Africa Reading Challenge

In recent years I’ve become increasingly interested in reading books dealing with Africa, and so I present the Africa Reading Challenge.

Participants commit to read – in the course of 2008 – six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues. (Read more if you like!)

You can read whatever you want, but of the six books, I recommend a mixture of genres. For example, you might select books from each of the following:

  1. Fiction (novels, short stories, poetry, drama)
  2. Memoir / autobiography
  3. History and current events

I also recommend reading books from at least 3 different countries. The challenge is for 2008, but if you feel like jumping in now: karibu sana!

If you would like to participate, here are the steps:

  1. Write a post on your blog with a preliminary (or final) list of books to read for the challenge. The list can be partial. Reply on this page with the name you would like to use and the link to the list (not to the blog in general). I will put the names and links on a list on this page. [If you don’t have a blog, you can give me the list by replying at the bottom of this page and – see step 2 – the reviews and I will post them on my blog.]
  2. When you read a book, write a review of it and post it on your blog. Then – once again – reply on this page with your blog-name and the book you are reviewing [e.g., “Dave (Things Fall Apart by Achebe / Nigeria)”] with a link to the review.

This is an exciting opportunity to share our experiences from a continent with a rich but often unread (in the West) literary tradition. Don’t worry if you live in a place without lots of African literature. Some authors are available in most places (Achebe, Coetzee), and there’s always inter-library loan.

If you are looking for ideas, here is a list of the 100 best African books of the 20th century, collected at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (many of the books in other languages are available in translation; just search for the author). Here are some of my favorite books dealing with Africa. I will be posting regularly about my experience with the challenge on my main blog page. [If you don’t have a blog, people are also posting about the challenge over at Shelfari.]

If you care to venture into the heavier non-fiction (on average), Chris Blattman has two lists of recommended reading: one and two.

Participants and their reading lists

  1. Dave
  2. Ex Libris
  3. Caribousmom
  4. Alisia
  5. Pages turned
  6. Callista
  7. Sarah
  8. Logophile
  9. Filip
  10. Christine (no list yet, but committed)
  11. Equiano
  12. Saralee
  13. Beth (no list yet, but committed)
  14. 3M
  15. Rebekah
  16. John Ness
  17. Pernille
  18. Tumwijuke
  19. Tracy
  20. Scarlett Lion
  21. Bee
  22. Rob Crilly
  23. Chris
  24. Angela
  25. Amani
  26. JMac
  27. BloomLikeFlowers
  28. Zhiv
  29. Andrew
  30. Matthew
  31. Ms Four
  32. Tanya and her private list🙂
  33. Joe
  34. Susan
  35. Nin
  36. Tiny’s Mom
  37. Sackrosanct
  38. The Wordy Gecko
  39. Belle
  40. elgoose
  41. Leslie
  42. Dave at Mumble Herder
  43. Hannah
  44. Everyday Idealist
  45. RaiderGirl3
  46. Natasha
  47. La Lucuma
  48. Judy – aka The Intergalactic Bookworm (committed but no list yet)
  49. Kate: The Friendliest Girl in Town
  50. Tristan
  51. Hedge
  52. Titilayo
  53. Mwesigye Gumisiriza
  54. Scavella
  55. You’re next!

Links to participant reviews (some of the participants haven’t posted their lists but are still posting their reviews: welcome either way!)

