While there are plenty of amazing authors from around the globe and in every country, there’s just something about Nigeria that has produced a truly unique set of authors and an incredible literary body of work.
From science fiction to historical works that draw on the country’s rich history and culture, Nigerian and Nigerian-descended authors have an incredible talent for combining their heritage into bodies of work that are unlike anything else in the world.
So, it’s probably high time that we help expand your appreciation of this plethora of writers that have added to the literary canon of Nigeria!
How do we do that? Why, by showing you our favorite works from Nigerian authors, of course!
Coconut: A Black Girl, A White Foster Family, And The Search For Belonging And Identity, By Florence Oòlaìjiìdeì
I’m starting this list with a favorite genre for many people across the world.
Biographies are among some of the most popular book categories out there.
I guess people love to hear about the experiences of people with unique perspectives, whether that’s in business, movies, or, as this biography by Florence Oòlaìjiìdeì demonstrates, the unique perspective of people growing up with distinct childhoods.
Even if they’re somewhat edited into a narrative, they speak to an experience that both feels one of a kind, and yet entirely grounded in reality.
This memoir-style book focuses on a particular Nigerian family that has since moved to London, during the late 1950s and 60s.
Florence’s parents are busy working, so the young girl, born in Britain, is predominantly raised and looked after by a foster family.
It’s one that Florence deeply loves, but can’t help but notice that she sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to other kids and families, on account of her dark skin.
However, that uncertainty is nothing compared to the feelings that she is going through when her parents return and decide to move back to Nigeria with Florence and her three siblings.
Now, Florence is caught between two identities. She wants to connect to her roots, but her English mannerisms and inability to speak the language makes for a seemingly impossible challenge.
So, does she feel British? OR Nigerian? Neither? Or Both? That’s the question that’s at the heart of this book, and I love it!
- A fascinating autobiography of a young girl’s life spent in two very different cultures.
- Speaks to a wider truth as to what it feels like to be caught between two national identities.
- The relationships that Florence has with both her parents and her grandmother feel both vivid and nuanced, like any family dynamic would.
- The ending doesn’t wrap up in a neatly-packaged conclusion like some other autobiographies do.
Okay, we’ve had a vivid slice of non-fiction to yet the appetite. Now it’s time to delve headfirst into the world of Nigerian-written science-fiction.
And trust me, there’s nothing quite like it!
So, like pretty much everything else these days, a story breaks on the internet of something weird going on in the waters outside Lagos.
Nothing out of the ordinary so far, right?
Well, hold on a second, because things start to get unusual when the world finds out that the thing that crashed there was an alien spaceship.
As you can imagine, a world-changing event like this leads to untold chaos across… well, pretty much everywhere!
People are attempting to flee or hide in panic, thieves are trying to take what they can, and the military is doing everything it can to try to get its hands on the situation and the alien ship.
All while the leaders of the world contemplate attempting to nuke the spaceship before it can do something potentially awful.
It falls to the motley band of protagonists to try to avert all of this from going any more south than it already has.
That sounds like a tall order, right?
This book has pretty much everything going for it, in terms of the perfect first-contact narrative, from the worldwide panic to the reactions of the main characters, who are trying desperately to figure out what is going on.
However, there is a distinct style to this story that is unlike anything else that you’ll read.
Not only is the city of Lagos itself, but the various accounts of the citizens that you’ll read as you continue into the second and thirds acts are phenomenal snippets of character
- This is a first-contact story unlike almost any other, being situated in a location that doesn’t get as much attention in this genre.
- Some of the best side characters that you’ll find in this genre.
- You get a sense of the character of Lagos city, as well as its many residents.
- Compared to the vibrant side characters, the main cast feels a little underdeveloped and bland at times.
It’s time to go from a modern classic to a classic book that should be on anyone’s bookshelf when talking about Nigerian literature.
Originally written in 1958, Things Fall Apart is arguably one of the greatest works to come out of Nigeria in the last 70 years, and it earns that spot, for sure.
The book focuses on Okonkwo, a fierce man of the Igbo people in Eastern Africa.
Okonkwo, a man whose fierce and terrifying anger is only matched by his great fear, is a man who has resolved to himself to never show the same weakness that his father did. He will protect his clan and their traditions by any means necessary.
But will that rage and pride be his undoing, as the tribe faces threats to their existence that could turn their world upside down?
