Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

The best African books

The best African books

 

To celebrate Africa Day, we asked our Books LIVE community what their favourite African books were.

You can suggest contemporary books or classics, fiction or non-fiction. The list is a work in progress. If you feel something is missing, let us know on Twitter @BooksLIVESA or Facebook.com/BooksLIVESA.

Without further ado, the best African books – as chosen by you!
 
 
Do Not Go GentleDo Not Go Gentle by Futhi Ntshingila
Book homepage
EAN: 9781920590505
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sweet MedicineSweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi
EAN: 9781928337126
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

MalikhanyeMalikhanye by Mxolisi Nyezwa
Book homepage
EAN: 9780958491594
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Born on a TuesdayBorn on a Tuesday by Elnathan John
EAN: 9781911115021
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Season of Crimson BlossomsSeason of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Book homepage
EAN: 9781911115007
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Easy Motion TouristEasy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle
EAN: 9781911115069
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Lazarus EffectThe Lazarus Effect by H J Golakai
Book homepage
EAN: 9780795703195
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Half of a Yellow Sun Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Book homepage
EAN: 9780007200283
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Say You're One of ThemSay You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Book homepage
EAN: 9780349120645
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

In Corner BIn Corner B by Es’kia Mphahlele
EAN: 9780143106029
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lost and Found in JohannesburgLost and Found in Johannesburg by Mark Gevisser
Book homepage
EAN: 9781868425884
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

We Need New NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
EAN: 9780099581888
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Portrait with KeysPortrait with Keys: Joburg and what-what by Ivan Vladislavic
Book homepage
EAN: 9781415200209
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Nervous ConditionsNervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
EAN: 9780954702335
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Purple HibiscusPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Book homepage
EAN: 9780007189885
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

UnimportanceUnimportance by Thando Mgqolozana
Book homepage
EAN: 9781431409525
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The ReactiveThe Reactive by Masande Ntshanga
Book homepage
EAN: 9781415207192
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
African DelightsAfrican Delights by Siphiwo Mahala
Book homepage
EAN: 9781431402519
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Half of a Yellow Sun Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Book homepage
EAN: 9780007200283
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Under the Udala TreesUnder the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Book homepage
EAN: 9781847088369
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Book of MemoryThe Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
Book homepage
EAN: 9780571249626
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
AffluenzaAffluenza by Niq Mhlongo
Book homepage
EAN: 9780795706967
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

What Will People SayWhat Will People Say by Rehana Rossouw
Book homepage
EAN: 9781431420247
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The FishermenThe Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
EAN: 9780957548862
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Woman Next DoorThe Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
EAN: 9781784740344
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

EfuruEfuru by Flora Nwapa
EAN: 9780435900267
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Second Class CitizenSecond Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta
EAN: 9780807610664
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

More accolades for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Author awarded Barnard College's highest honour

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Honorary Degree
Half of a Yellow SunWe Should All Be FeministsAmericanahPurple HibiscusAmericanahThe Thing Around Your Neck

 

It’s been a busy week for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The internationally acclaimed Nigerian novelist was awarded an honorary doctorate by Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday, but the day before, in a ceremony that flew under the radar, she was also awarded the 2016 Barnard Medal of Distinction from Barnard College.

Barnard is a private women’s liberal arts college in the United States, affiliated with Columbia University. The Barnard Medal of Distinction is the college’s highest honour, serving a similar purpose to an honorary degree. Previous recipients include Toni Morrison, Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton, Billie Jean King, Joan Didion and Barack Obama.

In the medal citation, the college said of Adichie: “You spark the conversation, upend the status quo, and open our hearts and minds to the world.

“We honour your work, your humour, your respect for history, and your vision for the future. In your footsteps, we will all be feminists, unlearning what we have been taught to believe in order to dream for ourselves. Steering clear of the single story in favour of an ever more kaleidoscopic view. Staying true to who we are, messy though that may be.”

In a video filmed at the ceremony, Adichie gives some advice to the students receiving their degrees: “Eat real food, be kind to yourself, and read books.”

She continues:

I think it’s important for young women to remember that they are much stronger than the world tells them that they are.

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Read the full citation:

Citation for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Celebrated author. Beloved storyteller. Artist. Visionary. Feminist. You spark the conversation, upend the status quo, and open our hearts and minds to the world.

Being born in Nigeria in 1977, the fifth of six children, was clearly a significant start. Your father was a professor, your mom the University registrar, and your childhood, a happy one, though tinged by the legacy of war. Books were your haven and your guide, and by age 10 you had read enough to know that people just like you could, in fact, inhabit them.

