South Africa is unique, with incredible wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, and delectable cuisine, and I’m sure it is on many of your travel lists. However, before visiting any foreign land, especially one like South Africa with such rich history and culture, having basic info about it is a must. So in this article, I am going to talk about 23 such books you should read before going to South Africa.
I’ve heard and read a lot about South Africa. It is a complicated place, and even then, might only fully show itself to you if you’re lucky. South Africa has lovely national parks and prevalent foods and beverages. It has a relatively recent grim history and a dynamic and complex culture. It is also on my travel lists and would love to visit there one day, until then I will be visiting there through these books.
South Africa’s past is complex. Even though the nation has experienced significant improvements since apartheid ended, its impacts can still be seen today. Read up on South Africa’s rich history before you go to better prepare yourself for the exciting, multiracial experience that is in store for you.
After reading this much, you guys might have already started planning your trip to South Africa. Don’t rush; slow down. First, give a read to at least a few of the following books, and then we’re good to go! We can even go together then!
23 Best Books You Should Read To Know South Africa
01. Burger’s Daughter
Full Title: Burger’s Daughter
Author: Nadine Gordimer
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publishing Date: 1979
This novel is the stirring tale of Rosa Burger, a remarkable young South African lady modelled after a revolutionary tradition. Rosa tries to preserve the culture her martyred parents passed on to her while also forging her own identity. Burger’s Daughter is comparable to those 19th-century Russian masterpieces that vividly depict a certain period and location yet remain timeless celebrations of the human spirit, even though it is entirely contemporary.
02. Jock of the Bushveld
Full Title: Jock of the Bushveld
Author: James Percy FitzPatrick
Publishing Date: 1907
This beloved children’s classic is focused on the adventures of Percy Fitzpatrick, a transportation rider during the South African Gold Rush, and his devoted dog, Jock. After hearing Fitzpatrick tell his four children the tales of his exploits as bedtime stories, Fitzpatrick’s friend Rudyard Kipling advised him to publish a book.
This entertaining book has been published in over 100 versions and translated into other languages since 1907. On your travel to South Africa, watch the Jock of the Bushveld commemoration ceremonies placed along Percy and Jock’s original itineraries in the Kruger National Park.
03. Ways of Dying
Full Title: Ways of Dying
Author: Zakes Mda
Publishing Date: 1995
In the latter years of apartheid, this novella chronicles the tale of Toloki, a self-employed “professional mourner” who attends community funerals in a violent metropolis. When Toloki runs across Noria, a childhood friend, they reunite and find solace in one another as they reflect on their complicated lives.
This book is written in the first person plural and reads like a magically realistic African folktale loaded with hope and tragedy.
Full Title: Disgrace
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publishing Date: 2005
The plot, which is set in post-apartheid South Africa, centers on a middle-aged white professor at a university in Cape Town who is fired due to romantic involvement with a student.
This starts a series of events that will completely embarrass him and cause his dignity to crumble. Coetzee covers a variety of subjects in his book, including exploitation, self-loathing, the mistreatment of women, and a nation going through change.
05. The Cape Town Book
Full Title: The Cape Town Book: A Guide to the City’s History, People, and Places
Author: Nechama Brodie
Publishing Date: 2015
From the City Bowl and seaside suburbs to the enormous length of the Cape Flats and the sweeping northern suburbs, the 14-chapter book explores the beginnings and growth of Cape Town. In addition to providing a fair assessment of well-known landmarks like Table Mountain and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Brodie also gives neglected Cape Flats populations a voice.
The book includes previously unseen photos taken from the vaults of museums, colleges, and other public organizations. Both visitors and residents should read it.
06. Country of My Skull
Full Title: Country of My Skull
Author: Antjie Krog
Publishing Date: 1998
The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was established in South Africa following the end of apartheid in 1994, are discussed in this book. The book is a personal account of the author, a white Afrikaner, of her stance and experience with the TRC and a profoundly emotional description of the experiences of the victims and oppressors of apartheid.
As a poet and journalist, Krog captures the intricacy of the TRC’s work while enticing the reader with her captivating words.
07 Long Walk to Freedom
Full Title: Long Walk to Freedom
Author: Nelson Mandela
Publishing Date: 1994
This book is the captivating autobiography of Nelson Mandela, a legendary South African leader. His early years, coming of age, education, and 27 years in prison are covered in the book, where he wrote part of his autobiography in secret. This book is intriguing to read and gives a detailed account of Mandela’s incredible life of adversity and bravery during his struggle for independence in South Africa.
08. Cry, the Beloved Country
Full Title: Cry, the Beloved Country
Author: Alan Paton
Genre: Political Fiction
Publishing Date: 1948
The truly compelling tale of Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom is told in this book, and it is set against the backdrop of a nation and a people torn apart by racial injustice. This incredible work of love and hope, strength and perseverance, born of the dignity of man, is remarkable for its lyricism and memorable for character and incident. Its complex themes of grief, optimism, and faith make it a must-read.
09. A History of South Africa
Full Title: A History of South Africa
Author: Frank Welsh
Publishing Date: 1998
South Africa has regularly attracted negative international attention over its tumultuous history. But there is a significant amount of prejudice and a lack of knowledge about the nation. This is a comprehensive history of South Africa’s turbulent past that is passionately written. The story is organized around several significant moments, including the Union of South Africa in 1910, which helped to establish apartheid, and the Dutch settlers’ choice to rely on imported enslaved people.
The book also dispels many of the most widespread misconceptions regarding South Africa.
Full Title: Coconut
Author: Kopano Matlwa
Publishing Date: 2007
The central theme of this controversial book is the struggle for culture and identity among black youngsters in Westernized South Africa. The narrative chronicles the lives of 2 black girls from different backgrounds in contemporary South Africa, a nation still plagued by socio-economic injustice and racism.
Matlwa deftly addresses problems that black millennials are currently dealing with, such as colonized awareness and the loss of culture and history. Matlwa is a talented young writer from South Africa who also practices medicine.
Full Title: Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation
Author: John Carlin
Publishing Date: 2009
This book is the ideal continuation of the Long Walk to Freedom. The narrative of how Nelson Mandela utilized the Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team that had long been associated with white supremacy, to unite the country’s citizens as they got ready to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup which is inspiring and heartwarming.
Mandela tried to convince his former adversaries because he understood that this was the best way to bring peace rather than condemning them for previous transgressions.
12. No Future without Forgiveness
Full Title: No future without forgiveness
Author: Desmond Tutu
Publishing Date: 1999
This book tells the tragic yet inspirational tale of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to heal the nation and facilitate inter-group harmony by exposing the truth regarding apartheid-era human rights abuses. Even though the atrocities of apartheid are challenging to hear, many victims have an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness.
13. The Power of One
Full Title: The Power of One
Author: Bryce Courtenay
Genre: Historical novel
Publishing Date: 1989
The roots of apartheid were sown in South Africa in 1939 when Hitler stretched his massive, heinous shadow across the globe. Peekay, a boy, is born there. Although he was humiliated and abandoned as a youngster, he commits to going on and dreams of being a hero, which is insignificant in light of what life truly has in store for him.
He sets off on an epic adventure through a nation where there is modern discrimination and tribal superstition, during which he will discover the power of words, the capacity to change lives, and the power of one.
14. My Traitor’s Heart
Full Title: My Traitor’s Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience
Author: Rian Malan
Publishing Date: 1990
This book is the author’s harrowing experience of coming home after an uneasy eight-year exile. Malan examines the legacy of hatred and suffering left by apartheid, laying testimony to the severe physical and psychological harm it has inflicted on decades of South Africans on both sides of the colour line, armed with new knowledge and clarity.
Malan eventually finds his way into the light of atonement and healing by probing the deepest reaches of the black and white South African psyches. The novel My Traitor’s Heart is astounding, beautiful, terrible, thought-provoking, and hard to put down.
15. Born a Crime
Full Title: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Publishing Date: 2016
Trevor Noah, South African comedian and current presenter of The Daily Show, wrote an intriguing book. It focuses on his mixed-race childhood, both before and during apartheid, when his parents’ relationship was illegal. As he tries to fit in a world he wasn’t intended to be in, and his experiences are both humorous and tragic.
Full Title: Tandia
Author: Bryce Courtenay
Publishing Date: 1991
Tandia is a native of Africa; she is half Indian and half African, gorgeous, and intelligent. When the cops beat her up for the first time, she was just sixteen years old. She joins the black rebel movement and undergoes terrorist training there because she feared white people.
