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The Madonna of Excelsior

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In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa's white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of one irrepressible fallen madonna, Niki, and her family, at the heart of the scandal. In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa's white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of one irrepressible fallen madonna, Niki, and her family, at the heart of the scandal.


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In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa's white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of one irrepressible fallen madonna, Niki, and her family, at the heart of the scandal. In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa's white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of one irrepressible fallen madonna, Niki, and her family, at the heart of the scandal.

30 review for The Madonna of Excelsior

  1. 4 out of 5

    Madolyn Chukwu

    Two things came to my mind after I read this novel (which was recommended to me) and I did some research on the author; firstly here is an African author who deserves the Nobel award for Literature, and secondly, the author is also an excellent painter/artist. The latter is very much evident from this work, the start of chapters and the profound descriptions of painting and its arsenal, so to speak. The author certainly vividly tells his story (ies) and we become highly engrossed. We see the pli Two things came to my mind after I read this novel (which was recommended to me) and I did some research on the author; firstly here is an African author who deserves the Nobel award for Literature, and secondly, the author is also an excellent painter/artist. The latter is very much evident from this work, the start of chapters and the profound descriptions of painting and its arsenal, so to speak. The author certainly vividly tells his story (ies) and we become highly engrossed. We see the plight of women again here, suppressed but still used as sex objects with the (white) fathers completely uninterested in the products of such 'illicit' unions, the children. It is a brilliant novel written by a man who understands South African history and politics very well. Mda's profile shows that he has published like a dozen or more superb novels over the decades. Perhaps in Africa only the hallowed Ngugi has come near such prolificacy. So why should Mda not be recognised for something like the Nobel award?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Lothane

    Zakes Mda is probably the best novelist in Africa today, and certainly the most prolific. This is one of his most impressive works, taking a very close look at how what used to be illicit sex across the colour lines would impact on a particular community. There is a skillful constant introduction to chapters by reference to drawing. Nikky, Poppy and other characters are very well rounded and convincing. The author is firmly objective in presenting the characters, white, black, or coloured. It is n Zakes Mda is probably the best novelist in Africa today, and certainly the most prolific. This is one of his most impressive works, taking a very close look at how what used to be illicit sex across the colour lines would impact on a particular community. There is a skillful constant introduction to chapters by reference to drawing. Nikky, Poppy and other characters are very well rounded and convincing. The author is firmly objective in presenting the characters, white, black, or coloured. It is not only whites who discriminate, we see, as the coloured ones are not the darlings of many blacks too. A very intelligent, powerful work.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    Magnificent novel centred on the charming small town of Excelsor in South Africa. Sex across the colour line - with invariable consequences

  4. 5 out of 5

    Friederike Knabe

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Fiction does not always facilitate or augment the understanding of complex realities of time and place. Zakes Mda, however, has achieved this mixture admirably in this novel of his native South Africa. The political events of pre- and post-Apartheid periods take a central place in the story. Yet he manages to avoid being overly heavy on facts and details as he builds the narrative around the impact of one specific event and its aftermath on one small community, Excelsior. He captures the essence Fiction does not always facilitate or augment the understanding of complex realities of time and place. Zakes Mda, however, has achieved this mixture admirably in this novel of his native South Africa. The political events of pre- and post-Apartheid periods take a central place in the story. Yet he manages to avoid being overly heavy on facts and details as he builds the narrative around the impact of one specific event and its aftermath on one small community, Excelsior. He captures the essence of life under Apartheid and the difficulties awaiting all when the regime ends. Old prejudices and tensions remain and the transition to the new SA adds new challenges and conflicts, including among the black political leadership. Mda uses the 1971 case of the Excelsior 19 as the focus of the first part of his account. A group of white men and black women were charged with violation of the Immorality Act that prohibits intimate relations across race lines. The primary character is Niki, one of the Excelsior 19 women, whose life story is a symbol for this time and place. As a naïve, pretty 18 year old, she attracts the attention of a white Afrikaner who assaults her and keeps pursuing her. Escape into marriage is some protection and also results in her confidence growing. Life is good with a husband and her son, Viliki. Never questioning her role as a servant and second class citizen, a humiliating incident with her white woman boss changes all that. Her rage leads her to take revenge. Realizing her power as a black beauty and the hold it has over white Afrikaners, she applies it deliberately. The mixed-race daughter Popi is evidence of the hushed-up relationship. Despite the indisputable evidence of children like Popi, the charges against the Excelsior 19 are withdrawn. Still, those implicated and their families have to somehow work out their lives and their various relationships: within families, among neighbours, between Afrikaners, English and Blacks and Coloured. Niki and her children also suffer the consequences. As the narrative of their lives continues, the focus shifts to Popi and her extraordinary beauty. Her features increasingly reveal her parentage to everybody in the community. In the new SA she can play an important role in the community despite the continuing suspicions against mixed race people, who are "not black enough". Mda does an excellent job of bringing diverse individuals to life. We see them from different angles, we empathize with them and comprehend them as part of a larger reality being is being played out. Nothing is black and white (excuse the pun!), nobody is all "good" or all "bad". Mda acknowledges that Afrikaners maintain their dreams of returning to power and depicts realistically the political conflicts within the black leadership. He introduces two kinds of observers to the novel: Father Claerhout, the Belgian priest-artist living in the region and a knowledgeable "we" narrator. The "trinity" (man, Father, painter), as the Father is referred to, is fascinated by black "madonnas" who sit for him in all their nude loveliness and grace. Niki becomes a preferred subject, mainly because of beautiful young Popi. The chapters open with the description of one of the trinity's paintings. They create an imaginary world with blue or purple madonnas in lush robes or naked, sitting in yellow corn fields, among surreal bright sunflowers or surrounded by pink and white star like blossoms. The child of the heavy-set full-breasted Madonna is of a lighter shade of brown and with delicate features. Sometimes other elements are added, creating portraits of life in the rural community. Semi-abstract and dreamlike, the paintings are reminiscent of van Gogh. They are always a lead in to the chapter and often the protagonists literally walk off the canvas. The transition between bold imagination and reality is fluid. We, the reader, follow with curiosity and emotion. To complement the trinity's visions, the "we" observer steps in to reflect on people and events. Assumed to be witnesses of Popi's generation, they follow her closely and comment in particular on the attention and mixed feelings she draws in the community. Sometimes critics, sometimes voyeurs, they establish the connections between the paintings and the reality of this microcosm that represents South Africa. Mda's novel is wide-ranging and multifaceted. While it moves fast through time and events, it allows pauses to ponder scenes and portraits of life and invites reflection of decisive historical events in modern South Africa. You will come away enriched and keen to read more by this remarkable autho

  5. 4 out of 5

    Suanne Laqueur

    I've never read any books set in South Africa and I truly enjoyed this one. I loved how the opening of each chapter was a description of a painting, and then the painting dissolved into the storyline. I've never read any books set in South Africa and I truly enjoyed this one. I loved how the opening of each chapter was a description of a painting, and then the painting dissolved into the storyline.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This book is set in South Africa during apartheid. I liked the journey of the characters, but ultimately, this was just okay for me. I deducted a star for some of the extra flowery writing. I don't care for the wordiness when it comes to colors of things, from skin, sky, clothes etc. I cringe a little when this is abused and it was here. There were a lot tragic and sad events in this book. It was heartbreaking what was endured and why. I thought the author portrayed his characters well as well a This book is set in South Africa during apartheid. I liked the journey of the characters, but ultimately, this was just okay for me. I deducted a star for some of the extra flowery writing. I don't care for the wordiness when it comes to colors of things, from skin, sky, clothes etc. I cringe a little when this is abused and it was here. There were a lot tragic and sad events in this book. It was heartbreaking what was endured and why. I thought the author portrayed his characters well as well as the events of the time....but the flowery nonsense was hard to ignore.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dillon

