By Joy Ehonwa
For decades, African writers have been unsung heroes, fit only for the school curriculum. However, many of their books are true classics that deserve to be read by adults outside of the formal education setting. Here are 10 exceptional novels written by Africans that we urge you to read this year:
10. The African Child- Camara Laye, 1954
Originally written in French (L’Enfant Noir), The African Child explores memories of the author’s childhood in Guinea, West Africa. Young love, Islam, African traditions, and educational excellence are themes that make this book a pleasure for readers of any age.
9. The Concubine- Elechi Amadi, 1966
Set in Igboland, this novel centres on traditional values in Nigerian, and by extension, African society. Rivalry, conflict and disunity are major themes, as is ill-fated love. The relationship between Ihuoma and Emenike, and later Ekwueme, gives readers a glimpse into the complexities of African marriage, culture and values in days of yore.
8. The Passport of Mallam Ilia- Cyprian Ekwensi, 1960
This novel was actually written in 1948, twelve years before it was published. Exploring themes of trust, betrayal and revenge, this very dramatic book was many a young reader’s introduction to tragedy in literature. If you read this book as a young person, you may want to read it again now that you’re older and wiser; it contains lessons worth noting.
7. Mine Boy- Peter Abrahams, 1946
Peter Abrahams’ Mine Boy was one of the first books to examine what life as a black person meant in South African society during the days of Apartheid. This short but interesting read tells the story of a naïve boy named Xuma, who leaves the village for Johannesburg, in search of a better life. Once there, he has to find his feet quickly in a whole new world he never even knew existed.
6. No Longer At Ease- Chinua Achebe, 1960
This novel is the sequel to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Obi Okonkwo leaves Umofia village for a British education and then returns to take a job in the colonial civil service. However, he struggles to adapt to a Western lifestyle. When he falls in love with Clara, an osu, he realises that despite embracing Christianity, the customs and beliefs of his people are deep-rooted.
5. An African Night’s Entertainment- Cyprian Ekwensi, 1948
This novel is a story of desire and vengeance, and begins with the longing of a wealthy man called Shehu for a child of his own. Zainobe has from childhood been betrothed to Abu Bakir, but Shehu lures her away, setting Abu on an obsessive search for revenge. Well written and easy to read, it is no wonder this book remains a staple in the Nigerian school curriculum.
4. Weep Not, Child- Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, 1964
Weep Not, Child was the first English novel to be published by an East African. Initially published under the name James Ngugi, it explores life on the Makuyu and Kameno ridges of Kenya in the early days of white settlement, specifically dealing with the Mau Mau Uprising. Through the lives of best friends (and later lovers) Njoroge and Mwihaki, this book explores the relationship between Africans and British Colonialists in Africa.
3. The Only Son- John Munonye, 1966
On the back of an illuminating account of the tribulations of a mother with an only son, the reader is taken on a journey through the darkness of illiteracy to the light of education. The much ignored but undeniable positives of the colonial days in Nigeria are brought to light in a way that attests to the “impressive intellect” for which the author was respected amongst his peers. Critics now agree that neither this masterpiece nor its creator received nearly as much attention as they deserved; John Munonye was indeed a writer most wronged.
2. Cry, The Beloved Country- Alan Paton, 1946
Stephen Kumalo, a black Anglican priest from a rural Natal town, receives a letter from a priest in Johannesburg asking him to come to his sister’s aid. Stephen’s son Absalom had previously gone in search of his Aunt Gertrude, but didn’t return. He journeys to Johannesburg in search of sister and son, and finds he is unprepared for what he discovers. Published in the same year apartheid became law, this masterful classic enjoyed critical success around the world; it sold over 15 million copies before Paton’s death.
1. Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe, 1958
Okonkwo is a strong, hardworking and wealthy leader who is respected amongst his people; the opposite of his father who was a lazy, cowardly debtor. He is also a traditionalist to the core. Widely celebrated for the proverbs that colour every page, Things Fall Apart highlights the clash between colonialism and traditional culture in beautiful and captivating prose. A master storyteller by all standards, Achebe paints a vivid and captivating picture of pre-colonial Igboland, Okonkwo’s failure to adapt to change, and the extent of his despair when he finds his people lacking in resolve to fight off the white man.
What other African novel do you consider a classic?
Joy Ehonwa is an editor and a writer who is passionate about relationships and personal development. She runs Pinpoint Creatives, a proofreading, editing, transcription and ghostwriting service. Email: pinpointcreatives [at] yahoo.com