Recommended reading about South Africa?

Oct 18th, 2004, 08:35 PM
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Recommended reading about South Africa?

I would love to hear people's suggestions for books to read about South Africa. I am interested in both fiction and nonfiction - I like to read a bit of both about a country before traveling there.

Anyone care to share their ideas?

Thanks ~ Jessica
jessw is offline  
Oct 18th, 2004, 10:00 PM
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Hello Jessica,

It depends how much reading time you have between now and your departure for South Africa.

* Corny as this may sound, "The Covenant" by James Michener gives a good overview of South Africa's history. It's in a fictional format, but is based on reality. Michener wrote the book in the 1980s. Hence it lacks important historical developments that have taken place since then, Nelson Mandela's 1990 release from prison and all that has followed. If you can read only one book about South Africa, I would say read this one, not because it's the best literary work, but because it provides the most concise summary.

* "Too Late the Phalarope" by Alan Paton. This is a novel set in apartheid-era South Africa. It expresses the author's revulsion with apartheid. The protagonist is a white South African. Paton uses what I think is a brilliant device for telling the story. The narrator is a spinster aunt who lives with a family. As such, she is the least powerful, least noticed member of the family. Yet she sees all that goes on. An understated, and yet paradoxically powerful, way of getting a point across.

* "Cry The Beloved Country" is Alan Paton's earlier and much more famous novel. The protagonist is a black man struggling to find freedom in an impoverished and oppressive environment. The story takes place in 1946, before the 1948 election victory of the Nationalist Party and the subsequent, full-blown implementation of apartheid. Yet, even then, conditions were so very difficult for black South Africans. Also a compelling book in which Paton's love of South Africa and her people shines through.

* "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela. A very inspiring autobiography that left me with an even greater admiration of the man than I'd had before. The only challenge for a non-South African reader is that the book is quite detailed and has a lot of unfamiliar acronyms (names of political parties, trade unions, etc.).

* "Story of an African Farm" by Olive Schreiner. It's a novel that was published in 1883. At first glance it looks like a Jane Austen novel, in that it narrates the everyday life in a household. Yet it is a very complex book that portrays the harshness of the South African environment, hints even back then of the racial difficulties that already existed, illustrates women's struggle for emancipation, etc. There is way more to this book than first meets the eye.

* "Jock of the Bushveld" by Percy Fitzpatrick. The author was a transport rider who delivered goods by ox wagon from the Indian Ocean port now called Maputo in Mozambique to the gold rush town of Johannesburg. The story is about his beloved dog, Jock. There are many cute vignettes of Fitzpatrick's and Jock's encounters with wild animals in the bush. This is the very territory you will visit if you go on safari in the Kruger National Park or the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Jock became something of a national hero in South Africa, and you can even visit his grave! Warm and fuzzy as the story is in many ways, it nonetheless is shocking for a 21st century reader to see the 19th century attitudes of colonial whites. To quote only one example of this, there is a dreadful scene in which one of the black workers is whipped.


* Country of My Skull : Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa" by Antjie Krog. Non-fiction. Written by a journalist who followed the proceedings of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. My friend says this is really gut-wrenching stuff. I've been gathering up the courage to read it. It took me YEARS to rent the video of "Schindler's List," which I greatly appreciated it once I saw it.

* "Kaffir Boy: The True Story Of A Black Youths Coming Of Age In Apartheid South Africa" by Mark Mathabane. As I understand it, this is a very moving, first hand account of the appalling obstacles a black South African faced in growing up. This and Nelson Mandela's book are the only ones I've mentioned that have been written by blacks. If you want a balance of perspectives, it may help you to round out your reading if you include this book.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Oct 20th, 2004, 12:03 PM
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I thought there was a long thread on this topic a while ago, but when I searched for it just now I couldn't find it. Am I mis-remembering?
Celia is offline  
Oct 20th, 2004, 02:52 PM
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Hello Celia,

A search brings up this thread from before my time here. I wonder if it's the one to which you're referring.

"Recommended books, CDs, movies re: South Africa?"
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Oct 20th, 2004, 11:49 PM
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Really enjoyed:

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Travels in South Africa
by Gavin Bell
Kavey is offline  
Oct 21st, 2004, 10:02 AM
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That's it, Judy, thank you!
Celia is offline  
Oct 21st, 2004, 06:46 PM
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Paul Theroux's recent book, Dark Star, has a section on South Africa. I actually recommend the entire book, which recounts his effort to follow Cecil Rhodes' fabled Cairo to Cape route, although, like many of his books, it presents a pessimistic and bleak view of Africa. ZZ
Zambezi is offline  
Apr 11th, 2006, 12:29 PM
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Imaginings of Sand by Andre Brink is a really beautiful novel about a young white woman who left SA before the fall of apartheid and came back to take care of her dying grandmother right before the change in governement.
melissaeric is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 01:00 AM
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I recently read Rainbow diary by John Malathronas, a newly released travelogue about South Africa. You might also try Wilderness Family by Kobie Kruger and When elephants fly : one woman's journey from Wall Street to Zululand by Carol Batrus.

As for fiction, I second The Covenant by James Michener and would add Shadows in the grass by Beverley Harper, Heart of the hunter by Deon Meyer and of course Wilbur Smith - The Blue horizon was a good read.


Treepol is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 05:56 AM
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"Long walk to Freedom" - of course. And anything by Nadine Gordimer. Andre Brink/J Coetzee.

And if you are into non fiction - try an amazing, amazing book - "The Washing of the Spears". Unforgettable.
fuzzylogic is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 01:50 PM
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I recently finished reading "The Power of One" (can't recall the author right off the top of my head). It was excellent. I have heard it was better than the movie, but can't speak to that since I didn't see the movie. I just know the book was very well written and though provoking.
jcasale is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 02:37 PM
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I've enjoyed "The Reader's Companion to South Africa", which is a compilation of stories by many writers. It's edited by Alan Ryan.

Another interesting book is "South From the Limpopo" by Dervla Murphy. This Irish writer traveled around South Africa by bicycle while in her 60s. This was from 1993 - 1995 as apartheid was crumbling.
ShayTay is offline  
Apr 13th, 2006, 08:27 AM
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I second "The Reader's Companion ..."
Celia is offline  
Apr 13th, 2006, 08:43 AM
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Has anyone read Disgrace? I think it won the Booker prize. I just ordered it from Amazon.
melissaeric is offline  
Apr 15th, 2006, 08:43 PM
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Well, it's primarily East Africa, but I'm really enjoying it

DANGEROUS BEAUTY by Mark C. Ross -- stories from a seasoned safari guide. Here is the link w/info:
ALadyNCal is offline  
Apr 15th, 2006, 09:53 PM
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Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton - a beautiful, poetic, lyric story.

Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. Not about South Africa, proper, but Zimbabwe. Wonderful.
nevermind is offline  

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