Five of the best books about west African cities

<span>Streetwise … Lagos, Nigeria, where Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle is set.</span><span>Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP</span>
Streetwise … Lagos, Nigeria, where Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle is set.Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

Life in urban areas of west Africa, one of the most diverse regions on Earth, is often a daily roller-coaster ride spiced by abundant drama and an astonishing array of striking characters. Many writers have attempted to capture a slice of all that happens in the region’s biggest cities. Here’s a selection of some of the books that stand out.


Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

One of the most popular titles from Francophone Africa, the graphic novel series Aya de Yopougon has been a bestseller since its debut volume was published in 2005. The first books by French-Ivorian writer Marguerite Abouet were set in the 1970s in Abidjan, commercial capital of Ivory Coast, as the country experienced economic boom and became the world’s largest cocoa producer. Brought to life by Clément Oubrerie’s illustrations, the early stories follow the many twists in the life of a teenager in the working-class commune of Yopougon, the city’s largest and most colourful part. By the time of the seventh volume, which came out in the UK earlier this year, the characters are all grown up and it’s the 80s, with corruption in Abidjan on the rise. The series has been translated into more than 15 languages and adapted for screen.


Jagua Nana by Cyprian Ekwensi

This epic tale of an ageing sex worker’s life in 1960s Lagos is one of the best works by Ekwensi, whose technique of keeping things simple made him a favourite of many young readers. But his novels were complex melodramatic portraits, sometimes of urban life in Lagos. Jagua Nana is the best-known example of that. The title character navigates life in the capital of the newly independent Nigeria as a woman of contradictions in a city of contradictions with her much younger, more ambitious boyfriend Freddy. The novel’s highlighting of the seedy side of Lagos led to the government banning it at the time.


Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

A woman whose activism caters to the safety of sex workers. A foreign journalist in the city to cover the general elections. Both characters unite in an election year in Lagos in this 2016 thriller with a title that references one of the city’s most popular songs (released in the 1950s) and shows its dark underbelly. Adenle’s plot follows the journalist Guy Collins, who stumbles on a crime scene and works with an activist, Amaka, in a crusade to uncover a criminal syndicate backed by the elite in harvesting human parts.


Sleep Well, My Lady by Kwei Quartey

Kwei Quartey, an Accra-born physician, has made his name with several crime fiction titles in the last two decades. The most recent one is Sleep Well, My Lady. On the first day of the Accra fashion week, a fashion mogul is found dead in her home in the city’s most expensive neighbourhood. That leads a relative who suspects her socialite boyfriend to engage the services of a young female private investigator to meander past big-city corruption and find out the truth about the tragedy.


Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad by Damilare Kuku

Damilare Kuku’s collection of short stories reads like a flick from Nollywood, the film industry where she has worked as an actor and producer. The book is a hilarious compilation of sappy sex scandals as women in contemporary Lagos end up being shortchanged in matters of love by their romantic interests. Kuku’s second book, Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow – a novel about how family secrets and a woman’s decision to get a Brazilian butt lift upends her life – is out in July.