South Africa

South Africa

In time for those planning to travel to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament!

Eighteen contemporary short stories by South Africa’s best writers take the reader on a journey through the country’s literary landscape. Giants such as Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, and Alan Paton (whose Cry, the Beloved Country, excerpted in the book, was made into a major motion picture) are included alongside lesser-known but equally talented writers. These stories examine the unique landscape of a place that has emerged from tumultuous change to become one of the most popular travel destinations in Africa. The book, divided into three areas of South Africa—Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape—also takes readers into game parks, rural areas, and the peculiar mindset of a country divided against itself.

These stories not only traverse the geographic regions of South Africa but cross the boundaries of time, exploring perspectives of both the oppressed and the oppressors. Social and psychological boundaries are crossed as well. One story examines the racial partitioning of a beach, where a man longs for a certain woman on the wrong side of the strand and refuses to restrict himself—with disastrous consequences for both. Nadine Gordimer, for her part, guides us into a sort of inverted safari in which people migrate, hunt for food, and live in fear of being hunted themselves.

The stories in South Africa (some previously unpublished) are examples of the most imaginative and provocative South African writing. These literary gems will give readers a sense of the country—its landscapes, its history, its culture, and a window onto day-to-day life.

We can hear a country speak and better learn its secrets through the voices of its great writers . . . an engaging series—a compelling idea, thoughtfully executed.

Isabel Allende

What could be more instructive for the traveller—and more fun!—than to see a country through the eyes of its own most imaginative writers?

Jan Morris

  • Preface by Isabel Balseiro and Tobias Hecht
    • Gauteng
      • Ivan Vladislavić, Point A: I
      • Es’kia Mphahlele , Mrs. Plum
      • Ahmed Essop, The Hajji
      • Zachariah Rapola, Street Features
    • KwaZulu-Natal
      • Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
      • Ronnie Govender, 1949
      • Lewis Nkosi, Mating Birds
    • The Western Cape
      • Jan Rabie Maiden, Outing to Rondebosch
      • Richard Rive, Morning 1955
      • J. M. Coetzee, Age of Iron
      • Rustum Kozain, Krot
    • The Rural Areas, The Farm, and The Game Park
      • A. C. Jordan, The Turban
      • Olive Schreiner, 1899
      • H. C. Bosman, The Rooinek
      • Gcina Mhlope, Nokulunga’s Wedding
      • Modikwe Dikobe, Episodes in the Rural Areas
      • Nadine Gordimer, The Ultimate Safari
  • Glossary
  • Editors
  • Isabel Balseiro is the Alexander and Adelaide Hixon Professor of Humanities at Harvey Mudd College, in Claremont, California. Having been a research associate at the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, her publications on South Africa include To Change Reels: Film and Film Culture in South Africa and the anthology Running Towards Us: New Writing from South Africa.
  • Tobias Hecht is the author of At Home in the Street: Street Children of Northeast Brazil, which won the Margaret Mead Award, and After Life: An Ethnographic Novel. One of his short stories, written in Spanish, won second prize in Spain’s Hucha de Oro, which carries the world’s largest prize for a single piece of short fiction. An independent scholar, writer, and translator, he received his Ph.D. from Cambridge. His current writing concerns denialism in relation to the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.
  • Ivan Vladislavić (1957– ) is the author of five books of fiction and the eclectic Portrait with Keys, about life in Johannesburg. He has won some of South Africa’s top literary awards, including the Olive Schreiner Prize, the CNA Award, and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize. An accomplished editor, he has worked with many of South Africa’s major writers.
  • Es’kia Mphahlele (1919–2008) Trained as a teacher, he was jailed in 1952 for his opposition to the discriminatory Bantu Education system. In 1957 he began a twenty-year period of exile. A major figure in African literature, he is best known for his autobiography Down Second Avenue and the novel The Wanderers.
  • Ahmed Essop (1931– ) was born in India and went to South Africa as a child. He taught English at schools in Johannesburg. An author of short stories, novels, and poetry, he won the Olive Schreiner Award for The Hajji and Other Stories (1978).
  • Zachariah Rapola (1962– ) is a filmmaker and the author of the collection of short stories Beginnings of a Dream, which won the 2008 NOMA award, and the youth novel Stanza on the Edge. He was awarded a fellowship to participate in the University of Iowa’s International Writer’s Program. He was born and raised in Alexandra, Johannesburg.
  • Alan Paton (1903– 1988) is best known for his first novel Cry, the Beloved Country, but he also authored biographies, short stories, poetry, and essays. He worked as a teacher for a decade before becoming the director of a reformatory for young offenders. With the advent of apartheid in 1948 Paton resigned that post and was a founding member and later president of the Liberal Party.
  • Ronnie Govender (1934– ) was born in Cato Manor, outside Durban. His At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Africa region. Govender is also a playwright, and his works have been performed in countries around the world.
  • Lewis Nkosi (1938– ), a journalist in South Africa, left the country in 1961 when he received a scholarship to study at Harvard. He has subsequently taught at universities in the United States, Zambia, and Poland and published novels, essays, and plays.
  • Jan Rabie (1920– 2001) was one of the twentieth century’s foremost Afrikaans authors. A prolific novelist, short story writer, essayist, and travel writer, he was awarded France’s Légion d’honneur.
  • Richard Rive (1931– 1989) was a teacher, literary critic, novelist, and author of short stories. Hailing from District Six, the multiracial area adjacent to Cape Town’s central business district that was declared a white area in 1966 and razed almost entirely, he is known for his wry humor and wit. Rive’s work has been translated into many languages.
  • J. M. Coetzee (1940– ) A novelist, critic, and translator, Coetzee won the Nobel Prize in 2003 and twice claimed the Booker Prize. His prose is sometimes referred to as steely, but below the apparently uncomplicated surface is always a challenging philosophical undercurrent.
  • Rustum Kozain (1966– ), born and raised in Paarl, Western Cape, studied English literature and lectured at the University of Cape Town. His debut collection of poetry, This Carting Life (2005), was awarded the Ingrid Jonker Prize in 2006 and the Olive Schreiner Prize in 2007.
  • A. C. Jordan (1906– 1968) was a linguist, literary critic, novelist, professor of Bantu languages, and cricket player. His novel Ingqumbo yeMinyanya (The Wrath of the Ancestors), published in 1940, has been hailed the finest novel written in Xhosa.
  • Olive Schreiner (1855– 1920) is best known for her novel The Story of an African Farm. A pacifist, defender of women’s suffrage, and important feminist thinker, Schreiner supported the Afrikaners against the British in the Anglo-Boer War and later the Africans against both.
  • H. C. Bosman (1905– 1951) was a school teacher and a journalist, and ran his own printing press. He lived overseas for most of a decade and spent a number of years on death row for the shooting death of his stepbrother. Bosman is known for his short stories about rural Afrikaner life, which draw the reader into a peculiar, often tragic world.
  • Gcina Mhlope (1960– ) A stage and screen performer, Mhlope has authored short fiction, poems, and plays for adults as well as stories for children and championed storytelling as a way of keeping history alive. She holds honorary doctorates from the London Open University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
  • Modikwe Dikobe (Marks Dikobe Ramitloa) (1913– ?) is the author of the celebrated novel The Marabi Dance about township life in Johannesburg, which chronicles the clash between city and rural cultures and the advent of new urban identities. First published in 1973, it is considered a seminal work in twentieth-century South African literature.
  • Nadine Gordimer (1923– ) A prolific novelist and author of short stories, Gordimer has won the Booker Prize, the Com-monwealth Writers’ Prize for the Africa Region, and the Nobel Prize for literature. Much of her writing concerns the effects of apartheid on human relations.
  • Translators bios to come.

