The days of defining African Literature within the confines of the poverty porn tradition seems to be at a distance; this year, we witnessed a surge in theme-defying works of fiction and poetry. Most of the novels that were released were from first time writers with fresh new voices that added to the already impressive collection of writers that have chosen over the years to allow their works to be classified within the African Literature Genre.
This season at Afridiaspora, we decided to compile a list of novels by African writers based on rave reviews, mentions, shortlists and long-list of major local and international prizes, as well as a few treasures that we loved, that we believe made 2015 a fantastic literary year. Enjoy!
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
Obioma’s The Fishermen is the story of an unforgettable childhood in the 1990s in the small town of Akure, Nigeria. The storyline is woven in a careful rendition with a child’s voice in a memoir-like manner such that it invokes nostalgia in the mind of any reader that may have experienced a similar childhood in a small town wherever. If African literature ever got a book that represented the careful realities of being African without necessarily portraying Africa within the specifics of the western stereotype, it was definitely Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen. Perhaps this was why The Guardian UK dubbed him the Achebe Incarnate, for his powerful use of prose and realism to exert a story that has not just moralistic power, but is also equipped with an endless humour and wit that ensures the reader is thoroughly entertained and touched.
Under the Uduala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
While many people were still recovering from the simple and yet brilliant collection of short stories from Okparanta, she decides to go novelist on us like many of the writers on this list who are first time novelist. Okparanta is the writer of the 2014 Etisalat prize shortlisted book Happiness Like Water. Under The Uduala Trees, her debut novel, is inspired by Nigeria’s folktale of war as it details the coming of age of a young girl who was born before independence and was sent away to safety when the Nigerian Civil War broke out. While away, she meets another displaced child and finds love. Okparanta’s Under The Uduala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle towards the attainment of the concept of selfhood. This novel has all it takes to break your heart and piece it back together. The prose is unique and revels in an aura of simplicity.
This House Is Not For Sale by E. C. Osondu
Osondu’s debut novel is a powerful tale of family and community. It brings to life an African neighbourhood and one remarkable house, seen through the eyes of a young member of the household. Osondu’s story captures a place beyond the outside world, full of the superstitions and myths that sustain its people. His prose has the lightness and magic of a fable, and the exactness of realism. His themes are timeless and relatable. Published by Harper Collins in 2015, Osondu’s voice is powerfully original and has the ability to capture simple family moments that evokes nostalgia.
The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician by Tendai Huchu
This novel was set largely in Edinburgh and was focused on the three title characters—all Zimbabweans—living in Scotland. It centers around three very different men struggling with thoughts of belonging, loss, identity and love as they struggle to find a place for themselves in Britain.
In this book, like Huchu’s previous work, The Hairdresser of Harare, his prose is lined with endless humour and a rare sense of adventure that makes him seem ‘new’ even though he’s been around for a while.
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Tram 83 is an important book in this time; it was originally written in French by Fiston Mwanza Mujila and translated by Roland Gasser into English. It is a novel about a writer fleeing the exactions and the censorship of the Backcountry and then finds refuge in the city thanks to a Requiem, a friend. The novel was described as a masterpiece by Alain Mabanckou, author of the 2015 Man-Booker finalist book, Broken Glass. The novel was presented in an observatory form, which allows readers to see the value and the extent of human relationships in this global village. Tram 83 has been shorlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Literature.
By Any Means by Kurt Ellis
Published by Human & Rousseau, By Any Means is a crime novel which hones in on the lives of three young men, Kyle and his cousins Captain and Jimmy. The novel is presented as a crime thriller but it seems as though the writer is an anti-crime activist because the story never gets to the point where violence is glorified. Brilliantly rendered, By Any Means is a worthy read for any reader.
What About Meera by Z. P. Dala
Dala’s What About Meera is a novel that joins tens of others by African writers alike in the continued discussion of the concepts and constructs of feminism. Dala paints the picture of a woman’s attempt to shape her own destiny despite the odds, and along the lines, evokes the streets of the Irish capital and the Indian community in rich detail. What About Meera is brave and haunting, the prose is impressionable and the imagery is vivid. It was published by Umuzi, an imprint of Penguin Random House (Pty) Ltd.
A Killing In The Sun by Dilman Dila
A Killing In The Sun is a collection of speculative fiction, which draws from the oral traditions of the author’s childhood to tell a variety of stories. This collection is crafted to fit into the mould of what is definable and obtainable in literary and speculative fiction. Its stories are set in the present day and borrow themes from the clichés of childhood scary stories but its delivery is masterful.
Foreign Gods by Okey Ndibe
The best part about reading a novel sometimes is the fact that you set foot on an exciting journey to wherever—a journey that sometimes could transcend place and time—depending on genre or writing style or even point of view in some instances. This was the case with Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc. The novel was published in 2014 by Soho press but became more accessible for most readers in Africa in 2015. Foreign Gods Inc. tells a story of Ike, a highly educated Nigerian, barely making a living driving a cab in New York City. A bad marriage and his addiction to gambling and alcohol have pushed him into crisis. After learning about a high-end Manhattan art dealer specializing in the sale of “foreign gods,” Ike hatches a desperate plan involving the theft of his old village’s chief god.
Penumbra by Songeziwe Mahlangu
Mahlangu’s Penumbra was the winner of the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature and was published by Kwela Books. It is narrated from the perspective of Mangaliso Zolo, a young man whose struggle with mental illness is worsened by drug and alcohol abuse. Penumbra paints a never encountered before picture of Cape-town and captures the city in its very worst. Mahlangu’s use of language is both powerful and educating despite the seeming limits of his chief protagonist who also happens to be the narrator of the story.