Jan 25, 2018


One of my favourite habits that I picked up from travelling is learning about the places and cultures I am experiencing through books, preferably written by people native to the country, although you could equally argue it can sometimes take an objective external eye to notice the idiosyncrasies and habits that native writers often become desensitised to. Often, you don’t start to appreciate the quirks and the little joys that are associated with your home country until you are far removed from it and unable to go back.

I’m a third-generation Kenyan born and raised, but I don’t think I learnt to appreciate literature from or about Africa and its countries until I moved away for university, and later work. Feelings of homesickness and a need reconnect with the Continent motivated me to seek out stories and histories that fulfilled various needs – a need for familiarity, for understanding, for warmth (especially when I was in cold, grey London).

One of my pet peeves is, and always has been, when non-Africans, ask what it is like to come from Africa…AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY! In fact, one of my favourite graphics that puts this into perspective is…

Africa is Not a Country

Now that my mini-rant is out of the way, these are the books that I feel best capture the spirit of the various countries of Africa, and in some cases the whole continent. It’s a combination of political histories and biographies, travelogues, and literary fiction, and anything in between. In some cases, the authors originate from the Continent, and in others it is more an external perspective.

Literature & Fiction


The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (Lola Shoneyin)

Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)

Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi)

A Continent for the Taking (Howard W. French)

Ghana Must Go (Taiye Selasi)

The State of Africa (Martin Meredith)

Dust (Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor)

An African Love Story (Daphne Sheldrick)

Ama (Manu Herbstein)

Out of Africa (Isak Dinesen)

Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (Alexandra Fuller)

Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters (Jason Stearns)

The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)

Britain’s Gulag (Caroline Elkins)

Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)

Born Free (Joy Adamson)

Who Will Catch Us As We Fall (Iman Verjee)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Ishmael Beah)

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith)

Speak Swahili, Dammit! (James Penhaligon)

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

Unbowed (Wangari Maathai)

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (M.G. Vassanji)

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families (Philip Gourevitch)

Baking Cakes in Kigali (Gaile Parkin)

It’s Our Turn to Eat (Michela Wrong)

Tail of the Blue Bird (Nii Ayikwei Parkes)

Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)

The Camel Bookmobile (Masha Hamilton)

The Zanzibar Chest (Aidan Hartley)

In addition the the above, there’s a few books that are on my to-read list already. These include:

  • Dance of the Jakaranda (Peter Kimani)
  • Kintu (Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi)
  • The Stranger (Albert Camus)
  • You Must Set Forth at Dawn (Wole Soyinka)
  • Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue)
  • King Leopold’s Ghost (Adam Hochschild)

As a final point, I am fully aware that I have only just begun to scratch the surface when it comes to African history, politics and literature, and that there is still so much talent to discover, so if you feel I have missed out something that I absolutely must read, please do let me know!

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About LookyBooky

I'm a compulsive reader always in search of new adventures. I love learning through travel and seeing the world through my camera lens. The books are ALWAYS better than the movies. I enjoy nothing more than a good book argument so feel free to disagree with me - it might lead to a fun conversation!

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