Reading Africa 101

My first encounter with African literature was back in 2010, when I was an exchange student at the University of Ghana. The University had an amazing bookstore with extremely affordable titles by English-speaking authors from Africa. My first pick was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus; this is how I became one of her very early fans.

During my stay in Ghana I accumulated a fair collection of novels by African writers, but unfortunately with time I lost interest. It’s only this year since I am back living in the continent (this time in Cameroon), that I am trying again to discover this rich literary universe, also including French-speaking authors.

Are you also curious to discover the continent through its literature? Here is the entire list of the books I have read, classified by the country of origin of the authors – I hope that it is useful. I am still looking for books on certain countries, so please comment if you have any suggestions!

  • Algeria

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 10.12.01 AMLe siècle des sauterelles (Century of Locusts) by Malika Mokeddem
A somehow beautiful story about the threats to traditional Bedouin life in Algeria during the first half of the 20th century. I loved the romantic descriptions of the desert and semi-nomad life, and I found Mokeddem’s critique of French colonialism very pointy. However, I thought that some of the characters were confusing and overall the book was not easy to read.

  • Angola

OndjakiGood Morning Comrades by Ondjaki
My review: A nostalgic short story that describes the author’s childhood in Luanda during the 1980s. Innocently told from the viewpoint of a child, the book portrays life under a troubled communist regime, where teachers are Cuban, food rations are limited, and attacks are a fact of life.

Ondjaki’s Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret is also on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Benin

Looking for recommendations!

  • Botswana

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 10.32.11 AMWhen Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head
A South African political refugee and an Englishman join forces to revolutionise a village’s traditional farming methods, but soon they face the barriers of tradition, opposition from the local chief and bad weather. The main characters somehow reminded me of some contemporary development workers: well-intentioned, but completely unaware of local contexts.

  • Burkina Faso

Looking for recommendations!

  • Burundi

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 9.31.08 AMPetit pays (Small Country) by Gaël Faye
The main character of the book is ten-year-old Gabriel, who lives a comfortable expatriate life in Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister. However, his universe shatters when Burundi and Rwanda are hit by war and genocide. I liked the book because it provides an insight into the unknown Burundi of the 1990s; usually we only read about the genocide in Rwanda.

  • Cabo Verde

Looking for recommendations!

  • Cameroon

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 9.32.58 AMBehold the Dreamers by Mbolo Mbue
The novel details the experiences of two New York City families during the 2008 financial crisis: an immigrant family from Cameroon, and their wealthy American employers. A powerful story of migration, marriage, class, pride, and race. This is the book that I was reading on the plane when I moved to Cameroon, so it was particularly special when I visited Limbe, the hometown of the Jonga family.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 9.45.13 AMUne vie de boy (Houseboy) by Ferdinand Oyono
The title does not lie: The book is about the life of a houseboy working first for a missionary, and then for a French family during colonial times in Cameroon. Considered a classic of 20th century African literature, it gives an interesting view on colonialism, class relations, racism, and power abuse. Ferdinand Oyono was an important Cameroonian diplomat and politician.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 9.59.38 AMLe vieux nègre et la médaille (The Old Man and the Medal) by Ferdinand Oyono
This novel by Oyono is less famous than Houseboy, yet I enjoyed it more. Full of irony, it tells the story of Meka, an old man from a small village in colonial Cameroon that has been selected to receive an award by the French administration. Again, an interesting and sarcastic view on colonialism, class relations, racism, and power abuse.

  • Central African Republic (CAR)

Looking for recommendations!

  • Chad

Looking for recommendations!

  • Comoros

Looking for recommendations!

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa)

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 11.07.06 AMLa vie et demie (Life and a Half) by Sony Labou Tansi
The novel takes place in an imaginary African country run by the latest in a series of cannibalistic dictators who has captured Martial, the leader of the opposition, and his family. Though shot, knifed, butchered, and bled, Martial’s spirit lives on to guide his followers in their fight against the dictators. The book is extremely explicit and violent, and it is very difficult to read (perhaps also because I read it in French), however it left a very strong impression on me. I could feel the anger and pain of the author when he wrote it.

Koli Jean Bofane’s Mathématiques congolaises and Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 are also on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville)

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 10.58.17 AMBlack Bazar (Black Bazaar) by Alain Mabanckou
Black Bazaar is about the daily problems of a Congolese dandy living in Paris. His friends call him “Le fessologue” because of his love for women’s butts. He’s basically a well-dressed macho, and the problem is that I hated him so much that it was difficult for me to enjoy the novel. However, I really liked the way Mabanckou portrays the interaction between immigrants from different countries living in a Parisian neighbourhood.

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African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou
Gregoire Nakobomayo is a criminal that wants to follow the steps of Angoualima, Congo’s mighty serial killer. However, he somehow always fails to kill his victims. Mabonckou’s insights into the mind of an inept murderer is brilliant, as well as his description of Brazaville’s society in the 1990s. However, as with American Pyscho, the description of his crimes can be hard to read.

