Catch a glimpse of African literature and brilliance some of Africa’s most prominent contemporary literary voices. Their works serves not only as an expression of personal views, but also as a remarkable symbol of hope for peace. And addressing Africa’s post-war and post-colonial struggles. These stories form a large part of what has shaped us into who we are today. Books that have created an infrastructure for dialogue, from political issues to effects of colonial rule and cultural identity. Their works continuously build a bridge of understanding between conflicting post-colonial struggles, cultures and controversial beliefs. There is just something beautiful about the innate desire to always go back to African roots and tell people about it as well. Here are some top books by best African contemporary writers you should read before you die.
We also recommend our guide to 6 tips on reading classical African literature books.
Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga
This is one very amazing that looks at the life of two teenage Rhodesian cousins alongside their families; one with everything at her disposal but still entrapped in the effects of gender domination and colonialism, and the other born and bred in the village but with the opportunity of an education, trying to break free from the same thing her cousin suffers. This book borders around themes like race, class, gender and colonialism. Nervous Conditions is considered as one of Africa’s 100 best books in the 20th century, this is a must read.
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
Unarguably one of the classics of African literature, Nigerian author Chinua Achebe carefully describes the happenings in the late 19th century in Nigeria. The historical fiction deals with colonialism, cross-cultural misunderstanding and its consequences. The book was able to dispel some of the derogatory characteristics that had been attributed to Africans by those who observed from afar. ‘Things Fall Apart’ is one of the most widely read books all around the world and has been translated to various languages for apt understanding. This is definitely one of the top African literature books you must.
The River Between – Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Set in the colonial era, the author Ngugi wa Thiong’o gives a story of the effects of Christianity and colonialism especially the division it brought to two communities in Kenya. Ngugi also allows us into the world of the Kenyans and by extension the Africans before the advent of colonialism by showing us some of the cultural practices of the people. The differences amongst these people caused them to fight amongst themselves rather than fight the common enemy, but they were too consumed with their own differences. This is a very interesting book that you would learn a lesson or two from.
Half Of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Centred on the events that took place during the Biafra war in Nigeria, this beautiful but emotional piece by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one novel you won’t want to drop till you are done with it. The story examines themes of war and its impact, politics, the role of western journalism, marriage and a host of other things. ‘Half of A Yellow Sun’ was well received by critics around the world, and it also received various accolades for a story well told. This is a classic work of African literature by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The Famished Road – Ben Okri
This beautiful piece of art written by Ben Okri literally takes you to another realm as you travel with the narrator Azaro the spirit child, who takes you on a journey between death and life. The book tries to explain to us that beyond the physical, there is also a spiritual world that governs the affairs of the African people. It might come to you as a tad bit too superficial, but if you are a lover of magical realism, then you are in for a treat.
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Kwei Armah
Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah, describes all that follows the newly acquired independence status of Ghana in his own little way. By talking about a man’s resistance to corruption by refusing to take bribes that is eventually going to destroy his nation. He stands on his principles that he is not going to part of this clearly wrong act. We can see themes like class stratification and clashes between them. One would normally expect that after independence, things will run smoothly, but the author shows us that the post independence era too has its own problems. An absolute classic African literature.
Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
Talking about the post-apartheid South Africa, J.M. Coetzee breaks down the effects of political change and how it can lead to a large case of destruction of the political system. This book explores the themes of tension between races and generations, social and political complexities in South Africa. ‘Disgrace’ is definitely a must-read as it seeks to open up some negative things that have eaten deep into the heart of the political system.
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
This very detailed story on wars, slavery and segregation written by Yaa Gyasi, is another emotional rollercoaster that takes you through the different lives of two sisters; one very opportune and married to an Englishman and living in a castle, while the other enslaved just beneath her sister and sold alongside other slaves to America. In this rather emotional novel, we are taken through 300 years of hardship in Ghana, following the lives of the descendants of the two sisters Effia and Essi. We get to see the tribal wars, horrors that the slave trade brought, and a whole lot more. This is a very historic book that you need to have in your library.
The Joys Of Motherhood – Buchi Emecheta
This is probably the most emotional work by Buchi Emecheta, as it explores the life of a mother who gives her all to her husband and her ten children but ends up dead on the roadside like a chicken, literally. One would think that from the title it talks about something along ‘reaping the fruits of her labour’ but this was not the case for Nnu Ego the heroine of the novel, rather she was faced with difficult situations from the beginning to the end. The book also explores the presence of colonial influence, traditional values and the clash between both. This is one of the best African literature books of all time, as it highlights that being a mother as much as it is something most women dream about, might not necessarily be all that you hoped for.
July’s People – Nadine Gordimer
Another novel set in the apartheid period in South Africa, July’s people written by Nadine Gordimer explores intensely the themes of racial discrimination, the coming together of different cultures through unplanned circumstances. Asides from the obvious themes, the author brings to light some things, like how we can deal with our various differences as human beings and how we get to relate with other people and adapt to a way of life we are not used to under certain circumstances. This book reveals raw emotions that allow the reader to go through the pain with the characters. Beautifully written!