Experts we've interviewed have selected the best African fiction—highlighting classic books and must-read recent publications—from a rich and sprawling literature, as well as thought-provoking African nonfiction book recommendations, including on African history and economics. Some of our African book recommendation lists are country specific, and others consider the continent as a whole.
African literature is increasingly getting the acclaim it deserves. Most recently The Promise, by South African author Damon Galgut, won the 2021 Booker Prize and Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Tanzanian writer, won the 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature. His most recent book is Afterlives.
Elsewhere in fiction, African fantasy and sci-fi are increasingly making their mark. Nigerian-German author Efua Traoré talks us through the best West African fantasy for teenagers. Rosewater, by British-born Yoruba writer Tade Thompson, is a good example of Afrofuturism. One of our best sci fi books of 2019, it is set in 2066 Nigeria. We have a wealth of recommended historical fiction set in Africa.
If you're looking for nonfiction Africa book recommendations, we have quite a few journalistic recommendations on Africa, Nigeria, South Africa as well as recommendations on the Rwandan genocide and memoirs from Zimbabwe.
On African history, we have historian Michael Gomez of NYU recommending books on the great African empires of the medieval and early modern periods. A Fistful of Shells, a prizewinning book by Toby Green of King's College London, also covers the period before European colonialism wreaked havoc on the continent. Further back in time, historians recommend books on Ancient Egypt and the time of the pharaohs.
The award-winning Cameroonian novelist Mutt-Lon selects five of the best recent novels from Francophone Africa, including Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s Prix Goncourt-winning La plus secrète mémoire des hommes. These novels, he notes—as with many others from West and Central Africa—are united by a common search for identity in post-colonial Africa.
“We are connected to the spirit and it’s an active connection. It’s not somewhere that’s only in the afterlife, it’s here in the present as well. That, I think, is endemic across all African cultures and traditions,” says Zimbabwean novelist and poet Blessing Musariri. Here she recommends some of the best African novels, books that had a big personal impact and have stayed with her.
The Ghanaian economist George Ayittey denounces the failure of leadership and Western policy in Africa and explains what “African solutions to African problems” would mean in practice.
Despite their enormous variety, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa share some common challenges when it comes to politics and governance. Here, political scientist Evan Lieberman talks about the struggles for democracy in the continent and some of the specific obstacles African countries face in state-building and administration.
What is historical fiction? Does it have to be historically accurate? Zimbabwean novelist Tendai Huchu talks us through five important examples of historical novels, including three set in Africa.
Golden Trade of the Moors: West African Kingdoms in the Fourteenth Century
by E.W. Bovill
Ancient Ghana and Mali
by Nehemiah Levtzion
Social History of Timbuktu: The Role of Muslim Scholars and Notables 1400-1900
by Elias Saad
Sunjata: A West African Epic of the Mande Peoples
by David C. Conrad
Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sa'di's Ta'rikh Al-Sudan down to 1613 and Other Contemporary Documents
by John Hunwick
Long before the Europeans arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries, sub-Saharan West Africa saw the emergence of a series of African empires that lasted for centuries and stretched over vast swathes of the continent. They were known as the Ghana, Mali and Songhai Empires. Here, historian Michael Gomez discusses what led to their greatness, what sustained them and why they fell.
Fantasy inspired by West Africa is taking the literary scene for teens and young adults by storm. These books have strong world-building and all the usual fantasy ingredients. At the same time, drawing on rich seams of mythology and magical traditions such as juju, they bring something entirely fresh to the genre. Author Efua Traoré talks us through her pick of West African fantasy novels for teenagers.
The Cambridge Egyptologist discusses his favourite works on Ancient Egypt, from the first book he bought on the subject to an authoritative coffee-table tome.
The journalist and author of We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, an account of the Rwandan genocide, explores five books on the events that left 800,000 dead in 100 days.
Wildlife of Madagascar
by Keith Barnes & Kenneth Behrens
Lost People: Magic and the Legacy of Slavery in Madagascar
by David Graeber
Vanilla Landscapes: Meaning, Memory, and the Cultivation of Place in Madagascar
by Sarah Osterhoudt
A World Like Our Own: Man and Nature in Madagascar
by Alison Jolly
Conservation and Environmental Management in Madagascar
by Ivan Scales (editor)
With its range of unique wildlife, Madagascar has been likened to a floating evolutionary laboratory. To Yale biological anthropologist Alison Richard, it’s simply a magical place. Here, she recommends five books on the island she has visited for the past five decades and explains why she wrote her own book, The Sloth Lemur’s Song.
Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt
by Jan Assmann
Visual and written culture in ancient Egypt
by John Baines
The Chapel of Ptahhotep
by Paolo J. Scremin & Yvonne M. Harpur
Village Life in Ancient Egypt
by Andrea McDowell
The Tale of Sinuhe and other ancient Egyptian poems
by Richard Parkinson
Egyptologist Elizabeth Frood recommends books that take us away from the elite context of Egyptian history and focus on the ‘normal’ lives of Egyptians.
Nelson Mandela was a most unusual and unusually astute leader, says journalist and author of Playing the Enemy, John Carlin. He chooses the best books to understand Nelson Mandela, who used forgiveness as a political tool, and South Africa, the country he brought peacefully out of apartheid.
Long-time foreign correspondent Michaela Wrong, the author of books on Zaire, Eritrea, Kenya and Rwanda, tells us where to turn for engaging foreign perspectives on Africa. She recommends five of her favourite books on Africa, by anthropologists, journalists and one US president.
The award-winning novelist thinks Africans want to know how it is that white men have got their hands on all the money. He picks five books on what it means and meant to be white in Africa
The historian reflects on the past 60 years of American involvement in Egypt and tells us, after the Arab Spring, what may make the coming years different
The Economist’s Africa editor chooses histories of Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, as well as the very personal stories of a child slave and a child soldier who was committing atrocities only a decade ago
The South African novelist gives us an unvarnished view of the writer’s life, and explains how literature told the story of apartheid and why comedy is the easiest way to talk about race
The journalist and author discusses five books with strikingly different interpretations of what it means to be South African today, whether black or white
The award-winning South African writer Kevin Bloom discusses five books that bring light to post-apartheid South Africa with focus on the predicament of the white South African. Do whites ‘deserve’ to feel at home in their country?
‘Wherever you go today in the Congo, you will find monstrous warlords. But you will find far more volunteer nurses and Red Cross workers and teachers who haven’t been paid for 20 years but are still doing their job, not allowing things to fall apart.’
The emeritus professor of social anthropology at the London School of Economics and author of Speak of the Devil says the Dinka and the Nuer are famous in anthropology for not being preoccupied with misfortune
Via five engrossing memoirs, the Zimbabwe-born journalist Georgina Godwin talks wistfully about her country; amongst the older generation, she says, there is a feeling that Rhodesia was sold down the river by Britain and things needn’t have turned out the way they did.
World News Editor at the FT and Pulitzer Prize nominee discusses the struggles and triumphs of South Africa – the colonial scramble, the end of apartheid, Mbeki, Mandela and rugby, ANC corruption and more