Fiction by Non-Indigenous African Writers

Chevy Chase LibraryStaff Picks

Fiction by Non-Indigenous African Writers

Novels Authored by White Africans

I “invested” in this as a thematic reading list for recommended reading before I realized what is available in library collections. This list is comprised of four of five authors born in South Africa and is the result of my refusal to move on to another theme. Also, I wanted to stay away from Karen Blixen and Joseph Conrad because they are already widely read. South Africans Nadine Gordimer and Alan Paton were both anti-Apartheid activists and their fellow countryman, Andre Brink, opposed Apartheid and wrote his novels in Afrikaans. Lauren Beukes, unlike the previous South Africans mentioned who were born at a time when this repressive system was firmly in place and well-underway, was born in the late 1970s and was still quite young when Apartheid ended in that country. In addition to writing fiction, she also writes television scripts as well. Lastly, there is Wilbur Smith, who was born in Zambia.

Afterland by Lauren Beukes
By now, a lot of us have read a dystopian fiction the features gender or sexual politics, often accompanied with some major disaster that leaves women a huge minority as victims. In this book, the men are endangered because there is a pandemic that only afflicts men! I think it's probably impossible to talk about this book – a book with a May 2020 publication date that is about a global pandemic – without reflecting heavily on the current real-world situation. So many of the small details of this story hit home so much harder than the author could have possibly imagined while crafting this novel.

Philida by Andre’ Brink
From exquisite pain sometimes comes exquisite beauty. Andre Brink tackles a harrowing time in our world history: slavery in South Africa in the 1830s.  A time when brutal whippings and thrashings from those who held a Bible in one hand and a whip in the other were commonplace. Yet he tells the tale with such eloquence and lyricism that the reader is caught between loving the words and yet condemning the subject matter.

Philida – the eponymous character is a slave woman. She worked as a knitting girl from 1824-1832; her “master” Cornelius Brink is one of Andre Brink’s own direct ancestors. That knowledge pervades the tale and grounds it even more in reality.
While she is well on her way to becoming her authentic self, then, the master’s son, Frans – a weak-spirited young man – is attracted to her and they indulge in semi-consensual copulation that results in four children from this union. When Philida takes steps to demand her promised freedom, Frans publicly disowns their relationship and Philida is sold to another slave-owner in retaliation, the story takes off. Andre Brink is a superb writer. Through shifts of narrative voice and Victorian headings leading into each chapter, he beautifully tells the story of Philida and those around her. Man’s inhumanity to fellow man – floggings, rape, and most of all, the constant dehumanizing – is rendered so intensely that it brings tears to one’s eyes. He writes, “Each one goes on looking for his own shadow that lies trampled into the dust and left to lie there. We have more than enough lost shadows among us.”

July’s People by Nadine Gordimer
Nadine Gordimer is an award-winning South African author of multiple books, is also a winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. In July's People, Gordimer writes of race riots circa 1980 in Johannesburg that wrestled the city out of white control. Gordimer writes of the Smales family and their house servant named July, who rescues them and offers them a haven from the violence.

An upper class family, Bamford and Maureen Smales have traveled the world, and have much disposable income, they often give away used household items to July, their trusted house employee of fifteen years. In a balance of power, July has none, relying on the Smales' for a paycheck and his family's subsistence. As soon as Johannesburg falls prey to rioting, July offers to bring the Smales to safety in his village some 600 kilometers away. With many of their friends being killed or fleeing the country, the Smales entrust their survival to July. Upon their arrival in July's village, the balance of power shifts. Living in primitive huts, bathing in rivers, hunting daily for food, the Smales are immediately out of their comfort zone. July's wife and mother resent these people's presence. Unaware of July's life in the city and his relationship with the Smales’, his relatives question why he would bring white people to the bush rather than letting them stay with their own people. They don’t realize how dangerous it is to return to the city. In the meantime, the Smales’ find it difficult to get used to village life, especially as they stand out there. Their children view the village as an adventure, but the adults wonder what Johannesburg will be like when they return. While July desires that the Smales’ treat him with increased respect, especially in light of his bringing them to safety.

Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Paton
Alan Paton is the author of the classic, Cry, the Beloved Country, that has also been made into a feature film. This work is a very powerful read. The narrator of the story is the central character's maiden aunt, Sophie, who has always had an “affection” her charismatic nephew. Police Lieutenant Pieter van Vlaanderen, a decorated war hero and a champion athlete, is also a moral authority in his small town. Pieter’s standing makes his father both proud and resentful. The Lieutenant has a softer side to him, which is reflected in his passion for birds and for stamp-collecting. Pieter’s wife a sweet, but her interest in sex, doesn't match his. This is ultimately Pieter's undoing. Back then, any contact between white people and black people was forbidden by the Immorality Act, which to a lot of Afrikaners must be upheld at all costs. Aunt Sophie's account of what happened is based on her recollections as well as the diary Pieter started keeping when he understood that “temptation” would ultimately prove irresistible. Paton describes the starchy, self-righteous society of rural South Africa in a biblically inspired narrative, and a chronicle of a tragedy that is foreshadowed. From the start, the reader knows that Pieter committed a terrible transgression, but the reader can only guess what it will be. Paton manages to build the battle within Pieter's tormented soul into an epic of suspense.

Call of the Raven (#0.5 Ballentyne series) by Wilbur Smith
This new novel that has a publication date Sept. 8, 2020, is a prequel to A Falcon Flies of the Ballantyne series.

It must take a lot of courage for an author to write a prequel to a best-selling series and feature a prominent series character that readers “love to hate,” especially considering that character is a slave trader. Nevertheless, Wilbur Smith has teamed up with Corban Addison to craft such a novel.

Essentially this work is the origin story of the character, Mungo St. John. He was born into wealth and privilege in 1840’s America as the son of a plantation owner. Mungo attended university in England only to return home to find his inheritance has been stolen by enemies of his family. Even Mungo’s childhood sweetheart, a black slave girl with whom he had grown up, has been stolen from him. What follows is an extraordinary tale of revenge and the slow tragic decline of Mongo’s personal ethics. Despite Mongo’s choice of occupation, he actually makes for a great protagonist.

Long-time fans of Wilbur Smith fans will know what to expect from this novel and there is plenty of it. Adventure on land and sea, double-crosses, swashbuckling fights, sexy dalliances, duels for honor, unlikely but loyal friendships, and conniving plans all combine to make this one page-turner of a story. The novel is billed as part of the ‘Ballantyne’ series, but the only tie-in is Mongo, himself.