We Four in Egypt

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Reading my way through Africa

This year I’ve been focusing my reading on African authors, particularly sub-Saharan African. So I was delighted today to learn, courtesy of Andrew at Meskel Square, about the Africa Reading Challenge, sponsored by … some guy with a blog.

The idea is to read, in 2008, six books “that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues” and then write a blog post with a review of each.

So here’s my list of eight books, of which I’ll read at least six or seven (I haven’t read any of these yet):

  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)
  • Held at a Distance: A Rediscovery of Ethiopia by Rebecca G. Haile (Ethiopia)
  • The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
  • Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe)
  • Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera (Zimbabwe)
  • Measuring Time or Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila (Nigeria)

I read Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun a few weeks ago, and it was incredible, so I look forward to her other book. Of course I’m especially interested in Ethiopia, so Haile’s book should be great. Mahfouz’s book is a choice because I really should read some more Egyptian writers. Mandela’s autobiography is supposed to be great. And the last couple were semi-random picks.

Join me, if you are so inclined.


30 March 2008 - Posted by | africa, books, ethiopia


  1. You know, I just might join you. I already have several books and I need some organizing factor to read them. Curious to see what you think about Rebecca Haile’s book.

    Comment by rebekah | 30 March 2008

  2. I have read the Cairo trilogy (in English). It is quite a masterpiece but tends towards the depressing side. FYI

    Comment by Jack | 30 March 2008

  3. The Cairo Trilogy is great but not necessarily an easy read. I tend to devour books, so anything that takes a couple weeks to get through is long for me. I would add The Poisonwood Bible to that list (takes place in Congo).

    Comment by Cairogal | 31 March 2008

  4. Ooh, the Poisonwood Bible is great! I’ve already read it.

    I’m going to post soon about all the great books I’ve already read that fit into this challenge.

    And thanks for the double warnings about the Cairo Triology. Maybe it’ll come off my list and and I’ll just not feel guilty about not reading Mahfouz. Or does he have another book you all would recommend instead?

    Comment by Ms. Four | 31 March 2008

  5. Thanks for letting me know about this. I’ll be participating as well, and am looking forward to your reflections.

    Comment by Jonathan | 31 March 2008

  6. Jonathan and Rebekah, I’m so pleased you’ll be reading along too.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 31 March 2008

  7. I’ve only read the trilogy, and I spaced those books over a couple of years. My husband says he doesn’t like it because it portrays this stereotypical image of a family from the time period. I would argue that Mahfouz only wrote what he knew personally. The translation is just wordy. That said, it does create these visions of a Cairo gone by. I’d give the first one a read, and see how you feel!

    Comment by Cairogal | 31 March 2008

  8. Please add The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu to your list of books to read. It is great book.

    Comment by Negatu | 1 April 2008

  9. Ooh, I’ll join you! Marc suggested reading some books about western aid to African nations awhile back, so I’ll add those to my list as well as some of the suggested titles. I’ll share the titles of my aid books later–they’re many many rooms away.

    Comment by Paige | 1 April 2008

  10. Negatu, that is a great book! I’ve already read that too. Actually, I’d love to find some new books by Ethiopian authors.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 1 April 2008

  11. You may have better access to these books than those of us in the states. I find this book centre to have the best selection of Ethiopian literature. Sadly, not enough Ethiopian authors have emerged, but in time I do think this will change.

    There is also a well respected member of the diaspora, Dr. Ephraim Isaac who has had significant impact on literacy in Ethiopia.


    Comment by Nancy | 3 April 2008

  12. A few more recommendations from other parts of Africa:

    Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
    Petals of Blood, by Ngugi Wa’Thiong’O (Kenya)

    Ngugi has also written in Decolonising the Mind about the politics of writing African works in English. He wrote his more recent books in his first language, Kikuyu, and translated them into English.

    And further to your thread about expatriate life, I highly recommend Mating by Norman Rush, set in Botswana in a utopian community founded by a messianic American anthropologist.

    Comment by Monica | 4 April 2008

  13. Nancy and Monica, thanks for the suggestions. I actually have Mating on my shelf right now. I’ve already read Things Fall Apart but will look up Petals of Blood.

    Cairogal, I may put Mahfouz aside… and I won’t feel bad if I do.

    Thanks, all, for the comments.

    Comment by Ms. Four | 4 April 2008

  14. Followed the link in Racialicious, Ms. Four. Good thing, too. This is a nice idea!

    For starters, I love to read. But, I’m the slowest reader on the planet. Also, I read everything, so it might not be easy to find African authors writing about, or involved in the things that interest me; I’d be lucky to read six books in the same genre in the same year! Thinking about it, though, I can think of a couple of recent books that fit your criteria.

    Last year I read “Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon” by Michael Veal. The other day I finished “The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade” by Robert Harms. And currently, I’m reading “Cosmpolitanism: Ethics in the World of Strangers” by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Hey! He’s half Ghanaian, so I hope that counts!

    I would really like to find a good book on the African philosophy of Ubuntu!

    Comment by deb | 4 April 2008

  15. This is a very interesting idea! I haven’t read too much African literature, but what I have read has been excellent! I just might join you in reading, even though I don’t have a blog…

    Re: Naguib Mahfouz – There are lots of other good options besides the Cairo Trilogy. I really liked Midaq Alley, and I’ve heard that Children of the Alley is quite good as well (with the added intrigue that had been banned in Egypt for a long time). I thought that the first of the trilogy (Palace Walk I think it’s called) was the best of the three – so if you read it and don’t like it, don’t feel bad about forcing yourself to read the other two!

    I’ve just finished reading “In the Country of Men” by Hisham Matar about a little boy in Libya. It’s very very heavy, but also very good. I’ve been trying to find a copy of “For Bread Alone” by Mohamed Choukri (Morocco)for a really long time, but I haven’t been able to find it in any bookstores in Cairo. I’ve heard that it is excellent, but also very heavy.

    Comment by mbk | 10 April 2008

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