Read any good books lately?

  • 3 October 2012
  • From the section Africa
  • comments

So, what have you been reading lately?

In the tall queue of books beside my bed there's South African commentator Eusebius McKaiser's A Bantu In My Bathroom and the trenchant Kenyan Binyavanya Wainaina's One Day I Will Write About This Place. Having just finished the sublime Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah's first book, From A Crooked Rib, I am also itching to get hold of his most recent attempt "to keep my country alive by writing about it" - Crossbones.

Speaking of Somalia, I would urge you to get hold of Gerald Hanley's Warriors - a dry, intense, extraordinary memoir of his time as a British army officer during World War II, patrolling the remotest corners the country. It's no wonder Hemmingway called him "the foremost writer of his generation."

A few years ago I went to meet members of militant group al-Shabab in southern Somalia with fellow journalist Jonathan Legard, who has now written a wonderfully vivid, philosophical novel, Submergence, involving a British hostage held in Somalia, a love affair, and deep sea diving. How could you resist?

And how do you choose what to read next? It can be a satisfyingly accidental process. A few months ago I was digging through some books that my grandfather had given me. He was an entomologist who spent three decades chasing termites and mosquitos across East Africa. Besides some rather dry colonial tomes about Uganda and Tanganyika, I found Alan Moorehead's The White Nile and The Blue Nile. They're classics - spare, colourful, hugely ambitious and enduringly modern accounts of Europe's attempts to map, conquer, loot, and learn about the sources and branches of Africa's greatest river, from Napoleon to Speke, Burton and beyond.

As South Africa's ANC gears up for another spasm of political infighting in December, I should probably be catching up on books like Frank Chikane's Eight Days In September. But if you're looking for the ultimate account of court intrigue and Sopranos-esque infighting, then - and apologies for wandering off subject - wallow in Bring Up The Bodies, the second part of Hilary Mantel's exquisitely imagined re-telling of Henry VIII's reign. What games would Mr Cromwell have played with Julius Malema?

Lastly - and the book should come with a health warning for those with weak hearts - I recently spent an adrenalin-drenched hour or two inhaling the South African thriller writer Deon Meyer's latest breathless caper, 13 Hours.

Please do weigh in with your suggestions and comments below, and as with previous book blogs on this page, remember that bouncers will be policing the message page to ensure you all bring a book recommendation.