African fiction

All posts in the African fiction category

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (buddy read with Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader)

Published March 23, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery; one a slave trader’s wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel – the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

Epic in its canvas and intimate in its portraits, Homegoing is a searing and profound debut from a masterly new writer.

What did I think?:

An enormous thank you to one of my brilliant blogger besties, Jennifer from Tar Heel Reader whom I got to experience this incredible novel with for the very first time and holy moley – what a powerful and riveting experience it was! I think when you read a book like this, with so many complexities and difficult subject matter, it gives you an almost endless ream of discussion opportunities and I think I can speak for both of us when I confirm that this was such a rewarding experience as we got to talk about so many different things at the time we were both encountering the same events in the narrative. As there is a bit of a time difference between our countries of residence, Jenni and I deliberately try and schedule our chats at the weekend so that we can talk “in the moment,” and believe me, with a novel like this, you’re going to want to talk to somebody immediately after reading certain passages.

Yaa Gyasi, author of the debut novel, Homegoing.

I have to admit, I’ve been putting this novel off for a while. It’s been taunting me from my bookshelves and I’ve heard so many brilliant things about the author’s writing and the way in which this book is set out but I was a teeny bit nervous. I was aware that the novel begins in 18th century Ghana and follows the descendants of two half-sisters, Esi and Effia from that time until the present day. Now, I love a novel with multiple points of view but when I heard that each chapter follows a completely different character and even initially, when I picked the book up and glanced at the family tree at the beginning, I was ever so slightly intimidated. Would I be able to keep all the characters in my head? Would a chapter be sufficient to tell a portion of that character’s particular life or would I be left wanting more? Well, the answers to those questions were both “no,” but funnily enough, not in any negative connotation at all.

Esi and Effia, who both have no idea of the others existence, are two young women whose lives fan out in very different directions. However, both sisters and their descendants end up having very individual struggles ranging from slavery, single parenthood, loss, heart-break, addiction and poverty that makes the reading experience an incredibly humbling one. There isn’t an “easy,” life for either branch of the family and watching each character go through their own hardships as Ghana and America changed through the years was a fascinating and at times, very uncomfortable journey.

Modern day Ghana, 2017.

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Personally speaking, I was really affected by some of the passages in this book. Yaa Gyasi does not shy away from gritty, realistic and detailed descriptions of how slaves were treated and at some points, I felt as if I had to put the book down, the horrific abuse of the women in particular was gut-wrenching and hard to stomach. Throughout it all, I had to applaud the author’s honesty and her bravery in the way she wasn’t scared to expose the nastier details of what these poor people went through and indeed, how race relations are still a major, hugely important issue in modern times.

Yes, there ARE a lot of characters to get to grips with and I did find myself getting slightly confused about which part of the family tree that particular individual came from. However, this is exactly why we have a family tree at the beginning that can be easily referred to for a quick reminder! Thinking about the novel a little while after finishing, it’s true that I haven’t kept a lot of the characters in my head due to the sheer volume we meet but the ones that have stayed with me appear to be permanently etched on my memory because of the power and strength of Gyasi’s writing and that particular character’s struggle, some of whom imprinted on me more than others.

Did I want some more time with certain individuals? Of course! Yet this is the beauty of the novel too – it constantly keeps you wanting more and led me to wondering about certain characters and where they might have ended up. Their story certainly continues on in my own imagination. I only have very small things that I wished would have been different but it hasn’t affected my enjoyment, memories of the book or rating in the slightest. First of all, I did prefer the more historical aspects of the narrative where for me, the writing felt impactful and more affecting. Secondly, it was slightly unfortunate that the might behind the author’s words faded as we entered modern times and I would have loved if the ending had been as much of a sucker punch to the gut as the majority of the rest of the novel had been. Taking everything into consideration, my minor niggles and the knowledge that this is the author’s debut offering, I can’t give this any less than the full five stars. I am incredibly excited to see what the author produces next and I’ll be one of the first in line to read it.

