Maryse Condé, the Guadeloupean author of more than 20 novels, activist, and academic died on April 2. She was 90.

Condé – in both fiction and essays – wrote of colonialism, sexuality, the black diaspora, and African and Caribbean history.

While breaking the news of her death, Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou wrote on X that Condé was the “Grande Dame of World Letters” and had bequeathed a body of work “driven by the quest for a humanism based on the ramifications of our identities and the fractures in history”.

Her debut novel, Hérémakhonon, was published in 1976. The novel follows a Paris-educated Guadeloupean woman, who realises that her struggle to locate her identity is an internal journey, rather than a geographical one. She gained prominence with her third novel, Ségu, in 1984. The novel follows the life of Dousika Traore, a royal adviser in the titular African kingdom in the late 18th century, who must deal with encroaching challenges from religion, colonisation and the slave trade over six decades.

In 1982, she married Richard Philcox. He is a French-to-English translator who has also translated the highest number of Condé’s novels. In 2023, the author-translator team was the oldest ever to be nominated for the International Booker Prize (at 89).

After teaching in New York, Los Angeles and Berkeley, Condé retired from teaching in 2005. She wrote two memoirs: Tales from the Heart: True Stories from My Childhood (2001) and What is Africa to Me? (2017). She was awarded France’s Legion of Honour in 2004. Condé was twice shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, including once for her entire body of work in 2015. That year, she won the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her final novel, The Gospel According to the New World was published in 2021 and translated into English in March 2023. It was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize. The novel follows the journey of a baby rumoured to be the child of God. Due to the loss of vision, most of the novel was “written” as dictations to her husband or a friend.

Here are the ten novels of Condé’s that make for essential reading:

The Gospel According to the New World, translated by Richard Philcox

One Easter Sunday, Madame Ballandra puts her hands together and exclaims: “A miracle!” Baby Pascal is strikingly beautiful, brown in complexion, with grey-green eyes like the sea. But where does he come from? Is he really the child of God? So goes the rumour, and many signs throughout his life will cause this theory to gain ground. From journey to journey and from one community to another, Pascal sets off in search of his origins, trying to understand the meaning of his mission. Will he be able to change the fate of humanity? And what will the New World Gospel reveal?

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, translated by Richard Philcox

Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan, stunted by early experiences of rejection and exploitation, walks the path of radicalization. The twins, unable to live either with or without each other, become perpetrators and victims in a wave of violent attacks.

Waiting for the Waters to Rise, translated by Richard Philcox

Babakar is a doctor living alone, with only the memories of his childhood in Mali. In his dreams, he receives visits from his blue-eyed mother and his ex-lover Azelia, both now gone, as are the hopes and aspirations he’s carried with him since his arrival in Guadeloupe. Until, one day, the child Anaïs comes into his life, forcing him to abandon his solitude. Anaïs’s Haitian mother died in childbirth, leaving her daughter destitute – now Babakar is all she has, and he wants to offer this little girl a future. Together they fly to Haiti, a beautiful, mysterious island plagued by violence, government corruption, and rebellion. Once there, Babakar and his two friends, the Haitian Movar and the Palestinian Fouad, three different identities looking for a more compassionate world, begin a desperate search for Anaïs’s family.

The Story of the Cannibal Woman, translated by Richard Philcox

One dark night in Cape Town, Rosélie’s husband goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back. Not only is she left with unanswered questions about his violent death but she is also left without any means of support. At the urging of her housekeeper and best friend, the new widow decides to take advantage of the strange gifts she has always possessed and embarks on a career as a clairvoyant. As Rosélie builds a new life for herself and seeks the truth about her husband's murder, Maryse Condé crafts a deft exploration of post-apartheid South Africa and a smart, gripping thriller.

Who Slashed Celanire’s Throat?, translated by Richard Philcox

On one hand, beautiful Celanire – a woman mutilated at birth and left for dead – appears today to be a saint; she is a tireless worker who has turned numerous neglected institutions into schools for motherless children. But she is also a woman apprehended by demons, as death and misfortune seem to follow in her wake. Travelling from Guadeloupe to West Africa to Peru, the mysterious, seductive, and disarming Celanire is driven to uncover the truth of her past at any cost and avenge the crimes committed against her.

Windward Heights, translated by Richard Philcox

Maryse Condé reimagines Emily Brontë’s passionate novel as a tale of obsessive love between the “African” Razyé and Cathy, the half-Creole daughter of the man who takes Razyé in and raises him, but whose treatment goads him into rebellious flight. Retaining the emotional power of the original, Condé shows Caribbean society in the wake of emancipation.

Crossing the Mangrove, translated by Richard Philcox

Francis Sancher always said he would come to an unnatural end. So when this handsome newcomer to the Guadeloupean village of Rivière au Sel is found dead, face down in the mud, no one is particularly surprised. Loved by some – especially women – and reviled by others, Francis was an enigmatic figure. Where did he come from? What caused his strange nocturnal wanderings? What devils haunted him? As the villagers come to pay their respects, they each reveal another piece of the mystery behind his life and death – and their own buried secrets and stories come to light.

I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem, translated by Richard Philcox

This wild and entertaining novel expands on the true story of the West Indian slave Tituba, who was accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, arrested in 1692, and forgotten in jail until the general amnesty for witches two years later. Maryse Condé brings Tituba out of historical silence and creates for her a fictional childhood, adolescence, and old age.

Segu, translated by Barbara Ray

It is 1797 and the African kingdom of Segu, born of blood and violence, is at the height of its power. Yet Dousika Traore, the king's most trusted advisor, feels nothing but dread. Change is coming. From the East, a new religion, Islam. From the West, the slave trade. These forces will tear his country, his village and the lives of his beloved sons apart, in Maryse Condé’s glittering epic.

Hérémakhonon, translated by Richard Philcox

Veronica Mercier, a sophisticated Caribbean woman teaching and living in Paris, goes to a West African country to complete her search for self-identity. There, she finds herself involved with a “nigger with ancestors” – a cold, calculating minister for the interior and heir to the presidency.