Ever notice that almost all books set in Africa have the same cover?


Photo: Simon Stevens

Africa is a huge and diverse continent filled with writers who have a variety of perspectives, so why does every novel set there sport a similar book cover? You don't have to be an avid reader of African literature to spot the recurring cover--it's often a single acacia tree set against a glowing sunset. The blog Africa is a Country decided it was time to expose just how cliché this book cover is. The editor of the blog, Neelika Jayawardane, argued on CBC Radio's Q with host Jian Ghomeshi that this visual oversimplification of Africa is a symptom of a much larger problem on May 20. You can listen to that conversation in the audio player below:

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Jayawardane is a professor of postcolonial literature and sees these covers all the time. "They're all over, whether the story is set in Nigeria, South Africa or Mozambique or Botswana," she said. According to Jayawardane, the acacia tree isn't even native to all parts of Africa. "It's always been really interesting and disheartening but also really hilarious to me that when I came to university in the U.S., that's what was on book covers."

Jayawardan said the oversimplified image of Africa is still reflective of a colonial myth. "Those are the same myths that supported colonialism--empty landscapes available for western consumption," she said. "The problem, of course, is that there are no politically educated Africans who are agents of their own lives in those kinds of covers. It's a landscape devoid of people."

The choice to repeat the same image over and over comes mostly from the publishers. Book designer Peter Mendelson was quoted recently saying that "we're comfortable with the acacia tree image of Africa because it is safe and presents otherness in a way that's easy to understand."

Africa is a Country began as an outlet for a few people to vent their frustrations, but now it gets over ten thousand readers per day. "We are beginning to change the conversation with our readership as well as with others that are actually finding that Africans in the diaspora and Africans in Africa are eager to actually have their voices heard as they know themselves rather than as others have seen them."

Is this cliche true? Check out your bookshelf and let us know! Tweet us @cbcbooks with a picture of your library. Here are some of the pictures you've already sent in.