It’s been a while since I’ve shared a regional reading list so here are some books to read from every country in East Africa. As ever, I’ve chosen books in English or available in English translation, which has limited the selection. However, I hope this list is accessible to range of people so you can read along with me.

Please comment / email / DM me on social media (@aminasbookshelf) if you have a great book to add to this list. And don’t forget to let me know if you read any of my recommendations. Most of them are available on my list here:

  1. Burundi

Small Country by Gaël Faye

A prize-winning bestseller in France set in Burundi, 1992. For ten-year-old Gabriel, life in his comfortable expat neighbourhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister, Ana, is something close to paradise. But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful idyll will shatter when Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda are brutally hit by war and genocide.

Genre/Themes: Genocide, war, coming-of-age, historical fiction

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2. Djibouti

In the United States of Africa by Abdourahman A. Waberi

On this reimagined globe, refugees from the slums of America and the squalor of Europe travel to Africa to escape poverty and desperation. It is in this world that an African doctor on a humanitarian mission to France adopts a child. Now a young artist, this girl, Malaïka, travels to the troubled land of her birth in hope of finding her mother—and perhaps something of her lost self.

Genre/Themes: Speculative, counter-factual history, satire

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3. Eritrea

The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia

It is summer in Jeddah but Naser’s life seems bleak. Stuck in a dead-end job and under the scrutiny of the religious police, he’s yearning to meet a woman in a country that separates the sexes with walls and veils. Then, one of the black-clad women drops a piece of paper at his feet, instructing him to follow her… But relationships are illegal under the strict Wahhibism of Saudi state rule and it’s not long before their forbidden love must face the hardest test of all… Nominated for the Commonwealth Writer’s prize, this book has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Genre / Themes: Romance, forbidden love

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4. Ethiopia

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Ethiopia. 1935. With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale… Shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

Genre/Themes: Historical fiction, women’s fiction

Read my review here: Review: The Shadow King

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5. Kenya

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya’s independence from Britain, “A Grain of Wheat” follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952-1960 Emergency. At the centre of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village’s chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. A classic by one of Kenya’s most esteemed authors.

Genre/Themes: Historical fiction

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6. Malawi

For Honour and Other Stories

This collection of short stories introduces us to the inhabitants of Chipiri, a village where everything begins under the kachere tree. From Mr Kachingwe, willing to enthral you with his outrageous views on life for the price of a tot, and Zione, following her dream of becoming an au pair in Europe; to Mark who accidentally lands in a civil war in ‘Nileland’ during a plane crash, and Sister Fire arriving to adopt a Malawian child, these characters will delight and captivate you.

Genre/Themes: Short stories, women’s fiction

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

When William Kamkwamba was just 14 years old, his family told him that he must leave school and come home to work on the farm – they could no longer afford his fees. This is his story of how he found a way to make a difference, how he bought light to his family and village, and hope to his nation. Fascinated by science and electricity, but knowing little more about the technology, William decided to build his own wind turbine. Ridiculed by those around him, he slowly built his very own windmill.

Genre/Themes: Auto-biography, inspirational

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7. Mozambique

Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto

A dark, poetic mystery about the women of the remote village of Kulumani and the lionesses that hunt them. Mariamar, a woman whose sister was killed in a lioness attack, finds her life thrown into chaos when the outsider Archangel Bullseye, the marksman hired to kill the lionesses, arrives at the request of the village elders.

Genre/Themes: Magical realism

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The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane

In this, a ground-breaking publication in the canon of non-Western women’s literary history, Paulina Chiziane – the first woman from Mozambique ever to publish a novel – lifts the lid on her country’s values and its hypocrisies. After 20 years of marriage, Rami discovers that her husband has been living a double – or rather, a quintuple – life. After Tony is forced to marry the four other women – as well as an additional lover – according to polygamist custom, the rival lovers join together to declare their voices and demand their rights.

Genre/Themes: Women’s fiction

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8. Rwanda

Between Wild and Free by Caroline Numuhire

In modern Rwanda, Linda is looking for love. Stuck with the quintessential “unmarried girl” accusation, Linda finds the true meaning of love, amidst inner turmoil, a sizeable amount of drama and the discovery of unlikely friends and lovers.

