For those in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer is a great time to recalibrate from a fast-paced year. Regardless if you are at a holiday destination or holed up in the comfort of your home, it’s a moment to catch up on literature, especially from Africa and Africans in the Diaspora. To help you out, we’ve prepared a top 15 must-read list.
This year, some of Africa’s finest authors have released new material – some making strong impressions with their debut works while others build on their stellar careers with new titles.
Some of these books are already enjoying global acclaim within months of publication, which should really tell you all you need to know about them. However, here is our list of 15 books that you must read.
1. Glory, by NoViolet Bulawayo (Viking Books)
Zimbabwe-born novelist NoViolet Bulawayo’s sophomore novel is already drawing accolades featuring on this year’s Booker Prize longlist.
With striking influences from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, this book, described in The Guardian UK as “a spellbinding allegory”, is about Jidada, an animal kingdom similar in political climate to Zimbabwe in the immediate aftermath of President Robert Mugabe’s 40-year rule.
2. People Live Here, by TJ Benson (Masobe Books)
In his second novel, the Kaduna-born writer and visual artist tells an emotive story stretching from suburban Lagos to the heart of Sana’a. A single mother’s quest for a better life lands her in another continent, where she experiences new perspectives to friendship, self-interrogation, and healing. These lessons come in handy when she returns to meet a country slowly heading to the precipice.
3. Vagabonds by Eloghosa Osunde (Riverhead Books)
Nigerian writer and visual artist Eloghosa Osunde’s debut examines the motivations and ambitions of a motley of characters residing in the coastal city of Lagos.
Her fictional enquiry emphasises both the tangible and intangible in tangy and relentless prose, just like the city itself brimming and frothing over like the Atlantic Ocean.
4. If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English, by Noor Naga (Graywolf Press)
Identity politics meets post-revolution idealism in Noor Naga’s experimental novel. As the dust settles and Egypt marches through the debris of the Arab Spring, an Egyptian-American woman visiting the country for the first-time bumps into a drug-addled, brooding photographer. A whirlwind romance erupts, but they soon find that the peculiarities that make them different may be too strong, even for the breath from each other’s lips.
5. Moon Witch, Spider King, by Marlon James (Riverhead Books)
For the second installment in Jamaica-born Booker Prize-winning novelist’s trilogy, Moon Witch, Spider King builds up the back story of Sogolon, the 300-year-old witch on a child-murdering demon rampage in the first installment.
As expected, it is bold and daring swathes of prose peppered with gore and sex, not for the squeamish.
6. Yinka Where Is Your Huzband, by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn (Penguin Books & Narrative Landscape)
Cheeky, delightful, and hearty, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn’s debut explores the intricacies of family bonds, romance, sexism, and colourism, albeit in a light-hearted fashion. In a story that infuses the flavour of modernity into oft-adored elements of romance novels from previous eras, a young British-Nigerian woman, tired of having her mother grind her gears with incessant calls to find a spouse, flings herself into the murky modern dating scene.
7. A History of Disappearance, by Sarah Lubala (Botsotso Publishing)
The widely published Congolese poet, whose family fled their home country due to the political unrest of the 1990s, hands in a collection of 37 poems for her debut effort. A History of Disappearance probes the nuances of xenophobia, displacement, mental illness, and gender-based violence.
These poems serve up an introspective feel that reverberates through each page, in line with her quest to describe “disappearance as a structure of experience, and not just as an event”.
8. Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, by Warsan Shire (Random House)
The much-anticipated first full-length poetry collection from the first-ever Young Poet Laureate for London, whose incisive words were included in Beyonce’s 2016 LP Lemonade, has finally hit the bookshelves. Shortlisted in the Best First Collection category for the Forward Prize, the Kenyan-born Somali poet renders poems that examine the disquiet, dysphoria and desolation that sometimes characterises life in the diaspora, but not without the anticipation of redemption.
9. Nomad, by Romeo Oriogun (Griots Lounge Publishing)
Long-listed for the Nigerian Literature Prize, Romeo Oriogun continues with his perceptive style of poetry in his sophomore collection which explores the meaning of exile.
Always juxtaposing internal despair and external observation, Oriogun produces heartfelt and lyrical poems examining the existential fates of black bodies in modern times.
10. Things They Lost, by Okwiri Oduor (Scribner and Oneworld Publications)
After clinching the Caine Prize in 2014, Kenya-born writer Okwiri Oduor disappeared from public life, but has now reappeared with her debut novel, Things They Lost, a novel set in the 80s centred on a 12-year-old girl in a fictional town located in the Kenyan Rift Valley.
The book has been praised in the Guardian UK for its balance of the “whimsy with satirical, devastating realism”, an apt description true to her fictional style invested in the surreal but with occasional surprising departure into stark realism.
11. Wahala, by Nikki May (HarperCollins)
Nikki May’s exhilarating debut novel, whose title is drawn from a nation’s colloquial moniker for trouble, is an incisive take on culture, individualism, and the unpredictable dynamics of female friendship.
Three British-Nigerian women find a way to love each other despite their respective deep-seated insecurities, until a fourth woman infiltrates the group and unprecedented chaos ensues.
12. Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, by Bernadine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton)
In her first book of nonfiction, the Booker Prize-winning author provides a vibrant and intriguing account of her life’s journey as she describes the arduous process involved in breaking several glass ceilings to become one of the world’s most successful writers of colour. Part memoir and part commentary, Manifesto sparks conversations on race, feminism, and sexuality, with paragraphs rendered in high-octane prose.
13. Decolonising African Studies: Knowledge Production, Agency, and Voice, by Toyin Falola (Rochester University Press)
The latest book by this Nigerian-born distinguished professor of history tackles the decolonisation of African Studies by making a case against the Western monopoly of knowledge. This book has been praised for the accessible language typical of Falola’s academic texts, cementing his vaunted role as one of Africa’s leading public intellectuals.
14. I Am Because We Are: An African Mother’s Fight for the Soul of a Nation, by Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr (Knopf)
In this heartfelt memoir, Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr steps into the shoes of her deceased mother, Dora Akunyili, a Nigerian public servant and politician remembered in the country for her fearless battle against the sale of counterfeit medication in the early years of the country’s fourth republic.
This book is about her coming-of-age in the war-torn Southeast region of Nigeria, wading through the society’s strictures of patriarchy and misogyny, and progressing to the apex of her career in spite of systemic hurdles.
15. Asylum: A Memoir and Manifesto, by Edafe Okporo (Simon and Schuster)
Before seeking asylum in the US, Edafe Okporo lived the grim reality of being gay in Nigeria: mob violence, homophobic slurs, extortion, and a legislation that practically placed a bounty on his head. In this riveting memoir, the Warri-born writer and activist documents his experiences growing up queer in a highly religious nation, navigating America’s legal system, and making a life for himself as a sexual minority.
Credit: Jerry Chiemeke and Dami Ajayi