The best books about Nigeria

31 authors have picked their favorite books about Nigeria and why they recommend each book.

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite,

Book cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer

Of all family relationships, I am particularly intrigued by the bond between sisters—think: Little Women, Sense and Sensibility, The Vanishing Half. In Braithwaite’s debut novel, older and more practical sister Korede is hopelessly devoted to younger and more impetuous sister Ayoola. This familiar family dynamic is given a fresh and fabulous take when it turns out Ayoola’s boyfriends keep ending up dead, leaving Korede to clean up the mess. Sister melodrama and serial murder—what could be more fun, right?


Who am I?

As Korean immigrants growing up in largely white suburbs, my siblings and I were keen observers of American life particularly the customs and affectations of the upper class. A tight-knit trio, we learned how to fit in to our adopted country by inhaling pop culture: television and movies, books and magazines, album covers and clothing catalogues. The one thing we valued above all else was humor. To this day, my favorite books are those that make me laugh, cry, and nod in delighted recognition—sometimes simultaneously.


I wrote...

A Good Family: A Novel

By A.H. Kim,

Book cover of A Good Family: A Novel

What is my book about?

A Good Family has been hailed as a “lively suspense diversion” (Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post) and an “addictive, over-the-top dramedy that would make for a great TV series” (Publishers Weekly). Combining elements of black comedy and domestic noir, A Good Family is told from the alternating perspectives of Hannah Min, a Korean-American law librarian, and Beth Lindstrom, her glamorous sister-in-law who pleads guilty to a white-collar crime related to her work as a high-powered pharmaceutical executive. While in prison, Beth suspects someone in the family set her up and asks Hannah to help figure out who it was. My debut novel was inspired by my personal experience supporting my brother and nieces while my sister-in-law served time in Alderson Women’s Prison.

Things Fall Apart

By Chinua Achebe,

Book cover of Things Fall Apart

I love reading and teaching this classic of postcolonial literature. Written in spare, accessible style on the eve of Nigerian independence from Britain, Achebe tells the story of British colonization of an Igbo clan in Southeast Nigeria near the end of the 19th century. Even as the novel portrays the appalling damages of European colonialism, it subtly critiques the traditional Igbo exclusion of disabled people. It demonstrates one of the paradoxes of human rights: victims of human rights abuses can also be perpetrators of them. The British missionaries first gain a foothold by welcoming those stigmatized people marginalized by the Umoufians, indicating how Achebe promotes compassion of all people.


Who am I?

I teach and write about literature and disability at the University of Virginia. I’m also late deafened and have worked in the field of disability studies for over twenty years. In 2002, a scholar pointed out that literature from the former British colonies includes a lot of disabled characters. In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I began to wonder if the two are related. In Elusive Kinship, I wound up arguing that they are. Not much work has been done on this. I tried to emphasize that I’m just advancing a critical conversation, not giving the final word at all.


I wrote...

Elusive Kinship: Disability and Human Rights in Postcolonial Literature

By Christopher Krentz,

Book cover of Elusive Kinship: Disability and Human Rights in Postcolonial Literature

What is my book about?

An academic literary study, Elusive Kinship shows how disabled characters are integral to literature in English from the Global South. These are great stories, and part of their excellence is how authors like Achebe, Rushdie, Coetzee, Desai, and others deploy disability in creative ways. Through figures of disability, they make pressing topics more vivid, including such issues as the effects of colonialism and apartheid, global capitalism, racism and sexism, war, and environmental disaster. Such representations also relate to the millions of disabled people who live in the Global South, often in precarious circumstances. Elusive Kinship argues that the representation of disabled people in this literature both directed and reflected the rise of global disability human rights over the last half-century. 

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

By Wole Soyinka,

Book cover of Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

All right, so a Nobel laureate doesn’t need any encomiums from me, but what the hell. Soyinka’s first book in nearly half a century is revealing, enlightening, satirical, gleeful and just plain damn funny, while telling you more about the chaotic politics and sociology of his native Nigeria than you ever thought possible, a wonderful window into Africa’s most populous country.


Who am I?

I was born in Africa and have been infatuated with its history and cultures all my life. Of the 48 countries sharing the African mainland, I have spent time in all but four. True, a few only for a laughably brief stay (I wandered across the Cameroon-Equatorial Guinea border once by mistake, not knowing I had crossed; there was no sign of a border post or any guards. I stayed only for the rest of the day, never leaving the beach, before wading back to Cameroon.) But others I have lived in for years, and have travelled extensively to famous and obscure regions alike, especially in the Sahel


I wrote...

Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold

By Marq de Villiers, Sheila Hirtle,

Book cover of Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold

What is my book about?

Perhaps no other city in the world has been as golden—and as deeply tarnished—as Timbuktu. Founded in the early 1100s by Tuareg nomads, it became a wealthy metropolis and a nexus of the trans-Saharan trade. Salt from the deep Sahara, gold from Ghana, and money from slave markets made it rich. In part because of its wealth, Timbuktu also became a center of Islamic learning and religion, boasting impressive schools and libraries that attracted scholars from Alexandria, Baghdad, Mecca, and Marrakech.

The arts flourished, and Timbuktu gained near-mythic stature around the world, capturing the imagination of outsiders and ultimately attracting the attention of hostile sovereigns who sacked the city three times and plundered it half a dozen more. The ancient city was invaded by a Moroccan army in 1600, which began its long decline; since then it has been seized by Tuareg nomads and a sad variety of jihadists, in addition to enduring a severe earthquake, several epidemics, and numerous famines. Why does this faded metropolis matter now? Timbuktu’s relaxed, inclusive and cosmopolitan version of Islam still has lessons to teach the world about tolerance and accommodation.

Loot

By Barnaby Phillips,

Book cover of Loot: Britain and the Benin Bronzes

This is far more than a colonial era whodunit, a recounting of yet another colonial atrocity – though it is that in spades.  Yes, in 1897 the British occupation army reacted to the killing of a a few colonial officials by razing an empire to the ground, careless of its causes and its effects. So much, so commonplace. But what an empire! The Benin artworks the army looted, subsequently dispersed to museums around the globe, were and still are a revelation to those whose notions of African art were to that point limited to masks and fetishes. A mere catalogue of the pieces would be enough to explain why Picasso, among other artists, was captivated by the art of Africa, but Philips has done more than that – he puts the looted artifacts into their context and into their culture. There is nothing didactic or preachy about this book, but…


Who am I?

I was born in Africa and have been infatuated with its history and cultures all my life. Of the 48 countries sharing the African mainland, I have spent time in all but four. True, a few only for a laughably brief stay (I wandered across the Cameroon-Equatorial Guinea border once by mistake, not knowing I had crossed; there was no sign of a border post or any guards. I stayed only for the rest of the day, never leaving the beach, before wading back to Cameroon.) But others I have lived in for years, and have travelled extensively to famous and obscure regions alike, especially in the Sahel


I wrote...

Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold

By Marq de Villiers, Sheila Hirtle,

Book cover of Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold

What is my book about?

Perhaps no other city in the world has been as golden—and as deeply tarnished—as Timbuktu. Founded in the early 1100s by Tuareg nomads, it became a wealthy metropolis and a nexus of the trans-Saharan trade. Salt from the deep Sahara, gold from Ghana, and money from slave markets made it rich. In part because of its wealth, Timbuktu also became a center of Islamic learning and religion, boasting impressive schools and libraries that attracted scholars from Alexandria, Baghdad, Mecca, and Marrakech.

The arts flourished, and Timbuktu gained near-mythic stature around the world, capturing the imagination of outsiders and ultimately attracting the attention of hostile sovereigns who sacked the city three times and plundered it half a dozen more. The ancient city was invaded by a Moroccan army in 1600, which began its long decline; since then it has been seized by Tuareg nomads and a sad variety of jihadists, in addition to enduring a severe earthquake, several epidemics, and numerous famines. Why does this faded metropolis matter now? Timbuktu’s relaxed, inclusive and cosmopolitan version of Islam still has lessons to teach the world about tolerance and accommodation.

Easy Motion Tourist

By Leye Adenle,

Book cover of Easy Motion Tourist

Visceral, immediate, and engrossing, Adenle’s debut novel features two main characters embroiled in a murder in Lagos. British journalist Guy Collins, an alien in a dangerous, fast-paced city is implicated in a gruesome crime. Amaka, a woman who has devoted herself to the protection of the city’s working girls, speaks for him, hoping that her intervention will be re-payed by Collins in the form of global publicity for her campaign against the people traffickers and body-parts smugglers. Both out of their depth, at great peril, and at the mercy of Nigeria’s mega-city and its huge cast of characters, they find themselves caught in a maze from which there appears no escape.

Who am I?

Africa can easily become an obsession: an extraordinary continent, blessed with breath-taking beauty and wonderful people, yet cursed by climate, corruption, war, and… crime. This continent is the most incredible setting for stories about people driven to crime, victims of crime, the detection of crime. Based in the UK, but a frequent visitor to Southern Africa, having written many non-fiction books, South Africa (and Cape Town in particular) was always going to be my choice of setting for my crime novels. For me, a good novel – within any genre – transports the reader into an unfamiliar world, absorbs them in the lives of the characters, and reveals insights which touch on their own lives.


