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Influential Musings: Twelve Books That Have Shaped My Worldview

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Which Books have Influenced Your view of the World?

“Books and all forms of writing are a terror to those who wish to suppress the truth.” Wole Soyinka

The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. William Butler Yeats

Influential Books: Stacks of Things Fall Apart by C. Achebe

Living in a world filled with gadgets to keep our minds and eyes busy, it is quite easy to relegate books to the back burner. We can buy a Kindle, iPad, iPod, PS3, portable videos or other contraption to make our learning or entertainment fast and paperless. Yet, I am still drawn to the world of books because I simply love the feel of a book; hard or soft cover; with or without a jacket. To loose oneself in a good book is to feel time stop and all fears and worries slip away; albeit temporarily.

Back in March, New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Ross Douthat wrote a piece, “The Influential Books Game” – about ten (10) books that had shaped his writing or thinking over the years. The idea was not to select your top best or favorite books but instead to choose books that resonated in your gut/memory and addressed the theme: “10 books which have influenced your view of the world.”

Tellingly, I selected several books that held my interest during my salad days and then added a few more that struck a chord because of either the unusual nature of the story or simply because of the sheer power of the message the author tried to covey. I enjoyed the exercise thoroughly and posted, on the NYTimes comments section, my list of 11 books that included the Bible. Since then, I have added one more book to my original list and have decided to share my list with you; the twelve books that shaped and shifted my worldview.

“Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Aside from the Holy Bible, which is a magnificent book with great teachings and stories, the rest of my books are from my African heritage. Books like “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, shaped my earliest views of human behavior. Others like “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are fairly recent. I deliberately chose the twelve books below because my memory is alive with pictures of hot, lazy days sitting on a balcony somewhere in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Enugu reading. Some of the books I read or re-read in London, Bexhill and New York but probably not in Clacton, I was too young to read in Clacton-on-Sea.

Each book opened a door into a captivating world; at times familiar and at times strange. Yet, even in those locations that remained unfamiliar, the emotions were palpable; love, loss, happiness, hate, bravery, betrayal, resilience, resistance and more…
Each book listed below explores themes that are universal and timeless. As always, your feedback and insights are appreciated. Enjoy!

“Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape. They had broken into tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking: ‘Why did he do it?'”
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This is a powerful tale about bravado and betrayal in Umuofia and of a strong man, Okonkwo, whose life is controlled by two debilitating emotions; anger and fear. His treatment of the young sacrificial boy, Ikemefuna, remains one of the most disturbing stories of fate and betrayal.

“In England, Adah couldn’t go to her neighbor and babble out troubles as she would have done in Lagos, she had learned not to talk about her unhappiness to those with whom she worked, for this was a society where nobody was interested in the problems of others … You don’t have the old woman next door who, on hearing an argument going on between a wife and husband, would come in to slap the husband, telling him off and all that, knowing that her words would be respected because she was old and experienced.”
Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

Semi-autobiography of the author’s dark days in London, struggling to salvage her life as a young black woman alone with her children in a not so welcoming world. The main character, Adah, is brilliant but stuck straddling two worlds; the African one she left behind in Nigeria and the European one she tries to embrace in England. As her marriage disintegrates, she tries to make sense of her place, her marriage, her ethnicity and her destiny.

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbroke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa. About you there is grass and bracken and you may hear the forlorn crying of the titihoya – one of the birds of the veld.”
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

This is a great story about a priest, Stephen Kumalo, his son, the tragedy of apartheid era South Africa, and the belief that dreams of peace and unity can prevail over human oppression.

“Why then did women worship her…? Uhamiri was a symbol of hope for all women so that her devotees such as Efuru can taste of her kind of freedom and happiness with or without children. Uhamiri gave Efuru her beauty, her long hair and her riches. She was happy. She was wealthy. She was beautiful. She gave women beauty and wealth but she had no child.”
Efuru by Flora Nwapa

Efuru is the story of a very courageous and successful businesswoman who marries a lout, Adizua, and watches her life and dreams fall apart after the loss of her father, her only child and her husband. Even the water goddess, Uhamiri, who gives Efuru many gifts, cannot bring her child back.

“He had clothed himself with a religion decorated and smeared with everything white. He renounced his past and cut himself away from those life-giving traditions of the tribe. And because he had nothing to rest upon, something rich and firm on which to stand and grow, he had to cling with his hands to whatever the missionaries taught him…”
“His house had a strong Christian foundation and he wanted his daughters to wax strong in faith and the ways of God. Would this not prove to all what a Christian home should be like?”

