Book A Read: African Literature books you should read at least once in your life.

1. THINGS FALL APART – CHINUA ACHEBE

Things fall Apart Chinua Achebe book cover
THINGS FALL APART – CHINUA ACHEBE

It would be an injustice to fail to include the hallowed Chinua Achebe in this list of top African literature.

In this book ; one of his earliest, we are introduced to the strong, indefatigable and revered man from Igbo land known as Okonkwo.

It is during a pre-colonial period when an albino-like man who is white as chalk, riding an iron horse first appears in their lands.

This sets up the stage for the fight between a fiercely traditionalistic society against the wild fire of modernity and colonialism.

An emotional clash of cultures which arouses a yearning for the indigenous practices we discarded.

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2. THE SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGI’S WIVES – LOLA SHONEYIN

THE SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGI'S WIVES - LOLA SHONEYON BOOK COVER
THE SECRET LIVES OF BABA SEGI’S WIVES

This book was recommended to me with the notion that it would change my perspective of women. Does it meet this expectation? Oooh yeah.

We follow the troubles of the polygamous Mr. Atanda Alao alias Baba Segi, who is concerned his latest wife is barren. Bolanle is her name. She is unlike any other of his wives.

Bolanle is young, chic and educated. Little does he know but his latest catch is about to turn his life upside down.

The author Lola Shoneyin uses humor and masterful writing to lead us through this tale before gradually exposing ruse after ruse.  The irony of it being the clue is in the title of the book.

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3. PURPLE HIBISCUS – CHIMAMANDA NGOZI

PURPLE HIBISCUS - CHIMAMANDA NGOZI BOOK COVER
PURPLE HIBISCUS – CHIMAMANDA NGOZI

Kambili is a young girl growing up in a conservative and wealthy family ruled with an iron fist by their pious father, Eugene.

We see the good, the bad and the ugly of her father whom she always seeks admiration from.

Their lives are upended when their father clashes with the corrupt Nigerian government for his hard-hitting newspaper.

Kambili and his brother go and live with their aunt, a change from their lavish lives. Here they get a stark difference from the rigid lives they were used to.

She explores her sexuality and falls in a futile love with a priest. It comes to a tragic but deserving end.

The first novel for acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi is riveting and worth the read.

4. UNBOWED – WANGARI MAATHAI

UNBOWED WANGARI MAATHAIR BOOK COVER
UNBOWED – WANGARI MAATHAI

A mention of Wangari Maathai immediately brings to mind her winning of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her autobiography diverts the spotlight from this. It goes on to give the life story of a Kenyan consistently doing what she could, and believed was right, for herself, family, society and the world.

Humor, simplicity and honesty do justice to this account of Wangari’s experience on this earth. In the process, this autobiography also tells the history of Kenya from the eyes of a little girl in Nyeri, young scholar, university don and evergreen activist.

Look out for the hummingbird.

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5. THE HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE

THE HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE BOOK COVER
THE HAIRDRESSER OF HARARE – TENDAI HUCHU

Tendai Huchu bravely expresses various societal stereotypes in this literary art.

Vimbai’s life as one of the most prolific hairdressers in Harare is disrupted by Dumisani.

He is expressive and disruptive, not ready to bend to the status quo of the rigid society.

Dumisani is a man who is in a fight to escape from his past with skeletons in his closet. His relationship with Vimbai grows but he holds a major secret.

 This book tackles the intolerance which is characteristic of most African societies and the disastrous effects it has on its most promising offspring.

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6. NOIR SERIES( NAIROBI AND LAGOS)

NAIROBI NOIR BOOK COVER
NAIROBI NOIR

Both books feature short stories categorized into three main parts.

Every story takes you on an intimate and real tour of the respective city. Collectively, tales of lawmen and outlaws, ordinary and not so ordinary folk and everyone in between are told.

If fortunate to have been to either city, one reminisces on the familiarity of the places and sometimes experiences. Simultaneously, they ask ‘How well do you know your city or town? Do you ever explore?’

The editors and authors bring out the rawness of a noir exceptionally well.

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7. LOOTERS AND GRABBERS – JOE KHAMISI

LOOTERS AND GRABBERS BOOK COVER
LOOTERS AND GRABBERS – JOE KHAMISI

The hefty title of this book gives it away.

However, it does little to prepare you for the weight of the plunder committed in a once promising nation.

Mr. Khamisi is a career journalist and former parliamentarian. This unique combination enables him to authoritatively document the history of a dragon nurtured by a nation’s elite. 

Commendably, Joe manages to cover the length, breadth and depth of  corruption in Kenya. From the  government to the private sector, petty to grand corruption; this is a worthy record of rot.

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8. EROTIC AFRICA: THE SEX ANTHOLOGY – SIBBYL AKWAUGO WHYTEE

EROTIC AFRICA BOOK COVER
EROTIC AFRICA – SIBBYL WHYTE

The magnificence of an anthology lies in its ability to take the mind on so many deeply unique journeys. Compiling prose and poetry, this collection explores African sexuality, probes the future and shines light on the past. Needless to say, societal boundaries on sex and sexuality are pushed; and a voice given to individuality.

