Ever since I took a world literature class in university, and loved pretty much every book we read that term, I've been reading more world than 'conventional'/'mainstream'/out-of-this-world? literature. Yes, sometimes these terms get out of control. To be clearer, I've dedicated most of my reading effort towards reading literature from the so-called developing world and particularly, from Africa and its diaspora. It's been especially enriching for me for a few reasons: providing me with the vibrance I remember from home, while I live abroad (i.e. it's comforting); learning about places and cultures that I might not otherwise have been exposed to (I find literature an invaluable source for learning about history – even though the specific story may be fictional or representative); it makes me feel more at home in the world by weaving an intricate tapestry of diversity.
So, preamble out of the way, below are five of my favourite African novels. This is not an exhaustive list!
Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera
This book is like a little gem: delicate, diminutive in length yet so generous in expression. Yvonne Vera became my hero after my first reading. A true craftswoman, there are no 'spare' sentences in the book – each one is perfectly put together and poetic. Simultaneously the story of a woman's self-discovery and a nation's self-discovery, it crescendos to a striking powerful end. One of my favourite lines: "How does a woman claim a piece of time and make it glitter?" Context is everything so, check the book out.
Our Sister Killjoy by Ama Ata Aidoo
Ama Ata Aidoo is one witty woman. Apparent in the books and stories I've read of hers, as well as plays I've watched. Our Sister Killjoy was my first. Unique in integrating poetry and prose, she chronicles the experience of a young Ghanaian woman who goes abroad to study. It's an experience that more and more of us out of the continent can resonate with. The sassy protagonist voices all those questions and observations that you've probably had yourself.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This woman is my inspiration! Down to the fact that we share a guilty pleasure – Essence magazine. Her spunk and confidence is evident in her writing and, even though this particular novel is a tale weaved around the historical events of decades ago, her writing is fresh, signaling indeed a new wave of African writers, after the Ayi Kwei Armahs and Ngugi Wa Thiong'os paved the way.
Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila
I bought this book on a whim at a book fair years ago. Habila himself was selling them and although I hadn't at the time heard anything about him or his work, I thought I'd give it a try. Again, a relatively slim novel with amazing punch! I read through it in one weekend it was so captivating. Several stories collide in the final event, revealing their interconnectedness all along. His second novel, Measuring Time, has a really different pace which initially threw me but, after all is said and done, it is just as masterful and satisfying.
I was debating between the two aforementioned fathers of African literature for the fifth book but I couldn't quite decide so… this is now the post about six of my all-time favourite novels 🙂
Matigari by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o
A representative tale of the fight for freedom from colonialism in Africa. The story is told in a very interesting way combining prose and poetry as well a lot of questioning and repetition, common in African oral traditions. The king of satire, Ngugi makes you laugh, wince and shake your head, in recognition of characters and institutions that even today, over 20 years after the book was written, ring true.
The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
Another freshly post-colonial tale, Armah's novel exposes the dirt and decay that mars the promise of independence. The protagonist, the seemingly only upright man in Ghana, is increasingly frustrated by the filth and tempted to succumb to it. The novel follows his internal battle, while vividly illustrating the pervasiveness of the decay of place and person.