We are all something at heart. Me? I’m a voracious reader, or as my Std 7 classmates used to call me – a bookworm. It wasn’t the most pleasant of titles at eleven, but in retrospect it was the most apt description of who I am. I love the written word, its ability to draw you deeply into places you have never been but will never leave, or heighten emotions based on protagonists you will never meet but you know more intimately than your best friend and deeply miss once that last page is turned.
In my book there's nothing sweeter than a well told story.
Growing up the stories that were around me were never familiar in that they were always of places to the west of my home, with characters who rarely looked like me. Cue in the Famous Fives and Nancy Drew’s of my childhood that morphed into Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley Highs of my teenage years and immersion into Maya Angelou and Terry McMillan in my twenties as I unknowingly searched for self in the books I would devour.
Books written by African writers always seemed too heavy for me, too ‘literature like’ in their numerous parables and hard won freedoms that didn’t connect with middle class, leafy suburb Nairobi me.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I found them – the African authors whose stories drew me in effortlessly, easily, charmingly, just like those from other continents. Perhaps some just required maturity on my part, or backing down from impossible frames on theirs. Perhaps the publishers never knew that there was hunger for our stories as well, and thus kept them hidden away from me.
All I can say is that I’m glad to have found them. I have connected to these modern-day griots who through their cleverly woven tales have entertained me, have schooled me, have kept me woke to the continent in all its myriad shades, experiences, struggles and differences. And while I have read many, my heart found a home in these books, and I have no doubt they will in yours:
- The House on Sugar Beach – Helene Cooper. The story of the Liberia you never knew.
- I Do Not Come to You By Chance – Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. This book confused my sensibilities, I challenge you to tell me who the villain is by the end of it.
- Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote – Ahmadou Kourouma. The most lyrical turn of phrase ever. The morning heralding the day was as dull as the back of a wife no longer loves… eish yawa!
- On Black Sister’s Street – Chika Unigwe. The story behind the assumptions we make. I’ll never look at K Street the same again.
- Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Ok, ok I admit I love everything written by Chimamanda, she is queen, but if there was only one book to choose from her collection, this would be it. Once upon a time there was Biafra…
- One Day I will Write About This Place – Binyavanga Wainaina. The Kenyan childhood of my childhood.
- Tsotsi – Athol Fugard. Everybody loves somebody, even those we think incapable of love.
- African Delights – Siphiwo Mahala. The art of the irreverent short story.
- Dreams in a Time of War – Ngugi wa Thiong'o. The Ngugi book I could finally love…
- Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese. Ethiopia in a time capsule.
- The Red Strangers – Elsepth Huxley. The story of my people. I’m not sure if she would consider herself an African author but I certainly do.
This month – grow your African author library, and help me grow mine too.