The Son of the House – Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onubia

Also Giller short-listed: a Nigerian story of two women, Nwabula and Julie; their two seemingly independent lives intersect dramatically at the end of the book. The story begins in the 1970s, and then jumps forward to 2011.The book has two strong features. First, there is the Nigerian context, with both exotic and frustratingly corrupts aspects. But mostly this is about the resilience of women in an intense human drama.

Butter Honey Pig bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

A superb relationship book set mostly in Nigeria with some Canadian content. The memorable characters: a mother with an uneasy existence with the spirit world, and her twin daughters. The twins exhibit a special closeness but also a requirement for space away from each other, especially after a childhood trauma to one of the twins. And one of the daughters has an apparition to consult with and offer comment. An interesting feature of the story is that the context is Nigeria of privilege. There is lots of Nigerian cooking too. From the Giller long-list.

The Old Drift – Namwali Serpell

This delightful novel resents a sweeping saga of Africa (Zambia) from 1903 to the future (2024), covering three generations (the grandmothers, mothers and children) of black, brown and white individuals. The challenges of life in Zambia’s transition from colonialism to independence are highlighted graphically: the conflict of wealth and privilege versus poverty, the HIV catastrophe, revolutionary actions, hair, high-tech drones…. In fact, you should be wondering how these diverse topics can be inter-related!. This is a wonderful blend of historical and speculative writing with some great phrases; a married couple is described precisely –  “their marriage has ceased to be conjugal; his body did not conjugate hers; there was no grammar between them”.

Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me - Ayobami AdebayoThis is a powerful story set in Nigeria, 1985-2008. The story centres on a couple, Yejide and Akin, who are struggling with infertility against the background of profound traditional family pressure to have children. A loving relationship is tested by lies and a stunning betrayal. What will we sacrifice for family? The story involves very strong emotions with Nigerian political instability as a constant background force. Very fine writing. This book is also from a VPL list of “books that broke our hearts”.

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing - Yaa GyasiTwo parallel lineage stories of two African half-sisters (who never meet). One storyline is Ghana, the other a slave story that leads to America. There is impressive historical detail, especially when describing the Ghana experience of collusion in the trafficking of slaves. The book is Michener-like in using storylines of successive generations, and yes, there is a useful family tree included in the text.

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

swing-time-zadie-smithAn un-named narrator tells a story that alternates between two times: childhood in NW London in the 1980s, and adulthood in the 2000s. All the important relationships in the narrator’s life are with women: her mother, her friend Tracey, and her employer Aimee, a Madonna-like rock star. A sub-plot in Africa is especially rewarding. Smith’s prose is insightful, she is an acute observer of the narrator’s world. This is sensational writing, the best of Smith’s books so far.

Circling The Sun by Paula McClain

McClain is an excellent writer (The Paris Wife) and Circling The Sun is also a very good book – a fictionalized account of Beryl Markham’s life in Kenya in the 1920-30s. Beryl interacts with the characters from Out Of Africa – Karen Blixen, Denys Finch-Hatton, etc. The book is unabashedly romantic in the treatment of complicated human relationships and the mystery of Africa.

A Sunday At The Pool At Kigali by Gil Courtemanche

A Sunday At The Pool At Kigali - Gil CourtemancheFull disclosure – this is a disturbing book and not for the faint-hearted. The book details the events in early 1994 in Rwanda: the AIDS epidemic and mainly the Hutu-led genocide against the Tutsis. Amidst much death and brutal violence is a love story, the tender relationship between a Canadian journalist and a Rwandan woman who is Hutu but looks like a Tutsi. Issues of identity are crucial in the genocidal purge of “cockroaches”, the term the Hutu use to describe Tutsis to justify their extermination. Indifference from the UN and Western powers is described in detail, along with rampant corruption. This is a powerful book: how can love exist in this Rwandan hell?