Thank you to Jennifer for another wonderful buddy read!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

Published February 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

What did I think?:

Stay With Me was the first book on my Five Star TBR Predictions list, was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction last year and I had heard nothing but rave reviews about it, with some people suggesting it should have won. I can’t comment on that as I have yet to read the rest of the short-list for last year but when I saw the author speak at the short-list readings just prior to the winner being announced, I knew it was going to be an incredibly powerful and affecting read and in this, I was completely right. I have to say, I did approach this novel with a bit of nervousness. I knew that it was about a woman who is struggling to get pregnant and unfortunately, this chimes quite a melancholy note in my own life. I was concerned that reading it it would be too difficult for me, emotionally speaking and it might send me back to a “bad place,” I found myself in last year. Now after finishing it, I can proclaim it is probably a difficult read for any person who has found themselves in a similar situation but an intensely rewarding one. I cried with Yejide, felt the weight of her despair and sadness and did not find myself wholly surprised at the lengths she went to in her struggles to have a child.

It’s quite difficult to talk in great length about this book without giving away any spoilers but I’ll just give you a vague idea of what it’s about, in case you haven’t managed to read it yet. It’s about a married couple, Yejide and Akin who have been together for some time and as you might have guessed, are struggling to have a baby together. They have decided to live a monogamous lifestyle, despite the expectations of their culture but Akin’s family, particularly his mother, are starting to get a little impatient and insist that he takes a second wife in order to give him a much longed for child. Of course, this is devastating for Yejide and the novel follows her as she confronts the idea and then the reality of this new wife, whilst doing everything she possibly can under immense pressure to provide the baby everyone is expecting of her. This leads to her experimenting with fertility concoctions that she drinks, visiting healers and opening her mind to spirituality, all with the dogged determination to become pregnant whatever the cost and oust the cuckoo from her nest.

There were parts of this book that were so visceral and utterly heart-breaking that occasionally I had to put the book down and take a break from it for a little while. However, there was no time at all that I didn’t want to go back to it. I fell in love with Yejide and had to know how her story continued, how much this strong woman could actually go through and keep living and how her story ended. Interspersed with snippets of Nigeria’s unstable political climate in the 1980’s, this story felt raw, painful and undeniably real. This is a story of secrets and lies with twists that will take your breath away and periods of intense grief that will touch your heart. It’s a stunning piece of writing that I cannot believe came from a debut novelist. Ayobami Adebayo is a literary force to be reckoned with and I have no doubt that anything she writes in future will be touched with gold.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky – Lesley Nneka Arimah

Published November 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A stunning collection of short stories from Caine-Prize shortlisted and Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner Lesley Nneka Arimah, WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY is a debut with all the imagination of Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl and the toughness of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

‘When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters’. The daughters, wives and mothers in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s remarkable debut collection find themselves in extraordinary situations: a woman whose mother’s ghost appears to have stepped out of a family snapshot, another who, exhausted by childlessness, resorts to fashioning a charmed infant out of human hair, a ‘grief worker’ with a miraculous ability to remove emotional pain – at a price. What unites them is the toughness of the world they inhabit, a world where the future is uncertain, opportunities are scant, and fortunes change quicker than the flick of a switch. Characterised by their vividness, immediacy and the author’s seemingly endless ability to conjure worlds at once familiar and unsettlingly different, this collection showcases the work of an extraordinarily talented writer at the start of a brilliant career.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the wonderful Tinder Press for approving my request to read this absorbing and captivating short story collection on NetGalley, it has within it some of the best short stories I’ve read this year. I had seen the buzz about this book on Twitter, loved the sound of it and although I could have put it as the next book to read in my Short Stories Challenge, I honestly couldn’t wait that long to read it. As it is, I devoured the entire twelve stories within twenty-four hours and am already considering reading them again shortly, that’s how much of an impact they had on me.

I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in this collection, merely the ones that had the desired effect but, to be honest, I’m really going to have to whittle them down even further as this collection is so fantastic that there was only one tale that I didn’t believe was as fantastic as the rest and as someone who has had quite a lot of experience with short stories now, that is a rare thing indeed! The first story, The Future Looks Good (described more than adequately in the synopsis) hit me like a ton of bricks. From the very first line: “Ezinma fumbles the keys against the lock and doesn’t see what came behind her:,” to the startling, literally jaw-dropping ending, I knew I had fallen head over heels in love with this author, her writing and this collection. It takes quite a lot to make me gasp out loud when I’m reading and the reaction I had to this first story even had my boyfriend slightly worried!

