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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

The Notable African Books of 2019

A Particular Kind of Black Man

By | Simon and Schuster

Fiction | 272 pages

This book will undo you; if not for the story about a Nigerian boy and his fight against American racism, for the right to exist and be seen, then for Tope Folarin’s magical prose—intimate, measured, and a mixture of poetry, liturgy, and prayer.

Buy

A Small Silence

By | Cassava Republic

Fiction | 288 pages

Poet turned fiction writer, Jumoke Verissimo brings readers a delightfully quirky story. A Small Silence tells the story of Prof. who never turns on the light in his dusty Lagos apartment where he holds a nightly meeting with a female visitor he can’t see and who can’t see him. What a fabulous idea for a story!

Buy

Adèle

By | Penguin Books

Fiction | 235 pages

After The Perfect Nanny, Franco-Moroccan writer Leila Slimani returns with another thriller exploring the dark side of domestic life through the experiences of women who resist cultural expectations. In this novel, the eponymous character weaves an elaborate web of deceit to conceal her life as serial adulterer.

Buy

An Orchestra of Minorities

By | Little, Brown, UK

Fiction | 464 pages

Chigozie Obioma tops the breakout success of The Fisherman with this novel about a poultry farmer who falls in love with a woman he saves from jumping off a bridge. The ensuing love story spirals into a set of messy life decisions that take the characters on a breathtaking odyssey.

Buy

Beneath the Tamarind Tree

By | Dey Street Books

Nonfiction | 400 pages

A CNN correspondent at the time, Isha Sesay was on the frontlines of the media wave around the kidnap of school girls in Chibok, Nigeria. With this book, she revisits the event in order to unearth intimate stories about loss but also of courage.

Buy

Better Never Than Late

By | Cassava Republic

Fiction | 144 pages

Better Never Than Late is a collection of stories loosely connected by Prosperous and Agu, a couple whose home in Belgium is a gathering place for African visitors in their wanderings through Europe. Chika Unigwe captures the complexes of desire, loss, and longing that define the life of the immigrant.

Buy

Bird Summons

By | Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Fiction | 320 pages

Leila Aboulela takes a break from short stories to write this gorgeous novel about three friends who encounter a mythical creature. Magic and folklore provide the narrative raw materials for a novel that explores questions of faith, femininity, and love through powerful representations of women’s lives.

Buy

Black Leopard Red Wolf

By | Riverhead Books

Fiction | 637 pages

The Palmwine Drinkard-meet-Lord of the Rings is one way to capture the epic beauty of this adventure tale. Marlon James constructs a stunning medieval African world peopled with characters so enigmatic and textured they will undo everything you think you know about storytelling. BLRW is pure magic.

Buy

Black Tax: Burden or Ubuntu?

By | Jonathan Ball

Nonfiction | 272 pages

Black Southern African families inspire this insightful collection exploring the intersection between domestic life and economic realities. Black tax is an economic system based on a culture of filial responsibility. The collection dissects this cultural phenomenon and its impact in south African life.

Buy

Broken Places and Outer Spaces

By | TED Books

Fiction | 112 pages

After publishing 14 books in 14 years, Nnedi Okorafor takes the reader behind the scenes of her creative success to reveal the powerful experience of "breaking" and becoming. In her debut memoir and her 15th book, she talks about her paralysis, subsequent recovery, and the decision to become a writer. Inspiring!

Buy

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

By | Henry Holt and Co.

Fiction | 416 pages

The second installment in Tomi Adeyemi’s Orisha trilogy is a bold adventure spiked with political intrigue and feminist ideals. Magic is back in the land of Orisha, thanks to Zelie and Amari’s fight against a villainous prince. Book two has the duo going head to head with the angry and bereaved king.

Buy

David Mogo, Godhunter

By | Abaddon

Fiction | 360 pages

Writers like Suyi Davies Okungbowa are boldly experimenting with storytelling, and the results are often stunning. David Mogo God Hunter is a delightful, fast-paced story set in a fantastical world built around Yoruba deities.

Buy

Do Not Say It's Not Your Country

By | Griots Lounge Publishing

Fiction | 256 pages

Nnamdi Ogwuike channels Uwem Akpan’s Say You Are One of Them in this ambitious collection of 10 stories set in various African countries. From a Madagascan slum story to a Sierra Leonian love story, the collection captures the myriad worlds that give the African continent its distinct cultural shape.

Buy

Do You Dream of Terra-Two

By | Gallery / Saga Press

Fiction | 544 pages

In mainstream sci-fi, outer space is for superheroes and villains. Temi Oh subverts this tradition with a story about the emotional costs of space travel. 10 astronauts—6 are teenagers—set out on a mission to Earth’s twin planet but fall into hard times as they deal with the personal toll of a 23-year journey.

Buy

Don’t Whisper Too Much

By | Bucknell University Press

Fiction | 195 pages

Frieda Ekotto’s fiction opens up new grounds in African queer writing. She was one of the first to write fiction with humanizing representations of the lives of francophone African women loving women. This translation of two of her novellas is a gift to Anglophone readers.

Buy

Gingerbread

By | Riverhead Books

Fiction | 272 pages

Oyeyemi is revered for her beautifully bizarre stories. Recycling bits of European folktales, she tells the story of a gingerbread recipe that mysteriously links present day London and the imaginary country of Druhástrana. Fans of Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird are in for a treat.

Buy

Girl, Woman, Other

By | Grove Press, Black Cat

Fiction | 464 pages

A history-making book, Girl, Woman, Other won Bernadine Evaristo the coveted Booker Prize, making her the first black woman to do so. Dripping with poetry and experimental flair, the novel presents a series of portraits that reflect the textured lives of black women in Britain.

Buy

I'm Telling The Truth But I'm Lying

By | Harper Perennial

Nonfiction | 272 pages

Bassey Ikpi’s memoir is an intimate look at mental health. Building on her struggle with bipolar disorder, she gives a moving account of the effects of mental illness on childhood, family, career, and community. Powerful storytelling, brilliant prose, and raw honesty make this book emotionally impactful.

Buy

In Search of Equilibrium

By | Nine Arches Press

Poetry | 80 pages

British-Nigerian poet Theresa Lola takes readers on a journey through the maddening pain of grief. Where does the heart find wholeness after the undoing of bereavement? Can faith be a source of healing? Lola is a philosopher of the heart. Her writing is airy and sparkles with a light experimental touch.

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Karmzah: The Unleashing

By | Leti Arts

Fiction - Comic | 36 pages

Inspired by her experience as someone living with cerebral palsy, Farida Bedwei creates Karmzah, a superhero archeologist living with cerebral palsy. The comic book is a mythology-infused account of Karmzah, powered by flying crutches, bringing down criminal masterminds.

Buy

Let's Tell This Story Properly

By | Oneworld Publications

Fiction | 320 pages

After her critically acclaimed debut novel, Jennifer Makumbi had fans waiting impatiently for her next offering. Manchester Happened (published in the US as Let’s Tell This Story Properly) is a brilliant short story collection centered on the lives of Ugandans in Britain.

Buy

Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined

By | Pluto Press

Nonfiction | 144 pages

With this book, British-Congolese writer JJ Bola establishes himself as a valiant feminist ally. Bola, who has done a lot of youth-centered community organizing, addresses young male audiences in this book. He argues for the reimagining of masculinity through the lens of feminist ideals.

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Minutes of Glory: And Other Stories

By | The New Press

Fiction | 224 pages

This career-spanning short story collection is a treat. Readers get to experience the short-fiction side of Ngugi’s writing. The collection pulls readers into a dazzling world of thrilling stories, memorable characters, and page-turning intrigues.

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Modern Sudanese Poetry

By | University of Nebraska Press

Poetry - Anthology | 186 pages

Adil Babikir’s decades-spanning collection of poetry celebrates works by writers too often left out in an anglo-centric African literary canon. The poems in the collection are originally written in Arabic and cover a wide range of ideas. A treasure trove of beautiful new writing for the anglophone reader!

Buy

Necropolitics

By | Duke University Press

Nonfiction - Scholarly | 224 pages

Africa’s most beloved philosopher muses on the fate of the planet and its political future. In the collection of 8 essays, Achille Mbembe raises uncomfortable questions about the current state of world affairs, drawing attention to the rise of racist discourse and global inequality.

Buy

New Daughters of Africa

By | Amistad

Nonfiction - Anthology | 1056 pages

History was made the a second time with the publication of New Daughters of Africa, a sequel to Daughters of Africa, which broke grounds when it was published 25 years ago. Edited by literary royalty Margaret Busby, New Daughters of Africa features the works of over 200 women of African descent.

Buy

Not My Time To Die

By | Huza Press

Nonfiction | 210 pages

A nurse and mother of three, Mukagasana’s life was perfect. She was even planning her wedding anniversary when the killings began, and life took a sinister turn. Her account of the Rwandan Genocide is an essential and honest account of the darkest days in one of Africa’s most beloved nations.

Buy

Notes from a Young Black Chef

By | Knopf

Nonfiction | 288 pages

Kwame Onwuachi, a Nigerian-American chef, has won many awards and has been featured on major cooking shows. But his life was not always the fairytale it now appears to be. The book chronicles his journey from cleaning up kitchens to winning America’s top culinary awards.

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On Ajayi Crowther Street

By | Cassava Republic

Fiction - Comic | 192 pages

Elnathan John knows how to articulate the absurd and the delightful quirk of everyday Nigerian life. With his first comic book, he transports the reader to Ajayi Crowther Street, a typical Lagos neighborhood where gossip, lies, secrets, big and little drama move life in unpredictable flows.

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Out of the Darkness, Shinning Light

By | Scribner

Fiction | 320 pages

In her fourth novel, Petina Gappah takes a familiar story and makes it strange. The novel details the 285-day journey during which a fellowship of interesting characters carry Dr. David Livingstone’s dead body to the Indian Ocean coast. Brace yourself for tons of LOL moments.

Buy

Pet

By | Make Me a World

Fiction - YA | 208 pages

Pet is Akwaeke Emezi’s latest novel after the critically acclaimed Freshwater. It tells the thrilling story of Jam, a teenage transgender person, whose curiosity and acute sense of the impossible leads to a journey in search of the monsters haunting her seemingly calm and perfect world.

Buy

Princess Arabella is a Big Sister

By | Cassava Republic

Fiction - Children's Book | 28 pages

The fifth book in the beloved Arabella series, Princess Arabella is a Big Sister continues the story of a little royal and her attempt at navigating the tricky world of childhood. Writer and illustrator Mylo Freeman does not disappoint with the beautiful writing and stunning illustration.

Buy

Return to the Enchanted Island

By | Amazon Crossing

Fiction | 172 pages

Malagasy mythology inspires this coming-of-age tale about a young anti-hero and his struggle to fulfill the demands of a cultural legacy. Johary Ravaloson’s book is the second Malagasy novel translated in English.

Buy

Sulwe

By | Simon and Schuster

Fiction - Children's Book | 48 pages

Lupita Nyongo’s children’s book is a sweet, adorable manifesto for little children of color. A little girl named Sulwe is unhappy because of her dark skin. All this changes after a journey to the stars where she figures out what it truly means to be beautiful.

Buy

The Careless Seamstress

By | University of Nebraska Press

Poetry | 90 pages

T.J. Dema has been writing and performing poetry for many years. In this award-winning collection, she centers the lives of women—their labor, loves, resistances, and expression of power. The celebrated Ghanaian poet Kwame Dawes loves the collection and praises its powerful message and measured writing.

Buy

The Dragonfly Sea

By | Knopf

Fiction | 512 pages

In crafting Ayana’s story, Yvonne Owuor said that she drew inspiration from 600-year old tales about the Chinese-African encounter via the Indian Ocean. Ayana, whose life takes a dramatic turn when she embarks on an odyssey to the Far East, evokes periods in Africa’s past that have been largely unexplored.

Buy

The Freedom Artist

By | Head of Zeus

Fiction | 256 pages

The Freedom Artist is Ben Okri’s 23rd book and 11th novel! Critics are so in love with the book they think it might be his most important book since The Famished Road. It tells the story of a man who goes in search of a truth he hopes will unlock the mystery behind his lover's disappearance.

Buy

The Half-God of Rainfall

By | Fourth Estate

Poetry | 96 pages

Inua Ellams unites Classical Greek and Yoruba mythologies in this genre-bending work exploring violence and female power. The story revolves around Demi, a boy with powers who has to come to terms with the possibilities and limitations of being a god among mortals.

Buy

The Old Drift

By | Hogarth

Fiction | 576 pages

A year-defining book! Everyone from NYT to Tor.com has The Old Drift on their best book of the year list. Set on the Zambezi River, the novel tells the story of three Zambian families—one black, one brown, one white—against a backdrop of history, science fiction, and fairytale.

Buy

The Other Americans

By | Pantheon

Fiction | 320 pages

The Other Americans blends everything that makes a good novel memorable. It is a murder mystery, a family saga, a love story. The mystery surrounding the death of a Moroccan immigrant in the US reveals connection in a deeply community divided.

Buy

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls

By | Beacon Press

Nonfiction | 216 pages

A book that turns girls into “angry, ambitious, profane, violent, attention-seeking, lustful, and powerful” beings? Yes please! Eltahawy criticizes the culture of feminine respectability, arguing that girls should be taught to harness anger, desire, and joy. A powerful manifesto from one of Africa’s beloved feminists.

Buy

The Shadow King

By | W. W. Norton & Company

Fiction | 448 pages

Salman Rushdie finished The Shadow King in just two days! Not surprising for a book about women writing themselves into history. Set in the 1930s during the second Italo-Ethiopian war, it tells the story of Hirut, a peasant girl who inspires a band of women to stir a world dominated by men.

Buy

The Water Dancer

By | One World

Fiction | 416 pages

With his new book, Ta-Nehisi Coates takes a break from non-fiction and ventures into the world of fiction. The Water Dancer is speculative historical fiction centered on Hiram, a slave who has unnaturally acute memory and the ability to travel from one place to another in an instant.

Buy

They Called Me Queer

By | Kwela

Nonfiction - Anthology | 242 pages

When Cassava Republic introduced readers to lesbian experiences in Nigeria with She Called Me Women, it was the start of a new phase. One year later, Windvogel and Koopman releases this stellar and inspiring collection of personal stories by queer people of color in South Africa.

Buy

This Hostel Life

By | Virago

Fiction | 112 pages

Melatu Uche Okorie’s debut shows the diversity of African lives imagined in fiction. Inspired by her experiences as an asylum-seeker in Ireland, the Nigerian-Irish writer captures the lives of African immigrants in Ireland, their struggles but also the little joys and hopeful resistances that give their lives meaning.

Buy

This is How We Disappear

By | Write Bloody North

Poetry | 106 pages

Titilope Sonuga’s poetry collection responds to the abduction of 276 girls by Boko Haram. How tragic is it that women disappear literally and metaphorically? Sonuga’s writing is a heart-rending kind of beautiful. It channels a lot of pain but also grace and the joy of flight into visibility.

Buy

Travelers

By | W. W. Norton & Company

Fiction | 288 pages

Habila’s first book to be set outside Nigeria. Through the eyes of a keenly observant (unnamed) narrator, the novel reveals the many ways that Africans in Europe are excluded, while honoring their struggle to make space for a dignified existence.

Buy

Triangulum

By | Two Dollar Radio

Fiction | 367 pages

Masande Ntshanga’s Triangulum is a suspenseful dose of futuristic, apocalyptic, and philosophical goodness. Set in 2040, the story is centered on a manuscript that foretells the end of the world. A retired professor and science fiction writer is called upon to look into these claims.

Buy

When the Plums Are Ripe

By | Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Fiction | 368 pages

Originally published in 2013, Nganang’s 7th book is one of the most anticipated translations of the year. In his signature evocative prose, Nganang tells the story of poet-bureaucrat Pouka who is caught between the forces of French colonization and WWII. A historical drama, it brings 1940s Yaounde to life.

Buy

Your Body Is War

By | University of Nebraska Press

Poetry | 90 pages

Mahtem Shiferraw is an Ethiopian-Eritrean writer and visual artist. In this stunning collection, war is a metaphor for all the ways in which women’s bodies are exposed to violence. A deeply honest look at the female body placed in the context of violence but also a hopeful ode to survival and resistance.

Buy

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