So…a while back, ahead of Africa Writes, in collaboration with the Bookshy Blogger’s Zahrah Nessbit-Ahmed, we published a list of 25 Books by African Women that everyone should read – it’s been very popular, and we thought it wasn’t fair that women be the only ones singled out for a special list, after all, African men have done some decent writing too. So once again in a totally subjective, but we hope, pleasing manner – we’ve come up with a list of 50 Books by African Men that everyone should read – this time ahead of the Ake Books & Arts Festival 2014. As always, we have no doubt omitted some amazing books (and maybe included some dud ones?) but hopefully it’s a window to discovering some authors you don’t know – and if you feel strongly about ones we’ve missed, feel free to tweet at us – or comment on our facebook page.
1. The Book of Chameleons
About the Author: Born in Huambo, Angola Jose Eduardo Agualusa is an Angolan journalist and writer born to white Portuguese settlers. He writes in Portuguese and his books have been translated into twenty languages. He has published collections of short stories, novels, a novella and a work of investigative reporting on the African community in Lisbon. In 2007 he won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for the English Translation of his novel The Book of Chameleons. Agualusa became the first African writer to win the award since its launch in 1990. He writes monthly for the Portuguese magazine LER and weekly for the Angolan newspaper A Capital and currently spends his time between Portugal, Angola and Brazil.
About the book: Felix Ventura trades in an incredibly strange commodity. He is a dealer in memories, selling new pasts to those whose futures are secure but lack good lineage to complete their lives. Narrated by an intelligent and friendly lizard that lives in Felix’s room, this is an original murder mystery, beautifully written exploring how people can remember things that never happened and yet vividly forget things that did in fact occur.
2. Every Day is For the Thief
About the Author: Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American writer, photographer and art historian. He is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College. Born in the US to Nigerian parents and raised in Nigeria he returned to the US at the age of 17. He is the author of two books. A novella, Every Day is for the Thief, a New York Times Editors’ Pick and a novel Open City which won an array of awards including the PEN/Hemingway Award. Cole is a contributor to the New York Times, the New Yorker, Qarrtsiluni, the Atlantic, Granta, Aperture, Transition, A Public Space, and several other magazines. He is currently working on a non-fiction narrative on Lagos and lives in Brooklyn.
About the Book: It’s said that you have never read a book like Every Day is For the Thief because no one writes like Teju Cole. This concise and compelling read follows the story of a young Nigerian living in New York who goes back to Lagos for a short visit after a 15 year absence. There he finds a city that is both familiar and strange to him. It is somewhat cosmopolitan with the Chinese, Indian, Lebanese and Germans all there to prosper from the country’s main resource – but also restless; in the internet cafes he witnesses the daily operations of email fraud and longs after an enigmatic woman reading on a public bus. Reconnecting with old friends and family he begins to question himself and the changes in his nation.
3. Sleepwalking Land
About the Author: Mia Couto was born in Beira, Mozambique and is the son of Portuguese emigrants. He is considered one of Mozambique’s leading writers. Aiming to become a doctor he began his studies at the University of Lourenço Marques in 1974. However a coup to overturn the dictatorship saw him suspend his studies to work as a journalist. He then became the director of the Mozambican Information Agency. His first book of poems was published in 1983. His works have been published in over 20 countries in various languages. Although writing in Portuguese his literary style has been praised for blending the language with regional vocabulary and structure from Mozambique and is influenced by magical realism.
About the Book: Using magic realism Couto tells the story of Mozambique’s 16 year civil war, transforming the harsh reality of the brutal conflict. The tale follows an elderly man and a young boy, both refugees from the civil war who seek shelter from a burnt out bus filled with corpses;
4. The Quiet Violence of Dreams
About the Author: Kabelo Sello Duiker was a South African novelist born in Orlando West, Soweto into a well-educated affluent family at the height of apartheid. He was sent to the elite Redhill School where he was one of only two black children. It made Duiker very conscious of the political climate of South Africa. He enrolled at Rhodes University studying at journalism and art history later moving to Cape Town study copy writing and worked as a script writer. In 2001 his first novel won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, for first book Africa Region. Duiker often had to wrestle with his own identity due to the fact that he was a black man with an Afrikaans surname. In 2004 Duiker suffered a nervous breakdown, taking his life on 19th January 2005 aged just 30.
