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Dispatches: African Memoirs

By Geoff Wisner

Dear reader: I need your help.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of African memoirs: books like Echoes of an Autobiography by Naguib Mahfouz, An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar by Emily Ruete, and Return to Childhood by Leila Abouzeid.

For a project I’m working on, I would love to get your recommendations of the best African memoirs you know about. They may be written in any language, but they should be the work of someone (of any ethnic group) who grew up on the continent.

Books like Out of Africa and Green Hills of Africa don’t qualify, but books like Aké, Black Child, A Long Way Gone, and My Traitor’s Heart do. If you know of an interesting autobiographical essay that isn’t a full-length memoir, I’d like to know about that too. Memoirs from out-of-the-way countries would be especially appreciated.

I don’t know of any group better qualified than Words Without Borders readers to uncover the hidden treasures of African memoir. Feel free to comment here, or to write me at my website,

Geoff Wisner is the author of A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books That Capture the Spirit of Africa, which discusses books from every African country. He also blogs at

Published Oct 9, 2009   Copyright 2009 Geoff Wisner

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