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We like Africa and we like books so what better to feature in today’s blog than books about Africa. We have compiled a list of some of our favourites that have stood out over the years (find more books about Africa to add to your reading list here) – from reading them in the corridors of school to watching the films based on them to recommendations by friends – and Oprah.
They make great books to take with you on your own African holiday – to read on the beach under the palm trees or back at the game lodge… Don’t worry if you forget your book at home. Many of the top safari lodges we recommend have their own well-stocked libraries anyway.
Here they are, new and old and in no particular order:
1. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller. In this memoir, Fuller recounts tales of living in Rhodesia (during the Rhodesian Bush War), Malawi and Zambia and highlights what it was like growing up white in mostly black countries.
“What I know about Africa as a child… is her smell: hot, sweet, smoky, salty, sharp-soft. It is like black tea, cut tobacco, fresh fire, old sweat, young grass… The other thing I can’t know about Africa until after I have left… is her noise.” – Alexandra Fuller, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
2. A Good Man in Africa – William Boyd. The main character is a British diplomat living in the small republic of Kinjanja in West Africa. He keeps on fumbling through his job due to his own hedonistic tendencies and a strong dislike for the country he finds himself in.
“Actually I can’t stand the man. Sanctimonious, Calvinistic, so-and-so. Totally unsympathetic -can’t think why he became a doctor – hectoring, bullying-sort of moral storm-trooper” – William Boyd, A Good Man In Africa
3. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela. In his significant autobiography, former South African president Nelson Mandela profiles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison. It eloquently details his beliefs and passion in the struggle against apartheid.
“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.” – Nelson Mandela
4. The Famished Road – Ben Okri. Labelled the classic magical realist novel of West Africa, the novel follows Azaro, a spirit child, living in an unnamed city that is thought to be in Nigeria. It covers the traditional African belief in the co-existence of the spiritual and material worlds.
“I understood why spirit-children are so feared. Faced always with the songs and fragrances of another world, a world beyond death, … where spirit companions know the secret of one’s desire, and can fulfill those desires, … spirit-children do not care much for the limited things of the world. Ade did not want to stay anymore, he did not like the weight of the world, the terror of the earth’s time. Love and the anguish of parents touched him only faintly, for beyond their stares and threats and beatings he knew that his parents’ guardianship was temporary. He always had a greater home.” – Ben Okri, The Famished Road
5. No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith. This series of twelve novels tells the tale of a detective agency in Gaborone, Botswana, founded by a Motswana woman, Mma Precious Ramotswe. Besides being full of adventure and humour, it covers themes pertinent to Africa, such as traditional and non-traditional gender roles, rural life in Southern Africa, muti, social relations, Christianity and traditional beliefs, AIDS, domestic violence and more.
“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.” – Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
6. Circles in a forest – Dalene Matthee. This international success of a novel details the extermination of the elephants and the exploitation of the woodcutters of the forests in Knysna, South Africa.
7. Cry, The Beloved Country – Alan Paton. Considered one of, if not the most, famous and important novel in South Africa’s history, this novel tells the tale of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, against the background of a land and a people torn by racial injustice.
“I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.” – Alan Paton, Cry The Beloved Country
8. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town – Paul Theroux. In this non-fiction novel, traveller Theroux tells of his adventures overlanding from Cairo to Cape Town in a witty and observant way, detailing the strange experiences and mishaps along the way.
9. Green Hills of Africa – Ernest Hemingway. In this novel, Hemingway recounts the month on safari he and his wife experienced in East Africa, peppered with tales of his hunting adventures and the magnificent landscape in the region of Lake Manyara in Tanzania.
10. Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen (pseudonym of author Karen Blixen). “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.” The story recounts the events of Blixen’s life on a coffee plantation in Kenya, then British East Africa. It’s a tale of African colonial life and the people who touched her life while there.
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” – Karen Blixen, Out of Africa
11. A Far Off Place – Laurens Van Der Post. This is the story of four survivors of a massacre who undertake a long and dangerous journey across the African desert to find safety. The cast includes a teenage European boy, a young white girl and two Bushmen.
12. Jock of the Bushveld – Percy Fitzpatrick. This is the true story of South African Fitzpatrick’s travels with his dog, Jock, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, during the 1880s, when he worked as a storeman, prospector’s assistant, journalist and ox-wagon transport-rider in the Bushveld region of the Transvaal.
13. The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War – co-written by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva, two of the four members that made up the Bang-Bang Club. This was a group of photographers who filmed South Africa’s townships during the transition from apartheid to democracy, experiencing a mix of violence, comradeship and exhilaration.
14. Gorillas in the Mist – Dian Fossey. This significant novel tells of American zoologist Dian Fossey’s thirteen incredible and admirable years spent working with the endangered mountain gorillas in the remote forests of Rwanda.
