This has been the year in which women writers have reclaimed their power through the pages of their compelling stories, and in which nonfiction has risen to become a popular genre. City Press has rounded up this year’s most compelling reads, based on the conversations that have taken place over these poignant stories. It is also a guide to buying evergreen presents.
A BOOM IN WOMEN’S NONFICTION
Women in nonfiction are making history by re-examining history and breaking boundaries – all the while telling compelling and necessary stories.
Experiences of intimate partner violence were bravely recounted through the stories of personalities such as former journalist Vanessa Govender, who wrote Beaten but not Broken, and former TV presenter Tracy Going, who penned Brutal Legacy: A Memoir.
The #MeToo movement has given rise to powerful and nuanced stories of women who would otherwise have been silenced and subjected to intimidation, as in the case of Govender following the release of her memoir. She has been threatened and has faced a barrage of insults on social media, but has been relentless in her quest to speak her truth. Her book has been so well received that more women, including former colleagues, have come forward and told their stories.
Going, whose highly anticipated memoir has again cast a spotlight on what women go through in abusive relationships, also speaks about the endless number of times she was made to feel guilty for standing her ground, as difficult as it was.
Going has said that she was compelled to speak out after hearing the harrowing accounts of women who suffered a fate far worse than her own.
Comedian Tumi Morake’s memoir, And Then Mama Said..., was a dapper, smart tug at the heartstrings and a funny read that continued the trend of telling brave stories that leave one with feelings of endearment towards, and admiration for, the author.
Sisonke Msimang’s book, The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela, delved into the difficulties South Africans were experiencing in mourning a woman who was seen both as heroine and villain. Poetically written, the book presents a strong historical context that predates the life of Madikizela-Mandela, but easily threads in her life from childhood to death.
It is a must-read for those conflicted about her legacy as Msimang fairly and honestly interrogates the role Madikizela-Mandela played in South Africa’s history while thoughtfully delving into her wrongs. – Avantika Seeth and Rhodé Marshall
KIDS’ BOOK OF THE YEAR: MIZZ PRESIDENT, BY MAPULE MOHULATSI
Girl empowerment has been central to the conversation about young readers this year, and accordingly, my daughter, Lathi, enjoyed reading this intriguing book. It echoes the sentiments on girl power that she carries as a youngster.
The story focuses on the character of Lerato, who is suddenly thrust into the powerful role of president. Like Lerato, Lathi felt more empowered at seeing this possibility – and, like any other kid who likes to be happy and make people happy, Mizz President gave Lathi more confidence in her ability to distinguish right from wrong.
A practical lesson gleaned from the book was when my daughter took it on herself to offer food to our gardener. She also liked that Lerato has a giant bird friend, Hagar, who updates her on what is going on in the neighbourhood and flies her to various places, including Parliament.
Mizz President is a delightful story about what could happen if we left important matters to children. Feelgood and inspirational, it goes a long way in helping to shape the potential of our young generation and its future presidents. – Criselda Ndlovu
NOVEL OF THE YEAR
It is not hard to identify our most powerful poetry of the year. What is hard is to choose between Feeling And Ugly by Danai Mupotsa and Red Cotton by Vangile Gantsho. Elegant and rich, these are voices of the future. We refuse to choose; they are both winners.
Our short fiction release of the year is the deep but playful and unusual world unpacked in Mohale Mashigo’s Intruders.
When it comes to the novelists, we loved the new work from Sue Nyathi, The Gold Diggers. Nyathi’s popular approach tends to disguise her literary star qualities.
Our novel of the year comes from the prolific Nthikeng Mohlele. Michael K landed out of left field and flipped the script. Erotic, meta and driven by character, not plot, every word is chosen with the utmost care and then polished into a true original that works to let loose a new vocabulary in our fiction. In his protagonist Miles’ Joburg, poetry must be scraped off the streets – and that is exactly what Mohlele does in this work about a gardener and a professor. – Charl Blignaut