June 24, 2018
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Saving African Cultures by Saving Her Languages

Ngũgĩ's language is fresh; the questions he raises are profound,

the argument he makes is clear:

"To starve or kill a language is to starve and kill a people's memory bank."

Publishers Weekly, **Starred review**


Born in Kenya, NgÅ©gÄ© wa Thiong'o has been a force in African literature for decades.  Winner of the Nonino International Prize for Literature, his novel Wizard of the Crow was one of the Washington Post's Favorite Books of the Year in 2007, a Finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Fiction, and Gold medal winner in Fiction for the 2007 California Book Awards.  The Seattle Times called that work "a literary masterpiece, woven in the rich nuance of Africa's oral tradition, as real as spilt blood, a mythical dance of great power."  The San Francisco Chronicle has called NgÅ©gÄ© "one of Africa's greatest writers."


After being imprisoned without charge by the Kenyan government in the 1970Â’s, NgÅ©gÄ© renounced the use of English in his novels in support of his belief that language is essential to culture, with the loss of the former inevitably leading to the loss of the latter.  He revived his own use of his native Gukuyu as a means of resurrecting awareness of African identity.  Now in SOMETHING TORN AND NEW: An African Renaissance (Basic Books; March 3, 2009; $25.00; Paperback original), NgÅ©gÄ© explores the historical process of language loss throughout Africa, where native names and languages have been replaced with European ones during periods of slavery, colonialism, and globalization, decimating original cultures in the process.


NgÅ©gÄ©, however, is optimistic.  Just as in Ireland (which he considers Britain's first colony) Gaelic has been revived and the cultural knowledge that had faded with its loss restored, and Israel has successfully unlocked its cultural memory with the resurrection of Hebrew, so too can Africa recover her identity as long as she acts before it is too late.  In four compelling essays, SOMETHING TORN AND NEW convinces us of the importance of saving Africa's cultural future and urges us to act. 


This important cri de coeur will inspire those who love language, those who love Africa, and those who feel strongly about protecting the world's rich cultural heritage.


Claudia Dizenzo, Publicity Manager, Basic Books

Claudia.dizenzo@perseusbooks.com / 212-340-8163


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