Introducing: An African Autumn

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Someone out there is rolling their eyes at my obvious obsession with alliteration and seasonal reading. This year I started a Milton in May event, and then My Victorian Summer. I just couldn’t think of a better name for my two-month (or so) immersion in Africa, so An African Autumn it is.

For this project, I hope to read books about African history, classics written by Africans, and contemporary and classic novels taking place in Africa. Anything goes if it has something to do with Africa. My goal is to read as many as I can. These novels are, for the most part, shorter than the Victorian Summer novels I read had been. I have no idea how much of “Africa” I’ll read before I get tired of it, but I’m ready, right now, to read a lot.

I also intend to read other books during this time. My Classics Reading Group is reading Emma and then Silas Marner, and I’ve started The Monk for fun. I also will join the Meiji Classics Circuit tour. And I’ll read whatever I want on a whim.

I began this project after making my lists for the Orbis Terrarum challenge. For that challenge, one reads books written by authors from each continent. I’ve gone around the world and I’m back to Read Africa for my last two reads. Any books read that are listed under “Classics by Africans” will count for that challenge.

I’ll end this project sometime around Thanksgiving. I’ll have a wrap up post either before or after the holidays, depending on when I get the bulk of these reviews written.

If you want to join in and make this your project too, feel free to use the button, just mention that I’d started it, please. Make your own rules and time frame if you want.

Here are some books that I have on my radar for this summer.


  • The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith (700 pages; nonfiction). I’ve started this book already, and it’s just what I need to get a better understanding of the last 50 years of African history. This context is necessary because so many of the modern classics assume an understanding of the historical context.
  • West with the Night by Beryl Markham. True account of British-born Kenyan aviatrix. Suggested by Karen below.
  • The World that Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein. True account of living in apartheid and being politically repressed by British-born political activist in South Africa. Suggested by Karen below.

Classics Written by Africans

  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe [Nigeria]. The classic African novel. I read it in high school, but it’s definitely time for a reread.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Njozi Adichie [Nigeria]. Book bloggers love this author. I haven’t yet read any by her yet, but I won a copy of Half a Yellow Sun from kiss a cloud!
  • Nervous Conditions by  Tsitsi Dangarembga [Zimbabwe]. Set in post-colonial Rhodesia (1960s), this novel is about a young adolescent coming to terms with her role as a woman in both a western and traditional society.
  • Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiongo [Kenya]. A magical realism novel set in a fictional African kingdom. At more than 700 pages, I’m a bit intimidated by the length, but I am fascinated by the premise. Have you read it? Is it worth reading despite the length?
  • Maru by Bessie Head [South Africa/Botwana]. A story about oppression and overcoming it in a small village.
  • So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba [Senegal]. Told via a letter between two fictional women, this is about a woman’s reflections on the double standard between men and women Senegal, particularly in terms of a man taking a second wife.
  • The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa [Angola]. A house gecko writes about his life and his house owner’s life in war-torn Angola.
  • Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih [Sudan]. This was on my list earlier and I even checked it out, but I didn’t get it read. An Arabic novel exploring the conflicts between East and West.
  • Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartery [Ghana]. A mystery in Ghana. Sounds like No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which I liked a lot, except it’s written by a native Ghanaian man.
  • The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta [Nigeria]. Suggested by Yvonne below.

Contemporary and Classic Fiction About Africa by Non-Africans

  • Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin. My book club is reading this at my suggestion, so I will be rereading it. A woman bakes cakes in the suffering Rwandan community.
  • The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. A classic about the Congo. I think I read this in high school on my own but I didn’t “get” it at all.
  • What is the What by Dave Eggers. Based on a real person, this is about a “lost boy” of Sudan.
  • The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji. Historical fiction about a colonial official in British East Africa at the turn of the last century.

Which of these have you read? Which should be a “must read” for me this summer?

Reviewed on September 27, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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  1. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver which revolves around an American missionary family in the Congo and it was wonderful. So absorbing and really illuminating… I’ll be posting about it on Wednesday, but I can’t imagine any African reading list being complete without it! Definitely put it on your contemporary list!

  2. Please note that Kwei Quartey is a Ghanaian man who now resides in US, so he should probably go into the books by Africans category.

    You have a really nice and diverse list of books with a good mix. I’m currently reading Wizards of a Crow, getting to the end actually. Definitely worth the read despite its length and its small print! Taken me a while but it’s such a thrilling journey. I’m planning a list post of African books on my radar, for this autumn, this week also.