  • Cote d’Ivoire

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 11.29.55 AMAllah n’est pas obligé (Allah is not Obliged) by Ahmadou Kourouma
I read this book eight years ago, but I can still perfectly remember the plot – that is a good sign to me. Birahima is a boy from Sierra Leone who after his mother’s death travels to Liberia to find his aunt. On the way gets caught up in rebel fighting and becomes a child soldier. Witty and moving.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 11.40.50 AMEn attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote) by Ahmadou Kourouma
After loving Allah is not Obliged, I was very eager to read something else by Ahmadou Kourouma. This book didn’t disappoint. A griot (traditional West African storyteller) entertains an anonymous country’s dictator (inspired by Togo’s Gnassingbé Eyadema) with a sarcastic story of a beloved African leader. I loved its sense of humour, and how it uses the form of traditional storytelling.

  • Djibouti

Looking for recommendations!

  • Egypt

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.21.47 PMMidaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
This book by the Literature Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz (1988) is a classic. Midaq Alley is set in the microcosm of a back alley of Cairo in the 1940s, showing a group of diverse characters as complex as the city they live in. I would say that this book is a must for foreigners to (try to) understand Cairo. Fun fact for Mexicans: Salma Hayek’s movie ‘El Callejón de los Milagros’ is based on this book.

  • Equatorial Guinea

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.57.22 AMBy Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel
The novel recounts the narrator’s childhood on a remote island off the West African coast, living with his mysterious grandfather, several mothers and no fathers. It reminded me of a Mexican proverb that says “Pueblo chico, infierno grande” (small town, big hell) – the story focuses on the petty intrigues of  island life. It’s a shame that I had to read the novel in English, as I could not find the original version in Spanish.

  • Eritrea

Looking for recommendations!

  • Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)

Looking for recommendations!

  • Ethiopia

Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu is on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Gabon

Looking for recommendations!

  • Gambia

Looking for recommendations!

  • Ghana

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.38.47 PMChanges: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo
A novel for all of us feminists. The main character, Esi is fed up of being raped by her husband and decides to divorce him despite criticism by her family and friends.  However, later on she falls in love with a married man who offers a polygamous marriage – quite a difficult decision for her, a ‘modern woman’. I particularly felt identified with the struggles of being raised in a conservative society.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.54.42 PMThe Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
So far, my favourite book from Ghana – and no, I did not misspell the title, you have to read the book to understand. This novel criticises Ghanian society and denounces corruption under Kwame Nkrumah’s post-independence government.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.58.45 PMThe Prophet of Zongo Street by Mohammed Naseehu Ali 
A collection of short stories, the book presents us with a series of characters living in Zongo Street. The overarching theme is the clash between modernity and tradition.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.39.26 PMGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

The entertaining story of a Ghanian-Nigerian family in the US. Suddenly, because of an injustice, their upper-middle class life in Boston crumbles, and they each take separate paths. Very easy-to-read, but not the most memorable book on the list.

Yaa Gyasi’s novel Homegoing and Kimberlite Flame by Amma Kyerewaa are also on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Guinea

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 2.04.30 PM 1L’enfant noir (The Dark Child) by Camara Laye
Not exactly a novel, but rather a memoir, Laye describes his youth in a village in French Guinea. He also describes the struggle between his future life as an academic, and his traditional beliefs and longing for home.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 2.18.00 PMLe terroriste noir (The Black Terrorist) by Tierno Monénembo
The novel tells the real story of Addi Bâ, a Guinean soldier who fought for the French army during WWII. He was first captured by the Germans, but he managed to escape and was taken as a guest by the inhabitants of a small French village, who took a lot of interest in him.

  • Guinea-Bissau

Looking for recommendations!

  • Kenya

Currently reading A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

  • Lesotho

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.31.57 PMChaka by Thomas Mofolo
I was actually surprised to discover that I had read a book from Lesotho, until now I thought that Mofolo was South African – my apologies. Chaka is the epic story of a Zulu King – an African tragedy, Greek style.

  • Liberia

Looking for recommendations!

  • Libya

Looking for recommendations!

  • Madagascar

Looking for recommendations!

  • Malawi

Looking for recommendations!

  • Mali

L’Etrange destin de Wangrin by Amadou Hampaté Bâ is on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Mauritania

Looking for recommendations!

  • Mauritius

Looking for recommendations!

  • Morocco

Laila Lalami‘s Secret Son is on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Mozambique

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 10.09.32 PMEvery Man is a Race by Mia Cuoto
A compelling collection of 18 short stories. When I started reading this book I knew nothing about Mozambique, and I felt that with each story I learned a different aspect of this country.

Mia Cuoto’s Sleepwalking Land is also on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Namibia

Looking for recommendations!

  • Niger

Looking for recommendations!

