I’m currently reading a book set in South Africa so I thought this was the perfect time to share a list of books that I want to read by authors from Southern African countries.
This is less varied than my other regional reading lists because I’ve honed in on my love of women’s fiction and multi-generational family saga. But don’t fear, there are a few short story collections, YA novels, memoirs and auto-biographies.
As ever, I’ve had to choose books in English or available in English translation because I am terrible at languages. However, I hope this list is accessible to range of people so you can read along with me.
Please comment / email / DM me on social media if you have a great book to add to this list.
Far and Beyon’ tells the story of a Botswanan family’s struggle to cope with the devastation of HIV and poverty. Reeling from the loss of a second son to AIDS, Mara turns to traditional magic to fight the curse she believes is destroying her family.
Genre/Themes: Family saga, literary fiction
When Rainclouds Gather & Maru by Bessie Head
Though born in South Africa, Bessie Emery Head is usually considered Botswana’s most influential writer. This 2010 reprint combines two of her most famous novels: ‘When Rainclouds Gather’ – Escaping South Africa and his troubled past, Makehaya crosses the border to Botswana, and ‘Maru’ – Margaret, an orphan from a despised tribe accepts her first teaching post in a remote village.
Genre/Themes: Classic, literary fiction
When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn
Adele Joubert loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school is going to be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders. But as they bond over a shared copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and Lottie learns to be a little sweeter.
Genre / Themes: YA, coming of age, friendship
A collection of short stories by Basotho women, which offers glimpses of traditional healers, circumcision schools, witches, bride-prices, and extended rural family life.
Genre/Themes: Short stories, women’s fiction
Mukwahepo. Women Soldier Mother by Ellen Ndeshi Namhila
In 1963 Mukwahepo left her home in Namibia and followed her fiancé across the border into Angola. They survived hunger and war and eventually made their way to Tanzania. There, Mukwahepo became the first woman to undergo military training with SWAPO – the only woman in Kongwa camp.
Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais
Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a ten-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village struggles to raise her children alone after her husband’s death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race until the Soweto Uprising shatters their worlds.
Genre/Themes: Women’s fiction, historical fiction
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. The memoir of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.
Genre/Themes: Memoir, coming-of-age
Invisible Strings by Naledi Mashishi
Mamokgethi Pule’s life is brought to an abrupt halt by an unplanned pregnancy. As her daughter grows inside, she begins to develop otherworldly powers ranging from visions, to seeing the dead, to healing by touch. A young pastor, Solomon Khumalo, is desperate to prove himself by preaching the word of God to a large and loyal congregation. When he discovers Mamokgethi, he makes her a tempting offer: in exchange for money, he would pass off the healing powers as his own.
Genre/Themes: Contemporary fantasy.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
The first book published by a black woman from Zimbabwe in English, Nervous Conditions won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989. The semi-autobiographical novel focuses on the story of a Shona family in post-colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s.
Genre / Themes: Historical fiction, literary
The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
An albino woman is languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, after being sentenced for murder. As part of her appeal, her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it…
Genre / Themes: Literary crime
*The Book of Memory is the only one in this list that I’ve read (pre-booksta). I remember really enjoying it but I don’t have a review so might need to re-read…