The best books with thoughtful, diverse descriptions of postcolonial Africa through the eyes of foreigners

Who am I?

I’ve lived and worked intensely in the medical field for over two decades in many countries in Africa. I’ve seen global health programs from the academic, research, developmental, and humanitarian viewpoints of both Africans and Europeans. It’s a complicated mix of politics, good intentions, and, sometimes, egos. There’s much to be learned from both fiction and nonfiction about the complexity of it all. 


I wrote...

Distorted Vision

By Susan Lewallen,

Book cover of Distorted Vision

What is my book about?

When Ana’s do-gooder brother Jared goes missing in Tanzania she has to reconsider what she thinks she knows about “helping” in her childhood home there—and about her beloved brother, the motivations of foreigners who come to Africa to help, and the ways good intentions can come to naught. Distorted Vision is a sophisticated view of the world of global health development—with some unexpected twists.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali

Susan Lewallen Why did I love this book?

This is the best Peace Corps Volunteer memoir I’ve read. It’s unusual in that it’s focused on the story of Monique Dembele, a traditional birth attendant in a small village in Mali, rather than on the PCV, Kris Holloway. We get to know Monique through Kris’s eyes—and Kris so obviously loves her friend and delights in the rural Malian community where she’s stationed. The cultural exchange and friendship that Kris experienced and describes are what Peace Corps is supposed to be about. This was a satisfying matchup of two young women from radically different worlds who saw beyond their differences into their common humanity. Holloway is a gifted writer, providing a chance to look into the world of rural West African women in the late 1980s. Mali slipped into ongoing civil unrest in the years after Kris left; it's heart wrenching to realize what that meant to the very communities she described with such love.

By Kris Holloway,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Monique and the Mango Rains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Monique Dembele saves lives and dispenses hope in a place where childbirth is a life-and-death matter. Her unquenchable passion to improve the lot of the women and children in her West African village is matched by her buoyant humour in the face of unhappy marriage and backbreaking work. This is the deeply compelling story of the rare friendship between a young development volunteer and this midwife who defies tradition and becomes - too early in her own life - a legend.


Book cover of Whites

Susan Lewallen Why did I love this book?

This collection of six short stories, set in Botswana in the mid-1980s, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1987. It made my list because Rush puts a variety of privileged, well off and well-educated expats—Boers, Europeans, and Americans—under a microscope and provides a real and exquisitely detailed view of the expat life in Botswana in that era—it doesn’t always look good. Clearly, the expat lives are in stark contrast to those of the Batswana's, and Rush is generally careful to stick with what he knows; in only one story is the POV character Batswanan. It’s easy to see Rush’s experience as a poet in this literary fiction and the story lines are unique.

By Norman Rush,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Whites as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whether they are Americans, Brits, or a stubborn and suicidally moral Dutchman, Norman Rush's whites are not sure why they are in Botswana. Their uncertainty makes them do odd things. Driven half-mad by the barking of his neighbor's dogs, Carl dips timidly into native witchcraft—only to jump back out at the worst possible moment. Ione briskly pursues a career as a "seducer" ("A seductress was merely someone who was seductive and who might or might not be awarded a victory. But a seducer was a professional"), while her dentist husband fends off the generous advances of an African cook. Funny,…


Book cover of Aftershocks: A Memoir

Susan Lewallen Why did I love this book?

Nadia Owusu is the quintessential third culture kid, holder of a US passport, but born in Dar-es-Salaam to a Ghanaian father and an Armenian-American mother. Her UN-employed father moved his two daughters around through Kumasi (Ghana), Kampala (Uganda), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Rome (Italy), and the UK. Her mother left the family when Nadia was three years old and didn’t look back, save for a rare, short visit and some trinket gifts. Aftershocks is Ms. Owusu’s tribute to a loving father, but her upbringing was a shaky foundation that reverberated throughout her life, and provided the earthquake metaphor around which she structures her memoir. She weaves bits of political history and culture from the countries she lived in into her own story, comprised of the foreshocks, main shock, and aftershocks. It’s held together by beautiful prose descriptions, both of place and emotions.

