In the past couple of decades, the amount of literature out of West Africa available to English speakers in the West has increased manifold, and in recent years it’s been expanding beyond the historical subjects of war and slavery to reflect the humanity of everyday life in the region.
If you’re heading to West Africa, here are 10 great books that will help you better appreciate the visit…
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adiche’s delightful third novel follows a smart, precocious Nigerian girl named Ifemelu as she grows up, falls in love, moves to America for school and eventually returns to her home country. Her first love, Obinze, also gets a lot of attention, but it’s Ifemelu that captured my imagination.
Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
This essential 1958 novel tells the story of village leader Okonkwo and his struggle to adapt to the changing dynamics of his native culture brought about by the arrival of Europeans.
by Yaa Gyasi
Two half-sisters in what will become Ghana meet wildly diverging fates, one marrying a British slaver, the other captured and sold into slavery in America. This debut novel tells their stories, along with those of their descendants, all the way up to the present day.
So Long a Letter
by Mariama Ba
At 90 pages this epistolary work is really more of a novelette, but it packs an enormous emotional punch. In the wake of her husband’s death, a Senegalese woman pens a letter to her best friend, meditating on love, death and friendship.
The Joys of Motherhood
by Buchi Emecheta
A Nigerian woman in the early 20th century struggles with all aspects of motherhood–conceiving, bearing, and providing for–through two polygamous marriages and the inevitable complexities wrought by them.
The Bad-Ass Librarians
by Joshua Hammer
Get past the grating title and your left with a fascinating account of the truly astonishing amount of scholarship from medieval times stored in the city of Timbuktu, along with the threat the collections are currently under thanks to religious extremists, and the lengths to which librarians there have gone to save the ancient texts.
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
by Ayi Kwei Armah
In post-independence Ghana, an unnamed protagonist deals with emerging corruption in his home city of Accra, declining to take a bribe and suffering the existential consequences.
The Memory of Love
by Aminatta Forna
The novel opens in 2001, before the country’s brutal civil war ended, with an old man from Sierra Leone telling his therapist a story about a woman he was once in love with. That story takes the reader through three decades of political and personal drama.
Ake: The Years of Childhood
by Wole Soyinka
Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka memoir of his childhood takes the reader to the village where he spent his first 12 years and recounts, with tactile attention to detail, those early impressions that helped form his worldview.
by T.C. Boyle
Set at the turn of the 19th century and based largely on written accounts by the Scottish explorer Mungo Park, who twice journeyed up the Niger River, Boyle’s first novel tells stories of a certain time from a decidedly 20th century perspective.
Feature image by Scott Rosenstein.