TOP TEN 2012

For the past three years I’ve been asked by The Star newspaper to compile a list of the top ten South African books of the year. Here is this year’s:

The Big Stick

Richard de Nooy

Jacana

A mother travels to reclaim her gay son’s body in Amsterdam, which is where he fled to escape his dorp community’s misunderstanding of his “condition”.  Self-identification, finding “home” and understanding, are themes tackled in pacy, excessively readable prose using multiple voices that range from earthy to elegiac. De Nooy’s sad and funny second novel establishes him as a confident, bracing, sophisticated voice with global appeal.

The Garden of Evening Mists

Tan Twan Eng

Myrmidon

This Booker Prize shortlisted book contains big themes, delicate landscapes and elegant writing. Memories of the scars of the Boer War, WW II, and Malaya under colonial rule come together as an old woman tends a memorial garden.

My Father, My Monster

McIntosh Polela

Jacana

This ex-TV news reporter and current Hawks spokesman tells an irresistible biographical story tautly, and avoiding mawkishness, in a story about abandonment, violence, hardship, kindness and finally redemption through the love of teachers and “new” parents.

The Hungry Season

Leonie Joubert

Picador

South Africa has enough food, but 80% of households are food insecure. Powerful pictures by Eric Miller supplement compelling research by  one of our top science writer, who has a talent for accessibly written narrative.

The Great Agony and Pure Laughter of the Gods

Jamala Safari

Umuzi

A Congon boy’s voyage from happy childhood to boy soldier to escape is told in rich, poetic language, holding the reader’s attention like no news article ever will, to tell the story of how it feels to be a refugee.

The Long Way Home

Dana Snyman

Tafelberg

This non-fictional account of the writer’s travels through SA attempts to understand cultural inheritance in our social and political landscape. This journey into identity is an almost faultless, deeply engaging and searingly truthful read.

This Book Betrays My Brother

Kagiso Lesego Molope

Oxford University Press

A spellbinding story about a young girl recalling a childhood summer is aimed at young readers but deserving of a much wider audience. Complex, unsentimental and with surprising literary depth, it has the makings of a classic.

Eloquent Body

Dawn Garisch

Modjaji

Doctor-writer Garisch uses vibrant poetic imagery to tackle the relationship between the arts and intuition on the one hand, and developments in the sciences on the other, applying intellectual rigour to debates on physical health and creativity.

Biko

Xolela Mangcu

Tafelberg

This biography of Steve Biko is a deeply thought-provoking contribution to South African history and politics. Mangcu doesn’t pretend the iconic man was a saint, and fills in important gaps towards a more complete understanding of Biko.

Absent Tongues

Kelwyn Sole

Hands-on Books

Sole is an experienced poet. In his sixth collection he deals with a variety of contemporary themes in language wielded like a surgeon’s scalpel to dissect minute details and splay open disappointment, anger  and passion.

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