African writers are turning out some of the most powerful and influential writing today. Set in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Nigeria, and South Africajust to name a fewthese seven books took us on a literary tour of this vibrant continent throughout 2023, as well showing how Africa is extending an influence on the rest of the world.
Maame, by Jessica George
Georges debut is set in modern London. Maddie, who is nicknamed Maame, a form of endearment meaning mother or woman in Twi, embodies the role by caring for a sick father and maintaining a job she hates. While Maddies mother is away in Ghana and her brother pursues a musical career, her life remains stagnant. When she finally breaks free, her carefully calibrated new life unravelsjust as she was beginning to get a taste of freedom. A meditation on grief and an invitation to never give up searching for your own happiness.
Black and Female, by Tsitsi Dangarembga
From Tsitsi Dangarembga, the author of the bestselling and widely influential Nervous Conditions, comes a groundbreaking essay collection on feminism in Black skin. Examining Zimbabwes colonial past and invented customary laws that subjugate African women in particular, Dangarembga shares both the complex history of the country and the effects on present society, urging us to study the past if we intend to fix what ails us nownot just in her country but around the world.
What Napoleon Could Not Do, by DK Nnuro
“Do you have light?” asks Patricia’s mother, when the electricity in the house fades due to Ghanas faltering grid. So begins the acrimonious divorce ritual between the families of Jacob and Patricia. Everyone in this propulsive novel, it seems, is living in the shade of some darkness. Jacob, the son who lacks focus, spends his time on an online platform hiding his deepest desires from his family. His prospects of leaving Ghana dwindle when successive U.S. visa applications are denied. His sister, who, despite doing “what Napoleon could not do,” in achievements and marrying a wealthy man in the United States, has no green card and is awaking to the discrimination in her new country. Nnuro alternates between the two countries, revealing the cultural shadows of both with sensitivity and insight.
Ghost Season, by Fatin Abbas
This expansive novel begins just before the civil war between Sudan and South Sudan. Five characters all work in various capacities in an NGO compound at a border town between the two countries. Intertwining relationships of the novels five main characters, Fatin immerses us in political and cultural conflicts, creating a fictional world that brings to life a nations complex and brutal history.
The Middle Daughter, by Chika Unigwe
In this impressive novel, a Nigerian family breaks apart after the death of Udodi, the eldest sister, who was studying in the United States. When the patriarchs death follows shortly after, the middle child, Nani is left unmoored and unable to relate to her grieving mother. Falling under the influence and abuse of an itinerant pastor, she marries him, forgoing an education. Isolated and desperate, she is uncertain of a future with her children if she leaves the marriage.
A Spell of Good Things, by Ayòbámi Adébáyo
The thin line between the poor and the wealthy is decimated when the lives of Eniola, an errand boy for a tailor, and Wuraola, a physician, collide. The violence of elections and the empty promises of politicians, the obscene wealth of the connected, the hunger and desperation of the have-nots, all intersect in this examination of a community in Osun state in Nigeria.
Adas Room, by Sharon Dodua Otoo
Spanning centuries across three countries, Ghana, England, and Germany, this debut novel begins in a Ghanaian village. We first meet Ada while she is giving birth in 1459 before encountering a Portuguese enslaver. In 1848 we meet the second Ada, a mathematician who has a special relationship with writer Charles Dickens. Then we meet the third Ada in 1945, who is a prostitute in a Nazi concentration camp. The fourth Ada, featured in the second part of the book, is a young, pregnant woman, newly arrived in Berlin from London, looking for housing. All four woman are connected by precious beads and a spirit that not only tells but intervenes in their story.