It has been an interesting year in the African literary landscape. 2023 has produced memorable debuts and works by established authors that have lived up to the hype. At The Republic, we started 2023 with a guide to exciting African books to expect in the calendar year. In our list of 23 African Books to Expect in 2023, we highlighted books such as the 2023 Booker Prize shortlisted novel, A Spell of Good Things, by Nigerian author, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. Another book we were looking forward to ahead of the year was River Spirit by award-winning Sudanese novelist, Leila Aboulela. In our interview with Aboulela, she revealed that she ‘decided to centre the voice of a woman in River Spirit because women are merely footnotes in the historical records.’ Our list of new releases also featured Stephen Buoro’s debut, The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa. In our review of this novel, Kenechukwu Nwokedi described Buoro’s debut as ‘an unabashedly Nigerian novel, unwavering in how it depicts the surreality of average Nigerian life while determined not to coddle readers who may not understand its idiosyncrasies.’ All of these books and more made it to our 2023 August Reading list.
In 2017, The Republic released the first instalment of our annual August Reading. The goal of this list is to provide readers with curated book recommendations akin to the ‘Summer Reading’ traditions cherished across the globe. This year, our August Reading list is back with the most important books of the year based on the recommendations from authors who have been featured in our First Draft interview series and the editorial team at The Republic. From Leila Aboulela to Yewande Omotoso, Wole Talabi, Omolola Ogunyemi, Celeste Mohammed, and more, these authors have shared the best books they have read in the first half of 2023. While some of these books are recent publications with authors making their mark on the literary scene—such as Jessica George, Fatin Abass, Stephen Buoro and Temi Oh—this list also includes popular names such as Frantz Fanon and Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀.
For their recommendations, read on.
In Fatin Abbas’ debut, William, Layla, Dena, Alex, and Mustafa must establish strong bonds amidst the paradoxes of identity, art, humanitarian aid, and a region torn by conflict. This novel investigates the porous and dangerous nature of borders—whether national, ethnic, or religious—and the devastating implications for those who cross them by weaving a comprehensive history of the breakup of Sudan into the lives of these fascinating characters. According to award-winning writer and Sudanese novelist, Leila Aboulela, Ghost Season is a ‘compelling, detailed portrait of humanity under threat from war, climate change and personal ambition.’
From the author of the critically-acclaimed debut novel, Stay With Me, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s 2023 novel further cements her place as one of the outstanding voices of Nigerian literature. Her second novel, A Spell of Good Things, is a captivating tale of two families trapped in the riptides of riches, power, and political corruption in contemporary Nigeria. The novel presents a true Nigerian voice through its portrayal of socio-economic issues such as unemployment, and everyday events such as morning conversations at newspaper stands. In this novel, we follow the lives of Eniola and Wuraola, both from different backgrounds. When a local politician takes interest in Eniola and sudden violence shatters a family party, Wuraola and Eniola’s lives become intertwined.
Published in 2023, Leila Aboulela’s latest novel follows the life of a young woman’s coming of age during the Mahdist War in 19th-century Sudan. In this novel, a religious leader becomes the Mahdi (or the redeemer) as the Ottoman Empire declines and Britain gains control in the area. His goal is to undo the wrongs committed by the foreign overlords, such as their heavy taxes. The Mahdi’s lust for power, however, taints the movement’s doctrinal purity as the revolution gathers momentum and supporters. Through the voices of seven men and women whose fates grow inextricably linked, Aboulela’s latest novel illuminates a bloody reckoning with the history of a people caught in the middle of imperialism. River Spirit is a powerful tale of corruption and unshakeable devotion to one’s faith, and to the people who become family.
In Stephen Buoro’s debut novel, fifteen-year-old Andrew Aziza lives in Kontagora, Nigeria, where he grapples with his fantasies about white girls—especially blondes—and wonders who his father is. Andrew obsesses over mathematical theorems, ideas of black power and HXVX: the Curse of Africa. Andrew, nicknamed ‘Andy Africa’, falls hopelessly and inappropriately in love with the first white girl he lays eyes on, Eileen. But at the church party held to celebrate her arrival, multiple crises loom. An unfamiliar man claims, despite his mother’s denials, to be Andy’s father, and the gathering of an anti-Christian mob is headed for the church, both set to shake the foundations of everything Andy knows and loves. In the words of Kenechukwu Nwokedi, ‘the novel aims to highlight the complexities of living in a country like Nigeria through the perspective of a malleable teenager full of promise and, I think, it shoots to kill.’
