An African Literary Calendar: 15 Books on Our Radar Right Now

AiW Guest: Sana Goyal.
Earlier this year saw the publication of first novels by Leila Slimani (Lullaby) and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (House of Stone), Michael Donkor (Hold) and Peter Kimani (Dance of the Jakaranda). These books sat on bookshelves alongside long-awaited novels by Aminatta Forna (Happiness) and Uzodinma Iweala (Speak No Evil), as well as short stories by Leila Aboulela (Elsewhere, Home) and essays by Zadie Smith (Feel Free). This is only a fraction of the whole.

The second half of 2018 is set to be similarly rewarding for readers, featuring as it does some recently released sequels and second novels. And as we turn the new leaf of next year, and turn a page or two, Spring 2019 also holds the promise of debuts—journalistically referred to as ‘doorstoppers’ that are sure to land with a loud thud on the African literary landscape—alongside heavily-anticipated novels by a handful of heavyweights.

This post is by no means an exhaustive list, only a few spines off the bookshelf, and we invite you to expand it and to continue the conversation. We’d love for you to comment on the post below, email us or tell us your thoughts on social media.

Look out for a series of reviews to follow by various Africa in Words contributors and guests. For now, however, we offer you a teaser and a kind of trailer. Bookmark these.

This Mournable Body, DangarembgaThis Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembgra (August 2018, Graywolf Press)

The third book in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s trilogy—following Nervous Conditions (1988) and The Book of Not (2006)—features and returns to the protagonist of her first novel. Described as a “masterpiece” by The New York Times Book Review, this “tense and psychologically charged novel” comes to a head “in an act of betrayal”.

She Would Be King, MooreShe Would Be King by Wayétu Moore (September 2018, Graywolf Press)

Historical fiction and magical realism cross paths and meet in Moore’s debut—a reimagining of “the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years” told through three characters. The New York Times also praised how the author “braids together intimate story lines centered around universal themes” in a novel set on a geographically sprawling canvas.

When Trouble SleepsWhen Trouble Sleeps by Leye Adenle (October 2018, Cassava Republic)

The much-awaited sequel to Adenle’s successful Naija noir Easy Motion Tourist, the second in his Amaka series, is here! Out in time for the 2019 Nigerian elections in February, this work of crime fiction is equal parts thrilling and politically charged—and also featured on the Guardian’s review round up of recent crime novels.

Silence+is+My+Mother+TongueSilence is My Mother Tongue by Sulaiman Addonia (October 2018, The Indigo Press)

Addonia’s second novel, following The Consequences of Love, is a story of exile and survival, loss and love, home and the heart. Pitched as “love in a time of conflict”, it is set in an East African refugee camp. In case you needed further convincing, he’s the author at the top of the 2018 Booker Prize winner Anna Burns’s reading wish list.

FreshwaterFreshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (November 2018, Faber & Faber)

Born in Nigeria and “based in liminal spaces”, this 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa-winning author’s work of autobiographical fiction had its UK pre-launch at Africa Writes 2018—and garnered early praise from Taiye Selasi, Chinelo Okparanta, and NoViolet Bulawayo. A meditation on the metaphysics and mysteries of identity and being, Freshwater is a daring and dazzling debut.

An Orchestra of MinoritiesAn Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (January 2019, Little, Brown)

From the 2015 Man Booker shortlisted author of The Fishermen—also adapted for the stage in 2018—comes this second novel: partly a true story, and partly a contemporary twist on Homer’s Odyssey. Written “in the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition,” and mapping Nigeria and Cyprus, Obioma “weaves a heart-wrenching epic about the tension between destiny and determination”.

My Sister, The Serial KillerMy Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (January 2019, Atlantic Books)

Ayobami Adebayo thinks it’s “disturbing, sly, and delicious” and Paula Hawkins finds it “feverishly hot”. Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut, a black comedy bursting with humour, My Sister, The Serial Killer, is about love, lies, Lagos… and about what happens when “blood is thicker, and more difficult to get out of the carpet, than water”.

The Freedom ArtistThe Freedom Artist by Ben Okri (January/February 2019, HarperCollins Australia; Head of Zeus)

It’s been called his most significant novel since the Man Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road. The book’s UK publisher considers it “a penetrating examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society… a powerful call to arms”. What’s more, Okri himself has described the book as “a novel I have been wanting to write for a long time, a fist of light against a wall of darkness”. Need we say more?
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (February 2019, Riverhead Books; Black leopard.jpgHamish Hamilton)
“An epic novel, an African Game of Thrones” from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first in James’s Dark Star trilogy, fuses myth, fantasy, and history. Neil Gaiman has described it as “a fantasy world as well-realized as anything Tolkien made”. Besides, have you seen a book cover more covetable?

The Old DriftThe Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (March 2019, Vintage Books)

From the 2015 winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing comes this highly-anticipated first novel—20 years in the making. “The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.” The Old Drift is the sweeping story of three generations of three families, and travels from 19th century explorers to the “new nation of Zambia”. If you’re a fan of David Mitchell, Yaa Gyasi, or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this is for you.

Bird SummonsBird Summons by Leila Aboulela (March 2019, W&N Fiction)

Thrice-longlisted for the Orange Prize and the inaugural Caine Prize winner—Aboulela’s literary reputation precedes her next release. For fans who were treated to her short story collection Elsewhere, Home earlier this year, Bird Summons is “an enchanting portrait of three women searching for enlightenment” that takes you on a road trip through the Highlands.

GingerbreadGingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi (March 2019, Picador)

Inspired by the curious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s literature, Oyeyemi’s latest work lures audiences in to a “delightful tale of surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe”. True to the author’s inimitable style —described by Ali Smith as “a writer of sentences so elegant that they gleam”— this promises to be a literary treat.

The Dragonfly SeaThe Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Owuor (March 2019, Penguin Random House)

From the award-winning author of Dust, and from a previous Caine Prize recipient, comes this second novel: a coming-of-age novel story about a “young woman [Ayaana] struggling to find her place in a vast world—a poignant exploration of fate, mortality, love, and loss”. Starting on the island of Pate off the Kenyan coast, the tale travels to the Far East and becomes “a transcendent story of adventure”, of shelter, and the sea.

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (May 2019, Hamish Hamilton)

Described as a “love song to modern Britain and black womanhood,” Evaristo’s next book, true to her polyphonic style, charts the lives and struggles of twelve characters—through time and across the country. She’s perhaps best-known for her verse novel, The Emperor’s Babe, and her new novel promises to be similarly both celebratory and contemporary—offering up a “new kind of history”.


Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (May 2019, Oneworld Publications)Manchester-Happened_9781786075895

Set across Manchester and Kampala, the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner’s collection of short stories “form a moving and powerful work about the experience of immigration and about how we treat each other as human beings”. After Makumbi’s epic Kintu was published in the UK (OneWorld Publications) to great acclaim earlier this year, we can’t wait for more from this masterful storyteller, winner of this year’s Windham Campbell Prize (Fiction).




sana-goyalSana Goyal is a PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London. Her research lies at the intersection of contemporary African literature in English, literary prizes, and women writers. When she’s not thesis writing, she works as a freelance book critic for Vogue India, Mint Lounge, India, and She’s also the Reviews Editor of the third issue of CHASE’s Brief Encounters journal. She’s at home in Mumbai and London.

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  1. | An African Literary Calendar: 15 Books on Our Radar Right Now (AFRICAINWORDS)

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