The Rebellion, Ramatoulie Othman’s novel Costly Prices (2005), and Sally Sadie Singhateh’s novel The Sun Will Soon Shine (2004). Male authored pieces analysed include Baba Galleh Jallow’s novel Ultimate Conflict (1999) and Michael Hamadi Secka’s The Shock (1999). 

 

Through this book, the authors provide an entry point into Gambian literature for a broader audience. Whilst few of the works analysed here are available or widely distributed outside of The Gambia, the authors are however raising the profile of Gambian literature by highlighting Gambian literature as a distinct category and unit of analysis as well as providing more in-depth summary information on each of these works. In doing so, this has the potential to broaden the number and range of individuals who are aware of and interested in these writers and works. In addition, by highlighting how Gambian literature is engaging with such prominent and important gender issues and themes, the authors may also increase awareness and readership of such seminal works like Ramatoulie Kinteh’s The Rebellion or Dayo Forster’s ambitious debut novel Reading the Ceiling. Moreover, this book calls attention to the fact that there are a number of progressive, bold and talented women writers in The Gambia who are taking on some of the most controversial and challenging gender issues in the country through their literary prowess. I hope those who read this book will be inspired to explore the topic in greater depth, tracking down copies of the novels, poems and plays, in order to read, understand and enjoy some of the primary sources for themselves. As demonstrated by the authors, literary analysis as a tool, as well reading of Gambian fiction more broadly, can provide important and insightful understandings of the gender dynamics, experiences and realities of women’s lives in the country. Though reading this book, the importance of literature as a means through which to understand and potentially challenge cultural norms and practices is made evident.

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