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Africa writes back: 10 books to look out for

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Africa writes back: 10 books to look out for

Ahead of her appearance at Africa Writes 2016, a major festival of African Literature happening at the British Library in London UK from 1st – 3rd July, Zahrah Nessbit-Ahmed, founder of the Bookshy Blog, chronicles some of the exciting happenings within the African literary scene in recent years,  and gives a low down on titles to look out for. 

The growth in independent publishers across the African continent – Kwani? in Kenya, Modjaji Books in South Africa, Cassava Republic Press in Nigeria to name a few – and a rise in literary magazines, writing workshops, competitions, and prizes; as well as the introduction and adoption of digital content and electronic reading devices, have stimulated great interest in literature across the continent.

In the midst of what could be called a literary renaissance, there has been a plot twist, involving genre fiction (also known as “popular” fiction) slowly moving away from its “low-brow” reputation to take centre-stage in African literature. Crime, romance, science fiction and fantasy by African writers are experiencing increasing popularity; internationally acclaimed writers in “speculative fiction”, such as South Africa’s Lauren Beukes and Nigerian-American, Nnedi Okorafor – as well as the growing popularity of African crime writers – provide both entertainment and a way to understand contemporary events. Within this landscape, new publishers and imprints are also beginning to emerge – Cassava Republic Press’ digital romance imprint, Ankara Press; Jungle Jim’s pulp fiction magazines; and Paressia and Helon Habila’s crime and spy fiction imprint Cordite Books, are just a few examples. With this new wave of genre fiction, African writers are shifting the lens through which these genres are traditionally viewed; while the novels enable readers to see the world in new, and different, ways. If you’re interested in trying something a little bit different, here’s my selection of 10 genre fiction novels by African writers to check out.

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

Set in Lagos, Leye Adenle’s debut novel, Easy Motion Tourist, is a fast-paced, gritty crime novel. Guy Collins, a British journalist, is in Lagos on the hunt for an election story, but accidentally gets accused of murder – a mutilated female body is found close to a local bar he ends up going to while he waits for the elections. A young working girl, Amaka, manages to convince the police station chief to let him go; and with Amaka thinking Guy is a BBC journalist, figures he can help her broadcast an exposé of the city’s witchcraft and body parts trade. Told from different points of view, this is one of those books you will not want to put down. (Cassava Republic Press)

The Lazarus Effect by H.J. Golakai

The Lazarus Effect – H. J. Golakai’s debut crime thriller – is a gripping addition to the African crime genre. It features investigative journalist turned detective, Vee Johnson who starts seeing disturbing visions of a young girl in a red hat. When she discovers a photograph of the same girl on a local clinic’s noticeboard, Vee uses an article about missing children in the city as a ruse to investigate the girl’s disappearance. This leads to a thrilling investigation with her new assistant, Claire Bishop – and to the centre of two families’ lies and secrets. (Cassava Republic Press)

Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

In Tade Thompson’s debut and Kitschie award-winning novel Making Wolf, Weston Kogi – a supermarket guard – returns home to Alcacia for his aunt’s funeral. He plans to stay for a short while, catch up with family, hang around with old friends, and tell a seemingly harmless white lie – that he is a homicide detective for Metropolitan Police in London. But then, he is kidnapped and made to investigate the murder of a local hero who was trying to mediate between two rebel armies. Making Wolf is a dark and terrific noir novel about an “accidental” detective. (Rosarium Publishing)

Taty Went West by Nikhil Singh

This stunning debut novel from artist, writer, musician and film-maker, Nikhil Singh is packed with spectacular illustrations, but is not a graphic novel. It introduces Taty – a troubled teenager living with her equally troubled mother in the suburbs of the Lowlands. One day she runs away from home and heads West to a place called the Outzone – the land of strangers, a place where people went to escape. Captured by a malicious imp, befriended by an evangelising robotic nun and wooed by a transgender hoodlum, Taty Went West is not your average adventure story and Taty is a new kind of adventure heroine. (Kwani)

From Pasta to Pigfoot by Frances Mensah

Looking for the perfect summer read with romance, travel, adventure … and even a bit of food? Look no further than Frances Mensah’s wonderful debut, From Pasta to Pigfoot. Set across London and Accra, it sees PA Faye Bonsu taking a cultural and emotional journey back to Accra after ending a relationship in London. This is a warm and fun novel that touches on issues of identity, belonging, culture and customs in a light-hearted way. (Jacaranda Press)

Like Clockwork by Margie Orford

Described as “the Queen of South African crime fiction”, Margie Orford’s internationally acclaimed crime fiction series features journalist Dr Clare Hart, who assists the police in investigating cases related to gender violence and its effects in South Africa. Set in Cape Town, Like Clockwork, the first book in the five-part Clare Hart series, is a gritty crime novel that exposes the underbelly of sex trafficking in the city. Dr Hart gets pulled into a case as a profiler when a serial killer is brutally murdering young women. In the process, she is taken deeper into the world of human trafficking, which could help crack the case. (Head of Zeus)

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes 

Lauren Beukes is an award-winning, internationally bestselling novelist. Defying categorisation, Beukes’ second novel, Zoo City, draws on elements of both crime noir and magical realism. Recently released from prison, Zinzi December has been “animalled” with a magical sloth on her back, as constant evidence of her crime. She makes a living in downtown Johannesburg creating 419 scams and finding lost things with the help of her sloth. When a client dies mysteriously, Zinzi is a suspect and with the police taking her last pay cheque, she is forced to take on a missing person’s case. (Angry Robot)

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Multi-award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor writes in multiple genres – young adult, children’s literature, fantasy and science fiction. Okorafor’s recent work – the Nebula-award- winning space novella Binti, is a compact story that will leave you wanting more. The first in a trilogy, it tells the tale of Binti – the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at the prestigious Oomza University. The problem – it’s on another planet, and the Himba people do not travel. Against tradition and recommendations, Binti accepts the offer, but her space travel is only the beginning of her troubles. (St. Martin’s Press)

AfroSF: Science Fiction by Ivor Hartmann

AfroSF, the first-ever anthology of science fiction by African writers, contains 23 short stories by mainly South African and Nigerian writers, but also authors from the Gambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. There are robots who have replaced corrupt bureaucratic Africans; an enslaved race living on Mars; and speculation that the South African government destroyed the spiritual realm. There’s also time travel, ancestral spirits, a teleporter, intergalactic wars and intergalactic poachers. A wonderful collection of science fiction stories written by African writers, and a good starting point for anyone interested in exploring the genre from an African perspective. (Storytime)

African Monsters by M. Helgadóttir & J. Thomas

African Monsters – the edited collection of 14 short stories, illustrations and two graphic novels by Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas – will transport you to a world of monsters, and has one aim – to scare you. This collection has writings from some of the best African science fiction, fantasy and horror writers. If you want to learn about mmuos and impundulus, ichitipas and monwors, bushbabies and popobawas, to name some
of the monsters in this collection, grab a copy of this coffee table book. Be warned, sleep with
the lights on! (Fox Spirits Books)

Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is founder of the Bookshy Blog. She’ll be chairing “Boiling a Great Plot: Contemporary Genre Fiction” on Sunday 3 July at Africa Writes 2016.

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