Medicine seemed like a worthy pursuit, but by age 19 you left for the United States to follow a new and auspicious path. A bachelor’s summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State, a master’s in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University, and another in African studies from Yale. You were gathering the tools and the temperament to present us with your gift in words, with Africa as your muse.

In 2003, that gift took the form of Purple Hibiscus, your first novel and one to notice, about breaking free and defying expectation. Three years later, in Half of a Yellow Sun, you gave voice to the ravages wrought by your country’s Civil War decades before, and for it, won international acclaim and the Orange Prize for Fiction. You were thirty years old. And in 2013, with Americanah, you wove a post-9/11 story of race and identity that has been hailed as a benchmark for literary excellence—one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of the Year, winner of the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and the object of heaps of attention. And your TED talks, The Danger of a Single Story and We Should All Be Feminists have multi-millions of views. You write, we read. You speak, we listen.

We honor your work, your humor, your respect for history, and your vision for the future. In your footsteps, we will all be feminists, unlearning what we have been taught to believe in order to dream for ourselves. Steering clear of the single story in favor of an ever more kaleidoscopic view. Staying true to who we are, messy though that may be.

On behalf of my alma mater, it is an extraordinary privilege to present to you the 2016 Barnard Medal of Distinction, with all due gratitude, reverence, and heart.

 
Related stories:

Book details

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Spike Lee awarded Johns Hopkins University honorary degrees

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Honorary Degree
Half of a Yellow SunWe Should All Be FeministsAmericanahPurple HibiscusAmericanahThe Thing Around Your Neck

 
Internationally acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was awarded an honorary degree by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, United States, on Wednesday.

Adichie was one of eight “distinguished achievers” to receive the honour this year. The list also included groundbreaking filmmaker Spike Lee, Nobel Prize winner Richard Axel and Ellen M Heller, Maryland’s first woman to become an administrative Circuit Court judge.

Adichie earned a prestigious creative writing master’s from Johns Hopkins in 2003, the year her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was published to worldwide acclaim. At just 26, Adichie was shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction and won the 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, and her career has since skyrocketed.

In a video released by Johns Hopkins to celebrate the event, Adichie says: “My advice to the graduating seniors is, eat real food, as often as you can. And embrace ignorance. Say those words ‘I don’t know’. Because by embracing ignorance you open up the possibility of knowledge.”

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

 
Brittlepaper tweeted a photo:

 

Filmmaker Spike Lee, whose works include Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever, began his speech by referring to two words he said are in almost all of his films to date: “Wake up.”

“Wake up from the sleep, wake up from being comatose, wake up from the slumber that keeps your eyes shut to all the inequalities and injustices. To this more often than not evil, crazy and insane world we live in. Let’s move our unconscious minds from the back to the front to a conscious state, and wake up.”

Lee continued: “We are at a very crucial moment in history in these United States of America. And the way I’m looking at it today, to tell you the truth, things are looking dicey. It can go either way.

“I wish you could be graduating into a world of peace, light, and love, but that’s not the case. We don’t live in a fairytale, but I guess the one percent does. After you leave here today, it’s going to be real life, and real life is no joke. It’s real out here for the 99 percent, for sure. It’s up to the graduating class to make a better world.”

He ended his address with the words “black lives matter”.

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

 
Related stories:

Book details

Bellagio Center Residency Award winners include Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehikhamenor

Bellagio Center Residency Award winners include Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor

 
Alert! The Africa Centre has announced the five artists selected by The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center as part of its 2015 Artists In Residency Programme.

Books LIVE congratulates the three writers on the list: Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor.

Dangarembga is the author of the critically acclaimed novels and The Book of Not and Nervous Conditions, but is also a filmmaker. Late last year Umuzi announced that she will be producing a film adaptation of Imran Garda’s novel The Thunder That Roars.

Victor Ehikhamenor is an award winning visual artist, writer and photographer based in Nigeria and the United States. He was the cover designer for Stranger, a recently released debut poetry collection by Sihle Ntuli.

Excuse Me!Nervous ConditionsBroken Monsters

 

The Africa Centre received a record 423 complete applications from 40 countries for its Artists In Residency programme in 2015, from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Sudan. 68 artists were shortlisted in December.

The Africa Centre announced the winners of its Artists In Residency Programme in February, including writers Masande Ntshanga from South Africa and Nana Oforiatta Ayim from Ghana.

But after receiving a large number of applications, across artistic disciplines, The Africa Centre also shortlisted 24 artists on behalf of the Bellagio Center.

Based on their specific interests, the following artists have been selected:

  • Lauren Beukes (author, South Africa)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (author and filmmaker, Zimbabwe)
  • Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor (author and visual artist, Nigeria)
  • Yared Zeleke (filmmaker, Ethiopia)
  • Fathy Adly Salama (performing artist, Egypt)

 

The addition of these five artists mean a total to 14 have been accepted into nine different residencies around the world as part of the 2015 Artists In Residency programme.

