Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York : Anchor Books, 1959.
The world’s most widely read African novel, this is the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo native whose tragic flaw is unyielding pride. The novel traces the effects of encroaching British colonization and Christianity on his tribal world of the 1880s. Reading level: 6 th grade. (Holt, Rinehart & Winston has an excellent novel study guide for teachers.)
Adichie, Chimananda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. Chapel Hill , NC : Algonquin Books, 2003.
A modern novel set in Enugu, Nigeria. A 15-year-old girl and her older brother live under the psychological and physical tyranny of their father, a wealthy and powerful religious fanatic. They come of age when they visit their aunt, a poor but independent university professor, who opens their eyes to the world around them. Reading level: 6 th grade.
Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. Oxford : Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1979.
Nnu Ego adapts from her early village life as her powerful father’s spoiled darling to a life of hardship and frequent poverty in the capital city of Lagos when she marries. The novel traces her harsh life from the early 20 th century to her death in the 1960s as the mother of nine children. Reading level: 7 th grade.
(NOTE: The novel’s early chapters describe the physical relationship of Nnu’s parents somewhat graphically, although in cultural context. They never married because her mother’s father had no sons and she was dedicated to the gods to produce children in his name. This novel is recommended for more mature students as well as females, often outraged at the macho culture of Things Fall Apart.)
Together, these three novels represent more than 100 years of Nigerian history. They range from the first experiences of native Igbo with British whites in Things Fall Apart, to the urban flight for jobs and subsequent culture shock in The Joys of Motherhood, and finally, to the political turmoil in a dictatorship and consequences for dissenters among the intelligentsia in Purple Hibiscus. In turn, they also move from the male-dominated tribal village to the fragile interstice where husbands command power even as women hold families together economically and emotionally, and then to a contemporary setting where both men and women have choices in their work and family roles.
Although the reading levels are surprisingly simple (based in part on a direct style of shorter sentences), the themes are not. Students at different levels of reading and analytical ability can successfully read the novels. The major difficulty, of course, lies in African names and words, which are usually defined within the reading context. (Things Fall Apart provides a glossary of unfamiliar African words.)
These novels were selected for accommodation to heterogeneous grouping in a high school world literature class. Students in the same classroom can choose which book to read, or the teacher can divide students into groups of three, based on ability and interest. The unit should take three to four weeks, depending on scheduling format.
Suggested Student Activities
As well as traditional essays on theme, plot, characterization, etc., the following assignments incorporate content areas for research, oral skills, group learning, and creative and practical writing:
- Independent reading with weekly reader’s journals. Teachers could also require periodic in-class writing prompts such as conflict, theme, characterization, etc. with a final analytical paper on the student’s selected novel.
- Group research and cooperative learning. In groups of three or four including a cross section of members who have read each novel, students could be assigned or choose from related topics: Nigerian religion, foods (especially vivid descriptions in Purple Hibiscus), Nigerian politics and government, history of colonization, diseases and medicine, Nigerian literature. Groups would report their finding to the entire class with posters, handouts, etc.
- Student research topics of students’ choosing. As they read the novels, students note what questions they have about Nigeria and what they would like to know more about.
- Poetry on related themes. Pairs or groups of students could read and share Nigerian or other African poetry on themes from the novels. A variety of websites include poems for free.
- Creative writing. Have students rewrite the endings of the novels. What if…? (Ex. Okonkwo adapted to his changing culture instead of rebelling. Nnu Ego empowered herself by starting her own business. Kambili’s family outsmarted Papa psychologically.)
- Editing/revision. Use Nobel Prize website to look up and print out Nobel lectures of African writers. Have students edit them by predetermined length. Students must decide on the main ideas and which sections have the greatest impact.
- Technical-practical writing. Write a letter from the protagonist to another character one year after the book ends.
Web Links for Teachers and Students
Professor Ali Mazrui at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair launched the international compilation of " Africa 's 100 Best Books." This project was organized in collaboration with the African Publishers Network (APNET), the Pan-African Booksellers Association (PABA), African writers' associations, book development councils, and library associations.
Includes a list of 100 best African books over the past century selected by an international panel. Listed in alphabetical order by author, country or title. The list varies somewhat from the Columbia list. By clicking on an author’s name you can read an extract from the book.
Official site of Nobel Foundation. Simple and advanced searches available, with links to each Nobel laureate, including photo, biography, Nobel lecture and other resources. African winners are Wole Soyinka, Nigeria, 1986; Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, 1988; Nadine Gordimer, South Africa, 1991; J.M. Coetzee, South Africa, 2003.
Nigerian and other African poems by author.
U.S. State Department’s consular information sheet on Nigeria with warnings and advice for travelers.
Nigeria: Authors Overview (Homepage also includes links to geography, history, politics, economics and more.)
Includes links to Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, Christopher Okigbo, Ben Okri, Femi Osofisan, Osonye Tess Onwueme, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Wole Soyinka.