I wrote...

The First Rule Of Survival

By Paul Mendelson,

Book cover of The First Rule Of Survival

What is my book about?

Seven years ago, three schoolboys disappear from the streets of Cape Town in broad daylight. They were never seen again.

Now, a new case for Colonel Vaughn de Vries threatens to re-open the case, laying bare, not only his own failures, but an institutional conspiracy of silence and cover-up. Struggling in a mire of departmental and racial rivalry, De Vries seeks the whole truth and an absolute end to the case that has haunted him for all the intervening years. Battling media personalities and vested interests, he turns to a friend - former British intelligence agent, John Marantz – but what motives does he have, and what price must be paid for the keys can he turn?

Americanah

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Book cover of Americanah

For better or worse, living in a foreign country often forces a reassessment of the way the world works, both at home and abroad. Race and authenticity are at the center of this novel, wrapped around a love story, exposing the hollowness of certain assumptions while taking a more critical view of Western and African society. Despite this, Adichie’s writing never comes off as sneering or condescending, like the Americanah of the title: self-important Nigerians returning home from overseas.

Who am I?

I am the author of Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside and a former artist-in-residence at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai. After graduating from college, I took a “good” job but soon came to realize it wasn't for me. I quit after less than a week and ended up moving to China, where I spent four years teaching English, working for a consumer electronics company, and writing fiction. I currently teach at a school in Oakland, California.


I wrote...

Unwelcome

By Quincy Carroll,

Book cover of Unwelcome

What is my book about?

In the years following his graduation from college, Cole Chen has been back and forth between the U.S. and China, struggling to navigate his transition into adulthood. Estranged from his parents, he returns to Hunan province to work for his friends, while also attempting to write a memoir based on his experiences. During the course of this year abroad, he meets a young woman (under initially dubious circumstances), whom he dates briefly, before returning to live with his brother in California, where he is forced to confront a dark reality from his past.

An anti-coming-of-age story that examines themes of escapism and toxic masculinity.

The Death of Vivek Oji

By Akwaeke Emezi,

Book cover of The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel

I left this book for last because it is, perhaps, the heaviest and most gut-wrenching. In this book, Emezi crafts an exceptional paranormal story showing the true-life difficulties (that is the life-threatening and openly hostile discrimination) faced by LGBT+ people in Nigeria. A fact that’s sadly true in many other African countries too. This book has so many layers, every scene dripping with nuance and a clear tenderness for the subject matter. It would have been easy for this story to remain steeped in tragedy, but Emezi manages to elevate their characters and narrative above that, providing an ultimately heartwarming story that leaves the reader with a sense of wonder and hope while never dismissing the severity of the reality so many LGBT+ people face on the African continent.


Who am I?

As a genderqueer non-binary person who always felt alone and invisible, it has been incredible to see the change taking place, particularly in YA, as more and more trans and non-binary authors get to tell their stories. Had I been able to read even one of these books as a teen, I might’ve avoided many years of unhappiness. Also, I’ve always been drawn to fantasy and science fiction, perhaps due to my need and desire to escape mundane reality, but I truly love how these genres let the imagination run riot, particularly when authors imagine kinder and more accepting worlds for LGBT+ people.


I wrote...

By the Blood of Rowans

By Xan van Rooyen,

Book cover of By the Blood of Rowans

What is my book about?

By the Blood of Rowans is a dark fantasy novel about a complicated family, ancient magic, and new love.

It’s about Rowan, the resident death walker who carries the souls of those who die on the magical island of Inisliath to the Otherworld. Things get complicated when someone starts offing members of the founding families in what might be a last-ditch effort to revive the dying magic. And it’s about Ash, the recent arrival returning to their ancestral home with their detective Mum who’s been tasked with investigating the ritualistic killings. Ash quickly develops a crush on Rowan, the only person they’ve ever met who seems to get Ash—unfortunately, he’s the main suspect even though Ash discovers he might actually be the next victim!

Akata Witch

By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Akata Witch

A misfit loner is chosen to save the world. I know, it’s been done before. But this story is special. Firstly, it is set against the backdrop of Nigerian culture and lore. And secondly, Sunny. The main character is memorable for more than just her “differences.” She is determined and fierce, making her a hero you want to see bring home a “w” over and over again.


Who am I?

