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7AAEM710 Conflict, Memory and Resistance in Contemporary African Literature

Credit value: 20
Module convenor: Dr Caroline Laurent
Assessment: 1 x 4,000 word essay (100%); 1 x unassessed seminar presentation
Teaching pattern: One two hour seminar, weekly
Pre-requisites: None

Module description:

African literature published over the last forty years resounds with descriptions of war and its aftermath. From Achebe’s collection of short stories about Biafra written in the early seventies to Adichie’s recent novel exploring the same conflict, responding to war remains a fertile topic for writers and film-makers alike. However, critics as diverse as Susan Sontag and Binyavanga Wainaina have argued that war-torn representations of Africa tend to homogenise the continent, suggesting that conflict is both deplorable and inevitable.

This course examines novels, short stories and life writing to ask how a range of writers renegotiate stereotypes of violence and work to convey the most complex nuances of pain, memory and resistance. We will draw on texts from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, DRC, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Rwanda, analysing narratives thematically and discussing their position within an emerging canon of trauma writing. This requires both looking to the past - we will study legacies of Holocaust representation in particular - and to the future - Patrice Nganang for one argues that the Rwandan genocide forms a caesura in African literature after which writing can never be the same. Insights from postcolonial studies, trauma theory and genocide studies will offer a theoretical grounding for discussion.

No prior knowledge of African literature is necessary: the course will introduce participants to a wide range of texts, which we will situate in their cultural and historical contexts during the seminars. The course is particularly suitable for students with an interest in world literature, war and literature and memory studies. All essential reading is available in English although students may choose to read works written in French in the original.

Ideal preparation for this module would include reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull.


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

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