To learn more about Kenyan culture or find books to read before going to Kenya, this reading list should help.
Find books about Kenya written by Kenyans you know and love. They even caused a stir when they came out. Imagine going to jail and not being charged because of the way your story made people feel.
Then, look at Kenyan literature from popular bloggers and writers, short and noir stories, must-read Kenyan novels that show how politics and war work, and unique nonfiction books about Kenya, including a beautiful picture book.
Our Kenya book list is sure to have something for everyone. So, what books about Kenya should you read? Let’s start now.
Must-Read Books About Kenya
FICTION BOOKS ABOUT KENYA
Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Ngg wa Thiong’o, who wrote Petals of Blood, was imprisoned by the Kenyan government without charge when the book came out in 1977.
Three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery were killed in a fire. This is the beginning of the story, which talks about how they were killed. Following Munira, Karega, Wanja, and Abdullah, we see that they are all suspects in the apparent deaths of the four people we saw in the beginning of the story: They move from the city to Ilmorog, which is a small village in the middle of nowhere.
This book by Ngg wa Thiong’o shows how each character adapts to Kenya’s transition from colonial rule to independence. It also shows the effects of rapid westernization and how apathy comes when you think your leaders will fail you again and again.
There are many people in Kenya who love Ngg wa Thiong’o. Petals of Blood is one of the best-known Kenyan novels for a good reason! Make sure you get Petals of Blood by Ngg wa Thiong’o, which is a good book.
Thursdays by Jackson Biko
In order to read modern Kenyan literature about the youth of today and Kenyan culture, you should read Jackson Biko, which is written in English. He is a well-known Kenyan blogger and one of the most well-known Kenyan writers of the modern era, Biko.
His writing in Thursdays is easy to read, like talking to a friend, like he is. You can’t help but get drawn into the story. It’s about a band called the Vina Wira, which is based in Kenya. If the band wants to try to get more people to listen to their music, they play outside a recording company on Thursday.
In this book, there’s a lot more going on than just the band. When it comes to Thursdays, there is a lot of talk about mental health and how it fits into modern Kenyan culture. Buy a copy of Thursdays by Jackson Biko, and then read it.
The Havoc of Choice by Wanjiru Koinange
Wanjiru Koinange’s book is about the Kenyan election of 2007, which caused so much civil unrest that hundreds of people died and thousands more were forced to flee their homes. In fact, it is one of the first books about Kenya to talk about this in great detail.
He decides to run for office with the help of Kavata’s father, who is a corrupt politician. Kavata plans to leave her home before it’s too late when the evils of political sleight of hand start to spread.
It’s set in the weeks before, during, and after the election, and it follows Kavata, her children, and their extended family. It looks at the corruption that was a big problem in Kenya at the time.
The Kenyan novel looks at how the country might heal and rebuild in the future. Buy a copy of Wanjiru Koinange’s book, The Havoc of Choice, and read it.
The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji
This piece of Kenyan literature won an award. Most of the story is told in flashbacks. In Canada, Vikram Lall, now an adult, thinks about his life.
Vik, as we get to know him, talks about how he came of age in Kenya in the early 1950s, when the country was still trying to become independent. As the 1960s turned into the 1970s and 1980s, the country went from hope to corruption.
Through it all, Vik and his sister Deepa, the grandchildren of an Indian rail worker, have a hard time finding and understanding where they fit into all of this. They have to figure out how to fit in with Kenyans and the British Empire. The book talks about the strains on their family, the violence of the Mau Mau radicals, and the dangers of getting caught up in political corruption in great detail.
The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is one of the best historical novels about Kenya and the Mau Mau Uprisings and how they changed the country and the people who lived there. Shop for M.G. Vassanji’s book, The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. It’s about Vikram Lall.
If you want to read more, sign up for the Uncorked Reading Challenge today.
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The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
No, I didn’t know that. Before I read The Dragonfly Sea, I didn’t know what it was about.
She and her mother live in Kenya on the island of Pate. When Muhidin, a sailor and unlikely father figure, shows up, things start to happen that will change Ayaana’s life for good.
In fact, since the age of three, Ayaana has always been attracted to the sea. As an adult, she will be able to sail to the Far East. Ayaana is going to look for her ancestors and learn new things before she comes back home either triumphant or broken. Emotion: She doesn’t know what kind of emotion it will be. She only knows that she has to go somewhere.
The Dragonfly Sea is a sweet coming-of-age story that anyone who likes books set on islands will enjoy. If you like Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s book The Dragonfly Sea, you should buy a copy.
City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson
If you’re looking for YA books about Kenya, this is a great one – even if you don’t usually like YA.
