Africa's 100 best books of the 20th Century

book cover Things fall apart

The ASC Library, Documentation and Information Department has compiled a dossier on Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century project. It consists of an introduction, the top twelve list, the top hundred list, and a selection of Web resources. All the titles listed in the top hundred list that are available in the ASC library are linked to the  library catalogue.
For information about this dossier and the availability of titles, email us at: asclibrary@ascleiden.nl or phone: +31 (0)71 527 3354.

Introduction                                                                                                      

Ali Mazrui AFRICA'S 100 BEST BOOKS OF THE 20TH CENTURY project was first suggested at the 1998 Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Harare. Ali Mazrui came up with the idea of a list of  Africa's 100 best books in order to direct the world's attention on the achievements of African writers who have had their work published during the 20th century. A jury, chaired by Njabule Ndebele, considered over 500 nominations from the original list of 1,521 nominations proposed by individuals and institutions all over the world. The nominations were subjected to rigorous criteria which included, inter alia, an assessment of quality, the ability to provide new information or insight, a continuing contribution to debate, and the extent to which a book broke down boundaries. The final list had to reflect a balance of regional representation, gender, historical spread and genres of writing.

The top 100 list was launched in Accra, Ghana, on February 18, 2002 and the Awards Presentation Gala took place in Cape Town on 28 July.  The 2002 Zimbabwe International Book Fair (30 July-3 August) was devoted to the Best Book project. Its theme was the impact of African writing on world literature.

Having selected the top 100 list, the jury then choose the best twelve African books of the twentieth century. The books - in African and European languages or in Arabic -  were divided into three categories: children's writing, non-fiction/academic writing and creative writing.

Many of the books are in the ASC library, but children books and work in African languages or Arabic do not meet the criteria of collection development and are unfortunately not available. In some cases, a title is available in translation.

This dossier consists of:

Top twelve list

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, 1958
This book, by Nigeria's most famous writer, portrays the impact of British colonization on the life of a settled African community. The author not only informs the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but also reminds his own people of the value of their past.

 Meshack Asare, Sosu's Call, 1999
This book received UNESCO's 1st Prize for Children's Literature.

Mariama Bâ, Une si longue lettre, 1979
The Senegalese writer Mariama Bâ (1929-1981) received the 1980 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa for this book. The novel captures the everyday frustrations that many women face, especially after the death of their spouses.

book cover Terra sonambulaMia Couto, Terra Sonâmbula 1992
Born in Mozambique in 1955, Couto has managed to blend, in a unique way, African oral tradition and Portuguese literary language. More than just a novel about the recent civil war in Mozambique, this is a book in which broken and fragmented identities are exposed.

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions, 1988
The first novel of this Zimbabwean writer portrays an African society whose younger generation of women struggle with varying degrees of success and failure.

Cheikh Anta Diop, Antériorité des Civilisations Nègres / The African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality, 1955
This book presents Diop's main thesis that historical, archaeological and anthropological evidence supports the theory that the civilization of ancient Egypt, the first that history records, was actually Negroid in origin. The English text is a one-volume translation of the major sections of the first and last of the books by Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986), i.e., Nations Nègres et Culture (1954) and Antériorite des Civilisations Nègres (1967)

Assia Djebar, L'Amour, La Fantasia, 1985
Djebar is a contemporary writer from Algeria. The novel describes the conquest of Algeria and the war of independence from a woman's perspective.

Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy, 1945
The Cairo Trilogy is a panoramic three-part work written to explain the sensitivity and mentality of the people who lived in Cairo from the 1900s to the 1940s. Palace walk (1990), Palace of desire (1991) and Sugar street (1992) each gives a rich description of their daily lives while portraying a wider historical process.

Thomas Mofolo, Chaka, 1925
The central figure in this historical novel written in Sesotho, is Chaka Zulu. Mofolo (1876-1948) explores the theme of power and its effect on those who have too much.

Léopold Sédar Senghor, Oeuvre Poétique, 1961
Oeuvre Poetique (1990) was originally published as Poèmes (1964) bringing together Chants d'Ombre (1945), Hosties Noires (1948), Ethiopiques (1956) and Nocturnes (1961). In his poems Senghor explores the mythic origins of the African persona.

Wole Soyinka, Ake: The Years of Childhood, 1981
The evocation of the wonder of a child's discovery of the world and his place in it.

Ngugi wa Thiongo, A Grain of Wheat, 1967
Ngugi wa Thiongo, a writer from Kenya, depicts some of the dilemmas that face an emerging nation in this novel in whicha village prepares for the coming of independence.

 

Africa's 100 best books: titles and links to OPAC

Creative writing

author country title publisher
 
Abnudy, Abd al-Rahman Egypt al-Mawt  'ala al as-falt Atlas
Achebe, Chinua Nigeria Arrow of God Heinemann
Aidoo, Ama Ata Ghana Anowa Longman
Al Ghitani, Gamal Egypt Zayni Barakat GEBO
Almeida, Germano de Cape Verde O testamento do Sr. Nepomuceno da Silva Araújo Caminho
Armah, Ayi Kwei Ghana The beautiful ones are not yet born Heinemann
Bâ, Amadou Hampâté Mali L'étrange destin de Wangrin Union générale d'éditions
Bâ, Mariama Senegal Une si longue lettre NEA
Ben Jelloun, Tahar Morocco La nuit sacrée Seuil
Beti, Mongo Cameroon Le pauvre Christ de Bomba (English version) Présence Africaine
Brink, Andre South Africa A dry white season Penguin
Bugul, Ken Senegal Riwan Présence Africaine
Cheney-Coker, Syl Sierra Leone The last harmattan of Alusine Dunbar Heinemann
Chraibi, Driss Morocco Le passé simple Gallimard
Coetzee, J.M South Africa Life and times of Michael K Secker & Warburg 
Couto, Mia Mozambique Terra sonâmbula Caminho
Craveirinha, José Mozambique Karingana ua Karingana Academica
Dadié, Bernard Ivory Coast Climbié Segiers
Dangarembga, Tsitsi Zimbabwe Nervous conditions Women's Press
Dib, Mohammed Algeria La grande maison, L'incendie, Le métier à tisser Le Seuil 
Diop, Birago Senegal Les contes d'Amadou Koumba Présence Africaine
Diop, Boubacar Boris Senegal Murambi ou le livre des ossements Stock
Djebar, Assia Algeria L'amour, la fantasia J. C. Lattes
Emecheta, Buchi Nigeria The joys of motherhood Alison and Busby
Fagunwa, D.O. Nigeria Ogboju ode nimu Igbo irunmale (English version) Nelson
Farah, Nuruddin Somalia Maps Pan Books
Fugard, Athol South Africa The blood knot Simondium 
Gordimer, Nadine South Africa Burgher's daughter Jonathan Cape
Head, Bessie South African A question of power Heinemann
Honwana, Luis Bernardo Mozambique Nos matamos o cão tinhoso (English version) Academica
Hove, Chenjerai Zimbabwe Bones Baobab Books
Isegawa, Moses Uganda Abessijnse kronieken De Bezige Bij 
Jordan, A.C. South Africa Ingqumbo yeminyanya (Eng. versie) Lovedale
Joubert, Elsa South Africa Die swerfjare van Poppie Nongena Tafelberg
Kane, Cheikh Hamidou Senegal L'aventure ambiguë Juillard
Kossa, Ungulani ba ka Mozambique Ualalapi AEMO
Kourouma, Ahmadou Ivory Coast Les soleils des indépendances Le Seuil
Laye, Camara Guinea L'Enfant noir Plon
Magona, Sindiwe South Africa Living, loving and lying awake at night David Philip
Mahfouz, Naguib Egypt The Cairo trilogy Maktabet Misr
Marechera, Dambudzo Zimbabwe House of hunger Heinemann
Mofolo, Thomas Lesotho Chaka Morija Sesuto Book Depot
Monenembo, Tierno Guinea Un attieké pour Elgass Le Seuil
Mutwa, Vusamazulu Credo South Africa Indaba, my children Blue Crane Books
Ngugi wa Thiong'o Kenya A grain of wheat Heinemann
Ngugi wa Thiong'o Kenya Caitani Mutharaba-ini (English version) Heinemann
Niane, Djibril Tamsir Senegal Soundjata ou l'épopée mandingue Présence Africaine
Nyembezi, Sibusiso South Africa Inkinnsela yaseMgungundlovu Shuter and Shooter
Okigbo, Christopher Nigeria Labyrinths Heinemann
Okri, Ben Nigeria The famished road Spectrum Books
Oyono, Ferdinand Cameroon Le vieux nègre et la médaille Juillard
p'Bitek, Okot Uganda Song of Lawino EAPH
Paton, Alan South Africa Cry the beloved country Cape
Pepetela Angola A geração da utopia Dom Quixote
Saadawi, Nawal el Egypt Woman at point zero Zed Books
Salih, Tayeb Sudan Season of migration to the north Heinemann
Sassine, Williams Guinea Le jeune homme de sable Présence Africaine
Sembene, Ousmane Senegal Les bouts de bois de Dieu  Le livre contemporain
Senghor, Léopold Sédar Senegal Oeuvre poétique (English version) Le Seuil
Serote, Mongane South Africa Third World Express David Philip
Shaaban, Robert Bin Tanzania Utenzi wa vita vya uhuru  EALB
Sony Labou Tansi DR Congo La vie et demie Seuil
Sow Fall, Aminata Senegal La grève des battus NEA
Soyinka, Wole Nigeria Death and the King's horseman Spectrum
Tchicaya U Tam'si DR Congo Le mauvais sang - Feu de brousse-À triche-coeur P. J. Swald
Tutuola, Amos Nigeria The palm wine drinkard and his dead pal-wine tapster in the deads' town Faber
Vera, Yvonne Zimbabwe Butterfly burning Baobab Books
Vieira, Luandino Angola Nós os de Makulusu (French version) Livraria Sa da Costa
Vilakazi, B. W. South Africa Amal'eZulu Wits Univ. Press
Yacine, Kateb Algeria Nedjma Le Seuil

