The Gambia & Senegal: travel books to read before you go

This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s The Gambia & Senegal guide provides a selection of literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Very few travel books have been published about the region, but you can still read your way into the countries’ culture through a whole range of related topics.

RootsThe most famous work relating to The Gambia is probably Roots, by Alex Haley, which was written in 1976. A mix of fiction and historical fact, this hugely influential book describes the African-American author’s search for his African origins.

TravelsFor historical insights into the region, give Mungo Park’s Travels in the Interior of Africa a try. The classic tome details the author’s expeditions through Gambia and Senegal to the Niger River in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His descriptions of the musical performances by griots (West African praise singers) could still apply to their timeless art today.

The BellyFinally translated, Fatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic (2008) is a beautiful novel that grants an intimate insight into complex issues surrounding emigration.

Most works on Senegal are written in French. If you’re familiar with the language, Sénégal (2005), Christian Saglio’s musings on the country, is a great choice. The former head of Dakar’s Institut Français has spent the greater part of his life in Senegal, where, among other things, he helped conceive the fabulous network of campements villageois (traditional-style village lodgings) in Casamance in the 1970s.

Our Grandmothers DrumsFor an easy-to-read and entertaining account of travels around West Africa’s music scene, try Mark Hudson’s Our Grandmother’s Drum. The amusing Music in My Head, by the same author, describes the power, influence and everyday realities of modern African music, and is set in a mythical city that is instantly recognisable as Dakar.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.