First port of call: Nigeria
A little while ago, I made the conscious decision to diversify my reading list and explore the stories and perspectives of the many talented authors from around the world. Our literary world is dominated by white, English speaking authors and I am not dismissing these authors and their works as valuable or entertaining. I have enjoyed many of those award winners, classics and best sellers and always will but there is a world of stories and authors out there that I realised I was missing out on and I have enjoyed discovering them and the insights I have gained from reading them.
For no particular reason, the first book on my reading journey took me to Nigeria and I wanted to share some of my favourite books written by Nigerian authors. So far, I have not read a Nigerian author’s work that I did not love.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Hailed as a masterpiece and the great African novel, this book has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and is required reading in schools all over the world. i am so glad I came across this book. It chronicles the African experience of colonialism and the subsequent clash of cultures from the British invasion in the early 19th century. Through Okonkwo, the Igbo warrior protagonist, we are given insight into this West African tribe’s culture, law and ritual. There is a sense of foreboding throughout, knowing that the British are on their way but I appreciated Achebe’s skill in layering the complexities of this story without sentimentality. Igbo village life is often described as harsh and difficult and this is not a simplistic good versus evil story but a powerful exploration of invasion from the perspective of the invaded. The first in The African Trilogy, I am looking forward to reading the next two in this series.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
I did not want to put this book down. Adichie’s depiction of a tumultuous and heartbreaking period in African history was eye opening. To be honest, I was totally ignorant of the events in Nigeria that led to the creation of Biafra as an independent state in the 1960s and even more ignorant of the civil war that ensued. I do remember hearing about starving Biafran children when I was a child but it was vague and far off.
Through the five main characters’ intertwining stories, Adichie paints a rich and evocative picture of the many ways life was lived, irrevocably changed and ultimately lost during this period and we are given perspectives from these characters’ vastly different places in Nigerian society.
It is a gripping tale of love, war and class, strongly woven into an important historical period. This book gives it life and voice to the people and the struggle and it stays with you well after you have read the last word and closed the book. Chimamada Ngozi Adichie is now one of my favourite authors and I am on another journey to read all of her work.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafur
This is a wild ride of a book!
In a brilliant blend of sci-fi, religion and mythology this African Futurist story begins with a singer, soldier and scientist being swept out to sea in a freak tsunami style wave. Surviving, they emerge irrevocably changed by their time underwater accompanied by Ayodele, an alien who claims to want to make the world a better place. The story just gets better from there.
Set in the modern day city of Lagos, Okorafor paints a vivid picture of a city infused with vitality. I could almost smell and taste this vibrant place and it makes perfect sense for a race of aliens to arrive here and try to blend in to the diversity and chaos. It’s also nice to centre the alien “invasion” trope somewhere other than North America for a change.
This is the first adult fiction novel by Nnedi Okorafor. Her award winning YA novel Who Fears Death was widely acclaimed.
An orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
This is a slow moving, thoughtful novel, much like the protagonist, a quiet chicken farmer, Nonso. It is a story that you know is going to be full of tragedy but there are moments of beauty, joy, insight and love as Nonso embarks on a quest to better himself in the eyes of his girlfriend Ndali’s wealthy family and win the right to marry her. Narrated throughout by Nonso’s chi or guardian spirit, magic and Igbo creationism form a strong foudnation in this stroy and offer a fscinating point of view to read through.
Through Nonso’s journey we are offered a powerful insight into the world from a very different compass point on the map of the world and it’s a powerful read.
Likened to Homer’s Odyssey, this is not your happily ever after story where good triumphs over bad and our hero wind over adversity. it is so much more layered, rich and thoughtful. It might be slow moving but it grips you as a reader and offers an important insight into a modern African experience.