Books about East Africa and other parts of the Continent

Reviewed by Brooks Goddard

except as noted

February, 2013

Barefoot Over the Serengeti by David Read

The author was born in Kenya in 1922 and in 2013 is still alive. He was not from the traditional colonial class. He has written a series of books in the vein of amateur anthropology since he's lived with Maasai much of his life. That logic suggests that TEAAr Mike Rainy will soon be issuing his memoir, Mindful in Malepo. This volume covers Read's first 14 pre-school years with an addendum about finding his Maasai playmate 70 years later. You can glean much from Read's website,, but I wouldn't rush out and buy this book.

In the House of the Interpreter by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

This memoir, second in a series, details aspects of Ngugi's life at Alliance High School in Kikuyu, Kenya, very near Nairobi in starting in 1955. Ironically for us, the school's mission was based on Tuskegee and Hampton. The headmaster in Ngugi's time was Edward Francis (1940-1962) whom Ngugi sees as an enigmatic force in the school. The book goes back and forth between activities and ruminations at Alliance and the strong background of Mau Mau which Ngugi cannot escape. In July of 1959 Ngugi is on his way to Makerere in Kampala, the subject of his next memoir. As much as I love the subtext of the title, the book does not capture a mood like Dreams in a Time of War. But the author is growing up in very dynamic times, and we rarely get a view of a society in transition as we do from this articulate man.

Permanent Savings by Ahmed Muhidin

You won't have run in to this book unless you check the website for Old Africa Books, but this slim volume is the story of Roble Beledwyne of Korondille, Kenya, in the NFD who suffers drought and abandons his daughters to go to Moyale to beg for his existence. This improbable story takes on a life of its own just as Roble takes on a life and turns disaster into survival but dies with his substantial permanent savings helping no one. Shows you that old Kenya hands are not always the colonial kind.

Mau-Mau's Children by David Sangren, wave III

Read this book, buy this book. What a great idea to return to Giakanja Secondary School 30 years after leaving to interview your former students who had lived through a transformational time in Kenya's history to find out how they had fared. Quite well, as it turns out. This very readable book interweaves history with biography in a very compelling way. Enough so to nudge me to dive into my supply of slides to see what pictures I had taken in term 3 of 1967 when I completed my TEA contract at Giakanja myself. David brings out many of the nuances of teaching in Central Province that had eluded me at the time. Mau-Mau's Children is the perfect complement to Ngugi's two memoirs, Dreams in a Time of War and In the House of the Interpreter. I note that David cites other TEArs in his bibliography: David Court and Kevin Lillis.

October, 2012

Tahir Shah

I love writers who travel and offer insights into the landscapers they traverse, writers who write well and who reflect well. Having read freely in John McPhee, Ved Methta, V. S. Naipaul, I have come to Tahir Shah.

Timbuctoo (2012)

Tahir Shah's Timbuctoo is a fast-paced, entertaining, insightful and fictionalized look at the tale of the American Robert Adams, the first "Christian" man to reach Timbuctoo in the early 19th century and live to tell about it. It is truth surrounded by artifice and will have you consulting Google without satisfaction. The quality of writing and the richness and largess of the characters' personalities will keep the reader hooked and make the book incredibly hard to put down.

In Search of King Solomon's Mines: A Modern Adventurer's Quest for Gold and History in the Land of the Queen of Sheba (2012)

King Solomon, the Bible's wisest king, possessed extraordinary wealth. The grand temple he built in Jerusalem was covered in gold from the porch to the inner sanctum, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Long before H. Rider Haggard's classic adventure novel King Solomon's Mines unleashed gold fever more than a century ago, many had sought to find the source of the great king's wealth. In this new adventure - "a hybrid of Indiana Jones and Herodotus" - Tahir Shah tries his hand at the quest.

