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Image by Zahrah Nesbit-Ahmed via Bookshy Blog

Zahrah Nesbit-Ahmed truly has a heart spellbound by books. The brilliant curator of Bookshy blog recently shared the road map of an epic literary adventure she plans on taking into the universe of African books.

She was inspired by Book Riot’s Global Reading List to assemble a one-of-a-kind catalogue containing one book selected from each country in Africa. How cool is that!

What is even more exciting is that the list is also a challenge. Instead of only including books she’d read—and she has read A WHOLE LOT—she decided to make the list an aspirational project by including only books she wanted to read.

This list is perfect for a few reasons. First, it challenges the dominance of Nigerian and South African books in the global literary market. It’s a great way to get acquainted with writings from other parts of the continent that are not being well represented in the mainstream literary market.

Secondly, it enriches our knowledge of African literature. Many readers consider themselves well-read in African literature but do not know of one Cape Verdean author or have any knowledge of Gambian poetry. Nesbit-Ahmed’s list brings the diversity of the continent’s literary tradition into focus.

Third, it is excellent resource for reading lists and bookclubs.

Here are the first 8 entries in the collection. Click here to see the full list.


Algeria – Women of Algiers in their Apartment by Assia Djebar

A collection of three long stories, three short ones, and a theoretical postface depicting the plight of urban Algerian women who have thrown off the shackles of colonialism only to face a postcolonial regime that denies and subjugates them even as it celebrates the liberation of men.

Angola – Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret by Ondjaki

Set in Luanda – on the beaches, the Soviets are building a grand mausoleum in honour of the Comrade President, but the construction of this mausoleum will necessitate the demolition of the houses around the beach. With the help of his friends Charlita and Pi, and with assistance from Dr. Rafael KnockKnock, the Comrade Gas Jockey, the amorous Gudafterov, crazy Sea Foam, and a ghost, our young hero must decide exactly how much trouble he’s willing to face to keep his Granma safe in Bishop’s Beach.

Benin  – Rice Keepers by Rashida Ismaili Abubakr

A full-length play in eleven scenes, set in the village of Nimba. The play centres on historical events of the past, particularly a massacre in the village where the farmers are most noted for their rice culture. The Keeper of the Seeds, a female elder, who refuses to sell or give rice to the French during WW2, is beheaded as she attempts to protect the rice harvest and seeds. Her head is never found and because tradition calls for all to be returned to The Creator whole, her assistants continue the ritual of growing rice but never stop grieving for her.

Botswana – A Question of Power by Bessie Head*

It is never clear to Elizabeth whether the mission principal’s cruel revelations of her origins is at the bottom of her mental breakdown, but in the dark loneliness of the Botswanan night, the frightened South African refugee slips in and out of sanity.

Burkina Faso – The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo

The novel portrays a fictional West African nation named Watinbow led by President Gouama, a man of demonic energy and greed. Toppled in a coup d’etat, he must now confront the people of Watinbow, whom he has betrayed. This rare insight into the psychology of a corrupt African leader will help readers understand the nightmare of contemporary Africa.

Burundi – Baho! by Roland Rugero*

When Nyamuragi, an adolescent mute, attempts to ask a young woman in rural Burundi for directions to an appropriate place to relieve himself, his gestures are mistaken as premeditation for rape. To the young woman’s community, his fleeing confirms his guilt, setting off a chain reaction of pursuit, mob justice, and Nyamuragi’s attempts at explanation.

Cape Verde – Chiquinho by Baltasar Lopes da Silva (no English translation)

Chiquinho is named after the nickname of the island of São Nicolau in which the characters originated and re-creates the experiences of a Cape Verdean who grows up to understand that, in his land, life is a prolonged tragedy given meaning by the assertion of human courage, unselfishness, and dignity.

Cameroon – How to Cook Your Husband the African Way by Calixthe Beyala

Miss Aissatou lives in Paris, close to The Bastille. When she falls for her neighbour, Mr Bolobolo, she uses ancient African techniques to cast a gastronomic love spell and prise him away from two lurking rivals: his mother and his mistress.


Click here to see the remaining 46 books on the list.

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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.

One Response to “Zahrah Nesbit-Ahmed Charts an Epic Adventure into African Books” Subscribe

  1. John Stewart 2018/02/22 at 12:22 #

    This is a brilliant idea. Alas that so much is out of print. My own idea (an idea in the works) is to try to get much more african literature – especially recent stuff, published in Africa – available to young people in my country Zimbabwe. I have read work by 17 of these authors, and actually seven of the books listed. French Portuguese and arabic origin books are sometimes available in translation. But when will we have an African writers series based in, controlled by and oriented for the future of our whole continent???

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