The best novels by African women

Who am I?

I grew up in Uganda and Kenya, and when I moved to the United States, I felt separated from myself. Learning how to be American was exhausting and so I disappeared into books. I’m now more settled, but I still travel through fiction. These days, I am reading fiction by African women. You should be, too! There is so much stunning literature out there. These five books are just the beginning, but they are novels I can’t stop thinking about.

I wrote...

Wait for God to Notice

By Sari Fordham,

Book cover of Wait for God to Notice

What is my book about?

Wait for God to Notice is a memoir about growing up in Uganda. It is also a memoir about mothers and daughters and about how children both know and don’t know their parents. As teens, Fordham and her sister, Sonja, consider their mother overly cautious. After their mother dies of cancer, the author begins to wonder who her mother really was. As she recalls her childhood in Uganda―the way her mother killed snakes, sweet-talked soldiers, and sold goods on the black market―Fordham understands that the legacy her mother left her daughters is one of courage and capability.

The books I picked & why

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The Son of the House

By Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia,

Book cover of The Son of the House

Why this book?

The Son of the House is modern, original, page-turning, powerful, and beautifully written. I was curious about the seeming contradiction between Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s title, and the novel’s subject, two women who have been kidnapped in Enugu, Nigeria. Of course, I soon learn there is no contradiction. The lives of both Nwabulu and Julie are impacted by the value once placed upon the son of the house. The novel makes clear that these traditions are changing fast, even as the characters grapple with the reverberations. The novel introduces us to fascinating women who I have thought about long after I finished reading it. 

How Beautiful We Were

By Imbolo Mbue,

Book cover of How Beautiful We Were

Why this book?

What does environmental racism look like? Read How Beautiful We Were by Imobolo Mbue for a vital, searing answer. An American oil company is destroying the land and water of the fictional village of Kosawa. Children are dying. The company does this because they can, spouting only empty words about restitution. The novel narrates the village’s fight back, using alternating points of view to electric, pulsing effect.

The First Woman

By Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi,

Book cover of The First Woman

Why this book?

The First Woman is perhaps the best novel you haven’t yet read. Kirabo has never known her mother and she is looking for answers at the same time as she is becoming a woman. She is guided first by the village’s blind witch Nsuuta, who has her own reasons for getting involved. Nsuuta tells Kirabo that women were once, “huge, strong, loud, proud, brave, independent. But it was too much for the world.” The writing in this ambitious novel is sometimes funny and sometimes poignant.


By Akwaeke Emezi,

Book cover of Pet

Why this book?

Chibundu Onuzo’s debut novel PET is an exciting introduction to one of literature’s most innovative voices. PET is a YA novel set in the fictional city of Lucille. The adults tell the children there are no more monsters, but best friends Jam and Redemption learn otherwise. The novel doesn’t flinch from big issues—identity, abuse, and police brutality. The book is so unique it’s hard to classify it.

Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe

By Doreen Baingana,

Book cover of Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe

Why this book?

Doreen Baingana’s novel Tropical Fish is smart and empathetic, with a keen eye for details. The story is set in post-Idi Amin Uganda and is primarily Christine’s coming of age, but we also read chapters from her sisters’ points of view. The novel is a page-turner with an innovative structure, but it’s the characters who will stay with you.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Uganda, Nigeria, and environmental degradation?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Uganda, Nigeria, and environmental degradation.

Uganda Explore 10 books about Uganda
Nigeria Explore 33 books about Nigeria
Environmental Degradation Explore 17 books about environmental degradation

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Gold Fame Citrus, Running, and Waiting for the Night Song if you like this list.