My literary trip across Africa

My first encounter with African literature was back in 2010, when I was an exchange student at the University of Ghana. The University had a well-stocked bookstore with extremely affordable titles by English-speaking authors from all over the continent (mostly part of the Heinemann African Writers Series). My first pick was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, and I quickly 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 since 2017 that I am back living in the continent (this time in Cameroon), that I am trying again to discover this rich literary universe, this time 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 author. I am still looking for books on certain countries, so please comment if you have any suggestions!

Algeria

  • Le siècle des sauterelles (Century of Locusts) by Malika Mokeddem
    A tragic tale about Bedouins in early 20th-century Algeria and the threats to their traditional semi-nomad life. A novel full of romantic descriptions of the desert, and pointy criticisms on French colonialism.

Angola

  • Good Morning Comrades by Ondjaki
    A nostalgic short novel that describes the author’s childhood in Luanda during the 1980’s. 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.
  • Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki is also on my ‘To Read’ list.

Benin

Looking for recommendations!

Botswana

  • When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head
    A South African political refugee and an Englishman join forces to revolutionize a village’s traditional farming methods, but soon they face the barriers of tradition, opposition from the local chief, and bad weather.

Burkina Faso

Looking for recommendations!

Burundi

  • Petit 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. Expect tears to come out.

Cabo Verde

Looking for recommendations!

Cameroon

  • Behold 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.
  • Une vie de boy (Houseboy) by Ferdinand Oyono
    A short novel 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.
  • Le 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. An interesting and sarcastic view on colonialism.

Central African Republic (CAR)

Looking for recommendations!

Chad

Looking for recommendations!

Comoros

Looking for recommendations!

Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa)

  • La 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. Be prepared, the book is explicit and violent.
  • Mathématiques congolaises by Koli Jean Bofane
    Celio is a poor, uneducated man living in Kinshasa who suddenly has the opportunity to work for the Presidency of the Republic. He soon realizes that he has to be as corrupt and unethical as everybody else if he wants to succeed. I am not sure if there is an English translation, but I found Dutch and Italian versions.
  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
    Set in a bar in an unnamed Congolese mining town, but clearly inspired by Lumumbashi, Tram 83 follows poet Lucien and his escapades with Congolese and expatriate writers, drunkards, drug dealers and dreamers. Pure decadence.

Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville)

  • Black Bazar (Black Bazaar) by Alain Mabanckou
    Black Bazaar is about the daily problems of a Congolese dandy living in Paris. His friends, immigrants from all over the world, call him “le fessologue” because of his love for women’s butts. Personally, I found the main character so repulsive that it was difficult for me to enjoy the novel.
  • 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 always fails to kill his victims. Mabonckou’s insights into the mind of an inept murderer are brilliant.

Cote d’Ivoire

Djibouti

Looking for recommendations!

Egypt

  • Midaq 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. Fun fact for Mexicans: Salma Hayek’s movie ‘El Callejón de los Milagros’ is based on this book.

Equatorial Guinea

  • By 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. The plot focuses on the petty intrigues of island life. It’s a shame that I had to read the novel in English, but I could not find the original version in Spanish.

Eritrea

Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)

Looking for recommendations!

Ethiopia

Gabon

Looking for recommendations!

Gambia

Looking for recommendations!

Ghana

  • Changes: 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’.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
    The novel tells the story of a family through seven generations and three hundred years, from a slave trader’s castle in the Gold Coast, to a student party in Berkeley.
  • The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
    A railway freight clerk in Ghana attempts to hold out against the pressures that impel him toward corruption in both his family and his country. The novel denounces Ghanaian society under Kwame Nkrumah’s post-independence government.
  • The 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.
  • Ghana 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.
  • Kimberlite Flame by Amma Kyerewaa and The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah are also on my ‘To Read’ list.

Guinea

  • L’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.
  • Le 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

Lesotho

  • Chaka by Thomas Mofolo
    The Greek-style epic story of the raise and fall of Zulu emperor Shaka.

Liberia

Looking for recommendations!

Libya

Looking for recommendations!

Madagascar

Looking for recommendations!

Malawi

Looking for recommendations!

Mali

Mauritania

Looking for recommendations!

Mauritius

Looking for recommendations!

Morocco

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

Mozambique

  • Every Man is a Race by Mia Cuoto
    A compelling collection of 18 short stories looking at the issues of civil war, petty officialdom and corruption against the backdrop of post-independence Mozambique.
  • Sleepwalking Land by Mia Cuoto also on my ‘To Read’ list.

Namibia

Looking for recommendations!

Niger

Looking for recommendations!

Nigeria

  • GraceLand 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 underworld is not easy and he soon falls into a life of crime.
  • Things 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.
  • Stay 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.
  • Purple 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 coup, she is sent to live with an aunt and she discovers another way of living.
  • Half 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.
  • The 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.
  • Americanah 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. An eye-opening book on what race means in modern society.
  • The 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. An interesting insight into villages’ superstition, religion and beliefs.
  • Sunset 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, with a confusing sense of humor.
  • Welcome 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.
  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
    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.
  • The Palm Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola and The Famished Road by Ben Okri are on my ‘To Read’ list.

Rwanda

  • Notre-Dame du Nil (Our Lady of the Nile) by Scholastique Mukasonga
    An elite school for young girls, Our Lady of the Nile, is a fascinating microcosm of Rwanda in the 1970’s, showing the hatred and racial violence that eventually led to the genocide.

Sao Tome and Principe

Looking for recommendations!

Senegal

Seychelles

Looking for recommendations!

Sierra Leone

  • The 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.

Somalia

  • Maps by Naruddin Farah is on my ‘To Read’ list.

South Africa

  • A 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.
  • Kings of the Water by Mark Behr
    The book explores race and family 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.
  • Boyhood by J.M. Coetzee
    A fictionalized memoir of Coetzee’s childhood in Cape Town.
  • The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer and 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

  • Minaret 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.

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

  • A 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.

Zimbabwe

  • 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.
  • Dew in the Morning by Shimmer Chinodya 
    An enjoyable 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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