House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma review – Zimbabwe’s story extraordinarily told

A debut novel that is by turns painful and playful as its characters are forced to perform unspeakable acts to survive

This Zimbabwean debut is not an easy book to describe. To call it clever or ambitious is to do it a disservice – it is both, but also more than that. It is definitely not faultless, but it is large enough and unusual enough to shrug off its defects and still leave the reader impressed. The opening section features a tenant, 24-year-old Zamani, who aspires to make his landlord his father and his landlady his mother – to make them love him more than they loved their missing son, Bukhosi. A simple enough conceit, but Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is a wily writer, perhaps as wily as her main character; for as soon as the reader thinks he or she has figured out the story’s trajectory, the narrative takes an unexpected turn.

Tshuma cannot ...

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala review – a vivid coming-of-age story

A gay student in Washington DC feels the backlash from his religious Nigerian parents in a novel that examines homophobia and racial injustice in the US

In his first book, 2005’s Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala studied the heartbreaking child soldier phenomenon that characterised most west African conflicts of the 1980s and 90s. The book’s strongest feature, apart from its anti-war theme, was its mix of Nigerian pidgin English and Sierra Leonean creole. The focus for Iweala’s second novel, by contrast, is a high school student, Niru, living in Washington DC, who is struggling to come to terms with his gay identity and the homophobia he faces from his family and from society.

This is a book with a multiplicity of themes that at times threaten to stretch it at the seams; it’s a story about coming of age and immigration, and explores racial injustice in the US. ...

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo review – high hopes, big city

Fugitives and dreamers make a new start in an impressive, if wishful, portrait of Nigerian life The Lagos novel has become a genre in itself, with an outstanding list of practitioners: Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, Sefi Atta, Ben Okri, Teju Cole ... It is almost a rite of passage for Nigerian authors, for Lagos is Nigeria in microcosm, and there is no understanding the country without understanding the city. With her new book, Chibundu Onuzo (right) appears to be seeking to redefine the genre. Her debut novel, The Spider King’s Daughter, also set in Lagos, but its territorial ambition was modest compared with Welcome to Lagos. The classic African novel has always idealised the village, mostly casting it as the repository of order and tradition, while the city is portrayed as its antithesis – chaotic and corrupt, if not downright evil. It is a contest ...

Eat the Heart of the Infidel by Andrew Walker review – the Harrowing of Nigeria and the rise of Boko Haram

A compelling account of how the history of northern Nigeria has been shaped by the rise of Islam and its conflict with modernity This book contains one of the best descriptions of the psychology of Boko Haram I have read. A sect member explains to Andrew Walker why he kills in the name of religion. Imagine, he tells him, a bus depot full of people, some are travellers, some are hawking wares, some just idling and doing all sorts of things. The sect members, he explains, are the travellers, on their way to paradise; everyone else in the park is just hawking peanuts. Walker’s book is anecdotal, well researched and engaging. He has a novelist’s eye for story and situation. But the most important thing is that he knows Nigeria well, having lived there for about a decade, working for a local newspaper in Abuja, the Daily Trust, and later ...

Blackass by A Igoni Barrett review – a cocktail of Kafka and comedy

This modern-day Metamorphosis explores what it would be like for a Nigerian to wake up with white skin

In A Igoni Barrett’s debut novel, the main character, 33-year-old Lagosian Furo Wariboko, wakes up one ordinary morning and ... is white. Later in the novel, we meet a writer named Igoni who changes into a woman. But these transformations are not straightforward ones. Despite his white skin, green eyes and red hair, Furo’s eponymous ass remains “robustly black”; despite her big boobs and womanly curves, Igoni, now known as Morpheus, still retains her/his penis.

This is not the first time Barrett (pictured right) has toyed with the themes of psychological and physical transformation. In the title story of his collection Love is Power or Something Like That, a policeman is a loving father and husband at home, but changes into a cruel and imperious brute the moment he puts on his uniform. Here, as in ...