African Classics Every Book Lover Must Have (Part One)
As large and as culturally diverse as Africa is, it comes as no surprise that literature from the continent is equally diverse and multifaceted. Dealing with a range of social and cultural issues, from women’s rights and feminism to post-war and post-colonial identity, here is a list of classics all book lovers should have in their library.
Things Fall Apart (1994)
by Chinua Achebe
Published by Anchor
Things Fall Apart is the first volume of Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece The African Trilogy, the other two being Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. The volume tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” from the Igbo village of Umuofia. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between Okonkwo and his society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace. The second story, elevates the book onto a tragic plane. It concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. Things Fall Apart has been described as a “damning criticism of British colonial rule in Africa”. Released in 1958, it is Chinua Achebe’s first novel, and since then has sold over 20 million copies and been translated into 57 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer in history.
Aké: The Years of Childhood (1989)
by Wole Soyinka
Published by Vintage
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a dazzling memoir by Nobel Prize – winning novelist, playwright and poet Wole Soyinka. Set before and during World War II in a Yoruba village called Aké, western Nigeria, it is a story about his boyhood. A relentlessly curious child who loved books and getting into trouble, Soyinka grew up on a parsonage compound, raised by Christian parents and by a grandfather who introduced him to Yoruba spiritual traditions. His vivid evocation of the colourful sights, sounds and aromas of the world that shaped him is both lyrically beautiful and laced with humour and the sheer delight of a child’s-eye view.
The Joys of Motherhood (1979)
by Buchi Emecheta
Published by George Braziller Inc.
Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood is an insightful story into the crippling burden of expectation placed on a woman, and the price she pays for her own unfulfilled expectations. Emecheta’s book is a satirical look at the supposed thrills of motherhood. Her focus is an Igbo woman, Nnu Ego who lives at a difficult period when Nigeria is in transition. Through endless pregnancies, toil and degradation, she struggles with a motherhood role defined for her by tradition, patriarchy and superstition.
Weep Not, Child (1964)
by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Published by The Penguin Group
This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau War, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; the family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their country. However, this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau are waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau, the choice is simple but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is hard to give up.
The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968)
by Ayi Kwei Armah
Published by Heinemann
The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born is set in Ghana in the 1960s, and is about corruption. It follows an unnamed protagonist, a railroad clerk, who is one of the few who refuses to take bribes. This only angers everyone, from the people who see bribing officials as a normal part of doing business, to his family, who are upset that he isn’t taking every opportunity to provide them with a better life. From that description, it would appear that the book features some kind of crusader, but “the man” (as he’s referred to throughout) doesn’t quite seem to know why he does what he does.
Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Published by Anchor
With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in south-eastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters; Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.
July’s People (1981)
by Nadine Gordimer
Published by Penguin Books
This 1981 novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, follows the deteriorating situation of a South African war and the members of the Smales family, liberal whites, who are rescued from the terror by their servant, July, who leads them to refuge in his village. What happens to the Smaleses and July, including the shifts in character and relationships, gives us an unforgettable look into the terrifying tacit understandings and misunderstandings between blacks and whites.
Oyindamola Olaniyan holds a B.sc in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.
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