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A drawing of the Africa Continent made of Books An illustration of a woman reading a book in her house with the africa continent being made by books in her library
Illustration by Vanessa Toye

50 Notable African Books of 2021

A Bigger Picture

Vanessa Nakate

Nonfiction - Memoir

November 2, 2021 | 208 pages

Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate is young and outspoken about climate change. In her debut book, she advocates for including African voices and communities in the debates around climate change.

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A Blood Condition

Kayo Chingonyi

Poetry

April 22, 2021 | 80 pages

The “blood condition” in Chingonyi’s collection refers to HIV. He uses the metaphor to explore grief as an intimate and collective experience within the context of Zambia's history.

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A Long Way from Douala

(Trans.) Ros Schwartz | Max Lobe

Fiction

September 28, 2021 | 160 pages

Max Lobe’s book celebrates the unbreakable bonds of brotherhood. Following the sudden death of his father in Cameroon, Roger leaves town to try his luck in Europe, but his brother is determined to find him.

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Aftershocks

Nadia Owusu

Nonfiction - Memoir

January 12, 2021 | 320 pages

Nadia Owusu’s Armenian mother abandons her when she is three. Her Ghanaian father dies when she is fourteen. In this moving memoir, she depicts a life lived in utter rootlessness and explores the complexities of Diasporic life.

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All Gomorrahs Are the Same

Thenjiwe Mswane

Fiction

April 1, 2021 | 262 pages

A powerful multi-generational story that celebrates the diversity of women’s lives. Mswane’s novel centers characters who struggle with the contradictions of contemporary South African society, especially in its response to queer experiences.

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All Shades of Iberibe

Kasimma

Fiction - Short Stories

November 2, 2021 | 212 pages

Kasimma’s debut collection of stories draws heavily from Nigerian mythic traditions. The stories are thrilling in their somewhat absurd and surprising takes on contemporary Nigerian life.

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An Ordinary Wonder

Buki Papillon

Fiction

March 25, 2021 | 336 pages

An inspiring and gut-wrenching story about an intersex Nigerian girl. With this page-turner, Papillon joins the chorus of African writers inventing a new language for unsilencing queer voices in African literature.

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Best New African Poets Anthology 2020

(Editor) Balddine Moussa | (Editor) Lorna Telma Zita | (Editor) Tendai Rinos Mwanaka

Poetry - Anthology

April 19, 2021 | 556 pages

352 pieces by 140 poets from across the continent and the world, this collection is magisterial. It features poets from Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique as well as Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Portugal, Brazil, China, and many more.

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Brotherhood

(Trans.) Alexia Trigo | Mohamed Mbougar Sarr

Fiction

March 18, 2021 | 208 pages

Though a celebrated novelist in the francophone world, Senegalese novelist Mohamed Mbougar Sarr is introduced to English readers for the first time with his debut novel, a political thriller that dissects the culture of religious fundamentalism.

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Castles from Cobwebs

J.A. Mensah

Fiction-Novel

February 18, 2021 | 243 pages

Weaving elements of Ghanaian folklore and other non-realist elements, J. A. Mensah tells the story of Imani, an African girl whose world extends across Accra and a remote Northumbrian island.

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Children of the Quicksands

Efua Traoré

Fiction | Fiction-Novel

June 3, 2021 | 288 pages

Traoré’s YA novel is imaginative nourishment for young readers. It tells the story of Simi, a young Lagos girl who visits her grandmother in a Yoruba village and becomes entangled in the fate of an enchanted lake.

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Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

Wole Soyinka

Fiction

September 28, 2021 | 464 pages

Soyinka’s political thriller—his first novel in 48 years— exposes the dark underbelly of power in Nigeria. A true literary veteran, Soyinka’s “powers of invention” remains as vibrant as ever.

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Co-wives, Co-widows

(Trans.) Rachael McGill | Adrienne Yabouza

Fiction-Novel

November 17, 2021 | 112 pages

Yabouza’s English language debut is a humorous domestic drama set in Bangui, Central African Republic. It tells the story of two co-wives who unite and protect one another following their husband's death.

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Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir

Akwaeke Emezi

Nonfiction - Memoir

June 8, 2021 | 240 pages

Emezi captivates readers with this account of their life as a god in human flesh. The memoir details the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and cultural implications of inhabiting multiple realities.

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Disruption: Short Fiction from Africa

(Editor) Karina M. Szczurek | (Editor) Rachel Zadok | (Editor)Jason Mykl Snyman

Fiction - Anthology

September 7, 2021 | 260 pages

Short Story Day Africa is known for discovering new talent in African literary spaces. Its latest short story collection features 21 authors from the continent exploring what it means to live in rapidly changing global conditions.

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Every Leaf A Hallelujah

Ben Okri

Fiction - Children's Book

November 14, 2021 | 112 pages

Celebrated magical realist author Ben Okri and The New Yorker illustrator Diana Ejaita team for this “environmental fairytale” about a girl who braves the forest to find a life-saving plant for her ailing mother.”

