Desert Island Books: JJ Bola

Kinshasa-born, British writer, poet and UNHCR Ambassador, London-based JJ Bola has written three collections of poetry, one non-fiction book, and two novels, the second of which – The Selfless Acts of Breathing – is published by Hachette in November (or February next year; depending on where you’re based). He was one of Spread the Word’s Flight Associates 2017 and a Kit de Waal Scholar for the Birkbeck University MA in Creative Writing. As a former refugee, JJ Bola was invited to the Davos Economic Forum 2018 and held a discussion with Cate Blanchett.



Buy Season of Migration to the North from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones.
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Buy Two Thousand Season from Book Depository.

Season of Migration to the North by Tayib Saleh

I was thrilled when JJ agreed to take part in my Desert Island Books series, and my recording my podcast with him was a real reminder of my ongoing love for both books and the writers behind them.

A book by the west African writer and educator, on his life story being initiated into the Dagara tradition. The book touches on religion and African spirituality, ritual and a return to ‘home.’ Sometimes you read it and think, wait, this is a memoir? As in, these things actually happened? It’s a marvelous book that reminds us that there is so much more out there than what we see and know.

We Real Cool (+Will To Change) by bell hooks

Buy The Wretched of the Earth from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones.

For all basketball fanatics and enthusiasts. The book is an everything book about NBA basketball, filled lots of fun facts, stats, trivia and debates that fan of the game has had at one point. It is wonderfully illustrated and entertaining for all to read.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Buy Songs from Under the River from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones.

Cheekily sneaking in two books in one from the professor, author and feminist, writing on the subject of masculinity, patriarchy and society; the latter book on Black masculinity. hooks writes with a clarity and precision that is insightful for all to read.

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

JJ Bola

Songs from Under the River

Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Some

This rare gem by the Ghanaian writer, published in 1979 as part of the Heinnemann series of African writers, details the fall of a fictional African Kingdom and its eventual descent into enslavement. A challenging read, the prose is dense with language, but if I could have written any book, it would be this. Armah is a literary luminary, one can only guess the imagination that it took to write this book. Written with such depth and detail, care and compassion, sternness but also forever pointing to the sunset. You are guaranteed to feel things, always, whilst reading.

Buy Of Water and the Spirit from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones.

A legendary children’s picture book, that is bright and beautiful and just reminds us all of the joy and fascination of seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

Songs from Under the River by Anis Mojgani

A beautiful collection of poetry from poet Anis Mojgani. His words touch on a number of subjects, and transports you through many worlds, with such tenderness, and imagination, and love, gently tearing the seams of your heart and stitching them back together.

Buy We Real Cool from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones.

Basketball (And Other Things) by Shea Serrano

A critical and incisive analysis of the legacies and impacts of colonialism (and slavery) on oppressed people, and its broader social and political implications. Sometimes, you wonder why the world is the way the way that it is, this is one of the books that provides a brilliant answer to that question.

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Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah

From his favourite collection of poetry, to the book touches on religion and African spirituality, ritual and a return to ‘home, read on to find out which eight books JJ would take to the sandy shores of a desert island. Be sure to follow JJ on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Buy Basketball (And Other Things) from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones.

Buy The Very Hungry Caterpillar from Bookshop.org, Book Depository or Waterstones. A story of a young Sudanese man who returns home to a small village after winning a scholarship to study at a prestigious university. The surreal unravelling of the story that challenges convention is told through beautiful, lyrical prose and existential fervor.