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Study up on South Africa: 5 Essential Reads to Prepare for your Trip

South Africa’s literary tradition is impossible to sum up in just a few crisp lines.  Diverse language, heritage, and traditions, a turbulent history, and a multi-cultural society still adjusting to new norms are some of the major strands that are woven into the rich literary tapestry of South Africa today.  In both fiction and non-fiction, the ubiquitous theme of the injustice of the apartheid system is spun into thousands of variations by black, white, and Afrikaans authors.

Here are five books and authors we recommend as excellent places to begin your journey to South Africa.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Arguably South Africa’s best-known novel, Cry, the Beloved Country contrasts the abundance of the land with the tense uncertainty of the people who inhabit it.  As the protagonist, Reverend Stephen Kumalo, searches for his missing son, Paton skillfully shows the breakdown of the native tribal culture and injustice of white rule in the country, foreshadowing in many ways the horror of the apartheid system that was introduced soon after the publication of Cry, the Beloved Country in 1948.

Cape Town, The Making of a City by Nigel Worden and Elizabeth van Heyningen

First recommended to us by several of our local experts, this eminently readable book charts the remarkable history of South Africa’s diverse southern capital.  Illustrations, maps, drawings and other visual enhancements help the reader understand the complex history of Colonial Cape Town under Dutch and British rule and to understand better the dynamic city that Cape Town is today.  A must read for history buffs as well as those who plan to visit the city and its surrounding environs!

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

This extraordinary autobiography of the father of modern-day South Africa began as scribbled notes on tiny scraps of paper by the author, during his lengthy imprisonment.  The book pulls off the difficult trick of being at the same time an autobiography of Mandela and the country and is considered basic reading for all South Africans.  Made into an inspiring biopic starring Idris Elba, Long Walk to Freedom contains some of Mandela’s most memorable quotes including “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner,” which many believe to be the foundation of modern-day South Africa.

Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer was South Africa’s first Nobel Prize laureate for literature.  Born in the Transvaal in 1923, the trajectory of her prolific writing life has spanned the troubled period of South Africa’s racially-divided apartheid era, and in many of her short stories and books, she explores the devastating effects the system had on the citizens of pre- and post-apartheid South Africa.  Gordimer does not shrink from examining highly taboo subjects such as a love affair between a black man and a white women in Occasion for Loving (1963).  Choose any or all of her thirteen novels and ten short story collections to enjoy an eloquent and unapologetic portrait of South Africa by one of her most gifted writers.

J. M. Coetzee

Like Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee tackles some of the most painful and raw themes of South African society in books, essays, and short stories with masterful prose.  A two-time Booker Prize recipient (for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999), Coetzee was also awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. 

Discover South Africa on Alexander + Robert’s luxury itinerary Southern Africa In-Style with Rovos Rail, aboard the world-famous luxury train: a 13-day private journey.  Speak to one of our knowledgeable reservation agents about this and other African itineraries.

Posted: 5/25/2017 1:33:38 PM by Alexander + Roberts