reading through a continent
April 6, 2010 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I want to read a book written by an author from every African country, about life in his / her country.

As it says - I want to read a book written by an author about his or her country - all 53 Africa countries (I am not including Egypt, but will if you can recommend a considerably compelling book).

Preferred - as contemporary as possible (post-colonial for sure; 1990s or later, a plus), both the story and the author. Fiction is good, short stories are great. Memoirs are pretty good, but other non-fiction is not. I would love books written by and about women.

Books I am pretty certain I will read:
Ethiopia - Beneath the Lion's Gaze (Maaza Mengiste)
Ghana - Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa (Aidoo)
Kenya - Wizard of the Crow (Ngugi wa'Thiong'o)
Lesotho - Chaka (Thomas Mofolo)
Nigeria - Half of a Yellow Sun (Adichie)

I have read a ton of Camus (Algeria), and am looking for something outside the box for South Africa.

I can read English and French, but would prefer books available in English if the prose isn't particularly straightforward.

posted by quadrilaterals to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
please read I Write What I Like by Steve Biko
posted by jammy at 5:08 PM on April 6, 2010

I highly recommend "Disgrace" by J. M. Coetzee. It's about many things, but will give you a feel for South Africa in the last two decades that you could not possibly get elsewhere. It centers on the clash between several pairs of paradigms that history inevitably conjures, resolves uncomfortably, and then forgets - like colonial/postcolonial, classical/contemporary, romantic/realistic. It also delves deeply into gender. I can honestly say that, on a great number of levels, it is one of the best things I've ever read. It is definitely outside of the box.

I love the idea and the massive scope of your project! Good luck!
posted by Waldo Jeffers at 5:10 PM on April 6, 2010

Botswana - Unity Dow
posted by Paragon at 5:13 PM on April 6, 2010

Togo - An African in Greenland

I realize that a good portion of this book takes place outside of Togo, but the first 100 pages or so chronicle his life as a child growing up in a python cult. The author also spends a lot of time comparing customs with those of his homeland. It is seriously a fascinating read.
posted by cyphill at 5:14 PM on April 6, 2010

I enjoyed The Famished Road, by Ben Okri, from Nigeria. It's kind of a doorstop, though.
posted by threeants at 5:21 PM on April 6, 2010

Senegal - Une si longue lettre [So long a letter] (Mariama Bâ)
Cameroon - C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée [The sun hath looked upon me] (Calixthe Beyala)
Zimbabwe and Malawi - Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (Alexandra Fuller)
posted by candyland at 5:36 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I liked Devil on a Cross better for Ngugi wa Thiong'o.
posted by quodlibet at 5:38 PM on April 6, 2010

Not personally tailored suggestions, but there is a huge list of books by country on Goodreads here as part of their 'Around the World in 80 Books' challenge.
posted by lysimache at 5:44 PM on April 6, 2010

Nigeria- The Joys of Motherhood (Buchi Emecheta)
Kenya-Weep Not, Child (Ngugi)
Cameroon- Houseboy (Ferdinand Oyono)
posted by peeps! at 5:48 PM on April 6, 2010

For South Africa, Nadine Gordimer is good. I like The House Gun and None to Accompany Me, but she's also written a nice biography of Nelson Mandela. I think The Pickup is a more recent novel of hers, and it's lovely. Also, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.
posted by bluefly at 5:52 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Although, I'm not sure how "out of the box" she is, sorry.
posted by bluefly at 5:53 PM on April 6, 2010

I was going to suggest Nadine Gordimer, and those exact same books, too. Great minds thinking as one, right?
posted by Forktine at 6:20 PM on April 6, 2010

I see you already have Ethiopia, but I quite enjoyed Notes from a Hyena's Belly by Nega Mezlekia.
posted by aetg at 6:33 PM on April 6, 2010

I've heard good things about Teju Cole. Also, if you're reading Aidoo another good one is Changes, and Adichie's first novel Purple Hibiscus might be better if you're interested in current day Nigeria.
posted by motherly corn at 7:09 PM on April 6, 2010

Some African booklists.
posted by MrFish at 7:16 PM on April 6, 2010

Zimbabwe - Nervous Conditions
posted by bassooner at 8:11 PM on April 6, 2010

2nding Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight.

Also, not really out of the box, but I just finished Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane, raised in a township in South Africa in the '60's and '70's. It's a straightforward but revealing account of growing up under apartheid.

For Rwanda: I enjoyed Land of a Thousand Hills the memoir of an American woman living her life out in Rwanda. Also, Dallaire's memoir of the UN's failure during the 1994 genocide comes highly recommended. It's called Shake Hands With the Devil.

For fiction from Botswana, a lot of my friends recommend The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

For fiction from Senegal, Ousmane Sembene's God's Bits of Wood is an account of a railroad strike in colonial Senegal in the 1940's. It really focuses on the women's roles (and power and influence) in the strike.

A memoir from Sierra Leone A Long Way Gone was haunting and hopeful.

I love this project, and I'll be back as I think of more.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 9:29 PM on April 6, 2010

Oops, I have more. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is widely read fiction from Nigeria.

And if you're thinking of reading Coetzee, I would also consider The Life and Times of Michael K, but I also enjoyed Disgrace.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 9:34 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Probably not what you're looking for, but definitely outside the box...

St. Augustine was African (from a place called Hippo Regius, in modern day Algeria.)

I'd recommend _Confessions_.
posted by chicago2penn at 10:01 PM on April 6, 2010

It doesn't have a contemporary setting, but Lauretta Ngcobo's 'And They Didn't Die' is highly recommended for South Africa.
posted by goo at 3:25 AM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone; keep them coming. (Sao Tome's got to have some novelists!) I'll hopefully have a list compiled by the end of the month.

I've read a handful of the ones listed (Things Fall Apart, St. Augustine (though that's pretty creative), the Rwanda books recommended), but everything listed here looks great.
posted by quadrilaterals at 6:52 AM on April 7, 2010

2nd-ing Nervous Conditions

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood It's set in Fez, Morocco in the 1940s. Just a beautifully written book.
posted by sarahmelah at 8:21 AM on April 7, 2010

Uganda - Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa.

Somalia - Maps by Nuruddin Farah

Côte d'Ivoire - Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma

n-thing Disgrace and Wizard of the Crow.

Thanks for posting this question! Looking forward to reading through the list myself.
posted by rebekah at 8:33 AM on April 7, 2010

Have to second Life and Times of Michael K., even over Disgrace, yes. What a perfect, perfect book.
posted by ifjuly at 9:40 AM on April 7, 2010

Heinemann has an "African Writer's Series" which includes lots of the titles mentioned above and more.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 10:52 AM on April 7, 2010

South Africa - Welcome to our Hillbrow is a contemporary South African novel from Phaswane Mpe. Contemporary and not a white South African.

Sudan - Season of Migration to the North by Tayyib Salih is justifiably famous.

Of course Egypt is in Africa and Naguib Mahfouz is a giant of Egyptian (and Arabic literature) Also recommend The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany.

Uganda - Abbyssinian Chronicles which despite its name is by a Ugandan.
posted by xetere at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another from Senegal: Murambi: The Book of Remains, by Boubacarr Boris Diop. He's one of the undiscovered talents of Africa, IMO. He also has another novel out ("Domi Golo") but it's written in Wolof.
posted by amrangaye at 2:08 PM on April 9, 2010

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