I adore the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and this inspiring woman was the one that introduced me to books set in Nigeria. Her vibrant stories of the country enthrall me, with vivid descriptions of the chaos of Lagos. Many portions from her novels have stuck with me over time and still cause me to reflect upon myself. She’s also an incredible speaker, just look at one of her quotes about travel, “I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”
The first four books in this list are all by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I can’t recommend them enough; Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck and Americanah. In this list, you’ll also find a huge selection of books set in Nigeria written by Chinua Achebe, including his classic Things Fall Apart, the most widely read book in modern African literature.
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Books Set In Nigeria
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2003
Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.
When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority.
Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2006
With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and the three must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013
As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu – beautiful, self-assured – departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze – the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor – had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy 1/3)
by Chinua Achebe, 1958
Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.
No Longer at Ease (The African Trilogy 2/3)
by Chinua Achebe, 1960
Obi Okonkwo is an idealistic young man who has now returned to Nigeria for a job in the civil service. However in his new role he finds that the way of government seems to be corruption. Obi manages to resist the bribes offered to him, but when he falls in love with an unsuitable girl, he sinks further into emotional and financial turmoil.
Arrow of God (The African Trilogy 3/3)
by Chinua Achebe, 1964
Set in the Igbo heartland of eastern Nigeria, one of Africa’s best-known writers describes the conflict between old and new in its most poignant aspect: the personal struggle between father and son.
Ezeulu, the headstrong chief priest of the god Ulu, is worshipped by the six villages of Umuaro. But his authority is increasingly under threat—from rivals within his tribe, from functionaries of the colonial government, and even from his own family members. Yet he believes himself to be untouchable: surely he is an arrow in the bow of his God? Armed with this belief, he is prepared to lead his people, even if it is towards their own destruction.
Girls at War and Other Stories
by Chinua Achebe, 1972
Girls at War and Other Stories reveals the essence of life in Nigeria and traces twenty years in the literary career of one of this century’s most acclaimed writers. In this collection of stories, Chinua Achebe takes us inside the heart and soul of a people whose pride and ideals must compete with the simple struggle to survive. Hailed by critics everywhere, Chinua Achebe’s fiction re-creates with energy and authenticity the major issues of daily life in Africa.
Anthills of the Savannah
by Chinua Achebe, 1987
Chris, Ikem and Beatrice are like-minded friends working under the military regime of His Excellency, the Sandhurst-educated President of Kangan. In the pressurized atmosphere of oppression and intimidation they are simply trying to live and love – and remain friends. But in a world where each day brings a new betrayal, hope is hard to cling on to.
There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra
by Chinua Achebe, 2012
The defining experience of Chinua Achebe’s life was the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967–1970. The conflict was infamous for its savage impact on the Biafran people, Chinua Achebe’s people, many of whom were starved to death after the Nigerian government blockaded their borders. By then, Chinua Achebe was already a world-renowned novelist, with a young family to protect. He took the Biafran side in the conflict and served his government as a roving cultural ambassador, from which vantage he absorbed the war’s full horror.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
by Lola Shoneyin, 2010
African-born poet Lola Shoneyin makes her fiction debut with The Secret Lives of Babi Segi’s Wives, a perceptive, entertaining, and eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria. The struggles, rivalries, intricate family politics, and the interplay of personalities and relationships within the complex private world of a polygamous union come to life in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives—Big Love and The 19th Wife set against a contemporary African background.
Say You’re One of Them
by Uwem Akpan, 2008
Uwem Akpan’s stunning stories humanize the perils of poverty and violence so piercingly that few readers will feel they’ve ever encountered Africa so immediately. The eight-year-old narrator of “An Ex-Mas Feast” needs only enough money to buy books and pay fees in order to attend school. Even when his twelve-year-old sister takes to the streets to raise these meager funds, his dream can’t be granted. Food comes first. His family lives in a street shanty in Nairobi, Kenya, but their way of both loving and taking advantage of each other strikes a universal chord.
by Teju Cole, 2011
Along the streets of Manhattan, a young Nigerian doctor doing his residency wanders aimlessly. The walks meet a need for Julius: they are a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and they give him the opportunity to process his relationships, his recent breakup with his girlfriend, his present and his past.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
by Lesley Nneka Arimah, 2017
A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.
by Chigozie Obioma, 2015
In a Nigerian town in the mid 1990’s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.
Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden 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.
by A. Igoni Barrett, 2015
Furo Wariboko – born and bred in Lagos – wakes up on the morning of his job interview to discover he has turned into a white man. As he hits the city streets running, still reeling from his new-found condition, Furo finds the dead ends of his life open out before him. As a white man in Nigeria, the world is seemingly his oyster – except for one thing: despite his radical transformation, Furo’s ass remains robustly black.
by Chris Abani, 2004
This novel is set in Maroko, a sprawling, swampy, crazy and colorful ghetto of Lagos, Nigeria, and unfolds against a backdrop of lush reggae and highlife music, American movies and a harsh urban existence. Elvis Oke, a teenage Elvis impersonator spurred on by the triumphs of heroes in the American movies and books he devours, pursues his chosen vocation with ardent single-mindedness.
Oil on Water
by Helon Habila, 2010
In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists-a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq – are sent to find her. In a story rich with atmosphere and taut with suspense, Oil on Water explores the conflict between idealism and cynical disillusionment in a journey full of danger and unintended consequences.
