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Brittle Paper's Top 15 Debut Books of 2019

Collage of Brittle Paper‘s Top 15 Debut Books of 2019.

Writers love to write about love. Even in the fabric of fundamentally political books are scintillating love stories. These love affairs are sometimes the redeeming quality of the books. Valentine’s Day celebrations has a long history. But as it is today, it is marked as a day to celebrate love in all its forms. This year, we asked these authors which character(s) from a book they’d fallen in love with, and why.

TJ Benson, finalist for The 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction and author of The Madhouse, one of Brittle Paper‘s Anticipated Books of 2020:

Ammu. The God of Small Things. She stood up for herself in spite of the cards life dealt her. She always made some time for a bit of craziness and pursued her forbidden passion even though she knew it wouldn’t end well.

Chike Frankie Edozien, Lambda Award-winning author of Lives of Great Men, Nigeria’s first memoir about LGBTQ life:

Definitely Malik in Leye Adenle’s When Trouble Sleeps. Malik is a Lagos dapper dresser with a devious mind who makes money providing men and women for Lagos and Abuja Big Boys to cheat on their spouses with. I imagine after falling in love with such a hideous, cold, calculating personality, it would be my job to bring the handsome evil one to the light. I imagine that in my fantasies I must be drawn to the imperfect because prior to Malik it was Odenigbo, the sorta-revolutionary in Half of a Yellow Sun. Handsome hirsute and brilliant. Loves his woman but sleeps with his house-girl. Thankfully, my real life is sane and my Valentine is a consistent angel.

Innocent Acan Immaculate, finalist for The 2019 Brittle Paper Anniversary Award and winner of the 2016 Writivism Short Story Award:

Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Well, he obviously fits the romantic hero archetype. Tall, dark, mysterious (any handsomes mentioned here will be tongue-in-cheek). And it will be fiery and passionate and blissfully temporary, because he totally seems like the kind who would entertain a torrid fleeting affair.

Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, author of Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, which won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book and was made into a film:

Hassan Babale (Reza) from Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. I would fall in love with Reza possibly because of how different our life experiences are. His character reminds me of how we live in our cocoons and are often oblivious to the “other” worlds around us. Reza is a charming young man. I admire his blind courage and determination, the goodness of his heart underneath his flaws, and of course his ability to create magic in the bedroom :-).

Logan February, author of three poetry books, including Mannequin in the Nude, one of Brittle Paper‘s Top 15 Debut Books of 2019:

I don’t necessarily believe in or understand the idea of falling “in love” with a fictional character (why is this even a thing?) but the question makes me think of a character named R. in Garth Greenwell’s new novel, Cleanness. R. is the protagonist’s lost love, before and after whom the protagonist—following a childhood with an abusive parent—seeks to perform or receive acts of humiliation and abuse during sex. But with R. it is a fuller, better love. The protagonist describes it in this way: “Sex had never been joyful for me before, or almost never, it had always been fraught with shame and anxiety and fear, all of which vanished at the sight of his smile, simply vanished, it poured a kind of cleanness over everything we did.” I loved that; I thought it was beautiful.

Nnamdi Oguike, author of Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country, one of Brittle Paper‘s Top 15 Debut Books of 2019:

The character I’d likely fall in love with is Germaine in the novel London Cape Town Joburg by Zukiswa Wanner. I love Germaine for her beauty and boldness, her fecund artistic mind (and she makes gorgeous ceramics!), her tenacious commitments to love. And also for her wild and hilarious expressions of romantic affection.

Keletso Mopai, finalist for The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction and author of the story collection If You Keep Digging, one of Brittle Paper‘s Top 15 Debut Books of 2019:

I always tell my close friends that it would be Obinze from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I believe he is a feminist. It is debatable, of course, whether he is one—or if men can actually be feminists. I tend to have long lasting conversations with people like Obinze who are critical and stand their ground. I think his character had a lot to do with his mother, another character I fell in love with in Americanah, her outlook on the world was something I admired and she raised a gallant man who knows how to treat a girl right. I’d fall in love with Ifemelu, too, but we are too similar, and similarity can get boring. So Obinze it is.

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, author of House of Stone, finalist for the 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize and winner of the Edward Standford Travel Writing Award:

Odenigbo aka Master from Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love Odenigbo’s revolutionary spirit. He is a dreamer and a wonderfully astute radical. His conversations, both with his friends and Ugwu, are beautiful and stimulating. I also love how he dotes on Olanna. From the moans Ugwu hears as he eavesdrops on them in their bedroom, Odenigbo is also a great lover. A revolutionary in the streets; a revolutionary in the bedroom!