Academic writing

 
author country title publisher
 
Amin, Samir Egypt Accumulation on a world scale Monthly Review Press
Amadiume, Ifi Nigeria Male daughters, female husbands Zed Books
Andrade, Mario de Angola Os nacionalismos africanos Livraria Sa da Costa 
Appiah, Anthony Ghana In my father's house Oxford Univ. Press
Cabral, Amilcar Guinea Bissau Unity and struggle Monthly Review Press
Casely-Hayford, J.E. Ghana Ethiopia unbound Cass
Chimera, Rocha Kenya Kiswahili, past, present and future horizons Nairobi Univ. Press
Diop, Cheik Anta Senegal Antériorité des civilisations nègres Présence Africaine
Dorkenoo, Efua Ghana Cutting the rose Minority Rights Group
Hountondji, Paulin Benin Sur la philosophie africaine Maspero
Johnson, Samuel Nigeria The history of the Yorubas Routledge
Kenyatta, Jomo Kenya Facing Mount Kenya Maspero
Ki-Zerbo, Joseph Burkina Faso Histoire de l'Afrique noire Akademie Kiado
Krog, Antjie South Africa Country of my skull Jonathan Cape 
Mama, Amina Nigeria Beyond the mask, race, gender and identity Routledge 
Mamdani, Mamood Uganda Citizen and subject: contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism James Currey 
Mandela, Nelson South Africa Long walk to freedom Little Brown 
Marais, Eugène South Africa Die siel van die mier J. L. van Schaik
Memmi, Albert Tunisia Portrait du colonisé, précédé du portrait du colonisateur  L'étincelle
Mondlane, Eduardo Mozambique The struggle for Mozambique Penguin 
Mphahlele, Ezekiel South Africa Down Second Avenue Faber & Faber
Mudimbe, V. Y. DR Congo The invention of Africa Indiana Univ. Press
Nkrumah, Kwame Ghana Ghana: autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah Nelson
Plaatje, Sol South Africa Native life in South Africa P.S. King
Soyinka, Wole Nigeria Ake: the years of childhood Rex Collings
Van Onselen, Charles South Africa The seed is mine David Philip

Selected web resources

The ASC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

African Literature on the internet
An annotated site from Columbia University Libraries with links to African writers and literature and a link to Africa's  100 best books.
hbook cover A grain of wheatttp://library.columbia.edu/content/libraryweb/indiv/area/cuvl/african_studies/literature.html

H-Africa/H-AfrLitCine
This discussion list on African literature and cinema is a member of H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences Online, and refers to the 100 best books project.
http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~aflitweb

Africa South of the Sahara, Topics: African Literature and Writers on the Internet
An annotated guide to internet resources on African writers and literature, maintained by  Karin Fung, Stanford University.
http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/ssrg/africa/lit.html

African Postcolonial Literature in English
A site with links to African authors, hosted by the National University of Singapore.
http://www.postcolonialweb.org/misc/africov.html

LIMAG: Litteratures du Magrheb
Maintained by Charles Bonn & Coordination Internationale des Chercheurs sur les Littératures du Maghreb. Contains all sorts of information related to literature from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
http://www.limag.com

Lire les femmes écrivaines et les littératures africaines
A site maintained by the University of Western Australia, with information on African female writers and their books, in English and French, as well as links.
http://aflit.arts.uwa.edu.au/FEMEChome.html                                                                                                

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