When reasons are given for travelling to a particular country, trekking through a remote jungle, or navigating an unfamiliar ocean, images and pictures are often the biggest cause for inspiration. This probably has to do with images being easier for us to engage with than written word. C.S. Lewis said that “you can make anything by writing” and part of this ‘anything’ is creating vivid images for the reader. We’re all about Africa at Wild Frontiers and the holiday season is around the corner. We’ve put together a list of 11 great books set in Africa.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)
Kicking us off is a writer that’s become synonymous with African literature and storytelling. Adichie’s book Purple Hibiscus follows the story of Kambili Achike, aged 15 (for most of the book), who lives in post-colonial Nigeria. Member of a wealthy family, ruled by her fervent Catholic father (Eugene), Kambili has to look inward as she struggles to distinguish between her life at home (authoritarian, violent and at times hostile) and life with her aunt, Ifeoma, whose ideas are very different to her brother’s Eugene.
The Constant Gardener by John le Carré (2001)
Justin Quayle is a British diplomat who lives in Nairobi, Kenya and is married to his beautiful wife Tessa, who is an activist. As a passionate activist, Tessa causes a fair bit of trouble in the eyes of others, which eventually leads to her death. Justin’s need for closure pushes him to investigate Tessa’s death on his own. What he finds is more tangled and dangerous than he could have ever imagined.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (1998)
The first detective novel in a series of books by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency follows Precious Ramotswe who opens Botswana’s first detective agency, after her father (Obed Ramotswe) dies. Often relying on her knowledge of local people, and not so much on hard evidence, Mma Ramotswe has an uncanny ability for solving cases. Humorous with an undying optimism, Mma Ramotswe’s storytelling and investigating provides an interesting view into Botswana.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)
Told by the protagonist Marion Stone, Cutting for Stone follows Marion and his conjoined twin Shiva who are born at Mission Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Marion and Shiva’s mother dies at birth and their father, Thomas Stone (an English surgeon at the hospital) abandons them at the hospital. The opening plot of Cutting for Stone doesn’t make for easy holiday reading, but it has been waxed lyrical by critics, Barack Obama, and was on the New York Times Bestseller List for over two years.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a stern, devout, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Living on belief and taking their whole life with them, the Price’s soon find their lives unravelling, and disastrously transformed on African soil.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison (2007)
Up next, after some not so easy reads, is a hilarious, witty and original collection of essays by Peter Allison. Peter is a passionate and top safari guide in the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta. Part of being a top-safari guide in the Okavango means you are at the beck and call of wealthy travellers and game lovers. Allison often has to stop the impulse to run far away from the tourists, to gain some sanity. It seems that it’s not only the wildlife who are dangerous in Africa.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
Focusing on pre- and post-colonial life in the late 19th century Nigeria, Things Fall Apart is one of Africa’s, and modern day literature’s, most highly acclaimed novels. The story follows the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and a local wrestling champion. The first story tells how Okonkwo falls out of favour with his tribe and the challenge that exists between an individual and a society. The second story covers the clash of cultures between European settlers and Okonkwo’s tribe. Thing Fall Apart has been praised as a great account of the modern African experience.
Born Free by Joy Adamson (1960)
A story that seems to have come from the pages of National Geographic, is the tale of Joy Adamson alongside Elsa the lioness, whom she had rescued as an orphaned cub and raised at her home in Kenya. Millions of people are more familiar with the unforgettable film (starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers), but Born Free provides the original story of Joy as she walked with Elsa, lived amongst the lions and had to make a heart-breaking decision to let her go.
The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith (1994)
“Finally, Wilbur Smith”. To be fair, there’s no way we could have made this list and not have included a Wilbur Smith novel. Egypt has always had an allure that’s fascinated many people around the world. The Sunbird follows the brilliant archaeologist Dr. Ben Kazin and Louren Sturvesant, a rich, impulsive and physically imposing man. Friends, competitors and partners, although the two men have different goals, to get what they want they have to depend on one another. What awaits them is an astounding discovery, a siege of terror, and an act of betrayal that will tear the two men apart and bind them together forever.
Around Africa on My Bike (2007) and Around Madagascar on My Kayak (2010) by Riaan Manser
Riaan Manser is known for doing exceptional expeditions and as a pioneer explorer, he’s achieved four world firsts – cycling around Africa (37,000 km), kayaking around Madagascar (5,000 km in 11 months), circumnavigating around Iceland on a kayak (2,300 km) and perhaps his most brave (or mad) expedition, rowing from Morocco across the Atlantic to New York. Riaan’s two books (definitely not works of fiction) may leave you in awe at how he’s still alive, but there is no denying that he’s an incredible individual, with an uncompromising spirit that keeps him going.