The Africa Centre will release more information about the artists over the next couple of weeks. The call for 2016 applications will go out in the second half of the year.

 
Related stories:

Book details

'I'm stubborn; I was destined to be a writer' - award-winning Nigerian author Chinelo Okparanta chats about her writing

Chinelo OkparantaHappiness, Like WaterUnder the Udala TreesNigerian-American author Chinelo Okparanta is currently in Cape Town for the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

Okparanta is the author of two books: a collection of short stories called Happiness, Like Water, and a novel, Under the Udala Trees, released this year.

Okparanta was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing, and Happiness, Like Water was shortlisted for the the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature and won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. She is the winner of an O Henry Prize, was one of Granta’s New Voices for 2012, and was featured on the Guardian’s list of the best African fiction of 2013.

None other than Zakes Mda says: “Under the Udala Trees bowled me over.

Okparanta was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and lives in New York. Books LIVE’s Jennifer Malec caught up with her recently ahead of her trip to South Africa.

You can read Malec’s review of the book in full here, and the complete interview in full here:

Books LIVE: First, thank you for an extremely complex novel. It seems to me that, considering the subject matter you deal with, it would have been easier to write black and white, morally unambiguous characters. But this is not the case, and even characters such as Chibundu and Ijeoma’s mother are not “bad” people; it could be argued they suffer as much from the disjunct between society’s expectations and their own actions as Ijeoma does. Did you actively work on creating sympathetic antagonists?

Chinelo Okparanta: First, thank you for reading and engaging so deeply with my work.

To answer your question, it seems to me that the best books are often those in which the dignity of the characters are upheld. Also, those in which the characters are nuanced. I tried to keep this in mind while writing Under the Udala Trees. Chibundu, as you mention, is as much to be pitied as he is to be rebuked. We would have a hard time completely condemning him. He is a hopeful man – simply wants what he wants. Unfortunately, that hopefulness is both his strength and his weakness. How does one balance out hope with unrequited love? Chibundu certainly tries.

I admire the way that the same-sex relationships in the novel are not foregrounded; they are part of a more complex matrix of stories. How far along the publication process were you when same-sex relationships were criminalised in Nigeria in January 2014? Did you alter the book in any way, plot-wise or writing-wise, after that development?

The novel is ultimately just a story about people struggling to live out their lives the best way possible, even in the face of societal pressures, discrimination and in some cases, outright abuse. I completed the novel a month or two before Goodluck Jonathan signed the bill criminalising same-sex relations. With or without the bill, Nigeria is a very homophobic country. With or without the bill, I would have (and had indeed) already written the novel. But I thought it was important to add the author’s note regarding the signing of the bill in order to help readers – especially those who are not familiar with Nigeria – to contextualise the story. Ultimately, though, the novel is a story of individuals living in Nigeria, under a particular system of things. It is only about the bill insofar as the bill affects the day-to-day lives of the nation’s citizens.

Storytelling plays an important role in the book. Did traditional Nigerian folktales and proverbs play an important role in your life growing up?

Yes, definitely. My mother gathered me and my siblings around her, in the evenings when NEPA (the National Electric and Power Authority) took light, and she told us folktales. Sometimes there was singing and clapping involved. Dinner first, then folktales, then off to bed. This was what we did in place of watching television. Her tales were always peppered with proverbs. Nigerians often speak in proverbs. Sometimes, she read to us from books instead.

You moved to the States as a child, but your writing doesn’t betray that distance. Did your family continue to surround you with Nigerian tradition and language after the move? Do you often spend time in Nigeria?

I moved to the US as a child, but I’m lucky to have a family that upholds traditions (but also one that allows room for change). Sometimes I don’t feel that I ever left Nigeria. And sometimes I do. After the move, we continued to speak Igbo at home, we continued to eat fufu and soup, beans and yam, etc. We continued to sing and dance to Nigerian music, etc. These days I go home as often as I can. In the past year or so, I’ve been back to Nigeria at least three times.

Do you think you would have written the same book if you had stayed in Nigeria? Or how do you think it may have differed?

Would I have written the same book? I don’t know. The “correct” response would be to say, “Probably not.” But who knows. My mother says I began reading and writing at age two. She also says I’m stubborn. Perhaps I began reading and writing so early because I was destined to be a writer, and perhaps given my stubbornness, it’s likely that I would have been stubborn in the issues I chose to write about, regardless of the sociocultural context. Or maybe I’d be married with five kids and no time to write, if I had stayed. It’s hard to know.