The only white person in whom Tandia has complete faith is Peekay, the world welterweight champion, fighting alongside her for justice. He now has to take on their shared foe to save both of their lives.
17. The Housemaid’s Daughter
Full Title: The Housemaid’s Daughter
Author: Barbara Mutch
Publishing Date: 2010
This book is a fascinating and thought-provoking story that meticulously depicts the drama and grief of two women who rise above brutality to find true love, faith, and forgiveness. It is set in a world of a beautiful yet torn land.
Ada, a black girl, grew up in a white family as a maid, and Cathleen, the mistress of the house, who defies the demands of apartheid society and cares for Ada like a daughter, are the subjects of this story, which is set in a small town in South Africa’s Karoo desert region.
18. The Woman Next Door
Full Title: The Woman Next Door
Author: Yewande Omotoso
Publishing Date: 2016
Marion Agostino and Hortensia James are neighbours. A white and a black one. Both have outstanding jobs and are accomplished ladies. They were both newly widowed. They both share a vowed hatred and a fence of hate, which they maintain with a ferocity that belies their respective ages of over 80.
However, one day an unforeseeable circumstance binds the women together. The fighting and sniping eventually give way to an enthusiastic discussion, which leads to shared experiences. Could these connections, however, ever lead to friendship?
19. Bitter Fruit
Full Title: Bitter Fruit
Author: Achmat Dangor
Publishing Date: 2001
This novel is an insightful, humorous, but intensely severe examination of South Africa’s political past and the detrimental effects it has left on the country’s citizens. Lieutenant Du Boise last came into contact with Silas Ali. At the same time, Silas was imprisoned in the back of a police van, and Lydia, Silas’s wife, was brutally attacked by the lieutenant as retaliation for her husband’s role in Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.
Twenty years later, Silas runs into Du Boise as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is ready to release its report. As the report is being delivered, atrocities from the past resurface, shattering the tenuous peace between the Alis. In the meantime, Mikey, Silas and Lydia’s son and a modern teenage hip-hop lothario, deal unexpectedly with his parents’ histories.
20. Wines of the New South Africa
Full Title: Wines of the New South Africa: Tradition and Revolution
Author: Tim James
Publishing Date: 2013
The sweet wines of Constantia in the Cape Colony were prized by European nobility and were a favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. South Africa started reappearing on the world wine scene in 1994, just before the country held its first democratic elections.
An authority on South African wines, the author leads the reader on an educational tour of the country, explaining how and why the region’s distinctive terroir and climate, along with significant advancements in winemaking methods, produce wines once more garnering praise.
21. South African Eden
Full Title: South African Eden: From Sabi Game Reserve to Kruger National Park
Author: James Stevenson-Hamilton
Publishing Date: 1937
This story spans more than 40 years of work as the Kruger National Park’s warden, during which time the park miraculously survived. A big game hunter who wanted to raid the South African herds built the national park. Thank goodness, a tenacious Scottish cop intervened, and here is his account. The author protected South Africa’s history for the future by using a novel idea to preserve the native wilds.
22. Out of Africa
Full Title: Out of Africa
Author: Isak Dineson (pseudonym- Karen Blixen)
Publishing Date: 1937
This memoir details the author’s time spent in Africa between 1914 and 1931, working on a 4,000-acre coffee plantation in the highlands outside of Nairobi. She and her husband had immigrated to Kenya from Denmark, and after their divorce, she remained to run the farm on her own.
She was frequently visited by her lover, big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, for whom she would make up tales like Scheherazade.
23. The Elephant Whisperer
Full Title: The Elephant Whisperer: My Life With The Herd In The African Wild
Author: Lawrence Anthony
Publishing Date: 2009
This charming book explores friendship, love, conservation, and respect for humans and animals. A herd of “rebel” elephants was welcomed onto the author’s private game property in South Africa. The author is an environmentalist. This was the herd’s only chance of surviving; they had been condemned to die.
It’s a beautiful tale that will change how you think about animal’s feelings and intelligence because of the bond the author develops with the herd’s matriarch. It will make you cry sometimes and make you laugh other times.
We have South Africa at the top of our travel wish list. We can’t wait to taste South African wine and witness giraffes and elephants in the wild. These South African must-read novels will help you explore the country. You’re likely to gain fresh insights from these challenging South African books.