City of Saints and Thieves is a book about Tina, a Congolese refugee who lives in Sangui City, a fictional city in Kenya. It’s a mix of a murder mystery and a book about revenge. A few days after they arrive in Sangui City, Tina’s mom gets hired to be a maid for a wealthy mining family. When Tina’s mother is killed, she wants to find out who did it.
Tina joins a local gang as a thief in order to stay alive, and she makes friends with other people in the same situation. vengeance is always on her mind though.
There are two cities in the book: Kenya and the Congo. City of Saints & Thieves moves back and forth between the two. The book shows glimpses of Tina’s life during the Congolese Civil War, and it also talks about some Congolese and Kenyan politics.
Besides, the country, culture, and people come to life in this book. This makes it one of the best Kenyan books out there. Many books about Kenya written by foreigners can make Kenyans feel flat or one-dimensional.
But Anderson, who has lived and worked with refugees in Kenya for many years, doesn’t fall into this trap. Make sure you get City of Saints and Thieves, a book by Natalie C. Anderson that you can read.
Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges by Ciku Kimeria
Having to go to your own funeral is a weird thing to have to deal with.
Ciku Kimeria’s first book, Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges, is a powerful debut. It’s told through short stories from different points of view.
We follow Wambui, Njogu, and Nyambura (though theirs are not the only POVs) as their lives become intertwined. This book is about a group of people who live in the same village in Kenya.
Wambui and Njogu met by accident. Wambui was spoiled and rich. He was her cab driver on a rainy afternoon. When he charmed her, she didn’t know what to do.
When she married Njogu, she didn’t think he would cheat on her with another woman.
In Kenya, Nyambura moved to study and make money. Her job as a waitress in a big city has left her feeling bad about herself.
After Wambui finds out about the affair, she fakes her own death and blames Nyambura for it.
If you’re looking for books about Kenya that show how modern Kenyans live and show how Kenyan culture works, Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges is a good choice. It has footnotes for Kenyan phrases and events, which makes it even better.
As of now, Kimeria has only written two books. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
More books with the color orange in the title should be read. Make sure you get a copy of Ciku Kimeria’s book, Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges.
Land Without Thunder and Other Stories by Grace Ogot
Grace Ogot’s contemporaries, Ngg wa Thiong’o and China Achebe, are given a lot of love in these books about Nigeria. You can read their works in these great books.
There isn’t a lot of attention paid to Ogot outside of Africa, which is why he isn’t as well-known.
Land Without Thunder is her first collection of short stories. Many of them are fables about Kenyan culture, and they show how people live there. The stories show how difficult life was for many Kenyans at the time the book was written in 1968.
Each story shows women who have to think about their duty, being a good wife, being a woman, and being free.
In one story, a woman who has given birth to twins gives up one of them in an act of desperation. She has to deal with the consequences. Another mother, on the other hand, has to protect her child from a persistent snake. Buy Grace Ogot’s Land Without Thunder and Other Stories.
Coming to Birth by Marjorie by Oludhe Macgoye
When Paulina is 16, she moves to Kenya to live with her husband, Martin, and they start a new life together. This is a short but powerful book. As written, Martin is the best person in the world. In reality, he wants far more control over Paulina’s life than she’s willing to give him.
In the background of the book, Kenya is having problems of her own that start to mirror their marriage. During a violent uprising for Kenya’s independence, Paulina also starts to find out about her own independence as well.
This is one of the best Kenyan books. It shows a different side of Kenyan life. In the same way that Grace Ogot is often forgotten outside of Kenya, Marjorie by Oludhe Macgoye isn’t as well known.
She wrote a lot and was sometimes called “the mother of Kenyan literature.” If you think about it, this is a weird name. She was actually a white Englishwoman who married a Kenyan Luo man and became a part of Kenyan culture. Make sure you get a copy of Coming to Birth by Marjorie by Oludhe Macgoye.
The Cockroach Dance by Meja Mwangi
Meja Mwangi is one of the most well-known Kenyan authors in the world, and though her book The Cockroach Dance is set in an unknown place, it seems like it’s set in Nairobi in all but name.
In this story, we follow Dusman Gonzaga, a man who lives at Dacca House. People live in Dacca House, which is a dirty apartment block that is full of cockroaches and poverty.
His landlord, Tumbo Kubwa, is cruel and heartless. He owns the whole building and charges too much rent for the tenants to pay.
Kubwa’s rent is too high for Dusman, so he tries to get other people living in the apartment block to stop paying him. His neighbors are a mix of conmen, witch doctors, garbage men, and people who sell things.
Some are wise, some are crazy, but all of them give in to the pressure and leave Dusman alone to stand up for himself. He has to come up with a plan so clever no one will be able to get out of it.
A Kenyan novel called “The Cockroach Dance” is one of the best. It’s about the struggles of the working class after Kenya became an independent country. Buy a copy of Meja Mwangi’s book, The Cockroach Dance, to read.