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15 best books of 2018

In some weeks, the page of 2018 will be a turned one. Being a year, which saw some truly remarkable books published, Daily Trust Saturday’s Bookshelf has put together some of the year’s best literary offerings.

 

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‘Of Women And Frogs’ by Bisi Adjapon

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A djapon’s ‘Of Women and Frogs’ tells the story of Esi, a fiery Ghanaian-Nigerian girl growing up in Ghana. Visits to family in Lagos, curiosity about bodily functions, and confusing adults, and many other unlikely things, all get woven into a sparkling, compelling story that while not a cautionary one, will teach a thing. Or ten. Tears, and laughter, are all within, and sometimes together at the same time.

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Moving between Ghana and Nigeria, much like the writer’s real-life own, it is a heart-warming story of a girl’s self-actualisation amidst political upheaval during Rawlings’ rule. The difficult relations between her ancestral countries provide perfect fodder for one of the most compelling books of 2018.

With one of the frankest literary voices, the gravitas of Adjapon’s writing owes to her wide-eyed approach to everything, making the mundane beautiful, and the beautiful, well, spectacular. She, and her masterful new book, deserve a literary version of a standing ovation. And the best news? There’s a newly-debuted Nigerian edition from publisher Farafina.

– Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

‘Wake Me When I’m Gone’ by Odafe Atogun

“It was in the painting that I first saw myself as countless suitors had often described me,” began lead character Ese in Atogun’s ‘Wake Me When I’m Gone’. After having married for love, and now a widow, the young mother must contend with a rich chief’s unrequited love. Loaded with enough tragedy for three books, it shows the Nigerian writer’s rich range of tone, pacing, and intricately-woven drama.

The book, full of tradition, also shines a spotlight on the cruelty of culture: Ese’s son, in mortal danger, and oblivious with a heartening level of candour too heavy for one his age, shines through the story, or at least parts of it which he graces. And that’s the thing about Atogun’s work, how the writer literally builds characters up into flesh and bone, as an unsuspecting reader tears through the tale, then takes them apart, brick by brick.

But do the characters put themselves back together again? The book needs to be read to see that. Atogun, whose previous works have proven to be formidable emotional roller coasters, does not disappoint here, with his rich, layered writing drawing the reader in, sometimes gently with tenderness, sometimes rudely with rawness. And it’s a welcome type of violence.

– Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

 

‘Kingdom Of Gravity’ by Nick Makoha

Makoha’s collection of poetry is one of the only two books in the genre on this list, and it is extremely deserving. The brilliance of the words within are underscored by the images they conjure up, and also by the silent music they play. At once musical and visual, the poems which populate this collection appear at first to be related, when in truth they aren’t. The connecting tissue that creates that illusion, is one very simple one: Humanity.

Some of the best poetry in the world today is being written in Africa, or by African writers, and  Makoha, a Ugandan, is one of the purveyors. London-based, he is the second winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Titular poem ‘Kingdom of Gravity’ is one of three poems that won the prize, exploring themes of history, melancholy, and desire.

The final portion of ‘Kingdom of Gravity’ reads: “But what can I tell you about Kingdom/About having the world at your feet?/When you have seen all the earth’s boundary/You will crave for mirrors searching for them in streams/And when the river looks back at you/How will you be sure that nothing is lost?” And all the reader feels is that all has been found, within this brilliant poet’s magnificent work.

– Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama

Mrs. Obama’s memoir is now the stuff of internet legend, breaking all kinds of sales records, and even setting one or two. And for good reason: After all, who wouldn’t want to read a fly-on-the-wall account of the presidential days (and more) of the world’s favourite First Couple? And boy, does she deliver. Mesmerizingly – and obviously from deep reflection – the book beckons one into Michelle’s world.

I foolishly assumed it would be a book on politics (even though some of it does creep in), but gladly discovered that it’s really just about a woman’s life, about her growing up poor and black, about struggling to maintain a marriage, about being thrown into one of the world’s most powerful roles, and about so much more. And the book succeeds, brilliantly, with the added bonus of showing how Michelle attained her unmatched classiness and grace, all in crisp writing style that makes me pine for a follow-up book.

Whether you’re a historian, a bibliophile, or even a casual reader, ‘Becoming’ is a memorable and befitting book to mark the end of 2018 with, and from which to take lessons for the years ahead. Bravo!

– Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

 

‘A Stranger’s Pose’ by Emmanuel Iduma

One of the most brilliant books to hit the shelves this year, Emmanuel Iduma’s beautifully produced book by Cassava Republic Press, includes photos from his travels as part of the Invisible Borders programme. The writing is superb, as one should expect from Iduma who brings his resonant introspective arsenal into the observations of both the mundane and the extraordinary, capturing his experience in about 20 African cities. As if Iduma’s observations and beautiful prose are not enough, the book has dozens of photographs from some of the best photographers on the continent and a glowing foreword from Teju Cole.

– Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

 

‘When Trouble Sleeps’ by Leye Adenle

Not always do sequels better their prequels but Nigerian crime fiction writer, Leye Adenle might have just pulled that off in ‘When Trouble Sleeps’ (Cassava Republic Press). Amaka, introduced to readers in Adenle’s award winning debut Lagos Noir crime fiction, ‘Easy Motion Tourist’, returns in ‘When Trouble Sleeps’ to continue her hunt of criminal elements. When a Lagos gubernatorial candidate dies in a plane crash, his replacement, Chief Ojo, is poised to be governor, but Amaka knows his dirty secrets, including his misadventures at a notorious secret sex club and she is now the only person standing between him and his political ambition. Ahead of the 2019 elections, Adenle’s fast paced novel strikes a resonant chord.

– Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

‘Ordinary Saviour’ edited by Richard Ali & Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

When I reviewed this book months earlier, I called my experience ‘a horrific ride across Nigeria’s northeast. If you doubt me, please try going on that journey. ‘Ordinary Saviour’ is a collection of 11 short stories and a product of the North East Intellectual Entrepreneurship Fellowship (NEIEF) Program, brainchild of North East Regional Initiative (NERI), a four-year project operating in the region.

In ‘Ordinary Saviour’, the rise of terrorism in the northeast is explored in a way that brings out its people’s struggle for survival. You are reminded that there was a time of peace, and even Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and boys forced into terrorism, had dreams.

– Nathaniel Bivan

 

‘Afonja: The Rise’ by Tunde Leye

Tunde Leye’s ‘Afonja: The Rise’ is a recent release you should be reading this December. There’s absolutely no reason to wait for next year. Set in times when colonialism hadn’t come when the Oyo Empire was at its peak, this novel brings under 354 pages, a thirsty power play for the throne of the late Alaafin Abiodun Adegolu.

Afonja, Aremo Adesina and other powerful men will vie for the most coveted seat of power. But the most unlikely candidate will own and wield its power in a manner that will surprise even the kingmakers. This and more is what sets this story ablaze.

– Nathaniel Bivan

‘Embers’ by Soji Cole

This book just earned its writer a cool $100,000 courtesy the Nigerian Prize for Literature. Never mind the money though and let’s get back to the theme. The authors use of metaphors is what arguably sets this play apart. Set in an Internally Displaced Persons camp, it ex-rays the corruption in the system in no small measure.

Every donation to an IDP camp comes with camera flashes and grateful faces, but the needy remain needful after that act. Where do the bags of rice go to? Where do the tubers of yam or palm oil or milk end up? This is what Soji Cole beams a light on that makes ‘Embers’ a fascinating read.

– Nathaniel Bivan

 

‘Devil’s Pawn’ by Kukogho Iruesiri Samson

In 2018 Devli’s Pawn won the GTB Dusty Manuscript competition. Although the book is not yet released to the public, I was fortunate to have read it. It’s fast paced with a lot of subplots. It follows the story and transformation of Simon, from an innocent being whose quest for redemption brings out his brutality after he became an unwilling participant of rape.

The book covers a lot of themes from love to death to the metaphysical, and it was not short of characters either.  It’s refreshing to read a thriller set in Nigeria. This book is set for official release in the first quarter of 2019 by Farafina Publishers.

– Bamas Victoria

 ‘When Day Breaks’ by Adamu Usman Garko

A collection of poetry, what’s amazing about this book is that it is written by a secondary school teenager in Gombe State, You marvel at what more he can accomplish a few years from now. It was reeled in the last quarter of 2018 by Words Rhymes and Rhythm publishers.

– Bamas Victoria

 

‘We Won’t Fade Into Darkness’ by TJ Benson

This collection features 13 excellent short stories that set new boundaries in terms of theme, narration and style. In each story, TJ Benson takes the reader on unbelievable journeys that are hard to ignore but easy to get lost in. It is a literary masterpiece released by Paressia.

– Bamas Victoria

 

‘Dust to Dew’ by Betty Irabor

Betty Irabor bared it all in her biography Dust to Dew, discussing one of the most sensitive medical issues, including depression and how she had to face it in the course of her life. The publisher of one of Nigeria’s most celebrated magazines, ‘Genevieve’ chronicles the darkest parts of her life and all she learnt along the way. It’s arguably one of the best books to come out of Nigeria in 2018.

– Hafsah Abubakar Matazu

 

‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi

The Young Adult (YA) fantasy novel by Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi proved to be one of the biggest bestsellers of the year, debuting at number one on the New York Times Best-Seller list. It is beautifully written, and focused on fantasy-tinged African mythology, unfolding the story via characters with powerful, emotional experiences.

– Hafsah Abubakar Matazu

 

‘My Transition Hours’ by Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria’s immediate-past president launched his book a few weeks ago and got some flak for it. The book documents all that happened after he lost the 2015 elections in an almost confessional manner, and will probably go down as one of the most relevant books written by a former leader, by dint of the sheer drama within its pages.

– Hafsah Abubakar Matazu

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