About the Book: A fascinating and bold novel, this is most definitely a must read. The story is set in the cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Cape Town; Observatory, Mowbray and Sea Point. Subcultures thrive and alternative lifestyles are tolerated in these areas and Sello creates a captivating character in Tshepo. Whilst studying at Rhodes, he is confined to a Cape Town mental institution due to a ‘cannabis-induced psychosis’. He escapes but is returned to the hospital where he finishes his rehabilitation. After being released he ends his studies and works as a waiter whilst living with a recently released prisoner. Due to various circumstances he loses his job and finds himself working at a male massage parlour. It is here that he becomes conscious of his sexual orientation.
About the Author: Nuruddin Farah was born in Baidoa, Somalia in 1945. As a child he attended schools in Somalia and Ethiopia and studied English, Arabic and Aramaic. He continued the majority of his higher education in India and England. He is the author of over ten books and between 1969 and 1972, Farah assisted in the first transliteration of the Somali language into the western, Latin alphabet. He published his first novel in 1970 and is also the author of essays, short stories, plays and films scripts. In 1998 he was the awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature and he is regarded as one of Africa’s most influential authors. He currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa.
About the Book: This gripping novel is Nuruddin Farah’s 11th novel, and his latest; it’s a novel that is global in range, but intimate in its consideration of Somalia’s painful experience of the 21s century, and the suffering of individuals. Following the fortunes of pirates, militants as well as ordinary people, this novel presents a haunting survey of a damaged land.
6. The Hairdresser of Harare
About the Author: Tendai Huchu is a Zimbabwean writer born in Bindura, Zimbabwe in 1982. Choosing to study Mining at the University of Zimbabwe, he dropped out in his first year and found work at a casino before drifting through various jobs. He returned to university after four years and is now a podiatrist in Edinburgh. He was awarded the Hawthorden Fellowship in 2013. The Hairdresser of Harare is his first novel.
About the Book: This warm, funny and thought-provoking novel follows the fortunes of a hairdresser Vimbai. Vimbai, is the best hairdresser in Mrs Khumalo’s salon’s, a position she loseswhen the attractive and charming Dumisani joins the team; though irritated and threaned by him, she soon becomes his landlady. When Dumisani needs someone to accompany him to his brother’s wedding to help smooth over a family upset, Vimbai obliges. She is touched by the warmth of his families’ welcome however their strong friendship begins to collapse when secrets and jealousies are exposed…
7. Ambiguous Adventure
About the Author: Born in Matam, Senegal Cheikh Hamidou Kane is a Senegalese writer best known for his prize winning novel Ambiguous Adventure. He received a traditional Muslim education before going on to study law in Paris. He has degrees in law and philosophy from the École Nationale de la France d’Outre-Mer. After returning to Senegal in 1959 he served as commissioner for planning in the government and was an official for UNICEF in Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
About the Book: Hailed by Chinua Achebe as one of the greatest African novels ever written, Ambiguous Adventure addresses the very pertinent issue of the collision of Islamic, African values and western culture. The story focuses on Samba Diallo. As a devout pupil at a Koranic school whose parents send him to Paris to study philosophy. Unbeknownst to him, whilst he finds this trip a thrilling, new adventure, his parents true intentions were to gain a better understanding of the French colonial forces and their attempts to transform their traditional way of life. Samba soon finds himself at a crossroads between the secular and materialistic lifestyle of the French and the spiritual influences of his place of birth.
8. Allah is Not Obliged
About the author: Ahmadou Kourouma was an Ivorian novelist. From 1950-1954 whilst Ivory Coat was still under French military rule he participated in French military campaigns in Indochina. After this he travelled to France to study mathematics. He returned to Ivory Coast after it won independence in 1960 and became highly critical of the government and spent several years in exile. He began to speak out through his writing and his first novel was published in 1970. In France many of Kourouma’s novels have been met with great acclaim, including being awarded the Prix Renaudot prize in 2000.
