The best African books of 2022
From the thought provoking and evocative to the laughter inducing, here are our best African books of 2022 (in no particular order).
Things They Lost – Okwiri Oduor
A debut like no other, this book not only showcase Odour’s talent but serves as a dazzling reminder of the wealth of literary talent Kenya has to offer. At the centre of this spellbinding and goosebump-inducing story is 12-year-old Ayosa and the three generations of women who came before her. Through magic, mysticism, and folklore, Odour weaves a tale that explores mother-daughter relationships, grief, sorrow and loss, and serves as an ode to girlhood.
Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head – Warsan Shire
One of the greatest poets of our time, Warsan Shire’s highly anticipated poetry collection does not just meet expectations but exceeds them. She writes about love, war, migration, sex, culture, womanhood, heartbreak, pain, and joy. Shire’s ability to articulate emotions and experiences through her poems is unrivalled. Her words have the power to dismantle you in minutes, only to find that you are suddenly stronger than before.
Honey and Spice – Bolu Babalola
Every so often a writer will come along who takes your breath away with every page. Bolu Babalola is that writer. Honey and Spice is her debut novel following the success of her short story collection Love in Colour. It does not disappoint. The novel has all the ingredients for a hot and hilarious rom-com; take two students and a dash of chemistry, and mix in a hugely entertaining plotline, topped with a few spoons of passion and there you have it. Perfection.
Vagabonds! – Eloghosa Osunde
One city. An array of characters. Countless stories. Osunde brings the reader snapshots of life in Lagos, its outliers, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, and those from other worlds. Vagabonds is a novel filled with energy, capturing the chaos of Lagos life in a fresh and mesmerising writing style. Sex, greed, lust, love, power are all present, underneath which individuals are trying to survive systems in Nigeria that seek to destroy them.
Glory – NoViolet Bulawayo
The renowned novelist is back with a cleverly told story that echoes events in her homeland of Zimbabwe. An “old horse” is removed from power in the animal kingdom of Jidada. There is much celebration as fellow horse and Vice-President Tuvius Delight Shasha is set to take over. But alas, things take an all too familiar turn as Tuvius’s promise to “make Jidada great again” ends up being just that: a promise. This is a hilarious and heart-breaking work of satire that neatly sums up the workings of an autocratic regime.
You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty – Akwaeke Emezi
The celebrated writer continues to deliver masterpiece after masterpiece. In their latest, Feyi has spent five years grieving her husband who died in a car accident and is set to begin her foray into the world of dating once more. An encounter sees her professional and personal lives collide, leading to an unconventional love triangle. This is not just a novel about romance, however, but much more. Through the book, Emezi exquisitely tells a story that never fails to conjure familiar sensations of feelings long gone, from love and heartbreak to grief.
A Down Home Meal For These Difficult Times – Meron Hadero
The news cycle frequently speaks of migrants and refugees but rarely sees them as living and breathing human beings. Award-winning Ethiopian-American writer Hadero’s collection of stories brings the empathy so often missing from discussions around migration and the diaspora experience in an anthology that encapsulates the many experiences of those that have left home behind.
Strange and Difficult Times – Nanjala Nyabola
The incandescent Kenyan writer is back with a sobering collection of essays featuring her observations on the Covid-19 pandemic. She writes of how the crisis exposed the global inequalities and served as a reminder that, despite what global leaders may tell us, all lives are not equal. This is not a Covid-19 diary or a re-living of the pandemic. Rather, it is an important body of work that highlights unforgivable injustices and the courageous systems and voices trying to counter them.
Africa Is Not A Country – Dipo Faloyin
With a riveting title with substance to match, Dipo Faloyin’s non-fiction offering smashes through the many stereotypes that surround the African continent while also providing great insights into its rich history and current realities. This is not only an informative read but a funny and entertaining one too, focusing on everything from authoritarian role to the jollof wars.
