At the prompting of Lydia Namubiru, a TIA reader, our team of four contributors went to work, jointly suggesting the top 100 titles for the 2010-2014 period in TIA’s context. We considered five years because this is the first such TIA list but in future we shall compile such a list on an annual basis. Like any other list, this one is subjective. There are several other lists in the world that show the subjectivities of their authors and publishers, including those that include reader surveys. This one reveals TIA’s own subjectivity, and is thus as valid as any other. We have a larger number of fiction titles, followed by non-fiction and memoir and fewer poetry titles on the list. We hope to improve many aspects of the list in the coming years. For now, despite the short period in which it was compiled, we loved working on this list and look forward to working on 2015’s. [Please note: the titles are numbered, but not ranked]
1. Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso
Adoption, race, migration, culture and class are all themes woven into this cleverly written debut novel by one of the continent’s most promising contemporary writers. This novel illuminates in a thought-provoking manner.
2. The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzu
An enjoyable read about the friendship and burgeoning romance between a privileged teenager and a street hawker. This book makes one think deeply about the various circumstances that lead to people living off the streets.
3. Harare North by Brian Chikwava
Chikwava addresses politics, immigration and tradition in this debut novel of promise. Potent.
4. Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes
For anyone who loves a good ‘ol mystery this is the book for you. You will be left wondering whodunit in this narrative featuring a Ghanaian Detective aiming to solve a murder case CSI style.
5. Powder Necklace by Nana Brew Hammond
For those who attended boarding school in Ghana (or whose parents in the Diaspora threatened to send them to school in Ghana) this story will take you right back in time – to water shortages, school ‘jams’ and ‘Inter-Co’.
6. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
The relationship between a Nigerian couple and their travels to the U.K., U.S. and return home forms the backdrop to this story which highlights the complexities of race, privilege and, yes, hair.
7. Diplomatic Pounds and Other Stories by Ama Ata Aidoo
A delightful collection of short stories told in Ama Ata Aidoo’s inimitable style, which is always vivid and wonderfully detailed, with a strong sense of social oratory.
8. A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta
A refreshing tale of a contemporary single Nigerian woman. The details of her life open a window into the intimate lives of the country’s middle class population.
9. The Justice by Boakyewaa Glover
A fast-paced political thriller with sex, murder and intrigue. Those familiar with Ghana’s politics will especially enjoy the very realistic descriptions of the two political parties wrangling for power.
10. The Ghost of Sani Abacha by Chuma Nwokolo
A collection of short stories set in Nigeria, succinctly told with great skill, humour and verve.
11. Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
A tour de force of a novel that inspired the book blogger Kinna Likimani to say, “Everything Ngugi wrote before was to prepare him for this book”. Read and decide for yourself.
12. Mr Happy And The Hammer of God & Other Stories by Martin Egblewogbe
In many ways this collection of short stories can be described as alternative in its geographic non-specificity, yet like all the best collections each story is complete in its succinctness.
13. Summoning the Rains edited by Hilda Twongyeirwe and Ellen Bandu-Aaku
This collection of stories produced out of FEMRITE’s 3rd residency for African women writers presents a cohort of fresh voices who prove that the future of African writing is indeed bright.
14. Africa Hot: West African Stories of Sex and Love by Nnenna Marcia
A sizzling hotpot of sex and all things erotic with Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon as geographic settings, this collection titillates and entertains in equal measure.
15. Black Widow Society by Angela Mahkolwa
The story of women taking down unruly men, a triumvirate of women who help victims of abuse deal with their tormentors, permanently. A crime thriller that looks at the issue of domestic disturbances and sorting them out in an ‘organised way’.
16. Short Sharp Story: Adults Only Anthology
An anthology of erotic tales with stories from writers hailing from many countries but residing in South Africa. The stories are are as eclectic as their authors, with subjects ranging from knife play to masturbation, polyamory to some good ol’ rekindling of the flame there is in everyone.
17. Rachel’s Blue by Zakes Mda
This book seeks to start a conversation around the matter of rape and the visitation rights of the rapist. ‘Mda weaves in the thorny issue of visitation and custody rights for rapists when a child is conceived during the crime.’ Some have critiqued the idea of a story of this nature being tackled by a man but at the end of the day it brings to light an important issue.
18. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
Great awesome book! Everyone loves it! Everyone. Told from the point of view of the wives, it looks at how running a polygamous household can be taxing and strange and full of untold dynamics. Sometimes hilarious and strangely relatable, the story comes to quite the climax.