    I second Steph’s note on Poisonwood Bible. In fact, I think it’s one of the best novels about Africa written by a non-African. While the thought of Heart of Darkness makes some of us Africans cringe, I nonetheless think it’s good to add it to your list.

    Oh, and if you find the size of Wizard a bit much, other shorter novels (eg A Grain of Wheat) by Ngugi are also considered classics.

    1. Kinna, thanks for the clarification on Kwei Quartey, I wasn’t sure. I was way off. And I’m so glad to hear that Wizards of a Crow is so worthwhile! We’ll see if I’m that ambitious this fall, but I’ll definitely keep it on my radar for the rest of time.

      I suspect Heart of Darkness is not a pleasant read. I think I read it years ago and didn’t like any of it. But, like you say, probably should be on the list regardless…

      I’m off to see the books you’ve read! I’m glad to know a native African blogger!

  3. I really need to read something by Adichie. I’d love to do that before the Texas Book Festival in a couple weeks, because she’s going to be there!

  4. Poisonwood Bible is very good. I’m also fascinated by Africa and my number one must-read recommendation is West With the Night by Beryl Markham, a nonfiction account of her life in Africa. She was an aviatrix and a friend of Denis Finch-Hatton (AKA the Robert Redford character in Out of Africa). It’s beautifully written, if you can get the illustrated version with her photos it’s even better. I just finished The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein, a pretty scary account of the Rivonia trial in South Africa in the 1960s.

    I also really liked Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, her memoir about growing up in 1960s Rhodesia. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is nice if you need something light. Also, I haven’t read it yet but I’ve also heard great things about The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

    1. Karen, Great suggestions! I should have mentioned I’m not really interested in reading memoirs — I just don’t think I can handle first hand accounts of war, etc. I love No. 1 Ladies and thanks for the other suggestions, although I am probably going to stay away from white South African authors for this project. I just want to focus on the other parts of Africa that I’ve never yet read.

  5. Oh my, if I hadn’t just thought up a whole lot of project with no end in sight for myself, I would be so tempted to join you! I definitely need to focus on African fiction sometime, but I guess not now. I will happily follow your journey into these books though πŸ™‚

  6. Mariama Ba is wonderful, but you have such an exciting list there altogether – I’ll bet you’re looking forward to this challenge, right? We’ll all be looking forward to the reviews!

  7. Oooohhhh I love it!! And a great list. For NF I LOVED The Fate of Africa and also enjoyed West with the Night. If you’re interested, No Place Left to Bury the Dead (a look at AIDS in Southern Africa) was fascinating, as was Dead Aid (how aid harms Africa rather than helping), and The Politics of Bones (oil, corruption, and Ken Saro-Wiwa in Nigeria).

    For Fiction, anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a sure bet, along with Helon Habila and Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for newer (Nigerian) authors. Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Ben Okri are also great classic Nigerian authors. I have So Long a Letter, Nervous Conditions and Wizard of the Crow on my tbr now and am looking forward to all of them. Maru was great. I will say that the two books that I have read by Thiong’o were incredible so I’m sure Wizard will be equally incredible. And I recently reviewed Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurhan, a Tanzanian writer, and it was also a great read.

    There are so many amazing books by Africans that I think you should focus on them and leave the books by non-Africans for another time πŸ™‚

    1. Amy, Ah, great point about “so many amazing books by Africans.” I was trying to keep my options open but you are right about that. I’m glad to hear so many suggestions. I look forward to reading through these.

  8. I read “The Fate of Africa” a while ago, and it does help provide an understanding of how Africa got to where it is today. It’s worth the lengthy read. I have “What is the What” in my TBR, I really should pick it up soon!

    I know you don’t care for memoirs, but I have to say I really liked “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. I think talk of this book has been going around the blogosphere for a while lately.

    1. Valerie, I have The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind on radar and it sounded wonderful. If I get through a number of books by Africans I may add that in this fall. But um, as you can see, some how this list is never going to end….

  9. You have a good collection under the classics written by Africans. I would have loved that you begin with Half of a Yellow Sun and then follow it up with The Joys of Motherhood. The two are among my favorites books. They would not disappoint you.

    1. Geosi, I just finished The Joys of Motherhood and I’ve started Half of a Yellow Sun! Such a very good start, I’m looking forward to the next few months. Thanks for the suggestions.

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