As the year draws to an end, it is a great time to remember some of the works of African literature that we are yet to explore. In this curated recommendation, we have compiled a list of seven great books to read before the end of 2023. Whether you are looking to achieve the reading goals you set earlier this year, or simply want to immerse yourself in books with well-crafted narratives and resourceful non-fiction, these books have something for every reader. You can also check out our list of new releases that we compiled at the beginning of the year.
For our recommendations, read on.
Author: LEILA ABOULELA
Award-winning Sudanese novelist, Leila Aboulela, presents a new novel that explores the years leading up to the British conquest of Sudan in 1898. The book takes a look at the tensions between Britain and Sudan, Christianity and Islam, colonizer and colonized. In River Spirit, Aboulela gives us the unforgettable story of a people who gained independence from foreign rule through their willpower and sacrifice.
When Akuany and her brother Bol are orphaned in a village raid in South Sudan, they’re taken in by a young merchant, Yaseen, who promises to care for them. As a revolutionary leader rises to power—the self-proclaimed Mahdi, prophesied redeemer of Islam—Sudan begins to slip from the grasp of Ottoman rule, and everyone must choose a side. A scholar of the Qur’an, Yaseen feels beholden to stand against this false Mahdi, even as his choice splinters his family. Meanwhile, Akuany moves through her young adulthood and across the country alone, sold and traded from house to house, with Yaseen as her inconsistent lifeline.
Through the voices of seven men and women whose fates are linked, Aboulela’s latest novel illuminates a fraught and bloody reckoning with the history of a people caught in the crosshairs of imperialism. River Spirit is a powerful tale of corruption, coming of age, and unshakeable devotion.
AUTHOR: Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ
Treasure and her mother lost everything when Treasure’s father died. Haggling for scraps in the market, Treasure meets a man who promises to change their fortunes. He’s a spirit, and he promises to bring Treasure’s beloved father back to life if she’ll do one terrible thing for him first.
Ozoemena has an itch in the middle of her back. It’s an itch that speaks to her patrilineal destiny, an honor never before bestowed upon a girl, to defend the land and protect its people by becoming a Leopard. Her father impressed upon her what an honor this was before he vanished.
But as the two girls reckon with their burgeoning wildness and the legacy of their missing fathers, Ozoemena’s fellow students start to vanish. Treasure’s obligations to the spirit escalate, and Ozoemena’s duty of protection as a Leopard grows. Soon the girls’ destinies and choices set them on a dangerous collision course. Ultimately, Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ’s protagonists must ask in a world that always says no to women, what must two young girls sacrifice to get what is theirs?
BLACK AND FEMALE
AUTHOR: TSITSI DANGAREMBGA
In Black and Female, Tsitsi Dangarembga examines the legacy of imperialism on her own life and on every aspect of Black embodied African life. This essay collection weaves the personal and political in an illuminating exploration of race and gender. Dangarembga recounts a painful separation from her parents as a toddler, connecting this experience to the ruptures caused in Africa by human trafficking and enslavement. She argues that, after independence, the ruling party in Zimbabwe only performed inclusion for women while silencing the work of self-actualized feminists. She describes her struggles to realize her ambitions in theater, film, and literature, laying out the long path to the publication of her novels.
At once philosophical, intimate, and urgent, Black and Female is a powerful testimony of the pervasive and long-lasting effects of racism and patriarchy that provides an ultimately hopeful vision for change. Black feminists are ‘the status quo’s worst nightmare.’ Dangarembga writes, ‘our conviction is deep, bolstered by a vivid imagination that reminds us that other realities are possible beyond the one that obtains.’
I AM STILL WITH YOU: A RECKONING WITH SILENCE, INHERITANCE, AND HISTORY
AUTHOR: EMMANUEL IDUMA
Author and winner of the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize, Emmanuel Iduma, tells the story of his return to Nigeria, where he grew up, after years of living in New York. He traveled home with an elusive mission: to learn the fate of his uncle Emmanuel, his namesake, who disappeared in the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. A conflict that left so many families broken, the war remains at the margins of the history books.
To find answers, Iduma stopped in city after city throughout the former Biafra region, reconnecting with relatives dear and distant to probe their memories, prowling university libraries to furtively photocopy illicit books, and visiting half-abandoned monuments along the highway. Perhaps, he realized, if he could understand how his father grieved the loss of a brother in the war, he might learn how to grieve his late father in turn.
I Am Still With You is also the story of countless families who will never have answers or proper funerals for their loved ones. It’s a story about the birth of an artist, about writing itself as an act both healing and political. And it’s a story about family history and legacy, and all the questions the dead leave unanswered.
Equal parts memoir, national history, and political reckoning, I Am Still With You is a profoundly personal story of collective loss and making peace with the unknowable.
AVENUES BY TRAIN
AUTHOR: FARAI MUDZINGWA
When seven-year-old Jedza witnesses a tragic incident involving a train and the death of his close boyhood friend in his hometown Miner’s Drift, he is convinced that his life is haunted. Now in his mid-20s, Jedza is a down-and-out electrician, moving to Harare in the hopes that he will escape the darkness and superstitions of the small town. But living in the shadowy restless atmosphere of the Avenues with its mysterious pools of water rising under musasa trees, he is tormented by the disappearance of his sister and their early encounters with ancestral spirits, the shapeshifting power of the njuzu and a vengeful ngozi. To move forward, he must stop running away and confront the trauma of his past. Farai Mudzingwa presents a captivating debut.
DRINKING FROM GRAVEYARD WELLS
AUTHOR: YVETTE LISA NDLOVU
In Drinking from Graveyard Wells, Yvette Lisa Ndlovu assembles a collection of poignantly reflective stories about African women across oceans between southern Africa and America. Ndlovu’s stories play with genres ranging from softly surreal to deeply fantastical. Each narrative is wrapped in the literary eloquence and tradition of southern African mythology, in a way that transports readers into the lives of African women who have fought across time and space to be seen.
Drawing on her own experiences as a Zimbabwean whose early life was spent under the Mugabe dictatorship, Ndlovu’s stories are grounded in truth and empathy. Ndlovu boldly offers up alternative interpretations of a past and a present that speculates into the everyday lives of a people disregarded. Her words explore the erasure of African women—while highlighting their beauty potential and limitless possibility. Immersed in worlds both fantastical and familiar, readers find themselves walking alongside these women, grieving their pain, and celebrating their joy, all against the textured backdrop of African histories, languages, and cultures.
AUTHOR: CALEB AZUMAH NELSON
Stephen has only ever known himself in song, but what becomes of him when the music fades? When his father begins to speak of shame and sacrifice? When his home is no longer his own? How will he find space for himself: a place where he can feel beautiful, a place he might feel free? Set over three summers in Stephen’s life; from London to Ghana and back again, Small Worlds is an exhilarating and expansive novel about the worlds we build for ourselves; the worlds we live, dance and love within.