Saturday, March 16, 2013

AEWC recommended books and films on Kenya

There are loads of fantastic books relating to Africa and Kenya, here are just a few of recommended favourites:


The Honey Guide (Mollel 1) - Richard Cromptom (2013) - Crime thriller with a Masai detective and backdrop of troubled elections (

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa – Nicholas Drayson (2008) - A gentle and colourful novel in the style of No 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Blood Sisters - Barbara and Stephanie Keating (2005) - A romantic romp set in 1980s with white safari guides, romance, masai and a murder

The Constant Gardener – John le CarrĂ© (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.

Rules of the Wild – Francesca Marciano (1999) - 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 correspondant.

Non Fiction

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

It's Our Time to Eat - Michaela Wrong (2009) - Controversial political account of the Goldenburg scandal in Kenya during 2003-5

Born Wild – Tony Fitzjohn (2010) - Biography by George Adamson's assistant, set in 1980s during their research into lion behavior in a national park ravaged by poaching at that time.

The Bolter – Frances Osborne (2008) - A biography set in 1920s/30s Happy Valley and White Mischief era

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.

Tick Bite Fever – David Bennun (2003). An amusing account of growing up in Nairobi as an expatriate in 1980s

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.

The White Masai – Corinne Hofmann (1998). Swiss tourist falls in love with a Masai, then moves to his village and lives as his wife

I Dreamed of Africa – Kuki Galmann (1991). Italian Kuki Galmann falls in love with Kenya but loses her beloved husband and son during the journey. Set in 1980s.

Journey Through Kenya - Ducan Willets, Mo Amin, Brian Tetley (1983) - Photographic

Born Free – Joy Adamson (1960). Raising Elsa the lion and other stories of lion research in Kenya carried out by Joy and her husband George.

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 and Denys Finch Hatton's grave on the Ngong Hills (see my Karen Blixen blogpost)


There are 4 daily English language newspapers in Kenya; The Standard, The Nation, The Business Daily and The Star (all available online). The East African is published weekly (regional)

Reading around the subject - Elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa

Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness – Alexandra Fuller (2011). Growing up in Zambia. Non Fiction

Dark Star Safari – Paul Theroux (2003) - Journey across the continent. Non Fiction.

Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Adichie (2003) - Story of growing up in Nigeria in 1980s/90s. Fiction

Under a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Adichie - A moving story set during the Biafran War. Fiction

Zanzibar Chest – Aiden Hartley (2003). War correspondant in East Africa region/Sudan/Ethiopia. Autobiography

Emma's War - Deborah Scroggins (2002). English girl marries a South Sudanese War Lord. Non Fiction. Biography

Zanzibar – Giles Foden (2002). Thriller set around the 1998 Dar es Salaam embassy bombings. Fiction

Mukiwa – A White Boy in Africa – Peter Godwin (2001). Autobiography

No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – Alexander McCall Smith (1998). The adventures of a rural community detective in Botswana. Fiction

A Good Man in Africa – William Boyd (1991). Thriller, British high commission employee. Fiction


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


*Check out and 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


Anonymous said...

Thank you! This is wonderful.

daktari said...

Good collection. Others that come to mind are:
The Inbetween world of Vikram Lall by MK Vassanji ( fiction)
Down River Road... Meja Mwangi, that's an old one, fiction as well
West with the Night....a memoir by Beryl Markham

Africa Expat Wife said...

Thanks so much for the valuable the additions to this list.

I have read 'The Inbetween World of Vikram Lall" but not 'Down River Road' - or 'West with the Night'.

I was also feeling guilty about not including Daphne Sheldrick's recently released autobiography...

Daktari said...

West with the Night is a beautifully written memoir by a remarkable woman, an underrated writer. Somewhere in there she says , "Nairobi has a country cut to its clothes and it wears a broad-brimmed hat, but it tends an English garden." That one sentence, written sometime in the 30's I suppose,for me captures the essence of colonial Kenya (pronounced Keenya, a country I was born in, as opposed to Kenya, the country I grew up in). Beryl Markham, the old lady, from what I can remember, was attacked in the looting during the attempted coup in '82.

" Vikram Lall" is the story of my family, and many such Asian families for whom Kenya was home for many generations. He describes my grandfather's, my father's and my Kenya. I left 20 years ago, and upstate New York is home now, only to discover that we all live in Inbetween worlds, all of us. I will presume that you and your family can identify with some of that. We may leave places, but places don't leave us.

"Down River Road" is gritty, as they say. Not sure if it's even in print now, I hope it is. Urban Nairobi of the 70's , 80's if I remember . Enjoyed it. Not as intense as Ngugi wa thiongo's "A grain of Wheat," or "Petals of Blood", serious writing. Not comedies, then, as Blackadder would say.
I look forward to reading Binyawanga, though not enamoured by his chippy attitude. The Sheldrick autobiography should be interesting. "My Pride and Joy" by George Adamson remains the greatest auto biography I've ever read, by anybody.

May I say I'm glad you're blogging again. I followed your blog off and on over the years, and it's been my main source of not just information, but a sense of life on the ground in suburban Nairobi. I enjoy your writing. My many thanks.


Anonymous said...

Did you just leave out Chinua Achebe? I think he seems to see issues from a different angle. Best African writer ever.