Innocent Ilo, finalist for the 2017 Short Story Day Africa Prize and the 2019 Gerald Kraak Prize:

Jaja from Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There is something about Jaja; the aching tenderness of his silence, the fierceness of his rebellion, the boundlessness of his heart, the keen eye he uses to observe the world, and how reserved he can be, that makes it Impossible not to fall in love with him. Jaja is a beautiful soul who would stand and speak up for his rights and the rights of the people he loves. 10/10 Will definitely recommend.

Megan Ross, winner of the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction, finalist for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Prize, and author of Milk Fever:

I always rave about Hot Milk by Deborah Levy but here’s why: it features one of the hottest characters in modern literature, Ingrid Bauer. The main character, Sofia Paspastergiadis, first meets Ingrid as a hunter: armed with a miniature bow and arrow, Ingrid is stalking a lizard whose patterns she copies in her embroidery. After sleeping with Sofia, the German seamstress and bad sister beheads a snake in her bedroom before riding off on a horse. She also rescues Sofia from an ocean of medusas (or jellyfish), embroiders the word “beheaded” on a silk blouse and can command hearts as easily as thread. Her appeal? Ingrid is loving but she is also lethal. There is a danger in her past and a mystery in her present. Although she is only one of several crushes in the book, Ingrid is arguably the most beguiling.

Arinze Ifeakandu, finalist for the 2017 Caine Prize and Editor-in Chief of 14:

When I was in secondary school, I fell for Purple Hibiscus‘ Jaja. There was something about him, a deepness, a brooding: I find myself attracted to that, especially married as it is with his devotion to his family.

Hawa Jande Golakai, winner of The 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Creative Nonfiction and a 2019 Morland Writing Scholarship and author of The Lazarus Effect:

Havelock Vetinari, a character created by Terry Pratchett, in my opinion is the sexiest dream and nightmare ever written. Vetinari is tall, overly dark (as in scary) and weirdly handsome. . . not forgetting a bristling intellectual. “Never build a prison for others that you can’t escape yourself.” Swoon😍! He might be out of my league actually.

Olakunle Ologunro, finalist for the 2017 Gerald Kraak Prize and the 2019 Adina-Talve Goodman Fellowship from One Story magazine:

Abike Johnson from The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo. Abike Johnson is the pampered daughter of an ostentatiously wealthy businessman. She is snobbish, snarky, rude—just the kind of character who doesn’t deserve to be loved. Perhaps she knows this too, because her actions show that she does not care if you love her or not, she just lives her life. And I love her for being so gutsy. Abike goes for anything she wants; she is strong-willed, hard-edged, and I think this is a necessary trait if you ever hope to dismantle the patriarchy. It is why I’d fall in love with her again and again, why I’d gladly spend a lifetime trying to earn her love and be considered worthy of her attention.

Roy Udeh Ubaka, finalist for the 2017 Awele Creative Trust Award:

Queenie from the novel of the same name by Candice Carty-Williams. Queenie is a deeply complex and realistic character. Like a bulk of us, she navigates her life dealing with mental health issues and a post-relationship breakdown. But irrespective of the choices she makes, Queenie is a full character with a sense of humor that erupts in my belly and an honesty about her that reminds of Ada in Freshwater. 

Itiola Jones, winner of The 2018 Brittle Paper Award for Poetry and editor at 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry:

Obinze from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Obinze is a dreamer, a thinker, and a lover. He moves deliberately through the world & doesn’t accept things as they are. He sees people & sees through people. He isn’t afraid to love & to make love. He’s passionate. Reading Americanah, I’ve always wanted to meet someone like him who would see me completely, look at me, & say, “Yes, it’s you. It’s always been you.”

Otosirieze Obi-Young, Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper and winner of The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature:

There are many and I’m forgetting so I’ll just go with my newest favourite book character. Ssentalo in Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu. The general is brave, proud, and has an exalted sexual reputation. The prospect of taming that is irresistible. Udayan, the revolutionary, and Gauri, the intriguing wife, in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. Udayan is one of the clearest characters in my head and I wish I’d written Gauri.

Frances Ogamba, finalist for The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction and winner of the 2019 Koffi Addo Creative Nonfiction Prize:

Father Amadi from Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He has a beautiful heart and he makes no effort in proving this. He is thoughtful and tactful in his rejection of Kambili’s affection. I just know he is the kind of person I’d stay up and text at late nights.

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