Happy New Year everyone! Yes, I know we’re almost into mid February but as a Kenyan I will honour our custom of wishing people a happy new year until June. I still feel like we’re in 2020 since my city has been under lockdown measures for over two months and we never had celebrations to mark the transition to 2021. Plus with COVID-19 ravaging on in these parts of the globe with new variants, it feels like it’s just 2020-part 2. On a personal note, one silver lining from the COVID-19 pandemic is that people finally understand or somewhat understand when I tell them I’m an epidemiologist. Thanks to all the epidemiologists at the forefront of tracking COVID-19 gracing our TVs to provide insight and rationale for public health measures.
So at the beginning of 2020, I made a goal to read as many books as I could and limit my time on Netflix. I fell off the wagon in late spring – in my defense, Netflix decided to bombard us with great content to keep us entertained during quarantine and temporarily shut out the chaos. So I managed to read about eight books – most of them written by African and Black authors. There’s something magical to me about African literature, and I can recall around the time I ditched the Nancy Drew’s (that were popular reads in my pre-teens while I was in Kenya) and when I picked up my first fiction book by an African author . I can vividly picture the exact section and shelves that had African lit books in my school library. It was a whole different experience, with language, images and characters that were relatable and I could see people from my society in those characters. While I advocate for reading books across different genres, and authors from different backgrounds in order to open our world views, my first pick would be African authors. There is also so much diversity in African literature that is reflected in the stories told by African authors from different parts of the continent.
Here is a list of some of the books I read in 2020 that I would recommend:
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
I absolutely loved this book and clearly so as it inspired a blog post on the diaspora dilemma of moving back or staying abroad. The book is a wonderful read that explores the struggles of an immigrant family from Cameroon living in New York and chasing the American dream. It explores four big themes of love, class, immigration and the economic crisis of 2008. While I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about the immigrant journey, it especially resonates with immigrants like the protagonist who struggle with the choice of staying abroad or moving back home.
On Black Sister’s Street by Chika Unigwe
This book explored the illusion of the “western dream” among 4 African women living in Atwerp, Belgium who moved from Nigeria and the annihilation of their dreams when they were trafficked into the sex trade. One of the women is murdered and this tragedy draws the other three women together, who all open up about their life stories and how they ended up in Belgium’s red light district.
The hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
Set in Harare, Zimbabwe this entertaining read gives a clear picture of the state of society in Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s leadership. The story revolves around hairdressers who earn a living from a beauty salon and their everyday struggles . The story is told from the eyes of Vimbai, Harare’s best hairdresser and it explores her personal development . It’s a light and short read that explores issues of classism, racism and homophobia.
I do not come to you by chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
I absolutely loved this book as it explored the world of email scammers in Nigeria and how it’s nothing like we picture in our minds. It’s a great piece of satire with comedy that gives an inside look into this fraudulent ‘industry’ and explores how good people can get caught up in it. It drew on the circumstances of poverty and corruption that lead to earning a dishonest living through the famous 419 scams.
Chasing Wind , from Africa to America in search of a dream, by Mercy Nduati
I wrote a full blog post on Mercy Nduati’s debut book here but I wanted to add it to this list as it explores a critical themes of immigration, racism, isolation, home sickness and many struggles collectively shared by diasporans . This book gives an honest, first hand account of some of the struggles encountered by immigrants from the continent chasing the American dream.