Africa is diverse and rich, both culturally and ethnically. It’s, therefore, no surprise that African literature is equally multifaceted, rich, and diverse. In this article, you will discover five famous African novels that deal with a range of issues from cultural and social issues to post-war and colonial identity.
5 Must-Read African Novels
Half of a Yellow Sun
Half of a Yellow Sun is written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie has written various novels as well as short stories. Similarly, she has also been nominated for and is the recipient of several awards. These awards include the PEN Beyond Margins Award, PEN Pinter Awards, among others.
In this novel, Adichie takes us through the hope, promise, and disappointment of the Biafran war in Nigeria. Set in the southeastern Nigeria region in the 1960s, Adichie tells this story using five distinctive characters: Ugwu, the 13-year old houseboy working for Odenigbo, a professor at Nsukka University; Olanna, Odenigbo’s beautiful wife; Richard, an English writer who goes to Nigeria to explore art and; is infatuated with Kainene, Olanna’s twin sister.
This novel tells a story of love, loss, hope, and the effects of the Biafran war.
GoodReads.com Reader’s Rating: 4.3
The Secret Lives of the Four Wives
The Secret Lives of the Four Wives is a definite stunner. Written by African-poet Lola Shoneyin, the book was initially titled The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. The story focuses on family strife and sexual politics in modern-day Nigeria.
The story revolves around Shoneyin’s main characters namely Bolanle, Baba Segi, Iya Segi, Iya Femi, and Iya Tope. Married to three wives, Baba Segi is rich and affluent. He lives in a mansion with his wives and seven children. Baba Segi goes ahead to marry Bolanle, a young and well-educated woman as the fourth wife. She ends up uncovering a secret that threatens to cause turmoil in Baba Segi’s household. A secret that has the potential to expose the darkest and deepest secrets of the other wives.
GoodReads.com Reader’s Rating: 4
Petals of Blood
Petals of Blood is among the many books written by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Ngũgĩ is a Kenyan writer and academic who writes most of his work in the Gikuyu language. As a matter of fact, this was the last of Ngũgĩ’s books to be written in the English language first. Published in 1977 in a post-independence Kenya, the novel focuses on four major themes – corruption, capitalism, education, and land.
The novel follows the story of four characters – Abdulla, Karega, Munira, and Wanja – just after the revelation that three prominent Kenyans have been killed. The lives of the four characters become intertwined following the Mau Mau rebellion. The four characters all retreat to Illmorog, a small village, at different points. The characters are forced to deal with the aftermath of the Mau Mau rebellion. In addition, they have to deal with a rapidly, new westernizing Kenya. Ngũgĩ paints a picture of a people frustrated by leaders who continue to fail them again and again.
GoodReads.com Reader’s Rating: 3.9
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born was Ayi Kwei Armah’s debut novel. The novel garnered both positive and negative reviews. Even from fellow writers such as Chinua Achebe. Published in 1968, the novel follows the story of a character knowns as The Man, who grapples to come to terms with himself with the reality of post-independent Ghana.
The upright man works at a railway station and gets an offer for an easy bribe. He turns down the offer. When he turns it down, his wife gets furious at him. Despite being innocent, the man is left feeling guilty. The story takes place in Ghana between 1965 and 1966.
GoodReads.com Reader’s Rating: 3.9
Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is one of the most famous African novels. In his highly-praised African Trilogy, Things Fall Apart is Achebe’s first novel. The novel, published in 1958, tells the story of a pre-colonial Nigeria – with a focus on the South Eastern part – and the onset of European colonial rule in the late 19th century. The fictional story follows Okonkwo, a fearless and wealthy Igbo warrior from the Umuofia clan.
Achebe splits the book into three different parts, with the first focusing on Okonkwo’s personal history, family, and customs of the Igbo people. The second and third parts focus on the influence of Christian missionaries and European colonialism on both Okonkwo, his family and the wider Igbo community. The book explores Okonkwo’s inefficacious resistance to the undervaluing of his community’s traditions by British’s religious and political class and his growing despair as his community succumbs to the new order.
Translated into 57 languages, this widely acclaimed book has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. In this African novel, Achebe is able to uniquely capture both a pre-colonial life, as well as the loss of that world; and what it meant to the Igbo people.
GoodReads.com Reader’s Rating: 3.7