The River Between by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

The protagonist is a young boy, Waiyaki, who must find the courage to align himself with the missionaries and live out his father’s dream of him as savior to the people. As the Christian Missionaries try to bring religion and education to the region and end the practice of Female Circumcision, two local Kikuyu communities are caught in the middle of the fray and must find a way between the river. Female genital mutilation or circumcision is a dastardly practice that continues to thrive on the African continent even though many women in villages far and wide have come to understand that the practice is dangerous and unnecessary. The River Between explores this subject and more with all the traditional complexities and the stark and haunting ugliness of unpleasant interactions.

“They had lost their faces, their names, their tomorrows…”
Reine Pokou by Veronique Tadjo

Winner of the 2005 Grand Prize in Literature of Black Africa, Reine Pokou by Veronique Tadjo is a tale of Queen Abraha Pokou’s ultimate sacrifice, her son, to save her beloved Baoule people. Tadjo retells the story as she examines many themes that shape the human experience particularly relationships, the African ethnic wars, corruption and oppression that persists in neo-colonial Africa; particularly the loss of place, the abject poverty and disintegrating infrastructures that persist.

“The Tropicana to her was a daily drug, a potent, habit forming brew… She (Jagua Nana), She knew that, seen under the dim lights of her favorite night spot, the Tropicana–and from a distance–her face, looked beautiful.”
Jagua Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi

Jagua Nana is the story of a brave, bold woman; a prostitute who dreams of finding true love and the comfort of a middle class home and respectability in the fast paced city of Lagos. With a heart that is alternately harsh and soft, Jagua searches for the elusive lover who will accept her as a liberated woman and lover in post-colonial Nigeria. A beautiful, evocative story that examines the roles and responsibilities of African women and their impact in society…

“Quietly, unobtrusively and extremely fitfully, something in my mind began to assert itself, to question things and refuse to be brainwashed, bringing me to this time when I can set down this story. It was a long and painful process for me, that process of expansion.”
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Another semi-autobiographical tale of two cousins, Tambu and Nyasha, from different socioeconomic worlds; one traveled and well off and the other home grown and rather provincial. They struggle to meet each other somewhere in the middle of their differences during a stint away in boarding school.
This was a time of tense colonial change and political shifts on the continent. People felt it in their bones and struggled to transform the status quo and transcend their colonial legacy; sometimes with disastrous results. The story encapsulates the lives of their mothers, Maiguru and Lucia, as they create a complex web of hurts and miscommunications; ultimately, learning life lessons from each other.

“Yet nothing should be more striking for someone without preconceptions than the extraordinary diversity of Africa’s people and its cultures. I still vividly recall the overwhelming sense of difference that I experienced when I first traveled out of western to southern Africa. Driving through the semiarid countryside of Botswana into her capital Gaborone, a day away by plane from the tropical vegetation of Asante, no landscape could have seemed more alien.”
In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture by Anthony Appiah

Appiah uses this collection of essays to address the cultural assumptions, generalized preconceptions and racial stereotypes many have about the African continent and her people. By carefully reviewing both the history and colonial past of Africa/Africans, Appiah sees that western perceptions, its social-cultural constructions and definitions of race and culture have had an enormous impact on Africa, Africans and her Identity.

“All the men I did get to know, every single man of them, has filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on his face. But because I am a woman, I have never had the courage to lift my hand. And because I am a prostitute, I hid my fear under layers of make-up.” – Firdaus
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal shares an explosive, brutal story of the mistreatment of not only Firdaus, a local prostitute, but also of many women in the community. The book speaks out against the prevailing misogynistic attitudes men have towards women and the growing rage these attitudes create in women. It is a study on the oppression of women globally. As the protagonist Firdaus suggests, women need to be supportive of each other. For even women who look down on prostitutes are not exempt from the title of whore; sooner or later their sexual favors are exchanged for comfort, attention and protection.

“Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant and with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.”
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book shares the trials and tribulations an Ibo family endures and eventually overcomes. 15 year old Kambili Achike lives a privileged though abusive middle class life in a household controlled by her father – Papa Achike. Papa, aka Omelora, is a religious fanatic who rules his home with an iron fist and routinely and viciously beats up his wife, his daughter and his son, Jaja. As the family comes to terms with their situation, the greater challenge becomes maintaining a semblance of order amidst chaos and shame.

