5 must-read novels for diaspora Africans

25 Jan 2018

Need a break from the chill? Why not snuggle into the sofa, turn up the heating to Ibiza and bury yourself in one of our picks for some of the best books telling the story of diaspora life.

From across the continent to across the world, our picks are a mix of classics and new novels, giving a snapshot of the lives of Africans striking out to make a fresh start for themselves and their families.

Heartbreaking, inspiring, relatable. Each one is guaranteed to strike chords with everyone who has one foot in Africa.


1. The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician

by Tendai Huchu

Following three Zimbabwean expatriates living in Scotland, this gripping tale explores identity through characters’ varying experiences. The Maestro, a depressed white man, struggles to assimilate in a country where the majority look like him. The magistrate, a former judge in his homeland, depends on his wife who is now the breadwinner. And the Mathematician, the wealthiest and most comfortable of the three, leads a carefree life as a graduate student.

2. Behold the dreamers

by Imbolo Mbue

Mbue’s debut novel, which was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, tells the story of Cameroonians Jende Jonga and his wife Neni as they struggle to build their own version of the American Dream in New York in the shadow of the 2008 financial meltdown. When the Jongas begin working for the Edwards, a rich, white family, they slowly realise that though the American Dream glitters, it certainly isn’t gold.


3. Harare North

by Brian Chikwava 

The unnamed protagonist, a pro-Mugabe thug, flees Zimbabwe for London, first living with his cousin and his wife before moving on to squat with a friend in Brixton. His primary goal is to earn $5,000 to fulfil family obligations and bribe the police back home. What he does to that end reflects what might happen when marginalised people are driven to operate on survival mode.


4. Americanah

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Hair, race and identity take centre stage in Adichies’s third novel. Narrated by the protagonist Ifemelu and her childhood sweetheart Obinze, the book highlights their immigrant experience in the US and UK respectively and the challenges when reconnecting on their return to Nigeria.


5. When we speak of nothing

by Olumide Popoola

Published in 2017, Popoola’s debut novel tackles themes of gender identity and friendship through the lens of Karl and Abu, two best friends. The fast-paced story set in England and Nigeria, laced with slangs and SMS lingo, examines what it means to be gay and black in London and highlights the consequences of the interminable destruction of the Niger Delta’s ecosystem.