As yet another year goes by, we are excited to present the Africa Book Club 2017 books of the year – our selection of the best books about Africa, or written by African authors.
This year’s picks feature a mix of established and emerging writers from across the continent. As in the past, the list includes several award-winning titles and picks by notable media such as the New York Times, Sunday Times Literary Prize and others.
To compile the list, we checked out over 50 leading publishers and scoured various newspapers and websites. We also tapped into our contacts in the book world for recommendations. Finally, as we have done in the past, we tracked down as many literary award nominations and winners as we could find.
For our readers’ convenience, we have grouped our selections in three categories – fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.
Let us know what you think in the comments below. As always, we welcome your recommendations and suggestions.
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Get all 19 books featured in the Africa Book Club 2017 books of the year by taking part in our ultimate gift hamper competition. To enter, join the Africa Book Club as a premium member or make a purchase of any value from our bookstore between January 1, 2018 and March 31, 2018. The winner will be randomly selected from all entries received and announced on Monday, April 2, 2018.
Dance of the Jacaranda (by Peter Kimani)
Highlighted by its exquisite voice, Kimani’s Dance of the Jakaranda illustrates the discordant history of East Indians in Kimani’s native Kenya, centered on the construction of a railroad connecting Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean at the end of the 19th century.
Described as funny, perceptive and subversive, this widely acclaimed book was selected by the New York Times as one of its best books of 2017.
Stay with Me (by Ayobami Adebayo)
Released in the US by Knopf Publishing Group, Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel, Stay with Me, made the New York Times 2017 books list and was shortlisted for the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction. Set in Nigeria, Stay with Me gives voice to both husband and wife as they tell the story of their marriage–and the forces that threaten to tear it apart.
The riveting novel depicts a loving couple, whose marriage is tested by the pressure to have a child.
Behold the Dreamers (by Imbolo Mbue)
Released as a paperback in the US in June 2017, Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, has been described as a compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy
The book was a New York Times Bestseller and winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award.
The Woman Next Door (by Yewande Omotoso)
Shortlisted for the 2017 Sunday Times Literary Awards/Barry Ronge Fiction Prize and Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, Yewande Omotoso’s book, The Woman Next Door, was also cited as one of NPR’s books of the year.
The book centers around two women, Hortensia James and Marion Agostino. They are neighbors. One is black, the other white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed, and are living with questions, disappointments, and secrets that have brought them shame. And each has something that the woman next door deeply desires.
Homegoing (by Yaa Gyasi)
A winner of the PEN/ Hemingway Award, Homegoing is set in Ghana and tells the stories of two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem.
Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours (by Helen Oyeyemi)
Reissued as a paperback edition in 2017, Helen Oyeyemi’s latest book, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours has been described as playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined. The novel is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side.
Spanning multiple times and landscapes, Oyeyemi’s collection of intertwined stories tease boundaries between coexisting realities.
Akata Warrior (by Nnedi Okorafor)
Okorafor’s new book, Akata Warrior, is the long-awaited sequel to the genre-breaking Akata Witch. The book stars Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl Nigerian girl, who has been inducted into the secret Leopard Society. As she begins to develop her magical powers, Sunny learns that she has been chosen to lead a dangerous mission to avert an apocalypse, brought about by the terrifying masquerade, Ekwensu. Now, stronger, feistier, and a bit older, Sunny is studying with her mentor Sugar Cream and struggling to unlock the secrets in her strange Nsibidi book.
Eventually, Sunny knows she must confront her destiny. With the support of her Leopard Society friends, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha, and of her spirit face, Anyanwu, she will travel through worlds both visible and invisible to the mysteries town of Osisi, where she will fight a climactic battle to save humanity.
Rotten Row (by Petina Gappah)
On the heels of her hugely successful 2016 novel, The Book of Memory, Petina Gappah was back in 2017 with a new story collection, Rotten Row. In her latest book, Petina Gappah crosses the barriers of class, race, gender and sexual politics in Zimbabwe to explore the causes and effects of crime, and to meditate on the nature of justice. Rotten Row represents a leap in artistry and achievement from the award-winning author. With compassion and humor, Petina Gappah paints portraits of lives aching for meaning to produce a moving and universal tableau.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (by Lesley Nneka Arimah)
This debut collection by Lesley Nneka Arimah was named a ‘Best Book of 2017’ by NPR, Southern Living, Electric Literature, The Root, The Guardian, Bustle, Thrillist, and Publisher’s Weekly. It also won the 2017 Kirkus Prize.
What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky is a collection of short stories that explore the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.
Black Moses (by Alain Mabanckou)
Originally published in French, Alain Mabanckou’s latest book, Black Moses, was translated into English and published this year to great public acclaim. Longlisted by the Aspen Words Literary Prize and a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, the book further cements Mabanckou’s reputation as one of Africa’s foremost writers.
The book’s main character is Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko (or as most people prefer to call him, Moses). He lives in an orphanage, where he is constantly picked on by two twins, Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala. But after Moses exacts revenge on the twins by lacing their food with hot pepper, the twins take Moses under their wing, escape the orphanage, and move to the bustling port town of Pointe-Noire, where they form a gang that survives on petty theft. What follows is a funny, moving, larger-than-life tale that chronicles Moses’s ultimately tragic journey through the Pointe-Noire underworld and the politically repressive world of Congo-Brazzaville in the 1970s and 80s.