In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams (2009)

Shah continues the story he began in his acclaimed memoir The Caliph's House, the tale of his family's move to Morocco, this time focusing on the traditional wisdom stories of Arabia, best known in the West through A Thousand and One Nights. Inspired by his family's long tradition of storytelling ("We have this gift," says his father, "Protect it and it will protect you"), Shah frames his search for identity with traditional Arabian tales, but also with the stories of the men who tell them. As such, he creates a bright patchwork quilt of stories old and new, including his own childhood memories, held together by an engaging cross-country travelogue.

The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca (2006)

When Shah, his pregnant wife and their small daughter move from England to Morocco, where he'd vacationed as a child, he enters a realm of "invisible spirits and their parallel world." Shah buys the Caliph's House, once a palatial compound, now heavy with algae, cobwebs and termites. Unoccupied for a decade, the place harbors a willful jinni (invisible spirit), who Shah reluctantly grasps must be exorcised by traditional means. Three retainers, whose lives are governed by the jinni, have attached themselves to the property. Confounding craftsmen plague but eventually beautify the house. The dominant colors, however, are luminous. "[L]ife not filled with severe learning curves was no life at all," Shah observes.

Sorcerer's Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India's Godmen (2001)

Sorcerer's Apprentice is the amazing story of Shah's apprenticeship to one of India's master conjurers, Hakim Feroze, and his initiation into the brotherhood of Indian godmen. Told with self-deprecating wit, panache, and an eye for the outlandish, it is an account of a magical journey across India. Feroze teaches the author the basics of his craft, such as sleights of hand, immersing his hands in boiling oil and lead, and - Aaron's old trick from the Bible - turning a rod into a serpent.

Tahir Shah is the author of fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia, and the Americas. For him, there's nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dusty cafe and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there's wonderment to be found wherever we are - it's just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes. Tahir Shah lives at Dar Khalifa, a sprawling mansion set squarely in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown. He's married to the graphic designer, Rachana Shah, and has two. His father was the Sufi writer, Idries Shah.

January, 2012

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

Yes, you can read It's Our Turn to Eat by Michaella Wrong about the corruption of Kabaki I (we are now in the time of Kabaki II without much change) or Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011. Both good books about the politics that we all sense but cannot detail. Bill Jones has already praised this book of Wainaina's (where else can you buy a first rate book with first rate art on its covers?), and I want to add merely that much of the power of the books was its contemporaneity; i.e., the book is about NOW, today. It revealed to me anyway the circumstances of Kenya in the 21st century.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller.

There has always been a number of books written by Europeans about their lives in black Africa: some history, memoirs, and fiction. For East Africa this genre is best illustrated by Isak Dineson's "recreated" memoir Out of Africa and Elspeth Huxley's biography of Lord Delamere's White Man's Country. Increasingly books have appeared which offer a more balanced view of things, like Doris Lessing's Alfred and Emily and Peter Godwin's When A Crocodile Eats the Sun. Another former Rhodesian/Zimbabwean, Alexandra Fuller, has written two delightful memoirs of her family and times in Zimbabwe, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and more recently Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. It is the latter book I recommend most highly; the first part of the book is the story of her mother who grew up in colonial Kenya, married there, and then went to Rhodesia to stay in a country run by white people. This couple was pretty much dysfunctional and pretty much scrappy. They have survived. I hesitate to say more, but I reiterate my recommendation, and read "Dogs" first even though it is second chronologically.