    A truly artistic tale told during the end of Apartheid in South Africa. During a time when it was illegal for whites to have sex with blacks, one of the protagonists, Niki, is put on trial and spends time in prison for giving birth to a blue eyed daughter Popi. The story then follows Niki, her son Viliki and Popi through the end of apartheid and post apartheid worlds. All the while Popi tries to find her place in the world, never feeling totally black, and never white. Although the story is amazi A truly artistic tale told during the end of Apartheid in South Africa. During a time when it was illegal for whites to have sex with blacks, one of the protagonists, Niki, is put on trial and spends time in prison for giving birth to a blue eyed daughter Popi. The story then follows Niki, her son Viliki and Popi through the end of apartheid and post apartheid worlds. All the while Popi tries to find her place in the world, never feeling totally black, and never white. Although the story is amazing, the beauty is in the way Mda tells the story. He brilliantly mends together descriptions of painting of the characters with stories of the characters lives, creating a vivid picture of the Rainbow Nation.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I keep waffling between 2 and 3 stars on this one. So 2.5 it is. A friend of mine who got her doctorate in African literature recommended 4 books to me. This is the 3rd one I’ve read. The first two were excellent. This one was alright. Once again I found myself learning a part of true African history that I was taught nothing about in school, so I was thankful for the broadening of my knowledge. I found the character of Popi specifically to be very compelling. The breakdown for me was everything rel I keep waffling between 2 and 3 stars on this one. So 2.5 it is. A friend of mine who got her doctorate in African literature recommended 4 books to me. This is the 3rd one I’ve read. The first two were excellent. This one was alright. Once again I found myself learning a part of true African history that I was taught nothing about in school, so I was thankful for the broadening of my knowledge. I found the character of Popi specifically to be very compelling. The breakdown for me was everything related to the paintings and the trinity that started each chapter. I found all those parts confusing and unnecessary. 🤷🏼‍♀️ They were written in such a way that they bled into the main plot and it would become confusing when a painting was being described and when actual events were. The narration felt off as well, as it was clearly an unidentified member of the village who seemed to represent them collectively. It just felt off to me.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chinook

    This was a fascinating look at recent South African history. It would be a great book to pair with Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, as it’s a fictional account based on an actual trial of white men and black women having children during apartheid. It mostly follows one particular family, particularly the daughter. It was a bit of a slow burn for me - fascinating but it took me quite a while to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Zelda

    Masterful. I loved this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sammy

    Most times, books talking about South Africa either show the wealthy, fancy, stuck-up white side of South Africa, or the stereotypical native, out in the grassland black native. But The Madonna of Excelsior shows both sides, the inbetween. It's no surprise the rich are white and the poor are black. But what about the ones they call "colored"? The ones who are both black and white? This book explores that. Zakes Mda is an amazingly detailed writer, his words helping the reader see everything he spe Most times, books talking about South Africa either show the wealthy, fancy, stuck-up white side of South Africa, or the stereotypical native, out in the grassland black native. But The Madonna of Excelsior shows both sides, the inbetween. It's no surprise the rich are white and the poor are black. But what about the ones they call "colored"? The ones who are both black and white? This book explores that. Zakes Mda is an amazingly detailed writer, his words helping the reader see everything he speaks of in perfect clarity. The only thing that bothered me about his writing, or at least this book, was the description of a painting at the beginning of each chapter. But that's solely a personal opinion, because while it sometimes helped push the story along, most of the time I felt it pulled me from it. At times I felt the story didn't really have a plot to it, it's more of a character driven book rather than plot driven, and even then the characters didn't do too much driving. Still there was something that kept me reading and enthralled. Maybe it was Mda's beautiful words or his attention to detail. It could have been his characters and their journey to better themselves and the world around them. But whatever it was, something grabbed at me and kept me reading. I warn you that this may be one of those cup of tea books: it's either your cup of tea or it isn't. Still give it a chance.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Zandile

    i enjoy reading the book by Mr Mda, lately i have become a fan of his work.The book is set in the apartheid era when blacks where not allowed to mingle with the white foks.reading the book i was able to identify few themes.Forgiveness, self-acceptance. forgiveness- would come in the form of Niki coming into terms with her past and the guilt she had when her daughter was batlling with acceptance. And self acceptance would be Popi, she had difficulty accepting who she was and the fact that she wa i enjoy reading the book by Mr Mda, lately i have become a fan of his work.The book is set in the apartheid era when blacks where not allowed to mingle with the white foks.reading the book i was able to identify few themes.Forgiveness, self-acceptance. forgiveness- would come in the form of Niki coming into terms with her past and the guilt she had when her daughter was batlling with acceptance. And self acceptance would be Popi, she had difficulty accepting who she was and the fact that she was different from the black girls in her community and she looked alot like the 'whites'. She was costantly teased about her hair and her appearence. this made her resent especially her hair because they were a constant remainder that she was different. As the novel was ending she was able to love,appreciate who she is. even her mother was able to observe this sudden change in her daughter:" I am so happy that atlast you are so free of shame about being coloured ..."(mda,2002:260). The acceptance that took place in Popi allowed Niki the mother to forgive and move on, she was no longer afraid for her daughter. Niki: " For along time, I felt guilty that i had failed you... that i had made you coloured!Every time they mocked and insulted you, it ate my heart and increased my guilt".The novel is for any one wanting to know how ordinary families like that of Pule and Cronje delt with issues that had risen becuase of they behaviour.

