I have taken great, GREAT, pleasure in telling anyone who asked (and those who didn't) that I was only reading books by African women in 2016. Yup, save your “How to De-clutter Your Life” books written by rich white men, I wasn’t about that life last year. It felt great, I was diving head first into a literary world that, embarrassingly, I had not focused on before. I mean we all have read Chimamanda Adichie ‘s works these last 7-ish years, but beyond her, there is such a rich, RICCCHHHH, history of African literary giants that I had not bothered to pay attention to. As an African woman, feminist/womanist on most days, self described intellectual, I was disappointed in myself for taking so long to read classics like “Everything Good will Come,” or newer works turning the literary world upside down like “Homegoing.”
It has been a year of exploration, and re-connecting with the overwhelming feeling that comes from peaking into the lives of so many different female African characters. From West Africa, to East, and some in South; I read books about Nigerian and Sudanese women who were used as sex workers in Belgium, about pre-colonial Akan/Ghanaian women figuring out the white man’s new ways, and even read about an Egyptian woman’s process of self-realization on death row. It has been a trip, and I’m so, so, so very excited to share with you all a few of the books that got me through 2016:
Mighty be our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayers, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee
WHEW, talk about a REAL BOOK. This is Leymah's first hand account of living through a decade of war in Liberia, and how she helped mobilize thousands of women for peace and change across war torn West Africa. This is not only a life story, this is a history lesson on how Liberia's ethnic divides originally started. From the arrival of "Americo-Liberians", to the public execution of Samuel Doe, and to the arrest of Charles Taylor; Leymah was there and described every raw detail. This is a living book, that still speaks to the power and resilience of women in conflict. I can honestly say, this is one of the most important books I've read. HANDS DOWN. It pairs the brutally honest stories of African women raped with knives, breasts cut open, with the history of an African nation at war, two narratives that belong together but are often separated for some reason. Very graphic, and emotional, but necessary for all black women to read.
We Need New Names by No-violet Bulawayo
This was a good read. Not totally enthralling, but good. A coming of age story that walks you through the life of a young girl navigating the oppressive structures that are race, gender, and class in Zimbabwe and later Detroit. I must say, it was similar to Americanah, as in it read like a long ass blog post, different stories and characters intermingling in a sometimes-haphazard way. Nonetheless, it is worth a read for those African women who have left their countries behind at a young age, and live the tug of war life between who they once were in Africa, and what they are becoming away from her.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I’VE EVER READ. In my life. No, seriously, in my life. This book is a moving and horrific reminder of America’s history, of West Africa’s history, and of the truth that black people are, and forever will be, intrinsically, inherently linked. The story is of two half-sisters, separated because one is sold into slavery, and the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history and brutalization of the black body. This is the most important book I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and it will change your perspective when thinking about slavery in America and colonization in Africa, and how generations of black people from each continent suffered in irreparable ways.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
This was the first book I read in 2016, and it was a goddamn trip. It was nothing like what I expected, it was definitely a convoluted story that showed a side of the African family that you never hear about. Mental illness, sexual abuse, incest, abandonment, it was heartbreaking from start to finish. The story telling here is mysterious, it jumps from time period to another, linking family members with memories and allowing the reader to see how one earth-shattering event (the death of a successful doctor father) continues to impact each character differently.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin
This book was AMAZING. Hands down one of my favorite books. This book followed the histories, and scandalous realities of the brute that is Baba Segi, and his four wives. Polygamy is real in Africa, its common, and part of the culture in many nations. What I liked about this book is it humanized polygamy. It focused not only on how women cope with living in a polygamous household, but how they came to make this life choice, and how they can even flourish in this type of marriage. This book hits upon sex, sensuality, rape, domestic violence, illegitimate children, murder, EVERYTHING. It was like reading the script to a Nigerian movie written by Chinua Achebe. The prose was remarkable, and it left me feeling so attached to the women in the stories, I cried at the end!
Woman at Point Zero by by Nawal El-Saadawi
“All the men I did get to know, every single man of them, has filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face.” This is how the book begins, with a quote from Firadaus, a woman telling her life story from her prison cell, sentenced to die for having killed a pimp in a Cairo street. She details her tragic story from village childhood to city prostitute, outlining her sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of every man she ever encountered. Firdaus is a symbol of the oppressed, those who have nothing for themselves except their bodies and minds, and reading this book throws you in the middle of a desperate world where women do not exist, but survive.
Other books worth checking out:
On Black Sister’s Street by Chika Unigwe
Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo
Everything Good will Come by Sefi Atta
The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
We should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo