Nigerian expatriate Chris Abani is an award-winning poet and novelist living and teaching in Los Angeles. His latest novel is GraceLand. His latest poetry collection is Daphnes Lot.
Maps by Nuruddin Farah (Penguin, $14). In this lyrical and striking first volume of a trilogy, an orphan named Askar journeys across a war-torn Somalia to find himself. Maps is beautifully worked in dense yet intricate prose. An act of magic in the face of loss and terror.
The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Johns Hopkins, $18). To mitigate the curse of birthing only daughters, a father names his eighth girl Ahmed. Son. Heir. The resulting novel explores the ways gender and psyche are shaped and manipulated, and not just for the residents of the Arab world. Dark, cynical, poetic, and dreamlike, this novel is an extraordinary and deep story, one that subverts tradition and attempts to lead us to a new place of passionate discovery.
Midland by Kwame Dawes (Ohio University, $13). Coupling arresting imagery with a gut-wrenching honesty, Kwame Dawes moves through geography (Africa, the Caribbean, and America), history, and the brutal inheritance of the diasporadic self with an easy grace, arriving at a place of transformation where love is the measure of our humanity. Dawes is an important poet, and this book simply beautiful.
A Question of Power by Bessie Head (Heinemann, $14). A biracial woman from South Africa tries to find a place for herself in the deeply patriarchal society of neighboring Botswana. As the protagonist descends into insanity, this passionate, totally unsentimental book asks you to question the very fabric of reality. A triumph in every way.
Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera (Criterion, $12). This slim but scorchingly powerful book explores, through its protagonist, Phephelaphi, the limited choices available to women of color in 1940s British-ruled Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Veras lyrical, mesmerizing language both belies and foregrounds the storys horrorsincluding a searing description of an abortion Phephelaphi performs on herself.
The Daydreaming Boy