I remember a time when Nigerian fiction was as diverse as they come. Books set in the northern part of the country were easily available in bookstores and I read as many as I could find.
I learned a lot about the North from Nigerian Classics such as Zaynab Alkali’s The Stillborn and The Virtuous Woman, Cyprian Ekwensi’s Burning Grass and The Passport of Mallam Ilia etc.
Unfortunately, the situation has changed. In recent times, you have to be intentional about your search to find a good book set in modern day Northern Nigeria.
I have been fortunate to stumble on some really good ones. So I thought to compile a list for anyone who might be interested. I will update this list as I discover more books, so feel free to bookmark this page .
1. Born On A Tuesday by Elnathan John
This bildungsroman follows the life of Dantala, a naïve but intelligent young Quranic student, who finds himself entangled in an ugly situation after he and his gang of street boys set fire to the local headquarters of the opposition party in Bayan Layi. Left with no choice but to run, he escapes to Sokoto where he meets Sheikh Jamal who becomes his benefactor. As he comes of age, Dantala struggles to keep up with life whilst finding a balance between religious extremism and the Sheikh’s peaceful approach to religion.
There are a lot of reasons why BOAT was the first book that came to my mind when I started writing this post. It is a fast paced, straight to the point, moving-you-to-tears kind of book. I read it in less than 48 hours. I promise that if you are able to put this book down, it will be only because you have something more important to do or to take a break from the gut-wrenching events that take place in it. Other than this, you will find that you will be intrigued till the end.
Trigger warning: You may want to pass on this if you sensitive to stories about trauma and insurgency because there’s enough of it in there to shake you at your very core.
2. Naja by Safiya Ismaila Yero
If searching for good books set in Northern Nigeria were a task, finding a feminist one is like looking for a needle in a hay stack. Which is why I could not believe my luck when I stumbled on this amazing book on a random visit to a bookshop in Abuja. For context, here’s a synopsis of the book.
It is a joyful celebration in Mallam Ilu’s house as everyone awaits the arrival of his bride for the fourth time. But Naja, the bride who is still a child cannot understand why her father is marrying her off to a Baburmi, older than he is. Everyone expects that she will learn to love her husband with time like other girls have learnt to do, but no one knows how prepared Naja is to do whatever it takes to break free and reclaim her dreams.
Safiya is a good storyteller but I had some issues with the character development and the writing. The way the story is written would appeal more to a YA audience, but that doesn’t mean that adults would enjoy it any less. Yero writes about the unfair conditions that the girl child is subjected to in the Northern part of Nigeria such as underage marriages and domestic violence.
I recommend this as a good read especially if you dig strong willed female heroines in books.
3. Measuring Time by Helon Habila
Mamo and LaMamo are twin brothers living in the small Nigerian village of Keti, where their domineering father controls their lives. With high hopes the twins attempt to flee from home, but only LaMamo escapes successfully and is able to live their dream of becoming a soldier who meets beautiful women. Mamo, the sickly, awkward twin, is doomed to remain in the village with his father. Gradually he comes out of his father’s shadow and gains local fame as a historian, and, using Plutarch’s Parallel Lives as his model, he embarks on the ambitious project of writing a “true” history of his people. But when the rains fail and famine rages, religious zealots incite the people to violence—and LaMamo returns to fight the enemy at home.
I get a peculiar feeling of tenderness whenever I am reading Helon Habila’s books. Like some of his works I have read in the past, this is slow paced but a very satisfactory read.
4. A Season Of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Season of Crimson Blossoms tells the story of an illicit affair between a twenty-five-year-old street gang leader, Hassan Reza, and a devout fifty-five-year-old widow and grandmother, Binta Zubairu, who yearns for intimacy after the sexual repression of her marriage and the pain of losing her first son. This story of love and longing—set in a conservative Muslim community in Nigeria—reveals deep emotions that defy age, class, and religion.
For someone like me who hasn’t been to any Northern state, this book was an eye opener to the lifestyle and workings obtainable there. I also liked that the author explored the showcased what the lovelife between an older woman and a younger man looks like. Especially because most people believe that sexual urges fade away as women get older.
So although the character development is poor and there were a lot of disjointed moments in the plot, I would still recommend it.
Read this, if you are looking to gain some insight into the everyday lifestyle of the average Northern Nigerian.
Do you know more books that should be on this list?
Leave a comment about it below and I will check it out.