15. Born Free – Joy Adamson. This is Adamson’s moving memior where she recounts looking after an orphaned lion cub, raising it in captivity while teaching it to fend for itself in the wild. She eventually releases the lion in the grasslands of Kenya for it to live out its days.
“The Adamsons gave us truths about the species that cannot be found in a biologist’s notebook.” – George Schaler in the introduction to Born Free
16. I Dreamed of Africa – Kuki Gallmann. This powerful memoir tells the tale of Italian writer, Gallmann’s life-long affair with Africa – from her childhood fascination with the continent to her relocation to Kenya, where she managed a farm with her husband and son.
17. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe. Considered the archetypal modern African novel in English, it tells the tale of Okonkwo, the leader of a village in Nigeria, and his three wives, his children, and the influences of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on his traditional Igbo community.
18. Power of One – Bryce Courtenay. This moving coming-of-age novel tells the story of an Anglo-African boy living in South Africa, at a time when there was a strong anti-English sentiment among Afrikaners.
19. Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee. This is the disturbing tale of a university professor who is dismissed from his teaching position and takes refuge on his daughter’s farm in the Eastern Cape. He struggles to get comfortable with rural life, especially after he and his daughter are attacked on the farm; his daughter is raped and impregnated and he is violently assaulted.
“(I)f we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.” – J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace
20. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad. This classic novel tells the tale of an Englishman sent to Africa on assignment by a Belgian trading company to be a river-boat captain. The novel depicts the “darkness” of European colonisation and the colonials’ cruel treatment of African natives, as well as that of the Congo wilderness and humans in general.
“Principles? Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags — rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief.”– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
21. Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa – Peter Godwin. Godwin tells the story of his experiences growing up in a liberal white family in the 1960s in white Rhodesia, as he transforms from a privileged boy to reluctant soldier to investigative journalist. In the background the country takes a violent turn as it becomes Zimbabwe.
22. Around Africa on my Bike & Around Madagascar on My Kayak – Riaan Manser. These are the two great travel stories by adventurer supreme Riaan Manser who became the first person to cycle around the African continent as well as the first person to kayak around Madagascar, alone and unassisted.
23. Spud – John Van De Ruit. This popular modern day novel about life in an all-boys boarding school is told through the diary of John ‘Spud’ Milton. It is set in the 1990s, a time when Apartheid was crumbling and Nelson Mandela had just been released from prison. The story captures both the hilarious and gloomier moments in Spud’s life.
24. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun – Peter Godwin. This striking memoir depicts the disintegration of a family during a time when the country they’re living in – Zimbabwe – is on the verge of ruin. The human spirit and the enduring power of love triumphs in the end.
“Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death.” – Peter Godwin, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun
25. The Story of an African Farm – Olive Schreiner. This was Schreiner’s landmark novel set in the rural Karoo toward the end of the last century. It was radical due to the candid feminism and negative take on the social structures that cemented their colonial society.
There’s still more…There were several titles that we chopped from the list simply because the blog was getting too long, but be sure to check out these memorable must-reads: King Solomon’s Mines – Sir H. Rider Haggard; Mafeking Road – Herman Charles Bosman; Rainmaker – Don Pinnock; Portrait with Keys – Ivan Vladislaviċ; Dark Continent, My Black Arse – Sihle Khumalo; Safari – Tony Park (and several other titles about Africa, including “Zambezi” and “African Sky”); In a Different Time – Peter Harris; King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild; Masai Dreaming – Justin Cartwright; Midlands and The Number – Jonny Steinberg; Are We There Yet? – David Smiedt; A Grain of Wheat – Ngugi wa Thiong’o; Country of my skull – Antjie Krog; The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
There’s still more…
There were several titles that we chopped from the list simply because the blog was getting too long, but be sure to check out these memorable must-reads:
King Solomon’s Mines – Sir H. Rider Haggard; Mafeking Road – Herman Charles Bosman; Rainmaker – Don Pinnock; Portrait with Keys – Ivan Vladislaviċ; Dark Continent, My Black Arse – Sihle Khumalo; Safari – Tony Park (and several other titles about Africa, including “Zambezi” and “African Sky”); In a Different Time – Peter Harris; King Leopold’s Ghost – Adam Hochschild; Masai Dreaming – Justin Cartwright; Midlands and The Number – Jonny Steinberg; Are We There Yet? – David Smiedt; A Grain of Wheat – Ngugi wa Thiong’o; Country of my skull – Antjie Krog; The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Tamlin has been exploring, writing about and photographing Africa ever since her first job as a photojournalist for Getaway Magazine. She's lived on an island, eaten with lions, sailed catamarans in the Indian Ocean, tracked wild dogs with Kinglsey Holgate, and white water rafted down the Zambezi and has kept just about every airplane ticket that has crossed her hands.
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One of my favorites is the “Day the Crocodile Ate the Sun”.