Akwaeke Emezi’s memoir explores the process of developing a personal identity and the unique voyage of a creative spirit in the human world through intimate contact with friends, lovers, and family. Their narrative threads through radical choices regarding their gender and physicality, their accelerated literary career, and the upheaval of emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationships to produce a work that is at once delicate and fierce. Emezi’s literary career consists of gems such as Freshwater and The Death of Vivek Oji, and this memoir adds to their stunning bibliography. Little wonder why this is the best book Ernest Nweke has read this year. He is also excited to see which book beats this in the second half of the year.
Kome Otobo, author of the book, Nigerian Gods, reread Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth earlier this year and recommends it to anyone ‘looking for a deeper understanding of the consequences of colonialism and the devastating multilayered effect it can have on the colonized.’ Fanon’s most remarkable work is a visceral examination of the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed; it contains lessons useful in our present-day reality because they address essential issues such as religion, race and racism, the weaponization of language and social formation. The corruption and violence that have afflicted modern-day Africa are brilliantly mirrored in Fanon’s work of social reformation. The Wretched of the Earth has significantly influenced the civil rights movements, anticolonialism, and black consciousness.
In a review published earlier this year, associate editor at The Republic, Peace Onafuye, described Jessica George’s debut as ‘an intense yet uplifting journey towards self-discovery. The novel carefully explores what it means to find one’s true self and how to deal with grief.’ In George’s debut, which is set in London and based on the life of Maddie, we accompany a protagonist whose experiences direct the reader. The novel sums up an individual’s journey through self-discovery. In her journey to self-discovery, we follow the life of a young woman who battles loneliness, grief, filial duties, career stagnation, and other captivating travails.
This book tells the story of the oppression and poverty that the residents of Chagos Islands experienced after the British forced them to leave their homes in the Indian Ocean. According to Mauritian novelist and author of Riambel, Priya Hein: ‘With her stunning illustrations, Florian Grosset effectively brings to light Britain’s shameful behaviour in the last colony in Africa.’ The first generation of slaves who came to the islands and their successors are referenced in Grosset’s account of the eviction and the terrible experiences the Chagossians suffered after their departure. It describes the current Chagossian diaspora, their struggle for the right to return through demonstrations and legal actions, and the various tactics still in use to keep them from their home country. Hein urges ‘everyone, not only those interested in history, to read it.’
After spending many years in New York, Emmanuel Iduma recounts his journey back to Nigeria, where he was raised. He travelled home to learn the fate of his uncle Emmanuel, his namesake, who disappeared in the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. Iduma made numerous stops throughout the former Biafra territory in search of the truth, reuniting with family members to elicit their memories, snooping through university libraries to covertly photocopy materials, and stopping by abandoned monuments. He came to the conclusion that if he could comprehend his father’s grief at losing a sibling in the war, he might be able to learn how to grieve his own deceased father.
Kavata has lived a life entrapped by her father’s legacy of corruption and political intrigue. These shadows threaten to engulf her family when her husband chooses to run for office. Kavata devises an escape plan. Following the post-election unrest in Kenya, Kavata and her family must navigate a terrain of widespread confusion, desperate need, and heartbreaking loss in order to reunite. In the setting of one family and the diverse experiences of class and clan they represent, Wanjiru Koinange investigates the long-lasting impacts of colonization and corruption in Kenya.
Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s debut novel is the perfect blend of genres; it is a love story, a ghost story, a thriller, and one with fantastical characteristics. In this book, we meet Yejide, one of many ladies on a mission to communicate with the dead. Yejide is about to pass away, and her mother, Petronella, must give her access to the powers that will reshape her life.
Darwin has always adhered to the religious prohibition against interacting with death. He was raised in the country by a devout Rastafarian mother. He’s never attended a funeral, let alone seen a body. However, he is forced to work and the only employment he can find is grave digging. In the oldest and largest cemetery in Port Angeles, Fidelis, where the dead are unsettled in their graves, Yejide and Darwin will cross paths.
For Trinidadian author, Celeste Mohammed, this is ‘a story of love that is spiritual and predestined but also forbidden’. ‘Even more intriguing is the fact that the love is discovered in a cemetery.’
Writing has always been Bianca Bridge’s passion. However, Trinidadian society is notoriously stern, so having an affair with a married government figure is a surefire way to damage your chances. So when Obadiah Cortland, a tyrannical entrepreneur in the island’s beauty and fashion scene, offers her a job, Bianca accepts, realizing that working on his magazine is the closest to the dreams she’ll get. The God of Good Looks is an insightful and entertaining novel that switches back and forth between Bianca’s diary entries and Obadiah’s first-person account to depict the class divide and the commodification of beauty in a patriarchal society that exists in modern Trinidad.