books by Abdulrazak Gurnah

So what about the lives of those coastal people? I have usually thought about the coast as being merely hot and different, but an interest in the history of the Swahili Coast and my 2005 visit to Kilwa has peaked my wish to understand that area more fully. In 2005 I found Gurnah's Desertion ("In 1899, an Englishman named Martin Pearce stumbles out of the desert into an East African coastal town and is rescued by Hassanali, a shopkeeper whose beautiful sister Rehana nurses Pearce back to health. Pearce and Rehana begin a passionate illicit love affair, which resonates fifty years later when the narrator's brother falls madly in love with Rehana's granddaughter. In the story of two forbidden love affairs and their effects on the lovers' families, Abdulrazak Gurnah brilliantly dramatizes the personal and political consequences of colonialism, the vicissitudes of love, and the power of fiction.") Then I read Memory of Departure which led to Paradise ("Born in East Africa, Yusuf has few qualms about the journey he is to make. It never occurs to him to ask why he is accompanying Uncle Aziz or why the trip has been organised so suddenly, and he does not think to ask when he will be returning. But the truth is that his 'uncle' is a rich and powerful merchant and Yusuf has been pawned to him to pay his father's debts. Paradise is a rich tapestry of myth, dreams and Biblical and Koranic tradition, the story of a young boy's coming of age against the backdrop of an Africa increasingly corrupted by colonialism and violence.") and By the Sea ("On a late November afternoon Saleh Omar arrives at Gatwick Airport from Zanzibar, a far away island in the Indian Ocean. With him he has a small bag in which there lies his most precious possession - a mahogany box containing incense. He used to own a furniture shop, have a house and be a husband and father. Now he is an asylum seeker from paradise; silence his only protection. Meanwhile Latif Mahmud, someone intimately connected with Saleh's past, lives quietly alone in his London flat. When Saleh and Latif meet in an English seaside town, a story is unravelled. It is a story of love and betrayal, of seduction and of possession, and of a people desperately trying to find stability amidst the maelstrom of their times.") (descriptions courtesy of So I come to praise Gurnah and suggest the you read Paradise and Desertion first.

September, 2011

1. Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

A memoir of the author's days up to his enrollment in Alliance High School as seen through the lens of his life. There is some nice Kenyan history here as well as insight into the connectedness of USA and Africa. There is even a bit of nostalgia. Some complexity and some subtlety. I liked this book very much although I have not found the same satisfaction from his fiction.

2. Dreams From My Father by Brack Obama

Yes, this is the President's story of his own life before entering politics. Written in 1996 and re-released in 2004. Told straight up and with the clarity and compassion that you might expect. Included is a section on his visit to Kenya. Ever wonder why he doesn't feel especially close to his father's homeland? The book is a good read and the memoir of choice for most reading Africans.

3. A Guide to the Bird of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

This book is one of fiction which tells the tale of a relationship between a Mr. Malik and a Ms. Rose Mbikwa in Nairobi. Who in the Asadi Bird Club can identify the most birds in one week? And then dance with the charming Rose at the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball? Charming.

4. We Won't Budge by Manthia Diawara

This 2003 memoir was inspired by the brutal death of Amadou Diallo in New York City in 1999. Diawara sees in Diallo's plight his own story and the stories of many immigrants from West Africa. His sense of outrage is forcefully told. The author emigrated early in his life, first to Paris and then to USA. He has earned several degrees and now is a professor at NYU. The title is a tribute to Salif Keita's anthemic protest song Nou Pas Bouger. The book contains scenes and activities and ruminations located in Washington, D.C., Bamako, and Paris. I knew that this Bill Jones recommendation wouldn't lead me wrong.

5. African Love Stories by Ama Aidoo, ed.

There are a few collections of African short stories in print, this one published by Ayebia Clarke and distributed by the trueblood company of Lynne Rienner. "Love Stories" turns out to a large umbrella, and you'll love most of the stories. I especially liked "Transition to Glory" by Chimamanda Adichie and "The rival" by Yaba Badoe. If you are looking for a personal collection of wonderful short stories in hard copy from all over Africa, please write me.

6. What's on my to-read list?
a. One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainana
b. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
c. The Sun By Night by Benjamin Kwakye
d. African Women Writing Resistance by Browdy de Hernanadez, et al
e. The Rock Alphabet by Henrietta Rose-Innes
f. Africa United by Steve Bloomfield
g. Harare North by Brian Chikwava
h. Trouble in Timbuktu by Cristina Kessler
i. Bury My Heart by Beverley Naidoo
j. Waiting by Goretti Kyomukendo
l. Infidel by Ayaan Ali

August, 2011

I cannot think of two more different books on Kenya than the two I just finished reading: The Bolter by Frances Osbourne and Airlift to America by Tom Shachtman. The first book is a 2008 biography of Idina Sackville who left Edwardian England in 1919 with her second husband for Kenya where she soon became everybody's bed partner. She died in 1955 and is buried near Mombasa. The author is the subject's great granddaughter and apparent apologist for a woman who left 5 husbands and 3 children. Give me strength...

