informative books about Africa that aren’t slow reading

A friend asked me for recommendations of books she could read to learn about Africa but not to feel like she’s learning (i.e., not hard reading).  So last night I looked over every book I’ve read either taking place in Africa or written by an African or dealing with Africa over the last five years.  (Here is the complete list, with a capsule review and a rating.)

Here are a few of my favorites among those that are not slow-reading non-fiction (i.e., they’re either fiction or they’re easy – not necessarily light – reading non-fiction):

  • Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie [novel about the Biafran War, Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960s] (my review)
  • What Is the What, Eggers [novelization of the story of a Sudanese refugee, one of the “lost boys of Sudan”] (my review)
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (my review)
  • We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Gourevitch [account of the Rwandan genocide]
  • Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Fuller [memoir of growing up in Rhodesia as it became Zimbabwe]
  • King Leopold’s Ghost, Hochschild [historical account of King Leopold obtaining the Congo as his personal colony and of the fight for human rights there. this one is a little bit slower reading than the novels, but for history it’s not bad]
  • A Man of the People: A Novel of Political Unrest in a New Nation, Achebe [my favorite Achebe book; read it over a weekend!]

If you look at the list, you might notice that Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation (my review) – a novel about child soldiers in West Africa – is also highly rated.  This book really moved me as I read it, but a friend who does lots of research with issues faced by child soldiers soured me on it a bit.

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3 thoughts on “informative books about Africa that aren’t slow reading”

  1. As my work is focused on African women’s history, I read books on Africa all of the time, and won’t be joining this challenge – but it is a great idea! I noted that many of the books being read by participants on this challenge, though certainly interesting and worthy, are by non-Africans, and I wanted to suggest a few more options by African authors. My suggestions: Ousmane Sembene, God’s Bits of Wood (fantastic novel about a railway strike in Senegal); Ellen Kuzwayo, Call Me Woman (South African autobiography); Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood (Nigerian novel, she has written several other novels as well) ; and Doreen Baingana, Tropical Fish:Tales from Entebbe (Ugandan stories). For some further ideas about novels, have a look at the book African Novels in the Classroom, edited by Margaret Jean Hay, which includes essays on 24 novels by African writers. Also, see the Feminist Press publications on Women Writing Africa – they now have three regional volumes (southern, east, and west Africa) – these are extensive compilations are probably too much to read for this challenge, but will introduce you to many wonderful women authors.
    Best of luck to all of you in the challenge, there is an amazing world out there that is too little known to most Americans.

  2. Just found your blog (searching for John Henry effect, ha). I’m glad to find all these reading suggestions. One of my own (on Africa): Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski.

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