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Home Is Not a Country

Safia Elhillo

Fiction

March 2, 2021 | 224 pages

This beautiful blend of poetry and storytelling centers a girl named Nima and her struggle with multiple cultures and identities. An illuminating study on what it means to be an outsider.

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How Beautiful We Were

Imbolo Mbue

Fiction

March 9, 2021 | 384 pages

Cameroonian novelist Imbolo Mbue’s second novel speaks truth to power. A fictitious African community suffers environmental degradation thanks to a corrupt government in cahoots with a multinational corporation.

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Hullo Bu-Bye Koko Come In

Koleka Putuma

Poetry

April 29, 2021 | 126 pages

The title of the book evokes Brenda Fassie, whose life and work haunts Putuma’s poignant exploration of black women’s lives in history, with a focus on how their legacies are always in danger of erasure.

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In the Company of Men

(Trans.) John Cullen | Véronique Tadjo

Fiction

February 23, 2021 | 160 pages

Ivorian novelist Veronique Tadjo's beautifully experimental work details the tragedy of living in the midsts of the Ebola crisis. In the final chapter, Ebola takes the floor to reflect on its life as a virus unleashed by human action.

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Mo(a)t: Stories from Arabic

(Editor) Garen Torikian | (Trans.) Nariman Youssef | (Trans.) Sawad Hussain

Fiction

September 30, 2021 | 80 pages

Sawad Hussain’s translation of 6 Arab African stories introduces English readers to new worlds of storytelling that span South Sudan and the Western Sahara. The stories explore everyday African life in all its intimate and bustling complexities.

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New York, My Village

Uwem Akpan

Fiction

November 3, 2021 | 400 pages

A breakout star of the 2000s, Akpan is known for the short story collection, Say You Are One of Them. With his first novel, he blends familiar African literary motifs in a searing critique of American racial politics.

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Notes on Grief

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Nonfiction - Essays

May 11, 2021 | 80 pages

In her third chapbook, Adichie attempts to communicate the blinding pain of losing a father. It is a beautiful and tender reflection on the many ways that grief makes and unmakes us.

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Of This Our Country

(Editor) Ore Agbaje-Williams | (Editor)Nancy Adimora

Nonfiction - Anthology | Nonfiction - Essays

September 30, 2021 | 288 pages

The wide range of stories will make you think, laugh, tear up, and above all engage with Nigerian culture in a meaningful and intimate way.

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Open Water

Caleb Azumah Nelson

Fiction

February 4, 2021 | 176 pages

In a post-George Floyd world, Azumah’s debut novel is deeply, painfully resonant in its exploration of black masculinity in the context of racial injustice. There are also sparkling insights on art and the magic of language.

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Our Ghosts Were Once People

(Editor) Bongani Kona

Nonfiction - Anthology

August 19, 2021 | 229 pages

Leading South African writers reflect on the personal and collective experience of grief. The collection is rich with diverse perspectives, experiences, and literary forms even as it coheres around ideas about death.

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Sankofa

Chibundu Onuzo

Fiction

June 3, 2021 | 256 pages

Part political drama, part love story, Onuzo’s third novel gives us a fresh, intimate take on the decolonization era. She offers glimpses into what it felt and looked like to be a “woke” African youth in 1970s London.

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Sea Loves Me

Mia Couto

Fiction - Short Stories

February 23, 2021 | 416 pages

Fans of Mozambique's Mia Couto can now binge on his extensive short story oeuvre in this collection of 64 works. Couto is a master-storyteller known for his use of absurdist, magical realist style.

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Surfacing: On Being Black and Feminist in South Africa

(Editor) Gabeba Baderoon

Nonfiction - Essays

April 1, 2021 | 328 pages

Surfacing is a lesson in creating decolonial feminist knowledge. It showcases the sheer diversity of thought in South African feminist spaces through themes that range from food and farming to sexual pleasure and activism.

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The Actual True Story of Ahmed and Zarga

(Trans.) Larry Siems | Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Fiction

February 23, 2021 | 176 pages

For readers who haven't read Mauritanian fiction, Slahi's novel is the perfect place to begin. When a beloved camel named Zarga loses his way in the Sahara Desert, his owner undertakes a life-changing journey to find him.

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The Ardent Swarm

(Trans.) Lara Vergnaud | Yamen Manai

Fiction

February 1, 2021 | 203 pages

In his English language debut, Yamen Menai draws from Tunisian oral tradition to weave this unusual story about a village beekeeper who is prompted to brave the chaos of the big city after his beloved bees are brutally murdered.

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The Bridgetower Sonata

(Trans.) Marjolijn de Jager | Emmanuel Dongala

Fiction

April 15, 2021 | 352 pages

Emmanuel Dongala is one of Congo Brazzaville’s most celebrated writers. His most recent English translation re-imagines the life of George Bridgetower, a black musician living in 18th century Europe.