  1. Sarah (So Long a Letter / Senegal)
  2. Alisia (Links / Somalia)
  3. Beachlover (Mandela, Mobutu, and Me / Southern & Central Africa)
  4. Dave (Purple Hibiscus / Nigeria)
  5. Katie (Long Walk to Freedom / South Africa)
  6. Dave (A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier / Sierra Leone)
  7. Saralee (Emma’s War / Sudan) [she read it before the challenge, but she just wrote the review]
  8. Beachlover (The In-Between World of Vikram Lall / Kenya)
  9. Wendy (The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur / Sudan)
  10. Wendy (The Life and Times of Michael K / South Africa)
  11. Alisia (The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur / Sudan)
  12. Dave (The Beggars’ Strike / Senegal)
  13. Tracy (Half of a Yellow Sun / Nigeria)
  14. Logophile (Salt & Honey / southern Africa)
  15. Rob (The Pickup, by Nadine Gordimer / South Africa)
  16. Tracy (King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild / Democratic Republic of the Congo)
  17. Amani (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller / Zimbabwe)
  18. Sarah (Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o / Aburiria)
  19. 3m (The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur, by Daoud Hari / Sudan)
  20. 3m (The Life & Times of Michael K, by J.M. Coetzee / South Africa)
  21. Sarah (Last Orders at Harrods, by Michael Holman / Kuwisha) – Hey Sarah, how about reading a book that takes place in a real African country?!
  22. Ugandan Insomniac (The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo, by Ernesto Che Guevara)
  23. Ugandan Insomnica (Tips of Ugandan Culture: A Visitor’s Guide – renamed by the reviewer 30 Minutes of Agony, by Shirley Byakutaaga) – this review is pretty funny
  24. Amani (Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil, by John Ghazvinian)
  25. Rob Crilly (Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis, by Gerald Hanley)
  26. Lynn (West With the Night, by Beryl Markham)
  27. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe / Nigeria (Lynn from Sin City to Slaterville)
  28. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa, by Stephanie Nolan (JMac)
  29. What Is the What, by Dave Eggers / Sudan (Natasha)
  30. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza / Rwanda (Natasha)
  31. The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memory of Darfur, by Daoud Hari / Sudan (Natasha)
  32. Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe by Martin Meredith / Zimbabwe (Amani)
  33. Abyssinian Chronicles, by Moses Isegawa / Uganda (Hannah)
  34. In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar / Libya (Raidergirl3)
  35. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa, by Stephanie Nolan (Raidergirl3)
  36. No Place Left to Bury the Dead: Denial, Despair, and Hope in the African AIDS Pandemic, by Nicole Itano / Lesotho, South Africa, and Botswana (Amani)
  37. Love in the Driest Season: A Family Memoir, by Neely Tucker / Zimbabwe (Amani)
  38. Sometimes When It Rains: Writings By South African Women / South Africa (Ugandan Insomniac)
  39. The Translator, by Leila Aboulela / Sudan (Sarah) – finally, a review of a book called The Translator that takes place in Sudan that isn’t about Darfur (see 9, 11, 19, and 31 above)
  40. Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangaremba / Zimbabwe (Nin Harris)
  41. Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o / Aburiria (Magic Man)
  42. A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul (Rob Crilly)
  43. Coconut, by Kopano Matlwa / South Africa (La Lucuma)
  44. The Syringa Tree, by Pamela Gien / South Africa (La Lucuma)
  45. Before I Forget, by Andre Brink / South Africa (La Lucuma)
  46. The Uncertainty of Hope, by Valerie Tagwira / Zimbabwe (La Lucuma)
  47. The Translator, by Leila Aboulela / Sudan (Kate)
  48. Measuring Time, by Helon Habila / Nigeria (Amani)
  49. Waiting for an Angel, by Helon Habila / Nigeria (Ms Four)
  50. Olive Schreiner, by Ruth First and Ann Scott / South Africa (Zhiv)
  51. Challenge of the Barons, by Lekan Are / Nigeria (Magic Man)
  52. The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa’s Most Wanted, by Matthew Green / Uganda (Rob Crilly)
  53. Paradise, by Mike Resnick / Kenya (sort of) (La Lucuma)
  54. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad / Congo (elgoose)
  55. Chameleon Days, by Tim Bascom / Ethiopia (Kate)
  56. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe / Nigeria (elgoose)
  57. Mine Boy, by Peter Abraham / South Africa (Angela)
  58. Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan / Nigeria, Gabon, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya (Amani): “If you are looking for a super depressing book to read, then look no further… It’s obvious that Mr. Akpan is a tremendous talent.”
  59. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith / Botswana (Alisia)
  60. The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al Aswany (tr. Humphrey Davies) / Egypt (Alisia)
  61. No Longer At East, by Chinua Achebe / Nigeria (elgoose)
  62. The Fate of Africa, by Martin Meredith (Hedgie)
  63. Measuring Time, by Helon Habila / Nigeria (Ugandan Insomniac)
  64. Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe’s Future / Zimbabwe (Codrin)
  65. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe / Nigeria (Raider Girl)
  66. Road to Freedom, by Lucilda Hunter / Sierra Leone (Tristan)
  67. The Feud and Other Stories, by R. Sarif Easmon / Sierra Leone (Tristan)
  68. We Killed Mangy-Dog and Other Mozambique Stories, by Luis Bernardo Honwana / Mozambique (Heraclitean Fire)
  69. Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, by Peter Godwin / Zimbabwe (Ms. Four)
  70. A is for Africa, by Ifeoma Onyefulu (Callista)
  71. African Psycho, by Alain Mabancko / Congo-Brazzaville (Callista)
  72. Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali / Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya (JMac)
  73. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch / Rwanda (Angela)
  74. What Is The What, by Dave Eggers / Sudan (Sarah)
  75. I Didn’t Do It For You, by Michaela Wrong / Eritrea (Scarlett Lion)
  76. When Things Fell Apart: State Failure in Late-Century Africa, by Robert Bates (Dave)
  77. What Is The What, by Dave Eggers / Sudan (Angela)
  78. Purple Hibiscus, by Adichie / Nigeria (Scavella)
  79. Aya, by Abouet / Cote d’Ivoire (Scavella) I’ve wanted to read this since seeing an author interview on Bookslut
  80. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, by Lalami / Morocco (Scavella)
  81. Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions, by Peter Mugyenyi / Uganda (Scarlett Lion)
  82. Beyond the Horizon, by Amma Darko / Ghana (Ms Four)
  83. The Libyan Paradox, by Luis Martinez / Libya (Codrin Arsene)
  84. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe / Nigeria (3m)
  85. The Only Road North, by Erik Mirandette / multiple countries (3m)
  86. The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene / Sierra Leone (Tristan)
  87. The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War, by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva / South Africa (Angela)
  88. African Philosophy: The Essential Readings, edited by Tsenay Serequeberhan (Nin Harris)
  89. Capitalist Nigger, The Road to Success: A Spiderweb Doctrine, by Chika A. Onyeani (D. Mwesigye Gumisiriza)
  90. The Translator, by Daoud Hari / Sudan (JMac)
  91. My Mercedes Is Bigger Than Yours, by Nkem Nwanko / Nigeria (Equiano)
  92. Toward an Angola Strategy: Prioritizing US-Angola Relations, from the Council of Foreign Relations / Angola (Codrin Arsene)
  93. All Things Must Fight To Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo / DRC (Scarlett Lion)
  94. Apollo Milton Obote: What Others Say, edited by ?? / Uganda (Mwesigye Gumisiriza)
  95. Autumn Quail, by Naguib Mahfouz / Egypt (Equiano)
  96. Everything Good Will Come, by Sefi Atta / Nigeria (Ms Four)
  97. Mating, by Norman Rush / Botswana (Ms Four)
  98. The White Masai, by Corinne Hofmann / Kenya (Angela)
  99. All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo, by Bryan Mealer / DRC (Amani)
  100. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Adichie / Nigeria (Biafra) (Heraclitean Fire)
  101. The Wah-Wah Diaries, by Grant / Swaziland (Heraclitean Fire)
  102. Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote, by Kourouma / Republique du Golfe (fictional) (Heraclitean Fire)
  103. Told by Starlight in Chad, by Seid / Chad (Heraclitean Fire)
  104. An African in Greenland, by Kpomassie / Togo-Greenland (Heraclitean Fire)
  105. Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone, by Dugard / all over (Rob Crilly)
  106. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Adichie / Nigeria (Biafra) (D. Mwesigye Gumisiriza)
  107. God’s Bits of Wood, by Ousmane / Senegal and thereabouts (Hedgie)
  108. So Long a Letter, by Ba / Senegal (Nin Harris)
  109. An African Popular Literature: A Study of Onitsha Market Pamphlets, by Obiechina / Nigeria (Nin Harris)
  110. Song for Night, by Abani / Nigeria (Nin Harris)
  111. Harvest of Thorns, by Chinodya / Zimbabwe (Hedgie)

