7 Must-Read African Books
African Literature has grown beyond the genres of literary fiction and memoirs and stories of colonisation. These days authors are using chick lit, young adult, science fiction, paranormal and other genres to tell important stories. Here are seven books to get you started in discovering new genres in African literature.
• Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The story is told by 15 year old Kambili about growing up with her physically abusive, authoritarian, religious fanatic, generous, and politically active father; her submissive, quiet mother; and her rebellious older brother in their high-walled compound in Enugu
When the country begins to fall apart after a Military coup, Kambili and her brother go to live with their aunt, a university professor at Nsukka. The life they live there is very different from the rigid lifestyle that Kambili is used to. It is a coming of age story that is interesting and compelling and will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
• The Memory of Love by Aminata Forna
While the plot of The Memory of Love is based on civil war in Sierra Leone, it focuses more on the stories of the people who are affected by war. It also talks about love and loss. This book starts off very slow but gradually builds as the theme on which it is built becomes clearer. There are three major protagonists who each have their own memory of love. Cole, the aged professor, Adrian, the psychologist, and Kai, the surgeon. Their lives and loves intersect and the author narrates the book through them.
• Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Who Fears Death can be described as a post apocalyptic, dystopian novel. The story is centred around Onyesonwu, an outcast who is not accepted by either her mother’s tribe or as her father’s child. Her mother’s people, the Okeke are hated by the Nuhu. Both the Okeke and the Nuhu do not welcome Ewu. Onyesonwu is also a sorceress whose abilities, though spectacular, endanger her and cause her suffering. They also lead her on a quest to save her mother’s people from war, slavery, and eventual genocide. The story deals frankly with horrific subjects like rape, war, genocide, and female circumcision. It is not gory or depressing, but nothing is glossed over.
• On Black Sisters’ Street by Chika Unigwe
On Black Sisters Street tells the haunting stories of four very different African women who have left their homes for the riches of Europe. At first, they are indifferent, barely tolerating each other, but a murder throws them together and they reveal secrets and share stories of fear, displacement, and love. The story is very engaging and enthralling. The book starts off very slow it’s almost tiring, but it eventually picks up and you’re lost in the world that these women live in.
• Wife of The Gods by Kwei Quartey
Kwei Quartey’s debut novel is set in modern Ghana, and features Inspector Detective Darko Dawson who is mandated to investigate the murder of a young woman in Kentau, the town from which his mother disappeared many years before. Dawson has to deal with a local police chief who resents his intrusion and widespread superstition, which forces him to confront the tradition of “trokosi,” where families offer their teenage daughters to fetish priests as “wives of the gods.” The narrative is impressive. There’s suspense, mystery, and adventure. It is simple to read and understand and is very entertaining. It is a remarkable story with dynamic characters and a well-crafted resolution.
• The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
This is the story of Vimbai, the hairdresser, as she struggles to make a home for herself and her young son. She has lost a beloved brother to the diaspora and when a new (male) stylist joins the salon, it looks as if she will soon lose her best clients, maybe even her job.
The book is a sort of socio-political commentary. It is appealing and sometimes humorous. It could be regarded as a light book, but it touches on some “heavy” topics like homosexuality and unemployment.
• The Hangman’s Replacement: Sprout of Disruption by Taona Dumisani Chiveneko
A villager’s quest to become Zimbabwe’s new executioner kicks off this fascinating debut novel involving man-eating plants, superstitions and other bizarre oddities. Abel Muranda, an honorable and ethical man from a tiny rural village, with a family in danger of starvation, applies for a job as Zimbabwe’s new hangman because of its good salary and health care. The story is written with a mixture of individual stories that don’t seem to fit together in the beginning, newspaper articles, and letters and moves from person to person, place to place, without confusing the reader. The dots connect easily towards the end of the book and you now see the importance of all the “unimportant and unnecessary details.” Each one reveals or reflects something.