Time for the World to Learn From Africa

Hearing Others' Voices

Young Adult - Non-Fiction
226 Pages
Reviewed on 03/28/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Time for the World to Learn From Africa: Hearing Others’ Voices is a work of educational non-fiction intended for students and young people, penned by author and academic Ruth Finnegan. Taking a break from her scholarly work, Finnegan delves deep into the heritage, culture, art and beliefs of Africa to uncover and convey that which we, as Westernized society, could learn from opening our eyes and ears to another culture. In a reversal of the idea that the cultures of the east need to look west for improvement, it is now time that we look back over the language, lore, gender roles and insights of African culture in order to develop ourselves as more rounded people.

I adored this book for its empowering presence, but also for the creative and educational possibilities it suggests. As an educator and creative practitioner myself, I really enjoyed the explanations of elements such as performance and music, how they are integral to the African culture and are valued in a different way than we see entertainment formats in the West. Linguistically, Ruth Finnegan’s sensitivity to the many languages and dialects of Africa is well explained and would be easily understood by her target age range of students aged sixteen and above. I think that opening others up to culture in such an academic and accessible way is of huge benefit to the target group, but Time for the World to Learn from Africa would also make an excellent addition to the shelves of all teachers who want to bring new perspectives into their classrooms.

Donna Gielow McFarland

In Time for the World to Learn From Africa (Hearing Others' Voices), anthropologist and award-winning author Ruth Finnegan provides an in-depth, scholarly look at the cultural history of Africa, primarily in the fields of literature and the arts. Included is a thorough discussion of the tradition of literary oral history (much, much more than just “stories passed down”) and the necessity of considering all the aspects of storytelling including the performance of the storyteller and the response of the audience. Finnegan discusses some of the intricacies of African languages (some have 40 verb tenses!), praise names, how drums mimic the tonal aspects to the language in order to “talk” well enough to send information and specific messages, music, proverbs and much more.

I have spent just a little time in Africa, but almost everything in Time for the World to Learn From Africa was new to me. Finnegan, on the other hand, has lived in Africa and studied the culture extensively. I found in her work a fascinating wealth of knowledge. Particularly interesting to me were her studies of the tonal nature of African languages and how those tones can be mimicked using drums. I also found her discussion of music very interesting. She talks about the difference between European classical music and the African whole body experience of music and dance, and then explains how the concept of “beat” in rock and jazz came straight from the music of Africa.

Finnegan’s explanation of oral storytelling, which is heavily dependent on the storyteller and the audience, seemed to me to be not unlike the American tradition of telling ghost stories by a campfire. You can write the stories down, but that doesn’t do justice to how each storyteller tweaks the story, or that the whole point is to get the desired response from the audience. Other aspects of African literary culture shed some light on biblical Israelite traditions. I learned a great deal from Finnegan’s Time for the World to Learn From Africa. It is not a light read – it felt a little like reading a college textbook – but it is a valuable resource to broaden the reader’s understanding of the world. Highly recommended.

Gisela Dixon

Time for the World to Learn From Africa (Hearing Others' Voices) by Ruth Finnegan is a non-fiction book written on the ways, culture, and societies of Africa and what the rest of the world can learn from them. I have read other books by Ruth Finnegan and have always been impressed by her breadth of knowledge in her field. So I was excited to pick up this book and it did not disappoint. Ruth has sectioned the book under different but related topics that all have to do with the history and culture of Africa and the African people. This includes: a brief background and history of the continent, its multitude of languages and sub-cultures, music including instruments such as the drum, dance, proverbs, stories and fables, the women of the continent and their stories, children, the performing arts, and so much more. There is also a detailed list of references as well as suggestions for further reading at the end of the book.

I loved reading Time for the World to Learn From Africa by Ruth Finnegan and found it entertaining as well as educational. One important thing that Ruth manages to convey is that Africa is not simply one entity or one continent with a common, homogeneous culture but instead it is diverse, multi-ethnic, and varied in its own right with a rich history dating back thousands of years. My favorite part of the book was the section on language and I enjoyed the various fables and short stories presented throughout the text that capture the essence of African culture. Ruth writes in an engaging, candid style that makes reading the book a breeze. This is definitely a must-read book.