African literature has existed in the realms of African storytellers for several centuries. With the kind distortion brought by globalisation, there also came with it an opportunity to have an accessibility of other cultures and their ways of life, and African literature has immersed itself in this spirit.
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (April 14, 2015)
The Fishermen draws on an unforgettable childhood of four brothers living in Akure, a small town in Nigeria in the 1990’s. The story is told through the eyes of a 9 year old, Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers. When their father travels far for work, the boys skip school to go fishing at a forbidden river nearby. There they meet a dangerous local madman who convinces the oldest brother that he is fated to be killed by one of his siblings. The book is alluring and viscerally powerful combining local and cultural storytelling with universal relevance.
Obioma said the book was a tribute to his growing up with his siblings in Nigeria. “I wanted to build a portrait of Nigeria at a very seminal moment in its history (the annulled presidential elections of 1993), and by so doing deconstruct and illuminate the ideological potholes that still impede the nation’s progress even today”, said Obioma in an interview with Elena Lappin, November 2014.
Having this book as a debut, Obioma emerged as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, with impeccable fearlessness and purpose. Obioma has been called “the heir to Chinua Achebe” in a New York Times book review and has won the NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Literary Work as a Debut Author.”
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
Publisher: Penguin Books (March, 2013)
Ghana Must Go tells the anguished story of a family that has broken apart over time and follows their efforts to come back together. Ghanaian doctor Kweku Sai loses his job in the United States, at which time he leaves his Nigerian wife and four children to move back home with his second wife in Ghana. Sai dies years later from a heart attack, and his family has to go to Ghana for his funeral enthralled also in their own woes.
Sai’s death is threaded slowly as he revisits thoughts and events of his unjust fall from his profession and his memories of his family. The book outlines the personal stories of the family in their abandonment by Sai, and in their learning of his death.
It captures poetically and lyrically, the cross-continental and cross-generational struggles of belonging and displacement of the African diaspora, coining a new concept in African literature.
Ghana Must Go has been nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award 2017.
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (April, 2006)
The Icarus Girl hauntingly tells the thrilling story of 8-year-old, Jessamy “Jess” Harrison, who is possessed of an extraordinary imagination as she struggles to fit in with children at her school. When Jess visits her mother’s home in Nigeria for the first time, she makes a friend named TillyTilly who understands her in all her visions and insights. With a turn of events, TillyTilly’s visits to Jess become strange and disconcerting, and Jess recognises she doesn’t know who her friend is at all.
Oyeyemi captures the raw innocence and brutality of childhood as real and magical as it is lived. The author provides a vivid imagination proficient of surpassing between cultures and continents.
According to Penguin Random House, “Helen Oyeyemi draws on Nigerian mythology presenting a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles – both real and spiritual”.
The Icarus Girl received the New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” award.