“And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine.” Isaiah 29:18, 24
The Holy Bible, Word of God: Numerous authors

The Holy Bible is the most famous religious text central to Christianity and Judaism and divided into two main testaments; The Old and the New Testament. The New Testament centers on the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles whilst the Old Testament centers on the prophets, the wise kings and other important books. The Bible is an alive text of blessings, teachings and prayers that serves as a foundation for an ethical, every day lifestyle.

Yes, 11 authors from the African Continent and the Bible make 12 … What are your worldview shifting books? It could be 1 or more; remind me. Thank you for staying a while and reminiscing or sharing your memories of reading. I could have added more but these should suffice for now. I hope you enjoy this great exercise as much as I did!
Stop by later for more updates on all the books and more…

Stacks of Books ~ via Wikipedia
Amazon Books ~ via Amazon

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank

44 Comments leave one →
  1. 12/04/2010 8:29 am

    I haven’t read any of those books. At school if you were in Honors Global Studies I, you had to read Things Fall Apart, and according to a few of the people who were in that class (I wasn’t one of them, sadly, although regular Global was the best class I’ve taken at that school so far), it was hard to get through. I didn’t know at the time that it was about Nigeria, but I still thought that the book didn’t seem all that bad.

    I tried to read it earlier this year but then I got sidetracked. Hopefully one day I’ll get around to getting through.

    • 12/04/2010 12:46 pm

      Thank you Alley and Bree for your comments.
      Things Fall Apart is a fascinating yet difficult read; particularly for anyone who has no clue about cultural differences and the things that shape who we are as unique members of the global village.
      For the teen set, I would recommend that the instructor be both skilled about Igbo culture and unbiased about things we-dont-quite-understand.
      In the event that the instructor has no inkling whatsoever about the subtle nuances and cultural brushstrokes shared in the text, I would suggest that they invite/avail themselves of a guest with said cultural background to shed some light and bring the text to life. When people teach what they don’t know, it shows…
      Thanks again for your insights and I encourage you to read others on the list!
      E 🙂

  2. Bree permalink
    12/04/2010 12:31 pm

    Thank you for this list of books from African authors. I read a few of them in college and could read more. What I love about these authors is both their unique writing styles and their ability to pull you into such fascinating and complex cultural worlds with issues that are universal.
    Buchi’s books are great and she reminds so much of Maya Angelou.
    Keep it going! 🙂

    • 20/12/2010 12:43 pm

      Yes, it would be great if they could collaborate on a project; Maya and Buchi… TY for the feedback. 🙂

  3. goz permalink
    13/04/2010 7:39 am

    In addition to the Bible and a good number of the above listed, I also loved reading the English classics, particularly Charles Dickens’ “A tale of two cities”(about the french
    revolution) and “Oliver Twist”(I actually acted as one of the workhouse boys in a primary school dramatisation.)
    I was quite taken with the francophone writers as well, like Mariama Ba in “Une si longue lettre”- a deeply moving story about polygamy, written in epistolary style..Sembene Ousmane (“Le mandat”) and Abdoulaye Sadji (“Maimouna”) were also favourites.. Reading is such a delightful necessity.

    • 20/04/2010 2:13 pm

      So true Goz,
      Reading has been a delightful necessity for me too and thanks for reminding me of other wonderful reads.
      Thanks for the support always!

  4. Bree permalink
    14/04/2010 12:27 am

    I read Mariama Ba and loved it. Should look at it again.
    Thank you.

    • 20/12/2010 12:44 pm

      Ba is one of my favorite Francophone authors… 🙂

  5. 14/04/2010 7:07 am

    I really like your list and I’m going to definitely check out those that I haven’t read. I LOVE knowing about new books. Your blog is wonderful 🙂

    • 20/04/2010 2:16 pm

      Thank you for visiting Dori as I truly enjoyed my visit to your equally wonderful blog!
      I love books so stop by anytime and share a book or two.
      I will do same. Thanks again! 😉

  6. Cassie permalink
    14/04/2010 10:09 am

    Wow! This is a new set of good books to read. African writers are new to me so I will check them out. Since you have Buchi and Chinua first, I will read those two. I like the quotes from all of them but especially the one from “Cry, The Beloved Country.”

