I try and read as much about Africa as I can and below is a list of my favorite books set in Africa. All of these books are worth owning and each will give you a little further insight into this fascinating, complex and diverse continent. If you’re into lighter fare check out any book by Wilbur Smith. His adventure packed novels are set in Africa and make for great beach reading.
1. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
Written by Alexandra Fuller, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is a fascinating memoir about growing up in a white farming family during the Rhodesian war in the 1970’s. The book is poignantly written and Fuller’s deep love of Africa comes bounding through despite the violence she encountered in her young life. If you are at all interested in the complexities of post-colonial Africa, this is a wonderful read.
2. What is the What
This fictional novel is about Valentino Achak Deng, one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys”. It’s based on the real lives of a generation of Sudanese boys who tried to escape war and poverty by walking across deserts, dodging bullets and lions to make it to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Some of the lucky ones then went on to live in the United States where they faced different obstacles. Their stories are echoed in this powerful book by one of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers.
3. Life and Times of Michael K
Written by Nobel Prize winner JM Coetzee who also won a Booker prize for his novel Disgrace. This was the first book I read by Coetzee and it remains my favorite. Bleak, haunting but amazing, The Life and Times of Michael K (Coetzee’s first Booker win) is about the physical and spiritual journey of a man who tries to bring his ailing mother back to her village in a war-torn South Africa.
4. Palace Walk
Written by the Noble Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk is the first book in his Cairo Trilogy. A must for anyone interested in modern Egypt and for that matter, anyone interested in reading one of the finest novelists in the world. Palace Walk is about a merchant living in Cairo, who makes his family follow strict religious social rules while he breaks all of them himself.
5. The Poisonwood Bible
Written by Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible is a novel set in the Belgian Congo. A missionary brings his wife a 4 daughters to a remote village to try and convert the natives. He doesn’t have much luck but never stops trying to the detriment of all those around him. An excellent piece of fiction and an especially good read for anyone interested in volunteering in Africa.
6. A Bend in the River
Written by Nobel Prize winner V.S Naipaul, A Bend in the River is based on Idi Amin’s Uganda and follows the story of an Indian merchant trying to survive the political and economic turbulence of a newly independent East African country. This is a brilliant novel which captures the social confusion as well as corruption of post-colonial Africa.
7. The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist
Written by Breyten Breytenbach The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist is a memoir of his seven years spent in South Africa’s worst prisons. If you are interested in learning about the horrors of South Africa’s Apartheid system, read this very moving and beautifully written book.
Since this is an Africa travel site I couldn’t ignore the best overall Africa travel book on the market. The Lonely Planet Guides have guided me on many trips around the world and their Africa guide is one of the best. You can get quality travel information about every African country including maps, history, accommodations, sights, health and much more. Some individual country guides like that for Ghana and Malawi are better served by the Bradt series, so shop around if you are heading to just one country.
9. Dark Safari (The Legend behind Henry Morton Stanley)
Written by John Bierman this excellent account of the Victorian explorer Stanley is fascinating from beginning to end. Stanley was a reporter commissioned by The New York Herald to find David Livingstone who was lost somewhere in Africa searching for the source of the Nile. Stanley’s journey was as epic as that of Livingstone and he was equally brave, pompous, controversial and cruel.
10. The Fear
This was a real eye-opening book for me. It’s an account of the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe. The author Peter Godwin does an amazing job of relating the stories behind the facts of this brutal political time. Being Zimbabwean, Godwin is able to weave a personal narrative throughout the book, making it that much more powerful. I agree with the reviewer who said: “In the savage gangster world of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Peter Godwin was able to go where other reporters cannot and tell us what others could not—because he is Zimbabwean, and knows what his country has been and could be. You don’t know whether to be more shocked by the monstrousness of the regime’s thugs or the luminous humanity of its opponents”.
11. The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Written by Alexander McCall Smith The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is the first novel in a series of seven about Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s first lady detective. An Agatha Christie type novel set at an African pace it’ll put a smile on your face from beginning to end.
12. The House on Sugar Beach
Written by Helene Cooper an award wining NYT journalist, who grew up in Liberia, The House on Sugar Beach is a wonderfully written memoir. The Cooper family history is just fascinating, going back to the days when the first freed slaves decided to return to Africa. I learned a huge amount about a part of the world that in modern times seems like it has descended into a unique hell. This account is so honestly written, it made me cry on many occasions. I enjoyed it from start to finish, a must-read for anyone interested in African history, the diaspora in the US and if you are looking to make sense at all of modern Liberia.
13. A Good Man in Africa
A wonderful book written by William Boyd, that makes you cringe in the most delicious way! Set in a small made up African republic of Kinjanja, British diplomat Morgan Leafy bumbles through his daily life, not succeeding at much due to his laziness, fondness for women, and drink. But when he becomes an operative in Operation Kingpin and is charged with monitoring the front runner in Kinjanja’s national elections, Morgan senses an opportunity to achieve real professional recognition and, more importantly, reassignment. Instead he finds himself blackmailed, diagnosed with a venereal disease, attempting bribery, and dealing with a dead body