Liberia has been telling its own stories for many generations – be it written or orally. The world, however, at some point collectively decided that story could not be told beyond the vulgar violence of civil war, poverty, disease, etc. Liberians on the other hand, know that their stories, even if about experiences in the war, carries deeper dimensions beyond the single story of barbarity to which they’ve been subjected; and we all know the dangers of a single story thanks to our Nigerian sister Chimamanda Adichie. Luckily, there are Liberian writers around the world working tirelessly to create various range in the stories about Liberia, and from Liberia.
We have compiled a list of some of these Authors creating compelling stories of fiction, biographies, memoirs, and everything beyond and in between. These are the books on our shelves which should be on yours too.
The House on Sugar Beach – Helene Cooper
Helene Cooper is a Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist who currently works as the Pentagon Correspondent for the New York Times. Cooper’s auto-biographical novel, The House on Sugar Beach, recounts her childhood of luxury, acceptance, loss, and triumph from pre-war Liberia, to her current role as a Journalist. The novel offers a sincere perspective on everyday life for a wealthy ‘Congo’ family in the once widely visited and respected city of Monrovia, which often gets lost as Liberia has grown to mostly beng associated with its post-war history.
She Would Be King – Wayetu Moore
She Would be King tells the early formation story of Liberia through historical fiction and magical realism. By exploring her own familiar history, Wayetu Moore’s debut novel offers a powerful exploration of Liberia’s relationship with colonization by freed American slaves. Moore’s literary contribution to the Liberian story is one that exudes an important brilliance that shows creativity, thought, and the true essence of Liberian Girl Magic.
The Lazarous Effect – Hawa Jande Golakai
Having fallen in love with her style of writing through her comedic and insightful Facebook posts dissecting different political and cultural issues, Hawa Jande Golakai’s debut novel, The Lazarus Effect remains true to her unique style of writing. Golakai, also known in the literary world as H.J. Golakai, offers a mysterious and thrilling twist to feminist literature with The Lazarus Effect. The novel follows Vee – a Liberian Journalist writing for a South African fashion magazine – as she unfolds the mysteries surrounding her life, and the death of a rebellious teenager, Jacqui. Using her same witty and clever writing, Golakai directs the readers through various twists and turns while remembering to keep them on tract. The thriller is a must-read, followed by her 2015 novel, The Score.
The Land of My Fathers – Vamba Sheriff
Vamba Sherif’s debut novel, The Land of my Fathers is a historical fiction about the 19th century founding of Liberia. The novel dissects the fragile and tense relationship between the indigenous Liberians and freed slaves who, instead of living side-by-side in the land which became Liberia, rather fought amongst themselves as enemies. As humans often progress, so did this feud, as in the midst of all the animosity, bloomed a very important friendship. The Land of My Fathers is a fascinating story told by Vamba Sherif offering insight on the founding of Liberia and how far the nation has since come.
Dream Country – Shannon Gibney
Shannon Gibney is the only Author on this list who is not technically Liberian, however, her passion for telling the Liberian story with her novel, Dream Country, has rightfully earned her a spot. The Minnesota born Author learned about the Liberian story while living in Ghana, and since fell in love with all things Liberia – going on to marry and have two children with a Liberian. Her novel, Dream Country, explores the relationship between Liberia and its shared American history following the journeys of multi-generational young people in search of themselves and a place where they can call home and feel accepted by its people, with focus on a Liberian immigrant boy.
Djinn – Sang Kromah
Sang Kromah’s debute novel, Djinn is a young adult fantasy novel which follows the life of an empath, Bijou, as she learns about the magical and supernatural presence in her life. Kromah offers a modern-day and cross-cultural approach to Liberian childhood stories alleging the existence of Mami-wata, Gina, and other supernatural beings. Djinn has shown that with creativity and innovation, even the supernatural tales of life in Liberia can be expanded into stories that can reach diverse audiences and cultures.
Boy Interrupted – Saah Millimono
While Liberians might want to turn a new leaf from its past with the gruesome 14-year civil war infamous for its use of child soldiers, chances of telling their story with their own words and perspectives have been limited. Boy Interrupted, by Saah Millimono is here to change this through his fictional take on the life of a boy who had an otherwise great childhood turned dark when he was captured as a child to fight in the Liberian Civil war. The story is gut-wrenchingly raw, making the reader forget it is actually fiction, while also reminding them of the countless true stories of boys interrupted to fight wars which brewed long before they were born.
Murder in the Cassava Patch – Bai T. Moore
Ending the list with the literary classic that is Bai T. Moore’s Murder in the Cassava Patch. In line with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and it relevance to African literature, Moore’s Murder in the Cassava Patch tells a story of love, betrayal, jealousy, and murder as it follows the story of two young lovers in Liberia. It is a beautifully written novel that transcends time and offers readers perspective on Liberian traditions, culture, and views on love.
The novels on this list are only glimpses into the literary capabilities of Liberians around the world. There are many more novels and memoirs not on this list, and even more short stories, essays, children’s books etc. We intend to further use the Koloqua Dialogues to highlight the incredible literary advancements made by Liberians around the world trying to break free of the single story to which we’ve been subjected. This piece originally appeared in 2018 in the thekoloquadialogues.com