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Books for the festive season

- Wits University

Wits staff suggest local and international books covering a range of genres to explore these holidays.

Veronica Klipp, Publisher, Wits University Press (WUP)

I’ve only recently read George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the 2017 Booker Prize. It is one of the most unusual, inventive novels I’ve read, about life and the slow acceptance of the reality of death, in this case the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son. With surprising lightness and humour, it deals with important ethical questions about the purpose of life and the responsibility one bears for how one has lived it.

Veronica Klipp, Publisher, Wits University Press (WUP)

Selecting only one Wits Press book feels unfair to the others! But I strongly recommend Visualising China in Southern Africa: Biography, Circulation, Transgression (edited by Juliette Leeb-Du Toit, Ruth Simbao and Ross Anthony). This innovative book explores the important China–Africa encounter, both historic and contemporary, through the lens of visual arts and material culture. With its quality artwork and high production values, it also makes an excellent gift.

Kemantha Govender, Communications Manager, School of Governance

Running with my parents’ shadows is authored by the dynamic and powerhouse of an academic, writer and speaker, Dr Thelela Ngcetane-Vika. Thelela’s memoir is an epiphany that depicts how she traversed life’s challenges and leadership avalanches. While honouring and paying tribute to her parents and family, she wanted to honour African leadership in shaping families and societies in general.

The value of this memoir is knowledge creation, curation, preservation and celebration of life from different angles, in particular – a celebration of traversing life’s tragedies and triumphant living that epitomises the foundational tenets manifest in her parent’s shadows.

Kemantha Govender, Communications Manager, School of Governance

For My Country - Why I Blew The Whistle On Zuma And The Guptas by former government spokesperson Themba Maseko, is a book of courage and what it means to stand up for what’s just and right. Maseko refused to divert the government's entire advertising budget to the Guptas and was then removed from his position and forced to leave the public service. Currently the Acting Head of the School of Government, Maseko represents a generation of activists-turned-civil-servants whose commitment to the Constitution and service to the people superseded everything else. 

Caster Semenya – The Race To Be Myself. South African icon and Olympian has had to fight in courts and governing bodies to compete in athletics. This book is about her life and is written in true Caster style, smart, witty and funny. It allows you to get to know the person and the elite athlete. You may not want to run the 800m but you will feel like getting up and starting your goal or dream. A painful but inspiring book.

Roshan Cader, Commissioning Editor, WUP

I would recommend Steven Friedman’s Good Jew Bad Jew as a non-fiction read that will shed light on how language gets distorted in the service of racism and maintaining power regarding the Israeli and Palestinian matter. An erudite analysis by one of South Africa’s most insightful and measured academics. Available via WUP.

Roshan Cader, Commissioning Editor, Wits University Press

For fiction, I would highly recommend Joanne Joseph’s Children of the Sugarcane. A heartachingly told historical fiction told through the perspective of female protagonist, Shanti, who escapes an arranged marriage in India and comes to the Natal colony as an indentured labourer. The novel is incredibly moving and gives emotion to a painful history of slavery and violence of British colonisation in South Africa and India. 

Kirsten Perkins, Production Editor, WUP

Corrupted by Jonathan Jansen, is an insightful look at the dysfunction and corruption in South African universities to unravel the root causes and restore their academic purpose. A must-read.

Kirsten Perkins, Production Editor, Wits University Press

The novel Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, is a deep family story and mystery about two siblings who piece together their mother’s history after her death.  A moving read following their family in multiple places: the Caribbean, California and London. Perfect to get stuck into on holiday.

The historical fantasy Babel by RF Kaung, covers student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tools of the British Empire. It’s a fascinating look at the power of language and is perfect dark academia reading.

Corina van der Spoel, marketing coordinator, WUP

Two of my favourite authors have got new novels out. From Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole, the author of Open City, comes his third novel, Tremor. A book about art, music and literature, race and history and living a meaningful life. Questions that the book considers: As our understanding of history changes, how do we re-evaluate, interact with and enjoy art? How do we create new art that remembers but is unburdened by the past? I can’t wait.

Corina van der Spoel, Marketing Coordinator, Wits University Press

And from Canadian poet and writer Anne Michaels, writer of my favourite novel, Fugitive Pieces, comes after a long time a new novel, Held. In this novel she revisits themes of history, memory, the effects of trauma and grief in her wonderful lyrical and dreamy style of writing.

And I’ll be reading Wits Press author, uMbuso weNkosi’s ground-breaking sociological study of forced labour and violence in the potato fields of Bethal, Mpumalanga, in the 1950s: These Potatoes Look Like Humans: The Contested Future of Land, Home and Death in South Africa, for its unique understanding of the intersection between land and labour, dispossession and one’s connection to the land. Mbuso frames the chapters from the perspective of the eye. Who is looking, the workers’ eyes, the spiritual eye, also the potato’s eye - the sprout/tuber - all witnessing the violence on South Africa’s farmlands. Available via WUP.