Anthills of the Savannah is Chinua Achebe's latest novel, published in the 1980s, and my favourite.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Most people cite Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Nigerian Civil War novel Half of a Yellow Sun as their favourite. I've actually always loved her short stories more. A lovely collection here. I heartily dislike two of the stories in here, but the rest I really like!
Teju Cole's novella Every Day is for the Thief was published by the Nigerian press Cassava Republic a few years before the debut of his widely acclaimed novel Open City. Like Open City but in Nigeria, an unnamed mixed-race narrator wanders Lagos with sharp eyes and a thoughtful voice.
Brilliant, breathtaking novel. It follows Julius, a Nigerian-German pscychiatry intern on his wanderings around New York City (and briefly Brussels) and lets us in on his musings about the layers of trauma suffered by individuals and communities--forgotten histories that haunt the city and the world.
I wrote my MA thesis on Waiting for an Angel, and it is one of my favourite books of all time, perhaps (I'm realizing as my PhD interests solidify) because I've always been fascinated by metafiction. In brief, Waiting for an Angel is a fractured narrative (initially published as the book of short stories, Prison Stories) set during the mid-1990s of the Abacha military regime in Nigeria. It is told from the perspective of multiple narrators, but linked together by the story of Lomba, the journalist. The first chapter, which describes Lomba's stay in prison, won the Caine Prize for African Literature in 2001. I review Waiting for an Angel, and Habila's next novel, Measuring Time, on my blog here.
Habila's second novel is slower paced but perhaps more thoughtful and is set in Nigeria's north where Habila grew up. It tells the story of twins Mamo and Lamamo, one who travels Africa and the other who stays at home, rewriting the history of his town that was first written by a missionary. The rhythm of Habila's novels reminds me a bit of time in Gabriel Garcia Marquez. You can read the review I wrote of Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time, here.
I have not yet read Helon Habila's third novel, Oil on Water, which apparently tells the story of a Nigerian journalist's investigation of the kidnapping of an American in Nigeria's Niger Delta region, but it is on my "to read very soon" list!
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Adaobi Trician Nwaubani won the 2010 Commonwealth prize for her debut novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance, a hilarious, yet thought provoking, novel about one young man's journey into the 419 fraud business.
I first got to know Abidemi through blogging. She has written the delightful "Christian Bridget Jones" diary Kemi's Journal, and also the heart-wrenching Eyo, which was nominated for the Commonwealth Prize in 2010.
Labo Yari is perhaps one of Nigeria's most under rated novelists of the Achebe generation. Although I dislike his tendency to over-translate from Hausa, he beautifully captures the nuances and ambiguities of northern Nigeria in the 1970s. He deserves a whole lot more attention than he gets. I hope to include a little analysis of his fiction in my dissertation.
African Literature Beyond Nigeria
Ama Ata Aidoo
These two plays deal with the consequences of slavery and return. Anowa is set during the slave trade, and Dilemma of a Ghost, recounts the tensions faced by an African American woman who has married a Ghanaian, with her husband and his family.
Ngugi wa Thiongo
Ngugi wa Thiong'o's first novel written in Gikuyu (available here in English translation) after spending a year in prison for his participation in Gikuyu community theatre. It is one of my favourite novels, a wild, hilarious, biting satire bringing to life the urban lore about Kenya's neo-colonial elite.
Mukoma wa Ngugi
Another book on my "to-read-very-soon" list. Mukoma is a good friend of mine from grad school, and a great writer.
Part dreamy, part invigorating, always thoughtful memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina--"that guy", "the voice of Africa" who became spam after his brilliant essay "How to Write about Africa" published in Granta went viral.
I cried for like an hour after finishing this, in the week before I started grad school. It is so beautiful and so sad and so hopeful, all at the same time.
Dangarembga's classic tale of the poor country cousin come to live with city cousins in Rhodesia of the 1970s. When I first read this book, I felt like I was reading about my own high school experience. Tambu and her cousin Nyasha are charachters you feel like you know.