19. Bad Sex by Leon de Kock
de Kock takes a look at masculinity as played out in the modern South African context and writes in a sustained and concentrated way about sex. Bad Sex is sometimes gritty but fairly gripping.
20. Dying in New York by Ekow Duker
A book that charts the life and times of a young woman from Johannesburg as she journeys from the streets of South Africa to the United States, looking at the effect of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, all charted out in a therapy session. The story is told in such a way that it keeps you invested in her fate.
21, 22 and 23. Girl Walks into a Bar/Wedding/ Blind Date by Helen S Paige
This trilogy of collaborations between a South African based author and international authors allows you to pick your own ending, make the story your own and chart your own path. Perfect for those easy holiday reads or if you just want to have some fun with words.
24. Foreign Gods Inc. by Okey Ndibe
A heist story involving traditional gods, family fueds and an art gallery. A dark comedy that looks at hope, greed, taking chances and the failure of the American dream.
25. Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
There is a lot of poetry in the telling of the story of a splintered family in Kenya. Power, deceit, unrequited love, survival and sacrifice are some of the themes covered in this highly acclaimed debut by a Caine prize winner.
26. The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga
This book makes the list because it goes against the grain of what was described by a bookshop owner as “older stuffy South African writing.” Dealing with micro issues it looks at the life and experiences of young people in Cape Town. The writing feels new and fresh, and doesn’t aim at “lofty higher mind ideals”, and as such certainly represents a larger shift from older ways of South African writing.
27. Tales of The Metric System by Imran Coovadia
Recommended by many who stand around in bookstores, including bookstore owners, the story brings together the lives of an eclectic group of characters in a historical novel that tracks all the way to modern day South Africa. It documents the country from “high apartheid” to the hosting of the World Cup, covering the social conditions and changes in the artistic, political, and intellectual life of South Africa.
28. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
When people must “race through Lagos” to save the world you know its a novel you have to read, purely because we are not rushing through the United States. An african sci-fi novel that includes a meteorite and a visitor from out of space.
29. Shadows by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
A collection of short stories and a novella, all set in the ghettos of Bulawayo and Johannesburg. Shadows is a story of a young artist, Mpho, and his love for his mother, whose prostitution he despises, and Nomsa, a daughter to his mother’s prostitute friend whom he loves because they are both damaged.
30. Do not go gentle by Futhi Ntshingila
A mosaic of South African history that shows that the only certainties are birth and death. Futhi tells stories of those at the margins, on those that are “forgotten and ignored by society,” and looks at issues such as teen pregnancy, HIV and generally living in dire conditions. It focuses on two main characters, Mvelo and her mother Zola, and the characters are “fighting for their poor lives”.
31. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The 2011 Caine Prize winner proves that she indeed can bend the English language to tell the story of Zimbabweans living under a dysfunctional system, and those who get away to America, where they discover things for the marginalised may be different but not very. NoViolet is a queen of language. You may be forgiven for thinking you’re reading the first part of the book in Ndebele, only using English words, that is how brilliant her use of language is.
32. Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
The winner of the 2013 Kwani Manuscript Prize opens Uganda and Buganda to the world with a luscious historical novel that deals with contemporary Ugandan society.
33. Night Dancer by Chika Unigwe
Chika Unigwe follows a relationship between a single mother and her daughter, and along the way reminds us of the Kano riots that broke out in protest against the holding of Miss World in the country.
34. The Whispering Trees by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
The only continent-published story on the 2013 Caine Prize shortlist was Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s The Whispering Trees, the title story to the collection of brilliantly written stories that remind us of Garcia Marquez.
35. Happiness like Water by Chinelo Okparanta
Happiness like Water is Chinelo’s debut collection of short stories that deal with the lives of Nigerians at home and abroad. “A couple struggling to conceive; two women isolated in different ways seeks comfort with each other; and a young woman struggles with a dilemma to save her mother’s life.”
36. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
It may have been over-hyped before it was released. The author may not believe in African Literature as a way of categorising any writing but we love the book for its jazzy sentences even though some have said that stories are more than just pretty sentences.
37. A Killing in the Sun by Dilman Dila
African science fiction is the new big thing in African fiction and Dilman Dila’s collection of short stories, including the title story, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story prize, is a sign of things to come.
38. Mukoma’s Marriage and other Stories by Emmanuel Sigauke
Emmanuel Sigauke, the founder of Munyori Literary Journal, is also a fine writer. In this collection, he brings us a character we can’t forget. Bizzare, comic and tragic, each story leaves a mark on the reader.