By Nadia Owusu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aftershocks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of The Glass Castle, this “gorgeous” (The New York Times, Editors’ Choice) and deeply felt memoir from Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu tells the “incredible story” (Malala Yousafzai) about the push and pull of belonging, the seismic emotional toll of family secrets, and the heart it takes to pull through.

“In Aftershocks, Nadia Owusu tells the incredible story of her young life. How does a girl—abandoned by her mother at age two and orphaned at thirteen when her beloved father dies—find her place in the world? This memoir is the story of Nadia creating her own solid…


Book cover of White Dog Fell from the Sky

Susan Lewallen Why did I love this book?

This slow, haunting novel shows newly independent Botswana in the 1960s, when Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana’s first president, welcomed Europeans to help build the country. Alice is an American anthropologist working for the government; her marriage to another American, in the Ministry of Finance, dissolves, as he embraces the ex-pat lifestyle and she falls in love with the country. An equally important POV character is Isaac, a South African medical student who has to flee for safety to Botswana after witnessing a killing by the South African police. He finds work as Alice’s gardener and a relationship based on mutual respect ensues. When he falls afoul of the law, he disappears, his life once again in danger. Meanwhile, Alice suffers in a tragic love affair. Both he and Alice lose what they love most, but Alice has the grace to understand that his suffering is worse. Their stories play out against the horrors of Apartheid and the ancient culture of the !Kung San. The author lived and worked in Botswana and references the scholarly texts from which she drew for the story.

By Eleanor Morse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked White Dog Fell from the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An extraordinary novel of love, friendship, and betrayal for admirers of Abraham Verghese and Edwidge Danticat

Eleanor Morse's rich and intimate portrait of Botswana, and of three people whose intertwined lives are at once tragic and remarkable, is an absorbing and deeply moving story.

In apartheid South Africa in 1977, medical student Isaac Muthethe is forced to flee his country after witnessing a friend murdered by white members of the South African Defense Force. He is smuggled into Botswana, where he is hired as a gardener by a young American woman, Alice Mendelssohn, who has abandoned her Ph.D. studies to…


Book cover of The Shadow of the Sun

Susan Lewallen Why did I love this book?

Don’t try to rush through this. And don’t expect to “find out what happened.” It’s a slow wander back and forth across the continent, with missives penned in over a dozen countries over the course of forty years. Every description, whether of something mundane or momentous, is worth savoring. Kapuscinski is an eastern European who grew up in poverty and he expects the Africans he meets to be neither better nor worse than his European compatriots. He marvels at the cockroaches in Monrovia and witnesses the politics and people behind uprisings and coups. He delights in the fluid, elasticity of time in everyday life: When will the meeting start? It will start when the people get here! He revels in the diversity he sees and understands that there’s no such thing as “African” culture; yet an overall love for and delight in the continent shine through the extraordinary, honey-smooth prose. 

By Ryszard Kapuściński,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Shadow of the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Only with the greatest of simplifications, for the sake of convenience, can we say Africa. In reality, except as a geographical term, Africa doesn't exist'. Ryszard Kapuscinski has been writing about the people of Africa throughout his career. In astudy that avoids the official routes, palaces and big politics, he sets out to create an account of post-colonial Africa seen at once as a whole and as a location that wholly defies generalised explanations. It is both a sustained meditation on themosaic of peoples and practises we call 'Africa', and an impassioned attempt to come to terms with humanity itself…


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By Clifford A. Wright,

Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Philosopher Historian Researcher Gastronomer Bibliophile and reviewer

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What is my book about?

An Italian Feast celebrates the cuisines of the Italian provinces from Como to Palermo. A culinary guide and book of ready reference meant to be the most comprehensive book on Italian cuisine, and it includes over 800 recipes from the 109 provinces of Italy's 20 regions.

An Italian Feast is a gastronomy about Italian culinary history and consciousness, about how Italians cook, eat, and how their food is an intimate part of their culture. It is the first book in any language to comprehensively explore the gastronomy and cuisine not just of Italy, and not just the regions of Italy, but all 109 provinces of Italy, linking each with each other in terms of history, agriculture, economics, and the material culture of creative food illustrated with recipes.

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

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