I was scanning through my bookshelf today and stumbled on old copies of some of my favourite African classics. I read quite a number of them growing up and would gladly read them over and over again. I know it’s the same feeling for anyone who grew up reading Chinua Achebe, Peter Abrahams, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Cyprian Ekwensi and other authors in their league.
Sadly, most of their works have been confined to the classrooms to be used as part of school curriculum. I think they are great for leisure reading and should be kept as souvenirs for future generations. These authors introduced us to the beauty and diversity of the African culture.
If you’re wondering what to do in your free time or how to get your teenager engaged during the school holiday, getting some of these awesome works of art would be a great idea.
Find below the 10 most outstanding African classics of all time. Please feel free to appraise and add to the list.
In no particular order:
1.Weep Not Child by Ngugi wa ‘Thiongo
Published in 1964, “Weep Not Child” is the first novel from the great Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa ‘Thiongo. It tells the story of two brothers Njoroge and Kamau. Njoroge is to attend school, while Kamau is to train as a carpenter. However, their country, Kenya is in a state of unrest. In the forests, the Mau Mau is at war with the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau, the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.
Weep Not Child tells in graphic details the impact of the infamous Mau Mau uprising on the lives of ordinary men and women in Kenya.
2. The Concubine by Elechi Amadi
Published in 1975, Elechi Amadi in The Concubine illustrates the complexities and the uniqueness of African traditional systems especially marriage, customs and values through the relationship of three central characters: Ihuoma, Emenike and Ekwueme.
This novel introduced me to some traditional Igbo names.
3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria’s independence, Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a high handed man who constantly lived in fear especially fear of domination and weakness.
What I enjoy in Things Fall Apart is the use of proverbs. I’m sure you’ll remember a few:
-“Eneke the bird says since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching”
-“The lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did”
4. The Passport of Mallam Ilia by Cyprian Ekwensi
Written twelve years before its publication in 1960, The Passport of Mallam Ilia appeals to young readers and explores themes of betrayal, revenge and trust. It tells the story of Mallam Ilia who spends a greater part of his life seeking revenge for wrong done to him by one Usman. Though he is able to avenge the wrong, it comes at a very high price and we are left to wonder if the whole revenge mission is worth it.
5. Toads for Supper by Chukwuemeka Ike
Published 1965, Toads for Supper is set in a conservative time in Nigeria. It is a tragi-comedy about the dilemma faced by Amadi, a young university undergraduate sponsored by his community.
Amadi is caught between choosing Aduke, a sophisticated course mate whom he loves dearly and the timid Nwakaego, his bethroted wife.
Amidst this chaos, he gets lured by a “sweet-time” girlfriend who later claims he is responsible for the baby she is carrying. This earned him a suspension. Will Amadi escape his woes? How will he tell his people back home?
6. No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe
Published at independence in 1960, No Longer At Ease is the story of a man whose foreign education has separated him from his African roots and made him part of a ruling elite whose corruption he finds repugnant. More than thirty years after it was first written, this novel remains a brilliant statement on the challenges still facing African society.
7. The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Since it won the Booker Prize, The Famished Road has become a classic. The main character, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition exists between life and death. The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells is full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected. But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro’s loving parents are made destitute. The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this story.
8. The Last Duty by Isidore Okpewho
This is one book you’ll surely love to read again. The writer, Isidore Okpewho is in a league of his own. His writing is simple, yet very deep. Each character tells his own story in the form of a dramatic monologue thus giving the reader a good understanding of the character’s persona and the motive for his or her action.
Set during the civil war, the story revolves around six main characters: Toje, Ali, Oshevire, Aku, Odibo and Oghenovo.
I beam a smile whenever I see The Last Duty on a shelf. Money back guarantee on this book.
9. Lokotown and Other Stories by Cyprian Ekwensi
Published in 1966, Lokotown is a collection of short stories by the outstanding story teller, Cyprian Ekwensi.
Lokotown tells the story of people who lived in Lokotown, a town mostly inhabited by men who worked with the Nigerian Railway Corporation and their escapade with Lokotown sensation- the elegant, fashionable and exploitative lady called Konni. Beyond the plot of the story, I was enthralled by the fact that in times past, the Nigerian Railway Corporation employed so many people that the economy of a whole town was tied to its fortune. Men had jobs and could support their families.
On the whole, I think the book “Lokotown” is a great read and a collector’s item.
10. So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba
So Long a Letter is a landmark book – a sensation in its own country and an education for outsiders. Mariama Ba, a Senegalese writer and longtime women activist, set out to write a book that exposed the double standard between men and women in Africa. The result, So Long a Letter, eventually won the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The book itself takes the form of a long letter written by a widow, Ramatoulaye, to her friend, over the mandatory forty-day mourning period following the death of a husband.
Do you agree with this list? Feel free to add yours.