Books

10 of the most compelling local books of the year

In the world of fiction and non-fiction, 2017 has seen South African writers pour their hearts out in the most fascinating reads

20 December 2017 - 12:29
'The President's Keepers' author Jacques Pauw.
'The President's Keepers' author Jacques Pauw.
Image: Alon Skuy

In yet another year of political turmoil, scandal and outrage, it was left to South Africa's writers to do their best to help us, the citizens, make sense of it all. Here are a selection of some the best of their efforts and, no, they are not all about Jacob Zuma.

1. THE PRESIDENT'S KEEPERS

by Jacques Pauw, published by Tafelberg

Yes, much of its content has been reported in newspapers and discussed at dinner tables but this is still an engaging and horrific account of just how much damage President Jacob Zuma and his friends have done to the state and how deep the rot goes.

Image: Supplied

2. ALWAYS ANOTHER COUNTRY

by Sisonke Msimang, published by Jonathan Ball

A memoir of Msimang growing up in exile in countries across the continent and the globe, her book is a carefully crafted blending of personal memoir and social reflection that provides a provocative and honest account of the difficulties of navigating the many complexities of post-apartheid South Africa.

3. THE THIRD REEL

by SJ Naude, published by Umuzi

Haunting and elegantly written, Naude's book captures the anxieties and uncertainties of Thatcher's grey, depressing 1980s UK through the story of Etienne Nieuwenhuis, a young man escaping the SADF and his father's homophobic abuse. It's also a story with a satisfying mystery at its heart, told by a writer with an unquenchable curiosity.

Image: Supplied

4. SPY: UNCOVERING CRAIG WILLIAMSON

by Jonathan Ancer, published by Jacana

Of the many recent books about apartheid spies and their nefarious dealings, this is the best written and researched account of the life and times of a man who still walks among us thanks to the TRC and remains, as he was when he worked for his apartheid bosses, a truly unlikeable, unrepentant and despicable specimen.

5. KHWEZI

by Redi Tlhabi, published by Jonathan Ball

Fezekile Kuzwayo was vilified and hounded by the supporters of Jacob Zuma when she accused him of rape in 2009. Here, Tlhabi gives Kuzwayo the centre stage in her story as a woman who fought for freedom and continued until the end of her life to fight
for equality and against the sexual violence, which was and continues to be so prevalent in South Africa.

Image: Supplied

6. A THOUSAND TALES OF JOHANNESBURG

by Harry Kalmer, published by Penguin Books

If you love Johannesburg, you need to own this beautifully written collection of vignettes of the city and its history that gradually tell the story of a family and its struggles against the backdrop of the ever-changing fortunes of the city of gold.

7. DANCING THE DEATH DRILL

by Fred Khumalo, published by Umuzi

Take the tragic death of 618 black South African troops when their ship the SS Mendi was sunk off the coast of England in 1918. Add the oral histories of those who survived and throw veteran journo Khumalo into the mix and what you get is a part-mystery, part-historical but always engaging and ultimately tragically imagined account of the story of the brave SS Mendi men.

Image: Supplied

8. FIRE POOL

by Hedley Twidle, published by Kwela Books

Intelligent, amusing, far-ranging and enviably well-written, Twidle's collection of essays which get under the skin of our current predicament with erudition and insight, taking in everything from the infamous O Sole Mio firepool video to nuclear power and HF Verwoerd's assassin Dimitri Tsafendas.

9. FREE ASSOCIATION

by Steven Sidley, published by Pan Macmillan

Continuing his series of tales of irascible and smart but still entertaining middle-aged men, Sidley's latest book takes us inside the life and mind of David Lurie - podcaster, polymath and professional cynic who must navigate between the world in which he lives and the one he has created.

10. NEW TIMES

by Rehana Rossouw, published by Jacana

Rossouw follows up her great debut What Will People Say with another slice of Cape Town life, this time that of the Muslim Bo-Kaap and the potential transformation flowing through the Mother City in the heady early days of democracy.

Ali Adams, journalist and believer in the promises of the rainbow nation, must come to terms with realities of both her own situation and that of the nation as she navigates the winds of change.

This article was originally published in The Times.

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