must reads

Africa: Top 15 books from 2022 to dive into

By Dami Ajayi, Jerry Chiemeke

Posted on December 27, 2022 18:18

 © People browse for books at a stand during the Hargeisa International Book Fair in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa in 2018. (Photo by MUSTAFA SAEED / AFP)
People browse for books at a stand during the Hargeisa International Book Fair in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa in 2018. (Photo by MUSTAFA SAEED / AFP)

2022 has been coloured by unprecedented events: from economic upheavals engulfing world powers to military skirmishes snowballing into a full-blown war, this year has treated us to the unexpected. But it has also been a great year for African literature.

From fables born in Harare to poems inspired by exile and the West African coastal cities to memoirs scribbled in Accra, our continent’s literary minds residing on the continent or in the diaspora have published compelling books that have enriched the world of letters.

By no means exhaustive, here is a list of 15 books you ought to remember 2022 by:

1. Fabienne Kanor: Humus (fiction)

In 1774, in circumstances similar to the Igbo Landing of 1803, 14 African women aboard a slave ship named Le Soleil jumped into the sea to escape enslavement. Fabienne Kanor’s experiment with historical fiction, translated from the French original by French professor Lynn E. Palermo, retells this grim story from the individual perspectives of these women, conjuring vivid mental images of the volatility of the times.

2. Romeo Oriogun: Nomad (poetry)

Winner of the 2022 NLNG Prize for Literature, Romeo Oriogun’s magisterial sophomore collection, Nomad, is as much a tribute to the queer body as it is a homage to places.

The poet persona is an energetic and wondrous traveler in search of home but more preoccupied with the role of a voyeur peering at humanity and modern life.

3. Scholastique Mukasonga: The Barefoot Woman (non-fiction)

Intially published in 2008 in French, Scholastique Mukasonga’s tender yet unflinching memoir about the horrors of Rwanda genocide finally arrived in the English language courtesy the translation of Jordan Stump.

Longlisted for the Baillie Glifford Prize, Mukasonga’s triumph is her moving tribute to her mother and maternal love, the most assured consanguineous love in the face of war.

4. Noviolet Bulawayo: Glory (Fiction)

It’s easy to describe Noviolet Bulawayo’s Booker Prize-shortlisted novel as a “Zimbabwean Animal Farm”, but while the inspiration is evident, Glory is more nuanced than that. Bulawayo’s second full-length work of allegorical fiction sees her leaning into satire and irony as she describes the brutality that accompanies a dictatorial regime.

5. Remy Ngamije: Eternal Audience of One (Fiction)

Laden with razor-sharp wit, irreverent humour, and refreshing verve, Ngamije’s scintillating debut is a coming-of-age story of a young man torn away from his roots, and who must interrogate his past in his quest for a sense of place. The novel quietly functions as a time machine with an expansive story whose heroes glide through genocide-ridden Rwanda, 1970s Brussels, and post-apartheid South Africa.

6. Nadifa Mohamed: The Fortune Men (Fiction)

Winner of the 2022 Wales Book of the Year – English Language category, British Somali novelist’s third novel, The Fortune Men, reimagines the true story of a Somali former merchant seaman wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of a white lady in 1950s. Although posthumously exonerated in 1998 after the discovery that falsified evidence was used in his trial, Nadifa Mohammed humanises this moving character’s lot in what was described in the Financial Times as a “restitution of justice, in prose.”

7. Damilare Kuku: Nearly All The Men In Lagos Are Mad (short stories)

With its mordant wit, accessible language and flair for melodrama, Kuku’s debut collection of short stories has amassed unprecedented commercial success and acclaim both in her native country Nigeria and elsewhere.

She stakes her ambitious claim in animating the literary lodestone that is Lagos in short form fiction and with a keen contemporaneous outlook.

8. Sylva Nze Ifedigbo: Believers and Hustlers (Fiction)

For his second novel, Nigerian writer and columnist Sylva Nze Ifedigbo deploys compelling prose in exploring the sinister underbelly of organised religion in Nigeria. In this riveting body of work which earned Ifedigbo the 2022 Chinua Achebe Prize for Fiction, a struggling journalist finds that his curiosity is piqued by a mysterious death that occurs on the premises of an ultra-successful pastor.

9. Khadija Abdalla Bajaber: House of Rust (fiction)

Fantasy meets oral tradition in Bajaber’s ambitious debut novel. A young girl from Mombasa embarks on a voyage to rescue her fisherman father who suddenly goes missing. She navigates the wild seas with a skeleton-made boat as her means of transportation. Cats, crows and sharks get in on the act as important characters relevant to the plot of this enchanting novel.

10. Bolu Babalola: Honey and Spice (Fiction)

Bolu Babalola follows her mesmerising collection of short stories with a debut novel about finding love while desperately avoiding it. Written in witty prose with a cinematic pace that testifies to Babalola’s stint in screenwriting, Honey and Spice is a love story with the usual twists and turns of the genre, in this instance her main characters are Black British students perpetuating a campus romance.

11. Akwaeke Emezi: You Made A Fool of Death With Your Beauty (Fiction)

Amidst vivid, incisive paragraphs, Akwaeke Emezi’s first shot at romantic fiction dwells on mortality, the complexities of grief, and navigating life in spite of it.

This book draws its title from the lyric Florence + The Machine’s song ‘Hunger’ and tells the story of an artist who tries to pick up the pieces of her life after losing her husband in a car crash, seeing out the drudgery of her existence until one fortuitous meeting at a rooftop party.

12. Yomi Sode: Manorism (Poetry)

Sode’s moving debut book of poems is a timely account that throws up themes around coming-of-age, migration, inner-city borough violence, male vulnerability, and racism.

This is a complete experience of what it means to be human while still being a meditation on art. It announces the arrival of a major poet, little wonder it was shortlisted for the much-coveted TS Eliot Prize.

13. Edward Enningful: A Visible Man (Nonfiction)

Edward Enningful is no stranger to breaking glass ceilings. His life in many ways has played out as a protest of sorts: it takes steel and grit for a black, openly gay man to become editor-in-chief of British Vogue. His hearty, stylistic memoir, A Visible Man, chronicles his foray into the fashion industry, and it became the perfect platform for him to advocate for inclusion and influence the conversations surrounding beauty, blackness, and culture.

14. Namwali Serpell: The Furrows (Fiction)

Namwali Serpell’s latest offering works grief, absence, and scant memories into a time loop. A girl watches her brother die in her arms, but the lack of physical proof, as well as the sketchy nature of her version of events, sets her middle-class white mother on edge.

Rhythmic and pristine, Serpell’s second novel asks all the right questions pertaining to white guilt, trauma, and race dynamics.

15. Victoria Adukwei Bulley: Quiet (Poetry)

An impactful debut poetry collection, Quiet has been described in the Guardian UK as moving “between anger and tenderness, scientific curiosity and raw grief, full-on noisiness and meditative quiet.” Bulley’s distinct poetics is her unique turn of phrase deploying pause and silence to animate her poems.

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