Because of the popularity of my post on the top ten South African books of 2012 – as published by The Star newspaper – I’ve decided to also post my other lists. The list for 2010 can be found here:
In spite of dealing with the clash between personal and political history – and how the two are inextricable, no matter how determinedly individuals might deny that – Lost Ground grows lush out of the simplest elements of outstanding story making. Believable story facts, entertaining dialogue, gentle tension that builds gradually, an acute sense of time, place and character and – most delightfully – humour, enliven this South African dorp story. Deceptively packaged as a crime novel, but landing explosively in the heart as only literature can, Heyns’ wonderful book has a reach wide enough to hold even the fussiest and most easily bored of readers.
Vladislavic’s extended meditation on the alienation in your own country offers ways of seeing by running his themes through first one photographer, then another’s, camera lens. Searing, short passages of truth sting in a focused narrative from this award-winning Joburg writer.
Leon de Kock
The narrator’s failed relationships lead him to therapy where uncomfortable memories from his rough and ready sixties Mayfair childhood are exhumed to provide hard to swallow truths about the present. Unashamedly butch, brave and authentic.
An engaging memoir by this writer of commercially and critically successful books. Mda tells how he was shaped by his father, about the women in his life, about politics and art, and about post-democracy disappointments.
Etienne Van Heerden
Van Heerden’s idiosyncratic voice and his ability to elasticise language remain intact in this outstanding translation from Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns. Utterly engaging characters make this story of self-discovery, history, psychology and politics a thumping read.
Mongane Wally Serote
A poignant post-democracy view of the entanglement of past, present and future. Chile and Zimbabwe –with their traumatised psyches, like South Africa – make up the trio of countries in which the individual’s life is set against a complex background.
Thorough journalism gives us the inside track on a fascinating South African saga of crime and corruption, power and policing. The gritty, bizarre and tragic details are lifted into the light for our appalled benefit.
Retired super sleuth Piet Byleveld’s story is told to a seasoned journalist. Any news follower will recognise the names of some of the cases he’s helped solve in murder-rife South Africa. As compelling as road-kill.
With musical fluency Rose-Innes tells a story about a female pest remover, sucking great opposites into her narrator’s unusual scope. Returning to her favoured themes of the city and the creatures that inhabit it, Rose-Innes writes charmingly.
Venturing out of South Africa, this enormously talented writer reminds us of both our cruelty and our resilience in a story about ex-pat Liberians in New York. Steinberg has the gift of turning thorough research into captivating, lucid prose.