I beam with pride at the sight of books by Nigerian authors on my bookshelf—displaying names rich with culture that even my tongue has difficulty navigating. As a first generation Nigerian American, I’m unfamiliar with the many peculiarities and treasures my homeland has to offer. Luckily, the deluge of Nigerian literature in recent years has not only given me the chance to learn more about my own culture, but in many ways, it has affirmed my experiences as a child of West African immigrants. As Nigerian Independence Day approaches on October 1st—and we await the grandiose display of “Naija Pride” during the NYC parade—here are five novels we’ll be reading to celebrate.
Set during the Nigerian Civil War—Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s—HALF A YELLOW SUN is told through five memorable characters, including a pair of sisters whose return from studying in the UK finds them struggling to adjust in a now war-torn homeland. With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history with distinct characters you’ll never forget. It’s a must-read for Nigerian Americans and natives alike.
The Nigerian Civil War of the late 1960s is brought to life through the voices of five unforgettable characters. Among them is Ugwu, a houseboy who comes to his master a naive child and ends the novel a wary ex-soldier. As war drags on and the differences between Ugwu and the once-privileged family he serves shrink, their shared, raw humanity is all that remains.
After reading Chigozie Obioma’s Cain and Abel–esque novel THE FISHERMEN, I couldn’t talk or think about anything else. The hefty reality of the socioeconomic state of 1990s Nigeria and the mystical and folklorish air of the dangerous prophecy that spins one’s family’s lives out of control makes this read altogether nostalgic, heartrending, and moving.
When their strict father has to travel for work, four brothers skip school and go fishing. At the ominous nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. THE FISHERMEN is the Cain and Abel-esque story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria.
Ayobami Adebayo brings polygamy—a hotly debated topic in many Nigerian circles—to the forefront in her debut novel STAY WITH ME. As Yejide and her husband struggle to conceive years into their marriage, the addition of a new (and more fertile) wife threatens to tear their once peaceful life apart. To save their relationship, Yejide must get pregnant and must go to extreme lengths to do so. STAY WITH ME paints an astonishing portrait of marriage, motherhood, and sacrifice.
A young Nigerian living in New York City goes home to Lagos for a short visit, finding a city both familiar and strange. The unnamed narrator reconnects with old friends, a former girlfriend, and extended family, taps into the energies of Lagos life, and slowly begins to reconcile the profound changes that have taken place in his country and the truth about himself. Teju Cole exquisitely captures the experience many Nigerian immigrants experience upon returning home.
When eight-year-old Jessamy Harrison moves to her mother’s Nigerian compound, she befriends a mysterious girl, Titiola, and it seems that Jess has found someone who will finally understand her. But Titiola, who Jess calls TillyTilly, knows secrets both big and small. Suffused with Nigerian mythology, along with a dose of psychological suspense, THE ICARUS GIRL is a powerful novel readers of magical realism will enjoy.