This book is an incredible look at the effects that colonialism had on many Nigerian communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through the lens of a man who has every right to fear what these powerful strangers, whether in the form of foreign powers or missionaries, might do to his people and history.
And yet, it does this while also making us question whether or not Okonkwo’s ideas of fighting and resisting help or hinder his tribe. Especially as he is driven into further and further desperation.
The distinct African terms and slang used also help cement you in the time and place of the piece.
This isn’t some whitewashed version that has been perfectly tailored to be read in any language (and perhaps misinterpreted as a result) but is deeply rooted in Igbo and other Nigerian-Congo language customs.
(Don’t let that put you off reading this book, however. The glossary and citations will give you a perfect rundown of what each word means so that you can fully appreciate it!)
Listen, I know that pretty much everyone can get tired from time to time of all the old books that they ‘must read before they die’.
But if you’re looking to get a better sense of not just Nigeria’s past, but also the rich literary body of work that has built up over the years, this is a book that you owe to yourself to check out.
- A deeply moving and tragic story about one man’s attempts to stand against the forces that might try to destroy his tribe and customs.
- A moving examination of the effects of colonialism and the erasure of culture, and what comes with it.
- Written from a Nigerian perspective, there is an authenticity in how both the colonizers and the local community are depicted. There is nuance to how the white missionaries are depicted, as well as what harm they can bring.
- The story is a little slow to start, with the first act setting up a lot of the pieces that will become more relevant later on. Interesting, but slow-paced.
We’re moving back to a member of the Nigerian diaspora with this next entry. And, like last time, we’re taking a look at the fascinating cross-section of Nigerian and British lives coming together.
Now, that might sound familiar to some. But trust me when I say that the way this story unfolds in many ways!
Glory is a British Nigerian citizen that has been living in LA for quite a while now, living her best life.
However, the sudden death of her father back in London forces her to go back to his funeral and meet up with her estranged family.
Only when she gets back, not only does she remember why she left in the first place, but she finds that pretty much everyone in her family is almost unrecognizable.
Her brother Viktor? In jail, and bitter that his sister wasn’t there for his trial. Her sister Faith, the aspiring businesswoman? A shell of her former self, shelving her personal goals to try to create a perfect little home life?
And don’t even get her started about her distraught mother!
This is a novel that tackles not just what it means to have a dual identity, but also Glory’s sense of what she wants her own life to be, and whether she can even bring this broken family together again.
Or even if she wants to…
If that opening doesn’t sound like a recipe for intrigue or drama, I don’t know what could be!
- A deeply personal tale of a broken family that our protagonist is trying to fix.
- The many questions about Glory’s identity as a British-Nigerian are deeply moving and contemplative.
- There’s a grounded feel to how the rest of the family is depicted, and how Glory perceives that they have changed.
- Some may find the main character a little unlikable or hard to read.
Okay. Well, if there’s one thing that you can say about this book out of the gate, it’s got a strong title!
So, Korede has a problem, which looks a lot like her younger sister Ayoola. She’s charming, bubbly, the favorite kids of their parents, attractive, and newly single after stabbing her third boyfriend to death.
You know, just #girlproblems.
Yeah, so Ayoola’s mean streak is less meaningful, and more sociopathic when you stop to think about it.
It’s a fact that Korede, the dependable, practical older head nurse, has had to wrestle with for a long time, being the one who knows how to get rid of bodies without evidence, whilst also corralling her little sister into not outing herself as a murderer on social media.
However, Korede has managed to avoid the personal consequences of her sister’s actions so far. But when an attractive doctor asks for Ayoola’s number, our protagonist has a real dilemma on her hands…
There’s something unmistakably sinister and horrifying about the whole situation. But in its own, strange way, it’s kind of a hilarious read as well.
Braithwaite’s macabre and often dark humor is on full display in this work and makes the book stand out even more.
There’s an acknowledgment of the brutal and bloody business that Ayoola is up to in a genre that can sometimes be seen as taking itself too seriously.
If you’re in the mood for just such a topic, then this is the book for you!
- A fascinating protagonist, with a very clear and understandable reason as to why she does what she does.
- The humor in this book is savagely funny, both metaphorically, and literally!
- How did Braithwaite make a serial killer this likable!?
- Some of the side characters feel a little one-note in comparison to the incredibly compelling main duo of the story.
