"Africa" Is Not A Place

Ceridwen Dovey is a South African born novelist who now lives in New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2003, Dovey returned to South Africa to write a novel. Blood Kin, the result of that work, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim: the novel was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Informed by Dovey's South African roots, the novel tells the story of a fictional military coup from the perspective of the overthrown leader's portraitist, chef, and barber. Dovey is currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at New York University. Dovey doesn't see a conflict between her two passions. "Both anthropology and good fiction are full of thick description and a layering of detail," she says.

  • Transcript


Question: What do you make of the West’s conception of “Africa”?

Dovey: I mean it’s incredibly problematic and doesn’t . . . doesn’t do justice to the sort of diversity of the continent.  On the other hand, a big part of these nationalistic movements and independent movements when a lot of these countries were getting independence from the colonial powers was the sense of an African renaissance.  And Mbeki, the South African president, is very much a supporter of this notion of African unity and the African Union.  So you know I see that, you know, often the West is doing it in a kind of . . . in a way that’s similar to, you know, Orientalism and lumping together this continent as standing for certain things, and usually very negative things.  But on the other hand I do think, you know, a lot of these leaders of these countries have promoted that kind of Pan-African unity.  And often that’s been quite harmful because I think, for example, Mbeki has never criticized Mugabe in Zimbabwe.  And I think that was because of a kind of Pan-African loyalty where it’s like well, “I won’t point fingers at you if you don’t point fingers at me.”  And it’s more like a boys club really.  I think it’s corrupt.  But I think then Africa can’t, you know, run away crying when the West speaks of it as “Africa”, because in a way that’s been a political movement.