Africa’s ‘best books’


In 2002, a panel of 16 African scholars and critics announced its definitive list of Africa’s finest books of the 20th Century. The books include Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958); Sosuís Call by Meshack Asare (1999); Une si longue letter [So Long a Letter] by Mariama Ba (1979); and Terra Sonambula by Mia Couto (1992).

The initiative, which was sponsored by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, narrowed down 1,500 nominations to a list of the best 12 books.

Dr Adotey Bing, one of the judges, told BBC World Service’s Arts In Action programme that one of their aims was to bolster writing and publishing by Africans.

“We hope that in the long-term this list will both serve Africa and the rest of the world,” he said.

Zimbabwe International Book Fair said the literary hall of fame, “heralds a new millennium for literacy throughout the entire African continent”.

Although a rigorous debate surrounded the selection of the 12 titles, the final decision was “unanimous”, according to chairman Professor Njabulo Ndebele.

“We had to make sure that the list was somehow representative,” he said. “We tried to get a gender balance, a decade and regional balance.”

Eventually the books were considered in three categories, for children, non-fiction and creative writing.

Most were written in English, but 12 were in African languages including South Africa’s IsiXhosa and Afrikaans, Kenya’s Kikuyu, Nigeria’s Yoruba and East Africa’s Swahili.

Dr Bing added that he hoped the selection would generate “a flurry of translation” of these books and provide Africans with access to a continental culture.

“That’s bound to be useful in unifying the continent,” he said.

Amongst the top 12 are well-known names including the Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe and Nobel prize-winners, Wole Soyinka and Naguib Mahfouz.

The list also included Sosu’s Call by Ghanaian children’s writer, Meshak Asare.

She reinforced the importance of literature when she told Arts In Action, “books are not just for entertainment, they are not just for fun.

“Africans need books to improve their literacy generally.”

The judges’ top 12

  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
  • Sosuís Call by Meshack Asare (1999)
  • Une si longue letter [So Long a Letter] by Mariama Ba (1979)
  • Terra Sonambula by Mia Couto (1992)
  • Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)
  • The African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality by Cheikh Anta Diop (1955)
  • L’amour, la fantasia by Assia Djebar (1985)
  • The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz(1945)
  • Chaka by Thomas Mofolo (1925)
  • The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka (1981)
  • A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiongo (1967)
  • Oeuvre Poetique by Leopold Sedar Senghor (1961

Source: BBC News

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