For me, 2017 was dominated by news articles, thought pieces, commission outcomes and copious numbers of court judgments. Fortunately, during my travels I found the time to read leisurely on long flights and jotted down some notes from some of the books that made an impression.
Askari by Jacob Dlamini:
If you ever wanted to know how and why someone could betray a fellow comrade, this book tries to give an explanation. Set aside what you know or think you know about the current African National Congress and travel to a time when ANC comrades were fighting (supposedly) for the same cause. I found myself angry with the people who betrayed the movement and took the easy way out.
The book is great in providing a historical account of the betrayal that besieged the ANC during its years as a banned liberation movement. It also deftly pieces together information on apartheid police brutality and its machinery. Some parallels can be drawn with the current ANC, which seems to be at an ideological crossroads. Freedom is here and many politicians have tasted it -- its fruit and fortunes. Some do not see that there's a need to continue with the national democratic revolution.
After rereading the book twice, I still have no idea who the secret agent really was –– I'm not even sure if it actually matters. And I must admit, towards the end I found myself wanting to physically get in the book and shake Glory Sedibe, the main character and chief askari, for answers. In Askari, Dlamini tries to answer the question, "Why do comrades betray each other?" Unfortunately, most of the answers seem unsatisfactory. It is a difficult read about a difficult subject, but very important.
The Fabulist's Bindle by Mehluli Nxumalo:
This book is a collection of short stories cleverly woven together by competition lawyer and author Mehluli Nxumalo. Each story comes with valuable life lessons that will have you turning pages with immense excitement. Can Themba reincarnated, Nxumalo's short stories had me laughing hysterically alone –– particularly the story about "dihydrogen monoxide".
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah:
What can Trevor Noah not do? Noah's comedic autobiography is a lovely read and impeccably well written. It's hilarious, and at times a tear-jerking account of his upbringing in postapartheid South Africa. Reading the book, one gets the feeling that it was written as an ode to his mother in a touching and comical style, in a way only the Daywalker can –– which was a refreshing distraction from the unbearable inflight turbulence.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi:
This is a powerful story about two sisters who do not know each other, set in the era of the African slave trade. One of the sisters is married to a colonial British governor and lives in the Cape Town Castle with her husband, while the other sister lives in the dungeon of the same castle as a slave.
Each chapter tells the story of the two sisters painfully yet impeccably. In her debut offering, Ghanaian-born author Gyasi asks thought-provoking questions on the role of fellow Africans in the slave trade. Gyasi's style is definitely her own, but can be likened to Toni Morrison. If anything, read this book for Gyasi's excellent writing.
Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma:
This is the book of my life. I have never related to a collection of words as I did with this powerful poetry debut by this young, critically acclaimed South African author. I devoured each page and salivated at the relevance to my life –– from being a young black woman, adulting and navigating through life, to being slapped by white privilege, black tax and the ubiquitous patriarchy and misogyny in our society.
But, isn't it funny? That when they ask about black childhood, all they are interested in is our pain, as if the joy parts were accidental...
...writes Putuma, in one of the most important books for a young black woman, ever.