Recommended books, CDs, movies re: South Africa?

Oct 29th, 2003, 09:27 AM
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Recommended books, CDs, movies re: South Africa?

We like to try to do a little cultural immersion before our trips. With one month to go before our trip to South Africa, we'd love recommendations for books to read (fiction or nonfiction), music to listen to, and movies to rent in anticipation of our journey. We have travel guidebooks and wildlife documentaries up the wazoo, as well as the Mandela autobiography, but that's it. I read Alan Paton's "Cry the Beloved Country" and Bryce Courtenay's "The Power of One" and loved those. What else? I know I should read something by J.M. Coetzee, but which one? We are particularly in need of CD recommendations. My familiarity with South African music pretty much stops with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba, but we don't even own any CDs by either of them! And I think the only film set in South Africa I've seen is "Cry Freedom." I know this is a ridiculously broad question, but we would appreciate any suggestions. How about this: If you were going to South Africa for the first time and had time to read only one book, listen to one CD, and see one film in preparation for your journey, which would you most recommend? Thanks.
lisa is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 10:22 AM
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I'd recommend Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Travels in South Africa by Gavin Bell, which I talk about in a post just a few down from this one (at the moment).
He's a well known UK journalist who was stationed in SA for a number of years during apartheid and there when it finally ended.
However he hadn't really seen the country outside of the main cities and went back for a 6 month tour.
Without being dry or dull, and through well written anecdotes about people he meets, he imparts a surprising amount about the people, history and politics of the country.

In terms of TV there are a great many documentaries about wildlife in South Africa - yesterday I watched a depressing show called Lions: Finding Freedom about lions in Kruger coming down with Bovine Tuberculosis. It was made in 1999 so I don't know what the current situation is.

I have a number of others taped but I don't know that you'd be lucky enough to catch them on TV during the few weeks you have left!

: o )
Kavey is offline  
Oct 29th, 2003, 11:12 AM
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I would recommend My Traitor's Heart by Ryan Malan. He's an Afrikaaner, and sees the complexities and difficulties and possibilities of his country from a very sophisticated Afrikaaner perspective.

Coetzee is a wonderful writer, but depressing. Nadine Gordimer's best work is about the country under apartheid, so is not really current, although her latest two books are set in post- apartheid SA. Andre Brink captures the essence of the country too, but again, I think his best stuff is set in the days of apartheid, and his later stuff is so philosophical that you wish he had just written a philosopy treatise instead of trying to clutter it up with characters and plot remnants.

A recent book that I loved is Empire Settings by David Schmahmann. It's about a South African expatriate living in the US and his experiences returning to SA, wonderfully evocative and very moving.

For less serious stuff, if you like mysteries look for books by James McClure. Some of his titles are The Artful Egg, The Caterpillar Cop, Snake. He has written a couple of books set in Los Angeles, so look first. Wilbur Smith has written about a zillion swashbucklers set in South Africa and Zimbabwe in the past and the present.

For films, it's a little difficult. Although South Africa has long had a vibrant film industry, the boycott prevented their films from being shown world wide, and prevented foreign movie makers from working in SA. A film (whose title will NOT come to me) about the life of Ruth First and her daughter was made a few years before the government change, and was shot in Zimbabwe instead of SA for political reasons. However, Zim looks so much like SA in the 1950's that I loved looking at the movie. I'll surely think of the title and the star's name about 3 am tomorrow!

Don't bother seeing the movie of The Power of One; they changed the ending and totally destroyed the author's message.

I will try to do a little research on authors and films that are escaping me at the moment and reply again.


Celia is offline  
Oct 30th, 2003, 12:31 PM
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My choices would be:

The Covenant - James Michener
(One of the best books to read before coming to SA)

2nd choice
My traitors Heart - Riaan Malan

Zebra Crossing - Soweto String quartet

2nd choice
Anything by Sibongile Khumalo

Cry Freedom

2nd choice
Dry white season


Selwyn Davidowitz
Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa
Selwyn_Davidowitz is offline  
Oct 31st, 2003, 12:38 AM
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One the music side, try Mango Groove (the first CD or Hometalk); Mandoza or Bongo Muffin are good to discover kwaito - a uniquely SA music style.

