One of my fave books set in South Africa is Disgrace. After reading it, I was fascinated. South Africa is a fascinating country with a rich history, diverse culture, and breathtaking landscapes. It has inspired many authors to write stories set within its borders, capturing the complexities of its past and present. I hope you’ll explore some of the best books set in South Africa that offer unique insights into the country and its people.
Disgrace – J M Coetzee
An excellent choice among books set in South Africa. After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student.
The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding.
For a time, his daughter’s influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship. One of my faves among books set in South Africa.
Born a Crime – Trevor Noah
A memoir among books set in South Africa. Noah was born a crime, son of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the first years, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, take him away.
A collection of eighteen personal stories, Born a Crime tells the story of amischievous young boy growing into a restless young man as he struggles to find his place in a world where he was never supposed to exist. Born a Crime is equally the story of that young man’s fearless, rebellious and fervently religious mother – a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence and abuse that ultimately threatens her own life.
Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Noah illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and an unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a personal portrait of an unlikely childhood in a dangerous time, as moving and unforgettable as the very best memoirs and as funny as Noah’s own hilarious stand-up. Born a Crime is a must-read among books set in South Africa.
If You Want to Make God Laugh – Bianca Marais
A contemporary fiction among books set in South Africa. In a squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, seventeen-year-old Zodwa lives in desperate poverty, under the shadowy threat of a civil war and a growing AIDS epidemic. Eight months pregnant, Zodwa carefully guards secrets that jeopardize her life.
Across the country, wealthy socialite Ruth appears to have everything her heart desires, but it’s what she can’t have that leads to her breakdown. Meanwhile, in Zaire, a disgraced former nun, Delilah, grapples with a past that refuses to stay buried. When these personal crises send both middle-aged women back to their rural hometown to lick their wounds, the discovery of an abandoned newborn baby upends everything, challenging their lifelong beliefs about race, motherhood, and the power of the past.
As the mystery surrounding the infant grows, the complicated lives of Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah become inextricably linked. What follows is a mesmerizing look at family and identity that asks: How far will the human heart go to protect itself and the ones it loves? An interesting one among books set in South Africa.
The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso
Another contemporary fiction among books set in South Africa.Hortensia and Marion are next door neighbours in a charming, bougainvillea-laden Cape Town suburb. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers behind them. Both have recently been widowed. Both are in their eighties. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility pruned with zeal.
But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. Could long-held mutual loathing transform into friendship?
Love thy neighbour? Easier said than done. An easy read among books set in South Africa.
Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton
Cry the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its contemporaneity, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man—a classic among books set in South Africa.
Moxyland – Lauren Beukes
A science-fiction among books set in South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program. Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers. Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid. Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem.
Four hurt and damaged individuals trying to make lives for themselves in a broken, uncertain future. But as events send them on a collision course their worlds are about to change in unexpected – and explosive – ways. For the fans of cyberpunk among books set in South Africa.
One of my faves among books set in South Africa. The Nobel Prize-winner Doris Lessing’s first novel is a taut and tragic portrayal of a crumbling marriage, set in South Africa during the years of Arpartheid.
Set in Rhodesia, ‘The Grass is Singing’ tells the story of Dick Turner, a failed white farmer and his wife, Mary, a town girl who hates the bush and viciously abuses the black South Africans who work on their farm. But after many years, trapped by poverty, sapped by the heat of their tiny house, the lonely and frightened Mary turns to Moses, the black cook, for kindness and understanding.
A masterpiece of realism, ‘The Grass is Singing’ is a superb evocation of Africa’s majestic beauty, an intense psychological portrait of lives in confusion and, most of all, a fearless exploration of the ideology of white supremacy. A superb read among books set in South Africa.
We Kiss Them with Rain – Futhi Ntshingila
The terrible thing that steals 14-year-old Mvelo’s song leads to startling revelations and unexpected opportunities.
Life wasn’t always this hard for 14-year-old Mvelo. There were good times living with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Now her mother is dying of AIDS and what happened to Mvelo is the elephant in the room, despite its growing presence in their small shack. In this Shakespeare-style comedy, the things that seem to be are only a façade and the things that are revealed hand Mvelo a golden opportunity to change her fate. We Kiss Them With Rain explores both humor and tragedy in this modern-day fairy tale set in a squatter camp outside of Durban, South Africa.nAn interesting read among books set in South Africa.
Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree – Niq Mhlongo
A story collection among books set in South Africa. “This apricot tree has multiple souls that fill me with wonder every morning and enchant me by afternoon. This tree has bitter-sweet memories, just like the fruit it bears.”
If the apricot trees of Soweto could talk, what stories would they tell? This short story collection provides an imaginative answer. Imbued with a vivid sense of place, it captures the vibrancy of the township and surrounds. Told with satirical flair, life and death are intertwined in these tales where funerals and the ancestors feature strongly; where cemeteries are places to show off your new car and catch up on the latest gossip.
Populating these stories is a politician mesmerised by his mistress’s manicure, zama-zamas running businesses underground, a sangoma with a remedy for theft, soccer fans ready to mete out a bloody justice, a private dancer in love and many other intriguing characters. Take your seat under the apricot tree and be enthralled by tales that are both entertaining and thought-provoking among books set in South Africa.
When the Lion Feeds – Wilbur Smith
Heirs to their father’s fortune, destiny divides the boys from the start – Garrick is eager to stay indoors with a book and escape the hardships of cattle-rearing, while Sean, strong and much-loved, wants to try his hand at everything. But will Sean’s adventures really be his making – and at what ultimate cost. A historical fiction among books set in South Africa.
This list of books set in South Africa offers a range of perspectives on South Africa, from its troubled past to its present-day struggles and triumphs. They are a great starting point for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating country and its people.
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Are there any books set in South Africa you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?