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bird TenX: Africa’s best selling books of all time

ACROSS continents and languages, African authors have penned captivating narratives that resonate with readers worldwide. bird story agency has compiled the following list of best-selling books and their authors in celebration of the rich landscape of African literature.

OVER the past century, African writers have written about their lives, experiences, culture, history, and myths in a variety of forms, styles, and languages. They have been widely published across Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. They’ve written in English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Swahili, and several other indigenous languages.

They wrote, and write, with exceptional originality, flair, and sincerity. From Chinua Achebe, considered to be the father of modern African literature, to Trevor Noah who is part of the new-age crop of writers; African literature continues to stay relevant and as educative as it is entertaining and enlightening. Although not exhaustive, this list puts together some of Africa’s best-selling books of the past century.

1. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe – Nigeria
Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic is best known for his seminal work, “Things Fall Apart” (1958). This novel is lauded as the most widely-read book in modern African literature.

Things Fall Apart offers a powerful portrayal of the collision between traditional African cultures and the imposition of colonial rule through its central character Okonkwo. The novel also delves into the dynamics of gender roles within highly patriarchal societies. Due to its popularity, this book has been translated into over 50 languages worldwide.

2. Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- Nigeria
An acclaimed author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction, Adichie has been called “the most prominent” among a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors who are succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature.”

Known for her character-driven stories, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), explores the lives of three characters set against the backdrop of the Biafran War in the 1960s. The book won her the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2007. Other notable works include Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Americanah (2013).

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3. A Grain of Wheat, Ngugi wa Thiong’o – Kenya
Writing primarily in Gikuyu, Kenyan writer and academic Ngũgi wa Thiong’o’s works include novels, plays, short stories, and essays. A Grain of Wheat (1967), as most of Ngũgĩ’s writing, explores themes of colonialism, and identity, reflecting his deep commitment to the cultural and political liberation of Africa.

His notable works include the novel “Petals of Blood”(1977) and the play “Ngaahika Ndeenda” (I Will Marry When I Want).

4. Our Sister Killjoy, Ama Ata Aidoo – Ghana
The Ghanaian author, poet, playwright, and academic, is renowned for her literary works that express strong feminist views. In her debut novel, Aidoo explores themes of identity, black diaspora and colonialism. Our Sister Killjoy (1977) bold in its writing explores themes such as same-gender relationships which were considered beyond their time.

She won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1992 with the novel Changes.

5. So Long a Letter, Mariam Bâ – Senegal
So Long a Letter (1979), a semi-autobiography, is widely considered a foundational work of African feminist literature. Writing primarily in French, Bâ’s works explore themes of gender, social change, and the role of women in post-colonial African societies.

“So Long a Letter” delves into the life of a Senegalese woman grappling with the cultural and personal ramifications of her husband’s polygamy, a stark reality of the Western African woman.

This book was awarded the first Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa in 1980.

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6. Cairo Trilogy, Naguib Mahfouz – Egypt
Mahfouz’s epic trilogy set in colonial Egypt portrays the captivating tale of a Muslim family in Cairo amidst Britain’s occupation of Egypt in the early 20th century.
Exploring themes of class, identity and colonialism, Cairo Trilogy (2001) is prolific in that it offers valuable historical insight amidst intense family drama.

This body of work earned him Egypt’s State Literary Prize for the Novel (1957) and the Nobel Prize in literature (1988).

7. Broken Glass, Alain Mabanckou – Congo
Known for his sharp wit and incisive social commentary, Alain Mabanckou’s writing is deeply rooted in his Congolese origins and French language. In his most popular work heavily characterized with satire, “Broken Glass,”(2005) Mabanckou delves into the life of a Congolese teacher in a local bar who tries to document his society’s stories but fails miserably.

He won the Prix Renaudot in France for another novel, Memoirs of a Porcupine (2006).

8. Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga – Zimbabwe
Nervous Conditions was first published in the United Kingdom in 1988. It was the first book published by a Black woman from Zimbabwe in English. Set in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) the novel focuses on Tambu’s journey as she navigates the challenges of education and identity in colonial Rhodesia. It explores themes of gender, race, and the complexities of post-colonial African society.

In This Mournable Body (2020), Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine the broader themes of colonialism and capitalism.

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Nervous Conditions won Best Book of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989.

9. Burger’s Daughter, Nadine Gordimer – South Africa
One of apartheid era’s prominent writers, Nadine delves deeply into social, moral, and racial issues within South Africa under apartheid rule. In “Burger’s Daughter,”(1979) she portrays the challenges faced by anti-apartheid activists.

Despite being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her adept portrayal of a society rife with racial tensions, Gordimer faced controversy as her most famous works were banned within South Africa for their outspoken critique of oppressive governmental structures.

10. From a Crooked Rib, Nuruddin Farah – Somalia
Nuruddin Farah’s debut novel, “From a Crooked Rib” (1970), is titled after a Somali proverb: “God created woman from a crooked rib, and anyone who tries to straighten it breaks it.” The novel uses the experience of a young woman in an unhappy marriage to analyse the suffering of women in Somali society.

Farah’s subsequent works: plays, novels, and short stories, continue to deliver strong social criticism, focusing on conflict and postcolonial identity. His works have been translated into more than twenty languages and won numerous awards, including the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

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