...which is what several people had who began an effort to bring East African (largely Kenyan) students to the United States in 1959 (and running for 4 years) for their collegiate training. The heroes of this intriguing book are Tom Mboya, the African American Students Foundation/AASF, Bill Schienman, and Cora Weiss. Strong supporting roles are played by Harry Belafonte, JFK, Jackie Robinson, and Frank Montero. In the eyes of the author, Mboya deserves the lion share of credit. Curious to me was the total absence of reference to Karl Bigelow and TEA and the detailing of the role of the Phelps Stokes Educational Conference of 1960. This 2009 book also includes references to the 1960 presidential election as the chief event in the larger context of bringing African students to US universities. The two leading luminaries of the airlift are Wangari Maathai and Mahmood Mamdani. Some of the career of Barack Obama, Sr., is detailed.

I have both books and would be glad to send either and a TEAA T-shirt to any generous person for $50 postpaid.

June, 2010

It's Our Turn to Eat is a review by Benjamin Moser of the book "It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower" by Michela Wrong. This review is recommended by TEAA-er Kathleen Lyons. It appeared in Harper's on June 11, 2010 and is posted on the Powell's Books Review-a-Day webpage. The book itself was reviewed here by Brooks in October, 2009 (see below).

April, 2010

Unknown Soldier: Haunted House by Jonathan Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli and its informative website, I am indebted to a short NYT article which alerted me to this book which focuses on the ongoing war in northern Uganda, the government vs. LRA. We now have a hero in UG instead of political villains. Language and drawings are raw, a few "f" bombs, but if this situation isn't profane, I don't know what is. The sequel is titled Unknown Soldier: Easy Kill by the same pair plus Pat Masioni. This book has less cohesion than its predecessor. Therefore, I recommend that you turn first to the end of the book to "A Chronological History of the War Between the LRA and the UPDF." The book's first section is "Between Here and There" followed by "Easy Kill" I, "Easy Kill" II, "Easy Kill" III, "Easy Kill" IV, "Easy Kill" V, "The Long Way Home," and "The Way Home." Some of the language and drawings are raw, but that's the genre. Still who would have thought that this little, resistent bit of African history would end up in this mass culture vehicle? Ex Africa aliquid novi, baby.

Jan. 29 - Feb.17, 2010


Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) by Chimamanda Adichie. The author's second novel, set in Biafra, Nigeria, in the 1960s. A fine novel depicting the twins Olanna and Kainene and their lovers, Odenigbo and Richard, and their cooks, Ugwu and Harrison. I admired each at different times in the novel. Now there are some tough passages, but don't let that put you off reading the book; it is long, but don't let that put you off reading this book. The tranquil scenes take place in the sections labelled "The Early Sixties"; and the difficult scenes take place in the sections labelled "The Late Sixties." The book that never gets written but whose title suggests the trauma of Adichie's novel is "The World Was Silent When We Died." This sense of trauma is, however, redeemed by the wonderful character of "My good man."

The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov. Men named Richard Burton were not known "to go gentle into that good night." They raged. The Richard Burton of this novel is the nineteenth century chap who started life in the British Army in India, then took his assigment to the Muslim Sind so seriously that he became fluent in Arabic (and Urdu) that he faked his way into Mecca on an apparent hajj. His final incarnation was as African explorer trying to find the source of the Nile although he wasn't personally with Speke when Speke first saw Nyanza and presuming that it must be one source of the Nile dubbed it Victoria Nyanza. This novel by indirections finds directions out and attempts to portray Burton in ways that history cannot since Burton's religiously suffused wife decided to burn all his notebooks and papers.

The Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. This very readable book is a journey, actually a series of journeys. The journey of Deo, a young Burundian college medical student who escapes mayhem and comes to New York, the journey of 3 kind New Yorkers who help him, the journey of Deo back to Burundi and Rwanda to understand his past and his life, and the journey of Tracy Kidder to validate all of this humane activity. It is hard to say that this volume is the best account of this unaccountable time, but this book does help you feel what it must have felt like to escape violence and to confront survival in all of its modes. In that sense Strength is similar to What is the What, an accomplished American author trying to find the words which will actualize experiences for which no words are adequate. The book is divided into two sections, one comprehensible, "Flight," and one, Gusimbura, that is not (a term in the Kurundi language that reflects the unwillingness of victims to recall and, thereby, relive the violence and pain of their recent history. By virtue of this unwillingness, the people of Rwanda and Burundi create distance between themselves and the painful experiences they have endured). Further reading is suggested; both Cathy and David Newbury, TEAArs, are cited in the bibliography.


The Education of a British-Protected Child by Chinua Achebe. A recently published volume and a kind of summing up collection of essays which reflects both his passions and his perspectives. It is not an angry book, but one which leaves you resolved. The first chapter, the book's title, and the last, "Africa is People," are especially compelling.


The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie. This book is a collection of short stories and has a melancholy feel to it. All is not well in the two-culture world, and these stories document that situation very well. The best story in my view is the one that connects Adichie directly to Achebe and is called "The Headstrong Historian." There are many fine stories in this collection, and readers sensitive to Nigerian history and cross-cultural tensions will find them especially rewarding. It is not often that an author garners as much attention as Adichie has with her first 3 books. I look forward to seeing her in person. For now the best place to see her is


November 12, 2009

There is some good reading in the less serious side of books about the Bright Country. Two South African mystery novels which intrigued me were Salamander Cotton by Richard Kunzman (Kunzman has written two others) and A Beautiful Place to Die by Mala Nunn (fear and trembling in apartheid land, hard to put this book down). Robert Wilson writes mystery with a West African location. The Instruments of Darkness: "This is Africa, where everybody has mastered the art of waiting. Wilson's first African mystery/suspense novel, introduces Bruce Medway, a fixer, negotiator, and manager who lives on the coast of West Africa and does the odd service for his expatriate clients." The Big Killing: "In the second Bruce Medway book, the boozing big guy is broke, bored, and killing time in Ivory Coast, awaiting an errand from the millionaire who holds his marker." Wilson is pretty much a tough guy writer.

And the gem of this group, The Darling by Russell Banks which relates tales of Charles Taylor escaping from a Massachsueetts prison and wreacking havoc in Liberia: "The 'darling' of the story is Dawn Carrington, nee Hannah Musgrave, a political radical and member of the Weather Underground forced to flee America to avoid arrest. At the time of the novel, she is 59, living on her working farm in upstate New York with four younger women, recalling her life in Liberia and her recent return to that country to look for her sons. 'Mainly, we return to a place in order to learn why we left,'she says. For Hannah, the decision was harrowing. She abandoned her sons during a bloody civil war, after the death of her husband, Woodrow Sundiata, a black African Cabinet Minister in President Samuel Doe's government. Banks explores the corruption, greed, and violence, weaving the real story of the horrors of West Africa with the fictional narrative of Hannah and Woodrow."

October, 2009

1. It's Our Turn to Eat by Michaela Wrong. Non-fiction. A powerful book by a journalist well-seasoned in African affairs, this book is an indictment of Kenya's Mwai Kibaki and his Mount Kenya Mafia. It is also, although less so, an indictment of a passive citizenry which seems bent on accepting corruption. A coterie of outspoken citizens does exist but has been powerless to effect sufficient change to make, for instance, the education and health of the citizenry a priority. The book outlines Kenya's history and ethnic dimensions. When I encouraged fellow TEAAer and Kenya resident Mike Rainy to buy the book, he responded thus: "Too right Brooks, I imported two copies.  But M. Wrong really documents 2003-2006  and now in 2009 trust for top leaders is at an all time low for Kenyans at only 18% for the PM, 17% for the VP, 14% for Pres. Kibaki and only 11% for Hussein Ali, our Commissioner of Police.  71% of Kenyans are worse off than just a year ago. And although the US Embassy imported and gave away over 5000 copies of It's Our Turn to Eat, there are about 40 million Kenyans!  During Kibaki I we could still be shocked, now during Kibaki II, now referred to as Mabaki, we are mainly just tired and demoralized." Wrong names names including one of my former students.

2. Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan. Fiction. These are stories of children and teenagers in various parts of Africa, people in extreme situations. Akpan has a gift for dialogue and for setting conditions that are at once realistic and compromising However, he is brilliant at connecting the reader to what feel like genuine dilemmas that exist for far too many vulnerable people in Africa. The endings of the stories are not always successful from a literary point of view, but I came away repeatedly feeling that I had been given a realistic view of nasty conditions.

3. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Fiction.Verghese is a favorite author of mine, and I have special respect for The Tennis Partner. Cutting for Stone is his first novel, and the book's central character follows a life path similar to the author: born in Ethiopia of Indian parents, trains to be a doctor, and emigrates to the USA. In real life Verghese is an internist; the central character in the novel is a surgeon. The novel takes place at the end of Selassie's life and the perils of the Mengistu regime, but it concentrates on the lives of its characters apart from politics. Students of medicine will be interested to learn the phrase "Mayflower hospitals."

4. Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana. Fiction. Baingana is Ugandan, and I was hoping for a little more punch in these connected short stories than I got. There is a sense that the author was trying to touch all the bases in this collection: adolescent female reveries, schooling at Gayaza, dating black and white men, professional career, going to LA, going back to Entebbe.  "A Thank You Note" was the most powerful story for me; in letter form it is an appreciation of friendship even though both the writer and the recipient are dying of AIDS. Interestingly, the narrator returns to Uganda; Baingana has stayed at U Mass.

5. Vive Nelson Mandela.  DVD. At another point on the continent, is South Africa.A 95 minute history of Nelson Mandela. It is inspiring and decidedly encouraging. It is available on DVD at the site via another vendor for  $13.

6. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. Fiction. I have not read this book, but Tracy Kidder is a fine writer. A wonderfully written, inspiring account of one man's remarkable American journey. Deo arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. Having survived a civil war and genocide, he lands at JFK airport with two hundred dollars, no English and no contacts. He ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores. Then Deo begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school and a life devoted to healing.

7. Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin. Fiction. In the tradition of No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, this gloriously written tale--set in modern-day Rwanda--introduces one of the most engaging characters in recent fiction: Angel Tungaraza--mother, cake baker, keeper of secrets--a woman living on the edge of chaos, finding ways to transform lives, weave magic and create hope amid the madness swirling all around her.

8. Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through the World's Most Dangerous Country by Tim Butcher.Non-fiction. A compulsively readable account of a journey to the Congo vividly told by a daring and adventurous journalist. Ever since Stanley first charted its mighty river in the 1870s, the Congo has epitomized the dark and turbulent history of a continent. Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher was sent to cover Africa in 2000. Before long he became obsessed with the idea of recreating Stanley's original expedition -- despite warnings that his plan was suicidal. With a great website.

9. The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda by Andrew Rice. Non-fiction. A story of who killed whom in Amin-era Uganda with the suggestion that Museveni can be implicated in the current chaos of Ugandan politics. 10. The Meanings of Timbuktu by Shamil Jeppie and Souleymane Diagne. Non-fiction. This elegant book attends to the charge of the title by exploring scholarship associated with Arabic writings in West Africa. The content goes beyond literature. There are two chapters on Swahili culture in East Africa. This book is a gem.

11. Lamu: Kenya's Enchanted Island  by the Abungus, Carol Beckwith, Angela Fisher, David Coulson, Nigel Pavitt.  Non-fiction. The way it used to be and a little of what it is now. Elegant photos.