About the Book: Birahima is a child soldier. Growing up in a village somewhere on the Guinean/Ivorian border. His mother dies when he is 10, and he travels to Liberia to find his aunt but on the way is caught up fighting in the wars that swept West Africa during the 1990s. Kourouma’s novel tells the story of chaotic and unfortunate adventures that beset Birahima as child soldier.
9. Broken Glass
About the Author: Alain Mabanckou is a Congolese novelist, journalist, poet and academic. He earned a BA in Literature and Philosophy at Lycee Karl Marx, gaining a scholarship to study Law in France at the age of 22. By then he had already had many manuscripts to his name which he would publish 3 years later. He published his first book Bleu-Blanc-Rouge in 1999. This was awarded the Grand prix littéraire d’Afrique noire (Major literary prize of Black Africa). As a French citizen he is best known for his novels and non-fiction that portray the experience of contemporary Africa and African diaspora in France. He is one of the best known and most successful writers in the French language and best known African writers in France. He currently resides in Santa Monica, California as a professor at the University of California.
About the Book: This novel it is narrated by Broken Glass, a shamed alcoholic school teacher. Asked to document the characters and the goings on of the bar that he frequents, the Credit Gone Away, by the owner, the Stubbon Snail, he displays his love for French literature and language. Broken Glass treats us to a collection of life stories whilst also divulging into his own background, the wife who left him due to his alcoholism and being abandoned by his father as a child.
10. The Cario Trilogy
About the Author: Naguib Mahfouz was an Egyptian writer. He won the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize for literature. Born in Cairo in 1911 he began writing at the age of 17. He published his first novel in 1939 and ten more before the Egyptian Revolution. The publication of the Cairo Trilogy made him famous throughout the Arab world. Until 1972 he was employed as a civil servant, his last position being a consultant on Cultural Affairs to the Ministry of Culture. He published over 30 novels, over 35 short stories, film scripts and five plays. Many of his novels have been made into films.
About the book: Mahfouz’s celebrated trilogy focuses on the story of a Muslim family across three generations, headed by the dictatorial patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, living in Cairo during Britain’s occupation of Egypt. The three novels explore the life of the family as well as the political and societal changes that Egypt in the early part of the 20th century.
11. In the Country of Men
About the Author: Born in New York City, Hisham Matar is a Libyan writer. His father worked for the Libyan delegation in the UN, but he spent most of his early childhood in Tripoli, Libya; accused of being a reactionary by the Gadhafi regime, his father was forced to flee the country, with the family, in 1979. The family lived in exile in Cairo where Matar finished their schooling, before studying architecture in London. In 1990 his father was kidnapped in Cairo and has been reported missing ever since. Matar writings have appeared in Alsharq Al-Awsat, The Times, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Independent. He currently lives in London.
About the book: In Tripoli, Libya, 1979: The novel is told from the view point of Suleiman, growing up in a terrifying and confusing world under the Ghadafi regime. Although he’s told that his father is away on business, he is sure that he has seen him on the other side of the street. Suleiman, just like his friends, are all children of government officials connected by a web of arrests, confessions and betrayals.
12. Black Sunlight
About the Author: Dambudzo Marechera was a Zimbabwean novelist and poet. He grew up amid racial discrimination, poverty and violence and his works were highly autobiographical. Although an intelligent student he often clashed with the teachers and education system as a whole, expelled from the University of Rhodesia in 1972 and New College, Oxford in 1976. However whilst at Oxford he wrote his first book of short stories, The House of Hunger published in 1978. He was frequently in trouble with the law but after a brief spell as a writer in residence at University of Sheffield he returned to Zimbabwe in 1982 after 8 years in exile. Again he experienced troubles with law due to his critical analysis on the country in his works. He died on August 18th 1987.
About the Book: Dambudzo Marechera’s second novel is deeply experimental in form; mocking the certitudes of African nationalism and other ideologies used to justify authoritatarian rule across Africa. The book was banned on its publication, as a threat to the nation-building project.
