Best African & Diaspora books of 2020

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey

What is the African Diaspora? The African Diaspora is a term that has been broadly defined to include all global communities descended from the historic migrations of peoples from Africa since the 15th century. If you look closely, you’ll see traces of the Diaspora in all corners of our world. Below are Eunice’s Top 10 African and Diaspora books for 2020. Through this list, her goal is to introduce to you a people with a shared history and stories that touch upon identity, race, culture, love and community. The journey starts in Ghana and continues with America, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Japan!


Africa – Ghana

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

Peace Adzo Medie uses her background as a researcher who addresses gender, politics, and conflict in Africa to tell the story of Afi Tekple. Afi is a young seamstress who lives in a small town in Ghana with her widowed mother. Out of nowhere, Afi is offered an opportunity that will change her life. The opportunity is marriage to the handsome, wealthy and affluent Elikem Ganyo. For a girl like Afi, how can she say no? She accepts the proposal and is thrusted into a society of wealth in Accra. Slowly but surely she begins to question the proposal she accepted and the man she married. Elikem, in love with another woman, is not the catch he seems to be.

I loved this story because Afi was given a chance and thrives when she takes it. His Only Wife challenges you to understand the lives women live across the world. Afi’s story is common yet special as it is clothed in the fabric of Ghanaian culture. 


America

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve done myself a disservice by not reading Zora Neale Hurston’s work earlier. Hurston’s work is a gift to the literary world. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is a collection of eight stories set during the Harlem Renaissance which represent Hurston’s early writing. While reading, the reader can see the growth, change and experimentation in Hurston’s writing. I love her rich writing and her ability to capture the essence of African American life at the time. 

In American history, the Great Migration drew to Harlem some of the greatest minds and brightest talents. This migration resulted with the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion. By reading Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, you are taken into that era of time which still has a profound effect on our world. Hurston is a result of that time and space.


It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan

It’s rare to get books about senior citizens which are realistic and funny. As a younger person reading this, it’s given me insight on how perspective is influenced by your age and how you age. It’s Not All Downhill From Here, captures the life of Loretha–the main character of this book. Loretha is determined to prove her best days are not behind her and that she won’t accept everyone else’s outdated view of aging. Truly, it’s not all downhill from here.

Written by Terry McMillan, the story beautifully depicts sisterhood, aging, friendship, motherhood, family and life’s unexpected trials. Many of life’s lessons are wrapped in the story McMillan shares with us. It’s a refreshing book to read and if you’re grown up in the Black community, you’ll recognize many of the characters McMillan creates.


Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom focuses on Gifty, a Ghanaian American, sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at the Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior. Traumatized by her father’s departure in her life, her brother’s death through overdose and her mother’s suicidal behavior, she is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering.

There is so much to be said but, I’ll focus on what I appreciated most. This book is a reflection of the immigrant experience. One experience that left an impact on me is the moment Gifty is confronted with race and understands it for what it is. Like many Black immigrant families, we only begin to understand racism when living in America. Because Africans live under the context of colonization not slavery, racism isn’t always understood until its experienced. The generational burden and trauma of racism skips us, yet we are forced to understand because of the color of our skin.


Canada

Ties that Tether by Jane Igharo

If you love to laugh, Ties that Tether will make you laugh for sure. At twelve years old, Azere promises her dying father that she will marry a Nigerian man. Azere does not realize what this promise will cost her. The reader is introduced to Azere, on a date with a man her mother hopes she will marry. When that date goes sour, she happens to meet the handsome Rafael Castellano. As her relationship with Rafael develops, she begins to reconsider her promise to her father. By doing so, Azere is confronted with the notion of compromising her identity and Nigerian culture. At the end, Azere has to decide whether or not she’ll choose her happiness or fulfill the wishes of her father.

I simply loved every moment of this book because Azere’s situation is something I think about often. As a child of the African Diaspora, I’ve wondered if I would lose my culture if I married an “outsider”. It’s a legitimate concern as those in our shoes navigate what it means to hold onto culture when living abroad.


Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Set in Toronto, Frying Plantain follows a girl named Kara Davis who is caught between two worlds –one Canadian, the other Jamaican. As Zalika Reid-Benta narrates this story, she depicts the tensions, cultural expectations and what it means to be Black in a predominantly white society. There’s a particularly strong emphasis on mother – daughter relationships. The pressure on Kara is intense and her mother does not allow her to make her own mistakes. For Kara, this means emphasis on school, not associating with the wrong people and avoiding boys.

I think Frying Plantain is a great representation of the pressures which exist for first and second generation immigrant kids. There’s a constant reminder that the stakes are too high and you must excel by any means necessary. We are constantly told we must achieve more than those that came before us.


Dominican Republic

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Two sisters, Camino and Yaharia know nothing of each other and exist in different worlds. That all changes when a plane crash occurs, killing the father they didn’t know they shared. Their father had been the life of their small universe. They loved him and mourned him, but also wonder if the secrets he left behind can be forgiven. Through a story of grief and newfound love, the two sisters, Camino and Yaharia are left to face their new reality. 

What I loved the most about Clap When You Land is how Elizabeth Acevedo draws on how colonialism, race, culture and identity affects the generation of the 21st century. In a unique way, Acevedo touches upon colorism– an inheritance of colonialism which manages to showcase itself when the characters unconsciously speak on race. These are one of the many inheritances, children of the Diaspora have to navigate. If not, the cycle repeats.


Sweden

A Drop of Midnight by Jason Diakite

I found Jason Diakite’s story so fascinating, if you were to imagine a melting pot of race it would be him, Jason is born to interracial parents in Sweden. He’s part Swedeish, American, Black, white, Cherokee, Slovak and German. In A Drop of Midnight, Jason explores the cultural and racial divide his identity has forced him to understand. Through conversations with his family, letters and a trip to South Carolina and New York, Diakite uses his life to help explain and navigate how he fashioned a strong black identity living in Sweden.

Diakite is the aftermath and result of what can occur in a globalized society. In addition, he is a representation of what exists and what is to come. This book is written for the children of the Diaspora who will likely have similar experiences to Diakite and perhaps ponder more than most upon identity.


United Kingdom

This Lovely City by Louise Hare

I’ve always wondered how there came to be a huge population of Carribeans living in the UK. I did not realize the reason is largely historical. This Lovely City by Louise Hare is set in London right after WWII has ended. England has made a call for labor due to lots of buildings being destroyed and vacant jobs. The call is answered and Lawrie Matthews is one of many Carribean men who arrive ready for a new life. But when they arrive, they are treated like they’re worth nothing. 

Lawrie, having gotten himself a job as a jazz musician and a postal worker, believes he can make a home out of England. When he falls in love with a young lady, Evie, it’s icing on the cake. Unfortunately, he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and it changes the trajectory of his new life. The heart of the story is the mystery which unravels as Lawrie is confronted with the prejudices of England that exist for people like him.


Japan

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

I was drawn to this book because I had no idea what to expect. Fifty Words for Rain intrigued me because there are few books like this that exist. It is a story centered on Nori, an illegitimate child of a Japanese aristocrat and her African American GI lover. Nori is an outsider from birth. She is made to understand she will never belong. She is conditioned to hate the color of her skin and think herself as less. Through Nori’s story, the reader is taken on an intense emotional journey that explains her family traditions, prejudices, struggles and Nori’s ultimate transformation.

Fifty Words for Rain, is an eye opener on how a homogeneous nation approached the subject of race in a world that  becomes globalized. It is a phenomenal read that will leave you asking questions on race when confronted with cultures that leave no room for difference.


All in all, I hope you enjoyed this list and feel intrigued to learn more about the stories I’ve mentioned. Each story is unique, yet the characters each author speaks upon and creates, is one way or the other, influenced by the world’s past. The African Diaspora does indeed exist in all corners of the world! They are a people that share a common history, origin and culture and exist in the books we read.

Interested in more book recommendations about the African Diaspora? Check out this African Diaspora reading list.

Eunice Kyereme

Eunice Kyereme a.k.a @OhemaReads is a 23 year technologist and with a love for the humanities. When reading, she particularly loves learning about hidden global history. Growing up in an American school system, oftentimes, she had to dig for history and stories related to Africans and the diaspora. In her experience, these subjects were rarely taught as part of the curriculum. Eunice believes African and Diasporic experiences are crucial to understanding the world around us. She also advocates for readers to learn history through literature.

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