Homegrown fiction that unfolds the ways of being South African
Five new good reads to enjoy from the local publishing industry
he year 2021 is almost over and we are rushing to cross the finish line of another year of uncertainty. It seems to have flown by but, fortunately, the local publishing industry has kept pace with the passage of time and there are some great home-grown titles to add to your reading list.
A new novel from Mandla Langa, one of SA’s finest writers, is always something to look forward to. The lyrically titled The Lost Language of the Soul a sweeping coming-of-age story that begins in 1985.
Langa has described the book as the personal journey of a boy born of a South African father and a Zambian mother who is catapulted into manhood. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Mabaso is a determined yet vulnerable child who is used to his father’s absences, but when both parents disappear in quick succession, he sets out to find them.
Joining a group of MK guerrillas who are on their way to SA, Joseph’s quest takes him across the Zambezi river into
Botswana, and then to the border into what was Bophuthatswana. Once in SA, he starts to come to terms with his dual identity as a ZambianSouth African.
As Joseph navigates unfamiliar and often hostile territory in his search for his parents, he is also on a parallel journey of discovery one of identity and belonging as he seeks a safe house that is truly safe, a language that encompasses all languages, and a place in his soul that feels like home.
Tshidiso Moletsane’s gritty and explosive debut novel Junx takes the reader from Dobsonville in Soweto to the Johannesburg CBD. A darkly funny novel from a fresh new voice, it’s a heady descent into sex, drugs and anxiety that asks questions about life, death, race and politics.
The story begins a few hours before a wild party. The narrator shares a joint with his friend Ari. Ari is always right. The problem is that Ari doesn’t exist; also, he has wings. Both angel and devil, Ari leads the narrator less down the path of righteousness than the path that rocks.
When the narrator hijacks a tourist’s rental car he sets out on
a joyride to a brothel, with a mob in hot pursuit and Ari cackling.
“They tell us that the best things in life are free,” he says, “but no-one tells us the worst things are too. I think everyone should stop teasing and just drop their nukes so we can get it over with. The politicians, the police, the army: burn it all down, scorch the Earth. They serve no-one. I think trans and gay people aren’t hurting anyone. I think prostitutes are providing perfectly legitimate
services. I think we get too high and too drunk because reality is awfully tiresome.”
Short-story writer and creative writing lecturer Dianne Stewart’s latest collection Nuances is a wonderfully assorted collection of stories for a diverse audience.
There’s the scrawny car guard from Mozambique who battles to find a job at a Ballito shopping centre only to have his hopes dashed.
When Littleman’s department store in Durban closes down Clare, who lives with her cats and a father who must be fed promptly at six, is deceived by a fellow former employee and has her life turned upside down.
Living rough on the streets, Ed is his own boss. After an injury led to him losing his job, he lost his house and his family. Ed is sickly and alone, but a chance meeting may change his life once again.
In a retelling of the Cinderella story set in London, Cindy lives with a mean and controlling stepmother and her daughters. She attends a dance and is given the opportunity to escape and carve a new life for herself.
Stewart’s characters are people in search of change, answers and hope. Her writing is authentic and nuanced, as the title suggests, and reveals the subtleties that influence people’s relationships with each other and the world.
Gretchen Haley’s The Tearoom is a quirky tragicomedy set in KwaZulu-Natal.
Thirapatheegadu Ezekiel Reddy, Tubby for short, is the proud owner of The Tearoom, a charming restaurant.
He’s also a father, a timid dreamer and the long-suffering husband of Lynette, an annoying hypochondriac.
Together with his crew of locals and oddballs thrown together by loss and circumstance, they serve up the most delicious meals: biryanis, curries, samosas and, of course, bunny chows.
But Tubby does not have an easy life at home. A fantasist at heart, he has been working on a brilliant plan that involves the object of his affection his enigmatic kitchen assistant. In the month before his birthday, the countdown begins. But as Tubby sets out to change his life and fulfil his dream, he is delivered a blow that could wreck everything.
This is a funny, heartwarming and sometimes painful tale filled with local flavour, mystery and deeply unconventional romance with a cast of devious, eccentric characters.
“The neighbours were murdered at Christmas.” The opening line of Nick Mulgrew’s A Hibiscus Coast sets the scene for a novel that explores themes of belonging, family, loss and hope.
In Durban North, 1997, a suburban murder shakes the community, and drives one of its members to emigrate. Nineteen-year-old Mary Da Costa is flying to Auckland ahead of her parents to make a new start, but she is filled with reservations about the move.
Her late brother was supposed to relocate to New Zealand, but he never made it. All Mary wants to do is focus on her art and keep to herself. When she arrives, she is embraced by the South African expat community.
The impact of emigration is a fractious topic for many, and Mulgrew’s finely developed, sometimes messy, characters have been deeply affected by life events, losses and prejudices. When the group of rugby-mad expats encroach on the dream of the local self-appointed Maori leader, Mulgrew deftly draws comparisons between two narratives of land ownership and dispossession.
With SA nineties culture as a backdrop, the novel reflects on what it takes to fit in. It is also a considerate portrayal of Maori culture and the challenges these First Nation people continue to face. This a beautifully written, carefully researched novel on a difficult subject.