  13. 5 out of 5

    lark benobi

    This was a bland book with cardboard characters that were moved around in obvious ways to stand for certain generalized experiences of South Africans living through the late apartheid era, and on into the post-apartheid era. The blend here between fact and fiction did not take off--the story makes weird and unnecessary changes from the facts of Excelsior, while the fiction feels like heavy dough that never rises. The book disappointed me especially because I really enjoyed Mda's Ways of Dying, w This was a bland book with cardboard characters that were moved around in obvious ways to stand for certain generalized experiences of South Africans living through the late apartheid era, and on into the post-apartheid era. The blend here between fact and fiction did not take off--the story makes weird and unnecessary changes from the facts of Excelsior, while the fiction feels like heavy dough that never rises. The book disappointed me especially because I really enjoyed Mda's Ways of Dying, which was in every way a surprising and marvelous first novel.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wayne Jordaan

    A seriously good read. I was a bit worried towards the end that the narrative might end in an unsatisfactory and cheesy improbability, but my fears were unfounded. I will eagerly grab the next Zakes Mda work that I can lay my hands and eyes upon.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Smith

    Still want to read more....and it's worth a visit to Excelsior: Free State at its best! Still want to read more....and it's worth a visit to Excelsior: Free State at its best!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alma Alma

    My English teacher recommended I read this and another book and choose one to do for my EE. I didn’t manage to read this then and ended up doing the other one (July’s People by Nadine Gordimer) and really savouring it. So when I saw this in a bookshop in Johannesburg it felt like a moment to re-visit that moment as an 18 year old, enthusiastic about words and history. (Not too different to now). Reading this while in South Africa at a time with protests about democracy, about pride, Ubabe and th My English teacher recommended I read this and another book and choose one to do for my EE. I didn’t manage to read this then and ended up doing the other one (July’s People by Nadine Gordimer) and really savouring it. So when I saw this in a bookshop in Johannesburg it felt like a moment to re-visit that moment as an 18 year old, enthusiastic about words and history. (Not too different to now). Reading this while in South Africa at a time with protests about democracy, about pride, Ubabe and the aftermath of apartheid was strange. It was stranger to read it as I had COVID, a disease that truly ravages the body but also ravages our societies to the point where inequality is unavoidable. It was so slow in the beginning and I wanted to give up on it. (the book and cover) But a lot of it was, I want to say the word is graphological but I know it’s not. The story centres around the madonna as the subject of a painting. The chapters all usually start by describing this series of paintings, with members of the settlement in Excelsior posing for the artist. The images are usually both sorrowful but celestial as I imagine them. Watercolours that bleed into each other, haloes over the heads of disenfranchised women subject to both racism and sexual exploitation. How the body is always a terrain, and therefore susceptible to the destructive hands of men. The beginning was written truly by a man, an emphasis on big breasts over and over again. After wandering away from this trap the writing was able to gain nuance in a way that I really appreciated. I have rarely read or thought about South Africa in that liminal moment, the book traverses from the depths of apartheid to democracy and hovers in that moment in between. Funny to think about racism and discrimination as something that lingers rather than crumbles as soon as it is denounced as maybe more of us would like to think. Which brings me back to how I felt being in Jo’burg recently, cursed is the word that comes most to me. Not in an accusatory way but as a country it feels cursed. As though spectres from the past have not been exorcised, the pain and suffering of numbers has not been acknowledged. When this happens it begins to tinge everything to the point where there is a stench of unresolved with trauma everywhere you go. You can see it in crowds of men gathered around the fire in Hillbrow, in the faces in the mall. This time being in Johannesburg felt like something was stewing - like there was always something that people wanted to say but either didn’t have the words or social currency to and so kept quiet. The protests felt like that language reaching the tongue and coming up and all at once. Reading this alongside Disgrace reinforced that there is no resolution, that as a country South Africa only has its own reflection to deal with, a cracked mirror it has to repair again and again. Doomed to its own fate if it does not resign to it. I wonder what my teacher wanted me to get from it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Hayes

