UPDATED January 14, 2020

BY Michael Coo

IN Tour d'Afrique

1 comment

UPDATED January 14, 2020

BY Michael Coo

IN Tour d'Afrique

1 comment

African Literature 301: Reading for the Tour d’Afrique – Fiction


A few days ago we published a list of our top 10 non-fiction books about Africa that we recommended you should read before or during the Tour ‘d’Afrique. Today we switch over to fiction. The amount and quality of writing coming out of Africa (no pun intended) has grown by leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades.

Here are my top 10 fiction picks.

The Famished Road – Ben Okri

The winner of the Man Booker prize in 1991, this novel introduced the concept of African Traditional Religion realism, a narrative style that incorporates both reality and the spirit world. Publishers Weekly concluded “a powerful, compassionate vision of modern Africa and the magical heritage of its myths.

Life & Times of Michael K – J.M. Coetzee

Published in 1983 during the depths of South Africa’s apartheid years, this novel was the winner of the Man Booker prize. The prose is lean and spare and illuminates Michael’s journey, his attempt to accompany his mother back to her rural birthplace and his eventual embrace of gardening. ‘This is a truly astonishing novel… I finished Life & Times of Michael K in a state of elation, for all the misery and suffering it contains. I cannot recommend it highly enough‘ Evening Standard

Burger’ Daughter – Nadine Gordimer

Burger’s Daughter, published in 1979 and written by Nobel Prize winning author Nadine Gordimer details a group of white anti-apartheid activists in South Africa seeking to overthrow the South African government. While banned in South Africa, a copy of the book was smuggled into Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island. The New York Times commented “It is the combination of political authenticity with sensuous awareness that makes this novel so powerful.”

Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz

This novel is the first book of the Cairo Trilogy, set in Cairo, Egypt during World War I. Written by Nobel Prize winning author Naguib Mahfouz, regarded as one of the first contemporary writers of Arabic literature to explore themes of existentialism, the novel highlights the cultural and political transition Egypt experienced at this time. “Mahfouz is a master at building up dramatic scenes and at portraying complex characters in depth.” – Publishers Weekly

Season of Migration to the North – Tayeb Salih

A classic postcolonial Arabic novel by the Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih and published in 1966, the Arab Literary Academy named it one of the best novels in Arabic of the twentieth century. It deals with with the impact of British colonialism and European modernity on rural African societies in general and Sudanese culture and identity in particular. The New York Times called it “One of the pinnacles of modern Arabic literature…a work of scorching honesty and incandescent lyricism.

Daughters Of Africa – Margaret Busby (Editor)

This wide-ranging anthology is a stunning compilation of literature by more than 200 women from Africa and the African diaspora. It covers a variety of genres — including fiction, essays, poetry, drama, memoirs and children’s writing – dealing with themes of racism, feminism and migration. “New Daughters of Africa is indispensable because African voices have been silenced or diminished throughout history, and women’s voices even more so. ” – Irish Times

Paradise – Abdulrazak Gurnah

The plot of this wonderful book is the story of Yusuf, a boy born in the fictional town of Kawa in Tanzania at the turn of the 20th century. His father settles a debt with a local trader and as a result Yusuf  must work as an unpaid servant on the merchant’s caravan, travelling into parts of Central Africa and the Congo Basin that had not been traded with for many generations. Writing in The Independent, Anita Mason described the novel as ‘many-layered, violent, beautiful and strange.

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

This novel, published in 1958, is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English and one of the first to receive global critical acclaim. The plot follows the life of Okonkwo, a local wrestling champion, and describes his family, personal history, the customs and society of the his tribe, and the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries. The Guardian called it “one of the great novels about the colonization of Africa.

The God Who Begat a Jackal – Nega Mezlekia

Mezlekia’s first novel, this book is steeped in African folklore and is teeming with the class, ethnic and religious struggles of pre-colonial Africa. The 17th-century feudal system, vassal uprisings, religious mythology, and the Crusades are intertwined with the love between Aster, the daughter of a feudal lord, and Gudu, the court jester and family slave. Quill & Quire says the author’s “social satire is pointed and witty and he deftly examines class and gender roles from a unique cultural perspective.

Butterfly Burning – Yvonne Vera

Published in 1998 this novel is set in the late 1940s and is about the people and their voices under colonialism in Zimbabwe. Her writing explodes the myths of womanhood and romance, and realistically and unsentimentally depicts the price women may pay for their longing to become someone, to decolonize themselves. World Literature Today described it as “richly poetic while also brutally realistic…a compelling work of fiction.

Honourable Mentions

The River Between – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

The Joys of Motherhood – Buchi Emecheta

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Beneath the Lion’s Gaze – Maaza Mengiste

Season of Crimson Blossoms – Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Coming to Birth – Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye

Harvest of Skulls – Abdourahman A. Waberi

The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso

Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila

1 Comment for "African Literature 301: Reading for the Tour d’Afrique – Fiction"

Am so happy to see “Season of the Migration to the North” on this list. It is a powerful story with characters and images that have stayed with me through the years. A Tunisian friend recommended that I read it to understand his position as an educated man who grew up poor in the south. He was the first in his family to get an education and as a result he felt disconnected from his family. He said that this book would help me understand how that felt, and he was right.

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