39. Indigo by Molara Wood
Molara Wood’s stories are miniature pieces of control. Mysticism, questions of home, marriage and many other themes manage to leave the reader with unforgettable images.
40. Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen
A novel in three parts, no contemporary Nigerian novel deals with the 90s university life as Fine Boys does. Yet its true achievement is in its use of the Nigerian pidgin. No book comes close to Fine Boys in the rendering of a Nigerian life in the language understood by Nigeria’s high and low.
41. Love Is Power, Or Something Like That by Igoni Barrett
From Nairobi to Lagos, from sex with an expat to a man with a smelly mouth problem, this collection of short stories will make you laugh, and cry.
42. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
Set in the 1970s, Mengiste’s novel deals with torture, and recovery, from the angle of a father and son.
43. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
African science-fiction is slowly emerging and Zoo City is a fine example. Johannesburg is re-imagined in this ambitious work that beautifully stretches the reader’s imagination.
44. Sister Sister by Rachel Zadok
As is advised elsewhere, and we agree wholeheartedly, Rachel’s prose is the type you need to read with full lights on.
45. Oil on Water by Helon Habila
The kidnap of a European in the Niger Delta, two journalists and a great story that teaches us a lot about what happens when disillusionment and idealism clash.
46. The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
Two hairdressers in Zimbabwe’s capital entertain in a rivalry that explores the effects of Mugabe’s regime on ordinary lives.
47. The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
Beautiful, important, ambitious, intelligent and passionate are among the adjectives that have been used to express the brilliance of Aminatta’s second major work.
48. The Granta Book of the African Short Story by Helon Habila (Ed)
Almost every prominent writer of the post-nationalist phase in African writing has a story in this anthology. The editor’s ideological bent is visible in the selection of writers and stories, so do not trust his disclaimer that writers chose their own stories. And so we have a Dambudzo Marechera story, a Yvonne Vera story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Doreen Baingana and more.
49. Open City by Teju Cole
Some have had problems reading this book, but those who have enjoyed it swear to its quality and ambition, despite its plotless nature. Sebald is written all over it. If you loved his writing, you will love Julius.
50. All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
Mengestu’s third novel engages rootlessness in fresh pleasant ways.
51. Eyes of a Goddess by Ukamaka Olisakwe
Ukamaka has a way with words that touches the stoniest of hearts. Set in Eastern Nigeria, the mystical is very present in this original work.
52. Dream Chasers by Okwiri Oduor
Long before the Caine Prize win, Okwiri wrote this novella in which mother and daughter tear each other apart.
53. Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko
What happens when innocence is lost and silence enforced in its place? Set in Ibadan, faces of oppression come alive in this tale.
54. Finding Soutbek by Karen Jennings
Welcome to a small town’s kindness, troubles, sense of community, hardships and corruption as brought to you by Jennings’ series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships.
55. Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman
Diriye’s collection of short stories uses fairy tales to explore displacement, family, stability, love and home.
56. Sarah House by Ifeanyi Ajaegbo
No book about human trafficking and prostitution and the consequent dangers could be as engrossing as Sarah House.
57. The Great Agony and Pure Laughter of the Gods by Jamala Safari
“In the east of the Congo, where the border with Rwanda is also the border between life and death”. A child’s peaceful and idyllic life is shattered as war breaks out and he is forced to become a child soldier.
58. An Imperfect Blessing by Nadia Davids
Sharp in its insights yet warm in feeling, this novel looks at the transitional period between apartheid and black rule in South Africa through the eyes of a family from a Muslim community that is itself coming under pressure to adapt and evolve.
59. Penumbra by Songeziwe Mahlangu
We add our voice to those that have called attention to Mahlangu’s treatment of “interesting, important themes and issues – black middle class aspiration, creativity, domestic violence, the search for purpose and identity.”
60. Way Back Home by Niq Mhlongo
A haunting post-apartheid tale. Dreams of freedom shattered, lives of crime re-invented, all mixed with memories of the struggle against apartheid. And the mystical.
61. Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela
Aboulela’s third novel proves her ownership of gentle, poetic prose as she captures the turmoil and upheaval in North Sudan and Egypt.
62. African Violet and other stories (The Caine Prize for African Writing 2012 anthology)
The five shortlisted stories for this annual prize and contributions from Mehul Gohil, Lauri Kubuitsile, Beatrice Lamwaka among others paint an Africa that is determined to shake off others’ stereotypes and stereotype itself instead.
