Barack Obama doles out his favourite African books as he packs his bags for Kenya and South Africa

  • July 16, 2018

American novelist William Styron once said, ‘A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.’ While Barack Obama’s tenure as the President of the United States of America may have ended, he for sure has embarked on a new journey.

Ever since he vacated the Oval Office in 2017, Barack Obama has been busy super yachting with Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks in Tahiti, kitesurfing with Richard Branson in the British Virgin Islands and spending time in Singapore with young advocates of education.

This week he is off to Africa.

In a post on his social media handle, he elaborated about this expedition. “I’m traveling to Africa for the first time since I left office – a continent of wonderful diversity, thriving culture, and remarkable stories.

“I was proud to visit sub-Saharan Africa more times than any other sitting President, and I’ll return this week to visit Kenya and South Africa. In South Africa, the Obama Foundation will convene 200 extraordinary young leaders from across the continent and I’ll deliver a speech to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. Kenya, of course, is the Obama ancestral home. I visited for the first time when I was in my twenties and I was profoundly influenced by my experiences – a journey I wrote about in my first book, Dreams from My Father.”

He had earlier remarked how books allowed him to “slow down and get perspective” and afforded him “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.” Thus, whilst packing his bags, he unpacked a list of his favourite African books.

“Over the years since, I’ve often drawn inspiration from Africa’s extraordinary literary tradition. As I prepare for this trip, I wanted to share a list of books that I’d recommend for summer reading, including some from a number of Africa’s best writers and thinkers – each of whom illuminate our world in powerful and unique ways,” the post read.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village, to his years as a revolutionary, to his long imprisonment, and ultimately his ascension to unifying President, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history – and then go out and change it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.

The Return by Hisham Matar

A beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.

The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes

It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.”

Your summer reading is sorted.

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