Black and Female – Tsitsi Dangarembga
She wrote one of the greatest novels of our time. Now, the Zimbabwean author, filmmaker and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga brings us a collection of essays, heart wrenching in some places and triumphant in others. She reflects upon her various roles and identities, saying that “to be a feminist while black and female in Zimbabwe is to live at the epicentre of structural racism and a brutal militarised patriarchy”. Effortlessly bringing together the personal and political, Dangarembga provides an insight into her life and how the systems in which she exists have impacted her as a woman and a writer.
Why Do You Dance When You Walk? – Abdourahman A. Waberi
In this poignant novel from prize-winning Djiboutian writer Abdourahman Waberi, a child on her way to school in Paris asks her father “why do you dance when you walk?” in reference to his limp. This leads him to tell her the story of his life in Djibouti and the illness that led to his disability. This is a touching and beautiful story set in a country rarely found in the English literary scene.
On Rotation – Shirlene Obuobi
A new romance queen is in town: Ghanaian-American physician, cartoonist, and novelist Shirlene Obuobi. On Rotation tells the story of medical student Angie Appiah, a high achiever who ticks all the “perfect immigrant daughter” boxes. Until it all falls apart. But Angie soon discovers that both love and life can surprise you when you least expect it. A delicious read which will leave you constantly longing for one more chapter.
So Distant From My Life – Monique Ilboudo
(Translated by Yarri Kamara)
A young man from West Africa has a plan to: “[One,] get out of this rat-hole as soon as possible. Two, go and make a fortune in Europe, or even better in the land of Uncle Sam. Three, come back and live like a king”. He thus attempts to make the crossing to Europe and fails twice until he finds another way, through French widower Elgep. In a time of some of the cruellest policies around migration, this is a timely and important book by Burkinabe writer Monique Ilboudo.
An Angel’s Demise – Sue Nyathi
A gripping tale from a talented novelist, Nyathi’s latest book illustrates what happens when personal and political histories collide. A child called Angel born on a farm in what is then Southern Rhodesia. She finds her feet as her nation fights for its identity and independence. Decades later, she finds herself in the most unexpected of places as a fallen angel. Nyathi effortlessly strikes a balance between an entertaining plotline and the telling of an important history.
A History of Disappearance – Sarah Lubala
If there is one book of poetry you read this year, make it this one. The collection by the Congolese-born poet will stay with you long after you have returned to book to the shelf. In tender, haunting and mesmerising words, Lubala explores the ways people disappear, displacement, war, trauma, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and more.
Days Come and Go – Hemley Boum
(Translated by Nchanji Njamnsi)
Cameroon born writer Hemley Boum’s latest novel focuses on three generations of Cameroonian women. Relationships, mothers and daughters as well as violence and terrorism come together in this family drama that weaves together personal stories with the history and journey of a nation.
Bitter – Akwaeke Emezi
Emezi’s awe-inducing work ethic means they make another appearance in this list with this Young Adult novel (though we think everyone will love it). In this a prequel to Emezi’s first YA novel, PET, protagonist Bitter attends a school for gifted artists in the troubled city of Lucille. As protests take place away from the school walls, Bitter faces the choice of whether to participate or remain on the side lines. Ultimately her art makes the decision for her, leaving her to navigate this journey while dealing with the trials and tribulations of young adulthood.
Swallow: Efunsetan Aniwura – Ayodele Olofintuade
In this reimagination of 19th century Nigerian history, women ready to fight the British Empire embark on a quest for the survival of their people. In the course of their struggle, they are also forced to grapple with tradition, culture, and love. A brilliant read published by independent Nigerian publishing house Masobe Books.
God’s Children Are Little Broken Things – Arinze Ifeakandu
In this flawless collection of stories that largely focus on queer love in Nigeria, the writing is always tender and sensitive, the characters well crafted, and the themes well thought out. This is a book that will stay with you.
An Unusual Grief – Yewande Omotoso
Omotoso’s ability to capture what it is to be human, to articulate the fragility of the threads that bind us together, is unrivalled. Following the death of her estranged daughter Yinka, Mojisola moves into her child’s former apartment and, in doing so, gets to know both herself and Yinka. If the story does not have you in tears, the exquisite writing will.