9 Must Read African Novels

African novels are exquisite; there is an unexplained beauty that is in the African story told through an African. African novels while they are richly entertaining also have a lesson and a deep message. In no particular other, I present the African novels that are a must read

  1. Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe
Things fall apart

Hailed as one of the greatest African novel ever written, it is one of the first novels to receive global critical acclaim, a staple book in schools throughout Africa and is widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. First published 1958 the book tells the story of Okonkwo an Igbo leader in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofia. This captivating literary piece is split into three parts: the first describes his family, personal history, and the customs and society of the Igbo, the second and third sections introduces the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community. Okonkwo is famous all around the surrounding villages for being a wrestling champions, he is strong and hardworking. With a strong desire to dispel any ties to his dishonorable and cowardice father Unuoka, he strives not to show any weakness. Okonkwo is also obsessed with his masculinity. Chinua Achebe brilliantly explains the customs and tradition of the Igbo community through the protagonist Okonkwo from the complexities leading to the adoption and death of Ikemefuna to the exile of Okonkwo from Umuofia. Upon Okonkwo’s return to Umuofia he finds that the white man had taken over his precious village with their religion and culture, they further humiliate the ancestral spirit and the native leader, never the one to shy away from a fight Okonkwo does a despicable act which leads to a shocking finale. This book is truly a must read. The book spun two sequels titled No longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964)


2.  The River and the Source- Margeret Ogola

“A home without a daughter is like a spring without a source” this groundbreaking novel by Kenyan Margaret Ogola traces the lives of three generations of women representing different historical periods in Kenya’s history. The story is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on Akoko’s birth, childhood and marriage in which Margaret Ogola exquisitely explains the rich traditional history of Luo. We also get to feel the pain of the loss of her eldest son, husband and younger son in a quick succession. This leaves her in the hands of her evil brother-in-law Otieno Kembo. However, Akoko being strong and independent enlists the help of the white man to secure the future of her grandson. The second part looks at Akoko’s daughter Nyabera who in addition of being a young widow also loses three children. This captures the intricacies of the transition from traditional ways to Christianity introduced by the missionaries, Nyabera tired of the misfortunes decides to join Christianity and her mother joins her. The third, follows Akoko’s grand-daughter Awiti who is baptized as Elizabeth. Her family is beset with the struggle for Kenya’s independence due to political tension . The fourth pays attention to Akoko’s great-grandchildren. This books captures emotions beautifully you will laugh, cry and even hate some characters. The novel won Commonwealth Writers Prize, Africa Region, Best first book 1995, Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature 1995. It was followed by a sequel I Swear by Apollo


3.  Waiting for the vote of the wild animals-Ahmadou Kourouma


Published in 1998 this political satire novel by Ivoarian novelist Ahmadou Kourouma was originally French written entiltled En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvagewas translated by Frank Wynne. The story is a fictional African nation République du Golfe, led by dictator President Koyaga who came into power through a coup and has violently ruled his nation for 30 years. To prepare Koyaga for the future, the poet and Storyteller Bingo together with his jester and responder Tiécoura sum up his life in a ritual of purification. While they heap praise to the despot the responder Tiécoura says “President Koyaga, General, Dictator, here we will sing and dance your donsomana over the feast of the six vigils. We will tell the truth about your dirty tricks, your bullshit, your lies, your many crimes”.  Over the course of five nights they tell the story of an orphaned Koyaga who grew up to serve his colonial master upon his return to the Gulf Coast he overthrows the government out of pride and ambition. In the next three decades he stamps his rule in the nation suppressing those who oppose him in a cruel and inhuman manner while surviving various assassination attempts. Though he is complex in his writing Ahmadou Kourouma stays true to the simplicity of African oratory through the brilliant and humorous anecdotes, he also stays true to the African tradition and the belief of the supernatural. Ahmadou Kourouma tells the sad tale of Africa as Koyaga represents the African dictators who have ruled their nations with a iron fist.

4.  A Grain of Wheat- Ngugi wa Thiongo

A Grain of Wheat

Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiongo is one of the most illustrious African writer. With a title derived from the Gospel of John 12:24 the novel is set during the state of emergency in Kenya’s struggle for independence (1952–59). The story follows Mugo an introverted villager from Thabai who is considered a hero after leading a hunger strike in a British concentration camp and trying to stop a village guard from beating a pregnant woman to death however he has a scandalous dark secret that he betrayed the much beloved mau mau fighter Kihika. What makes this book such a masterpiece is the way Ngugi interconnected his characters like Mugo, Gikonyo, Karanja, Mumbi and Kihika brilliantly. The book finale ties all loose ends. Through this book Ngugi wa Thiongo tells the struggles of the MAUMAU freedom fighters during the colonial period and the plight they faced in the concentration camps, he also elegantly captures the excitement of a nation as they prepare for the independence from their colonial masters.