Right away, I knew I was reading something special. However, now the bar was set extraordinarily high for the rest of the book and I always feel slightly nervous when this kind of thing happens, rare though it is. The rest of the stories didn’t have exactly the same effect I have to say, but that does not mean they were in any way inferior, just clever and more subtle. Windfalls is about a mother who deliberately places her daughter in harm’s way, hoping that she gets injured so that she can sue and claim money is one of the darkest, most warped pieces of fiction I’ve ever read but it was utterly compelling, even as I felt sickened by this so-called “mother.”

Then there is Who Will Greet You At Home, a fantastical story about a woman who makes babies out of a range of materials for “Mama” to breathe life into them in exchange for some of her emotions, namely joy. Making babies like this is a regular practice for girls in this world but they are advised never to make a baby out of human hair. So can you then guess what our protagonist does? Say no more. Then there is the emotional Second Chances, where we follow a young woman struggling with the grief for her dead mother, especially when her mother’s ghost makes a return to the house as if nothing had ever happened. The only story in this collection that I didn’t connect with is What Is A Volcano which reads almost like a fairy-tale (so you’d think I would love it, right?) about a war between the God of Ants and the Goddess of Rivers. As with the others, it was beautifully written with such stunning imagery but for some reason I didn’t gel with it as much as I did with the other eleven tales in this book.

One of the things that I adore so much about this collection is that these stories cross the boundaries between a variety of genres. We have family drama – including relationships between parents and children and the heart-break that can follow estrangement, dystopia and the imaginings of a future world where mathematicians can cure grief, magical realism where childlessness is solved by making a baby out of whatever materials you can find around the house and finally, the historical past of a country. Each of our protagonists is engaging and interesting and you really do want to learn about their lives, even if by reading it stirs up such a hornets nest of emotions that it makes you quite dizzy (yet strangely hungry for more) which was certainly the case here. I also loved that the stories were either set in Nigeria (past, present or future) or in America about the Nigerian immigrant experience which, personally speaking, made each tale so much more fascinating.

As I’ve written this review, I’ve actually changed my rating on Goodreads. I originally awarded it four (more like four and a half) purely because of the story I didn’t quite get on with. However, just writing this review has made me realise that I need to give this collection five stars – indeed, I’d give it six if I could. Lesley Nneka Arimah is such a talented and exhilirating new writer that I’m almost bursting with desperation for her to write something else just so I can indulge myself in her writing for the first time once more.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Five Star TBR Pile Predictions

Published August 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

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Hello everyone and welcome to something a bit different on my blog today. One of my favourite book-tubers, Mercedes from Mercy’s Bookish Musings recently posted a brilliant video where she went through her TBR and tried to predict which five books would be five star reads for her. She then did a wrap up video after she had read the books to see how many she had got right. I thought this was a fantastic idea and immediately wanted to do the same as a blog post rather than a video. Honestly, none of you need to see me stammering away in front of a camera – it’s not a pretty sight. I’ll leave it to the experts! Without further ado, I’ve picked five books from my TBR that I think will be five star reads for me and I’ll give you a little bit of background information about how I got the book and why I think I might give it five stars.

1.) Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me came across my radar when it was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction earlier this year. I was lucky enough to attend an event where I got to hear the short-listed authors read from their books and answer some questions. I had already heard brilliant things about this book from reviewers whose opinions I really respect and trust but hearing the author speak on the night had me determined that this book was going to be great. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Mostly because people with very similar reading tastes to my own have praised it to the heavens and I’m anticipating I’m going to feel exactly the same way.

2.) The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker

Mercy from Mercy’s Bookish Musings is responsible for my interest in this little beauty. She raved about it in a recent video and after hearing her review, I knew I had to have it. I mean, check out this opening:

“Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.”

Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Again, a great review from a person with similar reading tastes to my own, the dark content and that opening is just too intriguing to resist.

3.) The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

This book has been languishing on my TBR for a ridiculous amount of time and it’s about time it gets read! I’m a big fan of Michel Faber, especially after his beautiful novel, The Crimson Petal And The White and I’ve been looking forward to reading this for the longest time. I feel like it’s going to be a bit like The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, both of which I loved. I understand Michel Faber is either taking a break from writing or has said that he’s not going to write any more novels at all and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been putting off reading this book – I just don’t want to admit to myself that I’m never going to read anything new by him again! Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Mostly due to the premise which immediately pulled me in and I have to say, that gorgeous cover. Okay I know, never judge a book by its cover! (But I do!).

4.) The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

I’ve been coveting this book ever since I first saw it in a bookshop – I mean, just look at that cover! There’s a few buzz words that will guarantee I’ll buy a book and some of them are “fairy tale,” “Russian,” “with a dark edge,” and this book has all these things, I’m certain it’s going to be gorgeous. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? It looks to have everything I would want from a novel and yep…..that cover again!

5.) Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts And Daring To Act Differently – Emer O’Toole

I love a bit of non-fiction, especially when it’s a topic that fascinates me, in this case gender stereotypes and feminist issues. There have been some brilliant reviews of this book and I can’t wait to get to it. I think it’s going to be interesting, eye-opening and I’m hoping to learn a lot too. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Probably because of the subject matter which I’m always hungry for and the fact that I’ve heard nothing but good things.

So that’s five books from my TBR which I think (and hope!) are going to be five star reads for me in the future. I’ll get on with reading them in the next few months and then I’ll be back with a wrap up post where I’ll let you know if I was right in my predictions or not. I will also be reviewing each book separately as always but I’ll do that after my wrap up post so as to not give anything away ahead of time. 

Make sure to check out Mercy’s video on her channel to see which books she has predicted will be five star reads for her. If anyone else wants to do this, I would absolutely love to see your choices, please leave a link to your post (or just tell me your choices) in the comments section below!


Circling The Sun – Paula McLain

Published October 20, 2016 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

What did I think?:

You may be familiar with the name Paula McLain from her wonderful novel The Paris Wife about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway i.e. Hadley Richardson. I was delighted to hear that she was bringing out a new work of fiction about another strong female individual based once more on a real person that I shamefully knew very little about. Again, as when I finished The Paris Wife, the author writes such a compelling story that it instantly makes me want to go and research everything I can about the real woman behind this narrative.

The person McLain chooses to explore is Beryl (Clutterbuck) Markham, who spends much of her childhood on her father’s farm in Kenya, learning the art of training racehorses from her father and running wild with her childhood friend, a native Kenyan from the nearby Kipsigis tribe. Life is quite carefree for Beryl and she enjoys the simple pleasures in life until her mother decides to return to England, effectively abandoning her. However, Beryl was never the conventional “lady,” and grows up fiercely independent and proud, fulfilling her dreams of becoming the first successful female horse trainer in Africa, having a few “interesting” relationships with men before she meets the love of her life, suffering various heart-breaks and eventually breaking a record attempt for flying solo across the Atlantic in 1936, something which she is most famous for today.

There was so much to like about this book and to be honest, I wasn’t sure at first. I’m not a particularly “horsey” kind of girl and obviously, a big part of this book is Beryl’s relationships with horses so I wasn’t sure how much that would interest me. I do love being proved wrong though – the story of her trials and tribulations with people who doubted her and her fierce attitude towards achieving her status as a world-class horse trainer totally won me over. Beryl is, in essence, a flawed character and a lot of times, I didn’t particularly agree with some of the decisions she made, especially concerning her love life (which at points, had me actually quite exasperated!). However, she was real, she made mistakes, she loved, learned and lost like everyone else has to and this made the story so much more believable and poignant in my eyes. Beryl Markham was obviously a remarkable woman and I’ll definitely be reading her memoir, West With The Night to view her life once again from her own point of view.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



Fortunate – Andrew J.H. Sharp

Published April 6, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Beth Jenkins – semi-bereaved wife, rootless doctor – runs away from home at the age of twenty-eight and a half and becomes a heroine of a revolution.

Locked into a lonely future by a cruel twist of fate, Beth reaches breaking point, abandons her husband, and flees to faraway Zimbabwe. Her attempts to create a new life falter when she finds herself at the center of a deadly struggle for the ownership of a farm. From a guest of honor at the President’s table to a disastrous decision that betrays a good man, her new start threatens to end in catastrophe.

