Home / Africa Blog / 8 Books by African Writers You Need to Read Before You Travel

8 Books by African Writers You Need to Read Before You Travel

“Reading is like travel, allowing you to exit your own life for a bit, and to come back with a renewed, even inspired, perspective.” ― Laurie Helgoe

 

Africa is full of inspiration for writers – from its often violent history to its heroic transformations, and beautiful scenery. The continent provides a perfect backdrop to tales of struggle, triumph, and hope.

Unsurprisingly, there are countless African books to read before traveling through the continent – all featuring irresistible settings and protagonists (real and fictionalised). Be it a heart wrenching biography, immersive non-fiction or an eye-opening historical, there are plenty of literary page turners that will add a fresh perspective to your travels.

If you’re planning an African overland tour then getting to know the continent through the eyes of its storytellers will make your adventure more rewarding. A visit to Robben Island will be a much richer if you’ve read Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom. As would a Botswana Safari after reading Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison.


Africa has no shortage of inspiring books. But, here are our favorite books about Africa that you need to read before you travel:

8. The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild, by Lawrence Anthony

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony is a must read for conservation travelers. Published in 2009, this heart-warming bestseller tells the story of a herd of rogue’ elephants in South Africa who were destined to be culled.

Set against the background of life on the Thula Thula game reserve, the Elephant Whisperer is an extraordinary book about a man’s battle to save the herd from execution. In the years that followed, Lawrence Anthony became a part of the herd and came to realise that the elephants had a lot to teach him about loyalty.

When he passed away in 2012 the elephants – two herds of them – came to mourn him. Walking for 12 hours through the bush to his house and standing vigil there for two days.

“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those that we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”  ― Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer

Books by African Writers to read

7. Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela

A list about inspiring African books would be incomplete without mentioning Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom – no matter how well known it is.

The story of Nelson Mandela’s life is a must-read before visiting South Africa. First published in 1994, the autobiography profiles his early life, coming of age, education, and the 27 years spent in prison. Since his release in 1990, Mandela had been at the center of the most compelling political drama in the world.

The world is no stranger to South Africa’s turbulent history. But, A Long Walk to Freedom gives travelers an intimate, first-hand account of the political atrocities and triumphs that took place in one of the darkest periods of African history.

“As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt — even at the age of seventy-one — that my life was beginning anew. My ten thousand days of imprisonment were over.” – Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom

6. The River Between, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s critically acclaimed novel opens onto a serene setting of two ridges separated by the valley of life. On the one side lived the members of Gikuyu who strongly believed in traditional practices. On the other side lived the members who had converted to Christianity.

As tension and struggle for power begins to arise, Waiyaki tries to unite the two villages. The River Between depicts Kenya in the eyes of a native, giving readers an intimate look into the cultural conflicts and confusion that rose as a result of colonisation.

“She had learnt the value of Christian submission, and she thought every other believer had the same attitude to life. Not that she questioned life. It had given her a man and in her own way she loved and cared for him. Her faith and belief in God were coupled with her fear for Joshua. But that was religion and it was the way things were ordered. However, one could still tell by her eyes that this was a religion learnt and accepted; inside the true Gikuyu woman was sleeping.” – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, The River Between

Rivers of Africa

5. Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala

Beasts of No Nation is the debut book by Nigerian-American writer and physician, Uzodinma Iweala. The critically acclaimed novel is a formation of his thesis work at Harvard, depicting the life of a child soldier in a war-torn African country.

The harrowing tale is told in first person by the child-protagonist, Agu who is caught up in an unnamed African war of relentless brutality. Agu, the child protagonist, tells the harrowing tale of an unnamed African war. Although his mother and sister are evacuated from his small village, Agu and his father are forced to join in the battle.

The novel was adapted to film in 2015 and went on to winning 32 awards. The film was shot in the jungles of Ghana during monsoon season and, although the book makes no reference to a specific country, sheds light on the struggles of child soldiers in West Africa.

“I’m walking walking walking to where the sun is setting. I’m looking at it and wanting to catch it in my hand and to be squeezing until color are dripping out from it forever. That way everywhere it is always dark and nobody is ever having to see any of the terrible thing that is happening in this world.”  ― uzodinma iweala, Beasts of No Nation

  • Tour Length 22 days
    Group Size Max 20
    Starts & Ends Starts: Livingstone Ends: Nairobi
    Countries Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya
    Overview Three weeks, five countries, one adventure. This rugged overland tour is your ticket to Africa’s most spectacular highlights. Feeling the heart-pounding thunder of Victoria Falls, the greatness of Lake Malawi, and the suspense of a nocturnal safari in the Serengeti, are all part of the itinerary. Top it off with three days of horizontal me-time on the paradise beaches of Zanzibar and now you’re really living.

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  • Tour Length 14 days
    Group Size Max 20
    Starts & Ends Starts: Johannesburg Ends: Johannesburg
    Countries South Africa, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Mozambique
    Overview Bush breaks and beach escapes are at the front-and-centre on this 14-day trip across three countries - South Africa, SwazilandMozambique. The adventure kicks off with the chance to get your boots dirty on a three day Big Five escapade in the Kruger Park followed by a scenic drive through the legendary Panorama Route. From then on, it’s all dense coconut plantations, ocean safaris, and bustling seaside villages in the Portuguese-influenced cities of Mozambique.

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4. Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga

This is probably my favorite book on this list and there are three reasons why. One, it was the first book published by a black woman from Zimbabwe in English. Two, It was one of the BBC’s top 100 books that changed the world in 2018. And, three, I just could not put it down.

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s debut novel is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about a Shona woman growing up in colonial Rhodesia. The young protagonist, Tambu, struggles against the pervasiveness of gender inequality, colonialism, and the lack of opportunity that mark her world at the homestead.

“It’s bad enough . . . when a country gets colonized, but when the people do as well! That’s the end, really, that’s the end.” – Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

  • Tour Length 20 days
    Group Size Max 20
    Starts & Ends Starts: Cape Town Ends: Victoria Falls
    Countries South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe
    Overview Craving action and adventure? This 20 day expedition reads like a synopsis for the Amazing Race: scenic flights over the Okavango, white water rafting on the Zambezi, desert hikes, nights under a sprawling blanket of stars — and that’s just the start! We’ve also included wildlife safari drives in Etosha, Moremi Game Reserve and a relaxing sunset river cruise on the Chobe River to give you the best chance of experiencing the diversity of Southern Africa.

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  • Tour Length 16 days
    Group Size Max 12
    Starts & Ends Starts: Johannesburg Ends: Johannesburg
    Countries Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa
    Overview 16 days, three countries, one epic journey. Your comfort overland safari is the perfect answer to Africa’s coveted call of the wild. Relish game watching with morning and afternoon game drives in search of the Big Five in the famous Kruger National Park, before continuing your journey through Zimbabwe and Botswana. With tons to explore and  plenty of time to stretch you legs while white-water rafting, taking guided tours of the Zimbabwe Ruins, or getting horizontal while drifting down the waterways of the Okavango Delta.

    Price from

    R58,140

    + Local Payment USD 300

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    Zimbabwe and Botswana Safari Explorer (Comfort) (16 Days)

    Tour start → end dates Price Enquire
    23 Mar 2024 → 07 Apr 2024

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    R58140
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    06 Apr 2024 → 21 Apr 2024

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3. The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Lawyer and author, Petina Gappah tells a gripping tale of a young woman convicted of murdering her adopted father, Lloyd Hendricks. She is the first woman in more than 20 years to be sentenced to death. As part of her appeal, her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it – her notes form the novel.

A tale about family, passion, learning, love and the unreliability of memory. The Book of Memory moves between the townships of the poor and the well-heeled suburbs of the rich, giving readers an intimate glimpse into the hardships of life as an albino woman living in Harare in the 70s.

“When we talk of fate, when we talk of a fatalistic vision of human experience, what we mean is that the most important forces that shape human lives are out of human control.” Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory

Township tours

2. Coconut, by Kopano Matlwa

Understanding the history of South Africa is crucial before traveling. But, perhaps even more so is understanding its present. “Coconut” tells the story of two very different young black girls living in modern-day Johannesburg.

While it may be an easy read, the book exposes racism, lost culture, and colonized consciousness that almost every South African person of color has faced. And if you can’t relate to the incidents in the novel, then it’s a good place to start to understand the truths of so many we share spaces with.

“You are the backstage crew in the drama of their lives. If they need you, they do not know it and do not care. Open your eyes.”  ― Kopano Matlwa, Coconut

  • Tour Length 19 days
    Group Size Max 20
    Starts & Ends Starts: Johannesburg Ends: Cape Town
    Countries South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini (Formerly Swaziland)
    Overview
    Contrary to popular belief, great adventures can happen within your comfort zone. This epic South African safari is proof. By day you’re guaranteed to get your boots dirty with an itinerary that can go from early morning bush walks to open top game drives and travelling through the incredible Panorama Route. By nightfall, a cold drink, hot shower, and cozy bed await within the comfort of your accommodation. It’s all about balance.

    Price from

    R49,470

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    Tour of South Africa South (Comfort) (19 Days)

    Tour start → end dates Price Enquire
    10 Mar 2024 → 28 Mar 2024

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    R58200
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  • Tour Length 14 days
    Group Size Max 12
    Starts & Ends Starts: Johannesburg Ends: Johannesburg
    Countries Mozambique, South Africa
    Overview This beach to bush safari ticks all the boxes of a dream African escape, including plenty of time spent on footprint-free shores and fantastic game viewing in the world-famous Kruger National Park. Leave the planning to the guides while you enjoy the undulating grasslands of the highveld, verdant mango and cashew nut plantations, and authentic local cuisine around blazing fireplaces. Get the best of both as you explore tropical waters while you snorkel, dive and fish and encounter the Big Five while exploring the African bush. This is how you travel Africa.

    Price from

    R46,905

    + Local Payment 1500

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    Mozambique & Kruger Safari Comfort/ Inclusive

    Tour start → end dates Price Enquire
    09 Jun 2024 → 22 Jun 2024

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    R46905
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  • Tour Length 5 days
    Group Size Max 16
    Starts & Ends Starts: Johannesburg Ends: Johannesburg
    Countries South Africa
    Overview Calling all intrepid adventurers! If you’re looking for a hands-on African adventure, this is it. Wildlife, wilderness, and wow-worthy campouts are at the forefront of this classic safari. This trip takes you straight into the heart of Kruger where you’ll get to experience story-book Africa. Surreal nature walks and night time game drives introduce you to scenes that will blow your mind, as you pause at waterholes and stunning viewpoints, to catch a glimpse at Africa’s iconic species in action.
    • The tour requires participation from all group members. This entails assisting with the food preparation, washing of dishes and keeping the truck clean. Please keep in mind that flexibility and an open mind is needed on the trip. Your guide is registered with the Field Guide Association of Southern Africa (FGASA)

    Price from

    R18,095

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    5 Day Kruger Safari on a Budget (Inclusive) Comfort

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    17 Mar 2024 → 21 Mar 2024

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    R18095
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1. The Cape Town Book: A Guide to the City’s History, People and Places, by Nechama Brodie

From geology and beaches to forced removals and hip-hop, The Cape Town book is an essential read before visiting the Mother City. Nechama Brodie walks readers through the 100 000-year history of South Africa’s oldest city, far beyond Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in 1652.

Although it’s a slim read, The Cape Town Book traces the origins and expansion of Cape Town, providing a fresh perspective on marginalised communities.

On the travel front, the book also features advice and information on places to visit beyond Table Mountain.

Discover Cape Town Travel

African travel guide books

In today’s online world travel guides are compressed into 1000 word long articles. While these snippets of information are definitely helpful when planning your travels, they can feel impersonal and uninspiring.

If you’re the kind of person that loves the smells of ink on paper, here are a few African travel guidebooks will get you pumped for your overland adventure.

Africa Overland: 4×4 Motorbike, Bicycle, Truck – Sian Pritchard-Jones & Bob Gibbons

Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide – Chris Scott

East & Southern Africa: The Backpacker’s Manual – Philip Briggs

About Jodi Lucas

Jodi is an adventure enthusiast and Douglas Adams groupie who supports these addictions through travel writing. When she’s not hitting Cape Town’s surf, you’ll find her trawling pre-loved bookstores for a leather-bound volume of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Article by: Jodi Lucas
on March 13, 2019
Filed under  Africa Blog • Only in Africa 
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