South Africa has a complicated history. Apartheid only ended 23 years ago, and although the country has undergone massive changes since then, the effects are still felt today.
Before you visit South Africa it’s important to learn about its turbulent past and vibrant culture and my favourite way to do this is through books. I didn’t read any history books but instead learnt through memoirs and novels by (mostly) South African writers sharing their experiences.
If you don’t have time to read them all, I’ve put an asterisk (*) next to the books I most recommend.
Non-Fiction Books About South Africa
If you only read one book before visiting South Africa, make it Long Walk to Freedom. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography tells his inspiring story from childhood to the fight against apartheid, his 27 years in prison, and how he negotiated with his oppressors for the first democratic elections in South Africa and became president. It’s a long book but very much worthwhile and a truly remarkable story.
The Invictus film is also worth seeing but the book is much more detailed.
Novels Set in South Africa
Set in post-apartheid South Africa, Disgrace tells the story of David Lurie, a twice divorced English professor who is disgraced after an affair with a student. He leaves Cape Town to visit his daughter’s farm in a rural community where racial tensions are running high. All the books I read about South Africa are depressing to some extent, but Disgrace was just too much. That said, it won the Man Booker Prize in 1999, so you might want to try it for yourself.
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