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Books to Read Before You Travel to Tanzania

Tanzania, home of the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, and vibrant cultures, attracts adventurous travellers with its breathtaking landscapes and diverse experiences. Before seeing all of this for yourself, how about embarking on a “literary safari”? With books about Tanzania, you can gain a deeper understanding of its nature, history and people. Check out our selection of the best Tanzania books which capture the true essence of this intriguing country.

Our Top 3 Books About Tanzanian History and Culture

  • Uhuru Street: Short Stories by M.G. Vassanji: Set in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s bustling port city, this collection of short stories offers a glimpse into the lives of the city’s diverse communities. Vassanji’s poignant narratives explore themes of cultural identity, social change, and the legacy of colonialism, providing a window into the complexities of Tanzanian society.
  • Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah: This Nobel Prize-winning novel delves into the colonial history of Tanzania through the story of a young boy caught between two cultures. Gurnah’s lyrical prose paints a vivid picture of Zanzibar’s rich cultural heritage and the impact of colonialism on the lives of its inhabitants.
  • The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania by Frank Marlowe: This anthropological study offers a fascinating look into the lives of the Hadza people, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer societies in Africa. Marlowe’s detailed observations provide insight into their traditional way of life, their relationship with the environment, and their unique cultural practices.

Young member of Hadzabe tribe carving wood

Best Books About Tanzanian Nature

  • The Tree Where Man Was Born by Peter Matthiessen: This blend of travel writing and natural history puts the Serengeti ecosystem in the limelight, by exploring the intricate relationships between animals and their environment. Matthiessen’s vivid descriptions paint a picture of the Serengeti’s vastness – from the thundering Great Wildebeest Migration to the silent grace of solitary predators.
  • Wildlife of East Africa by Martin B. Withers and David Hosking: If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, this one’s for you, since it provides detailed information on the species you might encounter on your safari. With stunning photographs and informative text, this book will help you identify animals, understand their behaviour, and appreciate the immense biodiversity of Tanzania.
  • Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning by Nigel Pavitt: This large-format coffee table book is a visual feast, showcasing the breathtaking beauty of Serengeti National Park. Stunning photographs capture the uniqueness of the landscape, the drama of wildlife encounters, and the delicate ecosystem that thrives in this unique environment.

Fascinating Fiction Books About Tanzania

  • The Shadow of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway: This short story collection showcases Hemingway’s signature style and his fascination with Africa. Through the eyes of his characters, the reader experiences the beauty and harsh realities of life in Tanzania, grappling with themes of courage, loss, and the power of nature.
  • A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk: This coming-of-age story follows the journey of a young Maasai girl named Lilia, who dreams of being a doctor. Set against the backdrop of the Masai Mara, the novel explores themes of cultural tradition, gender roles, and the pursuit of personal aspirations.
  • Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah: Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this novel intertwines the stories of three characters from different generations, exploring the lingering effects of colonialism and personal loss. Set in both Tanzania and Germany, the novel delves into themes of memory, identity, and the search for belonging.

Woman lying in a hammock in the sunlight reading

Acclaimed Books by Tanzanian Authors

To gain a truly authentic perspective, consider exploring the works of Tanzanian authors. Their unique voices offer a window into the local culture, traditions, and contemporary issues. These are our top 3:

  • S.J. Majele: This renowned poet explores themes of social justice, identity, and the complexities of Tanzanian society.
  • Euphrase Kezilahabi: A prominent figure in Tanzanian literature, Kezilahabi’s novels and poems address themes of political corruption, postcolonial struggles, and the search for meaning.
  • Amina Yahya: This award-winning author’s children’s books offer vibrant stories that celebrate Tanzanian culture and promote positive messages for young readers.

Learn the Tanzanian Language

If you’re planning a trip to Tanzania, learning a few basic Swahili phrases can make your experience in the country even better. Not only will it be helpful for basic communication, but it also demonstrates respect for the local culture. Another nice plus: it can open doors to deeper connections with the people you meet – big smiles included. These books could help you with this endeavour:

  • Say It in Swahili by Hugo Gysels: This user-friendly guide provides a foundation in Swahili vocabulary and grammar, making it ideal for beginners. It includes practical phrases for everyday situations, cultural insights, and pronunciation tips.
  • Pimsleur Swahili: This audio-based language learning program utilizes a unique method to immerse you in conversational Swahili. By focusing on spoken language and repetition, you can gain practical speaking skills and improve your listening comprehension.
  • Memrise: This online platform offers a gamified approach to language learning, making it fun and engaging. With its interactive lessons and spaced repetition system, you can learn Swahili vocabulary and grammar at your own pace.

Hakuna Matata written in the sand

While these books on Tanzania offer a fantastic starting point, planning a trip is also the perfect excuse to watch loads and loads of documentaries and films. Remember, travelling with a “literary suitcase” filled with stories enriches your journey on multiple levels. It allows you to connect with the land and its people on a deeper level, fostering empathy and understanding.

Are you ready to discover what Tanzania has to offer? Check out our selection of Tanzania tours and create memories that will stay with you forever. And who knows: maybe you’ll even write a book about your own experiences in Tanzania.

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