While readers may find it challenging to discover African authors whose stories are not heavily inspired by difficult realities, African literature is a lot more diverse, and ‘easier’ than often assumed.
Why do you read? I, for one, do not read for just one reason. Beyond reading for academic or professional reasons, I read because I want to relax, laugh, or learn more about an event or a group of people. The best part about reading African literature is that it opens me to diverse themes and stories from authors across the continent and the African diaspora.
However, many readers find it challenging to discover African authors whose stories are not heavily inspired by Africa’s difficult or traumatic realities. The difficult realities that seem to pervade African literature could range from Africa’s colonial past, as seen in Homegoing (2016) by Yaa Gyasi and Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe; to the harsh realities of African women, as seen in Ogadinma (2020) by Ukamaka Olisakwe, A Woman in Her Prime (1967) by Asare Konadu, and Second Class Citizen (1974) by Buchi Emecheta.
And yet, many readers find reading to be a form of escape, a way, Ceridwen Dovey has explained, of putting, ‘our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.’
But African literature is much more diverse than many think.
Contrary to popular belief, there are authentic African stories filled with humour, family drama, fantasy, and romance that could balance the heavy themes that seemingly dominate the African literary scene. Again, while the following list highlights the easy or easier reads, it also emphasizes the significance of these purported ‘heavy’ or ‘over-flogged’ themes.
THINGS FALL APART (AVAILABLE HERE)
Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, is a memorable tale of life in pre-colonial south-eastern Nigeria and the effects of European invasion in the late 19th century.
SECOND CLASS CITIZEN (AVAILABLE HERE)
Published in 1974, Emecheta’s classic novel explores the life of a Nigerian woman through her triumph of discrimination and the hardships of immigration.
HOMEGOING (AVAILABLE HERE)
Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s stunning debut novel that explores themes of colonialism, loss, and grief in 17th to 20th century Ghana and the African-Diaspora.
WOMAN IN HER PRIME (AVAILABE HERE)
Asare Konadu’s novel exposes the challenges of barren women in traditional African societies.
OGADINMA (AVAILABLE HERE)
Ogadinma tells the story of the teenager who battles against Nigeria’s societal expectations in the 1980s.
AFRICAN LITERATURE AND THE REALITIES OF AFRICANS
Africa has a chequered past. Some historical events and figures are taught in schools and places of education but there are equally hundreds of historical figures and events that are in obscurity. Hence, it is crucial that African authors tell these stories through fiction and non-fiction.
For instance, I was inspired to look up the history of Ethiopian women during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War or the Italian Invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 after reading The Shadow King (2019) by Maaza Mengiste. Also, after reading In the Palace of Flowers (2021) by Victoria Princewill, I decided to go on a personal inquiry into the inspiration behind the book. Interestingly, I discovered that the novel was inspired by ‘the only known first-person account of an enslaved Abyssinian in Iran.’ This experience further reveals the diversity of African experiences around the world, many of which are unknown.
Moreover, contemporary Africa is also far from being an ideal society. Communities in the Niger Delta are dealing with the effects of oil exploration. These effects include violence, kidnappings, and other issues that Chimeka Garricks explores in his 2016 novel, Tomorrow Died Yesterday. Parts of northern Nigeria are plagued with religious and political extremism, which has continued to displace men, women, and children and wrecked violence in towns and institutions. Again, Born on a Tuesday (2016) by Elnathan John also addresses these issues.
The foregoing books highlight the importance of writing stories with heavy themes. Africa’s past and present are filled with events and figures that should be amplified. There are lessons to learn and corrections to be made, and there is considerable room for progress.
One of the best ways to ‘spread the word’ is through fiction, through stories that can be read outside the classroom and one that can inspire people to conduct further research. Hence, while some of these stories written by Africans and Africans in the diaspora can be heavy or traumatic, they are no doubt important.
TOMORROW DIED YESTERDAY (AVAILABLE HERE)
In Tomorrow Died Yesterday, Chimeka Garricks chronicles the lives of four men in a region in turmoil. It explores how these men navigate their issues in different ways.
BORN ON A TUESDAY (AVAILABLE HERE)
Born on a Tuesday explores the repercussions of extremist politics and religion in Northern Nigeria, along with life, love, friendship, and loss.
THE SHADOW KING (AVAILABLE HERE)
This is a historical fiction novel that highlights the role of women in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War which led to the end of Italian occupation in Ethiopia.
IN THE PALACE OF FLOWERS (AVAILABLE HERE)
FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE
One thing you learn as an avid reader is finding a balance the kinds of stories you read and embracing diversity. This should be the same for consuming books by African writers. While you want to break away from traumatic themes, it is essential to note that some African writers and publishers churn out equally relaxing and educational books. These books also tell authentic stories of the average African life. They deal with communal living, family history, marriage, romance, and other exciting themes filled with humour, drama, fantasy, and love.
Michael Afenfia’s The Mechanics of Yenagoa (2020) is packed with humour and the realities of the average Nigerian. Chimeka Garricks’ 2020 short story collection, A Broken People’s Playlist, is packed with stories inspired by songs (you might even find your favourite song in the collection). Angela Makholwa’s The Blessed Girl (2017) is a hilarious commentary on wealth and the socio-economic divide that exists in South Africa.
While these books are not as heavy as the books typically associated with African literature, they have underlying themes that do more than provide humour. These books are also educational and satirical.
MECHANICS OF YENAGOA (AVAILABLE HERE)
This novel explores the dynamics between working-class people as they navigate life in Yenagoa, Bayelsa.
HONEY AND SPICE (AVAILABLE HERE)
Bolu Babalola’s debut novel, Honey & Spice, is a healthy dose of delicious tension, black love, and romantic intrigue.
LOVE IN COLOUR (AVAILABLE HERE)
Bolu Babalola’s Sunday Times Best-seller, Love in Colour, is an anthology of love stories inspired by myth and folktale retellings from around the world.
A BROKEN PEOPLE’S PLAYLIST (AVAILABLE HERE)
This is a collection of short stories with underlying themes on loving, hurting, and finding healing in unlikely places.
THE BLESSED GIRL (AVAILABLE HERE)
The Blessed Girl is a page-turner that depicts extreme opulence from the perspective of young, busy body, Bontle Tau.
CHILDREN OF THE QUICKSANDS (AVAILABLE HERE)
Efua Traoré’s middle grade fantasy novel explores a rich blend of themes such as the beauty of communal rural life, Yoruba tradition, mythology, and culture, and friendship.
HOW TO DISCOVER NEW AFRICAN AUTHORS
Lately, I’ve been encountering tweets calling for more ‘light-hearted’ African novels. While some people try to recommend these kinds of books, it’s not so easy to discover new books or new authors from this part of the world. However, the landscape is currently changing. There are literary publications that do their best to popularize African voices. First Draft by The Republic, for instance, features authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Recently, we interviewed children’s book author, Efua Traoré, whose readership naturally goes beyond children. Bolu Babalola, a Sunday Times best-selling author of Love in Colour and Reese’s Book Club pick, Honey and Spice, has also spoken to The Republic about her books.
A quick search on #BookstagramAfrica or #BookstagramNigeria (or with the name of your country as applicable) on Instagram will open you to a world of diverse novels and authors. Here, you can also find book reviews and recommendations.
Finally, while it is normal to want diversity in the African literary space, it already exists. The key is to find a balance in what you want to read and be open to new themes⎈
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