10 Great Books by African Writers

I have prepared a few book recommendations written by the African writers including Mohamed Sarr, Kamal Ben Hameda, Adrienne Yabouza, Mbarek Ould Beyrouk, Ivan Vladislavic, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Tete-Michel Kpomassie, Leila Aboulela, Scholastique Mukasonga, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Kaouther Adimi, Andre Aciman. I hope you will find this list of books useful and interesting.


Co-wives, Co-widows tells a story of two women Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou who live in a rather fulfilling polygamous marriage with the man called Lidou. When their husband dies, the bond between these women becomes stronger, they deeply care for each other and their children in the face of injustice resulting from the misogynistic social and cultural norms. This book explores the issue of love, family bonds, female friendship within the context of polygamous relationship. Co-wives, Co-widows is a reflection of certain aspects of the society of which Ndongo Passy and Grekpoubou are part of. For the reader in the anglophone world reading this little book by Adrienne Yabouza is an extraordinary experience. Writing is delightful, full of references to local culture, with the usage of dry-wit humour. FULL REVIEW


Mohamed Sarr explores a variety of subjects from different, often opposed, angles including the notion of freedom, family ties, human nature, individual and collective responsibility, courage, personal interest, the meaning of political and religious ideology, suffering, grief, position of women and children in the misogynic society, the power of word, written words in fight for the individual freedom. This book shows life under the authoritarian regime – in the book this is the religious, Islamic extremism but the themes explored in the book can resonate with people who have lived through the various political authoritarian regimes as well. This book includes profound philosophical discussions, literary references to the writers such as Victor Hugo and Apollinaire as well as historic references to the Senegalese history (although the name of the country is not mentioned in the book). My copy of this book is highlighted almost on every page – there are so many memorable passages with multitudes of perspectives which are worth rereading. FULL REVIEW


The Desert and The Drum by the Mauritanian writer, Mbarek Ould Beyrouk is a multifaceted novel, written in a beautiful, lyrical and subtle prose with vivid descriptions of the city and desert life and an array of multi-dimensional characters with profoundly rich inner life. The Desert and The Drum tells a story of a young Bedouin woman from the Oulad Mahmoud tribe, Rayhana who lives in the Sahara Desert with her tribe. Upon the arrival of the international mining company that sets up its camp nearby, she meets a young man called Yahya, an engineer from an allied tribe who takes advantage of Rayhana’s innocence. When Rayhana falls pregnant with this man, her mother wanting to hide a feeling of shame, under the excuse of illness, takes her daughter away so that she can give birth far away from the glances of her tribal community to ensure that no one will find out about the pregnancy. The so-called good name and the honor of the family is at stake. Rayhana’s mother decides to leave the baby in care of an older woman, Massouda. Once they are back in their camp, the mother rushes Rayhana into an arranged marriage. When her new husband, Memed learns about the baby, he sets out on a journey to find it and adopt it as his own. Nevertheless, he finds out that Rayhana’s mother had already moved the child further away from the older woman who was initially entrusted with care of the child, and no one knows where the child was taken to. Rayhana decides to steal the tribal sacred drum, a symbol of the religious beliefs, as a form of retribution for the disappearance of her child. She flees across the desert to the city where she looks for her “little soul”. During her journey she meets a variety of unconventional characters which creates a fascinating portrait of the contemporary Mauritanian society. FULL REVIEW


Michel the Giant by the Togolese writer and adventurer, Tete-Michel Kpomassie is an extraordinary book about a long journey that Michel took from his home in Togo via Europe to reach Greenland, the land of eternal ice he had become fascinated with as a child and dreamt of visiting. In 1950s when he was a teenager, Michel finds a book in one of the church bookshop in Togo and this book is titled The Eskimos from Greenland and Alaska. He becomes extremely interested in the remote lands and in 1958 as a 17 year old boy he starts his journey, first along western coast of Africa reaching Marseille in France in 1963 and then heading for the land of ice that he reached in 1965. Once in Greenland he immerses himself in the life and customs of the local people for next two years. During his time there he finds out that Greenland is not just the land of happiness as he initially envisaged. It is a place like any other with its problems and issues which was somehow exoticized by the young Michel. Undoubtedly, Michel the Giant is a love letter to Greenland, its people and their way of life from the perspective of a Togolese explorer and adventurer. I highly recommend it – this is a truly fascinating read.


Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga tells a story of her Tutsi family in the years preceding the genocide of 1994 during which the author lost 37 members of her immediate family, including her parents, her siblings and all their children. It is an unforgettable memoir as we witness Scholastique and her family through years of pogroms and massacres against Tutsi during January and February of 1964, followed by Scholastique’s and her brother, Andre’s escape to Burundi in 1973. The book although small in size allows the reader to better understand preconditions that facilitated the genocide and reminds us that acts of genocide, Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, pogroms do not happen by chance or overnight. It takes years, decades of dehumanisation of the Other, indifference, passivity, and numbness among the privileged ones within any given society. Cockroaches is very much a story about the human nature and that fine line between good and evil. The descriptions of pogroms based on the ethnicity in the 1960s against Tutsi reminded me so much about my beloved grandparents’ experience when they lived during the 1930s and 40s in Ukraine. FULL REVIEW


Elsewhere, Home is a collection of vignettes about immigration, loss, alienation, crossing different cultures, what it means to be ‘third culture’ child. Those stories explore human relationships with a great deal of empathy. They offer a very nuanced, complex picture of immigration. This collection evolves around immigration in the UK, with a special focus on Scotland. We meet a variety of characters from different social backgrounds across all age groups, mainly coming from East Africa and Middle East. FULL REVIEW


