Books to get stuck into this year.
Those who live in cages, by Terry-Anne Adams
The plot Kaylynn, Bertha, Janice, Laverne and Raquel try to navigate their way through domestic violence, migration, coming of age and the ever-cloying patriarchy that permeate every part of living in Eldorado Park, Joburg, affectionately known as Eldos by its people. These women are at different ages and stages of their lives yet connected by this one place and a community that has shaped their worldview. Through phone calls, diary entries, poems and other forms of reported speech, each woman’s struggles are told with honesty.
Written, in part, from the perspective of Eldos, this predominantly Coloured township comes alive as the reader gets a look inside the heart of a community that has been branded with the image of addiction and violence. The author’s hope is to take the reader on a sensory experience that lays bare the sights, smells and soul of Eldos through the eyes of its residents and specifically these women characters. At its core, Those Who Live In Cages is a story about Coloured women, family, friendship, identity, and the many ways one can play the hand that life deals you.
What readers say “It’s difficult to imagine that this is Terry-Ann’s debut novel. She just has such an impressive way with words. You feel like you are living each of the experiences. The book is beautiful, sad and moving. I felt myself crying with the characters, getting angry at the them and just living through them.” – Fatima Moosa
Buy it here.
Critical but stable, by Angela Makholwa
The plot This murder mystery/thriller centres around four couples who, from the outside, are the picture of #blacklove and #loveliveshere. They are all successful and part of a high-end stokvel called Khula Social Club.
The idea behind the club is to pull funds together and collectively make short-term investments while socialising with the ‘right’ people. In reality, none of them really need the money; the social club is an excuse to have extravagant parties and keep up appearances. We quickly learn that nothing is as it seems in the novel’s opening scene where a man is looking down at the body of a beautiful woman who might be dead. As we get to know the couples, we learn that behind closed doors they all face serious challenges in their relationships.
What readers say “The drama with the Khula Social Club! The gossiping, the keeping up with the Jones’... tjoo tjoo tjoo. Read this in one sitting. I loved the Manamelas.” – Hloni Dlamini
Buy it here.
An unquiet place, by Clare Houston
The plot Hannah Harrison escapes her stalled city life for a small-town bookshop in the Free State. A concentration-camp journal from the South African War, found in a dusty box of old stock, reveals the life of Rachel Badenhorst, a young girl separated from her family and enduring the crushing hardship of war. Hannah becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Rachel.
Coveting the young girl’s courage and endurance, she is compelled to uncover Rachel’s story, never thinking it will lead her to pick open the wounds of a local farmer and dig up old tragedies, unearthing grief that even the land has held on to for over a century.
What readers say “Couldn’t put it down! Riveting and informative. It’s history we know little of combined with great characters and storyline. Left me wanting to uncover more.”– Christine Wallace
Buy it here.
Mermaid fillet, by Mia Arderne
The plot In this Cape Town, there’s a Goddess who casts raging red storms when female bodies are abused. It’s a place where women try to redefine their space in society. This is the story of a network of wannabe gangsters, the search for a Tamagotchi, and the highly illegal trade of mermaid tails. Mermaid Fillet is about violence, feminism and how you dala what you must.
What readers say “Mind blowing. Violent, funny, feminist as f*ck. Pure Cape Town. Incredibly crafted and beautifully told. I cackled and wept while reading this. One of the rarest reading experiences I have had in a long time. This is truly a spectacular and special book.” – Nechama Brodie
“Like a feminist hand grenade. An intense read that seamlessly integrates the grotesque with the funny, hope with despair.” – Magnus Godvik
Buy it here.
Into the sun, by Takalani M
The plot In a village in Venda, Thandeka has a chance encounter with a business tycoon that offers her the words of comfort she has been longing to hear. They don’t exchange names, but she is shocked to learn from a friend that he is a serial womaniser. Gundo is delighted when the beautiful woman he met in Venda shows up as a cleaner at his company in Johannesburg. He would love to get to know Thandeka better. He doesn’t realise that she has been misinformed about his identity and his intentions…
What readers say “This book is an African version of Mills and Boons: a journey of Thandeka and Gundo who met, fell in love, and the chaos they had to endure for them to be together. Takalani addresses issues of death and loss; exes in a marriage; postpartum depression and complicated family dynamics. If you are a sucker for romance, I highly recommend it.” – Claire Hondo
Buy it here.
As if born to you, by Susan Newham-Blake
The plot When 13-year old Zuri begins cutting herself, psychologist Ana is called in to help. Is the troubled girl trying to relieve the tension of being black in a predominantly white private school in the early days of South Africa’s democracy? And how healthy is Zuri’s relationship with Helen, the white single mom who adopted her?
Struggling to soften Zuri’s defences during the course of the therapy, Ana must piece together the puzzles of both Helen and her daughter, including the truth of what happened to Zuri’s biological mother. But reckless, alcoholic Ana carries within her an old trauma of her own. In this moving novel, two women, equally damaged by the past and its secrets, discover that healing sometimes lies in unexpected places.