Literature Beyond Africa that I Like
Jane AustenMy first encounter with Jane Austen came in high school, when I was doing an individual reading course. We had to read a certain number of pages and write a report each week. We were allowed to choose half of the books ourselves, but the other half had to be from a recommended reading list. From the title, I thought "Pride and Prejudice" looked quite boring, but I checked it out anyway. I was living in one of the hostels during that time, rather than at home, because I was practicing for a school play and the several late nights of practice a week were too much for my parents to handle, as we lived quite far across town. I started reading the book on the bus to the hostel and literally could not put it down until I had finished that night. I don't know whether I did any homework that night or not. Thus began my love affair with Jane Austen. In college, I finished reading the rest of her novels in my spare time. Although my readings are now influenced by Edward Said, I still adore her light, sardonic descriptions and her delightful characters.
I love metafiction. This is metafiction at its best.
And some of my favourites:
Ray Bradbury is one of those authors I discovered in high school (on the recommendation of one of my best teachers ever, the English teacher, Mr. Fine) and have loved ever since. Recently, I have gone back to reading his short stories from Golden Apples of the Sun, in my spare time. While he was definitely a writer of his age (50s through the 70s), which occasionally manifests itself with observations and language about race and class that make me uncomfortable now, as a science fiction writer, he also has a forward-looking, thoughtful and sensitive understanding of human nature that almost always captures me.
Alex Haley/Malcom XAbsolutely mind-blowing, life changing book. Alex Haley interviews Malcom X about his life, and as trust grows between the two men, the civil rights leader lets Haley in on the story of his life, from his childhood in the midwest, to his gangster days, to his life-changing encounter with Elijah Mohammad as he sat in jail, and finally another life-changing encounter as he traveled around Africa and went on hajj to Mecca in the year before his death. A moving, illuminating must read.
Jhumpa Lahiri, who sets her stories in India and the United States, is the master of the short story.
Children and Young Adult Literature
Madeleine L'Engle's "Wrinkle in Time" quintet begins with a "dark, stormy night" that draw the dorky Meg and her little brother Charles Wallace past the dark cloud covering our planet into an adventure that begins with "tesseracting" across the wide universe and continues as each member of their family is drawn into the vast and intricate workings of body and time.
7 volumes of some of my favourite novels of all time. I first read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was eleven, in about three days, and then read it outloud to my brother and sister. On my favourites list since then.
Phillip Pullman may be an athiest who dislikes C.S. Lewis, but he's a damn fine author. His description of the spirits being released from Hades-like underworld in his children's "His Dark Materials" trilogy took my breath away. I met him once at a book reading in Oxford. He had come to support one of his friends who was reading, and started chatting with me. At the time, I had no idea who he was, talked about how my love of fantasy came from The Chronicles of Narnia (which I later read he hates). He was fantastically nice. I would love to meet him again, now that I know who he is!
A really great book that looks at African film adaptations of novels (and other works). Fits right into my interests in metafiction and intertextuality.
The first real scholarly edited volume on Nigerian video films, now better known as Nollywood. The field of "Nollywood Studies" has grown exponentially since this book was published, but it is rooted in this pioneering work.
Anthropologist Brian Larkin's writing is both brilliant and accessible. He links most nuanced and detailed descriptions of Hausa popular literature and film to larger thinking about globalization here.
Mahir Saul and Ralph Austen
An important edited volume, which for the first time brings together scholars of "FESPACO" film and scholars of "Nollywood". Based on the conference by the same name held at the University of Urbana-Champagne in 2007.
If only more literary theory were written like Terry Eagleton's sometimes snarky, almost always accessible introduction to the field. Re-reading while writing my dissertation, it has me "lol"-ing and "smh" down the page.
Tejumola Olaniyan and Ato Quayson
The seminal introduction to African literary criticism and theory. Big, bulky, and full of great (mostly accessible) texts theorizing African literature.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Spivak's latest tome is full of a career's worth of lectures and essays, usually introduced with her rethinking previous points. Spivak is difficult to read but this collection is thoughtful, provocative and worth pouring through. Perhaps because many of these are lectures, I find her more accessible here than some of her earlier works.
I don't necessarily agree with all of Augustine's conclusions, but he writes a fascinating narrative of life in north Africa and Italy in the early Christian period. His descriptions of school, entertainment, and spiritual struggle feel surprisingly contemporary.
C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity has probably formed my imagination of my Christian faith more than any other.
A beautifully written and accessible introduction to Islam by an Iranian-American Muslim.