This is your first full-length novel. How long did you work on the manuscript for – is this specific book years in the making or are you working on a number of longer projects simultaneously? If the latter, why did you decide to complete this one first?

I began working on the novel at the same time that I was working on my collection of short stories, Happiness, Like Water. The collection was completed first, and during its pre-publication and post-publication period, I had to take time off from working on the novel to focus on the collection’s edits, and then later, on promoting the collection. I went back to the novel in mid 2013 and finished it very early in 2014, maybe a little earlier, I can’t quite remember now. Anyway, the point is that there’s no rationale behind what book came out first, just that it was ready when it was ready.

Was the Biafran War something your parents and grandparents spoke freely about? If not, was it difficult for you to broach the subject, or did you learn more about it from other resources?

My mother spoke freely of it. She lost her father in the war, so my siblings and I grew up always knowing that story. It was a devastating time for her family, and of course, there are always lingering effects to having lived out a war.

But I also had to do my research for the novel. I conducted some interviews, read old newspapers, watched the BBC documentaries on the war, studied old photographs, that sort of thing. One photo was of a man carrying a casket on the back of his bicycle. Only, the casket was too small and the feet of the deceased stuck out from the bottom of the wooden box. When I did my research, there were so many photos of kwashiorkor children, distended bellies and all, photos of the dead and the decapitated, photos of soldiers who are now long gone. But for whatever reason it is the photo of the casket on the bicycle that particularly sticks to me.

Some descriptions in the book are quite poetic. Do these images come to you as you are writing, or do you carry a notebook around to jot down moments of inspiration?

I don’t carry a notebook, but I do carry a smart phone with a “Notes” application. Images generally come to me as I’m writing, but if an idea comes to me when I am not writing, I try and make a mental note of it. If I don’t trust myself to remember, then I might jot myself a note on my phone.

A naming question, just out of interest: The names in the book are meaningful, and quite beautiful to my South African ears. I noticed that like your characters Chibundu and Chidinma, the names of you and your siblings – who you mention in the acknowledgements – also all start with “Chi”; what does that prefix mean?

The essential translation of “Chi” in English is “God.” But specifically it refers to the personal gods that we Igbos traditionally had. “Chukwu” was the supreme God, while each person had his/her own personal god(s). So, the name Chidinma means “God is good.” Chibundu means “God is life.”

It seems to me that Ijeoma does not reject tradition – both societal and biblical – rather she forges a path for herself and proves that you can discard some aspects of tradition without threatening the whole. Do you think such a stance could be a viable option for a Nigerian youth, today or in the future?

Yes, it’s definitely a viable stance. No doubt, tradition has its place. But it is also the nature of tradition to evolve.

Follow Jennifer Malec on Twitter @projectjennifer

Book details

2016 Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist announced

2016 Caine Prize for African Writing judging panel announced
Lusaka Punk and Other StoriesThe Gonjon Pin and Other Stories10 Years of the Caine Prize for African WritingA Memory This Size and Other StoriesThe Caine Prize Anthology 2009: Work in Progress and Other Stories

 

Alert! The shortlist for the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing has been announced.

The 2016 shortlist includes a former Caine Prize winner – Tope Folarin – and a former regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize – Lesley Nneka Arimah.

Incredible JourneyTwo of the stories come from the 2015 Short Sharp Stories anthology, Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You.

Announcing the shortlist, chair of judges Delia Jarrett-Macauley called it “an engrossing, well-crafted and dauntless pack of stories”, and commented on the high number of science fiction and fantasy entries.

“The high standard of the entries was clear throughout and particularly noteworthy was the increasing number of fantasy fictions [with] the sci-fi trend resonating in several excellent stories,” she said.

“My fellow judges commented on the pleasure of reading the stories, the gift of being exposed to the exciting short fictions being produced by African writers today and the general shift away from politics towards more intimate subjects – though recent topics such as the Ebola crisis were being wrestled with.

“It was inspiring to note the amount of risk-taking in both subject matter and style, wild or lyrical voices matching the tempered measured prose writers, and stories tackling uneasy topics, ranging from an unsettling, unreliable narrator’s tale of airport scrutiny, to a science-fictional approach towards the measurement of grief, a young child’s coming to grips with family dysfunction, the big drama of rivalling siblings and the silent, numbing effects of loss.

“The panel is proud to have shortlisted writers from across the continent, finding stories that are compelling, well-crafted and thought-provoking.”

2016 Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist:

 

The winner of the £10,000 (about R220,000) prize will be announced at an award ceremony and dinner at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, United Kingdom on Monday, 4 July. Each shortlisted writer will also receive £500.

Each of the stories will be published in New Internationalist’s 2016 Caine Prize Anthology in July and through co-publishers across Africa.

 
Related stories:

Book details