Chibundu Onuzo was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Her life so far has included two military dictatorships, an internet revolution, two boarding schools, five grandmothers and a first book deal at nineteen. Chibundu’s first novel, The Spider King’s Daughter, was published by Faber in 2012 and won a Betty Trask Award, was shortened for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize, and was nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Etisalat Literature Prize. Her second novel, Welcome to Lagos, was published by Faber in 2017 and was nominated for the RSL Encore Award. In 2018, Chibundu was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature as part of the “40 Under 40” initiative. She writes regularly for the Guardian, has lectured for Tedx, and her 1991 autobiographical show of storytelling, music, song and dance, which premiered in a sold-out show at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Center in 2018.
With a variety of genres – from fantasy to contemporary fiction – read on to find out which eight books Chibundu would take to the sandy shores of a desert island …
All the best will come from Sefi Atta
It’s 1971, a year after the Biafran War, and Nigeria is under military rule – although for Enitan Taiwo, an eleven-year-old girl who is tired of waiting for school, state politics is less important than that of her homeland. Will her mother, who has become deeply religious since the death of Enitan’s brother, allow her friendship with the new girl next door, the cheeky and beautiful Sheri Bakare? This story traces the story between two friends, from childhood to adulthood to motherhood and beyond. Comparable to Elenas Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series, but treated in one volume. Truly virtuoso performance.
Buy all the best that comes from Bookshop.org, Book Depository and Waterstones.
The Earth Sea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
The island of Gont is a land famous for magicians. Some say the greatest – and certainly the greatest – is the man named Sparrowhawk. As a ruthless, clumsy boy, he discovered the great strength that was in him – with terrifying results. Tried by pride to try spells beyond his capabilities, Sparrowhawk unleashes an evil shadow beast in his land. Only he can destroy it, and the search leads him to the farthest corner of the earth sea. I love fantasy series and the world building in this classic is amazing.
Buy the Earth Sea Quartet from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, and Waterstones.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
In the 1930s, America Macon learns about the tyranny of white society from his friend Guitar, although he is more concerned with escaping the family tyranny of his own father. While Guitar joins a terrorist group, Macon goes home south, attracted by stories of buried family treasures. But his home odyssey and a deadly confrontation with Guitar lead to the discovery of something infinitely more valuable than gold: his past and the origins of his true self. This is a story of Milkman’s life as a black man navigating mid-20th century America. The language in this book is amazing. I love every Morrison I’ve read, but this one is my favorite.
Buy the Song of Solomon at Bookshop.org, Book Depository and Waterstones.
Ake from Wole Soyinka
A shimmering memory of an African childhood of the Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer, playwright and poet Wole Soyinka. “Ake The Years of Childhood” tells the story of Soyinka’s childhood before and during World War II in a Yoruba village called Ake in western Nigeria. Soyinka grew up in a parsonage, raised by Christian parents and a grandfather who introduced him to the Yoruba spiritual traditions. This is the story of how a child grows up to be a writer. As a child, Soyinka was full of mischief, curiosity and stubbornness, which shaped his adult life.
Buy ake at Bookshop.org, Book Depository and Waterstones.
Outline series by Rachel Cusk
Economical and clear, it follows a novelist teaching a creative writing class during a sweltering summer in Athens. She leads her student in storytelling exercises. She meets other writers for dinner. She goes swimming with her roommate from the place in the Ionian Sea. The people she meets talk a lot about themselves, their fantasies, fears, favorite theories, regrets and longings.
A new way of writing a novel. With economical, subtle language you sink into the consciousness of the protagonists and see the world through their eyes.
Buy the Outline range at Bookshop.org, Book Depository and Waterstones.
The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis
On a desperate journey, two runaways meet and band together. Although they only want to escape their tough and cramped lives, they soon find themselves at the center of a terrible battle. It is a battle that will decide its fate and the fate of Narnia itself. My favorite in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I love the friendship between Aravis and Shasta on their adventure and I love that a talking horse is in charge.
Buy The Horse and His Boy at Bookshop.org, Book Depository and Waterstones.
Followed by Maryse Conde
Reading this novel has given me a new sense of how ambitious a novel can be. Starting in the pre-colonial Segu, just before the arrival of the Europeans, this novel is a miracle. You follow the fate of a family that spread from the city of Segu through the transatlantic slave trade to almost every corner of the world. If you loved homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, this is his literary ancestor.
Buy Segu from Bookshop.org, Book Depository, and Waterstones.
Jennifer Makumbi’s first wife
Growing up in a small Ugandan village, Kirabo is surrounded by powerful women. Her grandmother, aunts, friends, and cousins desperately want her to conform, but Kirabo is curious, headstrong, and determined. So far she has been perfectly content with her life in the heart of this wealthy extended family, but as she enters her teenage years she begins to feel the absence of the mother she never knew. I think everyone should read this book. Kirabo’s commitment to mwenkanokano and what it means to be a girl and then a woman in Uganda.
Buy The First Woman from Book Depository and Waterstones.
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