Sally Andrew’s Favorite South African Books

Sally Andrew’s Favorite South African Books

Sally Andrew’s latest book, The Satanic Mechanic is a feel-good murder mystery, but it also explores many of the difficult issues faced by South Africans. In celebration of her book’s release, she shares five of her favorite South African books.

South Africa is a country of great beauty and contradictions. It has a history of political turmoil, and was an inspiring example of a non-racial democracy, but is now wracked with corruption and political tensions. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its hardships, it has a wealth of literary, political, and spiritual giants.

The Book of Joy

In this book, two gorgeous, funny, wise, cheeky, old men, who have experienced much political and personal hardship, share their secrets of joy. Desmond Tutu spent a week with the Dalai Lama, celebrating his 80th birthday, and as a gift to the world, they created The Book of Joy. It is a spiritual, emotional, and scientific exploration of joy as our birthright: a default state to return to. This book is not 10 steps to happiness, skinny thighs, and better orgasms. It is a deep but accessible exploration of how we can embrace real and lasting joy in the face of the suffering experienced by humans and the planet. Every line is golden. Read it. Even if you just dip into it, in times of need, like an oracle. If you don’t read, just keep it next to your bed: You will benefit by osmosis.

Born a Crime

This is a wonderful collection of funny, clever, and moving true stories from Trevor Noah (host of The Daily Show). His tales are personal, yet they open a doorway to the suffering, craziness, and ups and downs that so many of us experienced under apartheid. The title refers to the fact that Noah’s father was white, his mother black, and relations between members of different races was illegal. Each story is distinct, but they also read like chapters in a book that builds up to a dramatic climax with a loaded gun. The book is a homage to Noah’s brave mother, who helped him carve a path of choice, despite the odds.  

Flame in the Snow

It is common knowledge that the brilliant poet, Ingrid Jonker drowned herself in the 1960s. But until these letters, I was unaware that this happened just three months after the final letter from her lover, novelist, Andre Brink. It felt somewhat voyeuristic, to be reading such personal and explicit letters. I found the book disturbing; at times it filled me with outrage and sorrow. But it was also fascinating, passionate, and beautiful. Not only full of gorgeous love poems (by Brink and Jonker and they quote others), but also insight into the world of writers in general, and the political experiences of anti-establishment Afrikaans writers in the sixties.

The Collected Works of Herman Charles Bosman

This is a tome. But if you can get your hands on any of the stories written by the late Herman Charles Bosman, read them. He is hailed by some as the best short-story writer to come out of Africa; I think he has a shot at the international title. The power of his writing lies in the way he explores complex issues in a simple way, the beauty and lyrical rhythm of his language, and his ability to use understatement and humor to convey poignant messages with universal themes. Most of his stories are fiction, and set in small rural towns. But he has also written some excellent non-fiction about his time in prison.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

This is a powerful, moving (sometimes humorous), and beautifully written collection of true stories by a police reservist in South Africa. In his youth, Andrew Brown was a militant anti-apartheid activist, and had numerous encounters with the police. After we’d won the fight for a non-racial democracy, Brown (now an advocate) chose policing as a way of contributing to the new South Africa. Sadly, our corrupt government has been more intent on scoffing at the trough than meeting the needs of the poor. Police are called in to quell the protests, as people demand the basic services they were promised. This book is an exploration of Brown’s own personal journey, and it raises political and moral questions about the role of the police in a flawed democracy.

Sally Andrew is the author of the new Tannie (‘Auntie’) Maria mystery series. Recipes for Love and Murder is followed by The Satanic Mechanic. Sally lives in a mud-brick house on a nature reserve in the Klein Karoo, South Africa, with her artist partner and other wildlife, including a secretive leopard. Her background is adult education, and political and environmental activism. Her books are published in fourteen languages by twenty-one publishers internationally, and have been highly acclaimed by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Alexander McCall Smith, and others. Recipes for Love and Murder won the SA Nielsen Bookseller’s Choice award.

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