13. Dog Eat Dog
About the Author: Niq Mhlongo is a South African journalist and novelist, born in Midway-Chiawelo, Soweto. He has a BA in African Literature and Political Science at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1996. In 2000 he stopped studying to write his first novel Dog Eat Dog. His work has been presented at the Caine Prize workshop and Zanzibar International Film Festival. Apart from writing novels and short stories Mhlongo has also written a screenplay for the children’s animated series Magic Celler.
About the book: This is Mholongo’s debut novel and gives an insight into South Africa’s hip hop generation in Soweto. Set in 1994 aton the cusp of South Africa’s post-apartheid transition. Narrated by Dingamanzi Makhedama Njomane, a university student who spends his time skipping classes, hanging out with his friends and chasing girls; but his detachment from academic life in an environment of institutional racism and financial difficulties could cause problems for his future. An interesting read set in the backdrop of a pivotal moment in time for South Africa.
14. Diaries of a Dead African
About the Author: Chuma Nwokolo Jr is a Nigerian lawyer, writer and the publisher of African Writing magazine. He is the author of the poetry collection Memories of Stone, the serial Tales by Conversation, and many novels, including Diaries of a Dead African. He was recently writer-in-residence at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and lives in England.
About the book: Diaries of a Dead African is made up of three journals by two generations, an embattled farmer and his two sons, Abel (a failed writer) and Calama (aspiring conman) at 49 years old Meme Jumani feels like he has nothing to show for himself as he nears 50. Estranged from his son’s and on the brink of divorce, a bad harvest becomes the final blow. When his sons return to bury him, the fortunes and follies of this family are revealed to comic effect, and a sobering exploration of social indifference.
15. Good Morning Comrades
About the Author: Born Ndalu de Almeida, but writing under the pen name Ondjaki, he is an Angolan writer. He studied sociology at the University of Lisbon. His literary debut came in 2000 with the poetry book Actu Sanguíne. This was followed by his childhood memoirs Good Morning Comrades. Ondjaki has been awarded the Grande Prémio de Conto Camilo Castelo Branco 2008 by the Portuguese Writers’ Association for his novel Os da Minha Rua. In 2012 The Guardian named him one of their Top Five African Writers and in April 2014 he was named as one of the 39 Sub-Saharan African writers under 40 by the Hay Festival. He lives in Luanda.
About the book: The internationally acclaimed novel, Good Morning Comrades tells the story through the voice of a 12 year old boy and his life before the onset of the Angolan Civil War. In a charming voice that is completely original, Good Morning Comrades tells the story of a group of friends who create a perfect childhood in a revolutionary socialist country fighting a bitter war. But the world is changing around these children, and like all childhoods Ndalu’s cannot last.
16. Tail of the Blue Bird
About the Author: A performance poet, writer and sociocultural commentator Nii Ayikwei Parkes was born in the UK to Ghanaian parents. In April 2014 he was named as one ofAfrican writers under 40 by the Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club 39 Project. Raised in Ghana he attended Achimota School, he returned to the UK and studied at Manchester Metropolitan University. A 2007 recipient of Ghana’s national ACRAG award for poetry and literary advocacy, he has held visiting positions at the University of Southampton and California State University and delivers lectures and talks on poetry and creative writing at universities internationally.
About the Book: Tail of the Blue Bird is a detective story. Parkes writes of Sonokrom, a small village in the Ghanaian hinterlands that has not changed for a thousand years. This is where Kayo Odamtten, a young Ghanaian who has returned to Accra as a forensic pathologist after studying in the UK, must visit after a strange crime is discovered, and finds that all his book knowledge is enough to solve the crime….
17. God’s Bit of Wood
About the Author: Ousmane Sembene was a Senegalese film director, producer and writer who fought in the Free French Army in World War II. He returned to Dakar in 1946 but left for France again soon after. There he became heavily involved in trade union struggles and began a successful writing career. Whilst studying in Moscow during the 1960’s he became interested in film and upon his return began directing, becoming the first African director to receive major international recognition. His first feature film was Black Girl which gained a positive response at a range of international film festivals. His later films include Xala (1974), Ceddo (1977), Camp de Thiaroye (1987), and Guelwaar (1993) and Moolaad (2004).
