Read About Africa while you 'self-isolate'
The ongoing spread of COVID 19 across the Earth has resulted in lockdowns, travel bans, closed borders, and calls for self-isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. We’ve gone from a fully globalized world, with a never-ending stream of international flights whizzing around the world in every direction, to empty skies, and a struggling global tourism industry in a matter of weeks.
Every country has varying levels of control over it populations, and while some of us are lucky enough to be allowed to go outside and enjoy the great outdoors (2m away from anyone else), plenty of others are stuck indoors, dreaming of adventure, travel, and nature. Whatever the case, we’ve all got more time to lose ourselves in a good book.
Whether you’re into fiction or non-fiction, adventure or autobiography, I’ve got some suggestions for great books to read that take place in East Africa to whet your appetite for future safaris when this is all over. I’ve purposely not included the classic colonial safari tales well-known to many already, such as Out of Africa, Born Free, The Green Hills of Africa, etc. So, in no particular order, here you go:
- The Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. A satirical look at a fictional African kleptocracy. A thoroughly enjoyable book portraying governmental corruption an ineptitude in all its comical glory.
- In the House of the Interpreter, Ngugi wa Thiong’o. An autobiographical look at Thiong’o’s internal identity crisis as an impressionable Kikuyu boy attending a colonial school in the midst of the Mau Mau uprising.
- Dust, by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. A powerful fictional work spanning generations, continents and cultures, and a critical look at the danger of Kenya’s tribalism in light of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
- How to Write About Africa, by Binyavanga Wainaina. Short, sharp essays taking a hilarious jab at western authors’ and journalists’ techniques to sell books, newspapers, and magazine articles about “Africa”. Genuinely funny, light reading.
- The In Between World of Vikram Lal, by MG Vassanji. While this is fiction, it’s a realistic account of 20th century Kenya, the experience of East African Indians, and the culture of corruption that’s been handed down through each successive regime. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
No Picnic on Mount Kenya, by Felice Benuzzi. A true-life adventure story of an Italian prisoner’s daring escape from mind-numbing boredom in a WWII POW camp in Nanyuki to climb Mount Kenya.
- The Zanzibar Chest, by Aidan Hartley. Part autobiography, part biography, part historical non-fiction. Weaving Yemen’s and East Africa’s colonial past with the realities of the 20th century, this is one of my all-time favourite books.
- Dan Eldon: The Art of Life, by Jennifer New. In The Zanzibar Chest (above), Dan Eldon is a larger-than-life character who plays a small role, but leaves a big impression. This book is about him and his insatiable thirst for life.
- It's Our Turn To Eat, by Michela Wrong. An easy-to-read account of Kenya’s journey into the quagmire of corruption, centred around the exiled whistle-blower, John Githongo
- In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, Michela Wrong. Zaire’s (Democratic Republic of Congo) horrifying descent into chaos, precipitated by the kleptocratic regime of Mobutu Sese Seko following the example of the DRC’s former Belgian colonial rulers.
- Blood River, by Tim Butcher. A British journalist’s epic trip attempting to follow Henry Morton Stanley’s expedition down the Congo River. A mixture of history, current affairs, adventure, and anthropology.
- Tick Bite Fever, by Leon Bennun. A hilarious autobiographical account of the author’s childhood in Kenya, complete with wacky characters, epic safaris, and blundering mishaps.
- Whatever You Do, Don’t Run, by Peter Allison. An accomplished Botswana safari guide recounts the experiences that led him to safari guiding with a massive dollop of humour, sharp wit, and near-misses.