My novel choices were part of the Afterschool Literacy & Building Modules for an organization called LitShop. It encourages growth in literacy, making, building, and leadership in girls ages 10-15 in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m honored to lead the writing classes. All of the LitShop books feature strong girls who believe they can make and build their way to a better world, and I aim to include similar characters in my stories. Stories can provide us with motivation, inspiration, and companionship, and all of these books have done just that… for the girls of LitShop as well as myself.


I wrote...

The Ghost and the Wolf

By Shelly X. Leonn,

Book cover of The Ghost and the Wolf

What is my book about?

Penelope, a student reporter, struggles to find her identity after a childhood of tragedy. Desperate to prove herself to her peers, she chases a story tip on a secret organization of teen urban explorers called “The Broken.” The group demands she complete a test before they let her write the story. While following the clues of their twisted scavenger hunt, she encounters Lex, a young paranormal investigator with a knack for computer hacking, and together they work to uncover the organization’s darkest secrets. As they tag along, they become entangled in the group’s inner fighting and their leader’s plans that turn out to be much more nefarious…and deadly…than they’d believed. Realizing her mistakes too late, Penelope will have to fight for her own life and the lives of her friends.

The Girl with the Louding Voice

By Abi Daré,

Book cover of The Girl with the Louding Voice

This novel taught me more about Nigeria than I could ever have learned from reading scholarly histories. Adunni is the narrator of her own story, and her voice has the rhythms, textures, and energy of a child bursting to express herself – to locate and validate herself – in a life where she struggles for agency. Daré gives us the political, economic, and cultural context of modern Nigeria whose forces work mostly against Adunni, but it’s never didactic. Adunni is compelling, admirable, and adorable, but while you sense she will ultimately break her bonds, she evokes thousands of Nigerian girls who won’t. The ending seemed to be setting us up for a sequel – hurray!


Who am I?

I wondered, seven novels in, why I’d never written in the voice of a child, and it so happened that Our Picnics in the Sun, the eighth novel, required me to do just that. In doing my research I discovered an oddity. Writers of fiction assume the right to enter the head or consciousness or identity of their characters. The oddity is that you might expect a writer to write, without too much difficulty, from the point of view of a child: after all, the writer has been a child. But it turns out that childhood experience is often elusive, evades interpretation, and is the hardest to capture on the page.


I wrote...

Our Picnics in the Sun: A Novel

By Morag Joss,

Book cover of Our Picnics in the Sun: A Novel

What is my book about?

In Our Picnics in the Sun I wrote one of the narrative strands from the point of view of a child, Adam. Until then, I got to know my adult characters through a kind of osmosis: absorbing, rather than inventing, their wholly imagined lives. So, I thought, having been a child myself, won’t writing Adam be as much about memory as imagination? Mightn’t it be a little easier?

It wasn’t. Writing Adam taught me that there is no generic ‘child’s view’ of anything. Childhood isn’t one thing or even a thing at all. There are writers who know this more profoundly than I, who capture childhoods in all their complex, fragmented, puzzling variations. Here are five of them, whose children rise off the page and enter the heart.

The Slave Girl

By Buchi Emecheta,

Book cover of The Slave Girl

The transatlantic slave trade was, historically, the most organized and sophisticated system of dependence, but it was not the only form of enslavement. In Africa, prior to it, and even proceeding it, were systems of bondage. This is the heart of Emecheta’s novel: set in the early 20th century, it tells the story of a young Igbo woman who loses her parents and is then sold into slavery. As characteristic of Emecheta, it is beautifully written and developed in characterization. Specifically, what I love about this novel is its perspective on the African female in situations that are physical, psychological, and cultural enslavement. 


Who am I?

I am a scholar of African and African American literature with interests in the cultures, histories, and philosophies of Africa and the diaspora. Currently, I teach and research at Texas A&M University. The history of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacies are huge components of my current research; it is also the topic of my doctoral research which I completed in 2017 at The School of Oriental African Studies (SOAS), The University of London. 


I wrote...

Spectres from the Past: Slavery and the Politics of "History" in West African and African-American Literature

By Portia Owusu,

Book cover of Spectres from the Past: Slavery and the Politics of "History" in West African and African-American Literature

What is my book about?

Historical memory of slavery in the US is controversial, but undeniable. This is largely due to the plethora of scholarship on the subject. This is not the same, however, in Africa, where an incalculable number of people were forcibly deported and enslaved in the New World. The obvious link between the past and the present in African American literature and popular discourses appears missing in Africa. Thus, the conclusion is: in Africa, there is no historical memory of slavery. 

My book contends with this thesis. It provides a reading of selected West African narratives to note unique and specific ways that African writers remember and articulate the enduring legacy of slavery and how these both diverge and converge with perspectives in African American narratives. 

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