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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Heart of Redness (2000) by Zakes Mda

Book Review
The Heart of Redness (2000)
 by Zakes Mda

    Zakes Mda is the kind of author I had in mind when I started reading all 1001 Books from the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  He is South African. I'd go so far as to say that he is little known inside the United States, with a higher profile in the UK.  He's won some awards in the UK, particularly for this very book, which is about the amaXhosa people of South Africa and their past and present.  Mda's narrative switches between the awakening of Camagu, a Westernized amaXhosa who has recently returned from 30 years of life in the United States to find his way in post-liberation South Africa.

  Disappointments in the city related to his status as a returnee ("Where were you when we danced the freedom dance?" is the line that Camagu uses as short-hand fr his failure to land a job) lead him to the township of Qolorha-by-Sea, the point of origin for the Nongqawuse movement- a milenarian cult that led to the slaughter of large amounts of cattle by the amaXhosa in preparation for the imminent arrival of an earthly paradise.  Camagu arrives in the late 20th century to find the people still split between "Believers" and "Unbelievers."

  This disagreements are pushed to the fore when investors from Johannesburg arrive with plans to turn the unspoiled coast into a casino-resort.  Meanwhile, Camagu finds love with Qukeswa, daughter of the leader of the Believers (those who still hold with the prophetess from the 19th century).  Prominent in the local community is Dalton, the son of an English military officer, who speaks the local language better than many locals. 

  While Mda's prose style can be clunky, there is no missing the sophistication of his portrayal of this familiar debate of the development of special natural places.  He links past to present in unpredictable ways and he avoids all of the prat-falls that accompany a century of white western Europeans writing about what dark-skinned people think.


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