What readers say “Kept me turning pages obsessively. Susan has a knack for capturing the nuances of human interactions, and the story is compelling to say the least. Besides being a damn good read, the book raises very pertinent issues about adoption in general and cross-cultural adoption specifically. I found myself by turns feeling sympathy, irritation, understanding and loss of patience with Zuri’s adoptive mother, and Zuri’s anguish is tangible throughout. The twist in the tail is a jolt that might leave some readers disappointed, but it’s a necessary twist. Well worth a read.” – Lynne Stafford
Buy it here.
Being Shelley, by Qarnita Loxton
The plot Shelley Jacobsen is in her 40s and feels trapped. The coffee and décor shop that she opened with her bestie is proving to be a gilded cage. Meanwhile, her husband is consumed with Jewish guilt since having their twins, which reminds Shelley that she will always be a Shiksa to his family. Then she hires Wayde Smith, a sexy 22-year old surfer who smells like a Pina Colada Coconut Vanilla Dessert, as a barista. He makes her feel young and Shelley just wants some fun. But will it stay harmless?
What readers say “Qarnita’s style of writing is humorous but still gets the point across, and not in a difficult way. Issues like female ageing, long-term marriage, evolving female friendships and sexual harassment are heavy issues, which can so easily take the enjoyment out of a book unless the author finds a way to engage the reader light heartedly. Qarnita does this successfully, as she had done previously with her first two books, Being Kari and Being Lily. I really enjoyed this one and would recommend it as a great read for the holiday period and after. In fact I would add her other two books to the list as well. You will not be disappointed.” – L Meyer
Buy it here.
A family affair, by Sue Nyathi
The plot Meet the Mafus, a close-knit, traditional family with three daughters. As leaders of their church Pastor Abraham and his wife Phumla are guiding the community of Bulawayo in faith, while trying to keep the different branches of their family intact.
Independent and feisty, Xoliswa returns home after a hiatus abroad, hoping for a fresh start and a chance to steer the family business; rebellious Yandisa has met the love of her life and is finally getting her act together; while dutiful newlywed Zandile is slowly becoming disillusioned with her happily ever after. The Mafus always present a united front, but as their personal lives unravel, devastating secrets are revealed that threaten to tear the family apart. For how long will they be able to hide behind the façade of a picture-perfect family?
What readers say “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single women of childbearing age must be in want of a husband... wow. So raw, moving, touching and so true of what many women experience. The stories are echoes of what I and other women, not only in Zimbabwe, but around the world have experienced. A must read. Can’t wait for my book club discussion.” – Tatenda
“Relatable, witty, honest. This book actually reminded me of the Oprah Winfrey produced series, Greenleaf.” – Hloni Dlamini
Buy it here.
The keeper of the Kumm, by Sylvia Vollenhoven
The plot Too much of South Africa’s history has been lost and suppressed, leaving a void for many South Africans. The author brings together her life and that of a long-ago ancestor, //Kabbo, a respected Bushman storyteller. She writes of her experience as being ‘too Black’ for her Coloured schoolmates, working as one of the early female journalists in the misogynistic environment of the 70s, and of the constant impact on her life of her background – including her ancestors.
What readers say “A very interesting read - Vollenhoven effectively balances three plot lines: one about //Kabbo, a storyteller speaking to white anthropologists in the 19th century; one about her present-time illness and spiritual search, which led her to uncover //Kabbo’s story; and one about her whole life and career, which actually forms the bulk of the material. The three are woven together in ways which illustrate her understandings, gathered through this life and search, of the links or overlaps between past and present and between ancestors and living people.” – Rhiannon Grant
“I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever experienced a longing to know themselves and trace their family tree, cultural heritage, ancestral roots.” – Liesl
Buy it here.
Sex, lies declassified, by Eva Mazza
In 2019, Eva Mazza’s Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch took the SA publishing world by storm. The sizzling novel centred around the seemingly upstanding lives of Stellenbosch’s elite has remained in the Top 100 since publication. Now the much-anticipated sequel will whet the appetites of thousands of readers obsessed with what happens next in the steamy lives of the winelands aristocracy.
What readers say “I read this during a week of upheaval and pressures from all fronts and it was such bliss reading for enjoyment. Having read Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch, I was looking forward to the drama of this sequel because the ending of SLS was a cliff-hanger of great heights. I love stories that centre friendships, especially women-friendships because I cannot imagine going through life without my network of girlfriends across all ages. I love stories which centre around family, no matter how dysfunctional. I love stories which do not try to deal with contemporary political issues playing out on the global stage because most times, things are not clear cut. I love stories which do not leave the socio-political landscape of the locale out of the narrative because that is how our communities are structured. Inequalities, stereotypes, sexism classism and racism. Wealth and white privilege. If you are looking for escapism with plenty of sensuality and a huge dose of WTF, this is it!” – Lorraine
Buy it here.
Compiled by Leanne Feris