Genre/Themes: Romance, women’s fiction

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9. Somalia

Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali

Kidnapped by his father on the eve of Somalia’s societal implosion, Mohamed Ali was taken first to the Netherlands by his stepmother, and then later on to Canada. Unmoored from his birth family and caught between twin alienating forces of Somali tradition and Western culture, Mohamed must forge his own queer coming of age.

Genre/Themes: LGBTQIA, Memoir

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Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Aden, Yemen, 1935. Jama, a ten-year-old boy, is forced home to his native Somalia. War is on the horizon and the fascist Italian forces who control parts of East Africa are preparing for battle. And so begins an epic journey which will take Jama to Egypt and from there, aboard a ship transporting Jewish refugees just released from German concentration camps, across the seas to Britain and freedom.

Genre/Themes: Historical fiction

*I read this pre-booksta and enjoyed it but I don’t have a review so might need to re-read…

10. Sudan

Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela

Shuttling between the dusty, sun-baked streets of Khartoum and the university halls and cramped apartments of Aberdeen and London, Elsewhere, Home explores, with subtlety and restraint, the profound feelings of yearning, loss and alienation that come with leaving one’s homeland in pursuit of a different life.

Genre/Themes: Short story collection

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11. South Sudan

Literary Sudans: An Anthology of Literature from Sudan and South Sudan

This anthology of literatures from Sudan and South Sudan will one day be appreciated as essential to our understanding of these people’s rich history. The carefully selected array of texts offers a rare glimpse into contemporary fiction writings by mixed of established and new Sudanese talents. The translation is lucid and poetic, and kept with the spirit of the original texts. The introductory text by the Sudanese literary giant Taban Lo Liyong, and the afterword by the editor Bhakti Shringarpure, provided the much-needed context for appreciating such innovative works.

Genre/Themes: Short story collection

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12. Tanzania

After Lives by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2021. While he was still a little boy, Ilyas was stolen from his parents by the German colonial troops. After years away, fighting in a war against his own people, he returns to his village to find his parents gone, and his sister Afiya given away. Another young man returns at the same time. Hamza was not stolen for the war, but sold into it; he has grown up at the right hand of an officer whose protection has marked him life. As fate knots these young people together, as they live and work and fall in love, the shadow of a new war on another continent lengthens and darkens, ready to snatch them up and carry them away

Genre/Themes: Coming of age, romance, historical

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13. Uganda

Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

The year is 1750. Kintu Kidda sets out for the capital to pledge allegiance to the new leader of the Buganda kingdom. Along the way he unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations. Blending oral tradition, myth, folktale and history, Makumbi weaves together the stories of Kintu’s descendants as they seek to break free from the burden of their past to produce a majestic tale of clan and country.

Genre/Themes: Historical fiction

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Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Told with empathy, humour and compassion, these vibrant, kaleidoscopic stories re-imagine the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, this dazzling collection will captivate anyone who has ever wondered what it means to truly belong.

Genre/Themes: Short story collection

Read my review here:Review: Manchester Happened

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14. Zambia

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

A sprawling, multi-generational saga, which travels between many different countries. On the banks of the Zambezi River in 1904, an incident occurs at a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. It sets three Zambian families (black, white, brown) to collide and converge over the course of the century.

Genre/ Themes: Family saga, multi-generational

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Patchwork by Ellen Banda-Aaku

Destined from birth to inhabit two very different worlds – that of her father, the wealthy Joseph Sakavungo, and that of her mother, his mistress – this emotive tale takes us to the heart of a young girl’s attempts to come to terms with her own identity and fashion a future for herself.

Genre/Themes: Coming of age

Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo

Over the past fifty years $1 trillion of development aid has flowed from Western governments to Africa, with rock stars and actors campaigning for more. But this book argues that it has not helped Africa. It has ruined it. Dead Aid reveals why millions are actually poorer because of aid, unable to escape corruption and reduced, in the West’s eyes, to a childlike state of beggary.

Genre / Themes: Non-fiction, politics, social affairs, economics

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