12. God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215, David L. Lewis, Norton, 2008. This book was by far my best reading on Ed's and my 2009 school-visiting trip and the story even has a connection to Africa, the route of Arab Islam's westward expansion. Along the way, North Africa provided Berber warriors who played a key military role as they and the Arabs marched and rode through the lands south of the Mediterranean before sailing the Gibraltar Strait to Spain in 711, there to gain and keep Islam's multi-century foothold in Europe and make possible the powerful and progressive Islamic role to which the book's title refers. If you are as unfamiliar as I was with the intellectually enlightened and religiously tolerant Islamic regime in Andalusian Spain - at a time when the rest of Europe was enduring the violence and ignorance of what we euphemistically call the Dark Ages - you may, as I did, take heart (in our own fraught decade) from this book's accounts of Moslem-Jewish-Christian collaboration in government (with Moslems as senior partner) and in the extension and transmission of ancient and contemporary scientific, mathematical and especially medical knowledge. History may be written by the winners, but the Andalusian Arabs had their victories, historians and scribes too, not to mention a sophisticated economy and huge library holdings, in dramatic contrast to their contemporaries across the Pyrenees. It was therefore possible and indeed came to pass that Arabs too recorded what happened, making it available to us in our own time. So if your high school, like mine, featured a Euro-centric syllabus of "world history" and you missed this stuff, here's an engaging read that equalizes the account.
Reviewed by Henry Hamburger


a. A list of vetted children's books with African themes is available at the following website:

b. People from East Africa will enjoy the sights of old Nairobi, taking them back over 60 years:

c. The Humphrey Winterton Collection of East African Photographs 1860-1960 can be found at

d. which gives  etymological dictionaries for several languages, one of which is Swahili.

e. Archaeologist/prehistorian Merrick Posnansky, director of the Uganda Museum and, later, head of the graduate program there in African Studies. He has recently penned  a memoir,  Africa and Archaeology: Empowering an Expatriate Life , a personal account of his lifelong love affair with Africa.

14. Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski - Reviewed by Henry Hamburger

You will not regret reading this book, even taking into account the time you could have spent doing something else, because, in Portia's phrase, you are twice blest, once in having been such a person as would up and go to live and work in a distant land, and then again, having gone, enriched by being there. And so, as you read this book, there will be three travelers, not only Herodotus and the renowned Polish foreign correspondent and author, but also your own earlier (and perhaps current) self. Writing in 2007 near the end of his life, Kapuscinski tells how in the 50s and 60s he came to know the world, cultures and people, and how his ancient Greek forerunner helped him from across the millennia. He will also fill you in on why Herodotus is famous. I am so awed by this book, so eager to convince you to read it, that I'm turning to one whose business it is to advertise books. The back cover of the paperback states this: "Revisiting his memories of traveling the globe with a copy of Herodotus's 'The Histories' in tow, Kapuscinski describes his awakening to the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of new environments, and how the words of the Greek historiographer helped shape his own view of an increasingly globalized world. Written with supreme eloquence and a constant eye to the global undercurrents that have shaped the last half century, 'Travels with Herodotus' is an exceptional chronicle of one man's journey across continents."

15. Blood River by Tim Butcher - Reviewed by Jonne Robinson

The book's subtitle, "Journey to Africa's Broken Heart," sets both the theme and tone of the volume which tells the story of Butcher's attempt to follow in the footsteps of Stanley, his predecessor as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, as he travelled from the origin of the Congo River to its outfall into the Atlantic. Nearing the end of his travels, Butcher attempts to draw together the various threads of his account, to analyze how things developed as they did: "How Stanley's trip turned into one of the greatest missed opportunities of modern history," a fact which has "enraged" him. He also looks at how decolonialization has brought not progress, but more the exact opposite because "one of the great fallacies about white rule in Africa was that when it ended, power was handed back to the people of Africa. Instead it was hijacked by elites who publicly claimed they were working in the interests of their people, but were in fact only driven by self-interest." It may be asked what place a book about a trip in the Congo has in a TEAA newsletter. I think that aside from the obvious interest of the book to anyone with an interest in Africa, there are other considerations. First, the downward trajectory Butcher traces in the Congo is mirrored in other parts of Africa. Secondly, the situation in the Congo reverberates throughout the area. For example, it has been reported that the situation in the Congo has been exacerbated by forces from Uganda impacting further West and thence on to Congo. I found this to be an interesting, exciting and significant book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the area and enhancing their understanding of what is going on now and how we got there, which, it seems to me, is a necessary prerequisite to doing anything about it.