1. Reveries of Longing by Melissa Kiguwa
Fiery, feminist, life-affirming poetry which boldly tackles sexuality, migration and politics.
2. Love, Mada Ghana by Crystal Tettey
Partly a chapbook, and partly a notebook filled with poetry, art and inscription inspired by the poet’s Malagasy-Ghanaian heritage.
3. Letter to South Africa: Poets Calling the State to Order
A series of poems in a number of languages including isiXhosa, Afrikaans, English and Zulu. It addresses issues pertaining to the failures of the new South Africa and its rulers, examining and critiquing the current situation.
4. The Last of the Sweet Bananas by Jack Mapanje
A collection of old and new poems that tackle themes of dignity and integrity under a repressive regime as well as exile and return to the continent.
5. Lilac Uprising by Phylis Muthoni
A debut collection of 85 poems. The title poem is a four-part piece that uses the life stages of a Jacaranda tree to highlight how the author deals with the loss of her grandmother.
6. No Serenity Here
An Anthology of African poetry in English, French, Portuguese, Amharic and Arabic translated into Chinese and published alongside the originals. The volume includes Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, along with poetry from 25 African countries, and was translated by a team of Chinese poets under the guidance of Kaiyu Xiao.
7. Madman at Kilifi by Clifton Gachagua
No living poet captures Kenyan postmodern existence as Clifton does. The collection won the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets.
8. Through the Window of a Sandcastle by Chio Amu Nnadi
Described as Nigeria’s Dennis Brutus, Umu Nnadi’s poems are profound, and award-winning, too.
9. Clinical Blues by Dami Ajayi
Dealing with – and in – sex, school and surgery, Ajayi’s debut collection of poems is autobiographical and yet universal. Part pop, part poetry, it is a book steeped in youth. Despite, or perhaps because of, the heartbreak and agonies of youth, Clinical Blues is a plea, a rant and finally a threat aimed at delaying the twilight of our days. And, oh!, there is some politics as well.
10. A Thousand Voices Rising by Beverley Nambozo (Ed)
The Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award (BNPA, later renamed Babishawe Niwe Poetry Award) presents an anthology of poetry from all parts of the continent and its diaspora. You can’t pin the poems to any specific themes. More diverse than diversity.
NON-FICTION (MEMOIRS, ESSAYS, ETC.)
1. One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainana
A lost chapter of this memoir by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainana was released online in January 2014, completing the missing element in this deeply engaging book on his life so far.
2. The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood by Glen Retief
An influential reflection on coming of age in South Africa during its period of liberation, tinged with the fight for LGBT justice.
3. Africa, You are not a Country by Pius Adesanmi
Biography, travel and analysis combine in this book of considerable power and, considering the milieu, invention. Adesanmi’s prose hints at the rigour of academia and yet retains the aesthetics of literary writing.
4. Essays in Honour of Ama Ata Aidoo at 70 edited by Anna V. Adams
A compendium in honour of one of the continent’s most outstanding writers, this publication of poems, essays and letters by the likes of Atukwei Okai, Yaba Badoe and Esi-Sutherland Addy belongs on the bookshelf of every lover of books.
5. Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays by Adewale Maja-Pearce
Maja-Pearce made an enemy out of Soyinka because of an essay. Perhaps that’s commentary on Soyinka’s manner when he has no control over a narrative. Or perhaps it’s a tribute to the power of Maja-Pearce’s essays. We believe it’s the latter. The title essay of this subtly penetrative collection is also pretty controversial. Read it. And then read them all.
6. Women Leading Africa edited by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
A collection of intimate conversations with a diversity of African women leaders in the Arts, Politics and Feminist Spaces, which include women such as Pregs Govender, Leymah Gbowee and Jessica Horn.
7. Interventions: A Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan
Mr. Annan has definitely lived an eventful life. He takes us through the corridors of diplomacy, and the jaw-dropping moments are as alive as they would be in a work of fiction. A literary memoir by a politician. You don’t see too many of those.
8. A Good African Story: How a Small Brand Built a Global Coffee Brand by Andrew Rugasira
Through this non-fiction book, Andrew Rugasira, an export businessman and London School of Economics alumnus, makes the case for trade and not aid for Africa and the west. Andrew narrates his personal and his company’s (Good African Coffee) story, from supporting farmers in rural Uganda to negotiating for entry into Western markets.
