Marriage, Love, Sex, Power:
10 Must-Read Black Novels and Short Stories

In Discover, list by Mirabelle Harris-Eze

All uncomplicated relationships are alike; every complicated relationship is complicated in its own way (Anna Karenina principle anyone?). From polygynous partnerships to unpaid bride price, the novels and short stories below delve into a variety of relationships. Some stories will leave you asking: What’s love got to do with it? Others answer: Everything.

Changes: A Love Story, by Ama Ata Aidoo
Topics: Polygamy, Divorce, Ghana

In 1970s Ghana, career-centred Esi ends her six-year marriage and marries into a polygamous family. Her new husband is handsome, loving, and witty, but she soon finds herself facing a new set of problems.

Marriage Is a Private Affair, by Chinua Achebe
Topics: Arranged Marriage, Generational Gaps, Tribalism

Nnaemeka’s father does not approve of Nene. Nene, Nnaemeka’s fiancé, has not been vetted and—worst of all—she is not Igbo. Achebe’s short story explores the generational differences between a father and son, intertribal conflicts, and the difficulties of acceptance.

So Long a Letter, by Mariama Bâ
Topics: Widowhood, Polygamy, Power

Originally written in French, So Long a Letter comprises a series of letters written by Ramatoulaye Fall after the death of her husband. 30 years into their marriage, her husband married a second wife and Ramatoulaye was devastated. In working through the grief of his death, Ramatoulaye thinks back to their young, blissful love. They were happy, once. What went wrong?

The Bride Price, by Buchi Emecheta
Topics: Marriage, Generational Gaps, Bride Price

Aku-nna is approaching womanhood, and her uncle/step-father (Don’t ask) wants to collect the highest bride price possible. She falls in love with Chike and, even though Chike’s family is wealthy, Ahu-nna’s uncle will not let them marry—Chike is a descendant of slaves and thus not from a “good family.”

Interesting fact: I reference Emecheta’s novel in my short story, “The Winecarrying,” which explores middle-aged lovers partaking in a traditional marriage 25 years after their Christian marriage. In his article, “Good Family,” Odogwu Ibezimako also delves into themes present in Emecheta’s work by deconstructing the hegemonic structures behind what makes a person worthy of love.

Benji, by Chinelo Okparanta
Topics: Wealth, Bachelorhood, Adultery

Benji, a wealthy, 40-year old man, is unmarried—and his mother is not happy. Surely, what good woman would not want to marry her son and share in their family wealth? Okparanta’s short story, published in The New Yorker, navigates social stigmas, bachelorhood, and the pursuit of wealth by any and all means.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, by Lola Shoneyin
Topics: Polygamy, Family Dynamics, Wealth

Baba Segi has three wives and seven children, and he wants more, but the arrival of a fourth wife—a graduate—threatens established relationships. Shoneyin’s work offers a unique look at polygamy in contemporary Nigeria. Interested in learning more, and don’t mind a few spoilers? Check out Omobola Olarewaju’s comparative article on Shoneyin’s work and the hit Nigerian television show, Fuji House of Commotion.

Efuru, by Flora Nwapa
Topics: Community, Abandonment, West African Spirituality

The first novel published by a female Nigerian author, Nwapa tells the story of Efuru, a clever young girl from a respected family. Efuru rebels against her community by marrying a farmer too poor to pay her bride price or to perform a wine carrying ceremony. Then, he abandons her. Writing in a time when Nigerian female voices were not present in print, Nwapa shines a light on women’s struggles, ostracization, and the stigma of female infertility.

Erzulie’s Skirt, by Ana-Maurine Lara
Topics: Migration, LGBTQ2+, Haitian Vodou, Dominican Vudú

Haitian Miriam and Dominican Micaela are trying to cross the Mona strait, by boat, to get to Puerto Rico. Set in the 1900’s in the Dominican Republic, Miriam and Micaela share a deeply intimate journey, and a deeply intimate love. From sugar cane plantations to African and Carribean spirituality to the Parsley massacre, Lara’s novel takes into account a plethora of painful, hopeful, and relevant historical and social considerations.

Dangerous Love, by Ben Okri
Topics: Arranged Marriage, Forbidden Love, Adultery

Omovo and Ifeyiwa fall in love against the backdrop of war, then uncivil peace. Omovo is artistic and rebellious. Ifeyiwa is intelligent and charming—and trapped in a loveless arranged marriage. Okri tells the story of forbidden love amid tribalism, corruption, and police brutality.

The Concubine, by Elechi Amadi
Topics: Marriage, West African Spirituality, Tragic Heroine

Ihuoma is beautiful in every way, but she unwittingly brings misfortune and death to all her lovers. Bound by the curse of a formidable god, Ihuoma’s courtships fail, one after another. Amadi sets this sprawling novel in a remote Nigerian village unexposed to European impositions and ruled by powerful traditional gods.

And that’s the end of the list—time to get reading! We recommend checking out your library or local bookstores before turning to Amazon. If you’re based in Canada, I also recommend checking out Sue’s Stokvel, an online book club and used book store that focuses on uplifting the voices of POC authors and readers. #SupportLocal