An often impressive collection of 25 stories, most appearing in English for the first time, that showcases a broad spectrum of contemporary African writing in countries as disparate as Zambia and Tunisia. As Chinua Achebe notes in a foreword, ""the short story came first, and we did not, of course, have centuries but decades to play with it."" The pieces here are arranged in order from birth to death, and, as Achebe warns, they ""are not a happy recital any more than Africa today is a happy continent....[The] common factor in all...is a pervasive atmosphere of pain and life's injustice."" Stories like Congolese Henri LopÃ‰s' ""The Advance,"" in which a mother has to leave her dying son to take care of a white family; South African Bloke Modisane's ""The Dignity of Begging,"" in which a beggar dreams of challenging the system by empowering beggars; and Zambian William Saidi's ""The Garden of Evil,"" in which an old black gardener is caught between white settlers and black revolutionaries, reflect the colonial or apartheid experience. Others, like those of Nigerian writers Ossie O. Enekwe and Adewale Maja-Pearce, whose ""The Last Battle"" and ""Civil War I-II,"" respectively, are searing accounts of the Biafran War, write specifically about post-colonial Africa. The most notable stories are Zambian Charles Mungoshi's ""The Brother,"" in which a young boy has a stunning lesson in self-destruction when he comes to stay with his brother in the city; Sudanese Tayeb Salih's ""A Handful of Dates,"" which with quiet power tells of a boy's loss of ideals as he learns the truth about a revered grandfather; and Nigerian Ken Saro-Wiwa's ""Africa Kills Her Sun,"" in which a death sentence is a stunning metaphor for political corruption. Some are less substantial -- trite reworkings of old themes -- but all vividly evoke a still too unfamiliar continent. Timely and instructive.