This Mournable Body tells a story of a middle-age woman, called Tambu living in Harare (Zimbabwe) who is trying to find her way in this world. Tambu leaves her stagnant job as a copywriter with hope that she will find a better job where she is treated with respect and appreciation. Every time there seems to be some hope for a better future and life, Tambu is served again with another disappointment and humiliation. Her life is far more depressing than the one she have imagined. This book portrays the essence of human condition in the current times, when there is no hope, just despair and constant struggle to exist. Dangarembga explores the contemporary Zimbabwe, the impact that the past and present have on the life of an ordinary individual with high dreams, and how those dreams and hopes are shattered. It is an excellent depiction of the Zimbabwean society, urban versus rural life, traditional norms versus push for modernity when it comes to social customs. This Mournable Body is also a very universal tale; it tackles many social issues that people in other countries have to deal with as well. This a great piece of literature.


Under the Tripoli Sky by the Libyan writer, Kamal Ben Hameda is a multi-layered, nuanced novel which provides a window into a pre-Qaddafi Tripoli in the 1960s Libya. This little novel is an unique literary gem, with poetic writing dressed in delicate nostalgia of the old era. Ben Hameda is an astute observer of human emotions and social patterns,  a great writer of profound sensitivity and understanding for people from all walks of life. By writing this book Kamal Ben Hameda has become a great chronicler of the Libyan society of the 1960s. Under the Tripoli Sky is a wonderful ode to Libya of the old times as well as a tremendous gift to his readership. In Under the Tripoli Sky we look at the Tripolitan society, especially women’s spaces, of that era in its complexity through the eyes of a young boy, Hadachinou who is on a cusp of adolescence.  He is observant, sensitive, extremely intelligent, with curious and inquisitive mind. The book depicts the position of women in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, where both women and men live separate lives, with having very little respect for each other. It is also a story of growing up in this kind of society, especially from the point of view of a young boy, our narrator who himself is in search for his own identity as an Arab and Muslim boy about to enter next phase of his life, where some women and men do not appreciate his innocence and sensitivity and instead take advantage of him. FULL REVIEW


A Bookshop in Algiers is a literary feast. This book might be small in size, just under 150 pages, but it is dense with captivating literally anecdotes related to both Algerian and French titans of literature as well as with many unique perspectives on the history and culture of Algeria throughout the 20th century. This book offers a moving portrayal of Algeria, its capital, Algiers and its inhabitants. Kaouther Adimi paid homage to the art of storytelling, literature, and bookshop as a place of a great importance for local communities, of cultural exchange and freedom of thought. Here, a bookshop is more than just a physical place selling books – it is an idea, a magnet for those who dare to dream. This book is a celebration of publishing industry and those who make stories available to the readers. FULL REVIEW


This Blinding Absence of Light’ by a Moroccan writer, Tahar Ben Jelloun narrates a story of political prisoners who took part in a failed coup against King Hassan II of Morocco in 1971. This story is based on real events and author’s interview with a former prisoner Aziz Binebine. Following the attempt to oust the King, sixty people were incarcerated for eighteen years in a secret prison called Tazmamart which was located in the Sahara Desert. The conditions in that prison were horrid, atrocious. The prisoners were literally buried alive, kept in a complete darkness in a single underground cell of five foot high and nine foot long where they could not stand up nor sit up; scorpions and other insects occupied the cells with the prisoners, with one small hole for air and another hole in the ground used as a lavatory. They only received enough food to make it until next day. The only time they were allowed to go out was to bury other prisoners. This Blinding Absence of Light’ is one of the greatest books I have read about the incarceration. I truly believe that this should be read along with the books on the Soviet Gulags by Solzhenitsyn and by Herling-Grudzinski, death and concentration camps literature from WWII. FULL REVIEW



The Distance is a profoundly moving study in family relations during the political and social changes offering a very intimate insight into snippets of the South African society of the 1970s, as well as that of the present day. The story features the variety of themes including love, memory, loss, immigration, our own perception of who we are and its impact on how we perceive the world, race relations in the 1970s and a present-day South Africa and the limitation of language. The story evolves around two narrators, voices – brothers, Joe and Branko Blahavić, originally from Pretoria who are of Croatian descent (like Vladislavic himself). The Distance is like a literary museum of individual childhood memories contrasted with the reality of living in a complex society. FULL REVIEW


Andre Aciman is one of my favourite contemporary writers. Aciman is better known for such books as ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Find Me‘. Out of Egypt is Aciman’s memoir of growing up in Egypt as a young Jewish boy among many languages and cultures. He was born in Alexandria in 1951 to the Sephardic Jewish parents, speaking French at home and English in school. Aciman family lived in Egypt until 1965 when due to political situation they had to leave the country moving first to Italy, France and finally settled in the USA. The world evoked in ‘Out of Egypt’ does not exist anymore. It is a very compelling, rich memoir and great for reading along with another famous memoir ‘Out of Place’ by Dr Edward Said. If you are interested in multicultural heritage, family tales, Jewish traditions, Egypt of the 1950s and 1960s, I am sure you will love this book.

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    1. Thank you !!! I m glad you like it. Mohamed Sarr won Prix Goncourt last year for another book, La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (which has not yet been translated into English) and I have heard that this one is one of the best books written in the last decades.

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