Sometimes it’s hard to decide which is more comforting—eating food or reading novels. My trick to finding that blissful meeting point of the two is reading African stories developed around the idea of food.
There are different ways of thinking about the relationship between food and stories. I remember reading Chris Abani’s Graceland many years ago. Everyone around me—friends, colleagues—kept praising the book for its searing representation of slum life in Lagos. But what I found memorable about the novel was the collection of recipes it contained. Woven into the story are recipes written in the style of an incantation. I found this seemingly insignificant aspect of the novel powerfully evocative. That was when I first began thinking seriously about the place of food in African fiction.
In a novel like Graceland, food is integrated into the narrative structure of the story. Food can also be used to alert the reader to changes in the moods of characters as we find in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and J. M. Coetzee’s Michael K? In novels like Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, food is used more as a metaphor for the colonial world.
The list below is made up of novels where food plays a much more dominant role, where food has a thematic presence.
The list contains an irresistibly delicious menu of novels. Just about any kind of novel you might want is on there—erotica, mystery, crime, highbrow, lowbrow.
Feel free to leave any additional titles of African food fiction in the comment area.
Okay, I’ll let you dig in!
(The synopsis of the novels are drawn from amazon.com)
1. Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew (2015)
Tannie Maria (Tannie meaning Auntie, the respectful Afrikaans address for a woman older than you) is a middle-aged widow who likes to cook—and eat. She shares her culinary love as a recipe columnist for the local paper—until The Gazette decides its readers are hungrier for advice on matters of the heart rather than ideas for lunch and dinner. Tannie Maria doesn’t like the change, but soon discovers she has a knack—and a passion—for helping people…When a woman is murdered, Tannie Maria becomes dangerously entwined in the investigation, despite the best efforts of one striking detective determined to keep her safe. Suddenly, this practical, down-to-earth woman is involved in something much more sinister than perfecting her chocolate cake recipe.
2. How to Cook Your Husband the African Way by Calixthe Beyala (2013)
How to Cook Your Husband the African Way is the story of a woman who falls in love with her neighbour, the dashing and delicious Mr Bolobolo. Bolobolo has issues, however. He chases far too many girls and lives with his mother who expects visitors from outer space. She also talks to her chicken. The heroine, Aissatou, wants a husband who is also a lover. Remembering her mother’s wisdom and the traditions of Africa, she sets out to cook her way to his heart. But it will take more than exotically cooked fish to make Bolobolo a proper man. The book tells a magical but contemporary romance. It paints a colourful picture of those in the heroine’s block of flats including the fat concierge whose husband no longer loves her and Top Floor Tantrum.
3. Death By Carbs by Paige Nick (2015)
When someone kills dieting guru, Professor Tim Noakes, Detective Bennie September has more suspects than solutions. It’s not a whodunit, it’s a who-donut. Banting culture, otherwise known as the HFLC lifestyle (high fat, low carb), spearheaded by Professor Tim Noakes, has exploded in South Africa and is soon to hit the world…In this hilarious novel, Paige Nick prods and pokes at both the fans and the detractors of South Africa’s biggest dieting craze. So whatever side of the debate you fall on, you’ll find something to laugh at. This laugh-out-loud novel will have you spurting bulletproof coffee out your nose.
Through the personal story of Yasmin’s family, food, and recipes they’ve shared together, The Settler’s Cookbook tells the history of Indian migration to the UK via East Africa. Her family was part of the mass exodus from India to East Africa during the height of British imperial expansion, fleeing famine and lured by the prospect of prosperity under the empire. In 1972, expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, they moved to the UK, where Yasmin has made her home with an Englishman. The food she cooks now combines the traditions and tastes of her family’s hybrid history. Here you’ll discover how shepherd’s pie is much enhanced by sprinkling in some chilli, Victoria sponge can be enlivened by saffron and lime, and the addition of ketchup to a curry can be life–changing.
A contemporary, multi-cultural novel that tells the story of Faye Bonsu, a pasta-loving, underachieving PA whose upbringing in leafy Hampstead, London has given her little opportunity to understand her African heritage. Her less than successful attempts to be seen as more than a cultural lightweight take Faye on a journey back to her native Ghana, where she finds love, culture galore and the confidence to fulfil her potential. From Pasta to Pigfoot explores in a light-hearted way the clash of cultures in this modern, multicultural world.
Post image by Jonas Weckschmied via Flickr