207 thoughts on “Africa Reading Challenge

  1. Caribousmom, Welcome! and thanks for sharing the Challenge on your blog. I’ll be excited to see your (initial) list. (I suspect my list may be changing as time goes on…)

  2. I really enjoyed “What is the What” by Dave Eggers. I’m excited to learn more about Africa in 2008. Here’s a question for you, Dave — do the “Ladies Detective Agency” books fit the list? If so I have Botswana already covered. Also, I don’t have a blog so I’ll send you my reviews. Thanks for putting this together!

  3. Hey dave — here is my first review. Can you add my goodreads feed here or should i just post directly to you?

    My review for Nelson Mandela’s autobiography: Long Walk to Freedom

    Wow. I am in awe. I just completed this book and am blown away at what an amazing man Mr. Mandela is. What can you say about the man who gave up his small freedoms, but nonetheless his life and his family’s life, and gave it all to his country to ensure that all who live there – black and white – can live there with freedom and equality?

    I did not know what to expect about his autobiography and definitely was not sure I could get through the entire book (it’s over 600 pages). I thought I would get through maybe a 1/3 of it – but the politics of it all would bore me by then and I’d put it down to read “another day”. Boy was I wrong! I read this book in less than a week! I could not put it down. I was totally moved by Mr. Mandela and his trials and struggles. I am amazed at how he is always able to find the best in people – even those who were trying to break him. His life is one of courage, determination and sheer will. What a sacrifice he and his cohorts made for their country.

