It’s that time again when we present the Africa Book Club books of the year. For the fifth year, Africa Book Club presents its selection of the year’s best books about Africa, or written by African authors. In addition to the fiction, short story, and non-fiction categories, our 2014 list includes a section on children’s books. To compile the list, we scoured various sites and news articles. We also looked at the top literary awards to see which books from Africa received recognition. Finally, we considered the numerous submissions received from authors and reviewers throughout the year.
The opening pages of Ishmael Beah’s debut novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, are achingly beautiful; his voice is gentle and affecting. His deep emotional connection to the land and the people is palpable in what he describes so colourfully. Following international acclaim with his memoir, A Long Way Gone, which recounts the story of a child soldier in Sierra Leone, his new book fictionalized the return of survivors to their community, following their emotionally demanding and difficult path into their recovery from the brutal war and its many losses in life and livelihood. There is hope – radiance – for a better future but there are also many sacrifices to make: forgiving is not forgetting; rebuilding on ruins, literally, on the bones of loved ones is probably one of the most haunting challenges.
Diplomatic Pounds & Other Stories’ is the third collection of short stories by celebrated Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo. Published by Ayebia Clarke in 2012, eleven of the twelve stories are narrated by women and are about every day concerns relating to age, class, colour and identity. But Ms Aidoo delves into the psyche of the women, most of them strong-willed, well-educated and assertive, to show the devastating impact of these seemingly ordinary concerns. Some of the stories are based in Ghana, others in the west and still others move backwards and forwards between the two areas.
Americanah is a sprawling heart-wrenching love-story told across three countries: Nigeria, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. It’s intense yet warm, honest yet subtle, mixing a range of subjects from racism and hair to religion. The story is told through the lenses of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young high school sweethearts and wraps around their journey to self discovery as they mature to adulthood. Ifemelu is the central character, though not a very likable one and her story is told via flashbacks. Thus, the past is recounted, sandwiched between the present.
Three Strong Women (by Marie NDiaye) is an intricately crafted, complex and thought provoking book. It doesn’t initially feel like a novel as it comprises three ‘novellas’, three fictional accounts that each explores one individual’s life at a crucial moment in time. Yet, reflecting on the content, the writing and the structure it falls clearly into the category of novel: the stories are linked in subtle ways through imagery, peripheral character and atmosphere.
Award winning Djibouti author, Abdourahman A. Waberi (now residing in France) has set himself a challenging task with his novel, Transit, published 2003 in French, and very recently published by Indiana University Press, translated into English by David Ball and Nicole Ball. What are the challenges in Transit? If you know anything about Djibouti questions like the following won’t come as a surprise: How best to capture in a novel the complexity and the desolate conditions in the small African country of Djibouti? How to bring out the repercussions for individuals and groups who may be more like pawns within a political and economic international power game that Djibouti’s leaders are trying to participate in? How to create a portrait of the essence or parts thereof of the “inner soul” of the people; reflect their suffering and pain, but also demonstrate their perseverance and search for happiness? And, finally, how to achieve all this in a way that we as readers can relate to without feeling totally overwhelmed?
Ben Okri writes beautifully and in The Famished Road, the book that won the 1991 Booker Award, he produces yet another fabulous read. After I read the book, his first in the Famished Road trilogy, I kept on muttering to myself `Okri is good’ hours after I had put the book down.
Set mainly in the UK, this romantic story makes for a refreshing read – certainly a departure from other African stories that mostly center on the continent’s instabilities. Lola is a young, outspoken, confident and energetic woman. With her four friends – Funmi, Temmy, Titi, and Maureen – they make up a close circle of friends albeit with very different personalities. They are all educated young women, with good jobs but all struggling with their love relationships.
In The Helpers (published in 2010 by CreateSpace), Suzanna Nelson, author of Nightmare along the River Nile, delivers a thriller that readers will enjoy. This is a book packed with intrigue, suspense, and romance.
The story begins in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is war going on, and Captain Pierre-Jean Phillippe and his boss Lance work for the French Military Intelligence. In the fight to bring about reconciliation in the deep-ethnic-hatred population, they receive more perturbing information that a missile has been imported into the country.
A senior lecturer in sociology at Wits University, the author Sarah Mosoetsa works from the premise that the family is the microcosm of society. In her book (published in 2011 by Witwatersrand University Press), Mosoetsa looks at African households in the KwaZulu/Natal townships of Mpumalanga [Hammersdale] and Enhlalakahle [Greytown]. What she finds is shockingly representative of the entire country – indeed the whole continent and the Third World.