Hello, Julie! You’ll find a new list of books to add to your reading list here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/
Your favourite features 😉
Surprised! No sign of ‘Half of a yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Hi Brendan, I don’t know if you’ve seen but we have a revised and updated list of books to read which can be found here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/
Half of a Yellow Sun is on that list 🙂
@ “The Last Resort” by Douglas Rogers….
I can’t believe ‘The White Masai’ – Corinne Hoffmann didn’t make the list?! One of the greatest books ever written about tribal life in East Africa!
Hi Isabella! Have you seen our new list? You can find it here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/
Thank you for the list (and the additions in the comments) – I will definitely be adding a few titles to my summer reading material
Hi Beverly 🙂 We have an updated list of books about Africa to add to your reading list, if you’re looking for any new material or inspiration. You can find it here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/
This is a list mainly of white people writing about Africa. You should know better and it’s quite patronizing. Perhaps you should educate yourselves and do a little work on reading more books by African authors. The African Union, some years ago, compiled a list of great books by African authors. It is found here:
Hi Brain! We updated our list last year and it can be found here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/.
West with the Night, by Beryl Markham, is a tremendous series of vignettes – mostly about life in East Africa. http://www.amazon.com/West-Night-Beryl-Markham/dp/1578989531
Hi Frank, thank-you for the suggestion. We have a revised list of books to read about Africa which we compiled in 2017. You can find it here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/
I very rarely comment on blog posts but I had to create a Disqus account to point something out. It’s really strange that on a list of Afrcan literature there are only two Black authors included and NO Black women at all. This list is not comprehensive and not truly representative of the African literary landscape.
Check out writers like Bessie Head, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Dambudzo Marechera, Ousmane Sembene, Mariam Ba, Leila Aboulela, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Yvonne Vera, Ngugi wa Thiongo (Nobel Laureate Prize nominee), Heinneman’s Afrian Writers… I could go on. All these authors were innovators too.
Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. We completely agree with you on the makeup of this list. This is an outdated blog and we are intending to create a new and improved list soon. Thank you for your suggestions of writers, we’ll be sure to consider all of them in the new list. Thanks again!
Hi Belinda, I hope this message finds you well! Our revised list can be found here. It was published last year and is filled with delightful gems: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/
Dear Tamlin- I have recently published a spy thriller set in Africa called “Paths in the Woods.” If any of your readers are interested, this is a synopsis. “The year is 1975. Young American operative Steve ‘Tsetse’ Seidel arrives in Nigeria to filter classified information from the Dark Continent under the cover of a Lagos based aircraft parts facility. ‘Tsetse’ is a scrappy engineer the Agency decides to let fly solo on this assignment. All in Lagos is not as expected, and while struggling with cultural and business practices, Seidel is forced to rely on four recent hires at the parts company (Laidi, Dhobi, “Sam” and Dad), his acquired village dog Kobos, as well as Bisola—a dangerously beautiful University student he meets at the nightclub Bacchus. Seidel senses something is drastically wrong within the U.S. espionage network. Chance discoveries on his part lead down trails of Russian and Chinese involvements. He has fallen in love with Africa and, in trying to protect those closest to him, must flee. Moral, mental and spiritual compass points shift as he searches for the proper path. ” Thank you for sharing with your readers. It is available as an eBook and in paperback.
I wrote a book Living “The Dream Through Africa” After I traveled through 18 countries from RSA to Egypt and back. I was wandering if you could include it in your list. The book has also got 400 colour photo’s
I read a lot of African prose mostly non-fiction. Right now I am reading “Ibamba” by Wynant Davis Hubbard. I would put it quickly in my top three all time. Even though it is 100 years ago the author is far ahead of his time in his treatment of the local people and his respect for nature. Buy it you will not regret it.
Hi Sheldon! Thank-you so much for the suggestion. This post is from 2012 and we do have a revised and updated version which can be found here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/
Let us know what you think!
Oh shame on you all -for missing out on Dervla Murphy’s writings, all of which are classic, by a superb observer and commentator who knows her history and who travels intimately – by bike or foot – and sometimes by donkey/ass:
. In Ethiopia with a Mule . Muddling Through Madagascar . Cameroon with Egbert . The Ukimiwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe . Visiting Rwanda . South from the Limpopo: Travels Through South Africa
Enjoy, appreciate, be impressed at her fortitude and openess to experiences, and be informed about life on the continent.
And she has written about many other regions, all superb.
I am replying to my own post – and in response to the note above about needing to look into books on the continent written by Africans, am ashamed I didn’t mention them. eg ‘The House at Sugar Beach’ by Helen Cooper and ‘ The Memory of Love’ by Aminetta Forna. and there are many many more.
Hello Margaret, thank-you for your suggestions! This is post is very outdated and was written in 2012. We have a new and revised list of Books About Africa to Add to Your Reading List. You can find it here: https://blog.rhinoafrica.com/2017/07/26/20-books-africa-reading-list/. I hope you enjoy this list more! Looking forward to hearing from you.
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