    I highly recommend this book, and like other reviewers, feel that everyone should be required to read this. If we were all like Mr. Mandela – there would be a lot more peace and hard working people in the world. Did anyone else who read this feel inspired to work out after reading that even when jailed he ran in place for an hour, did fingertip push ups and sit ups to keep in shape? I love it. He is amazing in all sense of the word.

    Hope you and D and the boys are doing well. Miss you guys! – KT

  4. Katie,

    Ha! I picked up on some of the same things in this amazing book. Now that i sometimes take the metro to work, i was tempted to try the mandela workout but friends warned that i might get arrested. and i really appreciated his candor about the sacrifices that he made with regard to his family in able to serve his country. I hope I can let his example change me as it should!

    We miss you too! I went to my new book club yesterday, and it just doesn’t compare to the old California crew.

  5. I just left a message in the post “One of my new favorite writers: Daina Chaviano”, recommending a new novel by this author to tukopamoja, who had enjoyed reading two novels by this Miami-based Cuban-American author.

    Now I discover you have this interesting group reading novels with African-related subjects. It just happens that the novel I recommended (La isla de los amores infinitos) deals with African migration/slavery/love issues. It will be released in English as “The Island of Eternal Love”, in June this year. Look for more info in Amazon and Wikipedia, searching for “The Island of Eternal Love”.

  6. I know I am not supposed to leave reviews on books I have already read, but I just have to do it anyways (and it is not on my list, so I am not compromising the 6 books on the list). E

    mma’s War by Deborah Scroggins is a very fascinating and good introduction to Sudan, and in particular the long civil war between the north and the south, that ended with the Comprehensiv Peace Agreement in January 2005. Deborah Scroggins really know her Sudan and is a lot more tuned into Sudan than most Western readers trying to grip this huge and complex country, I think.

    Emma McCune was an English aid worker that went to Sudan to work on Operation Lifeline Sudan, one of the biggest humanitarian aid operations in the world. She started working with education and street children (that a war torn country is full of) and somehow met one of the leaders of the SPLM, the Southern Sudanese guerilla that was fighting the north/regime during the war, Dr Riek Machar and thus getting herself straight into the war and all its complexities.

    It is very exciting, even for someone who’s not been to Sudan, and it gives you a pretty good view of Sudan as well as the huge aid industry, with nothing being all black or white, no one being only perpetrator or victim. I read the book years ago, way before I started working with Sudan, so I just had to reread it. I enjoyed the read tremendously, knowing a lot more about the country, about the fighting, the intrigues, the cultures etc. Riek Machar is today the vice president of semi-autonomous soutehrn Sudan and one of the lost boys, the ones that walked to refugee camps in Ethiopia to get education and winded up in military camps, is a friend of mine. He keeps a copy of Emma’s war at home, to remind him of what really happened.

    Good night,

  7. I am excited to be a part of this challenge and have already started to look at the books I will be reading or anticipate reading. I don’t have a blog and don’t feel I can get one started at this time(time restraints at the moment to keep one current or active). However, I do want to join in and will post my reviews at my Yahoo! group. Is that okay, along with the list of books I will be reading.

  8. Deldiva,

    Of course, you are very welcome to participate in whatever capacity. If there is a way for me to link to your yahoo group, then that’s super. if not, then also feel free to post your list and reviews as comments here and I can link to those. (or both)


  9. Cool idea! You might want to add some stranger stuff like Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and The Shadow Speaker by Okorafor-Mbachu (I forget the author’s first name).

  10. What a great idea! I’m in, and my (preliminary, may change later) list is at <a href=”””.

  11. Picky, picky on the “real Africa” comment. David, may I remind you that you were the one that passed on both of those recommendations🙂

    I’ll try to diversify a bit for my next one.

  12. This is a book (you can read online) that has summaries and excerpts from 99 books about Africa. It might be a good resource for people trying to figure out which books to pick. It was published in 2007 so it might not include people’s favorite books from recent years.,M1

    My list is at:

  13. I think I’d like to join in. I’ve a few on the old tbr list that would count, and even trying to read more set in Africa should count to, right?
    It might take me a bit to get a list posted, but I’ll start counting now any books I read, as I just started reading 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa, so it will count!

    I’ll come back with a linkable post when it’s ready.

  14. I just found out about this challenge–can we use books we’ve already read in 2008 for the challenge? Last month I read A Long Way Gone (Sierra Leone) and if I join I’d like to use it. 🙂 Thanks.

