As we come to the end of the year, we at Africa Book Club are pleased to share our thoughts on what we consider the 2010 best books written by an African author, or written about Africa. To compile our list, we looked at books selected by leading books critics around the world, books that we and our readers reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed, and finally books that were shortlisted for different book awards during the year.
All told, 2010 was a good year for first-time novelists and our recommendations carry no less than three books by first time writers. It was also a year when we discovered the great writing potential in the Horn of Africa. Three of our recommendations come by way of Ethiopia and Somalia. Politics, as one would expect – this is Africa, remember! – was a prominent subject. And Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe had yet another ‘stellar’ year, his antics gifting writers with plenty to write about.
Here are our choices, in no particular order.
Politics: Conversations with Myself (by Nelson Mandela)
Compiled with Mandela’s blessing, Conversations with Myself, which came out in October 2010, is the work of a team that perused decades of never-before-seen diary entries, notes, letters, recorded conversations and other material. Read Don Makatile’s excellent review here.
Fiction: In a Strange Room (by Damon Galgut)
Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, Galgut has to be the best writer from Africa to never have won this prestigious prize. His latest book, In a Strange Room made the 2010 shortlist, but eventually lost out to Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question.
In a Strange Room tells the story of a young man whose three journeys take him through Greece, India and Africa as he searches for love and a place to call home. Together, these three journeys change his life.
Fiction: The Boy Next Door (by Irene Sabatini)
Belinda Otas, a London-based journalist and guest reviewer for Africa Book Club has cited Sabatini’s debut novel as one of her best books of the year. And the judging panel for the Orange Prize seems to agree, having selected Irene Sabatini as winner of the 2010 Orange Award for New Writers for The Boy Next Door. Read Belinda’s review The Boy Next Door here.
Fiction: Black Mamba Boy (by Nadifa Mohamed)
Described by the UK’s Guardian newspaper as “a compelling account of the refugee experience”, Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy tells the story of her father’s journey from Somalia to the United Kingdom. The book made the shortlist for 2010 Best First Book Guardian Award.
Fiction: Powder Necklace (by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond)
Lila, the teenage daughter of divorced parents from Ghana, lives in London with her mother until she is sent to an all-girls’ boarding school in Ghana. Gradually, Lila adjusts to her new life. Six years later, she returns to London but shortly after, she moves to the USA to live with her father. Based loosely on the author’s own experience, Powder Necklace traces Lila’s journey across three continents and cultures.
Fiction: How to Read the Air (by Dinaw Mengestu)
Dinaw Mengestu’s new book, How to Read the Air was one of only two books by African authors that made it to the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010 list. The book, Mengestu’s second after his 2007 debut with The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, is described by the New York Times as “ deeply thought out, deliberate in its craftsmanship and in many parts beautifully written.”
Philosophy: The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (by Kwame Appiah)
Appiah’s book is the only other book by an African author to make the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010 list. In The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Appiah explores the meaning of honor and its role in defining morality over the years, drawing examples from Britain, China, and Pakistan. For a review of Kwame Appiah’s latest book, click here.
Politics: The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe (by Peter Godwin)
Selected by the UK’s Economist magazine as one of 2010’s top reads, Peter Godwin’s latest book is a story of hope – hope that Zimbabweans will in the end remove one of Africa’s most brutal rulers. In The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe, Godwin recounts the torture and suffering that Zimbabweans went through following the 2008 elections as Robert Mugabe, the defeated President unleashed a campaign to cling to power and cower his opponents.
Fiction: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze (by Maaza Mengiste)
Mengiste’s debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze: A Novel was shortlisted for the 2010 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. In the book, Mengiste, who hails from Ethiopia, writes about a family caught in the middle of the Ethiopian revolution that shook the country back in 1974.
So what do you think of our recommendations? Is there a book that you think should have made the list? Share your thoughts with us below.