I grew up in the UK which meant I didn’t have as much access to African literature as I probably should have. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the books I did read; I was totally in love with Judy Blume and Jacqueline Wilson in my younger days, and I didn’t quite mind studying books like Of Mice & Men and The Merchant of Venice at school, but I feel like having more exposure to relatable characters might have been good for me.
This is why as an adult, I choose to read books primarily written by African Women, on the continent, and in the diaspora. My preference is informed mainly by my need to restore balance to the constant images and voices of white men and women churned out by the UK media, but also because I hold a deep love and interest for African storytelling, our lived experiences, and characters. Choosing just three books by African Women which shaped me wasn’t easy but at a push, I have chosen three very unforgettable books.
The Smart Money Woman by Arese Ugwu
I raved about The Smart Money Woman for months after reading it because never had I ever experienced a book like it. Half Nollywood* drama, and half finance 101, The Smart Money Woman follows Zuri’s journey to financial freedom. A twenty-something professional living in Lagos, Zuri like most women her age is living under the pressure of keeping up appearances, whilst keeping her finances afloat. Add into the mix, a potential love interest, family drama, work woes and a squad of fabulous girlfriends each with their own lives to lead, the book already has the makings of an entertaining chic lit.
However, what makes The Smart Money Woman stand out is the financial implications which underpin each of Zuri’s decisions. Each chapter concludes with money lessons for the reader to take away. Topics on everything from creating and managing a budget to learning how to invest are tied into the story, and for me, this doubles the value of The Smart Money Woman.
The Smart Money Woman deeply impacted me because although I don’t live in Lagos or anywhere else in Africa, as an African woman, I identified with many of Zuri’s dilemmas: do I spend a ton of money on bundles of Brazilian weave, or do I manage my natural hair? Should I send yet more money to family back home, or do I invest it in myself?
Do I cave into pressure to buy yet another aso-ebi*, or do I swallow my pride and pick out a dress from my wardrobe? Reading The Smart Money Woman gave me a deep understanding of how every life choice impacts our money and the fact that we have the capability to take control of our finances and shake off the societal pressures that often see us making bad financial decisions.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
There are very few books I would say every African at home or abroad should read, but this is definitely one of them. Although fiction, the story is set against a backdrop of some very painful historic events. Homegoing begins in the eighteenth century. Somewhere in Ghana, fire tears through a village separating two sisters, Effia and Esi. Effia is eventually sold into slavery and ends up on a plantation in America, whilst Esi becomes the wife of a slave trader in Elmina, Ghana.
The rest of the book follows the family tree of Effia and Esi through the ages in alternating chapters until we arrive at the present day. The last few chapters see the youngest of Esi’s and Effia’s descendants reunited but sadly when they meet, the two lineages are so far removed that they are unaware of the fact they’re related.
Again, this is a fictional book. But what stuck with me was the fact that individual lives were affected by the slave trade; families were split down the middle. The transatlantic slave trade is the single largest population redistribution program in history and Homegoing made this very real for me.
As a Ghanaian woman, the book left me wondering whether I could be related to my best friend who is of Jamaican heritage, or if I share blood with a church member who hails from Trinidad and Tobago. I think any book that has the ability to do that is powerful.
Homegoing serves as a reminder to everyone around the globe with African ancestors that we’re all truly one. Not only that, but the book is also a brutally honest walk through African and Black American history, decade by decade, from pre-slavery times to the modern-day.
Dear Ijewele: A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I could never write about African writers without featuring my all-time favorite author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have watched almost all of her interviews and public speeches and have consumed all her books from her first novel, Purple Hibiscus through to Dear Ijeawele. I’ve chosen to speak about the latter, because unlike most of her writing, this book (aside from We Should All Be Feminist) is a non-fiction piece, hence giving me a chance to hear Chimamanda’s unfiltered thoughts.
The book was written as a response to her friend who asked her how to raise her baby girl a feminist. Chimamanda decides to write her a letter of advice, ‘which she hopes [s] would be honest and practical’, and hence we have a book of suggestions which makes up Chimamanda’s manifesto. The simple belief which guides this book is that boys and girls, men and women should be treated equally.
Dear Ijewele made an impact on me because it changed my perspective on feminism. By the book’s definition, feminism is about equality rather than the bashing of men. I also adored the personal nature of the book, which is essentially a letter written from one friend to another. The warmth and love which radiates from between the lines are palpable, and for me, this is where it’s markedly different to Chimamanda’s other famous non-fiction book.
Every single sentence is a nugget of wisdom present and future parents can take away. It brought to the fore the fact that society is made up of people who inherit the values and ideals they’re raised with; in essence, the success and failure of society is determined by what transpires within the home. I loved the wisdom shared in Dear Ijeawele so much that I gobbled it up in one sitting!
I’ve enjoyed sharing three books by African women which shaped me. African literature has played a massive part in my learning of what African people have to say about life, and about the diversity of our people on the continent and scattered across the globe. But most importantly, I enjoy the fact that African literature allows us to have authority over our own stories.
*Nollywood = Nigeria’s film industry
*aso-ebi = uniform fabric worn by the close friends and family of a celebrant at a party. It’s a literal translation from Yoruba ‘family cloth’, and it usually costs a ton of money!
Madeline is a Ghanaian woman navigating life in London; a Master of International Communication & Diplomacy, and a wife, sister, and daughter who loves to laugh and live life out loud. She’s a sales executive by day and a writer at all other times. Her blog, madelinewilsonojo.com celebrates the stories of black women through book reviews and interviews. Aside from blogging, Madeline is a copywriter whose portfolio includes publications such as The Huffington Post, Black Ballad, and The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). When not holding a pen, Madeline’s other passions are cooking, eating, reading, and streaming her favorite shows on the web.