Reading List (2022 edition)


My Best Reads of 2022

2022 was a wild year for me! Nothing typified its wildness like my reading experience. While I am not one for counting the number of books read and measuring the value of a reading year by the number of books read, 2022 was probably the only year in recent times where I fell woefully short of my TBR list. A general apathy afflicted my reading, but the external factors that led to this were evident and known.

Irrespective of this, I found joy in the pages of the books I read (besides the joy I found in the sounds I listened to to). The following are necessarily not the best books I read. Tthey are the ones that resonated most with me, especially after reflecting on them all at the end of the year.


SHORT STORY – There were many Short Story collections in my 2022 TBR list. This is one of the surprises of picking a reading list randomly. It throws up books I ordinarily would not pick up despite owning them on the shelves. While Short Stories are still not my favourite sub-genre of fiction, I relished some of the stories in several collections I got to read this year. Such a shame that I still had 2 or 3 collections unread by the end of the year. There are about 6 short stories I could pick as my favourites for the year but since I have limited myself to only two picks for each category in this piece, I have chosen to go with the two that stick most to my mind. I have chosen a story from each of these two collections International Sisi Eko and Other Stories and Joburg Noir. Each collection centred on a big African city; Lagos and Johanessburg respectively. Road to Yesterday by Temitayo Arowolo and Dreams and Others Deceptions by Keletso Mopai are my respective picks from each book. While writing this, I revisited both stories, just to remind myself how much I enjoyed them. Both stories are not only well written but resonated with me so much.


For a favourite quote, I have gone for this one in Weep For Me, Willow by Fred Khumalo.

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NOVEL – In retrospect, I think the quality of novels I read this year were not up to the standard of those read in previous years. This measurement is valid as long as the unit of measurement is my enjoyment of the novels as a collective. I think there were only about 4 novels left in my unread pile of the 2022 TBR list, so I am not sure if completing the TBR list ould have changed my view of the collection. Despite the assessment, I have chosen two books that I not only enjoyed but found very well written. Ann Petry’s The Street and Kirstin Valdez Quade’s The Five Wounds. The former was published in 1946 and the latter in 2021. Excellent writing is no respecter of time. Both are my picks for 2022.


For a favourite quote, I am spoilt for choice as I found a lot of captivating quotes and paragraphs this year, as usual. I had wanted to go for something from other novels I read this year but I found the pull of these two paragraphs virtually irresistible. The first is from The Street and the second is from The Five Wounds. The first is probably the cleanest paragraph I have read in a very long time and I struggle to imagine a better opening to any novel. the second is a universal fact that resonated so much with me following recent happenings. Both are worthy picks, in my view.

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I did not read as many faith-based books in 2022 like I planned to. I had about 4 unread ones by the end of the year. However, 2022 was the year I read the very excellent How To Like Paul Again. I got a recommendation for it off a podcast I listened to and found it very refreshing and insightful. Books that contextualize scripture within the 1st century world in which they were written, always hold a special place in my heart. It is pointless reading a letter written to 1st century converts with 21st century lens and asking 21st century questions.


For a favourite paragraph, I have chosen to go for something from a book apart from the one I have chosen as my best for the year. However, I am spoilt for choice here and have gone for two paragraphs in The Longest Week by Nick Page. Nothing surprising there as I am a very big fan of his works and ministry.

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I am undecided about the quality of non-fiction I read this year. Maybe the external factors mentioned earlier constrained my enjoyment of them. Reflecting on all that I read, my favourite pick is Michael Sandel’s Justice. Philosophical questions are oftne draining but Michael Sandel has a knack for not simplifying them but presenting them in an accessible way for the philosophically untrained. This book analysis the great question of political philosphy: Does a just society seek to promote the virtue of its citizens or should law be neutral toward competing concepts of virtue, so that citizens can be free to choose for themselves what is the best way to live?


For the favourite paragraph, I have chosen this one from The Fortunes of Africa. This paragraph (split into two pics) haunts me exceedingly as it brings in stark reality the never-ending land issue in South Africa.

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These are my best reads in 2022 and I heartily recommend them. I wish everyone a bookish 2023 and I look forward to even better reads this new year.
Happy new Year!

20. Zonal Marking

In Zonal Marking, Michael Cox takes the reader on a tour of the evolution of European football tactics. Each section is dedicated to one of Holland, Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and England. The trip through each of these countries explores the tactical evolution, cultural impacts and the key figures (coaches and players) that shaped the evolution.

