Naguib Mahfouz is a member of a very small and elite club: that of African Nobel Laureates in Literature. His most famous work is the The Cairo Trilogy, of which Palace of Desire is the second book. Mahfouz paints a rich picture of the bustling city of Cairo in the 1920s. His characters are are engaging, his stories elegantly handled, and he manages within one family to examine some of the great questions of life.
The River and the Source was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Best First Book – Africa), as well as and the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, in 1995. It is a sweeping story following the lives of three generations of women, from Akoko, born into a traditional Luo community, to her grandchild Awiti, whose children live into the late twentieth century.
One Day I Will Write About This Place is an interesting, honest, and immensely readable short memoir. The book documents the Binyavanga Wainaina’s life from childhood through to how he eventually became an author, going on to win the Caine Prize. The memoir gives us a window not only into the Wainaina’s life, but into the Kenya he grew up in.
In January 1941, Josslyn Hay was discovered shot dead in his car, in Nairobi. The resulting court case laid bare the astonishingly louche lifestyle of the white minority in Kenya at that time, and this book is an interesting record of both that crime and the society that surrounded it.
I Do Not Come to You by Chance is a comic novel about the life and times of Kingsley, a young 419er. A 419er, we learn, is a nickname given to those in Nigeria who run email scams, and fittingly enough, refers to the section of the penal code under which such crimes are prosecuted. Within Kingley’s story, is presented a broad picture of contemporary Nigeria, in a novel that is both witty and well observed.
Nervous Conditions, the first novel by a black Zimbabwean woman in English is an engaging and elegant book about what it means to belong to more than one culture. The simple but engaging story is told by a young woman named Tambudzai.
Hochschild’s authoritative history is an attempt to record and reveal exactly what King Leopold did in the Congo. The story begins with the figure of Leopold himself, who, frustrated by the limits of the constitutional monarchy, and by the small size of his own country, wants to acquire a colony. The Belgian parliament does not support the scheme, so Leopold eventually has to claim the Congo in his own right, not as a colony, but as his own private business venture.
Karen Blixen moved to Kenya in 1914, and spent almost twenty years in that country. By many measures, her life in Africa was a failure. She was bankrupted; got divorced; caught a serious venereal disease; and lost her lover in a plane crash. However, Blixen clearly loved the country of Kenya very deeply, and OUT OF AFRICA is primarily a record of that love affair.
Julius Chingono was the son of a farm worker, and spent much of his life as a blaster on the mines in his native Zimbabwe, before a late blooming as a rather fine author. Not Another Day is a collection of his poems and short stories, and is an excellent introduction to his work.
Things Fall Apart is the most translated African work of all time, appearing in over 50 languages, and has sold more than 8 million copies. It was not only the author’s first novel, but also among the first African books to be written in English, both of which facts make it all the more remarkable that it is still widely regarded as the seminal work of English language African literature.