Why you should care

It’s time to spice up your bookshelf with new literary talent. 

Over 20 years after the end of apartheid in South Africa, the country’s writing scene has been buzzing with great stories — from crime and sci-fi to adventure and historical fiction. Still, some genres remain untapped; “the present political order is ripe for satire, but there is a nervousness holding writers back,” says Derek Attridge, a professor of English at the University of York and an expert in South African literature.

The country is ripe with literary talent. Two of the three short-listed books for this year’s prestigious pan-African Etisalat prize hail from South Africa. “It’s an exciting time to be writing in this country,” says Justin Fox, one of the prize’s long-listed authors. “After 1994, there seemed to be a kind of hiatus, a ‘where to now?’ situation because protest writing was suddenly out of date.” But now, he says, many “local writers have broken the shackles.”

Ready to go on a literary adventure? Here are a few great places to start.

The Thunder That Roars
by Imran Garda

Imran Garda is a presenter and producer at Al Jazeera Media Network based in San Francisco, so it’s no surprise he made his protagonist a journalist. This fast-paced story follows Yusuf Carrim, a reporter covering the Arab Spring, whose career is in an upswing after he receives a request from his millionaire father that will change it all — and take Yusuf on a journey from his native South Africa to Dubai, Italy and Zimbabwe. Along the way, he uncovers troubling stories about his country and his family that make him question everything. The Thunder That Roars is a narrative that’s likely to resonate with the many South Africans who live abroad.

Penumbra
by Songeziwe Mahlangu

This is the first novel from Songeziwe Mahlangu, a young, London-based accountant who chose to pursue a master’s in creative writing after earning his business degree. Like its title, which means “partial eclipse,” this intelligent book explores life’s in-between states: the gray areas between right and wrong, truth and pretense, sanity and insanity. It follows the life of Mangaliso Zolo, a young graduate from the suburbs of Cape Town struggling with mental illness and constantly being pulled between friends and family, drugs and Christianity. Mahlangu explores the nuances of Zolo but also of his city of Cape Town — beyond the postcard pictures and the poverty clichés. The book portrays South Africa’s young urban generation with insight and candor.

An Imperfect Blessing
by Nadia Davids

This ambitious book is both historical and personal. Scholar and playwright Nadia Davids sets her first novel in 1993, a crucial year for South Africa and also for the book’s protagonist, Alia Dawood. While the country is on the brink of political transition and engulfed by protests, the combative 14-year-old Muslim undergoes a rebellion of her own, torn between everyday teenage concerns and a thirst for social justice. Through Alia, Davids makes this turbulent political decade accessible — and in mosques, clubs and carnivals explores the subversive nature of race, faith and freedom. With a keen eye for dialogue, Davids offers a perspective often overlooked in white versus black narratives: that of Muslims, who represent 1.5 percent of South Africa.

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