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The Fortune Men

Nadifa Mohamed

Fiction

May 27, 2021 | 352 pages

Nadifa Mohamed’s Booker shortlisted novel re-imagines the true-life story of Mahmood Mattan, a Somali sailor, who is accused of killing a shopkeeper in Cardiff. His wrongful conviction is the tragic heart of this story about love and community.

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The Gilded Ones

Namina Forna

Fiction - YA

February 4, 2021 | 416 pages

The Gilded Ones is the first book in a planned trilogy titled the Deathless series. The book is a feminist, West African-inspired fantasy that follows the journey of a young girl to self-empowerment.

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The House of Rust

Khadija Abdalla Bajaber

Fiction-Novel

October 19, 2021 | 272 pages

Kenyan novelist Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s debut draws inspiration from Swahili and diasporic Hadhrami cultures to weave a magical realist adventure story about a girl looking for her missing father. It features mesmerizing and colorful worlds with fantastic creatures.

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The Library of the Dead

T. L. Huchu

February 4, 2021 | 336 pages

T. L. Huchu, one of Africa’s leading speculative fiction writers, blends elements of Zimbabwean and Scottish storytelling to build an immersive world of magic and fantastical characters.

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The Madhouse

T. J. Benson

Fiction-Novel

March 5, 2021 | 280 pages

Benson’s The Madhouse is the story of a Nigerian family caught between the stark, violent reality of military rule and the mystical atmosphere of a house with a history of colonial violence.

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The Promise

Damon Galgut

Fiction

April 6, 2021 | 256 pages

Galgut’s dark family drama won the Booker Prize this year. In the novel, an Afrikaans woman’s death and the failure to fulfill her promise to her black maid Salome set in motion a series of devastating tragedies.

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The River in the Belly

(Trans.) Bret Maney | Fiston Mwanza Mujila

Poetry

July 20, 2021 | 152 pages

The Democratic Republic of Congo author charmed readers the world over with his award-winning debut Tram 83. His second book in English is a collection of “solitudes,” short poetic writings that display the extraordinary breath of Mujila’s style.

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The Scandalous Times of a Book Louse

Robert Muponde

Fiction-Novel

May 21, 2021

Literature Professor Robert Muponde delights readers with this coming-of-age story celebrating rural Zimbabwe and its narrative universe of captivating characters, magic-infused storylines, and fantastical beings.

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The Sex Lives of African Women

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah

Nonfiction

July 22, 2021 | 304 pages

The diversity of sexual experiences explored in this book stuns the reader into abandoning any reductive notions of African women’s experience of sex and pleasure.

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The Year’s Best African Speculative (2021)

(Editor) Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Nonfiction - Anthology

September 28, 2021 | 353 pages

The collection celebrates African speculative fiction at its best, giving lovers of the genre an immersive experience of non-realist worlds. Well-known and new authors offer stories in sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and more.

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Unbury Our Dead with Song

Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Fiction

March 2, 2021

With his new novel, Ngugi writes a moving love letter to Tizita, a popular Ethiopian music form. Unbury Our Dead with Song is a delightfully meandering story that goes wherever the sound of music takes it.

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Walking on Cowrie Shells

Nana Nkweti

Fiction - Short Stories

June 1, 2021 | 176 pages

Nkweti showcases the rich diversity of the Cameroonian experience set against a global backdrop and channeled through genres that range from from anime comics to zombie apocalypse to mami wata myths.

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Wayfarers’ Hymns

Zakes Mda

Fiction

October 25, 2021 | 256 pages

In Mda’s 31st book, a boy’s desire to become a great famo musician leads him all the way from the Lesotho mountain region to Johannesburg where he comes up against a sordid underworld of crime and gangs.

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We Are All Birds of Uganda

Hafsa Zayyan

Fiction

January 21, 2021 | 384 pages

Hafsa Zayyan is brilliant in this cross-generational story set in the UK and Uganda. Sameer is a high-flying lawyer in London. His struggle with belonging is set against his grand-father’s experience in the early years of Idi Amin’s Uganda.

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When the Village Sleeps

Sindiwe Magona

Fiction

May 1, 2021 | 310 pages

When the Village Sleeps is a beautiful addition to Magona’s body of work. The novel centers South African women’s experiences and the complexities of cross-generational relationships.

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Your Crib, My Qibla

Saddiq Dzukogi

Poetry

March 1, 2021 | 108 pages

Saddiq Dzukogi makes extraordinary art from the most devastating experience: the death of this daughter on her second birthday. The collection explores grief, offering the language to mourn as well as honor the dead.

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Zabor, or the Psalms

(trans.) Emma Ramadan | Kamel Daoud

Fiction

March 2, 2021 | 384 pages

In Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud’s second novel, the imagination is a powerful thing. The lead character Zabor has the power to delay a person’s death simply by writing about them.

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Zainab Takes New York

Ayesha Harruna Attah

Fiction

August 19, 2021

Zainab Sekyi is 21 and newly arrived in New York City from Ghana. Attah’s humor-laced coming of age story chronicles a Ghanaian woman’s escapades in a city that deceptively promises the world.

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