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Here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. She knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless.

In 2007, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie became the first African writer to win the Orange Prize for Fiction with Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel set amid the bloody violence of the Biafran war in her native Nigeria. Born in 1977, Adichie grew up on the University of Nigeria’s Nsukka campus, where her father was a professor. She initially read medicine before moving to the US where she studied creative writing. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), won the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Adichie lives in Maryland, USA and Lagos, Nigeria.

What book changed your life?

  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

    Book Cover: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
    (literature and fiction)

    "Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart when I was nine years old. I didn’t realise at the time but I know now it made me understand that I didn’t have to write about white people."

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie names her favourite books of the year

  1. Everything Good Will Come By Sefi Alta

    Book Cover: Everything Good Will Come By Sefi Alta
    (literature and fiction, girl fiction)

    "Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Alta is full of irreverence and intelligence."

  2. Saturday By Ian Mcewan

    Book Cover: Saturday By Ian Mcewan
    (literature and fiction)

    "There is a humane quality about Saturday (Cape) that I, irony-weary, loved. Ian McEwan so masterfully handles the elements I most enjoy about fiction: I cared for his characters. "

  3. Beasts Of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

    Book Cover: Beasts Of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
    (literature and fiction)

    "And I enjoyed Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation. He has invented his own language - part Nigerian pidgin, part Iwealaese - that propels and liberates the story."

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The best thing I've read all year

  1. A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

    Book Cover: A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
    (business books, children books, IT books, food and cooking, health, history, literature and fiction, mystery and thrillers, nonfiction, parenting, religion and spirituality, romance, science, teens)

    "A Golden Age, Tahmima Anam's graceful novel about a family affected by the Bangladeshi war of independence."

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Hot reads
Her recommendations for the holidays

  1. James Baldwin: Early Novels And Stories by James Baldwin

    Book Cover: James Baldwin: Early Novels And Stories by James Baldwin
    (literature and fiction, classics)

    "James Baldwin's ability to write stories that succeed both as social commentary and as art has always impressed me. I will reread Early Novels and Stories while finishing up my second novel this summer."

  2. The Street: A Novel By Ann Petry

    Book Cover: The Street: A Novel By Ann Petry
    (classics, literature and fiction, nonfiction)

    "Ann Petry's The Street (Houghton Mifflin) and Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Petals of Blood (Penguin Classics) are two novels I have long meant to get and hope to this summer. And I will finally read, in its entirety, Giovanni Verga's beautiful novel The House by the Medlar Tree (Dedalus Books), which I have read in bits over the past weeks."

  3. Petals Of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

    Book Cover: Petals Of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong
    (literature and fiction)

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I finally read something I love

  1. Walking Through Fire by Nawal El Saadawi

    Book Cover: Walking Through Fire by Nawal El Saadawi
    (history, nonfiction)

    "I finally read something I love,” Adichie writes in an email in between transcontinental flights. “The writing in Saadawi’s memoir Walking Through Fire is beautifully lucid and clear (so much so that I wished I could read the original Arabic) with occasional flourishes, much like the story itself. We follow Saadawi’s recollections from exile back to her life in Egypt: her family, her medical school education, her writing, her activism, the men she loves. Dreams sometimes mingle with reality in Saadawi"

The Great Escape

  1. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac

    Book Cover: Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
    (literature and fiction, classics)

    "When I was about 17, I travelled to Lagos from Nsukka, the sleepy university town where I grew up. Lagos had always intimidated and repelled and fascinated me. My cousin, who lived there, often spoke about the city's fiercely fashionable and money-worshipping socialites: women who would starve just so that they could buy the latest expensive lace; women who married wealthy men but were cash poor and so colluded with their tailors and delivery people to give inflated bills to their husbands. I was reading Balzac's Le Père Goriot on the bus to Lagos. I got to the passage about 19th-century Parisian society women doing exactly these same things, and I remember reading that passage over and over. It was a marvellous moment for me, one of those in which literature teaches you about universal humanity: Lagos society women were just like Parisian society women. I still feel ambivalent about Lagos, but I am no longer intimidated by it and I owe that (mostly) to Balzac's wonderful novel about class in 19th-century Paris."

  2. Unburnable By Marie-elena John

    Book Cover: Unburnable By Marie-elena John
    (literature and fiction)

    "More recently, I read Marie-Elena John's novel Unburnable on the plane from New York to Copenhagen. I laughed aloud so often reading this wondrously intelligent book about Dominica and the United States and Africa, about gender, class and race, about love and sexuality, that the bespectacled man sitting next to me put his Wall Street Journal down and leaned over to see what the title was. He asked what it was about. I could have told him how it dealt honestly with issues without ever forgetting to keep character and soul as its centre, but instead I told him a tiny anecdote from the book about black women and thongs. And I much enjoyed his blush."

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Her favourite seasonal reads

  1. Seeing The World In Black & White By Linus T. Ogbuji

    Book Cover: Seeing The World In Black & White By Linus T. Ogbuji

    "Last Christmas I was in my ancestral hometown, Abba in Nigeria, and over two dry harmattan evenings I sat out on the veranda and read Linus Ogbuji's memoir Seeing the World in Black and White, which charts his early idyllic years in Nigeria, university education in Egypt and emigration to the US. It was funny, honest and unaffected. I loved it."

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Books I plan to give away as presents this year are Biyi Bandele's Burma Boy, a humorous novel about Africans who fought for the British in the second world war, and Caille Millner's The Golden Road: Notes On My Gentrification, a lovely memoir about the complications of race in America.
  1. Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele-Thomas

    Book Cover: Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele-Thomas
    (literature and fiction)

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I enjoyed The Professor’s Daughter...

  1. The Professor's Daughter by Emmanuel Guibert

    Book Cover: The Professor
    (children books, literature and fiction, mystery and thrillers, fantasy)

    "I enjoyed The Professor’s Daughter, Emily Raboteau’s first novel. I much admired the prose, the fierce intelligence, the way she looks race straight in the eye and yet creates characters that are all fully human; not at all illustrative puppets."

Why should you listen to her?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka where she attended primary and secondary schools and briefly studied Medicine and Pharmacy. She then moved to the United States to attend college, graduating summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State with a major in Communication and a minor in Political Science. She holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a Masters degree in African Studies from Yale.

Purple Hibiscus won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was also short-listed for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and long-listed for the Booker Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Granta, Prospect, and The Iowa Review among other literary journals, and she received an O. Henry Prize in 2003. She was a 2005-2006 Hodder Fellow at Princeton, where she taught Introductory Fiction. She divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.


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