16. The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest - Reviewed by Henry Hamburger

The Shackled Continent takes aim at political oppression, cronyism and the imposition of misguided economic policy as the principal culprits slowing or reversing the growth of (sub-Saharan) African economies. It thereby downrates - though it does not ignore - the terms of trade in the global economy and the historical role of colonial machinations. I found this book annoying yet worth reading. On the positive side, the author has paid his journalistic dues, creatively pursuing interviews with a wide range of economic actors in a wide range of African economies, sometimes putting himself at some risk to obtain information and punchy quotes. On the other hand, as he notes in the 2005 epilogue to the paperback edition, the book has offended a lot of people, one reviewer calling it 'arrogant, blinkered, self-righteous [and] casually offensive.' What is particularly casual, in my view, is his unquestioning and unanalyzed adoption of selected ideas from economics. This is a book about economies, written by an author for The Economist, but no claim is made for training, scholarship or research credentials in economics. At the risk of cuteness, I would call him an 'economist' in the sense of practicing an ideology of 'economism,' a faith in the kind of unfettered labor markets that allow sweatshops and the mindless deregulation that has allowed the current debacle in the American banking and housing sectors. Still, those of us who are trying to figure out what TEAA can most usefully do to assist secondary education in East Africa would do well to contemplate our role in the context of the on-the-ground anecdotes in this book.

17. Three Books on Africa - Reviewed by Brooks Goddard

Commenting on three books about southern Sudan, Brooks wrote, "I found ACTS OF FAITH the least readable of the 3, so I think you will like the other two - if you want to learn more about the southern Sudan. I would read WHAT IS THE WHAT first because it gives a fictionalized account of what the lost boys had to endure; it is a what-was-it-like-on-the-ground type of book. It opens with a robbery and a tying-up which is what we in lit studies call a 'conceit,' a kind of metaphor that is supposed to carry allegorical weight. EMMA'S WAR [nonfiction] is more of a personal story, and it is powerfully told. Emma was a Brit who fell in love with a southern 'rebel' and went a bit native. Specifically yes, both of those books are about Africa. You might also consider Ngugi's latest book, WIZARD OF THE CROW, especially in light of current Kenya political unrest. I have not read this book (it is 700+ pages long).

18. I [Brooks] bring you news of 3 books that may intrigue you.

*** a. One, Unknown Soldier and its informative website I am indebted to a short NYT article which alerted me to this book which focuses on the ongoing war in northern Uganda, the government vs. LRA. Who knew that this topic would interest the comic book world, but it has. I confess to not having read it, but we now have a hero in UG instead of political villains.

*** b. Two, Forgotten Africa: An Introduction to its Archeology written in 2004 by expert Graham Connah. It is addressed to us laity in the topic and has 29 shortshort chapters each with reading recommendations for extended study. Great maps and illustrations. Want more?ŃConnah's second edition of African Civilizations: An Archeological Perspective (2001).

*** c. Three, a beauty of a book although admittedly esoteric, The Meanings of Timbuktu by Shamil Jeppie and Souleymane Bachir Diagne. I am half way through this book and have been admittedly motivated by my own visit to Timbuktu in 2007. But who knew that I'd find a clear and concise history of West Africa in the chapter on paper in the Sudan (did you know that we owe Buddhist monks for the dissemination of the glories of paper?).

While these books represent the joys of retirement, the first two titles are easily accessed by current teachers.

And do read the article: