The year 2017 has been, to say the least, a great year when it comes to books. Not only did a Nigerian finally emerge as a winner in this year’s edition of the 9mobile (formerly Etisalat) Prize for Literature, we also had so many African authors churning out new literary offerings this year, some of them clinching notable prizes for some, or getting into shortlists at least.
We here at BM have been privileged to sniff, read, and review quite a number of books, whether here on the blog, or at the Book On Review Show on Nigerian radio station Classic 97.3 FM, for whom we are publicists. As is the custom, we are compiling a list of the reads that wowed us the most when they greeted our eyes. This is not to say that we didn’t love all (or to be more honest, most of) the books we came across, but there were some that got us staring into the pages again and again, made us underline paragraphs, and got us tingly all over. So, in ascending order, we present you the books that made our eyes bulge and our minds wander in 2017, beginning with;
A Tiny Place Called Happiness (Bura Bari Nwilo, Nigeria): The 2016 Writivism Short Story Prize finalist released a collection of short stories mainly set in his native Ogoniland, a region in Rivers State, Nigeria. The book evoked a feeling of sitting round a fireside at night listening to stories, and even where Nwilo was criticized by Okadabooks reviewer Jerry Chiemeke for “hurriedly ending some of the stories like premature ejaculations”, his work earned him a nomination for the 2017 ANA/Abubakar Prize for Short Stories.
Son Of Man (Amara Nicole Okolo, Nigeria): The lawyer and alumnus of the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop published her second book, a collection of six short stories which dwelt on life in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “Son Of Man” also involved narrations from the perspectives of inanimate things (like shoes and cutlasses), and Amara should be commended for serving up an easy read.
Behold The Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue, Cameroon): A novel that traverses continents, dealing with themes like immigration, economic disparities, “green card marriages”, and loss. To say the least, a laudable debut from the Cameroonian.
And now, the countdown proper.
10. The Yearning (Mohale Mashigo, South Africa): Mashigo delivered a disturbing but beautiful narrative which involves a woman haunted by a dark past, while trying to balance her relationship with a doting Frenchman with a nomadic career. An insight into the urban and rural parts of South Africa, as well as a touch of the traditional.
9. A Good Mourning (Ogaga Ifowodo, Nigeria): The lawyer, columnist and rights activist churned out a collection of 26 poems which highlighted issues from history to war, from dead heroes to economic instability. “A Good Mourning” was described by some as pandering to intellectuals, but it got him into the shortlist for the 2017 NLNG Prize for Literature, which he narrowly lost out to Ikeogu Oke’s “The Heresiad”.
8. Carnivorous City (Toni Kan, Nigeria): The PR expert and Editor-in-Chief of Nigerian online magazine Sabinews, affectionately known in literary circles as “The Mayor of Lagos”, tells a story where a schoolteacher in search of his missing brother, finds out more about the latter’s lifestyle from the perspectives of a cougar, a cut-throat banker, a compromising police officer, a street kingpin, a treacherous wingman, and a cash-hungry journalist. “Carnivorous City” has been described as an ode to Lagos, with sights and sounds so accurate that one may not need Google Maps to sail through the city after reading the novel.
7. Collective Amnesia (Koleka Putuma, South Africa): The award-winning poet and theatre maker took no prisoners with her most recent literary offering. Rendered in unconventional and gripping verses, the book explored mental health, black heritage, religion and queerness with more depth than we are used to.
6. The Lazarus Effect (Hawa Jande Golakai, Liberia): The beautiful mother of one, who describes herself as a “modern nomad and cultural sponge” (not least due to the fact that she has lived in Ghana, Togo, Zimbabwe and South Africa), penned down a gripping crime fiction thriller centred around the mysterious disappearance of a teenager in urban South Africa. Golakai’s novel is a journey through complicated family trees, social class struggles, intense fraternal relations and the haunting effect of past indiscretions, with subtle references to race.
5. And After Many Days (Jowhor Ile, Nigeria): A debut novel about a boy who goes missing, a family that is torn apart, and a nation on the brink. Set in Nigeria’s South-South region, the book attracted mixed reviews from critics, but that did not stop Jowhor Ile from winning the 2016 9mobile Prize for Literature, whose award ceremony took place in May 2017.
4. Stay With Me (Ayobami Adebayo, Nigeria): A tear-evoking narrative set in South-Western Nigeria which spans two decades, and tackles the subjects of polygamy, sickle cell anaemia, societal pressure on women as to childbirth, and marital complexities. The story is told from the perspectives of the two protagonists, the emotions are palpable, and it is no surprise that the book made the Baileys Women’s Prize for Literature shortlist as well as the 2017 9mobile Prize longlist.
3. When We Speak Of Nothing (Olumide Popoola, Nigeria): This novel set in contemporary London, Lagos and Port Harcourt, explores the depths of friendship, racial tensions in a first world country, the complexities of the family unit, and the struggles of growing up as disillusioned adolescents. It also dwells on teenage crushes, gender fluidity, queerness, acceptance in a largely conservative society, and a bit of mental health. The stream of conscious narrative is the dominant style in the book, and the touch of the personal in the storytelling is difficult to ignore.
2. What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky (Lesley Nneka Arimah, Nigeria): A collection of twelve short stories bordering on speculative fiction, from babies made of rags and hair to mathematicians who calculate emotions and grief. Lesley, a winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and two-time Caine Prize finalist, had readers anticipating her full-length debut, and she did not disappoint. Described by some as “darker than Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck”, the book boasts an abundance of emotions and personal journeys, and its presence on the 9mobile Prize longlist is well deserved.
1. Easy Motion Tourist (Leye Adenle, Nigeria): Described by Okadabooks reviewer Jerry Chiemeke as “a middle finger to convention”, this novel sheds light on prostitution, as well as the complex web of organised crime, effectively juxtaposing the scourge of ritual killings with something more complex and less talked about – organ hawking. It is a fast-paced crime thriller, where we have girls wielding guns and Nigerian cops putting in the work, and it is one of those books which we would love to see adapted into a movie.
So, there you have it, the books that piqued our attention the most. Compliments of the season from us here at BM, and cheers to a “book-ful” 2018, hopefully with a more robust list next year (a top 20, who knows).