Read Around the World: South Africa
Our next stop in our world tour of literature is South Africa. Join us as we explore some of what South Africa has to offer in terms of literature and find out which book we selected. We hope you will help us in generating a comprehensive list of South African literature for our readers. Scroll down to the bottom to check out a slide show of photos from beautiful South Africa, courtesy of my friend Oliver and his travels.
Fun Facts about South Africa
South Africa has 11 official languages, including Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa and English
From 1948 to 1991 South Africa’s political system was dominated by apartheid. In 1994 Nelson Mandela was voted in as the first black president of South Africa. 27 April is now celebrated annually as Freedom Day.
Table Mountain, one of the iconic landmarks of South Africa, is one of the oldest mountains in the world and has more than 2,200 species of plants, 70 percent of which are endemic. See view from Table Mountain in photo slide show.
- A South African fish migration is so huge it can be seen from space. Between May and July every year millions of small silver fish travel in vast shoals from the cold waters off South Africa’s Cape Point up to the coastlines of the northern Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal. This annual event is called the Sardine Run and is so big it can be seen by satellite.
- There are more than 2000 shipwrecks off the coast of South Africa.
Book Selected: July’s People by Nadine Gordimer
Published in: 1981
Find it/buy it here: July’s People
Reason selected: Nadine Gordimer was one of South Africa’s most well-known writers. She won the Nobel Prize in 1991. She was an anti-apartheid campaigner and activist and many of her novels tackle issues of race and race relationships in South Africa.
Synopsis from Goodreads: For years, it had been what is called a “deteriorating situation.” Now all over South Africa the cities are battlegrounds. The members of the Smales family—liberal whites—are rescued from the terror by their servant, July, who leads them to refuge in his village. What happens to the Smaleses and to July—the shifts in character and relationships—gives us an unforgettable look into the terrifying, tacit understandings and misunderstandings between blacks and whites.
Book Worm’s Review: 3 stars. While I believe this is an important subject, for me this book lacked emotional impact and the ending just left me confused. The story is told in the third person and I never really felt a connection with any of the characters white or black. That said the author knows how to build the tension, suspicion and conflict which gave me an uneasy feeling while reading.
I think the author did a good job of showing the isolation felt by those living outside of their peer groups and their normal way of life and how the situation in South Africa had a life changing impact on everyone caught up in it. I like the way the white adults struggle to accept their new situation and how they come to realize that no matter how liberal they considered themselves they had always treated July as inferior to them (no matter how well they treated him in other respects). The fact that the children adapt almost instantly and form new friendships on equal footings shows possible hope for the future.
Jen’s Review: 4 stars. I liked this book quite a bit more than did Book Worm. July’s people is a novel that explores the racial tensions and complicated interdependencies between whites and blacks in South Africa. The Smales (Maureen and Bam) are white, middle-class liberals who find themselves stuck in the middle of a revolution when South African blacks are rioting, airports are being bombed, and the houses of whites are being burned. The Smales decided to flee to the village of their manservant, July (a black man). What ensues is a complicated realization of the differences between the Smales and July and the underlying racial stereotypes and beliefs held by these liberal whites who had prided themselves on being genuinely concerned with the welfare of black South Africans.
It is a clever, well-written book and is an interesting exploration of racial tensions in South Africa. For me, the story wasn’t about forming an emotional connection with the Smales or July and his family but rather about highlighting the complicated nature of race relationships and underlying racial prejudices by those who claim to support the welfare of blacks in South Africa. I also enjoyed Gordimer’s speculation of how things could have or could develop in South Africa.
Other recommendations for South African Literature:
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (the audiobook is highly recommended.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Paton
The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist by Breyton Breytenbach
Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
I reached out to Litsy users for additional recommendations and they provided a solid list of additional South African books. Here are their recommendations:
Country of my Skull by Antjie Krog
A Blade of Grass by Lewis DeSoto
Triomf by Marlene Van Niekerk
In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
Down Second Avenue by Ezekiel Mphahlele
At the Edge by Ronnie Govender
My Traitor’s House by Rian Malan
The Power of One by Bryce Courtney
Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew
Tell Freedom by Peter Abrahams
*Special thanks to ShawnMooney, JulesG, Amandajoy, EvieBee84, purple_takkies, & LeahBergen for their recommendations. Check them out on Litsy and give them a follow if you are over there.
South African Authors to check out:
We want to hear from you. Have you read any books based in, or by authors from South Africa? Do we have any South African readers? What would you like to share about literature in your country? Which books do you recommend?
This is a great post! I absolutely need to read more South African fiction. I have several as yet unread SA titles on my TBR, which is a crying shame since I do call it home and it holds so many interesting stories from fascinating people. 🙂
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A Dry White Season by Andre Brink was really good. I did like July’s People, too. But I just finished listening to Trevor Noah, and have to say, wow! Very highly recommend, and definitely listen. You’ll cry. Because you’re that angry, that sad, and, mostly, laughing that hard.
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I’m glad you’ve put the spotlight on SA. But so much South African writing is bleak – heavy – unsurprising, given our past history. However, we do have lighter writers : Paige Nick, Sally Andrews to mention two of my favourites. Plus there’s a whole raft of SA crime writers, if you enjoy crime in an African setting: Mike Nicholls, Margie Orford, Karin Barnard, Sarah Lotz, Deon Meyer – plus plenty more. Edith Bulbryng for YAs; and one of my faves – A Slim Green Silence by Beverley Ryecroft. And for SpecFic there’s Lauren Beukes. Personally, I don’t enjoy the lit heavyweights of SA Lit. Time to move on!
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That is for the recommendations. We actually included a few of your rec in the list from Litsy readers (Sally Andrews) but always good to have more. Thanks!
You’ve reached my favourite destination in the world…. I’ve also enjoyed its literature particularly Disgrace by J.M Coetzee and Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I’ve not read this novel by Gordimer but I have started the one which which she won the Booker Prize – The Gathering – and have to say that I’m not knocked out by it…..
For other suggestions there are two guest posts on my site written by bloggers from South Africa – these give additional ideas which echo Alison’s own recommendations and also add more. The posts are here http://bookertalk.com/2013/11/27/the-view-from-here-south-african-literature/ and http://bookertalk.com/2016/10/03/south-african-fiction/
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I’ve only read a few classics. Cry The Beloved Country, A Dry White Season, Burger’s Daughter. I’d like to read some Coetzee. One of the Kurt Wallander books is partly set in South Africa and includes a plot to assassinate Nelson Mandela. I’m interested in the crime writers Alison mentions. Margie Orford in particular sounds an intriguing writer.