Undoubtedly, Nigerian Literature has gone a long way in cementing Nigeria as a destination for thrilling and memorable reads among many global countries. If there’s a silver lining in this dark, heavy cloud of a country, it is the array of brilliant, world-class writers making noteworthy marks in the African literary scene and all over the world. No matter where Nigerian Literature gets mentioned today, names like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie inevitably tread along.
Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart carries tremendous significance in the history of African Literature, with over 10 million copies sold globally and translations into more than 50 languages. On the other hand, Wole Soyinka is our Nobel Prize winner and is revered by several people worldwide.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the most successful writers today, with books like Purple Hibiscus and Half Of A Yellow Sun. Twenty years ago, the world knew about Adichie through her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, and this novel attracted several praises and prizes, cementing Adichie as a prominent name in different places around the world.
Like Purple Hibiscus, several other books also came into the world twenty years ago, creating a plethora of scintillating reads for Nigerian readers then and even now. These publications also brought out the prowess and talent of brilliant authors, putting them in the eyes of several readers in Nigeria, Africa, and worldwide. In light of this, Taiwo Hassan highlights three books celebrating two decades of publication this year. Come with us.
“Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In October 2003, Adichie made her foray into the global literary scene with her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus. Set in the busy city of Enugu and the university town of Nsukka, Purple Hibiscus takes readers into the messy lives of the wealthy Achike family. The book, narrated by the youngest Achike child, Kambili, showed how the coddled lives of her and her brother took an eye-opening turn after they visited their aunt, Ifeoma, who is a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Kambili and Jaja are met with a house filled with joy, freedom, and laughter, a sharp contrast to their home, where their conservative father lords over with an abusive fist.
After they return home from Nsukka, where they discover another part of themselves and see other ways of living, home becomes a stranger to them, and they witness the domino effect of a country crumbling under military rule. Kambili finds her voice and her freedom in interesting epiphanies. The book ends with themes of death, guilt, grief, and a sprinkle of japa as one character dies, another goes to prison, and others migrate in search of greener pastures.
Purple Hibiscus weaves many relatable emotions and relevant issues in a way that any reader, regardless of their status, can relate to. Unsurprisingly, this book attracted praise and prizes from critics and reviewers alike. The Baltimore Sun referred to it as:
One of the best novels to come out of Africa in years.The Baltimore Sun
It also made the 2004 Booker Prize longlist and the 2004 Orange Prize shortlist. It won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in 2004, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Africa) in 2005, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Overall) in 2005, and the One Maryland One Book selection in 2017. It has since been translated into 28 different languages. It remains a ‘fan-favourite,’ rooting Adichie as a prominent figure in the global literary space.
Purple Hibiscus also made a significant footprint in Africa after being included as one of two African prose texts in the West African Examination Council 2011–2015 syllabus for Secondary School Literature. Purple Hibiscus became popular and reached an untapped demographic of readers in Nigeria and other African countries like Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and The Gambia. These four years were witnessed by every teenager who studied Literature in a secondary school in any of these countries reading Adichie’s novel. This feat brought immense benefits, such as readership and followership far beyond her contemporaries.
“Broken Lives And Other Stories“ by Anthonia Kalu
Another publication celebrating two decades this year is this collection of stories by Anthonia Kalu. In this memorable collection of stories, Kalu takes readers on a painful journey into the lives of ordinary women, children, and men whose lives have been in turmoil by war in their homeland.
The collection was written in response to the Nigerian Civil War. It shone a light on the daily lives of local people and the web formed between their situations and national crises. These stories immerse readers in many issues ranging from soldiers living among civilians and the effects of self-rule to masquerades, air raids, and sexual abuse.
Kalu paints the brutalities of war and its rippling effects while expressing the vigour and joy in women and children through compelling narratives and depths readers can plunge into to put a broader lens on several issues troubling Africa. This is the collection for readers who desire to go down memory lane.
“Diaries of a Dead African” by Chuma Nwokolo
2003 was also a hilarious moment for Nigerian Literature with this book by Chuma Nwokolo. Steeped in a rib-cracking comedy, Diaries Of A Dead African explores the life-threatening situations of three protagonists, Meme Jumai and his two sons, Abel and Calamatus. Meme Jumai is a farmer who juggles a quiet and respected life in his little town of Ikerre-Oti. Estranged from his sons, a brutal divorce and a bad harvest wreck his simple life, which plunges him into the abyss of a life crisis and death.
When his sons return to bury him, the riches and secrets of this family are revealed to comic effect and a sobering exploration of social indifference.
After his return home, the reasonable success of a fraud perpetrated on the wealthy American Billy Barber dramatically ends Calamatus’ descent into want. In stark contrast to the misery that was his father’s life, his life turns into a fairy tale. However, nothing seems to be able to maintain his life on its pleasant course once “the greatest secret in the Jumai home” is revealed.
Abel, his older brother, had constructed his life around the straightforward morality of avoiding discomfort and conflict. He has every reason to be on the run—his father passed away at age 50, and his younger sibling is only 25. Nevertheless, Abel is the legal heir to Calamatus’s money. He is close to realizing his publishing goals and how to survive his father and siblings while not running away from the opportunities he had yearned for his entire life.
Diaries of a Dead African is a condensed version of Meme’s Diary published by the London Review of Books. It’s also present in an Italian translation.
These three books, among many others, are a testament to the evolution of Nigerian Literature and the potential that brims in the country’s literary scene. Arguably, most writers of these books come from a generation that witnessed the aftermath of the country’s war, violence, politics, and unrest. However, one thing their works reflect is a conscious effort at shouldering the responsibility of history.
Regardless of the thematic or generational classes that people might give to Nigerian writing, it’s vivid to see the passion and purpose behind the spirits of several Nigerian writers in their books. This quality is what tugs at the hearts of numerous readers, grounding Nigerian Literature as a thrilling book choice for many. We now witness an increased appetite for Nigerian stories and books in the global literary market, showing that growth is an element we’ll continue to see in this scene.
This piece, “Nigerian Literature: 3 Astounding Reads Turning 20 This Year,” was written by Taiwo Hassan.