One of our talented CUB writers provides a list of the most haunting and poignant postcolonial novels she has read – and why we should read them immediately.
1. Small Island, Andrea Levy
‘There are some words that once spoken will split the world in two. There would be the life before you breathed them and then the altered life after they’d been said. They take a long time to find, words like that. They make you hesitate. Choose with care. Hold on to them unspoken for as long as you can just so your world will stay intact.’
This book is curiously charming, even in moments of tragedy, but above all deeply human.
2. Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
‘I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.’
The tough, metal tone of this novel is punctuated by moments of fragility. You read for both of these textures.
3. The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing
‘She had never, not once in her whole life, touched the flesh of a native.’
Mystery of the darkest kind hangs in the centre of this novel, and at the same time, there’s no mystery at all.
4. Mornings in Jenin, Susan Abulhawa
‘Israeli occupation exposes us very young to the extremes of our emotions, until we cannot feel, except in the extreme.’
All we want is to return to the security of Baba’s lap and those orange mornings in Jenin, but we can’t, because that place no longer exists.
5. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
‘Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief. Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.’
This was the first piece of literature I read that was powerful enough to relax my deepest moral coding, so that I could ask, who should be loved? And how? And how much?
6. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
‘He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.’
Achebe’s stunning reaction to the Joseph Conrad’s and H. Rider Haggard captures the defilement of a culture so definitely, that we grieve for it, and for ourselves. Because this is not just a story of then, it’s a story of now.
7. Cereus Blooms at Night, Shani Mootoo
‘I reached for the dress. My body felt as if it were metamorphosing. My behind felt fleshy and rounded. I had rounded full breasts and a cavernous tunnel singing between my legs.’
I finished the final pages of this novel moments before a lecture on it. I had to go home because I was exhausted with my own tears. My shattered heart was education enough for me.
8. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
‘She would grab whatever she could – a look, a whisper, a moan – to salvage from perishing, to preserve. But time is the most unforgiving of fires, and she couldn’t, in the end, save it all.’
It took me less than ten hours to read this novel. When I came back, I felt like I had been away for many years.
9. Native Son, Richard Wright
‘Sometimes I feel like something awful’s gon happen to me.’
And you, the reader, know it too. And you tear through the words in blind panic, to try and prevent that awful. But really, you know that it’s inevitable.