Readers' Top Ten - Kinna Reads

Last week I introduced a new series I wanted to run on ImageNations called Readers' Top Ten. I said one of its aims was to introduce readers to the rich literature Africa has to offer. The series begins today with Kinna Reads. 

About Kinna: Kinna is a book blogger at Kinna Reads among many other things. On her blog Kinna says
I grew up in literary, bookish household. I love books, reading, nurturing and developing my appreciation for the art form. I read mostly fiction, both contemporary and classic. I really enjoy world literature. I'm partial to women writers and their works, especially African women writers.
Below is Kinna's Top Ten. Note that I have linked the titles and authors to posts within ImageNations, where available. My views and Kinna's might not be the same and so beware when reading them.
Where do I begin? So first, I consider this blog’s owner, Nana Fredua, a friend.  He is reader kin. And the best kind of reader kin; he reads and loves African literature.

But really, what kind of brother-reader asks a sister to compile her top ten African books?  Eh, Nana?  Don’t get me wrong; I love lists.  I have reading lists on my blog.  But I shy away from making lists of favorite books.  The closest I came to such was a post on the Best Five of Jose Saramago’s novels.  That was easy because I was confined to just Saramago’s novels. And even then I couldn't restrict myself to five books and managed to list seven.  The “what’s your favorite book, what’s your favorite author?’ line of questions temporarily render readers speechless.  And Nana knows this. This is not reader kinship. But I’m a good sister and Nana Fredua will be obliged.

The List
My rules (because Nana must not be obeyed):  one book per author but can suggest up to 2 books/author if I cannot decide.  The two books count as one entry. And I can exceed ten books if the pain of culling is unbearable.

I allowed myself to be aggressively guided by the following paragraph in Nana’s introduction of Readers’ Top Ten:

“The aim of this project is to introduce to readers of ImageNations the rich literature the continent has to offer.  It is meant to move beyond the 'one-novel African literature', which seems to have come to define literature in Africa. It is also to promote African literature to both Western audience and Africans who hardly read from the continent or are unsure of where to start.”

[In alphabetical order by author.  This is not a ranked list]

I should have taken Achebe off this list if indeed I was “aggressively guided “by Nana’s paragraph above.  Because who doesn't know of Achebe nor cannot find out by just googling African Literature.  I don’t ride for that “one novel African Literature”, Things Fall Apart. I am solidly in #TeamArrowOfGod. Achebe’s lead characters are stubborn people and I prefer stubborn with wise in Ezeulu even if we lose the battle between change and continuity!

Anowa by Ama Ata Aidoo
I debated whether to include a book by this author. Would it be nepotism, Nana?  Drama is African literature’s finest tradition. Aidoo’s treatment of slavery, love, infertility and community is powerful.  A haunting tragedy.

Ramatoulaye gets under my skin. Every time I read this novel, I want to yell and tell her that 25 years is enough, that he left you, that keeping the door open all those years was just wrong… But Ramatoulaye very calmly, and with such eloquence, explains her side of the story. I’m never persuaded but I find myself thinking ‘I hear you, I hear you’.  She should have been a lawyer. I’m also a sucker for well-written epistolary novels.

I don’t know but sometimes I think there are right moments when a book and its reader meet.  I just can’t explain it.  I met Nervous Conditions towards the waning years of my family’s exile in Zimbabwe and I will forever be grateful for Dangarembga’s exploration of class, race and gender.

Close Sesame/Maps by Nuruddin Farah
Farah is one of a handful of African male writers who make an effort to write well-conceived women characters.   It’s hard to pick just one of his books.  He tends to group his novel in trilogies of theme.  Close Sesame, of the Variations on the Theme of An African Dictatorship trilogy, centers on Deeriye, a gentle and dignified patriarch. I’m not one for patriarchal figures but this old man is so beautifully and hauntingly rendered. He’s one of the most memorable characters in all of literature.  Maps, from the Blood in the Sun Trilogy, is about identity - personal, familial and national.  The central character is the orphan Askar, another unforgettable character.  In fact, Farah’s novels are driven by his characters.  He’s said he means to write his people and certainly the people of Somalia are well-represented and loved in Farah’s work.