    • 20/04/2010 2:17 pm

      Thanks for the constant support!
      I grew up on books and they continue to feed my creative spirit. Merci! 😉

  7. 16/04/2010 2:55 am

    I was just about to say that I hadn’t read any of them but then I got to the Bible and I am proud to say that I do read that book! Very special! You put a lot of thought into this post. I am going to add 2 of your books to my library check out list.

    • 20/04/2010 2:20 pm

      Thank you Kaishon,
      I love the Bible and have many memories of reading different stories and imagining the lives and times of the testaments.
      Love your blog and will visit again! 😉

  8. 16/04/2010 7:29 am

    I’ve only read two of the books on your list. The Bible I look in it once in a while, but I haven’t read the whole Bible.I have it next to my bed.

    Then Butchi Emecheta’s “Second Class Citizen”, that’s the book I’ve read. At that time I became a fan of her and I’ve read 7 other books written by Buchi Emecheta.

    A third book on your list I do own, but I haven’t read it yet. I bought it once, because I heard it was on Oprah’s bookclub list of books. That is “Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

    But thank you for the information about all these books and the African Authors I never heard from.

    Maybe I’ll read some of them in the future.
    Nice and very informative post again Elizabeth.

    • 20/04/2010 2:22 pm

      Thanks again Deana, my guest blogger and dear friend…
      Those two books are dear to me because the stories are incredibly powerful and memorable.
      I must read them again too. 🙂
      Merci for the support.

  9. 18/04/2010 12:25 pm

    Thanks for the list of books. Always good to have recommendations.
    Happy SITS Saturday a little late!

    • 20/04/2010 3:53 pm

      Thank you Carol for your visit and Happy SITS Day too! I will visit your blog again as I love the camaraderie we all enjoy from our supportive visits.
      Cheers, 😉

  10. 18/04/2010 6:42 pm

    Thank you all for your comments and for taking the time to visit and share your views. Blogging can be a truly lonely endeavor in such a public space – so every visitor is much appreciated.
    Have a blessed week ahead! 🙂

  11. Leon Pesavento permalink
    25/04/2010 12:17 pm

    Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!

  12. 11/05/2010 3:15 am

    I just book marked your blog on Digg and StumbleUpon. I enjoy reading your commentaries.

  13. Vemma permalink
    16/05/2010 5:51 am

    You certainly have some agreeable opinions and views. Your blog provides a fresh look at the subject.

  14. Cerita Motivasi permalink
    23/05/2010 11:55 pm


  15. 16/11/2010 1:56 am

    I love books. I like this idea of books that shaped our lives rather than just books we like.

    My daughter read Things Fall Apart in high school, so it’s kicking around my house. That will be my next book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • 16/11/2010 2:13 am

      Me too! It was a New York Times exercise and they got tons of responses/reactions…
      Thank you for stopping by.
      Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  16. 16/11/2010 2:09 am

    I am copying this list! I read Things Fall Apart once a year. A few years ago I read Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana and vowed to read more African authors. Thanks for the recommendations!
    …and HAPPY SITS DAY!

    • 16/11/2010 2:15 am

      It is one of my all time favorites…
      Did you know the author teaches at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie? 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by.
      Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  17. 16/11/2010 2:37 am

    Here from SITS! Great post idea. I might have to borrow this.

    • 16/11/2010 6:41 am

      Do borrow!Thank you for stopping by and leaving me a comment…
      Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  18. James permalink
    04/04/2011 4:24 pm

    I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.

    • 11/09/2012 8:22 pm

      Thank you James. I appreciate your feedback and kind words. Stay blessed! 🙂

  19. 11/09/2012 8:59 pm

    Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

    Nawal shares an explosive, brutal story of the mistreatment of not only Firdaus, a local prostitute, but also of many women in the community. The book speaks out against the prevailing misogynistic attitudes men have towards women and the growing rage these attitudes create in women. It is a study on the oppression of women globally. As the protagonist Firdaus suggests, women need to be supportive of each other. For even women who look down on prostitutes are not exempt from the title of whore; sooner or later their sexual favors are exchanged for comfort, attention and protection.
    You have picked one book I need to read up on. I so agree that A study on the oppression of women globally today is very high. It is so true the stereotype of men and what they think of women today. Bravo. I am adding this to my book TBR Pile this week. THanks Eliz


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