Books With an African Theme

Old Feb 15th, 2007, 03:24 PM
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Books With an African Theme

Reading John's (afrigalah) post this morning started me thinking, once again, about good books (fiction & nonfiction) - with Africa as a theme. I know this has been done, but I can't find the thread, so decided on a fresh one.

What are your favorite African books? My favorites include:


The Tree Where Man Was Born -- Peter Matthiessen: Matthiessen writes of his experiences in East Africa during the 1960’s. His description of wildlife, people, and landscape is fascinating. I began this book before we left for Tanzania and finished it when we got home. Somehow the reading took on more meaning to me after having seen the things he described.

Wildlife of East Africa – Martin Withers & David Hosking: A wonderful, portable (small & lightweight) field guide. We took it with us and marked off animals as we saw them. This guide was invaluable in helping us identify the pictures we took when we returned home!!

The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior – Tepilit Ole Saitoti: Although this autobiography is not a literary masterpiece, it provides an interesting glimpse into the Maasai culture and what it was like for the author to grow up in a changing society. I read this before we left for our trip, and for some reason having read it helped me to connect to the tourist village we visited on our safari. The man who was our “guide” seemed appreciative that we had some knowledge of his culture and we felt that we were able to have more than the photo op/shopping encounter that the stop could have been.

Unbowed – Wangari Maathai: An autobiography of the 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Maathai is a political activist and founder of the Green Belt Movement (which has provided an income for rural women and helped restore indigenous forests through the planting of over thirty million trees since 1977). In 2002 she was elected to Kenya’s Parliament and in 2003 was appointed assistant minister of the environment. I am currently reading this book, and find it very interesting and readable.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller: Another autobiography telling of “Bobo” Fuller’s growing up as a white child in Africa during the Rhodesian civil war. It is an insightful tale, both sad and funny, written with sensitivity and honesty. Alexandra Fuller writes with an interesting perspective and voice. I truly enjoyed this book.

Monique and the Mango Rains – Kris Holloway: I have not yet read this story of a friendship between a Peace Corp volunteer in Mali and a midwife, but it is sitting on my “to be read shelf”, and is next on my reading list, so I can’t yet recommend it, but it looks like a great book. [I must admit to being a book junky and literally have shelves of unread books]

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa -- Peter Godwin: This is another book sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, so I can not give a recommendation, one way or the other. A South African woman who we were on safari with recommended this book to me. My understanding is this is a memoir of a boy who reaches manhood during the end of White rule in Rhodesia.


Cry, The Beloved Country – Alan Paton; I imagine that most of you are already aware of this book. It is the story of a Zulu pastor and his son, set in a background of racial injustice. This is a universal story of hope and love, courage and dignity. This lyric tale is one of my all time favorites.

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series -- Alexander McCall Smith: O.K. I admit it these books are very lightweight reading, but how can you not love the amply sized, ever so wise, Precious Ramotswe? I find these books enchanting, filled with warmth and pride in Africa and her traditions.
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Old Feb 15th, 2007, 04:12 PM
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Nevermind, I'm an avid reader, (as well as would be writer) and the top African books on my list have to be:

Country of my Skull - Antjie Krog. (Forget the film, the book is an incredible read and insight into the Truth and reconciliation Commission.)

The Constant Gardener - John le Carre on which the recent film was based.

Green Hills of Africa, True at first light, Snows of Kilimanjaro - Hemingway

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad.

To me all classic African writing, though not necessarily wildlife orientated.
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Old Feb 15th, 2007, 05:20 PM
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Just finishing Heart of Darkness after reading King Leopold's Ghost and Green Hills of Africa. Would absolutely recommend King Leopold's Ghost...non-fiction that reads like a novel.
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Old Feb 15th, 2007, 05:52 PM
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I've mentioned a few books in threads like this before, but always manage to forget some. In reality, those deserving a mention because each has something worthwhile are just too numerous.

In keeping with my preference for illustration, my favourites would just have to include the late artist Simon Combes' An African Experience (wonderful paintings of Kenyan wildlife); and artist Craig Bone's African Seasons- wildlife at the waterhole (paintings and drawings at Mana Pools). Both these books have wonderful text.

Also high on my list is one I've mentioned before (and quoted extracts from) because it offers a quite valuable assessment of about 40 of Africa's parks and wilderness areas: Chris & Tilde Stuart's Africa's Great Wild Places. This, too, is a wonderful mixture of high quality illustration and text (plus maps), and I was pleased to see the other day is still easily available at .

My text-only favourites include one first published more than 40 years ago: John Hillaby's Journey to the Jade Sea, the location which figures so dramatically in the more recent book and movie, "The Constant Gardener".

Then there are the wonderful Joubert and Balfour photographic books. As I said, all those worthy of mention for one reason or another are just too numerous to list.

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Old Feb 15th, 2007, 05:52 PM
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Enloyed Cry of the Kalahari by the Owens about the brown hyena and deception valley,The early days of Maun and Botswana.
For fiction Bryce Courtenay and The Power of One was good.
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Old Feb 15th, 2007, 09:44 PM
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My contributions:


The Heart of Redness, Zakes Mda
The Madonna of Excelsior, Zakes Mda
Abyssinian Chronicles, Moses Isegawa
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Wizard of the Crow, Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Moss, Mary Watson (Caine Prize winner)
The Lost Boy, Dave Eggers
Horn of Africa, Philip Caputo
Song of the Atman, Ronnie Govender
Tsotsi, Athol Fugard (very much UN-like the Oscar-winning film)


Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Frontiers, Noel Mostert
The State of Africa, Martin Meredith
Lords of the Last Frontier, Lawrence Green
The Sheltering Desert, Henno Martin
Covenant, James Michener

Some other (sub-Saharan) African writers of note, but who don't appeal as much to my taste:

Nadine Gordimer (Nobel winner)
John Coetzee (Nobel winner)
Wole Soyinka (Nobel winner)
Njabulo Ndebele
Andre Brink
Chinua Achebe

There are many, many wonderful local writers in Africa who never are distributed outside their local country market. Look online at for a good online book retailer who can ship internationally. University libraries in the US and Europe often have a selection of African fiction, too. Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa all have sustained literary lives (considering only the Anglophone sphere).