In Holland, as expected, the effect of Johan Cruyff, the backpass rule and Louis Van Gaal’s 1995 Ajax team were pivotal to the tactical evolution and particularly their use of ball-playing central defenders. The impact of the Dutch culture on their national team is also explored. After back passes were outlawed, the ball-playing liberos in the form of Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard took centre stage.

The evolution of Italian football highlight how the rigidity of football philosophies in coaching was broken by pure number 10s like Baggio, Zola, Totti and Rui Costa. In Spain, it was all about how the Tiki-Taka of Pep Guardiola (influenced by Cruyff) influenced not just La Liga but also the Spanish national team. For France, most of the tactical evolution was in the national team and not in the local league. From the evolution of wide forwards to the water carriers that have defined an era of midfielders. In all, Zonal Marking is an exciting exposition of how tactics have evolved in the major European leagues over the last two decades. The little snag I had was the excessive description of specific goals that were used as examples of specific tactical innovations. Most of them seemed excessively detailed and it was like anecdotes were being forced to suit narratives. One of those correlation/causation things. In all, it is an excellent football read.

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21. Dominicana

In Angie Cruz’s Dominicana, the migrant and coming-of-age tale of 15-year-old Ana Cancion takes centre stage. She is 11 years old when Juan Ruiz who is more than twice her age proposes to marry her. Four years later, while barely 15, she marries Juan and he whisks her to America using forged papers that claim she is 19 years old. In America, Ana is assaulted on all sides; a possessive and abusive husband who sees her as a trophy and proceeds to make her fearful of everything and everyone around her in New York, her lack of English and a violation of her childhood in the name of marriage she is clearly not suited for.  It is hard to not feel a lot of empathy for Ana as she is buffeted on all sides.

Dominicana is loosely based on the story of the author’s mother and set in 1965, it encompasses the political instability in the Dominican Republic at that time. Political and economic upheavals have always been precipitating factors for migration. When economic and political spaces collapse, both legal and illegal migration become attractive. The quest for a better life has always been universal but the route to attaining that quest can be questionable. Ana’s mother wanted the best for her family but her route to achieving the perceived best is exceedingly questionable. Violating your child’s childhood in a bit to give better chances in life to the whole family is not the exchange she thinks it is. It is true that poverty diminishes the choices that are available to the poor.

While in New York Ana faces situations and challenges that a young teenager of her age should not be saddled with. César is pivotal to Ana’s tide turning. Juan travels back home to attend to his businesses back in the Dominican Republic which is being impacted by the political impasse and this is when Ana comes of age. She enrols in English classes, starts a business and with César’s help begins to explore the city that Juan had hidden away from her. César helps restore Ana’s self-confidence. When Juan returns, it is too late. I am not sure I share the opinion that Ana is helpless in falling in love with her brother-in-law César, as understandable as her situation is. While César is not the abuser and controlling freak that Juan his brother is, his insecurity shows up in other ways.

Dominicana is a decent migrant tale but it is not spectacular. The prose is pedestrian and the structure makes it worse – it is loose and casual. The political backstory which was meant to be critical to the setting was vague and largely unexplored. In all, there seemed to be so much going on, with little depth. It is a decent read that I will recommend it but not highly.

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19. The Strangers of Braamfontein

I have just finished reading Onyeka Nwelue’s The Strangers of Braamfontein and it is at the very end while flipping through the very long list of acknowledgements that I solidified my main grouse with this book. For a book that I was not particularly impressed with, I read it in very few seatings. This is rare because I am a notoriously slow reader. Two reasons why I found this an easy read were that I found the characters very relatable and the writing very crisp. I know a lot of people in real life who fit almost every character in the book. They are fully formed and stereotypical; drug-dealing Nigerians, corrupt South African immigration officials and gang-related South African police officers. My relative familiarity with the Braam area where the book is set is another reason why I felt at ease with The Strangers of Braamfontein.

As illegal as the arrival (and stay) of most of the migrants in The Strangers of Braamfontein is, Onyeka Nwelue succeeds in humanizing their existence. The unfairness of life that causes them to find the proverbial golden fleece in South Africa is well highlighted; the grinding poverty, absence of family structure, sexual violence and in some cases a combination of all three led the migrant characters in The Strangers of Braamfontein to make the aspirational journey to South Africa despite the dubious processes that led them there. Osa the major protagonist had chanced on an illegal visa agent, April had been trafficked for sex work and it was no different for the many other migrants from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Francophone countries that we encounter in the book. The Strangers of Braamfontein chronicles their lives of drug dealing, prostitution, mafia-led violence and murder. The ironic thing is that by exchanging one life of uncertainty (poverty) the migrants have embraced more ways of uncertainty (xenophobia, sexual violence and death in the hands of rival drug dealers).

Rather than glorify the illicit nature of their migration and their means of sustenance, The Strangers of Braamfontein rightly highlights the futility of their damned choices. The book is even-handed enough to highlight that the problem is not just with the migrants as they have willing accomplices within the South African community. From the airport, immigration officials display their brazen corruption and police officers are not left behind as they collect bribes from criminal gangs.

With all of the above in view, my grouse with this book was (and still is) too strong. It is devoid of a narrative plot. It reads as a series of events weaved around related characters. The book only ends because most of the characters die. On that note, irrespective of the multiplicity of crimes in the book, it is barely a crime-fiction novel. Irrespective of the crispness of the writing (especially if you are a fluent reader of Nigerian Pidgin English), there is no depth in the writing to qualify it as literary fiction. The structure of the book is also very problematic. It jumps from one character to another and flashbacks are so haphazardly inserted that it makes the story almost incoherent. While going through the acknowledgements at the back of the book that it becomes clear that the book is a reworking of a movie script. A script inspired by the acclaimed novel – On Black Sister’s Street. It still reads like a movie script and despite the familiarity of the characters and the setting, it does not quite work out well as a novel.


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18. The Man I Think I Know

Mike Gayle’s The Man I Think I Know is a refreshingly different read for me. It is a simple novel about two men. Men who are devoid of toxicity, destructive ego and a presence of vulnerability that humanizes their pain. The Man I Think I Know is about male friendship. Much more than friendships, it is about second chances and redemption and highlights how easily lives can be turned in a split second.

James and Danny were high school classmates. Though classmates, they did not mix much due to the differences in their social classes. James was a posh kid from a rich home while Danny was from a poor background who only go to attend an elite school because of a scholarship he won. The barrier created by their backgrounds comes crashing down after their individual lives are turned around for the worse after different incidents. Years later, they find themselves at a care home. James as a patient and Danny as a carer. There at the bottom, they find each other and a platonic friendship that revels in the vulnerability of their individual pain lead the road to their individual redemption.

Redemption and second chances are at the heart of The Man I Think I Know. The unrealistic tone of the book is that everyone who seeks a second chance gets it. While that is not always true in life (some don’t even get the first chance, much less a second one), it is a very humane tale that stirs hope in the reader and reminds us how life’s turns are so fickle. The structure of the book in which both James and Danny take turns in being the protagonist in subsequent chapters gives depth to the character development despite the simple nature of the book. The Man I Think I Know is not a deep read but a thoroughly enjoyable one.


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17. Ghosts of the Tsunami

March 11 2011 was no ordinary day. An earthquake shook Japan. However, the earthquake which moved Japan four feet closer to America and caused the earth to move ten inches off its axis was a precursor to something more disastrous. It led to a tsunami that killed over 18 thousand people. In Ghosts of the Tsunami, Richard Lloyd Parry evaluates the effect of the Tsunami on the Japanese and particularly its impact on the people of the Tohoku region with a specific focus on what happened at Okawa Elementary school.

At Okawa Elementary school 74 of the 78 students who remained on the school field after the earthquake died. In Ghosts of the Tsunami, Parry explores not just the circumstances surrounding their death but the trauma and grief that their death has caused their parents. All of these are done within the context of how grief is processed within the Japanese culture. This is a society where seismic shifts have defined daily life. Evacuation drills and emergency processes are part of every school curriculum. In exploring this disaster, Ghosts of the Tsunami examines what went wrong at Okara Elementary School that day. Were the school officials negligent or ill-prepared? The answer to that question is not provided but the ways in which the government officials are evasive impact the grieving process of the parents in a very moving way.

In reference to the Japanese society, Herman Ooms once said that “The dead are not as dead there as in our own society”. This point is brought alive in how the grieving parents in The Ghosts of the Tsunami cope with their losses. Ancestor worship is a big thing in Japan and investigating how they cope we see the thin line between the living and the dead, in their view. This makes their pain even more palpable and enables their perseverance in searching for the bodies of their dead loved ones.

Ghosts of the Tsunami is a very well-written memoir. The topic is not upbeat and in fact very depressing but the author manages to explore a great depth of the grief that enveloped the survivors of this natural disaster while dignifying the dead and the living. The only issue I had with the book was that fewer survivors would have been focused on as the sheer volume of survivors covered in the book, making it harder to keep track of whose grief was being explored at each point in time.


