I am forever coming across articles citing the top books that ‘every high school student should read’. Invariably, the list will cover the American classics (To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, etc). Albeit fantastic books that are without a doubt worthy reads, for most Kenyan students, these lists are not going to excite the mind, mainly because they simply aren’t as relatable. I asked our Kenyan interns at KEY (Stephanie, Angela, and Judy – all top students at one of the top schools in the country) to put a new list together. The top 10 as they view it. The below are books that they think every Kenyan student should read. Publishers take note: this is what the market here demands.
Note: the list below was entirely written by Stephanie, Angela, and Judy, aged 17-18.
Things fall apart ,This book, set in a traditional Igbo community, centers on the life of Okonkwo a clan elder who holds firm the traditions of his people. Averse to any form of cowardice he is willing to fight the colonialists to counter the changes they are making, but this could be a battle that he is fighting alone.
Arrow of god, As part of Achebe’s chronicles this is yet another story set among the Igbo people. The main character chief priest Ezeulu is walking a tight rope in keeping the belief of his people in their traditional god Ulu while having his efforts thwarted by the new religion that is quickly gaining favour in the community.
A long way gone,Ishmael Beah’s memoir of his life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone is a very enlightening read. He writes of the experiences in a war he should not have had to participate in, exposure to violence and drugs and a loss of childhood innocence in a brutal manner. Taking us through his rehabilitation we cannot help but sympathise with the trauma and suffering he went through making this an engaging read.
Famished Road, This story is about Azaro, a spirit child stuck between real life and the realm of the spirits, and is therefore able to communicate with and see the unnatural hidden phenomena. The spirit world demands of him to go back where they feel he belongs but the conflict comes in where he does not want to leave the real world because of the love he has for his parents, especially his mother. This book is definitely worth reading because of unexpected twists and turns, the magical aspect of the spiritual world which is full of surprises and the multi-dimensional aspect of two worlds seen through Azaro’s eyes.
So Long a Letter,This book is basically about Ramatoulaye’s husband, Modou who falls sick and dies suddenly of a heart attack. Due to her strict Muslim faith, Ramatoulaye must remain in seclusion which is known as Mirasse for a period of forty days where she learns to embrace her future.This book is worth reading because it gives a wider scope on Muslim traditions and shows the role of men and women in traditional societies
A Grain of Wheat,A novel by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. It comprises stories set during the state of emergency in Kenya’s struggle for independence and revolves around Mugo, a quiet character whose life is ruled by a dark secret. The story revolves around his home village’s preparations for Kenya’s Independence Day celebration. On that day, two former resistance fighters plan on publicly executing the traitor who betrayed a resistance fighter from the village, Kihika.
The conflict comes in where this Mugo, who is later termed as a village “hero” confesses that he betrayed Kihika after having denied knowing any details about his death. This will definitely keep you captivated and wanting to read more.
Half of a Yellow Sunis Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel about the struggles during the Biafran war of the 1960s in Nigeria. It is a fictional account but with many truths and historical facts surrounding the characters. This book is a must read as you can categorized it in so many genres depending on how you see it. It is a love story; a history; tells us about African culture; about starvation; a war story; a book about families and loyalt and it is about facing fatal horror and trying to find meaning.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie is a briliant, beautifully written novel about a 15 year-old girl named Kambili growing up in a staunch Catholic household in Nigeria. The author shares their cultural differences, rituals and beliefs. She does so with great skill, describing luxury and poverty alike, the discrepancies of an unequal society. Adichie knows the language of the abused child and speaks simply and directly to her audience.
When the Rain Clouds Gather, A poverty-stricken village in the heart of rural Botswana is a haven to the exiles gathered there. When a political refugee from South Africa joins forces with an English agricultural expert, the time-honoured subsistence-farming method and old ways of life are challenged. A must read its humorous and eye opening
The Time Travellers Wife, It is a love story about a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about his wife, an artist, who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences