Books are my favourite things on earth. Whenever I move anywhere (and I have moved at least once every year for the past six years), I always unpack my books first. They make me feel comfortable and at home.
Of course, it is not exactly surprising to anyone that at least one of my New Year’s resolutions every year relates to books. In 2017, that resolution was to read 24 books, specifically books written by African authors and by females. If they were written by African females, even better! I was fortunate that two brilliant black South African women released books this year (because there aren’t too many black South African female authors around) and both books are absolutely stunning.
I am ecstatic that I managed to smash my goal of reading 24 books by reading the following 29 books:
For a more comprehensive breakdown, feel free to check out my Year in Books.
My five favourites are listed below in no particular order:
- Born a Crime – Trevor Noah:
Trevor Noah (yes, funny Trevor with the jokes) tells his life story. Most of us are familiar with parts of his life story: the Xhosa mother and Swiss father in Apartheid South Africa, but what really touched me about it is that the book is so much more than a life story. It is an indictment of society and of inherent biases, most notably touched on when Trevor talks about how he got fewer and less painful hidings than his cousins because his grandmother could not handle how easily he bruised as a lighter-skinned person.
One of the best things about the book is that it was written for an American audience (and some South Africans as well) who might not be very familiar with the history of South Africa, and so Trevor has included a page or two here and there to provide some background about South Africa and about how we came to where we are.
Lastly, this book touched me because not only is it both heart breaking and funny simultaneously, but because it is very much a love letter from Trevor to his mom. This strong, stubborn woman who decided that she wanted a baby, but not a man, and who then decided that her son would be well-read because reading breeds curiosity, this woman who ruled her household with an iron fist even though her husband shot her, this woman who made sure that Trevor rose above Alex. This story is about her and about her strength of character more than it is about Trevor himself and well, we all know that I am a complete sucker for a strong woman.
- My Own Liberator – Dikgang Moseneke:
One of South Africa’s former Deputy Chief Justices, Dikgang Moseneke, tells his life story. I first heard Dikgang Moseneke speak when he was the key-note speaker at my graduation in 2016 and I decided immediately that I was going to read his memoir.
A former freedom fighter in the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), Dikgang Moseneke was arrested and sentenced to ten years on Robben Island when he was only fifteen years old. Dikgang Moseneke speaks of his studies on Robben Island, his subsequent house arrest and eventually qualifying as an attorney. He was the first black person to be admitted to the bar in South Africa and has been instrumental in fighting the Apartheid justice system and then upholding the constitution of South Africa post-Apartheid.
Over the last couple of years, I have been making a concerted effort to read about South Africa’s freedom fighters as I am not South African by birth and therefore am not too familiar with the nuances of South African history. Of course this meant that I read about the ANC a lot, but very little about the PAC. For anyone who wants to learn more about the principles of the PAC, as well as get to know Dikgang Moseneke, read this and kill two birds with one stone. Not only that, but the fact that Dikgang Moseneke does not have an ANC background means that he is not afraid to criticise the ANC and because he is a former judge, he is similarly not afraid to criticise the PAC. It is refreshing to hear someone other than the EFF criticise the “Truth and Reconciliation” approach post-Apartheid and the damage that it has caused.
For a refreshing read that will challenge you, I definitely recommend this one.
- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood:
The only fictional read on my top five is Margaret Atwood’s cult classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. This story made a comeback when a mini-series version thereof was developed and aired by Hulu in 2017.
Set in a dystopian universe in the future, Offred is a Handmaid and her sole purpose is to breed. She may perform mundane tasks such as walking to the market with other Handmaids, but everything that she does is purely to ensure that she is healthy enough to breed a child for her Commander and his wife.
It is not difficult to see why this book is a feminist classic and it is definitely not difficult to see why it made a comeback in 2017 with the #MeToo movement, with Brock Turner’s lenient sentence in 2016 and with Donald Trump’s war on abortions. In many ways, this story is to women what Orwell’s 1984 is to every human being on earth: it is a world in which we do not wish to live, but one that we seem to be heading towards very quickly.
For those who despise the thought of reading, watch the series instead. It is scary, but important.
- Always Another Country – Sisonke Msimang:
Sisonke Msimang grew up in a house of freedom fighters, but they were in exile. In this book, she chronicles her life in Zambia, Kenya, Canada, as a student in America and eventually as a career woman and mother back in South Africa.
Sisonke speaks of race from the perspective of the exiled in exile, where she never quite fit in, then as a black female at a liberal college in America, where she was angry and abrasive, to eventually returning to her beloved South Africa and the disillusionment that followed after the elation of Apartheid’s end, after freedom was finally attained. She speaks of the illusion of the Rainbow Nation, she speaks of life from the perspective of the ‘privileged black’.
My favourite chapter is entitled ‘Why I Write’ and it speaks to me because I sometimes, very seldom, think of myself as a writer. Of course I know that I am in no way a writer, but it sometimes sits in the back of my head and I entertain the title – Danielle Sauls, author of Awesome Book That Changed the Perspectives of the Privileged’. ‘Why I Write’ was a late addition to the book and I am so grateful that she added this chapter because why Sisonke writes is in many ways why we all write.
“I write for myself because women seldom have spaces for themselves and writing is space… I write because writing is solitary and women are seldom just alone with their thoughts… I write because South Africa was liberated and she is not yet free. I write because I have been let down and sometimes I write because I do not know the answer and I am hoping that someone might search with me.” – Sisonke Msimang
- Khwezi – Redi Tlhabi:
While reading this book, I often joked about having to find less emotionally taxing books to read because this one and Always Another Country above had me tearing up on public transport and in coffee shops on a daily basis (and crying in public is a little bit sad).
Khwezi is the story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, a woman who was forced into exile for accusing Jacob Zuma of raping her. This book is more than just a chronological account of Fezekile’s life, however. It is an indictment of the patriarchal society in which women are forced to survive, it is an indictment of our court system and it is an indictment of Jacob Zuma’s and his supporters’ arrogance and remorselessness in the face of a rape accusation.
Above all, however, it is about a woman who reclaims her name and her life. It is about no longer being Khwezi, Zuma’s victim, but about being Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo again.
I cannot say much about Khwezi, but I do know that the rape statistics in South Africa are scary. An article in the Mail & Guardian’s Bheksisa has done a study on rape culture in Diepsloot and the information derived from this study leaves my blood cold:
To read the article, please follow the link: http://bhekisisa.org/article/2017-07-20-diepsloot-i-will-rape-them-personally-those-drunkard-women-in-the-short-dresses
Khwezi is an instrumental book in looking at rape culture and its pervasiveness in society and especially in our justice system.
Special Mention: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! – Dr Seuss:
I discovered this book (it was recommended to me by a dear person) towards the end of 2017 when a difficult year was winding down and I was getting ready to try again and attempt new challenges.
This beautiful children’s book, after which this blog post has been named, is a wonderful reminder to adults and children that we have great potential. Written in Dr Seuss’s classic poetic style, it speaks of dreams, hopes, adventure, but also pain and loss.
As we head into 2018, I would encourage you to buy a copy and to read it regularly as a reminder that:
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
May 2018 be filled with books, curiosity and learning.