SOUTH AFRICA: A Traveler’s Literary Companion

Trade paperback original


5 x 7¼, 256 pp.,


Publication date: July 2009

from The Ultimate Safari by Nadine Gordimer

That night our mother went to the shop and she didn’t come back. Ever. What happened? I don’t know. My father also had gone away one day and never come back; but he was fighting in the war. We were in the war, too, but we were children, we were like our grandmother and grandfather, we didn’t have guns. The people my father was fighting—the bandits, they are called by our government—ran all over the place and we ran away from them like chickens chased by dogs. We didn’t know where to go. Our mother went to the shop because someone said you could get some oil for cooking. We were happy because we hadn’t tasted oil for a long time; perhaps she got the oil and someone knocked her down in the dark and took that oil from her. Perhaps she met the bandits. If you meet them, they will kill you. Twice they came to our village and we ran and hid in the bush and when they’d gone we came back and found they had taken everything; but the third time they came back there was nothing to take, no oil, no food, so they burned the thatch and the roofs of our houses fell in. My mother found some pieces of tin and we put those up over part of the house. We were waiting there for her that night she never came back.

We were frightened to go out, even to do our business, because the bandits did come. Not into our house—without a roof it must have looked as if there was no one in it, everything gone—but all through the village. We heard people screaming and running. We were afraid even to run, without our mother to tell us where. I am the middle one, the girl, and my little brother clung against my stomach with his arms round my neck and his legs round my waist like a baby monkey to its mother. All night my first-born brother kept in his hand a broken piece of wood from one of our burnt house-poles. It was to save himself if the bandits found him.

We stayed there all day. Waiting for her. I don’t know what day it was; there was no school, no church any more in our village, so you didn’t know whether it was a Sunday or a Monday.

When the sun was going down, our grandmother and grandfather came. Someone from our village had told them we children were alone, our mother had not come back. I say “grandmother” before “grandfather” because it’s like that: our grandmother is big and strong, not yet old, and our grandfather is small, you don’t know where he is, in his loose trousers, he smiles but he hasn’t heard what you’re saying, and his hair looks as if he’s left it full of soap suds. Our grandmother took us—me, the baby, my first-born brother, our grandfather—back to her house and we were all afraid (except the baby, asleep on our grandmother’s back) of meeting the bandits on the way. We waited a long time at our grandmother’s place. Perhaps it was a month. We were hungry. Our mother never came. While we were waiting for her to fetch us our grandmother had no food for us, no food for our grandfather and herself. A woman with milk in her breasts gave us some for my little brother, although at our house he used to eat porridge, same as we did. Our grandmother took us to look for wild spinach but everyone else in her village did the same and there wasn’t a leaf left.

Our grandfather, walking a little behind some young men, went to look for our mother but didn’t find her. Our grandmother cried with other women and I sang the hymns with them. They brought a little food—some beans—but after two days there was nothing again. Our grandfather used to have three sheep and a cow and a vegetable garden but the bandits had long ago taken the sheep and the cow, because they were hungry, too; and when planting time came our grandfather had no seed to plant.

So they decided—our grandmother did; our grandfather made little noises and rocked from side to side, but she took no notice—we would go away. We children were pleased. We wanted to go away from where our mother wasn’t and where we were hungry. We wanted to go where there were no bandits and there was food. We were glad to think there must be such a place; away.

Posted on 24 February 2010

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