A bookworm's journey around South Africa

20 December 2015

I recently spent a couple of weeks in South Africa. Beautiful landscapes aside, it was a fascinating trip, and I was lucky enough to come across some wonderful books to give me a tiny insight into the culture and history. Anyway, I love reading lists, so here’s a post of book-related recommendations about, or from, South Africa.

I was happily surprised to discover that Lauren Beukes, a writer whose work I had come across through her science fiction writing, wrote “Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past” prior to any scifi books that I’d read by her. I kept an eye out for it while I was in bookshops in Cape Town, but sadly didn’t manage to find it.

I can also really recommend her science fiction writing, which is at times brutal, but incredibly gripping: Zoo City, which I read last year, and The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, both of which I’ve heard good things about.

Following on the scifi theme, the film District 9 is pretty well-known, and was a good (if not brutal) read. The same director, Neill Blomkap, also directed another scifi film that I’ve been meaning to watch, Chappie, about a future with a mechanised, robotic police force.

I read just one book by Nadine Gordimer - July’s People, and it was an engaging read. It tells the story of a white family who are forced to seek refuge in the village of their domestic worker, July. For others by her, this seems like a good place to start - Five must-read books by Nadine Gordimer, written following her death last year.

I have two favourite books that stood out beyond the others that I read, though: firstly, An Imperfect Blessing, by Nadia Davids. I was debating whether or not to buy it from a lovely bookshop in Kalk Bay, flicked through it, and came across a character with the same name as my mum. I figured it was a sign, and I’m very, very glad I did - it was a great book, following a Muslim family living in Cape Town in 1993. It focuses on the lives of the two daughters of the family, but also comments on broader Muslim community issues, as well as issues around immigration and integration within the context of South African history. I’m stunned that this is the author’s first novel, and I’ll definitely be looking out for more by her.

The other was a more well-known book: Country of My Skull, by Antjie Krog. I wrote a little about the book already, but in short: Antjie Krog is one of the best writers I think I’ve ever read. South African friends tell me her poetry in Afrikaans is beautiful, too.

I continued reading another by the same author, called A Change of Tongue which, though not as spectacular as Country of My Skull, was still an excellent read. It mixed mythology, stories, along with a more personal narrative around Krog’s life.

Others that I can’t recommend as strongly as the others, but that are worth a mention, were Zoe Wicomb’s Playing in the light, which started well, but ended disappointingly, and Diane Brown’s The Sabi which touches on so many important sociopolitical issues it was almost overwhelming.

Aside from books, I was looking out for an issue of Something Wicked, an annual anthology of speculative fiction, and I enjoyed reading this article about a boom in South African science fiction..

The two bookshops I visited were Clarke’s Bookshop in Cape Town centre, which specialises on books from Southern Africa, and Kalk Bay books, just a little outside of Cape Town. I can highly recommend them both!

Other books that were recommended that I didn’t get a chance to read were Mother to Mother by Sindiwe Magona, and Across Boundaries: The Journey of a South African Woman Leader by Mamphela Ramphele.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip, for many reasons. I’m very grateful to friends there and elsewhere for tips and guidance throughout!


You might also like: