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Ten Great Books set in East Africa

25th April 2021

East Africa is the latest region for us to visit in our Great Books series. Ten Great Books set in East Africa. The key countries of the region  are Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda – although some definitions include up to 15 others…The physical geography of East Africa is dominated by the Great Rift Valley, which extends through the middle of the region from north to south. Associated with the rift valley are vast savannas such as the Serengeti Plain, large lakes, and high mountains,

‘Better to stumble with toe than with tongue…’  Tanzanian saying

Ten Great Books set in East AfricaThe Baobab Beach Retreat by Kate Frost

Tanzania. A place to be happy, to sleep uncovered with the sound of waves crashing to the shore. For Connie Stone, it’s a place to heal.

When Connie leaves behind a cheating husband and heartache in the UK for her aunt’s beach retreat, the last thing she wants is for her life to once again be complicated by men.

Yet when her past follows her to Tanzania, her time to heal is short-lived and a reckless decision shatters her hopes for a fresh start. An unexpected return to the UK reveals a long-hidden family secret that Connie has to deal with before she can decide the direction her life should take.

Getting over a broken heart was never going to be easy. Can Connie put the past to rest and find peace and love in a country far from home?

Stranger, Visitor, Foreigner, Guest by Elizabeth Porter

Stranger Visitor Foreigner Guest is the story of a collision of worlds and the ways in which westerners interact and impact on an extraordinary social and political arena.

At the heart of the novel are the true events of the Bushiri war. Lucy, is a would-be missionary in East Africa in the early 19th century. Sasha is a young American water engineer in Tanzania today. He is making a life for himself and he has fallen in love with Grace.

As we listen to Lucy and Sasha telling their stories, it becomes clear that no action is ever without consequences, even a hundred years down the line

No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi

Felice Benuzzi recounts one of the most bizarre and daring prisoner-of-war and escape adventures of the past century. In 1943, Felice Benuzzi and two Italian compatriots escaped from a British POW camp in equatorial East Africa with only one goal in mind – to climb the dangerous seventeen-thousand-foot Mount Kenya. NO PICNIC ON MOUNT KENYA is the classic tale of this most bizarre and thrilling adventure, a story that has earned its place as a unique masterpiece of daring and suspense.

Ten Great Books set in East AfricaThe Africa Bar by Nick Maes

Zanzibar today, and as it was 40 years ago: seen through the eyes of two women who meet there. Francesca has come hoping for new experience after the break-up of an affair, Carla to revive memories of a long-past, never-spoken of love. Both find what they’re seeking, and become friends.

The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden

No, we’re not talking Bonnie Prince Charlie here. The title character of Giles Foden’s debut novel, The Last King of Scotland, is none other than Idi Amin, the former dictator of Uganda. Told from the viewpoint of Nicholas Garrigan, Amin’s personal physician, the novel chronicles the hell that was Uganda in the 1970s. Garrigan, the only son of a Scots Presbyterian minister, finds himself far away from Fossiemuir when he accepts a post with the Ministry of Health in Uganda. His arrival in Kampala coincides with the coup that leads to President Obote’s overthrow and Idi Amin Dada’s ascendancy to power. Garrigan spends only a few days in the capital city, however, before heading out to his assignment in the bush. But a freak traffic accident involving Amin’s sports car and a cow eventually brings the good doctor into the dictator’s orbit: a few months later, Garrigan is recalled from his rural hospital and named personal physician to the president. Soon enough, Garrigan finds himself caught between his duty to his patient and growing pressure from his own government to help them control Amin.

Then She was Born by Cristiano Gentili

2017 Award Winning B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Literature.

Then She Was Born is more than a novel. It’s an international human rights awareness campaign supported by eleven Nobel Peace Prize laureates, the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis. Based on an inconceivable reality for many in the world today, Then She Was Born combines the drama and redemption of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner with the spirituality of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.

A child is born and the joy of her parents turns to horror. The child is different, in a way that will bring bad luck to their superstitious community. The tradition should be for her to be abandoned, but Nkamba, the grandmother, is allowed to care for her.

Naming her Adimu, Nkamba raises her as her own. Adimu is constantly marginalized and shunned by the community, although her spirit remains undiminished and full of faith. But when she encounters the wealthy British mine owner Charles Fielding and his wife Sarah, it is the beginning of something which will test them all.

As Charles Fielding’s fortunes wane, he turns in desperation to a witch doctor whose suggestion leaves him horrified. But as events begin to spiral out of control he succumbs to the suggestions and a group of men are sent on a terrible mission. The final acts, of one man driven by greed and another by power, will have a devastating effect on many lives.

