Five must read books by heavyweights of African literature

October is a special month and it marks Breast Cancer Awareness, my birthday and Black History Month

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Courtesy 4th Estate
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October is a special month. It marks Breast Cancer Awareness, my birthday and Black History Month in the UK. The last point has inspired me to compile this list of books by five heavyweights of African literature. I’ve made a reading list with this theme that I will have made it through by year-end.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)

Achebe, the father of modern African literature, paved the way for many African writers who followed with this novel. It is set against the backdrop of British colonialism in Nigeria. The main character, Okonkwo, represents precolonial tribalism and through him, Achebe tackles the idea of a new era conquering an old. It’s a brutal, sometimes shocking tale steeped in symbolism.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1967)

Set during Kenya’s struggle for independence in 1952-1959, the story delves into the mind of a conflicted Mugo. His tale is entwined with the Mau Mau leaders who rebelled against British rule, but he carries the weight of a guilty conscience. This is a story of betrayal, forgiveness and the struggle to survive in a country in a state of unprecedented change.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

The novel tackles themes of loss, love and regret, as well as the struggles of living abroad and settling into a new culture. The lead character, Ifemelu, moves from Nigeria to America to study, leaving an old flame behind. He moves on and she does, too, though she never feels she really fits in. The story weaves through the present and past, and I found it deeply moving.

My Sister, the  Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

What in real life would be shocking is told in a light and breezy way in this fun and funny debut novel. It tells the story of Korede – the responsible narrator – and her flighty sister Ayoola, to whom she is tied in a bond that’s more than familial. It’s a tale of jealousy that relates how deeply, despite complicated emotions, loyalty runs.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (2015)

This brilliant work of fiction is Obioma’s first novel. It’s a gripping tale of four brothers whose lives radically change when their father moves away for work. A strange and dark prophesy given to eldest brother Ikenna when the boys embark on a forbidden fishing trip wholly consumes Ikenna and leads to the unravelling of the family and a series of tragic events.

Melanie Smith is a chief sub-editor at The National