As we have done for the last three years, we are delighted to present the 2013 Africa Book Club Books of the Year, featuring books about Africa and/or written by African authors that made waves and delighted book lovers across the reading world. This was another great year for African literature.
We saw the emergence of some new talent – none more talked about than NoViolet Bulawayo, the Zimbabwean author, whose book, We Need New Names, made her the first first black African woman ever to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. This was also the year Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie finally released her much-anticipated new book, Americanah, cementing her place, as one of the world’s most talented novelists. Sadly, the year also saw the passing of Nelson Mandela and Chinua Achebe, robbing us of two of Africa’s most accomplished minds and Ambassadors.
This year’s list of fifteen books includes titles in the fiction, short story, autobiographies/memoirs, and non-fiction categories.
The Childhood of Jesus (by J.M. Coetzee)
Published in September by Viking Books, The Childhood of Jesus tells the story of David, a young boy separated from his mother as a passenger on a boat bound for a new land. The boy is left quite literally adrift. The piece of paper explaining his situation is lost, but a fellow passenger, Simón, vows to look after the boy. When the boat docks, David and Simón are issued new names, new birthdays, and virtually a whole new life. Strangers in a strange land, knowing nothing of their surroundings, nor the language or customs, they are determined to find David’s mother. Though the boy has no memory of her, Simón is certain he will recognize her at first sight. The author, J. M. Coetzee, is a Nobel laureate and two-time Booker Prize winner. A review of The Childhood of Jesus in Publishers’ Weekly notes, “As in the past, Coetzee’s precise prose is at once rich and austere, lean and textured, deceptively straightforward and yet expansive, as he considers what is required, not just of the body, but by the heart.”
We Need New Names (NoViolet Bulawayo)
To say Noviolet Bulawayo has had a magical year would be an understatement. In addition to being shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, the Zimbabwean writer appears on Forbes Magazine’s 20 young power women in Africa 2013 list. Along with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she is one of a select few Africans that made Foreign Policy magazine’s list of global thinkers. In her engaging debut novel, We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo introduces the reader to a young Zimbabwean girl growing up in a poor township named ‘Paradise’. Ten-year old, ‘Darling’ is a feisty and independent girl who is gifted with an astute sense of observation, an expressive voice and a good dose of humor. As our reviewer, Friederike Knabe notes, NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut is as much a touching coming of age story – first in Zimbabwe and later in Michigan, USA, as it is an engaging and reflective account on family and ‘home’, friendship and loss, and, finally on self-discovery.
Americanah (by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Selected by the editors of New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s latest book, Americanah, was released early this year by Knopf Publishing Group. The award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus delivers a 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. Read Julianah Ogunseiju’s review of Americanah here.
Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty (by Alain Mabanckou)
Published by Serpent’s Tail, Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty is a humorous and poignant account of an African childhood, drawn from Alain Mabanckou’s life. The Franco-Congolese author adds tenderness to his signature ironic tone. Through Michel, his young alter ego, Mabanckou mischievously recalls his childhood in the port-city of Pointe-Noire, on the Atlantic coast of Congo-Brazzaville. Michel is caught in a whirl of minor events he describes with touching candor: the hiccups in his love relationship with Caroline, the witch tricks of Ousmane the Senegalese shopkeeper, the unfairness of the teacher’s ranking system… But Michel is also concerned with the stories he hears through his father’s radio, from the exile of Iran’s Shah to the craze of Uganda’s Idi Amin. Domestic and historic events intermingle hilariously in Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty, offering a moving depiction of how it was like to grow up in Africa in the late seventies.
The Golden Scales: A Makana Mystery ( by Parker Bilal)
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing in February, The Golden Scales: A Makana Mystery, features a former police inspector Makana, who is in exile from his native Sudan. He lives on a rickety Nile houseboat in Cairo, scratching out a living as a private investigator. In need of money, Makana takes a case from the notoriously corrupt mogul Saad Hanafi, owner of a Cairo soccer team, whose star player, Adil Romario, has gone missing. Soon, Makana is caught up in a mystery that takes him into the treacherous underbelly of his adopted city, encountering Muslim extremists, Russian gangsters, vengeful women, and a desperate mother hunting for her missing daughter-a trail that leads him back into his own story, stirring up painful personal memories and bringing him face-to-face with an old enemy from his past. The author, whose real name is Jamal Mahjoub, is an award winning writer of mixed British/Sudanese heritage. Born in London, he was raised in Khartoum where the family remained until 1990.
Ghana Must Go (by Taiye Selasi)
Published by Penguin, Ghana Must Go was selected by the respected Economist magazine as one of its top fiction titles of the year. Taiye Selasi’s debut is a sweeping narrative that takes us from Accra to Lagos to London to New York. Kweku, a renowned surgeon and failed husband dies suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of his death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Ghana Must Go is their story.
A Memory This Size and other stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2013
Now in its 14th year, the Caine Prize for African Writing continues to unearth exciting talent with its annual short story competition. Described by the Independent as ‘the near-infallible early-warning system for new African talent, this is the prize that first introduced the world to writers like NoViolent Bulawayo, Leila Aboulela, Binyavanga Wainaina, and Helon Habila. And 2013 was no different with this year’s awards short story collection including excellent pieces from the likes of Tope Folarin (winner), Elnathan John, Pede Hollist, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, and Chinelo Okparanta. For short story fans, this is a collection not to be missed.
Happiness, Like Water (Chinelo Okparanta)
Released in August, Happiness, Like Water is a moving debut story collection centered on Nigerian women at home and transplanted to the United States, building lives out of longing and hope, faith and doubt, the struggle to stay and the mandate to leave, the burden and strength of love. Here are characters faced with dangerous decisions, children slick with oil from the river, a woman in love with another despite the penalties. Here is a world marked by electricity outages, lush landscapes, folktales, buses that break down and never start up again. Reviewing Happiness, Like Water, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes, “Chinelo Okparanta’s debut story collection offers a portrait of Nigeria that is surprising, shocking, heart-rending, and loving.”
Autobiographies and Memoirs
A Passion for Freedom (by Mamphela Ramphele)
A former anti-Apartheid activist, medical doctor, academic and businesswoman, Mamphela Aletta Ramphele is one of South Africa’s most well-known and respected personalities. Ramphele was a one-time Managing Director at the World Bank, and has recently joined South African politics, to lead a new party to challenge the ruling African National Congress. These accomplishments and the fact that Ramphele was the life partner of Steve Biko, one of South Africa’s most respected anti-apartheid fighters, make A Passion for Freedom: Mamphela Ramphele, one of the most intriguing books of the year. Released in November, Ramphele’s biography charts the incredible story of a woman who, despite detention, banishment, and the loss of the father of her unborn child to police torture, never gave up expanding the bounds of the possible.
A Good African Story: How a Small Company Built a Global Coffee Brand (by Andrew Rugasira)
This is the inspirational story of how an African entrepreneur grew his coffee company to become a profitable global brand. A Good African Story, released this year in the US (and in the UK last year), recounts Andrew Rugasira’s personal story and the challenges that he has faced and overcome as an African entrepreneur—from the impossibility of finding capital to discrimination at every step to close calls with lions in the foothills of the Rwenzori mountains. Rugasira discusses the barriers that currently prevent fair and equal trade between Africa and the rest of the world.
Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman: 90,000 Lives Changed (by Hawa Abdi)
The first female gynecologist in her country and a lawyer, Dr. Abdi is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and Glamour’s 2012 Woman of the Year. Since 1991, when the Somali government collapsed, famine struck, and aid groups fled, she has dedicated herself to providing help for people whose lives have been shattered by violence and poverty. She turned her 1300 acres of farmland into a camp that has numbered up to 90,000 displaced people, ignoring the clan lines that have often served to divide the country. Keeping Hope Alive is Hawa Abdi’s moving story of how she and her daughters have kept thousands of her fellow citizens safe, healthy, and educated for over 20 years in Somalia.
