The last two decades witnessed an explosion of ingenious writers in the African literary space, with works that have left readers wowed, carving a place on bookshelves, and in our hearts. The overwhelming abundance of talents and the unending supply of works to read makes the task of picking favourites challenging. Below are five of my preferred novels by African writers.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichi
A stellar debut by Chimamanda, Purple Hibiscus tells the story of Kambili, a timid fifteen-year old stuck in a cycle of pleasing her austere Catholic father. Reviewed on The Guardian as been, “…extremely engaging and not only is it a good laugh, but you get to travel along the journey of life with Kambili and explore her as she grows and becomes more of an extrovert.” Purple Hibiscus invites the reader into Kambili’s encounters with family, growth, and the intricacies of love. It is bound to be a literature lover’s favourite.
Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Set between the year 1750 and the early 2000s in Buganda – pre-colonial Uganda – and the present day, Kintu narrates the journey of Kintu Kidda and his descendants as they wrestle against invincible hands of an ancestral curse. The novel weaves critical aspects of Uganda’s traditions, beliefs, and history, while stirring conversations around the trueness of ancestral curses, fate, and belief systems. It renders colonialism only as a minor character, and not a central theme, a deliberate decision on the author’s part. Kintu is sure to leave you stunned and soused with hope.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebay
Ayobami Adebayo articulately and carefully captures the human experience in her heart-warming debut novel. Telling the story of love-struck couple, Yejide and Akin, she takes us through episodes of love, family, marriage, infidelity, and their travails in conceiving a child. Shuffling between three Yoruba cities, the work explores themes of womanhood, childbirth, mental health, trust, identity, stretching the reader’s willingness to question the belief systems we ever so cherish.
In Dependence by Sarah Ladipo Mayinka
The fourth debut novel on the list, In Dependence opens in the early 1960s when Tayo Ajayi meets Vanessa Richardson, daughter of an ex-colonial officer. Thus begins a tale of identity, tradition, and the inevitable conflicts of interracial relationships. Of the work, Bernadine Evaristo says, “I so enjoyed this beautiful and ambitious novel spanning four decades. It refracts race, culture, politics, work and family through a great love story between a Nigerian man and British woman. The writing is crisp and unshowy, the storytelling immersive, the characters are all written with sensitivity, showing their humanity.”
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
Lola Shoneyin delivers a humorously troubling story in her first-time novel. Set in Nigeria, Baba Segi already has three wives and a company of children, a testament to his manliness. With an insatiable desire, he takes on a fourth wife and thus begins an unravelling of secrets within his household. Spinning themes on morality, infidelity, and patriarchy, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is both hilarious and bedazzling, and was recently adapted for the stage to positive reviews.
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