On Black Sisters Street
by Chika Unigwe, 2007
On Black Sisters Street tells the haunting story of four very different women who have left their African homeland for the riches of Europe—and who are thrown together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives.
Each night, Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce stand in the windows of Antwerp’s red-light district, promising to make men’s desires come true—if only for half an hour. Pledged to the fierce Madam and a mysterious pimp named Dele, the girls share an apartment but little else—they keep their heads down, knowing that one step out of line could cost them a week’s wages. They open their bodies to strangers but their hearts to no one, each focused on earning enough to get herself free, to send money home or save up for her own future.
I Do Not Come to You by Chance
by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, 2009
A deeply moving debut novel set amid the perilous world of Nigerian email scams, I Do Not Come to You by Chance tells the story of one young man and the family who loves him.
Being the opara of the family, Kingsley Ibe is entitled to certain privileges–a piece of meat in his egusi soup, a party to celebrate his graduation from university. As first son, he has responsibilities, too. But times are bad in Nigeria, and life is hard. Unable to find work, Kingsley cannot take on the duty of training his younger siblings, nor can he provide his parents with financial peace in their retirement. And then there is Ola. Dear, sweet Ola, the sugar in Kingsley’s tea. It does not seem to matter that he loves her deeply; he cannot afford her bride price.
Aké: The Years of Childhood
by Wole Soyinka, 1981
A dazzling memoir of an African childhood from Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian novelist, playwright, and poet Wole Soyinka.
Aké: The Years of Childhood gives us the story of Soyinka’s boyhood before and during World War II in a Yoruba village in western Nigeria called Aké. A relentlessly curious child who loved books and getting into trouble, Soyinka grew up on a parsonage compound, raised by Christian parents and by a grandfather who introduced him to Yoruba spiritual traditions. His vivid evocation of the colorful sights, sounds, and aromas of the world that shaped him is both lyrically beautiful and laced with humor and the sheer delight of a child’s-eye view.
What Sunny Saw In The Flames
by Nnedi Okorafor, 2011
What Sunny Saw in the Flames transports the reader to a magical place where nothing is quite as it seems. Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, thirteen-year-old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino. Her eyes are so sensitive to the sun that she has to wait until evening to play football. Apart from being good at the beautiful game, she has a special gift: she can see into the future. At school, she soon becomes part of a special quartet with unique powers.
Welcome to Lagos
by Chibundu Onuzo, 2017
Deep in the Niger Delta, officer Chike Ameobi deserts the army and sets out on the road to Lagos. He is soon joined by a wayward private, a naive militant, a vulnerable young woman and a runaway middle-class wife. The shared goals of this unlikely group: freedom and new life.
As they strive to find their places in the city, they become embroiled in a political scandal. Ahmed Bakare, editor of the failing Nigerian Journal, is determined to report the truth. Yet government minister Chief Sandayo will do anything to maintain his position. Trapped between the two, they are forced to make a life-changing decision.
The Famished Road
by Ben Okri, 1991
The narrator, Azaro, is an abiku, a spirit child, who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. The life he foresees for himself and the tale he tells is full of sadness and tragedy, but inexplicably he is born with a smile on his face. Nearly called back to the land of the dead, he is resurrected. But in their efforts to save their child, Azaro’s loving parents are made destitute. The tension between the land of the living, with its violence and political struggles, and the temptations of the carefree kingdom of the spirits propels this latter-day Lazarus’s story.
Everything Good Will Come
by Sefi Atta, 2001
It is 1971, a year after the Biafran War, and Nigeria is under military rule—though the politics of the state matter less than those of her home to Enitan Taiwo, an eleven-year-old girl tired of waiting for school to start. Will her mother, who has become deeply religious since the death of Taiwo’s brother, allow her friendship with the new girl next door, the brash and beautiful Sheri Bakare? Everything Good Will Come charts the fate of these two African girls, one born of privilege and the other, a lower class “half-caste”; one who is prepared to manipulate the traditional system while the other attempts to defy it.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
by Christie Watson, 2011
Set in the Niger Delta, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family.
Under the Udala Trees
by Chinelo Okparanta, 2015
Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly.
Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls.
The Bride Price
by Buchi Emecheta, 1976
A Nigerian girl is allowed to finish her education because a diploma will enhance her bride price, but she then rebels against traditional marriage customs.
Stay with Me
by Ayobami Adebayo, 2017
Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage – after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures – Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time – until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.
The Icarus Girl
by Helen Oyeyemi, 2005
Jessamy “Jess” Harrison, age eight, is the child of an English father and a Nigerian mother. Possessed of an extraordinary imagination, she has a hard time fitting in at school. It is only when she visits Nigeria for the first time that she makes a friend who understands her: a ragged little girl named TillyTilly. But soon TillyTilly’s visits become more disturbing, until Jess realizes she doesn’t actually know who her friend is at all. Drawing on Nigerian mythology, Helen Oyeyemi presents a striking variation on the classic literary theme of doubles – both real and spiritual – in this lyrical and bold debut.
What do you think of these books set in Nigeria?
Have a great book recommendation I’ve missed? Have you been there? I’d love to hear about more books set in Nigeria in the comments below!