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16. The Fortunes of Africa

It is unclear where Africa would be today without the rapacious impact of colonialism. Fanciful retrospective views would often proclaim that its future would have been so bright that without the intrusive force of colonialism Africa would have been the envy of the rest of the world. Racist views on the other side deduce that without the benevolent intervention of the West, Africa would have remained a backwater to date. More considerate views would conclude that without the destructive and evasive effect of the West, the future of the African continent was unknown, as no one knows what the people themselves would have made of themselves over three thousand years later. What is certain and acceptable to anyone devoid of insincerity is that the plunder and exploitation of the continent and its resources disfigured Africa so badly that it is impossible to understand its present without incorporating the effect of the past on the conquered and her conquerors.

The Fortunes of Africa is a panoramic view of the continent that spans back as 3000 years. It captures the fortune of the continent in this period. A panoramic view that encapsulates the economic, social and cultural themes in the period with economic themes taking a center stage. It makes a clear and undeniable claim that the riches of the continent have shaped the past and present of Africa. The greed and plunder by the West were only triggered because there were resources to be exploited. If Africa had been less endowed, the story might have been very different. Not satisfied with shipping slaves and resources away in the course of regular expeditions, European conquerors in the spirit of explorative adventure invaded and overrun African locals in a bid to not just access the resources but also the land that hosted the resources. The Fortunes of Africa chronicles the way many cast characters played a part in the history of the continent; from religious leaders to kings to explorers to freedom fighters to warlords. From exploiters masquerading as explorers to foreign corporations, the cast has been varied but the purpose has remained the same – plundering the wealth in various guises.

A history of a continent as large as Africa and dating back so far back is a huge task that Martin Meridith undertakes with great aplomb. His narrative is crisp, concise and coherent. He obviously lays greater emphasis on some countries than others (Egypt, South Africa and Ethiopia get more detailed insights) but by taking a pre-colonial view of the continent’s boundaries, a holistic view is presented.

The thing about greed is that it is often limitless. Europeans went from plundering African resources in occasional forages to not only conquering the locals but taking their land. Land remains a touchy subject in Africa and of the many interesting anecdotes in The Fortunes of Africa, none highlights this as well as that told about the 1659 battle between the local KhoiKhois and the Europeans. In the negotiations that followed, a Dutch participant recorded one of the Khoikhoi’s grievances as follows; “They spoke for a long time about our taking every day for our own use more of the land which belonged to them for all ages, and in which they were accustomed to pasture their cattle. They also asked whether if they were to come to Holland, they would be permitted to act in a similar manner?” That question has still not been answered almost 400 years later and puts into context the ongoing land agitation in South Africa.

The Fortunes of Africa is not only about the distant past. It is also about the relatively recent past. Post-colonialism, the plundering has continued, this time by Africans themselves. The future is yet unknown but in charting the course, the past must be reckoned with and the economic past is what Martin Meridith has captured so succinctly in The Fortunes of Africa. I slugged through this as I found the early parts too ancient for my non-history-loving self but the structure and narrative kept me going and the impeccable summary of a long time period makes for an interesting reading experience with lots to ponder on long after the last page.


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15. The Scapegoat

Sophia Nikoloidou’s The Scapegoat is a timely read. It goes far back and recent in the eras it captures in this thoughtful historical fiction novel. It takes a nuanced look at the 1948 murder of American journalist George Polk  (the namesake of the prestigious Polk Awards) who was killed in Thessalonica while investigating the corruption in the right-wing Greek government. In order to cover up the state’s alleged complicity in his murder, the crime is pinned on Grigoris Staktopoulos, a journalist and former communist, despite the non-existence of believable proof. The plot of The Scapegoat is anchored on two planks of history; Polk’s murder in 1948 and the 2008 Greek Financial crisis. Both planks have the common thread of lack of trust in the political elite by the polity.

Soon after the 2008 financial crisis, with the Greek polity in despair and the people feeling let down by their politicians, the past is examined through the lens of the present as Minas Georgiou a high school senior is despondent, bored and gropes his way toward adulthood. His despondency reaches the point where he opts out of his final exams and is unwilling to go to university. The unwillingness is alarming for his intellectual parents – his mother and grandmother are teachers and his father is a journalist. From childhood, they have prepared him for a legal career and his current rebellion means their invested dreams in him are dying. Teta (Minas’ mother) approached Souk his History teacher to intervene. Souk is an eccentric and unusual character. Unlike most teachers, he has chosen to challenge his students to think critically. His idea of intervention is to ask Minas to write an investigative report on the Polk murder.

