The best books on white Africans

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born into a third-generation white South African family. I came to Europe at the age of 18 to pursue a career as a ballet dancer and became interested in liberation politics in the 1960s, working for some years for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London. It almost goes without saying that Black Africans should be at the centre of books about Africa. In an era in which the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ has gained so much acceptance, it seems almost quixotic to focus on white Africans. However, this is a fascinating group of people who have made a notable contribution to the continent, winning thirteen of the twenty-eight Nobel Prizes awarded to Africans.

I wrote...

The Secret Son of Wallis Simpson: My Quest for the Truth

By Selina Molteno,

Book cover of The Secret Son of Wallis Simpson: My Quest for the Truth

What is my book about?

Joss de Wahl pretended he was, believed he was, or quite possibly was the natural son of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. In his infancy, he claimed, he was sent to South Africa from Europe to be raised by foster parents. I probe the possibilities of whether he really was a genuine member of the British royal family, a conman, or a deluded fantasist. Establishing the veracity of his story turned out to be more perplexing than I had envisaged. He was clearly a wealthy man with royal connections, and I was able to corroborate quite a lot of what he told me. Whether he was for real, however, remains a mystery for the reader to unravel.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Story of an African Farm

Selina Molteno Why did I love this book?

Published in 1883, this novel was rediscovered as a classical account of ‘first-wave feminism,’ with Schreiner challenging the then taken-for-granted assumptions about marriage, femininity, motherhood, and gender inequality. Her main characters are white women, who are given ample opportunity to excoriate Victorian patriarchy and fake chivalry. Black characters are barely visible and, given her progressive feminist, anti-imperialist and anti-racist views, some will be disappointed that she does not engage meaningfully with Black Africans. The book has resonance for me because, although I am two generations down the line, Olive Schreiner was a close friend of my grandfather’s sister Betty, while my own grandmother, Lucy Molteno, was the last person to speak to her on the telephone late one night – she was found dead the next morning.

By Olive Schreiner, Joseph Bristow (editor),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Story of an African Farm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lyndall, Schreiner's articulate young feminist, marks the entry of the controversial New Woman into nineteenth-century fiction. Raised as an orphan amid a makeshift family, she witnesses an intolerable world of colonial exploitation. Desiring a formal education, she leaves the isolated farm for boarding school in her early teens, only to return four years later from an unhappy relationship. Unable to meet the demands of her mysterious lover, Lyndall retires to a
house in Bloemfontein, where, delirious with exhaustion, she is unknowingly tended by an English farmer disguised as her female nurse. This is the devoted Gregory Rose, Schreiner's daring embodiment…

Book cover of The Plague

Selina Molteno Why did I love this book?

Camus was born in Algeria of European ancestry but was by no means privileged (his mother was a cleaner). On immigrating to France, he joined the French Resistance against the Nazis. In The Plague, set in the city of Oran (Algeria), he probes how the townspeople react to the outbreak of a deadly virus. With uncanny resemblances to the reactions to Covid-19, some are terrified, some fatalistic, some point fingers of blame, and some organize and resist – a response that echoes Camus’s preference for a ‘rebellion’ on behalf of humanity and social justice. Albert Camus was popular while I was working as a ballet dancer in Paris in the early 1960s when the Algerian war of independence was raging, and Europe was losing its colonial possessions one after the other.

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Plague as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Its relevance lashes you across the face.” —Stephen Metcalf, The Los Angeles Times • “A redemptive book, one that wills the reader to believe, even in a time of despair.” —Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post 

A haunting tale of human resilience and hope in the face of unrelieved horror, Albert Camus' iconic novel about an epidemic ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature. 

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they…

Book cover of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

Selina Molteno Why did I love this book?

This memoir of Alexandra Fuller’s childhood is a hilarious take on her family’s experience of farming in Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia in the 1970s and 1980s. It is a refreshing reminder of what it was like to live and grow up as a member of the white minority intent on remaining in power during a fast-changing, violent, and deeply unstable period in the history of southern Africa. It is a wonderful portrayal of some of the traumas of growing up with a witty, mad, and heavy-drinking mother who had to endure the unspeakable tragedy of losing a child, a chain-smoking father who farmed by day and fought terrorists by night, and a glamorous older sister. It is a book that keeps you laughing or crying the whole way through.

By Alexandra Fuller,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by author Anne Enright.

Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book award, a story of civil war and a family's unbreakable bond.

How you see a country depends on whether you are driving through it, or live in it. How you see a country depends on whether or not you can leave it, if you have to.

As the daughter of white settlers in war-torn 1970s Rhodesia, Alexandra Fuller remembers a time when a schoolgirl was as likely to carry a shotgun as a satchel. This is her story - of a civil war, of a quixotic battle…

Book cover of Cry, the Beloved Country

Selina Molteno Why did I love this book?

This great novel is set at the beginning of formal apartheid in South Africa (the apartheid government was elected four months after its publication in 1948). Paton is credited with successfully crafting a convincing Black character, Stephen Kumalo, a rural priest whose son murdered a white man known for his advocacy of racial justice. Paton’s novel is a remarkably prescient account of the racial tensions that were to accelerate in apartheid South Africa. His work is personal to me mainly because he was an important opponent of the apartheid regime and one of the founders of the Liberal Party of South Africa, which in those early days seemed a rather radical position for whites to be pursuing.

By Alan Paton,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Cry, the Beloved Country as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel depicting the racial ferment in the beautiful country of South Africa in 1948.

Book cover of Martha Quest

Selina Molteno Why did I love this book?

This book, which was published in 1952, is about a young white woman living in what was then the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I loved the way in which it captured the rather trapped feelings of a very young woman eager to escape the constraints of what she was experiencing as a highly restricted and narrow life. I always looked at Doris Lessing’s writings in a rather personal way because her daughter, Jean Wisdom, was in my class at school in Cape Town. Although we knew that her mother was a writer of some note, we had no inkling that she would ultimately win a Nobel prize for literature

By Doris Lessing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Martha Quest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book in the "Children of Violence" series, a quintet of novels tracing the life of Martha Quest from her childhood in colonial Africa through to old age in a post-nuclear Britain. The other novels are "A Proper Marriage", "A Ripple from the Storm", "Landlocked" and "The Four-Gated City".

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Split Decision

By David Perlmutter,

Book cover of Split Decision

David Perlmutter Author Of The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a freelance writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, specializing in media history and speculative fiction. I have been enchanted by animation since childhood and followed many series avidly through adulthood. My viewing inspired my MA thesis on the history of animation, out of which grew two books on the history and theory of animation on television, America 'Toons In: A History of Television Animation (available from McFarland and Co.) and The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows (available from Rowman and Littlefield). Hopefully, others will follow.

David's book list on understanding the history of animation

What is my book about?

Jefferson Ball, the mightiest female dog in a universe of the same, is, despite her anti-heroic behavior, intent on keeping her legacy as an athlete and adventurer intact. So, when female teenage robot Jody Ryder inadvertently angers her by smashing her high school records, Jefferson is intent on proving her superiority by outmuscling the robot in a not-so-fair fight. Not wanting to seem like a coward, and eager to end her enemy's trash talking, Jody agrees.

However, they have been lured to fight each other by circumstances beyond their control. Which are intent on destroying them if they don't destroy each other in combat first...

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Southern Africa, apartheid, and farms?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Southern Africa, apartheid, and farms.

Southern Africa Explore 15 books about Southern Africa
Apartheid Explore 44 books about apartheid
Farms Explore 63 books about farms