It’s coming to that time of the year, where the pace begins to slow down and our surroundings become open to the possibility of sunshine, ice cream and a relaxing book at your fingertips. Here’s a list of the perfect books to sink your teeth into before these few months of summer bliss are gone.
Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou
LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE 2017
It’s 1970, and in the People’s Republic of Congo a Marxist-Leninist revolution is ushering in a new age. But over at the orphanage on the outskirts of Pointe-Noire where young Moses has grown up, the revolution has only strengthened the reign of terror of Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako, the institution’s corrupt director.
So Moses escapes to Pointe-Noire, where he finds a home with a larcenous band of Congolese Merry Men and among the Zairian prostitutes of the Trois-Cents quarter. But the authorities won’t leave Moses in peace, and intervene to chase both the Merry Men and the Trois-Cents girls out of town. All this injustice pushes poor Moses over the edge. Could he really be the Robin Hood of the Congo? Or is he just losing his marbles?
Black Moses is a larger-than-life comic tale of a young man obsessed with helping the helpless in an unjust world. It is also a vital new extension of Mabanckou’s extraordinary, interlinked body of work dedicated to his native Congo, and confirms his status as one of our great storytellers.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
To the dismay of her ambitious mother, Bolanle marries into a polygamous family, where she is the fourth wife of a rich, rotund patriarch, Baba Segi. She is a graduate and therefore a great prize, but even graduates must produce children and her husband’s persistent bellyache is a sign that things are not as they should be. Bolanle is too educated for the ‘white garment conmen’ Baba Segi would usually go to for fertility advice, so he takes her to hospital to discover the cause of her barrenness.
Weaving the voices of Baba Segi and his four competing wives into a portrait of a clamorous household of twelve, Lola Shoneyin evokes an extraordinary Nigerian family in splashes of vibrant colour.
What it means when a man falls from the sky: stories by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by Buzzfeed, Time Magazine, Elle, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Millions, Nylon, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Electric Literature . A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.
In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions. Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.
The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila
On 14th April 2014, 276 girls disappeared from a secondary school in northern Nigeria, kidnapped by the world’s deadliest terror group. A tiny number have escaped back to their families but over 200 remain missing.
Reporting from inside the traumatised and blockaded community of Chibok, Helon Habila tracks down the survivors and the bereaved. Two years after the attack, he bears witness to their stories and to their grief. And moving from the personal to the political, he presents a comprehensive indictment of Boko Haram, tracing the circumstances of their ascent and the terrible fallout of their ongoing presence in Nigeria.
No Place To Call Home by JJ Bola
Jean starts at a new school and struggles to fit in. He develops an unlikely friendship with rowdy class mate James, who gets him into a string of sticky situations; fights, theft, and more. At home, his parents, Mami and Papa, who fled political violence in Congo under the dictatorial regime of Le Marechal, to seek asylum as refugees – which Jean and his star-student little sister, Marie, have no knowledge of – pressure him to focus on school and sort his act out. Jean is then suspended, and Marie, who usually gets on his nerves, helps him keep his secret, which draws them closer together.
As the family attempts to integrate and navigate modern British society, as well as hold on to their roots and culture, they meet Tonton, a sapeur, womaniser, alcohol-loving, party enthusiast, who, much to Papa’s dislike, after losing his job, moves in with them. Tonton introduces the family – via his church where colourful characters such as Pastor Kaddi, Patricia and Nadege congregate – to a familiar community of fellow country-people, making them feel slightly less alone. They begin to settle, but the reality of their situation unravels a threat to their future, whilst the fear of uncertainty remains.
With colourful characters and luminous prose, No Place To Call Home is a tale of belonging, identity and immigration, of hope and hopelessness, of loss –not by death, but by distance– and, by no means the least, of love.
When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola
Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near Kings Cross. Its 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across London. Abu is infatuated with gorgeous classmate Nalini but dares not speak to her. Meanwhile, Karl is the target of the local “wannabe” thugs just for being different. When Karl finds out his father lives in Nigeria, he decides that Port Harcourt is the best place to escape the sound and fury of London, and connect with a Dad he’s never known. Rejected on arrival, Karl befriends Nakale, an activist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world, and falls headlong for his feisty cousin Janoma. Meanwhile, the murder of Mark Duggan triggers a full-scale riot in London. Abu finds himself in its midst, leading to a near-tragedy that forces Karl to race back home.When We Speak of Nothing launches a powerful new voice onto the literary stage.The fluid prose, peppered with contemporary slang, captures what it means to be young, black and queer in London. If grime music were a novel, it would be this.