But the land and its painted rocks hold clues to a path to atonement and re-found love if she has the courage to search.

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks to the lovely people at Troubador Publishing for this ARC which I requested from NetGalley. The synopsis of the story was intriguing to me as I have quite a lot of interest in the history of Zimbabwe so I was looking forward to a contemporary view and what looked like an interesting plot-line for a novel. Our protagonist is a woman called Beth Jenkins who is currently working as a locum GP but is becoming increasingly disillusioned by her work and longs to be able to give a little more time to each of her patients and perhaps explore fresh avenues career-wise. This is hampered by her personal life however as her husband has had a devastating brain haemorrhage which has left him requiring constant care while erasing most of his previous memories and leaving him quite dependent on her. Her demanding mother-in-law does not provide much support for Beth, emotionally or otherwise and she begins to feel trapped in a life that she had not anticipated.

On a routine visit to a cranky and resilient elderly patient in a care home Beth’s life takes a dramatic turn when he entrusts her with a deed for some land which he is the owner of in Zimbabwe. Mr de. Villier is dying of lung cancer and insists that he wishes the deed to be placed in the hands of his son only, which leads to Beth taking up the adventure and travelling to Africa. Zimbabwe at this time has just been liberated and Beth meets a host of different characters, some a bit frightening, others warm and incredibly helpful to her with her task which has become more mammoth than she expected. She finds out that delivering a piece of paper is a lot harder than it looks, especially when politics and African laws get in the way, facing dangers and new challenges which opens her eyes to the beauty of life and the possibilities of love.

This book left me with mixed up feelings I have to say. I hadn’t realised that it was based on a true story until I reached the end and I don’t know if I would have felt differently about the book if I had known this from the beginning. I did think that the book was a good read overall but something prevented it from being a brilliant read for me personally. The plot is intriguing and I was sympathetic to Beth’s plight of looking after her disabled husband, but when Beth’s friends came over to “save” her in Zimbabwe it became slightly sensationalist. Saying that though I thought the ending was quite beautiful, and I didn’t expect what happened, so there is a possibility that Beth may get the happily-ever-after that she longs for.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi

Published May 27, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Ghana Must Go is their story. Electric, exhilarating, beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go is a testament to the transformative power of unconditional love, from a debut novelist of extraordinary talent.

Moving with great elegance through time and place, Ghana Must Go charts the Sais’ circuitous journey to one another. In the wake of Kweku’s death, his children gather in Ghana at their enigmatic mother’s new home. The eldest son and his wife; the mysterious, beautiful twins; the baby sister, now a young woman: each carries secrets of his own. What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered, alone, each navigates his pain, believing that what has been lost can never be recovered—until, in Ghana, a new way forward, a new family, begins to emerge.

What did I think?:

This novel is the April read for the Waterstones Eleven debut authors, please see my previous post HERE. This book centres around the sudden and unexpected death of one man – a remarkable surgeon and father of four. As each of his children hear about his death, we learn how much of a failure he was as a father, and how much each child has been affected by their fathers abandonment. There is Olu, the first-born son, under a great deal of pressure from his parents to perform. He ends up following in his fathers footsteps by also becoming a surgeon, but who undergoes considerable emotional problems in his private life. The two twins, who were probably my favourite characters were very intriguing. Unable to cope with the marriage breakdown, their mother sends them to live with their uncle where a traumatic experience for both twins unfolds. I enjoyed the way this was continually hinted at in the novel, and how different the reactions of both twins were to their shared experience and their parents divorce.  Finally, the baby of the family, Sadie appears to have more of an issue with her mother than her father, and also harbours a secret.

The language in this book is rich and beautifully descriptive, and I found it slightly difficult at the beginning like a couple of other reviews of the book I have read. However, once getting used to the style, it became almost a treat to read. I cannot believe that this is a debut novel, the author writes like she has been writing for years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ended up a contender for the Man Booker prize this year. Although I probably wouldn’t read this book again, I’m glad I’ve read it once, even just to appreciate the author’s stunning way with words.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art