With authors from East, South, West and Central Africa, Erotic Africa takes its time to cover what is largely a hurriedly whispered subject across the continent. From the forbidden to the conventional, you will enjoy it all.

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9. ABYSINNIAN CHRONICLES – ISSEGAWA MOSES

ABYSSINIAN CHRONICLES MOSES ISEGAWA COVER
ABYSSINIAN CHRONICLES – MOSES ISEGAWA

Here-in Abyssinia is not Ethiopia. Rather, seven books chronicle the life of a Ugandan family through the recollections of a little boy, later man. Mugezi narrates his father’s life, ambitions and complicated marriage to Padlock. 

The story develops to focus mainly on Mugezi and his quest to fulfill his grandfather’s dream; while living in a tumultuous time. He pursues it through the village, city and later abroad. 

Do not let the light hearted tone and narration riddled in humor fool you. Yes, you will laugh, smile and laugh some more. Nonetheless, your heart will be broken.

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10. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH – BIANCA MARAIS

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH - BIANCA MARAIS COVER
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH – BIANCA MARAIS

What stands out for this book is its catchy title. It begs you to pick it up and indulge in it.

For sure it lives up to its title.

Set in post-apartheid South Africa, we follow the lives of various women as they face struggles which affect their lives.

A new country held down by traditions, the ghosts of their apartheid history and the new AIDS pandemic form a web in the story of each of the characters.

You feel sympathy towards the book’s protagonist Zodwa, who Murphy’s law seems to bedevil her at each turn.

Quoting from the book, ‘’ If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’’

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11. AN ACT OF DEFIANCE – IRENE SABATINI

AN ACT OF DEFIANCE - IRENE SABATINI COVER
AN ACT OF DEFIANCE – IRENE SABATINI

Gabrielle is an idealistic young lawyer. However, her idealism is unwelcome by the repressive regime. She encounters brutality as she seeks justice for a minor defiled by a ‘powerful figure’ in the ruling party.

With her fairytale life turned into a living nightmare, Gabrielle tries to find herself. Friendship. Bliss. Love. Tragedy. Repeat. 

This work of fiction is so well executed that it feels every bit real. It brings out what it really means to live in undemocratic and volatile spaces. 

When should one let go? How easy is it to move on? 

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WORTHY MENTIONS

THE CONCUBINE – ELECHI AMADI

Do you believe in destiny? Are we just living our lives already preconceived by a higher power?

These are the questions which come up as you read this classic novel by Elechi Amadi.

The story revolves around Ihuoma, a ravishing woman of dignity who is cursed. Any man who loves her dies mysteriously.

This work of art is placed in traditional Nigeria where rituals permeate their daily lives.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to meet this jinxed beauty Ihuoma? Albeit in prose unfortunately.

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AN ORCHESTRA OF MINORITIES – CHIGOZIE OBIOMA

A story told through the eyes of an Igbo spiritual guardian, Chi.What happens when a lonely farmer sacrifices his prized fowls to dissuade a heart-broken pharmacy student from committing suicide? Of course, love. But definitely not your typical love story.

This is a book you read to discover the source of the title. Dear reader, I assure you it’s worth diving in for.

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DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR – EMMA DABIRI

Through a series of essays, Emma explores authentic African history through our hair. She draws from personal experience; black with nappy hair. Furthermore, she researches on African hair throughout the history of its existence. This is an account of all times and places our hair has graced. 

What did, does and will it mean to have African hair? 

Oh, and there are beautiful pictures.

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CONCLUSION

What make African literature stand out is its relatability to our daily lives and experiences as Africans.

For sure we have our geographical and cultural differences.

In spite of all, we are all tied down by an invisible thread of similar experiences.

We hope you enjoy our humble list.

Let us know if you have other books you would like to recommend on our comment section.

To access all of these books, join our telegram channel: https://t.me/backbenchas.

12 comments on “11 AFRICAN LITERATURE BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ

  • Charles

    Good books and reflections , if possible you can share them with me.

    Reply
  • Kagûre

    Hi Charles. Ahsante. You can find the books here 👉 https://t.me/backbenchas

    Reply
  • Emmanuel M.

    This is so well written. I just want to read all of them at once😅😅Great job on the Telegram channel as well👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾enyewe backbench is where all the fun is at💯

    Reply
  • Wothaya

    They all sound so interesting that I am tempted to drop everything and start off on the ones I am yet to read . The descriptions are accurate and precisely written. This is a job well done.

    Reply
  • Kagure

    Appreciated Wothaya

    Reply
  • Cindy

    Lovely and educative. Thanks for the heads up 😊

    Reply
  • Chantal

    They all look so good!!!

    Reply
  • Nesh

    This is incredible ❤️ , I’ll definitely read the ones I haven’t read . Thumbs up for the good work 💯✨.

    Reply
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