The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari (by Paul Theroux)
The author of the acclaimed “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” and “The Great Railway Bazaar returns with The Last Train to Zona Verde. Theroux first came to Africa as a twenty-two-year-old Peace Corps volunteer, and the pull of the vast land never left him. Now he returns, after fifty years on the road, to explore yet another part of Africa and to take stock both of the place and of himself. His odyssey takes him northward from Cape Town, through South Africa and Namibia, then on into Angola, wishing to head farther still until he reaches the end of the line. Journeying alone through the greenest continent, Theroux encounters a world increasingly removed from both the itineraries of tourists and the hopes of postcolonial independence movements. Vivid, witty, and beautifully evocative, The Last Train to Zona Verde is a fitting final African adventure from the writer whose gimlet eye and effortless prose have brought the world to generations of readers.
Emerging Africa – How the Global Economy’s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter (by Kingsley Moghalu)
Published by Bookcraft Nigeria, Emerging Africa – How the Global Economy’s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter is a thoughtful and elegantly written book, in which the author Kingsley Moghalu questions the myths and conventional wisdoms about Africa’s quest for economic growth in a globalized world. Masterfully deploying arguments grounded in philosophy, economics and strategy across a range of subjects; from capitalism to transformation agendas, finance to foreign investment, and from innovation and human capital to world trade, he demonstrates persuasively how Africa’s progress in the 21st century will require nothing short of the reinvention of the African mind. Kingsley Chiedu Moghalu, Ph.D., is currently the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. An accomplished professional, he has worked in management consulting and with the United Nations, where he spent 17 years.
Success in Africa: CEO Insights from a Continent on the Rise (by Jonathan Berman)
Africa has been touted as the new investment frontier and the continent is home to a trillion-dollar, resource-rich economy, and six of the ten fastest growing markets in the world. In Success in Africa, strategy consultant Jonathan Berman introduces the ambitious CEOs who are building the continent. With twenty years of experience in frontier markets, including a decade working in Africa, author Jonathan Berman engages with top business leaders on the vast opportunities and challenges of the continent. These stories of growth, technology, and tradition bring life to one of the most important stories of the global economy: a successful Africa. Berman goes behind the headlines on Africa’s growth to answer the questions often asked by companies and investors: Who do I work with there and what drives them? How do I deal with government? What about war, disease, and poverty? What about China? How do I win?
In the Name of the Mother (by Ngugi wa Thiong’o)
Published in September by James Currey, Ngugi’s new essay collection, In the Name of the Mother, reflects his continuing interests and enthusiasms. His choice of writers is original. He makes us look again at their novels to address his lifelong concerns with the ways to independence, the meanings of colonialism and the takeover by neo-colonialism, and the functions of literature in political as well as literary terms. These essays will appeal not only to his international band of supporters. They will also introduce his views to young people discovering African and Caribbean literature.
Gaddafi’s Harem: The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya (by Annick Cojean)
An instant bestseller in France, where it was first released, Gaddafi’s Harem (published by Grove Press) tells the story Soraya. At fifteen, Soraya who was then schoolgirl in the coastal town of Sirte, was given the honor of presenting a bouquet of flowers to Colonel Gaddafi, “the Guide,” on a visit he was making to her school the following week. This one meeting–a presentation of flowers, a pat on the head from Gaddafi–changed Soraya’s life forever. Soon afterwards, she was summoned to Bab al-Azizia, Gaddafi’s palatial compound near Tripoli, where she joined a number of young women who were violently abused, raped and degraded by Gaddafi. Heartwrenchingly tragic but ultimately redemptive, Soraya’s story is the first one of many that are just now beginning to be heard. Le Monde” special correspondent Annick Cojean gives a voice to Soraya’s story, and supplements her investigation into Gaddafi’s abuses of power through interviews with people who knew Soraya, as well as with other women who were abused by Gaddafi.