Top 10 Africa Books

According to The Telegraph (2014):

  • Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (1958) 

Set in Nigeria at the turn of the 19th century, this is a heartbreaking modern Greek tragedy in which a flawed hero finds himself at odds with the rapidly changing world. It is the classic modern African novel.

  • Children of Gebelawi, Naguib Mahfouz (1981)

Originally serialised in a Cairo newspaper, Children of Gebelawi is an allegory for the religious history of the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians set in an alleyway in Cairo. It earned Mahfouz the Nobel Prize and an assassination attempt.

  • Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih (1966)

Beautifully rendered in lush poetic language, Salih’s story of a man returning to his Sudanese village from England is a bleak meditation on cross-cultural misunderstandings, as well as the confusions and contradictions within the human heart.

  • A Bend in the River, VS Naipaul (1979)

An East African Indian, Salim leaves the east coast of Africa to set up shop in a little town on the bend of a river in an unnamed country deep in the interior, but he is plagued by disappointment and failure as the country falls to ruin. It is hardly a cheery book, but compelling and resonant.

  • My Traitor’s Heart, Rian Malan (1990)

Rian Malan, from a family that included the architect of apartheid, left a divided South Africa only to return to confront his “tribe” of white Africans and – just as much – himself. There is something unsettling about his findings, but this is never less than totally absorbing.

  • The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)

Set in the 1960s, The Poisonwood Bible concerns a family of missionaries from the American South who are moving to the Congo. It is at once a family drama and a study of the impact of one culture on another.

  • The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith (1998)

Not even the author would claim this was a “great” book, but it earns its place by being overtly cheerful and for bringing a rare “good news” story out of an Africa that is too often characterised as a grim, barbaric, hopeless and miserable place.

  • Disgrace, J M Coetzee (1999)

Winner of the Booker Prize and later awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Coetzee’s novel follows a disgraced university lecturer, David Lurie, who is forced out of his post after an affair and is beginning to come to terms with his powerlessness. Bleak and powerful, with just a hint of the possibility of redemption.

  • Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

Another Nigerian modern classic, set before and during the BiafranWar in the late 1960s, Adichie’s novel won the Orange Prize for fiction in 2007. It describes the impact of a civil war on ordinary people and in its moral seriousness – it acts almost as a book end to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

  • In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar (2006)

A beautiful description of growing up in Gaddaffi’s Libya finds nine-year-old Sulaiman trying to make sense of a life where his father is a dissident and his mother on drugs. Meanwhile, the police are closing in…

Some others: 

  • Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton (1948)
  • The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing (1950)
  • The Bride Price, Buchi Emecheta (1976)
  • A Dry White Season, André P Brink (1979)
  • July’s People, Nadine Gordimer (1981)
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