About the book: In 1947-48 the workers of the Dakar-Niger railway went on strike. The oppressed railroad workers are working under French colonial rule as they struggle to improve their financial and social status. Their wives also face problems within their own lives, oppressed by restrictive cultural traditions. A range of characters play out a complex interweaving of narrative in this fact-based novel. It portrays the political and personal sacrifices that the strikers and the families faced.
18. In the United States of Africa
About the Author: Abdourahman Waberi is a novelist, essayist, poet, academic and short story writer. Born in Djibouti City in 1965 he went to study English Literature in Paris in 1985. He has spent most of his life in Caen, France where he worked as an English teacher. In 2005 he was chosen amongst the ’50 writers of the future’ by French Literary Magazine Lire. He now teaches French and Francophone Studies and Creative Writing at George Washington University, Washington D.C.
About the Book: Waberi turns the fortunes of the world upside down, welcoming his readers to re-imagine a world in which Africa is the continent that individuals seek to live in. Poverty and squalor is rampant in America and Europe and many are desperate to escape their circumstances in favor of the prosperous and successful United States of Africa. In this world an African doctor travels on a humanitarian mission to Europe where he adopts a young French girl, Malaika. Now as a young artist she travels back to her place of birth in the hope of finding her birth mother. Part satire, Waberi makes us look at the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘what-is’ of the world we live in. and the possible turns of fate.
19. One Day I Will Write About This Place
About the Author: Kenyan author Kenneth Binyavanga Wainaina was born in Nkuru in the Rift Valley Province. Studying commerce at the University of Transkei in South Africa he then went on to gain an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. He is the founding editor of Kwani?. Wainana has also written for National Geographic, The Sunday Times (South Africa), Granta and The New York Times. He received a Lannan Writing Residency Fellowship in 2007 in New York and in April 2014 was included in Time magazine’s annual TIME 100’s one of the ‘Most Influential People in the World’
About the Book: One Day I Will Write About This Place is the autobiographical account of Wainaina’s middle class upbringing in Kenya. He takes us through his school days and his failed attempt to study in South Africa and his travels around Kenya. This is a brilliantly written coming of age memoir told from the perspective of child as he explores political unrest, social change and family history.
20. Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English
About the Author: Ken Saro Wiwa was a Nigerian writer, television producer and environmental activist. He became a Civilian Administrator for the Port of Bonny, near Ogoni in the Niger Delta during the Biafran War. In the 1970’s he established many successful businesses and went on to write whilst involving himself in television production. His long-running satirical TV series Basi & Company was thought to be the most watched soap opera in Africa. In 1990 he dedicated most of his time to environmental causes and human rights, particularly in Ogoniland, his homeland. He led a non-violent movement campaigning for the social and ecological justice of the Ogoni people. He accused the oil companies and Nigerian government of genocide and waging an ecological war. By 1993 the oil companies had to pull out of Ogoni; because of his activism, Saro-Wiwa was executed by the military junta of San Abacha on on November 10th 1995.
About the Book: An Anti-War novel, it focuses on the fortunes of a young naïve recruit during the Nigerian Civil War. However Mene’s dreams and ideals about life as soldier failure to live up to reality. Wiwa’s’ Rotten English’, a mixture of Nigerian pigeon English and fluent English, gives this novel its explosive vibrancy and depth.
21. A Dry White Season
About the Author: Andre Brink is a South African novelist. He writes in Afrikaans and English. He began writing in Afrikaans in the 1960’s and his first Afrikaans book Kennis van die aand was banned by the government, the first Afrikaans book to be done so. He began to also write in English, publishing his books overseas. In 1992 he was awarded the Monismanien Human Rights Award from the University of Uppsala. His book A Dry White Season was made into a film starring Marlon Brando.
About the book: A Dry White Season is one of Brink’s classics, probing the racial intolerance and amorality in South Africa.. Ben Du Toit is a white school teacher living in suburban Johannesburg during South Africa’s dark time of apartheid. An apolitical, very ordinary and simple man he believes in the fairness of the South African government and its policies. However when a black friend, the janitor, dies in an apparent ‘suicide’ he begins to investigate further, which will leads to devastating consequences for Du Toit and his family.
