Novels by African writers are popular at #1book140, our Twitter book club. Last July, while many of us were reading graphic novels, a sizable group broke away to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half a Yellow Sun. By popular demand, we're now voting on novels by writers with connections to Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Vote below to choose what to read this month. Voting closes Monday at noon Eastern. Soon after, I'll announce the results and post a schedule to The Atlantic and our Twitter hashtag, #1book140. As we finish reading February's book, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, it's still possible to join the conversation. Tweet questions and comments to #1b140_4 and #1book140.
"Which face do you pick to meet chaos? The one built from the ground up, baring all your past, all your scars? Or the adopted one, wired to a certain manner that you have discovered will open doors...?"
This memoir retells Binyavanga's coming-of-age in Kenya and across East Africa, a "story about how Wainaina was almost eaten alive by his addiction to reading." Alexandra Fuller's New York Times review raves about its "jazzy style: riffing, inside-jokey, un-self-conscious."
Wainaina recently made news with a moving essay, "I am a homosexual, mum," coming out in protest of sweeping new anti-gay laws in Nigeria. He calls the essay a "lost chapter" from his memoir. In subsequent weeks, other writers, including Adichie, Jackie Kay, and Helo Habila have also condemned the laws. Wainaina is also known for the humorous and influential essay "How to Write about Africa" and his role in founding the Kwani? Trust.
Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes (@laurenbeukes)
"Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things," reads the intro to this Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel set in Johannesburg. People in Zoo City are "animalled" if they bear serious guilt, their familiarity granting them powers and weighing them down. When Zinzi is offered a job to find a missing celebrity, she hopes it will pay her way out of the slums. Instead, it takes her deeper into the city's underworld.
We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo
In this moving novel about a life displaced, Darling is a 10-year-old girl in Paradise, Zimbabwe. When her community is dismantled by a corrupt government and her family faces tragedy, Darling finds her way to Detroit, where she must reinvent herself as a teenager. Uzodinma Iweala writes in The New York Times that the novel goes beyond needy stereotypes to present a Zimbabwe where villagers mock NGO workers, Chinese money grows in influence, and HIV has become mundane.
The novel continues the story from Bulawayo's fantastic Caine Prize-winning short story, "Hitting Budapest." Reviews in The New York Times and NPR praise the voice Bulawayo finds for Darling in the novel's style, as well as its treatment of the politics of both countries. The novel was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
Open City, by Teju Cole (@tejucole)
It's about time we considered reading Teju Cole. A sharp, ethical, and creative genius on Twitter. He also writes novels.
In Open City, a half-Nigerian, half-German psychiatry grad student named Julius walks around New York City and meets interesting people. He talks to a Hatian shoe-shiner, watches a performance of Mahler at Carnegie Hall, and visits a detention center in Queens with a church group. During a visit to Brussels, Julius also encounters, admires, and argues with a fiercely opinionated Moroccan who works at an Internet café.
James Wood points out in his New Yorker review that "we... need a flâneur to see interesting things in the city, and to notice them well." He calls it "a beautifully modulated description of a certain kind of solitary liberalism common to thousands, if not millions, of bookish types."
Random House will release a new edition of Cole's 2007 novella Every Day is For the Thief on March 25.
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J. Nathan Matias researches technology for cooperation and civic life at the MIT Media Lab and Center for Civic Media. He also facilitated @1book140, The Atlantic's Twitter book club from 2012 – 2014.