  15. My third review for the Africa Reading Challenge.

    No Longer at Ease, by Chinua Achebe

    As I explain in the review, this was not on my original list, but I got interested in reading it after I enjoyed Things Fall Apart so much. This challenge has already been its own reward to me.

  16. Is it too late to join in? I’ve just found this site and announcement, but it fits in perfectly with reading I’ve been doing recently.

  17. I am entering the Africa Reading Challenge and I hereby submit my list of books that I will review.

    1. Capitalist Nigger, by Chika Onyeani (finished reading and wrote a review, which I will post my blog soon)

    2. Apollo Milton Obote: What Others Say. Obote the Hero…the Villain…the Victim…the Mixed Bag, edited by Omongole R. Anguria, xiv+211 pgs, Fountain Publishers, Kampala (finished reading, writing review)

    3. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 541 pgs, Anchor Books, New York (just started reading)

    4. The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski ( read it some time ago, will re-read it for this challenge)

    5 & 6 (to be determined)

  18. Second report here:
    difficult to report on but easy to read.

    I have to say that I’ve read more books on Africa but haven’t been moved to write the report. These include, Angry Wind by Jeffrey Taylor, Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb, and War in Darfur and the Search for Peace by Julie Flint (which was great but in immense detail). Infidel was very moving and I enjoyed it truly.

  19. My comments seem to have been intercepted by Akismet for too many links.

    I’ve posted one review, which you can find for yourselves (I have tried to link to it several times and the comments never show up) through my blog (linked in my name) and am writing another.

    Is there a group for this challenge on Library Thing?

  20. Hi, I’ve been a little behind in writing reviews and I kept modifying my list, but more reviews to come! Here’s a non-fiction review of African Philosophy: The Essential Readings, edited by Tsenay Serequeberhan. (yes, I cheated a little since it’s part of my readings for research, but anything I post will be cheating anyway considering my phd focus, heh)

  21. I have completed Half of the Yellow Sun and embarked on reading They Built for the Future by Margaret MacPherson (a history of Makerere University 1922-1962) as my book #5

    A review of #3 will be up next week. May change book from Shadow of the Sun to something else. Keep you posted

  22. My third review: So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ (Senegal)

    I’m reading my last book for the challenge now (An African Popular Literature: A Study of Onitsha Market Pamphlets by Emmanuel Obiechina), and need to write reviews for the other two that I’ve read. Which means, 3 more reviews coming soon, hopefully.

    Oh, and I’ve managed to cover three or more countries, for this challenge. Yay! (Senegal, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, plus African Philosophy covers more than one nation)

  23. Gah. I’ve read everything already but have not put up my last review yet – “The Palm Wine Drinkard”. Which is so ironic because it was the first one I read. I’m pretty sick right now but I’m going to put it up soon. Just wanted to thank you for this fabulous challenge.

  24. Reviews for “Delivered from the Powers of Darkness” by Emmanuel Eni and “They Built for the Future” by Margaret McPherson posted on the blog [] under 31st December 2008, which post will be published asap. So, I have successfully finished the Africa Reading Challenge….thanks for the initiative. What is there for 2009?

  25. Wish I had come across this much, much earlier. I could have participated, as I tend to read at least one book per month either by an African writer, or about Africa. Another time, as we say here…

    1. The challenge is no longer really active, I’m afraid. But if you do reviews, definitely post links to the reviews in comments here. We still get lots of hits on this page.

  26. What is the purpose of the author for When Rain Clouds Gather? because I cannot find it. The author of When Rain Clouds Gather is Bessie Head. I need the information about that for my thesis.. Please help me.. ^^ thank you..

  27. If you are still up dating your list, i request you to also include my title the was released last year, ‘Mary Anita and the Second Liberation in Kenya’ By Milton O. Esitubi

    1. Dear sir, I am not actively updating the list but it is still visited, so your comment will alert people to this interesting book.

  28. I am a 7th grade teacher in NC and came across your site while researching some information about Africa for my history class this year. I just wanted to thank you for the great information and articles about Africa.

    We would love it if you could write a few articles for us, but I understand if your busy so a link to some of the current articles would be very helpful as well to help us spread trusted resources to other teachers. I have included a link to the site in case you would like to help us out by linking to it, tweeting it, or adding it to your Facebook profile.

    Thanks and keep the great resources coming

    Brook Sobey

    1. Dear Brook, Thanks so much for your comment. My interests have shifted such that now I am mostly working on Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, although many countries in Africa are very dear to me. Best of luck! – Magic Man

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