6 books whose dramas unfold through the eyes of African children
Author Imbolo Mbue recommends works by Wayétu Moore, Chigozie Obioma, and more
Imbolo Mbue's new novel, How Beautiful We Were, chronicles a village's fight against deadly pollution. Below, the award-winning author of Behold the Dreamers touts six other books whose dramas unfold through the eyes of African children.
The White Man of God by Kenjo Jumbam (1980).
A classic in my native Cameroon, this novel explores a community attempting to blend its indigenous ways with the Christianity thrust upon it by European missionaries. The innocence of its young narrator, Tansa, gives the book its heart and comic flair.
The Dragons, the Giant, the Women by Wayétu Moore (2020).
Many in the West associate Africa with war and autocrats. There's certainly quite a bit of that, but there's also so much more, and Moore shows us that in her memoir about her family's escape from Liberia in the midst of a civil war. Her work is a testament to the fact that wars come and go but love remains.
The African Child by Camara Laye (1953).
A novel from Francophone Africa, this is a book I remember reading when I was a little girl and hadn't yet realized that writers were ordinary folks. Guinean native Camara Laye describes in gentle prose his family, his culture, his community, his religion, all of which coalesce into a clear picture of one African childhood.
Small Country by Gaël Faye (2016).
Another novel from Francophone Africa, this one should be required reading for all adults who have forgotten what it's like to be a child. The genocides that crippled Rwanda and Burundi in the mid-1990s may be at the center of this story, but from heartbreak Gaël Faye crafted a love song to carefree childhoods and home and country and all that is lost when we forget what matters most.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (2013).
Stories of children growing up in harsh circumstances abound. What sets Bulawayo's apart is its starkness. The novel follows Darling, a Zimbabwean girl who spends her time roaming with her friends in a place devastated by poverty. She eventually gets an opportunity to move to America, where a new set of struggles awaits.
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (2015).
As elegant as it is unforgettable, Obioma's debut novel tells the story of four young Nigerian brothers whose chance meeting with a madman leaves them with a prophecy that will haunt their lives and forever change their family.
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