  • Nigeria

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.42.02 PMGraceLand by Chris Abani
Elvis is a dreamy teenage boy obsessed with all things American and who tries to make a living as an Elvis impersonator. However life in Lagos’ slums is not easy and he soon falls into a life of crime. I found it very entertaining, and i liked how it describes in detail the dangerous underworld of Lagos.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 2.55.30 PMThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
If you will only read one novel from Africa, this should be it – or at least that’s what all literature experts say.  The book tells the story of Okowono, the greatest warrior of West Africa. When the white missionaries arrive, he decides to resist and take violent action. I like it because it’s the only novel that I have read that explores the clash between ancient civilisations and Europeans at the beginning of the colonisation of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 9.08.53 AMStay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Yejide and Akin agree on a monogamous marriage, but four years later, they still cannot have children, so their families force Akin to take a second wife. A book about the struggles faced by women in family life, the story is just so powerful that I read the 260 pages non-stop. My only complaint is that Yejide is just too naive to be true.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.10.19 PMPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The debut novel of Adichie tells the story of fifteen-year-old Kambili, an overprotected girl whose life is ruled by her abusive and strict father. After her family gets involved in a military cup, she is sent to live with an aunt and she discovers another way of living.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.16.15 PMHalf a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is by far my favourite novel of Adichie. Set during the Biafran War (1960’s), it tells the story of twins Olanna and Kainene and their partners. While they both come from a wealthy family, they decide to take very different life paths, which in turn means that the war affects them in very different ways.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.24.26 PMThe Thing Around your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck explores different issues faced by Nigerian society, for example torture of prisoners, clashes between muslims and christians, and migration. The common subject is complicated family relations.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.32.11 PMAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s most famous novel does not disappoint. Ifemelu is a well-educated Nigerian living in the US, where she faces racism for the first time. She then becomes a famous blogger on race. What I liked about this book is not necessarily the plot (I would say that for a 500 pages book is not so eventful), but because it is an eye-opening work on what race means in modern society.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.55.43 PMThe Concubine by Elechi Amani
Ihuoma is a young woman that brings bad luck and death to all of her lovers. Her fellow villagers say that it is because she is married to a deity. I found it an interesting insight into villages’ superstition, religion and beliefs.

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.49.18 PMSunset at Dawn by Chukwuemeka Ike
Another novel set during the Biafran War. It tells the story of Fatima, a woman trying to flee the war. Ike tries to portray the war with a sense of humour, which I personally found confusing.

downloadWelcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo. 
Two soldiers, a rebel, a housewife and a young girl are running away from their lives, and find themselves in the same bus to Lagos. The circumstances lead them to help each other find a better life in the city, and they get into big trouble together. It was very entertaining, although quite surreal at times.

download (1)The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. 
Baba Segi is a relatively wealthy man who prides himself of his three wives and his many children. However, when he takes a fourth wife and she fails to get pregnant, his world falls apart. An interesting insight into a polygamous marriage.

 Amos Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road are on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Rwanda

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga is on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Sao Tome and Principe

Looking for recommendations!

  • Senegal

L’aventure ambiguë by Cheikh Hamidou Kane is on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Seychelles

Looking for recommendations!

  • Sierra Leone

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.15.43 PMThe Memory of Love, by Aminatta Forna
The Memory of Love is set in a hospital in Freetown, where three men meet of different ages and origins meet. The three of them are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, painful memory wars, and complicated love stories. A very entertaining plot, it kept me hooked from beginning to end.

  • Somalia

Looking for recommendations!

  • South Africa

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 10.20.16 PMA Duty of Memory by W.P.B. Botha
It’s always difficult to read a book whose main character is in fact the villain, but this is a very insightful view on South African society from the perspective of a racist white man during apartheid.

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 10.29.50 PMKings of the Water by Mark Behr
The book explores race relations in South Africa post-apartheid, from the point of view of an Afrikaner man who exiles himself from his country to go live in the US. It’s also a nice story on how complicated family relations can get.

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 10.34.36 PMBoyhood by J.M. Coetzee
A kind of fictionalised memoir, the book tells the story of Coetzee’s childhood in Cape Town. It was an interesting read, however I don’t think it’s the best choice from Coetzee’s books.

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer, Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee also on my ‘To Read’ list. I am also looking for books written by black South Africans.

  • South Sudan

Looking for recommendations!

  • Sudan

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.54.58 PMMinaret by Leila Aboulela
Najwa is a rich girl from Khartoum whose fortune changes when her father is executed following a coup. She ends up living in London where she works as a maid. When everything goes wrong, she finds peace in religion. It was an entertaining read, but as an atheist I found it difficult to understand or feel empathy for Najwa’s strong faith.

  • Tanzania

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah is on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Togo

Looking for recommendations!

  • Tunisia

Looking for recommendations!

  • Uganda

Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is on my ‘To Read’ list.

  • Zambia

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.33.52 PMA Cowry of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe
A Cowry of Hope is a novel about poverty, and how far a mother can go to give her daughter a different future. It was a pleasant read, very moving, with an independent and strong character.

  • Zimbabwe

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.37.57 AM

We Need New Names  by NoViolet Bulawayo
We Need New Names tells the story of a young girl named Darling, first as a child living in a slum in Harare, and later as a teenager in Detroit. One of the sweetest stories I have read on migration, to the point that it left me in tears.

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.41.42 PMDew in the Morning by Shimmer Chinodya 
The plot is not the most exciting, but it is a nice description of changing society and values in Zimbabwe in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu is also on mi ‘To Read’ list.

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