Recommended Reading

Making sense of  Africa can be a bewildering experience. Even as a life-long resident I still look for explanations so for those living outside Africa or maybe someone looking for a good read I have listed some books that are worth a read. They are all good authors too!

The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest. Guest is/was a senior correspondent for the Economist in Africa. He has travelled extensively and interviewed at the highest level. An easy read he sets out to explain why Africa is such a mess (economically) and what could be done about it. He is surprisingly optimistic.

The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Capuścińsky. A Polish correspondent in Africa (and elsewhere) for over 40 years this is an account of his observations. He does not attempt to explain what he sees. Humorous, sobering and tragic; this IS Africa.

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. Theroux goes overland from Cairo to Cape Town and on the way visits his friends and haunts from his Peace Corps days. He does not like what he sees and is not afraid to say so.

When the Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin. A sad account of the latter part of Godwin’s father’s life it also tracks the collapse of a country once dear to his heart. Depressing but well written. Mukiwa is by the same author and covers his growing up.

Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. Fuller’s memoir of growing up in Southern Africa is especially poignant to anyone who grew up in Rhodesia (at the time) in the late 1970’s and knows the region. Witty, sad and worth a read. Ignore the drivel on the back cover; someone was uncomfortable with Fuller’s occasionally blunt account of the wartime era. Scribbling the Cat is a later book.

Out of Americaa black man confronts Africa by Keith Richburg. A black journalist with the Washington Post this is an unflinching account of his 3 year tour to Africa. Direct, unconventional and at the end he is relieved to move on.

Collapse – how societies choose to fail or succeed by Jared Diamond. Essential reading for anyone who is vaguely concerned about the environment or has children. Not specifically about Africa, Diamond, who is a professor of geography at UCLA, charts the failure and recovery of societies both ancient and modern. His take on the Rwanda massacres should be compared with Richburg’s, Capuścińsky’s and Guest.

The Dust Diaries by Owen Sheers. The story of Arthur Shearly Cripps, Sheers’ extraordinary great-great-uncle who came out to Southern Rhodesia in the early 1900’s as an independent missionary. Something of a maverick Cripps was conferred a chief’s burial and was still fondly remembered by the black community when Sheers came to Zimbabwe to research the book nearly 50 years after Cripps’ death.

Sunday Bloody Sunday by Jake Harper-Ronald (as told to Greg Budd). An extraordinary story of a professional soldier from his time as the official photographer for the British Parachute Regiment at the time of the Bloody Sunday massacre to the special forces of the Rhodesian army, the Rhodesian Special Branch and the Zimbabwean CIO. Harper-Ronald continues as a trainer of private militia on LonRho estates in Mozambique and also goes to Iraq for the first ballot. He emerges from all this with an amazing story and not even a “scratch”.

Resident Alien by Rian Malan. A collection of essays and articles for various publications by this prominent South African journalist/author. Most are post the apartheid era, all are well-written. Malan has a very direct style and is not shy of taking on some sacred cows. Entertaining, occasionally very funny and often defying belief – a worthy read for anyone wanting an insight to the region and especially South Africa.

4 responses

1 02 2009
Big Blister

I found Mukiwa to be an excellent account of the ’60s to the early ’80s in Zimbabwe, albeit from a white person’s perspective. I knew many of the people mentioned, and also could envisage certain roads, bridges, and views that he described, so it was especially poignant for me. However, friends who’ve never been to Africa also enjoyed and appreciated Godwin’s writing and his account of the times.
To those who ask if I’ve read “Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight”, I always respond that although that book was also set very close to home, I found it to be more an account of Fuller’s dysfunctional family than a historical memoir. They were not typical of the people I knew.

7 02 2009

Yes, I would agree that it is more a memoir than an historical account but I know/knew a lot of the people and of course grew up in the same area of Zimbabwe/Rhodesia which she describes so well. Still worth a read for non-locals and one of the few books that I have read more than once.

8 04 2013
Alice Parkin

I knew Jake Harper-Ronald personally and he was a kind, gentle if not keeping something back sort of chap. A good friend of my fathers he is really missed and am very grateful to Greg Budd for making his amazing story known. A fabulous book! Alice Parkin Nee Lester

24 10 2014

I was born in the 70s in Zimbabwe and the things I miss most are the fresh fruit and vegetables we used to buy from the sellers that were outside the supermarkets (OK Bazaar and Bon Marche). I really miss the guavas that used to grow on two trees in our garden (lovely, fragrant, yellow skinned with tart, bright pink innards) Man, we had avocado trees, granadilla vines, sugarcane rows, mealies and a whole vegetable garden at one point. Anyway I digress, another recommendation is We Need New Names by a born-free Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo (Elizabeth Zandile Tshele) Thanks for this blog Andrew, I have never stopped being home-sick even though I chose to leave for the UK in 1995 when I was 21. In 2016 I will have lived in my home country and my second “home” the same amount of time. I came back in 1997, went camping in Nyanga, took the slow train part-way there and hitch-hiked with a male friend. Food seemed so reasonably priced because of the exchange rate at the time.

I do find trying to explain life in Africa difficult. Growing up as the minority and a “poor white” is hard for outsiders to understand. Although a book I identify strongly with, even though it is worlds apart from my own growing up is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

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