I’m going to preface this with most of these books about Africa will break your heart, but there are also extraordinary stories in them. Africa is humanity and nature at its rawest. It’s a continent home to some of the greatest natural features on earth and some of the worst atrocities in modern history.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of books about Africa, of which there are many, but more just a list of books to give you a taste. These are all written by more talented writers than me, and they are all from Africa. I promise you won’t find any Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness) on this list.
10 Books About Africa to Read
A Long Way Gone
I’m pretty much obligated to add this one to the top of this list of books about Africa because it is the first book Tasha and I read on here. Our first year in college, our University bought thousands of the book, hosted the author, and gave everyone a free copy. The book follows the story of Ishmael Beah as he is taken up in Sierra Leonne as a child soldier. Ishmael must fight for his survival of not only his life but his soul.
Half of a Yellow Sun
Half of a Yellow Sun is by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and takes place during the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s. The story follows several characters as Nigeria fights to become an independent republic. The best way of describing the story is real. It is honest and takes the reader through hope, disappointment, love, and heartbreak. They made a movie about this story too!
The Power of One
This story follows the journey of Peekay, a South African English boy who at five is sent away to boarding school. The story takes place at the onset of WWII, and as the war wages, Peekay is the victim of constant harassment from his Afrikaans counterparts. Through his eyes, we witness racial injustice and the perseverance of life. The story is about the power of self-preservation or the power of one.
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope
This is the true story of magic and ingenuity. Living in a village in Malawi 14-year-old William Kamkwamba had limited access to electricity and water. However, he had read of windmills and the power which they can create. William set out to deliver running water and electricity to his village. A luxury that few Malawians had. At the discouragement of others, William continued to dream and pressed on delivering his goal. They turned this book about Africa into a movie!
Purple Hibiscus follows the story of Kambili and her older brother, Jaja. They are raised by a well-off family and a fanatically religious father. Kambili spends most of her life within her family compound, but when a military coup begins in Nigeria, she is forced to abandon her home. Outside she finds the world full of freedom. However, when she returns, she must strive to keep her family bonds together. The story is woven with beautiful prose that leaves me envious of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talent.
A Long Walk to Freedom
“As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt- even at the age of seventy-one- that my life was beginning anew. My ten thousand days of imprisonment were over.” -Nelson Mandela. What more can be said about Nelson Mandela? He is possibly one of the most influential and inspirational Africans to have lived. When Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, it was a loss to the world. His autobiography covers the span of his life up until he becomes president of South Africa.
They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan
The true story of three Sudanese boys. Who must fight for survival at a young age. It recounts in their eyes the Second Sudanese War in 1987 and how they flee across Africa until they finally reach a refugee camp in Kenya where the struggle continues. They are then accepted as part of the Lost Boys of Sudan program in the U.S. and continue their journey into America where they will face more adversity. (Yup, they turned this one into a movie about Africa too!)
Cutting For Stone
In this book about Africa, author Abraham Verghese is not your typical African, nor are his characters in his first novel Cutting For Stone. His story follows twin brothers who are born and orphaned in Ethiopia by their Indian and British Parents. It is a coming of age story about betrayal, love, grief, and forgiveness. The story touches on so many elements in such as politics, travel, sexual awakening, culture, and travel.
Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa
Mark Mathabane was born into the cruelty of Apartheid. His story begins in one of the worst South African ghettos and chronicles life with police raids and bloody gang violence. However, with the strength of his family, Mark earns an education and eventually is given a scholarship to an American University. Mark’s story is one of poverty and triumph.
Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
Another one of the great books about Africa is Left to Tell. I am not religious, but that should stand as a testament to how incredible Immaculée Ilibagiza’s story is. Her autobiography recounts her horrors as her home country of Rwanda is torn apart in 1994. The genocide that ensues consumes her family, friends, and those around her. Her strength and faith are awe-inspiring. She most certainly was left with a story to tell, and one that should be read.
Did I leave a book about Africa out?
Is there a book you read about Africa or by an African author you feel should be on this list? Drop me a message; I’ll give it a read and perhaps add it to the list. Or maybe you’re looking for something different? Check out our post on our the best travel movies.
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2 thoughts on “10 Books About Africa You Should Read Before You Go”
I love your list of books provided. I recently finished the book What is the What and it had a huge part in my own interest in looking deep into Africa’s history and present. It’s a beautifully written book that contrasts the beauty and mystery of life in general while contrasting this horrible war and the beauty and power all within Africa. It can be a bit of a slow read at times but I would highly recommend it!
Will have to give it a read!