9. Maid in SA: 30 Ways to Leave your Madam by Zukiswa Wanner
Zukiswa Wanner, known for being Nelson Mandela’s youngest biographer, is a witty writer, and in this book plays around uses humour in a very serious way; one can’t tell where the humour ends and the realism begins. Zukiswa’s wit enables us to see post-apartheid South Africa for what it is through the relationships between maids and their madams.
10. In the House of the Interpreter by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Kenyan literary giant Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o reflects in this memoir about his secondary school days on the overwhelming influence of colonialism on his education.
11. A Time For New Dreams by Ben Okri
A collection of essays dealing with a host of themes, including beauty, economics, childhood and self censorship.
12. Soldiers of Fortune by Max Siollun
Few books have attempted a concise history of the military’s foray into Nigerian governance like Siollun’s Soldiers of Fortune. Even fewer are as accessible. As history was taken out of the Nigerian curriculum recently, reading Soldiers of Fortune today can be construed as a type of rebellion—the type we endorse.
13. June 12 by Abraham Oshoko
Oshoko’s June 12 presents a contradiction to those who believe books with illustrations are for children. The book covers events leading up to perhaps the pivotal moment in Nigerian democracy—no child’s play. Well researched, with excellent illustrations.
14. Emerging Africa by Kingsley Moghalu
Early 2014 saw western publications agog at French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. If Africa felt ignored by Piketty’s glance at the continent—he mentions South Africa a few times, and Nigeria, barely—it is because Moghalu’s Emerging Africa has received insufficient attention. Considering the book’s insight and thoroughness, that has to change.
15. Excuse Me by Victor Ehikhamenor
The defunct Next newspaper entered the annals of Nigerian journalism as most of its contents entered the dustbin of history. In Excuse Me Ehikhamenor republishes some of the satire he wrote for the august paper. Although a few pieces are dated – inevitably – it turns out there is value in recycling.
16. African Women Writing Resistance: Contemporary Voices edited by de Hernandez et al.
A collection encompassing short stories, essays and poetry by African women on the theme of resistance in all its myriad forms. Includes contributions from the likes of Nawal El Saadawi, Abena P.A. Busia and Sefi Atta.
17. There Was a Country by Chinua Achebe
Published just before his death, this personal memoir, told in his characteristic simple fireside storyteller style, started a debate on an important phase in Nigerian history.
18. (1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race by Yaba Blay
Part coffee table book, part personal testimony, this book is an invaluable contribution to the study of the complexities of race, identity and its associated politics.
19. Queer African Reader edited by Sokari Ekine and Hakima Abbas
Essays, poetry, statements, fiction and non-fiction make up this powerful collection of essential reading material by and for the African LGBTQI community and, frankly, the world at large.
20. African Sexualities, A Reader (volume), by Sylvia Tamale (ed)
This collection of essays, poems, stories and other forms of writing from across the continent paint a more nuanced and multifaceted picture of sexuality in Africa both past and present. A must-have for anyone who has ever thought about the issue of sex and sexuality in Africa.
21. African Metropolitan Architecture by David Adjaye
The mix of photographs and text about buildings has been described as an arresting visual introduction to cities across the continent. We couldn’t agree more.
22. Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro-Wiwa
Noo Saro-Wiwa, daughter of Ken Saro-Wiwa (environmental and political activist murdered by the Sani Abacha regime), sets the standard for African contemporary travel writing with this hilarious pioneering work.
23. Heart of Darkness by David Zane Mairowitz, Joseph Conrad and Catherine Anyango
Catherine Anyango, an artist of Swedish and Kenyan parentage, retrieves what is missing from the text of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness through exquisitely rendered drawings.
24. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin
This striking memoir depicts the disintegration of a family during a time when the country they’re living in – Zimbabwe – is on the verge of ruin. The human spirit and the enduring power of love triumphs in the end.
25. Sometimes There is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider by Zakes Mda
Zakes is more than honest in this memoir. He is naked to the soul.
26. Through My African Eyes by Jeff Koinange
He was discovered on a plane, and ended up as a world-class television star. Jeff tells of the trying moments of his career and life in this sprawling memoir.
27. Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty by Alain Mabankou
Alain Mabankou, probably the most known contemporary Francophone writer in the African Anglophone world, presents his fifth novel, published in translation. Michel, a child living in the Congo of the 1970s dreams about the destinations of the planes that fly overhead.
28. Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela
Mandela’s charm is ever present in these reflections on life from his diary.
The TIA 100 – Best Books 2010-2014 were selected by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, Kagure Mugo and Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire