Some of Sarah Penny’s favourite books set in Africa
A suggested reading list to compliment The Beneficiaries.


Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa – Peter Godwin

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – Alexandra Fuller

Both of these are memoirs of war-torn Zimbabwean childhoods. Both books are compelling and fascinating explorations of what it was like to be a child (Fuller) or a serving soldier (Godwin) during the Rhodesian Bush War.

South Africa:

Disgrace – JM Coetzee

It’s a really bleak, harrowing book, but I found it incredibly interesting for the way it reflects on how people communicate with each other, and how easy it is to fail to communicate.

The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena – Elsa Joubert

I read this book when I was 11, after it had been translated into English. It opened my eyes to the fact that I was surrounded by black South Africans, our gardener at home, the cleaners at school, workers on the street – all constantly doing things for white people – but I’d never really properly thought about their lives, or imagined how they saw us. Sometimes a book can make you realise that you are living in a dimension of reality that seems normal, but is, in fact, very strange. This book shifted the way I perceived the world around me.

My Traitor’s Heart – Riaan Malan

An autobiographical book about growing up as an Afrikaans child in South Africa. It also explores race relations through prominent murder cases. A riveting read.

Cold Stone Jug – Herman Charles Bosman

Herman Charles Bosman killed his stepbrother during an argument in the 1920s and was put on Death Row. This semi-autobiographical book deals with those experiences. It’s horrible in parts and incredibly funny in parts.


Purple Hibiscus & The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This writer leaves me in awe. She is incredibly gifted at evoking wonderful characters who engage your sympathy so fully that you ache for them when you finish the novel.

Sierra Leone:

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier – Ishmael Beah

Beah was forced to become a child-soldier at 13. It’s not an easy book to read, but it’s such an important story.


The Flame Trees Of Thika and The Mottled Lizard – Elspeth Huxley

Huxley arrived in British East Africa as a five-year-old. The books are a fascinating account of the early colonial settlers’ lives from a child’s viewpoint.

A Grain Of Wheat – Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire – David Anderson

Both of these books deal with the state of emergency during Kenya’s struggle for independence. A Grain Of Wheat is a novel and History Of The Hanged is a very comprehensive account of Britain’s role in suppressing the Mau Mau insurrection. This was a brutal period in Kenya’s history, but I’ve always been fascinated by what happened.

Elephant memories: 13 years in the life of an elephant family – Cynthia Moss

I really, really love elephants, and nobody understands elephants like Cynthia Moss.