Season of Crimson Blossoms (by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim)
Season of Crimson Blossoms tells the captivating story of an illicit affair between a twenty-five-year-old street gang leader, Hassan Reza, and a devout fifty-five-year-old widow and grandmother, Binta Zubairu, who yearns for intimacy after the sexual repression of her marriage and the pain of losing her first son. This story of love and longing—set in a conservative Muslim community in Nigeria—reveals deep emotions that defy age, class, and religion.
This novel gives a unique perspective on life and relationships in Northern Nigeria, a region vastly under-represented in the body of world literature.
Harvest of Skulls (by Abdourahman A. Waberi)
In 1994, the Akazu, Rwandan’s political elite, planned the genocidal mass slaughter of 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsi and Hutu who lived in the country. Shaped by the author’s own experiences in Rwanda and by the stories shared by survivors, Harvest of Skulls stands twenty years after the genocide as an indisputable resource for discussions on testimony and witnessing, the complex relationship between victims and perpetrators, the power of the moral imagination, and how survivors can rebuild a society haunted by the ghost of its history.
Jazz and Palm Wine (by Emmanuel Dongala)
Originally released in France in 1996, Dongala’s short story collection, Jazz and Palm Wine, was republished this year. Jazz, aliens, and witchcraft collide in this collection. The influence of Kongo culture is tangible throughout, as customary beliefs clash with party conceptions of scientific and rational thought. In the first half of Jazz and Palm Wine, the characters emerge victorious from decades of colonial exploitation in the Congo only to confront the burdensome bureaucracy, oppressive legal systems, and corrupt governments of the post-colonial era. The ruling political party attempts to impose order and scientific thinking while the people struggles to deal with drought, infertility, and impossible regulations and policies; both sides mix witchcraft, diplomacy, and violence in their efforts to survive.
The second half of the book is set in the United States during the turbulent civil rights struggles of the 1960s. In the title story, African and American leaders come together to save the world from extraterrestrials by serving vast quantities of palm wine and playing American jazz.
Before Forever After: When Conversations About Living Meet Questions About Dying (by Helena Dolny)
In Before Forever After, Helena Dolny imagines a world in which people engage in death-in-life conversations as part of everyday living. She believes we’d live better and suffer less if we were to talk about dying more readily. In a world, where end-of-life discussions are still taboo in many societies, Helena Dolny offers an important and highly readable book that will help readers reflect on the important life decisions they need to make about life and death, and how to be prepared when the time comes to say farewell to loved ones.
Helena interviewed people across continents in diverse professions including the funeral business, palliative care, spiritual leaders and financial advisors. The outcome: 57 stories on nine themes that will make reader think about how they choose to live and how they would prefer to die. This book’s rich cast of storytellers does not provide answers. The gift Before Forever After offers is the inspiration to craft clearer and sharper questions so that readers may shape their own unique response to this fierce, fundamental and inevitable force of life.
Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of South Africa’s Marikana Massacre (by Greg Marinovich)
A winner of the 2017 Sunday Times Literary Awards/ Alan Paton Prize, Murder at Small Koppie is an award-winning investigation that has been called the most important piece of journalism in post-apartheid South Africa. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Greg Marinovich delves into the truth behind the massacre that killed thirty-four platinum miners and wounded seventy-eight more in August of 2012 at the Marikana platinum mine in South Africa’s North West province.
The Wooden Camel (by Wanuri Kahiu)
Etabo dreams of being a camel racer. One day he might even beat his older brother when they race. But with the price of water rising, Etabo’s father must sell the camels, and his siblings must find work. What will Etabo do now? From acclaimed Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and Italian illustrator Manuela Adreani, The Wooden Camel is a story of love and hope that centers on the inspiring Turkana people of northwest Kenya. Told with gentleness and humor, it is a universal story about keeping one’s dreams alive.
Chicken in the Kitchen (by Nnedi Okorafor)
Released in the US this year, Chicken in the Kitchen is about a young girl, Anyaugo, who follows a mischievous chicken on a fantastical adventure that challenges her to safeguard her family’s food for the following day’s New Yam Festival.
World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor provides us with a hugely entertaining look at the fascinating masquerade culture of West Africa, told from the perspective of a plucky young Nigerian girl who finds the courage to protect the traditions she loves.
Femi the Fox: A Pot of Jollof (by Jeanette Kwakye)
Jeanette Kwakye, a former Olympic athlete was searching for a children’s book for her son, but couldn’t find one that featured characters from Africa. She decided to writer her own.
Her book, Femi the Fox: A Pot of Jolloff, is a children’s story about West African cooking and culture. With beautiful illustrations from South African based illustrator, Katlego Kgabale, this is sure to be a firm favorite in many homes. Watch this BBC Africa clip in which Kwakye talks about her book.
Where is Wanda? Little Wanda Finds a Cure for Nana (by Tambra Raye Stevenson)
Curious and caring Little WANDA leads young readers on a food adventure across Africa in Where is Wanda? Little Wanda Finds a Cure for Nana. Guided by her father’s wisdom, Little WANDA sets out on a journey from America to Africa. Using her magic apron, she travels to Nigeria in search for Nana’s cure with the help of Big WANDA.
Join the conversation. Tell us what were your favorite books of the year and why?