THE AFRICA BAZAAR magazine
July 13, 2018
A true classic of world literature and a masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world, Obama says of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Ahead of his trip to Africa next week, former President Barack Obama released his annual summer reading list for 2018, which includes five books by celebrated African authors.
In describing these celebrated authors, the American 44th President said the African writers included in this year’s summer reading list have each “illuminate [the] world in powerful and unique ways.”
The books recommended by Obama are: Things Fall Apart by China Achebe, A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, A long Talk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Return by Hisham Matar, and The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes.
Former President Obama, a published and celebrated author of two books, “Dreams from my Father,” and “The Audacity of Hope,” said he has “often drawn inspiration from Africa’s extraordinary literary tradition.”
During and after his presidency, Obama often talked about how reading and writing have shaped his life, beliefs and outlook on the world.
During a January 2017 interview with the New York Times’ book critic Michiko Kakutani, Obama talked about how reading books and writings from Nelson Mandela, the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, and Abraham Lincoln, among others, served as source of inspirations as well as helped sustain his ideas during his years in office.
Unlike any other modern American president, the Obama’s annual summer reading list, which dates back to his presidency, has become part of his legacy.
The list often comprises of non-fiction and fiction books from both contemporary and historical writers from around the world. However, notably, this is the first time that the list is comprised of all but one African author.
The former American leader will return to Africa next week, his first visit since leaving office in January 2017.
Obama’s first stop is in Kenya, his ancestral home, where he will meet with President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister and leader of the country’s opposition party Odunga, separately. After a two day visit in Kenya, he will head to South Africa to deliver a speech at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
President Nelson Mandela, the most beloved African leader who fought and helped lead his country to freedom from decades of Apartheid, passed away in December 2013, years after serving the country as the first black South African President. Obama was one of the few world leaders that were given the privilege at the memorial service to honor Nelson Mandela in a speech.
“I was proud to visit sub-Saharan Africa more times than any other sitting President,” said Obama, who first visited Kenya when he was in his twenties, an experience that profoundly influenced him and inspired his first book, Dreams from My Father.
While in South Africa, he will meet with President Ramaphosa and also hold a town hall meeting with 200 young African leaders from across the continent who have been chosen for the inaugural Obama Foundation Young African Leaders.
Below is the Obama’s 2018 summer reading recommendations:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.
A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o – A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela – Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village, to his years as a revolutionary, to his long imprisonment, and ultimately his ascension to unifying President, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history – and then go out and change it.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.
The Return by Hisham Matar – A beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.
The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes – It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.
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