Bessie Head leaves me speechless and tongue-tied.  I cannot say that I enjoyed A Question of Power because it is so darn painful. And one cannot liberate Bessie Head from the pain.  Still, A Question of Power is an essential book for me, as is all of Head’s novels.

Palace Walk/Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz
Here’s the thing: it doesn't really matter which of Mahfouz’s gems I put here, and there are plenty. Miramar, Harafish, Children of the Alley, The Beggar and numerous other books are all fantastic.  He opened my eyes and heart to Egyptian literature and then he gave me the world. Read him, please.

The Cry of Winnie Mandela by Njabulo Ndebele
This book floors me every time I read it.  Part fiction, non-fiction, theory, fantasy, experimental, it situates post-apartheid South African nationalist and identity issues within the realm of women’s lives.  Simply brilliant and for me, absolutely essential.

Would it help if I told you that Distant View of a Minaret is one of Achebe’s favorite books?  Because I wonder how it is that this masterpiece is often overlooked by readers South of the Sahara. A collection of short stories centred mainly on the lives of Egyptian women, it’s groundbreaking and utterly exquisite.

A man returns home to Sudan after a sojourn in England. The best book on post-coloniality ever.  If you’re inclined to yawn at the term post-colonial, then read this book for its gorgeous prose, its searing honesty and its lyricism.  It is considered one of the finest novels of Arabic literature.  We will, forever, keep coming back to this masterpiece.

God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembene
I know it is not a competition between film lovers and readers.  But I want to remind y’all that Sembene Ousmane was also a writer of tremendous significance. So give those reels a break and crack open one of his novels. God’s Bits of Wood is a novel about the proletariat.

I think sometimes folks forget or don’t even know what gives Soyinka all that stature.  It’s not his defiance of African leaders, not his eloquently, perfectly pitched missives directed at those who betray African people. It is his plays, his art, his incredible imagination – his sheer genius. Inspired by actual events, Death of the King’s Horseman is vintage Soyinka and rejects simplistic explanations.  Since we privilege tragedy over comedy, this particular Soyinka play is a must read.  If only death was always this beautiful and glorious!

Ngugi himself may not know this and I’m going to tell him:  all his other novels were in preparation for Wizard of the Crow.  Yes, even MatigariWizard is the best approximation of Africa’s oral tradition rendered in the written form.  Wildly entertaining, funny, epic etc. etc., Wizard is a world unto itself.

Butterfly Burning/The Stone Virgins by Yvonne Vera
It’s hard to talk about Vera because I always need to get over the shock of her early death and how much of her words died with her.  The thing with Vera is she never lets us off easy. But she cushions the brutality with poetic prose and a sensuality that is life-affirming.  Both books explore Zimbabwe’s difficult past.  She does wonders with imagery.

Okay, Nana.  It’s been brutal culling this list and leaving out books like Purple Hibiscus [Chimamanda Adichie], Search Sweet Country [Kojo Laing], Woman at Point Zero [Nawal El Saadawi], We Killed Mangy Dog [Luis Bernardo Honwana], The Memory of Love [Aminatta Forna], etc etc.  But I enjoyed the exercise and of course, I realize again that I need to read more African Literature.  I need a soothing cup of tea now.


  1. I score 3 out of 10! Should I hang myself? lol.
    nice list you've got here and it's really diverse.

    1. That's the reason for this. More for you to read then; but then you're a voracious reader yourself.

  2. Wow.. Kinna is her mother's carbon copy. I HAVE read some in the list and they are relky good.

    1. Yes me too. I rated highly all the ones I've read.

  3. I enjoyed this, Nana. It is vintage Kinna and your idea is marvelous of course. Incidentally, some of the books here are on my list but never you mind. I will let you have it shortly. You have a lovely week.

    1. No problem Celestine. It's okay if there are overlaps.

  4. Oh I too hate making lists and yet it is so interesting to read everyone else's - this is wonderful. I especially love the sound of the Nuruddin Farah (the old man character in particular), and your passion for Bessie Head definitely makes one want to know more.


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