Africa on the bookshelf…

 

So… what have you been reading?

It's six months since I last asked that question and I thought it might be time for an update.

As before, burly but well-read bouncers will be policing the comments section below to ensure nobody tries to sneak in without a book recommendation of their own.

I'm just getting stuck into the entertaining Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, which begins with the "unexpected" pregnancy of a nun in Addis Ababa. Before that came the lyrical Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed; another eloquent tale of family and displacement - a "hymn" says the narrator - with echoes of Ben Okri.

Someone kindly sent me a copy of Looking for Transwonderland, by Noo Saro-Wiwa. The publisher describes it as "the first Nigerian travel-book for a hundred years." It's coming out in January. Noo is the daughter of the executed activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and she makes an entertaining, thoughtful, often disappointed guide around a country she left as a child. The title refers to a dilapidated amusement park once commissioned by Nigeria's First Lady.

What else? I ended up skimming through Edward Paice's Tip and Run - a fascinating but rather long and detailed account of the First World War in East Africa - kindly recommended by someone on the previous blog. And speaking of great wars, Jason Stearns' Dancing in the Glory of Monsters wins my vote for the best title, as well as being an excellent account of the horrors and complexities of the conflicts in DR Congo.

If you're based in South Africa, it's worth keeping an eye on the Troyeville Hotel and its regular book launches. I was annoyed to miss Alexandra Fuller's recent appearance, but here's a link to her top 10 African memoirs. Any additions? I'd love to hear that Laurent Gbagbo was writing his account of his violent, ignominious fall.

Another literary event here in South Africa was recently branded a "circus" for rich whites. Fair?

With the ANC moving close to its 100th anniversary, I'm looking for good books - beyond the most obvious by authors like Sparks, Feinstein and Gumede - that explore its unique role in South Africa, and its uncertain future. I've read Fiona Forde's new book on Julius Malema but was left wanting much more.

And Libya... I didn't get a chance to read much during my time there this year. But I've heard a lot about Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men, and a friend has pointed me towards Alan Moorehead's reportage there from World War Two. Any other recommendations?

 
Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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    Comment number 10.

    Anything by Deon Meyer, I don't know what he is like on the original Afrikaans but the English translations are excellent. One problem: people who haven't lived in Africa don't think his characters are realistic. Those of us who have know that they are all too true to life. He's kind-of Wilbur Smith for the twentyfirst century.

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    Comment number 9.

    Andrew - can't believe you have time to read so much with all the travel you do. Having just moved to South Africa, can you and others recommend best reads on this countyr for historical background, current affairs -- also novels!

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    Comment number 8.

    I have just recently read T.S.BORROW'S NOVEL SEATREK which is a humorous, satirical read written by someone who has lived and loved Africa the book is a reflection of the Authors understanding and knowledge of the Continent.

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    Comment number 7.

    "Somalia between Jihad & Restoration" by Shaul Shay. Shows how presence of radical Islam in the area, alongside local problems & conflicts, has turned Somalia into point in global war against terror. On June 5, 2006, Islamic Courts Union (ICU) declared victory (against American-backed Alliance for the Restoration of Peace). Since then, there has been no peace, no leader & no peace.

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    Comment number 6.

    And I completely forgot to mention Jonny Steinberg's magnificent Little Liberia - definitely the best non-fiction book I've read in a while. Ambiguous, enthralling and perfectly paced.
    Some great recommendations so far.

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    Comment number 5.

    Ben Okri (A Time for New Dreams), Alain Mabanckou (Memoirs of a Porcupine), Hisham Matar (Anatomy of a Disappearance) all spoke inspiringly at Edinburgh Book Festival this summer. All are worth a read. I'd recommend Jackie Kay: Red Dust Road, describing her first meeting with her Nigerian birth father. If it's still possible, listen to her read it - BBC Book of the Week

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    Comment number 4.

    Andrew, don't mean to criticize but are you grading books when there is so much else going on? The hunt for Kony, where is he? who is funding Al-shaboob, why is the West slow too freeze accounts belonging to that idiot kid of the dictator from Equatorial Guinea, etc I appreciate your effort to talk about something positive though. Nigerian writes still reign supreme, Achebe & Amadi

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    Comment number 3.

    It's a depressing reality that often we trip over the richest texts when we have already encountered an essence of the text through other media. I watched Invictus and later found Playing the Enemy by John Carlin. Loved the film, was awed by the book. If we need a reminder 17 years on, of the proximity of failure of an ideal saved by a spirit of generosity and political manipulation this is it.

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    Comment number 2.

    Any book by Angola's Jose Eduardo Agualusa (try 'My Father's Wives' for as an aperitif) - or anything else from Angola; Teju Cole's 'Open City', Marie Ndiaye's 'Trois femmes puissantes' (though she's French of Senegalese descent); any book by Congolese Alain Mabanckou etc. etc. etc.

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    Comment number 1.

    Cutting for stone is an amazing book. I also loved Beneath the lion's gaze by Maaza Mengiste. Anything by Alain Mabanckou is great, his latest Demain, j'aurais vingt ans. I am looking forward to reading the latest Nuruddin Farah novel and also Dinaw Mengistu's How to read air. Among other African (by African authors or about Africa) books on my to read shelf also Of Beasts and Beings.

 

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