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Stephen Ney

Reading from the South

The fiction of Karen King-Aribisala

A number of contemporary writers on "global Christianity" think that it is important for Westerners to learn from the forms of Christianity practised in the "Global South," particularly Africa. Foremost among them is Philip Jenkins, whose 2006 book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, reviewed in Books & Culture, concludes with an exhortation for Western Christians to try "reading from the South." This imaginative practice "can help free biblical passages and even whole genres from the associations they have acquired from our own historical inheritance." Jenkins says little about how one could learn this way of reading and thinking, though I am sure that going to live in a Christian community in the Global South would be the ideal. However, a more modest step that any Westerner can take is to make a point of reading books written by Asian, African, and Latin American Christians—such as Karen King-Aribisala.

King-Aribisala is an English professor in sub-Saharan Africa's most populous city, Lagos, Nigeria. Her 1989 collection Our Wife and Other Stories and her two novels, Kicking Tongues (1998) and The Hangman's Game (2007), are all available in North America and are all well suited for undergraduate literature classes. The Hangman's Game was awarded the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the "Best Book" from the African Commonwealth countries.

The Hangman's Game weaves together two stories that are separated by nearly two centuries and by the Atlantic Ocean. The first is narrated by a comically neurotic Nigerian woman, originally from Guyana, determined to write her novel in spite of her precarious pregnancy and her country's tyrannical government. Nigeria's president—obviously modeled after Sani Abacha, who ruthlessly ruled and pillaged Nigeria in the 1990s—is systematically executing his opponents. The two lead males, the novelist's husband and her gardener, are involved in overlapping schemes to save the country ...

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