Also -- "Books with an African Theme" and "favorite African books" are clearly not the same thing...and I'm happy that the books listed thus far in this thread don't fall into the 'nostalgic African fantasy' genre.

If you will permit an analogy grounded in a very gross generalisation (but born of literary arguments in cafes and while waiting for the rain to stop or the heat to break in various and sundry countries), many Africans will think about African wildlife/native culture stories or 'white memoirs' the way that Americans think about cowboy-and-indian or prohibition-era gangster stories: a few books/authors worth reading, but by and large irrelevant to contemporary life, issues, passions, etc.

There was a good piece in the NYT by Manohla Dargis recently ( that touches on these and some other, more substantive points, but in the context of film, not literature. However, much of what she says is relevant and right on the money. Worth a squizz.

(So *please* read more African authors -- not just African-themed books

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Old Feb 15th, 2007, 10:28 PM
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Forgot, "When hippo was hairy" and when "elephant was king" by Nick Greeves.
Great reading for young and old.
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Old Feb 16th, 2007, 01:28 AM
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I'd forgotten The Poisonwood Bible, another excellent read. One worth seeking out is The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo: it's a child's tale but beautifully written and a heartwarming tale: I wonder when it will become a film.

Amazon have it, look here:

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Old Feb 16th, 2007, 05:42 AM
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"We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" by Philip Gourevitch. A book about the Rwanda genocide that is as difficult to read as it is to put down.

Also, check out "Acts of Faith" by Philip Caputo, a novel set in Sudan.
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Old Feb 16th, 2007, 09:21 PM
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Some of my favourites are:

Bennun, David Tick bite fever
(growing up in 1980s Nairobi and laugh out loud funny in some places)

Clark, June Vendall Starlings laughing

The author and her husband were instrumental in establishing the Moremi Reserve in the late 1950's, early 1960s.

Hartley, Adrian The Zanzibar chest

Joubert, Beverly Hunting with the moon
Joubert, Beverly Africa Diaries

Lamb, Christina The Africa House
(The story of the Harvey family and Shiwa Nganda in Zambia)

Lamb, Christina The House of stone : the true story of a family divided in war torn Zimbabwe

Meldrum, Andrew Now we have hope : a memoir of Zimbabwe

Younghusband, Peter Every meal a banquet, every night a honeymoon

A round-up of favourite stories by this retired journalist.

Also, Peter Godwin (author of Mukiwa) has a new book coming in March (I think) called When the crocodile eats the sun

Happy reading,

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Old Feb 17th, 2007, 04:15 AM
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Here’s some info about how to write about Africa:
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Old Feb 17th, 2007, 06:41 AM
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The White Masai by Corrine Hoffman
- Recently translated into english. It is the story of a woman who travels to Kenya and falls in love with a Masai Warrior. I believe there are a few sequels as well, but don't think they are available in english yet.
Fascinating, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Old Feb 17th, 2007, 07:03 AM
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I loved the Granta piece -- well worth a re-read! Thanks Nyamera

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Old Feb 17th, 2007, 07:32 AM
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A White Boy in Africa is very good - nevermind, you should try to get round to it.
I really liked White Massai too.

Another good one is A Primates Memoirs or Memoirs of a Primate (can't remember). This is about a guy doing research on Baboon troupes and his interaction with them and the locals. A very good book in my mind

Another one is Desert Flower - about a famous model who was born and grew up in Ethopia and ran away to find herself becoming a famous model. There is another book which is either the sequel of prequel to this one - both are very goog.

Another book I read is about two sisters who grew up in England and were married off in Africa. A good book but I can't remember the name - I will see if I can find it and post the name later.

Also, who could forget Gorillas in The Mist!

(ll are true stories by the way)
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Old Feb 17th, 2007, 08:23 AM
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any of the books by Mark and Delia Owens are good reading:
Eye of the Elephant
Cry of the Kalahari
Secrets of the Savanna
Survivors Song
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Old Feb 27th, 2007, 08:57 PM
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The two that I most recently read are :
Tick Bite Fever – David Bennun
Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux
Enjoyed them both

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Old Feb 27th, 2007, 09:41 PM
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Nyamera - LOL - Re: How to write about africa link . Fantastic. I am thinking about my first chapter now.

"I fell in LOVE with Africa - her wide open spaces, the big sky - the luminous quality of her light...of course I knew about HIV and poverty and despotism and the conflicts of The People living alongside the wildlife - but for the sake of a good holiday I was prepared to ignore all that."
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Old Feb 28th, 2007, 07:32 AM
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guess you meant:
'A Primate's Memoir': Robert M. Sapolsky
'Desert Flower' by Waris Dirie (she's from Somali)


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Old Feb 28th, 2007, 08:48 AM
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Dark Star Safari - Theroux
Ecological Intelligence - McCallum
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Old Feb 28th, 2007, 09:23 AM
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I really like "Dark Star Safari," too. I also highly recommend "The Zanzibar Chest" by Aiden Hartley. I know both of these have already been mentioned, but I want to second those suggestions.
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