The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Silá
The first novel to be translated into English from Guinea Bissau, The Ultimate Tragedy is a tale of love and emerging political awareness in an Africa beginning to challenge Portuguese colonial rule.
Ndani leaves her village to seek a better life in the capital, finding work as a maid for a Portuguese family. The mistress of the house, Dona Deolinda, embarks on a mission to save Ndani’s soul through religious teaching, but the master of the house has less righteous intentions. Ndani is expelled from the house and drifts towards home, where she becomes the wife of a village chief. He has built a mansion and a school to flaunt his power to the local Portuguese administrator, but he abandons Ndani when he finds she’s not a virgin. She eventually finds love with the school’s teacher, but in tumultuous times, making a future with an educated black man involves a series of hurdles. By turns humorous, heartrending and wise, The Ultimate Tragedy is a captivating novel that brings this little-known country to colourful, vivid life.
The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta
Nnu Ego, a Nigerian woman, is ceremoniously married only to be cast off when she fails to conceive. When she finally succeeds in becoming a mother in a second marriage, Nnu Ego gains the respect of her family and her people. But as her family of eight children grows, the values of her rive, her people, and her country undergo bewildering changes, ultimately leaving her bereft of the pleasures that traditionally would be accorded her as a mother.
Join us for two events dedicated to the memory and work of Buchi Emecheta. A tribute session will be on Sun July 2 11:30 – 12:30 followed by a book club discussion 12:45 – 13:45
Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty Alain Mabanckou
Michel is ten years old, living in Pointe Noire, Congo, in the 1970s. His mother sells peanuts at the market, his father works at the Victory Palace Hotel, and brings home books left behind by the white guests. Planes cross the sky overhead, and Michel and his friend Lounès dream about the countries where they’ll land.
While news comes over the radio of the American hostage crisis in Tehran, the death of the Shah, the scandal of the Boukassa diamonds, Michel struggles with the demands of his twelve year old girlfriend Caroline, who threatens to leave him for a bully in the football team.
But most worrying for Michel, the witch doctor has told his mother that he has hidden the key to her womb, and must return it before she can have another child. Somehow he must find it. Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty is a humorous and poignant account of an African childhood, drawn from Alain Mabanckou’s life.
Blackass by A. Igoni Barerett
Furo Wariboko, a young Nigerian, awakes the morning before a job interview to find that he’s been transformed into a white man. In this condition he plunges into the bustle of Lagos to make his fortune. With his red hair, green eyes, and pale skin, it seems he’s been completely changed. Well, almost. There is the matter of his family, his accent, his name. Oh, and his black ass. Furo must quickly learn to navigate a world made unfamiliar and deal with those who would use him for their own purposes. Taken in by a young woman called Syreeta and pursued by a writer named Igoni, Furo lands his first-ever job, adopts a new name, and soon finds himself evolving in unanticipated ways.
Igoni Barrett’sBlackassis a fierce comic satire that touches on everything from race to social media while at the same time questioning the values society places on us simply by virtue of the way we look. As he did in Love Is Power, or Something Like That, Barrett brilliantly depicts life in contemporary Nigeria and details the double-dealing and code-switching that are implicit in everyday business. But it’s Furo’s search for an identity–one deeper than skin–that leads to the final unravelling of his own carefully constructed story.
Kehinde by Buchi Emecheta
Kehinde and her husband Albert had always intended to return to Nigeria. When the opportunity arises, Kehinde realises she is reluctant to leave London and the independence she has enjoyed there. Albert, longing for the prosperity and status that will be his in Nigeria, is determined not to be thwarted in his plans. He thinks that it is his wife’s duty to obey him, and forces her to make terrible choices. Kehinde, plagued with guilt, is led on an unexpected path by the spirit of her dead twin.
Join us for two events dedicated to the memory and work of Buchi Emecheta. A tribute session will be on Sun July 2 11:30 – 12:30 followed by a book club discussion 12:45 – 13:45
Stay with me by Ayobami Adebayo
Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.
Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.
Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi
First published in Kenya in 2014 to critical and popular acclaim, Kintu is a modern classic, a multilayered narrative that reimagines the history of Uganda through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. Divided into six sections, the novel begins in 1750, when Kintu Kidda sets out for the capital to pledge allegiance to the new leader of the Buganda Kingdom. Along the way, he unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations. In an ambitious tale of a clan and a nation, Makumbi weaves together the stories of Kintu’s descendants as they seek to break from the burden of their shared past and reconcile the inheritance of tradition and the modern world that is their future.
Kingdom of Gravity, Nick Makoha
In direct narrative terms the poems in this collection relate to the horrors of the civil war that ousted the brutal tyranny of Idi Amin in Uganda, a war of liberation that brought its own barbarous atrocities. In political terms the poems chart the impact of imperialism and neo-colonialism that lay behind those traumas in the life of the nation. In personal terms, the poems are framed between the contrary pulls of attachment and ﬂight, exile and longing. At their heart is an unwavering curiosity about how people behave in extreme situations, and what this reveals about our common human capacities to indulge grandiose visions, betray them, dissemble, seek revenge and kill. There is no presumption of innocence. There may be ﬂight, but there is no standing aside. The narrator can dream (but is it a dream?) of a “dead man/who has been stung by the invisible bee of my bullet”
Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
A young man returns to Nigeria after fifteen years in New York. The country of his childhood has changed: it has found fast-food restaurants, email cafes, contempt for authority and the all-consuming draw of ‘money for nothing’. From the consulate back in Manhattan to the dusty streets of Lagos, life runs like clockwork — as long as you can pay the fee: a bribe for the visa clerk; a ‘Christmas gift’ at immigration. Petrol pumps overcharge and internet cafes overflow with scammers. Every Day is for the Thief is a candid tale of political and spiritual corruption, and a moving account of what it means to go home.
Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi AdicheI have some suggestions for how to raise Chizalum. But remember that you might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try.
In We Should All be Feminists, her eloquently argued and much admired essay of 2014, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie proposed that if we want a fairer world we need to raise our sons and daughters differently. Here, in this remarkable new book, Adichie replies by letter to a friend’s request for help on how to bring up her newborn baby girl as a feminist. With its fifteen pieces of practical advice it goes right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century.
Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi
Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. The poems of Kayo Chingonyi’s remarkable debut explore this passage: between two worlds, ancestral and contemporary; between the living and the dead; between the gulf of who he is and how he is perceived.
Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, here is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
What elevates ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Warsan Shire’s ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times – as in Tayeb Salih’s work – and translating to the realm of lyric the work of the likes of Nawal El Saadawi. As Rumi said, “Love will find its way through all languages on its own”; in ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, Warsan’s début pamphlet, we witness the unearthing of a poet who finds her way through all preconceptions to strike the heart directly.
The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
Voted an Observer Top Ten Contemporary African Book 2012 and nominated for The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize 2011. Vimbai is the star hairdresser of her salon, the smartest in Harare, Zimbabwe, until the enigmatic Dumisani appears. Losing many of her best customers to this good-looking, smooth-talking young man, Vimbai fears for her job, vital if she’s to provide for her young child. But in a remarkable reversal the two becomes allies, Dumi renting a room from Vimbai, then inviting her to a family wedding, where to her surprise, he introduces her to his rich parents as his ‘girlfriend’. Soon they are running their own Harare salon, attracting the wealthiest and most powerful clients in the city. But disaster is near, as Vimbai soon uncovers Dumi’s secret, a discovery that will result in brutality and tragedy, testing their relationship to the very limit. The Hairdresser of Harare is a stylish, funny and sophisticated first-hand account of life today in Zimbabwe’s capital city, confounding stereotypes and challenging injustice with equal fearlessness. This is an upbeat, charming, but at times heart breaking, story of friendship, prejudice and forgiveness from the heart of contemporary Africa.
African Psycho by Alain Mabanckou
Gregoire Nakobomayo, a petty criminal, has decided to kill his girlfriend Germaine. He’s planned the crime for some time, but still, the act of murder requires a bit of psychological and logistical preparation. Luckily, he has a mentor to call on, the far more accomplished serial killer Angoualima. The fact that Angoualima is dead doesn’t prevent Gregoire from holding lengthy conversations with him. Little by little, Gregoire interweaves Angoualima’s life and criminal exploits with his own.
Continuing with the plan despite a string of botched attempts, Gregoire’s final shot at offing Germaine leads to an abrupt unravelling. Lauded in France for its fresh and witty style, African Psycho’s inventive use of language surprises and relieves the reader by sending up this disturbing subject.