This UK Black History Month, we thought we’d serve up some book and drink pairings to keep you refreshed on your reading journeys. Sourced from across the Black world, the 10 books on this list are a reminder that Black History is bigger than a month. These are stories rooted in histories, traditions and cultures, much like the drinks we’ve paired with them.
Much like stories, traditionally produced beverages are a staple, made with care through techniques passed on from generation to generation. Inspired by either the plot, author’s country of origin or characters these drink and book pairings have been handpicked by the team at Cassava Republic Press for your reading pleasure.
We hope that through this list, you discover new voices, but also new tastes that help more Black cultures – from South America to Europe to Africa, come alive in your slice of the world.
The book: Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El Saadawi
A poignant story of a young Egyptian woman who clashes with her family when she chooses a career in medicine over marriage and motherhood. El Sadaawi’s novel sees a young woman’s foray into medical school being a portal into the awakening of her own sexuality. Her protagonist pursues both academic excellence and love affairs to get to the root of the mysteries of the human body.
Memoirs of a Woman Doctor is a brave and formidable embodiment of the trials of Arab feminists.
Let Saadawi’s prose unfold over a glass of Sahlab, a sweet drink with gritty, spicy finish that perfectly complements the novel’s protagonist. Made from tubers in the ground bulb of an orchid, missed with milk, sugar and rosewater, then garnished with chopped pistachios and cinnamon. This is a drink with layers. Sweet, creamy, fragrant, nutty and spicy – the perfect encapsulation of the many sides to Saadawi’s protagonist.
The book: Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord by Louis de Bernières
A vibrant, lucid and darkly comical novel that follows Dionisio Vivo, a young South American lecturer in philosophy as he dodges attempts on his life. Determined to expose the nation’s drug barons, Señor Vivo finds himself caught between life and death, forced to take matters of individual and collective safety into his own hands.
Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord is a satirical and splendid tale of hideously mutilated corpses, hit men and surprisingly honest policemen.
This layered text, deserves to be enjoyed with Aguardientes poured over ice. This complex alcoholic drink is produced by fermentation and later distillation of sugared or sweet musts and/or vegetable macerations. The layered process of crafting this drink reflects the journeys that Señor Vivo takes in Berniéres’s sharp, funny, engaging and all too deadly serious novel.
The book: Incidents at the Shrine by Ben Okri
The first short story collection from Booker Prize winning author, is a showcase of the razor-sharp, artistic nature of his prose. Stories in this collection range from centering a child’s eye view of the Nigerian civil war to the perspective of a spirit world, to the experience of dispossession in a decaying British inner city.
Incidents at the Shrine is a collection of beautiful stories that bite, reflecting his craft as a true teller of tales.
Pair this lyrical, poetic and humorous prose with Ogogoro, a local moonshine made from fermented palm wine, tightly sealed in jar for days and later heated in drums. This drink, much like Okri’s prose is not for the lightweight. It is the drink that reflects the angst of the worlds Okri writes about, the perfect companion to navigate this brilliant collection.
The book: The Palm-wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
Tutuola’s enchanting novel tracks a dedicated palm-wine drunkard on his odyssey to return his palm-wine tapper from the dead. This novel is the first to be published in English outside the African world. Written in an idiosyncratic Yoruba English native to Tutuola, this novel breaks down the conventions of how you think stories should be told, to show you just how limitless their telling can be.
Drawing on Yoruba oral folklore, The Palm-wine Drinkard takes the reader through a nightmare of a fantastic journey. It is a brief, thronged, grisly and bewitchingly devilish story that transforms the mind.
It is impossible to read this story without reaching from a chilled calabash full of palm-wine. Tutuola’s writing makes it that his protagonist’s desire for palm-wine almost becomes yours. Made from the sap of different species of palm trees, this sweet drink can be consumed fresh, slightly alcoholic or fermented.
The book: In the Fog of the Seasons’ End by Alex La Guma
For many outside of South Africa, the brutality of life under the Apartheid regime may seem distant. In just under 200 pages, Alex La Guma, chronicles hardships and injustices faced by everyday South Africans of color. The story is this novel is about Beukes – lonely, hunted, determined – who works for an illegal freedom organization. It is also about Elias Tekwane, captured by the South African police and tortured to death in their cells.
In The Fog of the Season’s End is simply written, avoiding panoramic sweep. La Guma focuses on telling a humane and moving story that is propaganda for the truth.
Nothing better to pair with this book than Umqombothi, a local beer made from maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water. Sipping this drink will transport you to the world of Beukes and Elias, the community that roots for them while also being helpless to save them from oppressors.
The book: Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika
In this short novel, we encounter Dr. Morayo Da silva whose life and personality are unforgettable. This reflective story takes us back through Da Silva’s colourful life, showcasing that joy exists at every stage of living. It is a novel about independence, friendship, loss and gives a fresh perspective on an often-over-looked generation in literature.
Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun is written in dream like prose that allows for the reader to receive it as a nuanced study of the erotic yearnings of an older woman.
For this reason, there is nothing better to settle back with than fresh coconut water while reading Manyika’s work. The natural, enduring goodness of coconut water preferably tapped fresh from the tree pairs perfectly with the breath of fresh air that is Dr. Motunrayo and her vintage Porsche.
The book: German Calendar, No December by Sylvia Ofili
In this coming-of-age story, a young girl’s perception of boarding school and university quickly fades as she experiences jarring predicaments of Nigerian school life and then racism in Germany as a bi-racial person. This graphic novel tells much of the story through its colorful and imaginative illustrations.
German Calendar, No December is an evocative graphic novel that showcases the joys of friendships, books, boys and dreaming.
Originating in Togo, Adoyo is a drink made from fresh pineapples and corn pap, sold across African cities. Sweetened, this drink returns you to the innocence of youth. It’s healing properties, rumored to cure malaria, also is a nod to boarding school life, where mass habitation means that there is always a yearly “malaria season” that students and the school nurses must band together to fight against.
The book: Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John
Told through the irresistible voice of a young boy, delves behind the scenes of the media’s portrayal of Boko Haram bringing us a powerful and intensely personal picture of life in Northern Nigeria today. This is a novel about the hurdles od adolescence, first loves, family tragedies and loyalties that take a boy to a certain type of man
Born on A Tuesday is a raw, authentic and deceptively simple story set against the backdrop of extremist politics and religion in Northern Nigeria.
There is no other drink to share this reading experience than Zobo, a drink that has iterations and names across the African world. Sweet, spicy, warm or cold, Zobo has a complexity that matches the tensions in this novel. Made from hibiscus leaves and cooked with herbs, this is a drink connected to the earth, and its red colouring reflects the bloodshed that forms part of this story.
The book: Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala
An exploration of Nigeria’s flavorful cuisine with fresh perspective on food writing in love letter form.
From innovations in soup, fish an aphrodisiac to the powerful seductions of yam, this is the book on food your bookshelf has been crying out for
Made for a lazy weekend of snacking, this is a book to be enjoyed with a side of Chapman, a very specifically Nigerian drink that screams relaxation. Let the sweet, icy, cucumber infused goodness of Chapman wash over your tongue as Aribisala invites you to fall in love with Nigerian cuisine all over again.
The book: A Stranger’s Pose by Emmanuel Iduma – Fura da nono
A rarity in travel writing, Iduma captures photographs, poetry, reflections and observations, through 22 towns and cities across Africa. Alongside these depictions of new places and people is a compelling, and very personal, meditation on the meaning of home, and the importance of intimacy to a lone traveller.
A Stranger’s Pose is written in lyrical and absorbing prose that explores the richness of Iduma’s experiences and interactions.
There is no better drink to accompany this read than Fura da nono, a drink meant for long journeys. A mix of fermented milk and millet, it’s tart taste and the millets means that this a drink to keep you company on your travels through A Stranger’s Pose.