5.  So Long a Letter-Mariama Bâ

So Long A Letter

Written literally as a long letter it tells the story of  Ramatoulaye a woman who is recently widowed after the death of her enstranged husband, according to Muslim tradition Ramatoulaye must observe a  forty-day period of isolation and mourning during this period she decides to write a letter to her old friend Aissatou, who lives in America. In the course of the letter she explains the death of her Husband Modou and the injustice she is facing. Modou left her for a younger woman whom he took in as a second wife and yet it is Ramatoulaye who must serve host to the mourners providing them with food and drinks, though they bring gifts these gifts go to the younger second wife. She is also left in a strange position of mourning man despite being abandoned. Mariama Bâ highlights the plight women face in the family, community, Islam and in a polygamous relationship making it a must read for all feminist. The central character Ramatoulaye courageously and strongly navigates through her plight as she decides to raise her adolescent children single-handedly. This book truly reflects the strength of the African mother.

  1. The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born- Ayi kwei Armah


Published in 1968 this debut novel of Ghanaian Ayi Kwei Armah tells the story of an unnamed protagonist only referred to as “the man”. “The man” works at a railway station where he is approached with a bribe which he refuses due to his honesty. However, due to the honest act he receives a lot of scorn from loved ones including his wife, who is furious with him. Ayi Kwei Armah tells the story of “the man” who struggles to reconcile himself with the reality of post-independence Ghana as the action takes place between 1965’s Passion Week and 25 February 1966  the day after the overthrow of Ghana founding father Kwame Nkrumah. The “Rot” is a dominant theme in the book which is a metaphor of the grand corruption, military dictatorship, country’s maladjustment that exist. The protagonist is trying to remain clean when everyone else around him has succumbed to a “rot”. The book tackles some of the main problems facing African nations.  Also, it lives up to its exciting title and keeps the readers captivated from page to page with such intricate characters such as Joseph Koonson.

  1. Purple Hibiscus- Chimamanda Ngozie
Purple Hibiscus

Published in 2003 this Chimamanda Ngozie’s debut novel tells the story told through the eyes of fifteen year old Kambili Achike who lives in a wealthy family dominated by her bigot catholic father (Eugene) who is abusive towards his family. Kambili and her brother Jaja spend time at their Aunty Ifeoma’s house which offered a marked contrast to what Kambili and Jaja are used to, though they were Catholic they practiced a completely different form of Catholicism in contrast to Kambili’s father, making for a happy, liberal place that encourages its members to speak their minds. It was in this environment that both Kambili and Jaja become more open and able to voice their own opinions. Also it was in Aunty Ifeoma’s place that Kambili fell in love with a young priest which awakens her sense of her own sexuality. Back at home Beatrice ( Kambili’s mum) is pushed by  Eugene continual to commit a heinous crime which Jaja takes the blame and ends up in prison. These events shape the lives of all the central characters Kambili in particular. Chimamanda Ngozie’s beautiful style of writing stays true to her African roots as she eases her audiences to the complex life of Kambili and her relatives. Purple Hibiscus earned Chimamanda Ngozie an array of awards which included:  Hurston-Wright Legacy Award 2004 (Best Debut Fiction Category), Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2005: Best First Book (Africa)  and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2005: Best First Book (overall). Other Chimamanda Ngozie books that are a must read include Half a Yellow Sun and the critically acclaimed Americanah.


8.  How Europe Underdeveloped Africa-Walter Rodney

Not exactly a novel but this book is a must read for all Africans, written by Walter Rodney published in 1972  this book answers the question why Africa is underdeveloped Rodney argues that a combination of power politics and economic exploitation of Africa by Europeans. This book explains the rich history of the true Africa.


9.  Collected Poems- Gabriel Okora

This list cannot be complete without the work of the “elder statesman of Nigerian literature” and the” first Modernist poet of Anglophone Africa” with a literary career that spans six decades. Published in 2016 Gabriel Okara’s poems draws on African thought, religion, folklore and imagery. Arranged in six sections this book is a collection of Gabriel Okara best works

6 thoughts on “9 Must Read African Novels

  1. African literature feeds the part of my soul that yearns for the true African story and not the versions distorted by the media and ignorant experts

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