- The Honey Guide (Mollel 1) – Richard Cromptom (2013) – Crime thriller with a Masai detective and backdrop of troubled elections (Richardcrompton.com). The sequel Hells Gate (2014) is equally gripping.
- A Guide to the Birds of East Africa – Nicholas Drayson (2008) – A gentle and colourful, humorous novel in the style of No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The sequel – Guide to the Beasts of East Africa (2012), I have yet to read but it’s on my list (and on my bookshelf, waiting)
- Blood Sisters – Barbara and Stephanie Keating (2005) – A romantic romp set in 1960-80s with white safari guides, romance, Maasai and a murder. There’s some speculation around who is who in the book around town, as apparently key characters are based on real people.
- The Constant Gardener – John le Carré (2001) – Thriller based in Kenya involving a British high commission employee whose wife is a health volunteer in Kibera – murdered when she stumbles upon a conspiracy involving pharmaceutical giant testing drugs in developing nations. Great movie too – the film footage shot in Kibera is memorable.
- Rules of the Wild – Francesca Marciano (1999) – Cult classic. Another romantic romp (like Blood Sisters), where the main protagonist is a journalist torn between two love interests – a white safari guide and a war correspondent. Again, based on real characters encountered by the author while she was living in Kenya.
- One Day I Will Write About this Place – Binyavanga Wainaina (2011). Recollections of Caine prize winner Binyavanga’s childhood in Kenya/growing up in Nakuru in 1980s. I did a Kwani? writing workshop with this guy and he just about killed me. Yes, I was the only blonde housewife in the room and since we spent most of the time discussing the fight for independence from the colonial experience, it wasn’t the most comfortable. In fact it was a pretty shitty week but I learned a lot. He also wrote an article How to Write about Africa for Granta Magazine which kind of went viral (before viral was a thing) – as it was tongue in cheek and amusing.
- It’s Our Turn to Eat – Michela Wrong (2009) – Controversial political account of the Goldenburg scandal in Kenya during 2003-5. We all thought that this book might change Kenya, but 10 years on and it’s exactly the same, folks. In fact, the scandals seem to get even more crazy (Eurobond scandal 2015/2016) and those involved continue to walk free.
- Unbowed – My Autobiography – Wangari Maathai (2006) – Nobel Laureat’s story about her lifetime struggle against Kenya government to preserve trees and green spaces in Kenya. She continues to be a fabulous hero figure in Kenya.
- Colonial Setting:
The Bolter – Frances Osborne (2008) – A biography set in 1920s/30s Happy Valley and White Mischief era. This whole story about these fay characters still turns my stomach a bit – but I can’t help but be fascinated by the old houses (that still stand, just about – see below). Frances Osborne makes no excuses for her great grandmother Idina Sackville.
- The Ghosts of Happy Valley – Juliet Barnes. A search for the old 1910-1940s early settler houses (Delamere, Blixen, Markham, Sackville etc) that still dot ‘happy valley’. In fact, it is just about possible to organise a tour of these old houses. #mustdothatoneday
- The Life and death of Lord Erroll – Erroll Trzebinski (2000). The famous murder mystery involving Jock Delves Broughton and Diana Delamere in the murder of Lord Erroll circa 1930. Fascinatingly, the investigation into the murder of the author’s own son, Tonio Trzebinski who was an artist in Kenya, has recently been reopened.
- The Flame Trees of Thika – Elspeth Huxley (1959). Incredible account of life written by the daughter of early settlers to Kenya. You can smell fresh rain falling on the red dusty ground.
- Out of Africa – Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen (1937). Romantic story of the trials and tribulations of Karen, a Swedish early settler detailing her loves and losses in Kenya. It’s still possible to visit her house in Karen – which is still atmospheric and Denys Finch Hatton’s grave on the Ngong Hills (see my Karen Blixen blogpost) Heavy read. Or did I just watch the film….?
- Born Wild – Tony Fitzjohn (2010) – Biography by George Adamson’s assistant, set in 1980s during their research into lion behaviour in a national park ravaged by poaching at that time. Great read. Yet more ‘so vivid you can touch them’ eccentric characters.
- Tick Bite Fever – David Bennun (2003). An amusing account of growing up in Nairobi as an expatriate in 1980s
- The White Masai – Corinne Hofmann (1998). Swiss tourist falls in love with a Masai, then moves to his village and lives as his wife. It’s pretty unbelievable but true! I just read a similar story online this week: ‘My Masai Dream is Over‘ Daily Mail: Norwich woman dumped with baby son.…
- I Dreamed of Africa – Kuki Gallmann (1991). Italian Kuki Galmann falls in love with Kenya but loses her beloved husband and son during the journey. Set in 1980s. Also locally (and uncharitably) known as ‘I dreamed up Africa’.
- Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness – Alexandra Fuller (2011). Growing up in Zambia. Non Fiction. I also just read Leaving before the rains come which was more about Alexandra moving to the States but lots of reminiscences about Africa. Along with Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight altogether a great series.
Purple Hibiscus was my favourite of Chimamanda Adichie’s books but they are all brilliant. Purple Hibiscus is the story of growing up in Nigeria in 1980s/90s. Under a Yellow Sun – A moving story set during the Biafran War – a more challenging subject matter and Americanah – Brilliant book about moving to USA from Nigeria. All of her books are fantastically atmospheric.
- Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux (2003) – Journey across the continent. Non Fiction. I read this when I first moved to East Africa. A bit heavy going (it’s a long book) but I enjoyed it.
- The Zanzibar Chest – Aiden Hartley (2003). War correspondent in East Africa region/Sudan/Ethiopia. Autobiography gritty window onto the world of war correspondents (based from Kenay). Actually can’t wait to see the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – a funny, tongue in cheek movie with Tina Fey and Martin Freeman about being a war correspondent in Afghanistan.
- Emma’s War – Deborah Scroggins (2002). English girl, Emma McCune marries a South Sudanese War Lord Riek Machar, who still currently a key player in South Sudan’s politics. After years of civil war since Independence, Riek Machar was recently sworn in as vice president, sharing power with Salvar Kir. Non Fiction. Biography.
- Zanzibar – Giles Foden (2002). Thriller set around the 1998 Dar es Salaam embassy bombings. Fiction. I couldn’t get over the main character pulling on a wool jumper when he was in Zanzibar. That would … like… never happen!! He makes the link that the events in East Africa in 1998 were an interesting pre-cursor to 9/11.
- The Africa House – Christina Lamb. We were lucky enough to visit and stay at the Africa House around 15 years ago. Wow. What an atmospheric place. Almost a folly. A Surrey, red brick mansion set in remotest Zambia. A sad story really.
- No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – Alexander McCall Smith (1998). The adventures of a rural community detective in Botswana. Fiction. Have to mention this one. The TV show was quite nice too.
- A Good Man in Africa – William Boyd (1991). Thriller, British high commission employee. Fiction. This was one of the first books I read when I moved out to Dar es Salaam in 1999. I used to hang out at the British Council library and read A LOT! Thank goodness for that place (we were living pre-satellite TV, in fact pre-TV in our case!).
- And of course I have to mention MOVIES:
The Good Lie – with Reece Witherspoon about Sudanese refugees. It’s still topical and really worth watching.
- Nairobi Half Life (2012). Award winning movie about a rural boy’s adventures on moving to the big smoke. Gritty but humourus too
- The First Grader – (2011). Elderly man campaigns for his right to free education under Kibaki’s new ruling to allow for free primary education for all.
- Last King of Scotland – (2006). Uganda’s president Idi Amin takes on a Scottish doctor and uses him as a pawn during the most terrifying period of his dictatorship.
- The Constant Gardener – (2005). As per book description above
- White Mischief – (1987). As above
- Out of Africa – (1985). As above
The Writing Scene
*Check out www.storymoja.co.ke and www.kwani.org. Both are Kenya/Nairobi based organisations that publish works in non-fiction and fiction by locally renowed authors.
There is an annual Storymoja/Hay Festival that takes place in Nairobi during either July or August. Check out the storymoja website for details on upcoming events/
There are also writing workshops and open mic nights for poetry. Popular blogger Jackson Biko (Bikozulu) runs writing workshop events.