bessie head quote

… because it’s not always about roses and sunshine, here’s a reading list this Valentine’s. Call it a reminder that with love, often also comes heartbreak. Thankfully, in African literature this heartbreak leads to some of the most beautiful texts. In their own way, these texts celebrate true love by showing us the risks and complications of love and romance.

There are of course many more African stories about heartbreak than what has been included in this list. If you want more, check out #LoveinLiteraryAfrica — ‘A Valentine’s Day’s Reading List‘ — that was started by Grace Musila last February.

It is really and truly a beautiful list giving us even more of African literature’s great and tragic love affairs, including Olanna and Odenigbo in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, Ifemelu and Ceiling in Adichie’s Americanah, Syreeta and Furo in A. Igoni Barett’s Blackass, Xuma and Eliza in Peter Abraham’s Mine Boy.

Chewing Gum by Mansour Bushnaf

This is more than a love story, but at the heart of Chewing Gum are two young lovers – Muktar who was abandoned by his love, Fatma. He waits in a neglected park for ten years for her to return. In that time, the world around him changes, including Fatma who enters a life of prostitution.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

There are many heartbreaking scenes in Homegoing, many of which also include lovers who are either brutally separated or forbidden to be together. The latter is Quey and Cudjo’s story in late eighteenth century Ghana. Quey, the bi-racial son of Effia Otcher and James Collins, and Cudjo – the son of the chief of a prominent Fante village – become good friends as kids. Over time this friendship develops into something more, but it’s never quite explored. As James – frightened of his son’s sexuality – sends him to boarding school in England.

London Cape Town Joburg by Zukiswa Wanner

Heartbreak doesn’t always have to be between two lovers — as revealed in LCTJ, which begins with the most heartbreaking of sentences:

‘Zuko Spencer-O’Malley is dead. Dead via suicide. At the tender age of thirteen. My son is dead.’

Understanding how and why Zuko commits suicide requires following his parents – Martin O’Malley (a black South African man) and Germaine Spencer (an English woman), and their 17 year love and relationship, which spans 3 cities: London, Cape Town and Jo’burg. Then there is the question of life after the loss of a child – something we never get to experience in this book, but where do two people who love each other as much as Martin and Germaine do go after something so tragic?


Night Dancer by Chika Unigwe

A Nigerian Madam’s worst nightmare comes true in Night Dancer. It’s 1970s Nigeria and while Ezi and Mike are clearly in love, they have also been trying for years to conceive a child. When Ezi finally does, it’s a girl! What does Mike go and do? Well, he has an affair with their teenage maid, Rapu, who gives him the male-heir he so desires. Heartbroken and deeply betrayed by Mike, Ezi doesn’t stay and accept Rapu as the second wife. Instead, she walks out of her marriage and chooses to raise her daughter alone.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

In Stay With Me, heartbreak comes in many different forms — between a husband and a wife, but also between a mother and her children. For Yejide and Akin, it was pretty much love at first sight, but there’s only so much love can do – especially after being married a few years, being unable to conceive, and facing immense pressure from the family. So in comes a second wife — courtesy of said family – to do what Yejide is supposedly unable to do: give Akin a child. A second wife, which Akin agrees to. A second wife, which leads to Yejide having a phantom pregnancy. There is, of course more, heartbreak — especially for Yejide, which makes you wonder – how much pain and sorrow can one person handle?


The Stone Virgins by Yvonne Vera

I would label the love story between Thenjiwe and Cephas more painful and tragic, than heartbreaking. Cephas Dube has just gotten off the bus in Kezi — here only for a short while. A chance encounter with Thejinwe at the Thandabantu store leads to a passionate love affair between the two of them. That is until Thejinwe becomes emotionally distant, and Cephas eventually leaves. Years later, Thenjiwe is brutally murdered by the soldier Sibaso — who also rapes and mutilates her sister, Nonceba. Upon hearing the news of Thenjiwe’s death – Cephas returns to Kezi, and helps her heal. Yet, Cephas and Nonceb’as relationship is constantly affected by Thenjwe – who both in their own ways continue to mourn.



Post image by Kevar Whilby via Upsplash

About the Author:

portrait-zahrarZahrah is the founder and editor of bookshy –- a blog that celebrates and recognizes African literature, and the curator of ABC – a visual showcase of African book covers. With a doctorate in Human Geography and Urban Studies from the London School of Economics, when Zahrah isn’t blogging about her first love (African literature), she works for a social development firm as a consultant on women’s economic empowerment.




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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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