Alternating between 1948 and 2010, the story not only mirrors the past in the present, the cynicism, evasive tendency of the governing elite and the self-preserving tendency of the governments at all times to find scapegoats to pin its failure on reverberates across the time periods. Minas’ relationship with Evelina his classmate mirrors what happened between his grandmother and Evelina’s grandfather Dinopoulos in the 1940s. Dinopoulos was the lawyer of Gris (the character based on Grigoris Staktopoulos) and he is the major physical source of Minas’ research for the assignment that Souk has given him. In all of the back and forth, one thing remains constant, the loss of hope in the government by the people is palpable and constant. The hopelessness is captured in Dinopoulos recollection of the 1948 case and recycled in Minas’ loss of hope in the system in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. In both cases, the government works hard to absolve itself and find scapegoats to blame.

While The Scapegoat is a complex story that Xrays the Greek political system, it is timely because its application is certainly universal and current. While the first-person narrative for multiple characters across the two time periods was slightly distracting, the structure works in the end because Minas the main protagonist truly typifies the angst and despondency of the polity.


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14. The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus

Soon after reading The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus, I checked online for a novel with a similar theme and/or plot. I found none. My initial conclusion is that a new genre has been created by Adam Leigh; Fictional Business Memoir. Using language that would not be out of place in either The Financial Times or be out of place in Tony Parsons’ Man and Boy, The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus, explores the human drive for pursuit and ambition in a capitalistic 21st-century entrepreneurial landscape. All of this is done with a good dose of humour, devoid of a condescending tone and a total absence of verbose.

There is an ordinariness that permeates The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus. This ordinariness works out quite well. It makes it very relatable. At one turn it feels like you are reading about one of those narcissistic American tech founders and in the very next turn, you recognise several of the Nigerian fintech founders whose excesses and hubris have gone viral on social media in recent months.  You can even recognize colleagues in one or more of the many colourful characters in this book. In keeping with the ordinariness of the plot, it makes sense that the two main characters; Alex and Julian met in the most ordinary of circumstances – while watching over their toddlers on the playground.

Alex has had the itch to pursue an entrepreneurial venture for a while. He finally takes the plunge when he meets a willing partner in Julian. They both strike up a partnership and set up a parenting website. The company ends up growing bigger than the founders ever imagined. The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus covers the full gambit of the startup ecosystem; the fundraising, selling hope and expectations, the toll it takes on familial relationships and the tensions that make or break partnerships. While all of these are in the fore, what gives the book its relative depth is the philosophical question that goes on in the background – what exactly is ambition? How far should one go in pursuit of it? Are the trade-offs worth it? In the midst of all the funny jokes and everyday plots, there are serious issues that the narration tries to grapple with in the book.

The structure of The Curious Rise of Alex Lazarus is excellent. It starts from the present where the company has imploded and takes a reflective view of the years that led up to the present. It unfolds the present from the past. Adam Leigh is an exciting storyteller. More of a storyteller than a writer (and that is not a slight at all). I found myself yearning for Alex to take the money and run before he got eaten up by the sharks, while also rolling my eyes at Julian’s solipsistic tendencies. Characters are as real as we know and see in our everyday working lives.


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Joburg, Jozi, Egoli, Johussleburg, etc. Johannesburg is known by a few more monikers asides from the aforementioned ones. This megacity is South Africa’s biggest and busiest city. Established in the late 1880s on the back of migrant mining activities, it is a city as vibrant as can be imagined for a megacity; a city full of hope, trauma and possibilities, each in a substantial measure. It is this sprawling city that Joburg Noir is set in. A collection of 20 short stories that explore and illuminate the very plural nature of the cosmopolitan city.

Joburg Noir, like most short story collections, has hits and misses. In its favour, there are lots of hits and very few misses. I found some of the stories to be very impressive hits. I particularly enjoyed Weep For Me, Willow by Fred Khumalo, Dreams and Others Deceptions by Keletso Mopai, Nineteen Questions by Nkateko Masinga and The Airport Project by Styles Lucas Ledwaba. In typical Noir fashion, these hits and a few others expose the underbelly of the city – be it corruption, crime, xenophobia or the decay of public infrastructure. More than these, Joburg Noir has an eclectic mix of stories that relive the past and explore the present while pointing the way to a future that serves as a warning. In these stories hopes are dashed, dreams are extinguished and yet in some, hope is rekindled. Like the city, the stories explore the plurality of the city.

The only issue I had was that a few (three) of the stories felt more like essays than fiction. As much as they conveyed the nostalgia of the writers, they lacked any air of fictionality and felt misplaced in the midst of the fictional narratives of the other stories. In all, this was a very decent collection and anyone who enjoyed Lagos Noir should enjoy this too. Recommended.


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