In this empathetic and insightful read, journalist, Anna Lekas Miller, reveals the experiences of couples throughout the world who have life-changing ordeals with immigration systems in order to be together—as she did in order to be with her partner. Miller’s work is the product of meticulous reporting, that takes readers around the world, from Turkey to Iraq, Syria to Greece, Mexico to the United States, to reveal the widespread prejudicial laws intent on dividing people. She describes how she met and fell in love with Salem Rizk while they were both reporting on the Syrian War from Istanbul. But when Turkey started cracking down on refugees, Salem, who is Syrian, wasn’t allowed to stay in the country, nor could he safely return to Syria. Miller combines these complex and beautiful love stories with an eye-opening history of passports, colonial legacies, and the unfair regulations that affect how people move around the globe on a daily basis.
For Wole Talabi, author of Shigidi: And the Brass Head of Obalufon, More Perfect, is a reimagining of the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus and, to his reading, also ‘influenced by the Yoruba legend of Queen Moremi’. It is a great read because it has ‘a great premise and is full of big ideas about connection and consciousness’. This science-fiction novel is set in a near-future London where direct-neural implants called ‘Pulses’ provide access to the web directly as augmented reality. In this novel, we follow Moremi, a British-Nigerian girl, who lives in the city and is eager to get the Pulse, and Orpheus, a bi-racial boy whose father has raised him in low-tech isolation away from the Pulse-influenced world. According to Talabi: ‘When their lives begin to intersect and begin to intertwine, we get a beautiful story about the potential of technology, relationships, parental legacy, dreams, corporate and government overreach, privacy and so much more rendered in beautiful prose.’
Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s debut is an urban fantasy novel set in Lagos. Since the Orisha War, which left thousands of gods on the streets of Lagos, demigod David Mogo hunts for gods to make a living. David knows his work will bring ill luck despite pulling off his greatest accomplishment—capturing a high god for a famed Eko wizard. He’s proven right when the magician summons a legion of Taboos—feral godling/child hybrids—to capture Lagos for himself. David teams up with his foster wizard, the high god’s twin sister, and a speech-impaired Muslim teen girl, to keep Lagos standing. David Mogo is Lara T. Kareem’s favourite Western Nigeria urban fantasy book. It’s authentic and Lagosian can relate to the story and will be amazed by the level of inclusion and creativity. For Kareem, ‘the most striking and captivating thing about this story is the world-building. It got my sensory overloaded because of how vividly I could picture everything.’
The owner of the Providence plantation in Barbados informs his slaves that slavery has been banned. The Emancipation Act of 1834 went into effect the following day. When he declares that they are no longer his slaves but rather his apprentices, the yells of joy stop. Nobody may depart and they have another six years of service for him. So Rachel, the protagonist, runs. Away from Providence, she begins her search for her children—the five who survived birth and were sold. Are any of them still alive? Rachel has to know. For Omolola Ogunyemi, author of Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions, Eleanor Shearer’s 2023 debut novel ‘gave me goosebumps’. ‘The exploration of maroon communities in the Caribbean and the portrayal of the fierce determination of a formerly enslaved mother’s love as she seeks out the children separated from her during slavery were very well done,’ Ogunyemi adds.
Omolola Ogunyemi also recommends the 2020 Booker Prize nominee, Real Life. This novel offers an intimate and engaging view of a young queer Black man’s life as he navigates a hostile graduate program environment in the biomedical sciences and a love interest who is ambivalent at best about his sexuality and displays abusive tendencies. The question of whether it’s truly possible to transcend our personal wounds and at what cost recurring in this novel, which is both profound and lacerating in its impact.
Through personal essays from 24 writers, this book captures the realities and contradictions of patriotism; examines the role of class and privilege in Nigerian society; juxtaposes inherited tradition with the diasporic experience; and explores the power of storytelling and its relevance to Nigeria’s history. The authors include Nels Abbey, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, Yomi Adegoke, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Oyinkan Akande, Ike Anya, Sefi Atta, Bolu Babalola, J K Chukwu, Abi Daré, Inua Ellams, Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ, Caleb Femi, Helon Habila, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Anietie Isong, Okey Ndibe, Chigozie Obioma, Irenosen Okojie, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, Lola Shoneyin, Umar Turaki, Chika Unigwe and Hafsa Zayyan.
For writer Ayoola Oladipupo, this book ‘speaks to the Nigerian identity or experience’. ‘We all know there’s no ONE Nigerian story, and the stories really paint that holistic picture, the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, and more,’ Oladipupo adds⎈
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