22. Harare North
About the Author: Brian Chikwava is a Zimbabwean writer. He was awarded the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2004 for his short story ‘Seventh Street Alchemy’. His debut novel Harare North was published in 2010 to critical acclaim. It won the Outstanding First Creative Published Work category in Zimbabwe’s National arts Merit Awards (NAMA).
About the book: When the unnamed protagonist lands in the UK with nothing but an email address of an old friend Shingi he finds himself an unwanted squatter in his cousin’s home before tracking down Shingi. In this Brixton squat we meet the residents and learn of their various levels of desperation,- Shingi struggles to find meaningful work whilst Tsitsi loans out her baby for women who are defrauding the Social Services. The protagonist struggles to make his life in ‘Harare North’ as one of the thousands of illegal Zimbabweans in England a past he needs to hide.
23. Johnny Mad Dog
About the Author: Emmanuel Dongala is a Congolese chemist and novelist. He has a BA in Chemistry from Oberlin College and MA from Rutgers University in the US. Returning to Congo, he worked as a teacher and the dean of Marien Ngouabi University in Brazzaville. Dongola is the author of many award winning novels and although writing in French they have been translated into a dozen languages. He is the Founder and former president of the National Association of Congolese Writers and the Congolese chapter of PEN. His work is featured in the Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry. He was forced to leave his position as dean after the outbreak of the civil war and he now teaches at Bard College in the US.
About the Book: The novel is set amidst the disorder of the civil wars in West Africa. Looking at the subject of child soldiers Dongala tells the story of two teenagers growing up in rival ethnic groups who fight for control of their country. Jonny ‘Mad Dog’ is one of the narrators who is a member of the ‘Death Dealers’, a rebel group who are determined to seize power in war stricken Congo. And then there is Laokole, who at the same age just wants to finish high school and become an engineer when all their paths cross, there are explosive and devastating consequences.
24. Search Sweet Country
About the Author: Kojo Laing is a Ghanaian novelist and poet and was born in Kumasi. He received his primary and secondary education in Scotland, graduating from Glasgow University with an MA in Political Science and History. Upon his return to Ghana he worked as a civil servant. The 1970’s is when he emerged as a poet and his work is known for drawing upon techniques of surrealism. His poetry looks at themes of alienation and identity, with his novels addressing the subject of the supernatural and the real. His first novel Search Sweet Country published in 1988 received critical acclaim. He lives in Accra.
About the book: Described as one the greatest novels to come out of Africa Search Sweet Country follows the lives of a group of eclectic and intricately connected Ghanaians living in Accra during the mid-1970s. The 21 chapters all focus on individual characters in which they each talk about their role in the community. The bustling markets and bars of Ghana are brought to life in this novel as we meet the strange and melancholy characters that feature in the book
25. Before the Birth of The Moon
About the Author: Valentin-Yves Mudimbe was born in Jadotville, Belgian Congo. A philosopher, professor, poet and novelist, as a young man he joined a monastery but left to study economics, philosophy, and literature at Lovanium University in Kinshasa. He is currently a Professor of Literature at Duke University. His work has made a key impact in the fields of Anthropology, Philosophy, Sociology and Linguistics. About the book: Set in Zaire in during the mid- 1960’s it tell the story of individual pain and loss during the volatile and political uncertainty in Zaire’s history. Mudimbe focuses on two very troubled characters, a government worker and Ya, a prostitute and their complex love affair. The Minister is high-class, proud and has little concern for the best interests of his country. Although married, he is not faithful. Ya’s father is the leader of her people’s anti-government rebellion and she escapes her village to avoid an arranged marriage, drawn to the buzz of the city. Mudimbe’s novel plays out the themes of loyalty, treachery, greed and corruption, agai against the turmoil in Zaire and its struggle for nationhood.
Part Two of this list is published soon on the Bookshy Blog.
Bios & Synopsis: Annette Oppong
List Curation: Zahrah Nessbitt-Ahmed & Dele Meiji Fatunla