Unlike the last entry, this next book on my list doesn’t have a punchline to its dark subject.
After all, with a main setting as tragic and brutal as the Nigerian Civil War (Also known as the Biafran War) of 1967 to 70, how could there be?
The book mainly looks at the conflict from a variety of perspectives.
You have the young 13-year-old houseboy Ugwu, you have professor Odenigbo, the revolutionary and zealot teacher who he works for, you have his former mistress who has abandoned the city life in Lagos for a quiet, dusty farmhouse in Rural with her love, and you have the young Englishman who has become infatuated with her twin sister Kainene.
When it comes to historical events, even recent historical events like the Biafran War, there’s often a temptation to paint the conflict from a bird’s eye or outside perspective.
However, it is depictions of stories like this that truly make it feel like a real event. It reminds you that, even at the center of this complex war, and the reason for the Biafran trying to gain independence from Nigeria, there are people that have to live through the conflict, no matter which side wins.
It’s a tough read, for sure, especially for those who lived in and around the time and place. But it’s also a phenomenal work of literature, that shines a light on a chapter of Nigerian history that many might be quick to want to forget.
- 5 perspectives on the Biafran/Nigerian Civil War, an often undiscussed chapter of West African history.
- A major chapter in the discussion of postcolonialism in Africa.
- These on-the-ground views of the conflict are heartfelt and help humanize a period that is typically just left to the history books.
- The ending is open-ended, which might have some readers frustrated that wanted to learn more about what happens to some characters.
Now, if you’re in the mood for a passionate tale of love, lust, and romance after that last book about a painful time, then don’t worry! I’ve got your back with this steamy, yet heartfelt romance novel for you to read!
Feyi Adekola is slowly managing to put her life back together. She’s an artist in a studio apartment and lives with her best friend Joy.
However, Feyi doesn’t feel ready to date again, even if it has been 5 years since that awful accident took the love of her life away from her.
Joy manages to convince her to start looking for relationships again, even if only casually. But a summer of whirlwind love kicks off after a heated night. Vacations, luxurious rooftop meals. You name it, she’s enjoying it with this new man, Milan.
Everything seems great until she ends up meeting his dad on one visit. And, as Feyi soon finds out, this is a case of, like father, like son.
The combination of both Emezi’s visceral, passionate romance writing, coupled with the genuinely heartfelt trauma that Feyi has had to endure in her life so far, makes for a book that you won’t be able to put down!
- A cast of colorful characters fills the pages of this book!
- An unorthodox romance story that keeps you guessing.
- The message about overcoming grief is a powerful one.
- This writing style is quite a departure from Emezi’s previous book. Long-time fans may find it quite a shift.
We’re back on the soil of Nigeria for our next entry in this list.
As you’ll find while reading this book, you’ll see that it’s another one that takes place during a time of civil war.
However, instead of the multiple perspectives from last time, we follow the story of 15-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja.
Now, life for Kambili and Jaja seems great. They have enormous privilege, living in beautiful Enugu in a large house, with a caring mother, and even attending an exclusive school.
However, you’ll soon find out from Kambili herself that not everything is perfect in paradise for the kids.
Their father, while respected and generous, is also fanatically religious, and even abusive to the rest of the family.
Political instability and the threat of civil war force Kambili and Jaja to be relocated to live with their aunt and her family, just outside of Lagos, where they get a taste of life almost completely different from what they are used to.
Free from the strict and tyrannical hand of their father, they find themselves enjoying life again.
However, once they are expected to return to their father’s home, tensions continue to rise.
What will happen to these young souls, now that they know that a life away from suffocating expectations and abuse is possible?
It’s certainly a page-turner, I’ll say that!
- Both Kambili, despite their privileged positions, are deeply sympathetic figures.
- Adichie has a phenomenal way of portraying the nuance of their father (Eugene)’s undeniable cruelty. He is the villain, but in a very believable human way.
- This is not a feel-good story. Some scenes may be upsetting to people who have suffered abuse.
So, do you have a new favorite author on this list? Pick a book up for yourself and find out!
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Is The Most Famous Nigerian Author?
While your pick might vary, Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart is considered one of the greatest, and the father of modern Nigerian literature.
What Are Some Major Themes In Nigerian Literature?
Nigerian literature covers many themes and genres, from sci-fi to contemplative historical pieces.
However, you’ll find that postcolonialism and political instability are some very common features of many works.
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