For books - steer clear of JM Coetzee, he just keeps rewriting the same book over and over - and it is a mightily depressing story which few South Africans relate to. He no longer commands any respect in SA (most think it's a joke that he won the Nobel Literature Prize) and he has in fact moved to Australia! Riaan Malan is good, an interesting book is Strange Days Indeed by Shaun Johnson. It's a collection of his newspaper editorials from the early nineties - and gives a very good insight into where we've come from.

On the movie side - there were two really fantastic local movies earlier this year and for the life of me I cannot remember the names. One was (I think) Country Of My Skull: about an ex-pat returning home to claim the family farm, and the second was a road trip story with a middle aged white man and a young black boy. Help! to anyone who can remember the name, Ian Roberts starred in it. The movie Stander came out recently and it's interesting as part of SA folklore.
traci_local_in_sa is offline  
Oct 31st, 2003, 12:52 PM
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Thank you, Selwyn and Traci, for these suggestions! I love knowing about new (to me)South African books and films!

And how could I have forgotten to suggest The Covenant!?!?? Great book!

I'm interested to read what Traci has to say about Coetzee's local reputation. Thanks, Traci.

(And thanks to both of you for the correction on the spelling of Riaan.)
Celia is offline  
Oct 21st, 2004, 07:58 PM
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jessw is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2004, 07:07 AM
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The film whose name I couldn't remember is A World Apart (at least I THINK it is!). I saw it on video, not in a theater, so it probably is available in video stores.
Celia is offline  
Oct 22nd, 2004, 03:44 PM
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Hi Lisa,
Great visiting next May so I will add the other suggestions to my list.
Haven't read these yet but were on the list of suggested reading material provided by my travel agent:

Vanishing Cultures of South Africa - Peter Magubane
Scramble for Africa - Thomas Pakenham
This is Sounth Africa - Peter Borchert
Thabo Mbeki, Life and Times - Adrian Hadland
Happy Reading...

PS what does ttt mean as a post ??

wallybrenda is offline  
Nov 12th, 2004, 12:30 AM
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Allow me to add:

Cry Of The Kalahari by Mark & Delia Owens


Eye Of The Elephant by Mark & Delia Owens

These are both very enlightening books on the struggles that wildlife in Africa faces. I guess as a Bible (or Koran or other religous text) would do to somebody that feels guilty and is looking for redemption, these books have opened my eyes to look past the Singita's and Mombo's to see what is really important, and that is the conservation of the wildlife in Africa.
Roccco is offline  
Nov 12th, 2004, 12:32 AM
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(Just realized that the original thread specified South Africa, but the two books I mentioned are invaluable even though they take place mostly in Botswana and Zambia)
Roccco is offline  
Nov 12th, 2004, 01:32 AM
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Hi Lisa,

Well done for learning about a country before you arrive!

I would suggest anything by the Soweto String Quartet (interesting background to this group too, relating to upliftment of township kids)for music. Johnny Clegg and Savuka also were pretty populat both here and abroad, so you might have heard some of their music.

For books, it depends what you are interested in : recent history or a few hundred years back? Thomas Pakenham does some interesting historical stuff, and since democracy really happened there are lots of books about apartheid and its consequences. The book Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog (I don't think it was that movie, although a movie was made of it recently) was for me profoundly moving, written by a person who attended the Truth And Reconciliation hearings, and documents her responses. I found it heavy because of my emotional response to it, so leave plenty of time to read it if you wish. Other journalism collections by people like Allister Sparks and Robert Kirby could also be interesting. I agree wholeheartedly about JM Coetzee - read him only if you're desperate.

For movies, the most recent SA ones (don't know if they're available in your country) are Forgiveness, about a white policeman after democracy, and Yesterday, a story about a Zulu woman trying to live with HIV Aids. Cry the Beloved Country was also made into a movie a few years back, with James Earl Jones as the pastor, and set in the beautiful Drakensberg.

But again, it really depends on what interests you. You could try for current news, and for more investigative journalism, if you want an update on really current affairs.

Have fun and enjoy our beautiful country! Hamba Kahle!
SingleMom is offline  
Nov 12th, 2004, 02:50 AM
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Lots of good tips. But as it hasn't been mentioned, and as I was knocked out by it (found in a second hand book shop in Durban a few years back) can I recommend "The Washing of the Spears" by Donald Morris. Written a while back but excellent on the early history of the country - well I thought so anyway!!
alice13 is offline  

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