Cristiano Gentili’s glittering prose and vivid imagery will have you captivated from the first page.

Ten Great Books set in East AfricaLost Empire by Clive Cussler

Scuba diving off the Tanzanian coast, husband-and-wife treasure-hunting team, Sam and Remi Fargo discover a huge ship’s bell, covered in cryptic carvings. But as they struggle to first recover the bell and then decode its clues, they find they are not alone in wanting to discover its secrets.

When news of the find is publicised, Mexican President Quauhtli Garza is forced to act. He knows that this bell comes from a former Confederate ship that sank off the African coast and he fears that the discovery of a missing piece of a Quetzalcoatl statuette, which was aboard the ship, will undermine his plans for Mexico’s future.

With Garza determined to stop the Fargos investigation at all costs, the couple are drawn into a deadly conspiracy that connects the 1883 Krakatoa explosion with an attempt to resurrect the fallen Aztec empire . . .

A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

In her twelfth year, Kirabo, a young Ugandan girl, confronts a piercing question that has haunted her childhood: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small village of Nattetta—her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts, but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Complicating these feelings of abandonment, as Kirabo comes of age she feels the emergence of a mysterious second self, a headstrong and confusing force inside her at odds with her sweet and obedient nature.

Seeking answers, Kirabo begins spending afternoons with Nsuuta, a local witch, trading stories and learning not only about this force inside her, but about the woman who birthed her, who she learns is alive but not ready to meet. Nsuuta also explains that Kirabo has a streak of the “first woman”—an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women.

Kirabo’s journey to reconcile her rebellious origins, alongside her desire to reconnect with her mother and to honor her family’s expectations, is rich in the folklore of Uganda and an arresting exploration of what it means to be a modern girl in a world that seems determined to silence women. Makumbi’s unforgettable novel is a sweeping testament to the true and lasting connections between history, tradition, family, friends, and the promise of a different future.

Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa

Like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Moses Isegawa’s Abyssinian Chronicles tells a riveting story of twentieth-century Africa that is passionate in vision and breathtaking in scope.

At the center of this unforgettable tale is Mugezi, a young man who manages to make it through the hellish reign of Idi Amin and experiences firsthand the most crushing aspects of Ugandan society: he withstands his distant father’s oppression and his mother’s cruelty in the name of Catholic zeal, endures the ravages of war, rape, poverty, and AIDS, and yet he is able to keep a hopeful and even occasionally amusing outlook on life. Mugezi’s hard-won observations form a cri de coeur for a people shaped by untold losses.

Blue Sunflower Startle by Yasmin Ladha

In the early 1960s, a young girl and her brother move to their grandparents’ flourmill in Dodoma in newly-independent Tanzania. Her grandfather bellows his love for East Africa, where he and other Indian merchants have thrived. But the ground is shifting. President Nyerere is calling for the widespread nationalization of property. The hum of the mill has quieted. The young girl prays at the jamatkhana (Give me back my father) and spends evenings at the cinema watching cowboy films, grief and grievances, if only momentarily, disappear.

Add any we’ve missed in Comments below!

BONUS BOOKS

Kololo Hill by Neema Shah

Uganda 1972

A devastating decree is issued: all Ugandan Asians must leave the country in ninety days. They must take only what they can carry, give up their money and never return.

For Asha and Pran, married a matter of months, it means abandoning the family business that Pran has worked so hard to save. For his mother, Jaya, it means saying goodbye to the house that has been her home for decades. But violence is escalating in Kampala, and people are disappearing. Will they all make it to safety in Britain and will they be given refuge if they do?

And all the while, a terrible secret about the expulsion hangs over them, threatening to tear the family apart.

From the green hilltops of Kampala, to the terraced houses of London, Neema Shah’s extraordinarily moving debut Kololo Hill explores what it means to leave your home behind, what it takes to start again, and the lengths some will go to protect their loved ones.

Walks on the Wild Side by John Pakenham

Are you ready to take a walk on the seriously wild side? In the early 1980s, John Pakenham walked a total of 1,500 miles, with a series of companions from the local Turkana and Samburu tribes and their long-suffering donkeys, around a lake in the Great Rift Valley of northern Kenya. Repeatedly beset by extreme thirst and dehydration, bitterly cold torrential rains, poisonous spiders, vindictive mosquitoes and the ever-present threat of bandits, not to mention a fatal fight between two of his companions, he was lucky to live to tell his tale. Pakenham’s account provides a rare glimpse of a tough terrain and its even tougher inhabitants, where every day was a battle for survival. This is extreme travel that, four decades on, still packs a powerful punch.

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021