    A novel that has a little bit of everything, almost -- a sex scandal, sibling rivalry, political chicanery, and believable characters. And so much of it is true, I read it in the newspaper 50 years ago. It is set in a real small town in the Free State province of South Africa, and is based on real events, so the usual disclaimer about the characters not resembling any real persons, living or dead, is somewhat differently worded. Though the events are a matter of public record, the characters are A novel that has a little bit of everything, almost -- a sex scandal, sibling rivalry, political chicanery, and believable characters. And so much of it is true, I read it in the newspaper 50 years ago. It is set in a real small town in the Free State province of South Africa, and is based on real events, so the usual disclaimer about the characters not resembling any real persons, living or dead, is somewhat differently worded. Though the events are a matter of public record, the characters are fictitious. But the fictitious characters do resemble real people. And the book gives a microcosm of South Africa in the last three decades of the 20th century. Excelsior is a real town, and it really was rocked by a sex scandal in the early 1970s. The neighbouring towns, mentioned in the book, are real and I have been to, or through some of them. And at least one of the characters is real, Father Frans Claerhout, a Roman Catholic and artist who lived at Tweespruit just south of Excelsior, and descriptions of whose paintings at the beginning of each chapter form a linking motif for the story. Popi Pule has two half-brothers; one, Viliki Pule, is black, and the other, Tjaart Cronje, is white, and all three were born in apartheid South Africa, much of whose legislation was calculated to prevent precisely those kinds of relationships. Viliki and Puke's mother Niki had been Tjaart's nanny when he was small, and she is the eponymous Madonna of Excelsior, and had been a model for some of Father Frans Claerhout's paintings. People sometimes ask, what was South Africa like during apartheid, and during and after the end of apartheid, and in this book Zakes Mda nails it. If someone from another country was coming to South Africa from another country, and wanted an introduction to South African life, and history, and social relations, then I would recommend this book. Since it is fiction, it doesn't have all the facts, but it does tell the truth about South Africa, the unvarnished truth. If you want to know what South Africa is really like, read this book!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Janine

    Mda's creates vivid and abstract imagery and scenes that flow deliberately and haphazardly across the pages. Every word, every description, so carefully placed in such a controlled manner to create an ever flowing sense of emotions and world building. He skims through real events, clear in the readers mind, but abstract in its portrayal. His words flow over time and space, never faltering, until years, and moments and characters have been born, lived, breathed and died before you. Stereotypes in Mda's creates vivid and abstract imagery and scenes that flow deliberately and haphazardly across the pages. Every word, every description, so carefully placed in such a controlled manner to create an ever flowing sense of emotions and world building. He skims through real events, clear in the readers mind, but abstract in its portrayal. His words flow over time and space, never faltering, until years, and moments and characters have been born, lived, breathed and died before you. Stereotypes inform his characters, and his characters challenge those stereotypes. One dimensional characters allowing the development of those the reader becomes bonded to, needed if only for their resentment, or amusement. The narration skipping seamlessly from characters to spectators and back within paragraphs and moments. Only in the last few pages did I find some disappointment in the resolution of certain characters, namely Popi, where I was left feeling that a man had clearly written this female character. Which was disappointing, as throughout the novel, Mda's has captured the female voice so clearly that not once did I think of the author as a He, but rather as a creator, an understanding soul of people and their inner turmoil. His chapter headings are as poetic as they come. His descriptions as beautiful or chaotic as they needed to be. Any negative commentary, a necessity. He comments on black and white, and coloured, alike. Never shying away from hard stances, or delicately pointing out small injustices. Beautiful, captivating and challenging. Found in a secondhand store (Riebeek-Kasteel; Western Cape).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    what i love about my South African lit class is that i get to read books that i never would have even heard of otherwise. this one follows the townspeople of Excelsior in 1971 South Africa where the Immorality Acts forbids sexual activity between black and white people. when a scandal rocks the town, everyone gets involved and their behavior shows the true effects of the discrimination and separations of the Apartheid era. the story delves into the culture of rape and prostitution of black women what i love about my South African lit class is that i get to read books that i never would have even heard of otherwise. this one follows the townspeople of Excelsior in 1971 South Africa where the Immorality Acts forbids sexual activity between black and white people. when a scandal rocks the town, everyone gets involved and their behavior shows the true effects of the discrimination and separations of the Apartheid era. the story delves into the culture of rape and prostitution of black women by white men under Apartheid law and rly shows you how the system beat down on black women for the crimes of white men. the story was really gripping for the first half while we were going thru the case of the Excelsior 19 but the second half was boring and political and just not where i expected the story to go. lots of flowery language and artistic expression if you’re into that

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Helen

    Set in South Africa, the novel is based on true events that occurred during apartheid. The protagonist shows us what life was like for a black woman during that time, how she was raped, used, and abused by white men. She bore a "coloured" daughter by the husband of a woman she worked for, caring for their son, who of course was the brother to her daughter. She was arrested and charged under the Immorality Laws. Her daughter grew up in political opposition to her half-brother. The protagonist was Set in South Africa, the novel is based on true events that occurred during apartheid. The protagonist shows us what life was like for a black woman during that time, how she was raped, used, and abused by white men. She bore a "coloured" daughter by the husband of a woman she worked for, caring for their son, who of course was the brother to her daughter. She was arrested and charged under the Immorality Laws. Her daughter grew up in political opposition to her half-brother. The protagonist was a strong, loving woman and made for an interesting read. The style of the book is also interesting as brief parts of the book narrate paintings and their subjects. The book itself is dedicated to a bird in a painting.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sisipho Bunyonyo

    I really liked the book though I felt it was out of my league in terms of the usage of the language. I am used to reading about what happened in the townships during apartheid and post-apartheid. I love the microscopic view of Excelsior, as it was a farm. The author covered various themes that were prevalent in that time like politics, power struggle, womanhood, motherhood, relationships and "taboo" relationships, racial segregation and stereotypes. It is a reflection of what was happening in SA I really liked the book though I felt it was out of my league in terms of the usage of the language. I am used to reading about what happened in the townships during apartheid and post-apartheid. I love the microscopic view of Excelsior, as it was a farm. The author covered various themes that were prevalent in that time like politics, power struggle, womanhood, motherhood, relationships and "taboo" relationships, racial segregation and stereotypes. It is a reflection of what was happening in SA. The characters were each unique and facing various struggles which the author was able to draw the reader in and develop throughout the book. It is a well structured book with magnificent storytelling. I would recommend it to anyone :)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hlulani Baloyi

    I generally love consuming our history in a very much of a fictionalised manner because then it is more bearable for me, and South African history is one that is so hard to look back to if you attack it raw, I have appreciated that Zakes has succeeded in doing that, If I am very honest about the start of every chapter, I feel as though the fuss of what sounded like poetry got too much for me to consume and everytime I kept asking myself if I was reading a poetry book or fiction, then he would br I generally love consuming our history in a very much of a fictionalised manner because then it is more bearable for me, and South African history is one that is so hard to look back to if you attack it raw, I have appreciated that Zakes has succeeded in doing that, If I am very honest about the start of every chapter, I feel as though the fuss of what sounded like poetry got too much for me to consume and everytime I kept asking myself if I was reading a poetry book or fiction, then he would bring back just when I’m about to give up and put the book down, This was overall an ok read, not overwhelming, not underwhelming, just ok

  23. 4 out of 5

    Masosote Masosote

    Brilliant read. Transports you to the little town of Excelsior during a time when the political and social landscape was dominated by stunted thinking regarding the colour of people. Zakes weaves it so well together and uses basic day to day issues such as sex and art to illustrate that human beings are just but one species.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Yandisa

    The art descriptions in the beginning of each chapter were rather annoying and that is the only flaw. I enjoyed the pace of the story and the smooth transition from apartheid to post apartheid South Africa.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I’m thankful for this book for giving me more exposure to South African history with beautiful writing and characters to remember. This book wasn’t a page turner, but I enjoyed it every time I picked it up. I savored it in small bits, and felt almost like looking at a piece of art.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marlo Goff

    A brilliant novel about South African history and politics. @zakesmda’s imagery paints a vivid picture of life under apartheid. What I found disturbing was how many parallels I saw with the BLM movement today. Read this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    3.5 stars!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    This was a brilliant book. I must admit I skipped over all the imagery but the plot is incredible.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nthabi

    Wonderfully written and totally captivating.

  30. 5 out of 5

    MzMay

    The plot moves along well considering the time span and events. I enjoyed the painting references, but was never clear on who "we" (the narrators/observers) were. The plot moves along well considering the time span and events. I enjoyed the painting references, but was never clear on who "we" (the narrators/observers) were.

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