TOP 10 SOUTH AFRICAN READS
The history of South Africa is well documented, but very few people know about its famous authors and their incredible talent. One day, I shall hope to join the ranks of my heroes!
By JM Coetzee
The crowning achievement of a distinguished literary career, Disgrace won Coetzee the Booker Prize for the second time, making him the first writer to achieve that distinction – and occasioned much debate within South Africa. It is a bleak but always compelling story of the new South Africa struggling to come to terms with itself, addressing issues of guilt, responsibility, meaning and survival, written in prose of crystalline sharpness. A surprise bestseller in South Africa as well as abroad.
By Alan Paton
Perhaps the most famous novel to come out of South Africa, Paton’s 1948 work brought to the notice of the world the dilemmas of ordinary South Africans living under an oppressive system, one which threatened to destroy their very humanity. Informed by Paton’s Christian and liberal beliefs, the novel tells of a rural Zulu parson’s heart-breaking search for his son, who has been drawn into the criminal underworld of the city. Cry, The Beloved Country has sold millions of copies around the world.
By Nadine Gordimer
Winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, Gordimer was for decades South Africa’s literary conscience. Her stories are perhaps the best introduction to her work: they span the 1950s to the 1990s in this volume (British edition), moving from the city to the countryside and from the highest ranks of society to the lowest. With delicacy and power, they cast a bright light on the extraordinary lives led by South Africans of all races, and the nature of their interactions across colour lines and within them.
By Zakes Mda
Mda came to prominence as a dramatist in the 1970s; now he has flourished as a novelist. This, his second novel, won the 2001 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, and has become a school setwork. Weaving together two strands of storytelling, the novel moves between the past and the present. In the past is the narrative of Nongqawuse, the 19th century prophetess whose visions brought a message from the ancestors and took her people to the brink of extermination. In the present time, 150 years later, a feud that dates back to the days of Nongqawuse still simmers in the village of Qolorha as it faces the demands of modernity.
By Herman Charles Bosman
In a new edition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its first publication, this collection is a South African classic. In the voice of the sly old bushveld storyteller Oom Schalk Laurens, Bosman tells tales of a rural Afrikaner South Africa that has long since vanished – yet the unique flavour and wry humour of the stories remains undiminished.
By Phaswane Mpe
Phaswane Mpe’s first novel (shortlisted for the 2002 Sunday Times Fiction Prize) is a new variation on what was known as the “Jim Comes to Jo’burg” theme in South African literature. A man leaves his rural home in the Northern Province and comes to the big city to find a new life. What he finds is a dangerous but vital inner city, epitomised by Hillbrow, the flatland in the centre of Johannesburg where the well- heeled no longer set foot – the “city of gold, milk, honey and bile”. This is the land of drug deals, xenophobia, violence, sex and Aids, and this novel is an uncompromising look at the reality of the new South Africa as it affects the poorest of the urban population. It is also a story of love, survival and hope.
By Njabulo Ndebele
Ndebele is a noted academic and critic as well as a writer of fiction. In this work, he carries out the brief argued in his essay “Rediscovery of the Ordinary”, returning the gaze of the reader to the very human lives of township people and forgoing the rhetoric of political struggle, though that background is not ignored. His characters deal with the generation gap and the formative experiences of childhood in these warmly perceptive stories.
By AHM Scholtz
The author came to literature late in life, but was hailed as the “Steinbeck of the coloured South African platteland” – and produced a bestseller that has now been translated all over the world. His novel, which is very close to actual history, tells the story of a village inhabited mostly by “coloureds”, the mixed-race people of the Cape, from its earliest beginnings. The various characters of the village’s history speak, telling their stories from their own perspectives to create a portrait of a whole community.
By Etienne van Heerden
In its original Afrikaans, titled Toorberg, Van Heerden’s novel won all the prizes going in South Africa that year. It draws on the tradition of the plaasroman (farm novel), and transforms it at the same time, to tell the riveting transgenerational story of a family entangled with its ghosts – both living and dead. An utterly compelling read.
By Andre Brink
This novel by one of South Africa’s most prolific authors, set in the 1970s, brought the issue of deaths in detention to the notice of many who would rather have not known about it. When a white South African investigates the death of a black friend in police custody, he uncovers the brutal truth about apartheid South Africa. An interesting companion volume would be Cry Freedom, Donald Woods’ non-fiction account of his friendship with Bantu Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness leader murdered in custody by police.