As the festive season begins, so does the enjoyable and/or stressful task of choosing Christmas presents for loved ones.
Fret not; be it for the book and poetry lovers in your life or a reward for yourself after all that shopping, here is a list of recently published fiction and poetry by writers and poets from Sub-Saharan Africa, literary finesse, which will make the perfect gift.
1. Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
Once in a while a literary masterpiece is written.
Homegoing is that masterpiece.
The novel begins in eighteenth century Ghana where Effia is married off to an Englishman while Esi, her half-sister is sold into slavery and shipped to America.
Thus begins an epic story spread across almost 300 years and covering the lives of the descendants of both sisters.
Clear, concise, powerful and bruising, this is a book which not only illustrates the brutality of colonialism and the slave trade, but the impact it had upon relationships, identity and the generations which have followed.
There is no summary which can do justice to this book, to truly appreciate its brilliance it must be read.
2. Rotten Row, by Petinah Gappah
Having read an Elegy for Easterly and most recently The Book of Memory, there is little doubt that Petina Gappah is a literary giant.
Rotten Row (Street in Harare where the criminal courts are situated) is a collection of stories through which Zimbabwe comes alive. From a hair salon to a boarding school to a wedding, the stories are filled with tragedy, comedy and injustice, delivered cleverly through brilliant dialogue.
The book providing an insight into the everyday lives of people that live very real lives in a Country many of us only read about in the newspapers.
3. Baho!, by Roland Rugero
Described as the first ever Burundian novel to be translated into English, Baho! may be a small novel but the weight of its words are heavy.
Nyamugari is a mute young man who whose gesture for directions are misinterpreted by a young girl as an attempt to rape her. As he begins to run in fear, members of the local community follow, mob justice the solution. So simple yet so complex, for as the story continues we see a village, a people, scarred by violence, by conflict, by fear and the need for a scapegoat to lighten the burden of history.
4. Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Translated from French, this award-winning debut novel is dark and comic, poignant and outrageous and while on the surface it is an entertaining read, it awakens within the reader questions about some of the more uncomfortable realities of modern Sub-Saharan Africa. Set in an unnamed city somewhere near the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is the story of hustler extraordinaire Requiem and writer and historian Lucien. They along with an array of other actors from tourists to businessmen to hookers can be found at restaurant and bar Tram 83, a place of music, madness and dirty dealings.
The vision of Patrice Lumumba are discussed by Lucien, juxtaposed with the very different reality around him. The book consumes the reader; it’s fast, euphoric and captivating.
5. Born on a Tuesday, by Elnathan John
Since its publication, this debut novel by everyone’s favourite satirist Elnathan John has earned much praise. The book centres round Dantala, a boy growing up in Northern Nigeria, where politics and religion shape everyday realities and are quite literally a matter of life and death. It is the journey of a young man coming of age within a myriad of political rivalries, religious splits, violence, fundamentalism, which goes beyond the media narrative that surrounds this part of the world.
Where John triumphs is in the formation of his characters, as the protagonist Dantala’s quiet observations of everything from homosexuality to why ‘Allah’ does what he does are simply endearing. Born on a Tuesday brings together a great plot, descriptive prose and humour while also exposing the reader to a harrowing reality of people in a part of the world whose voices we barely hear.
6. Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
Jende Jonga leaves Cameroon in pursuit of the American dream, soon after his wife Neni and their son join him in New York, building their lives on shaky ground.
With his asylum application still being processed Jende gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, and spends his days driving Clark, his wife Cindy and their sons around, while Neni takes college courses in the hope of becoming a pharmacist.
So begins our journey into the world of both these families, in the background a black president is elected (‘the son of an African man now ruled the world’), other realities become far more bitter as Lehman Brothers collapses, throwing the now intertwined lives of all 4 characters into turmoil.
This is more than just a story about immigration, it is a story of lies, perhaps the biggest of which is the American dream. It is about inequality, race and the fragility of relationships under the aspirations gift wrapped and sold to us by governments and societies, and how like a house of cards it can all come down.
7. The Yearning, by Mohale Mashigo
‘My mother died seven times before she gave birth to me’ begins the debut novel by Mohale Mashigo from South Africa.
It is a haunting tale about Marubini, a young woman living a comfortable and what seems to be happy life in Cape Town.
Yet the shadow of her past begins to drown her in the forms of dreams and seizures; she is forced to straddle the line between modernity and the traditional, living in one world yet seemingly being called by another, against a backdrop of love, fear, relationships and prophecies.
The book is gripping, evocative and unputdownable. And one hopes to see it in book stores around the world.
8. Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun, by Sarah Ladipo Manyika
Meet retired professor Dr Morayo Da Silva, a 75-year-old Nigerian woman living in San
Francisco and your new favourite literary character.
Vivacious, funny and energetic, her life is one of road trips in her Porsche, talking to strangers and discussing books and literature.
Then one day tragedy strikes, on which speeds up her dance with ageing, taking on a different and far more complicated pace, bringing into this novella an array of other characters, memories and musings beautifully weaved into the plot.
A delicate and touching story, magnificently told.
9.From Pasta to Pigfoot, by Frances Mensah
A light, entertaining and romantic read which lovers of authors such as Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell and Lauren Weisberger will devour.
Funny, loveable and fashionable Faye Bonsu has lived in London her whole life, unhappy in her job and holding on by a thread to a bad excuse for a relationship our underachieving heroine realises she knows little about her Ghanaian heritage and decides to travel to Accra. There begins an adventure filled with friendship, family and even potential romance.
From Pasta to Pigfoot and the recently released sequel Second Helpings are perfect for romantic comedy fans, and the vivid descriptions of Ghana, Faye’s outfits and the food are a bonus.
While not fiction, an exception will have to be made for this choice due to its sheer brilliance.
Never Look an American in the Eye is a memoir by Okey Ndibe (author of Foreign Gods Inc and Arrows of Rain) documenting his very own ‘Coming to America’ experience armed with a warning from his uncle that ‘If an American catches you, a stranger, looking them in the face, they will shoot.’
13 days after relocating to the USA from Nigeria, Mr Ndibe was mistaken for a bank robber, he then describes his struggle to adjust to winter in New York, the life left behind in Nigeria, and the battles with American stereotypes about the African Continent.
A charming and insightful read, which while on the surface is hilarious, also had great depth to it.
1.Fuchsia, by Mahtem Shiferraw
Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African poets, Fuchsia is the debut collection by US-based Ethiopian and Eritrean poet Mahtem Shiferraw.
Haunting, heart wrenching, blistering; poetry like this is rare.
‘I don’t know how to fit, adjust myself within new boundaries- nomads like me, have no place as home, no way of belonging.’
With its vivid imagery and raw honesty, Fuchsia is an achingly beautiful selection of poems, so bitter it hurts, but too sweet to miss out on.
2. Questions for Ada, by Ijeoma Umebinyo
There are not enough words in the dictionary to do justice to the exquisiteness of Ijeoma
Her poetry is like a long sigh, akin to breathing after days of holding your breath, it is the physical sensation of finding freedom in the words of another.
Questions for Ada is a book for the lovers, the lost, the exiled, the broken, the healing; it is a bible for women, it is words to live by, cementing Ms Umebinyuo’s status as a magician, an artist, an alchemist.
3. Soft Magic, by Upile Chisala
‘I am dripping melanin and honey.
I am black without apology’
Malawian storyteller, writer, poet and currently pursuing an MSc in African studies at Oxford University, the title of this collection sums up Upile Chisala’s poetry.
Exploring identity, racism, womanhood and so much more, Soft Magic is an unapologetic journey of falling in love with yourself.
If there is one book you buy this year, let this be it.
4. Something quite unlike myself, by Michael Onsando
The use of poetry to express the realities of the world around us is almost as old as the tradition of poetry itself, a skill Kenyan poet Michael Onsando has mastered.
His poems are tapestries of words weaved together on themes of injustice, oppression, extra-judicial killings, inequality and masculinity, delivered like a punch in the stomach.
This is clever poetry, innovative poetry, poetry which taps into the psyche of the reader: ‘She asked me about my blistered feet, I asked her about her manicured hands’.
5. New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set, edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani
If the names of the editors are not enough to tempt you, then the poets featured certainly will. Spectacular poetry by some of the finest including personal favourite Sudanese- American poet Safia Elhillo along with Hope Wabuke, D.M. Aderibigbe, Gbenga Adesina, Kayombo Chingonyi, Chielozona Eze, Nyachiro Lydia Kasese and Ngwatilo Mawiyoo.
Alternatively the previous edition Eight New-Generation African Poets also earned great praise.
Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, by Warsan Shire; because this is the year so many discovered her, she made my Top 10 Poets of Colour 2014 list, and has already entered the poetry legends hall of fame.
Swing Time, by Zadie Smith: because everything she writes is excellence personified. This, her latest offering, is set in the UK and West Africa.
All work published on Media Diversified is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not reproduce, republish or repost any content from this site without express written permission from Media Diversified. For further information, please see our reposting guidelines.
Samira Sawlani is a writer/journalist specialising in politics, economy and development of East and Horn of Africa. A holder of an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Aside from journalism she has also worked in the emergency humanitarian relief and refugee care sector. Follow her on Twitter: @samirasawlani