Idsam (Ibtii)

10 African/Black British books you need to add to your TBR list.

1. Yinka, Where Is Your Husband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn:

“Well, I know you believe in love, yeah. And it’s great that you believe that one day you’ll find it. But don’t you think you actually need to, you know, step out to find it?” An amazing novel centring on a successful British Nigerian woman whose mother always asks, ‘Yinka, Where is your husband?’. With everyone around her seemingly moving fast with their love life, Yinka makes a plan to find a date for her cousin’s wedding. Along the way, she encounters hardships in both her work life and her love life. A relatable novel for some and one everyone should read.

2. Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson:

“The two of you, like headphone wires tangling, caught up in this something. A happy accident. A messy miracle.” Open Water is another favourite from this list. I would do anything to read this book for the first time. A beautifully poetic short novel about two Black artists in London who fall passionately in love; the survival of their love is challenged through the trauma of racism, the struggle for masculinity, and vulnerability. I remember reading this and thinking about the author’s writing style, insanely beautiful and poetic. If you haven’t, get yourself a copy!

3. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin:

A personal favourite of mine, I genuinely could not put this book down. This novel centres on a polyamorous relationship in Nigeria, a relationship deeply involved in secrets and drama. As Baba Segi brings in his fourth wife, secrets start to unfold, and an unforgettable plot twist is revealed that you will not forget.

4. That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu:

‘I don’t wear my scars; they wear me; wear me down, wear me out, coerce me into increasing their number until they’ve won the war. Sometimes, I think I may just let them.’ A beautifully written short novel about a young black boy who we watch from childhood to adulthood. This is not an easy book to read; it deserves to be read slowly and carefully. It covers heavy issues like mental health and self-harm, and you will encounter an overwhelming feeling of sadness for the protagonist. Derek Owusu writes in such a raw and honest way, beautiful yet so painful. I caught myself fighting tears in the second half of the book.

5. The Purple Violet of Oshaantu by Neshani Andreas:

My first Namibian novel, which centres on the friendship between two women, Kauna and Mee Ali. Kauna’s abusive husband is found dead, and the community points the finger at her. Throughout this ordeal, the story focuses on the beauty of female friendship, womanhood, and the difficulties of marriage.

6. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo:

“Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who can explain who we were to the world when we are gone.” This novel brought me to tears, genuinely a story I will never forget. This novel is set in Nigeria and centres on a couple, Yejide and Akin, who have a great marriage but struggle to have children. There is pressure on Yejide from family members to get pregnant, as there is discussion of her husband bringing a second wife. The fear of her husband getting a second wife had come to reality, and from then on, the plot became devastatingly sad. I won’t say too much; if you enjoy a painful and sad book, this one's for you.

7. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon:

“Lord, what is it we people do in this world that we have to suffer so? What is it we want that the white people and them find it so hard to give? A little work, a little food, a little place to sleep. We're not asking for the sun or the moon. We only want to get by; we don't even want to get on.” The Lonely Londoners is an absolute classic, a novel that centres on immigration in the 1950s in Britain. We are introduced to so many different characters from a Caribbean background with different dreams and aspirations. This is such an important book to read; it covers loneliness, racism, homesickness, and the struggle of living. Although there is authenticity in the harsh reality of those who came to the UK for a better life, the novel is written in such a beautiful manner.

8. Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta:

This was my first Nigerian novel, and I've fallen in love with Nigerian literature ever since. A beautifully written novel about a young girl growing up in Nigeria in the '70s under military rule. We join the protagonist, Enitan, on her journey from childhood to adulthood. The novel explores friendship, a love story, womanhood, politics, feminism, and religion.

9. Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson:

‘We make our way from southeast to east, chasing what’s left of the day. On the train, trying to cram years into minutes, asking the questions we’re supposed to ask of each other.’ Another favourite of mine, I genuinely believe every book Caleb comes out with will automatically be my favourite. Small Worlds follows Stephen in his journey living in London and visiting his home in Ghana. This book covers a beautiful love story, loss, the summer before you enter university, trauma, the relationship between father and son, and racism. This book is honestly amazing, and as a South Londoner, I do love the reference to South London; it makes me feel even closer to the book.

10. This is Us: Black British Women and Girls by Kafayat Okanlawon:

‘I believe that Black British Women readers will recognise ourselves in many of these pages, but the stories here will have resonance beyond our communities.’ I want to end my last recommendation with a collection of poetry and prose all written from the perspective of both Black British women and girls. Packed with so many different stories and thoughts, as a Black woman, I saw myself in some of these stories. A beautiful read, and I will forever be grateful for coming across this amazing work. Thank you, Kafayat.

Written by Idsam 


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