Background reading: Africa


If you’re heading to Africa, here’s a handy list of background reading:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids.[Spain to Egypt]

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
When Salim, a young Indian man, is offered a small business in Central Africa, he accepts. As he strives to establish himself, he becomes closely involved with the fluid and dangerous politics of the newly-dependent state.[Uganda]

Cairo: The City Victorious by Max Rodenbeck
With intimate knowledge, humor, and affection, Rodenbeck takes us on an insider’s tour of the magnificent city: its backstreets and bazaars, its belly-dance theaters and hashish dens, its crowded slums and fashionable salons, its incomparably rich past and its challenging future.[Egypt]

Circling the Square: Stories from the Egyptian Revolution by Wendell Steavenson
“The extraordinary story of the recent Egyptian Revolution as experienced by Cairo’s citizens.” [Egypt]

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel — an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.[Ethiopia]

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
Fuller’s debut is unsentimental and unflinching but always captivating. In wry and sometimes hilarious prose, she stares down disaster and looks back with rage and love at the life of an extraordinary family in an extraordinary time.[Zimbabwe]

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney
“Rosemary Mahoney was determined to take a solo trip down the Egyptian Nile in a small boat, even though civil unrest and vexing local traditions conspired to create obstacles every step of the way.” [Egypt]

Eating the Flowers of Paradise: One Man’s Journey Through Ethiopia and Yemen by Kevin Rushby
Ethiopia in Eastern Africa and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula remain two of the most inviting outposts for travelers seeking the exotic. [Ethiopia, Yemen]

The Girl Who Married a Lion: And Other Tales From Africa by Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and grew up hearing stories that so enchanted him, he passed them along to his own children. He now shares them in this jewel of a book.[Africa]

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s.[Nigeria]

I Do Not Come To You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
A deeply moving debut novel set amid the perilous world of Nigerian email scams, I Do Not Come to You by Chance tells the story of one young man and the family who loves him.” [Nigeria]

King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River.” [Democratic Republic of the Congo]

Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee
In a South Africa torn by civil war, Michael K sets out to take his mother back to her rural home. On the way there she dies, leaving him alone in an anarchic world of brutal roving armies. Imprisoned, Michael is unable to bear confinement and escapes, determined to live with dignity.” [South Africa]

A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Here for the first time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela tells the extraordinary story of his life–an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph.[South Africa]

Marrakesh by Design by Maryam Montague
With illustrative text and gorgeous photographs, Maryam shows how Moroccan design comes to life in real villas and riads and in her own magnificent home and guesthouse.[Morocco]

Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar by Emily Ruete
This is more than merely an interesting story of one Arabian princess’s life in East Africa, as Saïd provides a fascinating insight into the social and cultural history of Zanzibar.” [Tanzania]

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee with Carol Mithers
In a time of death and terror, Leymah Gbowee brought Liberia’s women together–and together they led a nation to peace.[Liberia]

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
“A story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.
[Democratic Republic of the Congo]

A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me by Youssef Fadel, Translator: Jonathan Smolin
Fadel pays powerful testament to a terrible period in Morocco’s history, known as ‘the years of cinders and lead, ‘ and masterfully evokes the suffering inflicted on those who supported the failed coup against King Hassan II in 1972.[Morocco]

Shadows by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
A gripping novella by one of Southern Africa’s rising stars of literature, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s Shadows is set in the ghettos of Bulawayo and Johannesburg.[Zimbabwe, South Africa]

So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, Translator: Modupé Bodé-Thomas
This novel is in the form of a letter, written by the widowed Ramatoulaye and describing her struggle for survival. It is the winner of the Noma Award.[Senegal]

The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo
Seventeen-year-old Abike Johnson is the favourite child of her wealthy father. She lives in a sprawling mansion in Lagos, protected by armed guards and ferried everywhere in a huge black jeep.[Nigeria]

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson
The witty and beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way. [Nigeria]

A Tunisian Tale by Hassouna Mosbahi, translator: Max Weiss
“Introduces the narrative talents of [the author] to an English-language audience for the first time, as he confronts both taboos of Tunisian society and the boundaries of conventional storytelling.” [Tunisia]

The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg
A magical evocation of childhood; at times laugh-out-loud funny, at others heartbreakingly sad.” [Rhodesia/Zimbabwe]

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
An exciting literary debut: the unflinching and powerful story of a young girl’s journey out of Zimbabwe and to America.[Zimbabwe]

What is the What by Dave Eggers
In a heartrending and astonishing novel, Eggers illuminates the history of the civil war in Sudan through the eyes of Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee now living in the United States.” [Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya]

A Year in the World by Frances Mayes
Weaving together personal perceptions and informed commentary on art, architecture, history, landscape, and social and culinary traditions, Mayes brings the immediacy of life in her temporary homes to readers.[Europe, North Africa]