May 2nd, 2022, 12:00 PM

The Gems of African Literature

By Elizabeth Corbett
Image Credit: Unsplash/Gülfer Ergin
An introduction to three novels by African authors to broaden your horizons.

In most secondary educational institutions, the mandatory assigned readings that one must read in class normally surfaces around the usual, though incredible, authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Shakespeare and John Steinbeck. But have you ever heard of Chimamanda Adichie? Or Tsitisi Dangaremba? These names, which might seem foreign and unfamiliar to you, are the names of renowned African authors. By reading novels written by an African author, one becomes immersed with the social and political movements that have taken place in the past and still affect the African continent. This article highlights some of my personal favorite novels written by African authors.


The Dream House

"He has a shameful secret... he is an intruder to his own land, condemned to arriving at places where he will never quite belong."

The Dream House was written by Craig Higginson, a born Zimbabwean, who moved to South Africa at a young age. After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and European literature from University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. From there, he started his career in theater, working in theaters such as West End, and published his plays. A majority of Higginson’s work addresses the realms of truth, such The Dream House.

The Dream House explores the importance of truth in a dark atmosphere in the middle of the Drakensburg mountains in KwaZulu Natal. Higginson conveys through multiple characters in the novel that the effects of apartheid are still affecting the lives of those today. Looksmart, the main character in the novel, was taken in by a wealthy, white family who owned the farm that his mother and community were working on.

The family took him in and sent him to a private all boys boarding school, where he was one of the only black students. Years later, after the abolishment of the apartheid regime, he returns to the farm where he finds the truth about his past and the people of his community that were wrongly harmed. The importance of truth and reconciliation shine throughout the novel, encouraging the reader to question the new South Africa as it now stands. Looksmart expresses his feelings of intrusion on his own land, a consequence of the apartheid regime.


Purple Hibiscus

“Fear. I was familiar with fear, yet each time I felt it, it was never the same as the other times, as though it came in different flavors and colors.”

Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian author who made her mark on the world when her first published novel, Purple Hibiscus, received global acclamation. She received a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2005.

Purple Hibiscus did not win the prize for nothing. This novel reveals the significant political and economic state in postcolonial Nigeria. The theme of religious hypocrisy is a thread throughout this novel. The protagonist, Kambili, narrates the story, allowing the reader to become exposed to the abuse that can occur by family members.

Throughout the novel, Kambili endures the phases of maturing, highlighting the theme of coming of age. The struggles of puberty are not Kambili’s only worry. She is presented as an obedient character, as a result of physical and mental abuse from her father. The theme of feminism and freedom shines light on this novel, encouraging the reader to question their own position in life.

This novel showcases the strength that the women in the novel have when faced against oppressive partners and in oppressive societies. Purple Hibiscus takes place during a vehement time for the Nigerian government, which enhances the theme of love and war in the novel. The war can be seen in two ways, that of the war of inequality between men and women and the political instability that occurs simultaneously.


Nervous Conditions

“Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables.”

Nervous Conditions is a novel written by Tsitsi Dangaremba. This novel has deservedly won The Commonwealth Prize in 1989, and in 2008 it was listed as one of BBC’s top 100 books that change the world. As well, Tsitsi Dangaremba is the first black woman from Zimbabwe to have had a book published in English.

This is a semi-autobiographical novel that is set in colonial Rhodesia before the country became Zimbabwe. The focus of the story is on a young girl named Tambu and her family. This family exposes the struggles of women trying to achieve their aims, while highlighting the rigid opportunities.

Tambu begins narrating the novel with an insight of her family structure. Tambu emphasizes the lack of opportunities that she has in relation to her brother. Due to the principles of the social structure, she is trapped within the prejudices and limitation of her circumstances during this time. This novel explores the determination of a young girl who seeks to find success under the motives of tradition and the progress of the Western world.

African literature aims to educate the reader on African pride, culture and society. These three novels expose the reader to truths about societal structures, religion and other supporting themes. I highly encourage you to read one or three of these novels!