The best books about Southern Africa

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Southern Africa and why they recommend each book.

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Talk of the Town

By Fred Khumalo,

Book cover of Talk of the Town: Short Stories

Talk of the Town is a collection of short stories. Although the author describes foreigners in South Africa and has a political slant, he is not preachy like many other books on such topics. His style is quite witty, observant, and informative from his point of view. All qualities that I admire in a writer.


Who am I?

I moved from Germany to Botswana when I was a fledgling translator and then on to South Africa 2 years later. I fell in love with this part of Africa that had a hand in making me the person I am today. Since I used to travel a lot, not all of my books are set in Southern Africa, but I have a passion for sharing my African stories with the world. My latest project is the Charlie Proudfoot murder mystery series, which is set in South Africa. Being a translator, I also translate books into German/English and four of them so far, are my own.


I wrote...

Singing Lizards

By Evadeen Brickwood,

Book cover of Singing Lizards

What is my book about?

Bridget Reinhold’s sister disappears in the southern African country of Botswana. Although she is the more reclusive of the sisters, she courageously heads out to live in Africa to order to find Claire. At first, she suspects that a crime was committed, but the more she is drawn into the spell of Africa, other possibilities begin to emerge. Bridget’s life takes unexpected turns and she begins to wonder what is real and what is not and what she is doing in Botswana in the first place.

When the Lion Feeds

By Wilbur Smith,

Book cover of When the Lion Feeds: Volume 1

This is the debut novel by the iconic Zimbabwean author Wilbur Smith, who lived in South Africa until his recent death at age 88. Animals appear in most of his African novels and I read this book a long time ago. It is more about a family saga in – then – Rhodesia than about lions, but I appreciate how the main character finds comfort and himself in the bush. The simplicity there trumps his riches. There is just something about the African bush that puts everything else in perspective. Okay, he goes ivory hunting and I don’t condone it, but that’s what people did in those days.

Who am I?

I moved from Germany to Botswana when I was a fledgling translator, and then on to South Africa 2 years later. I fell in love with this part of Africa that had a hand in making me the person I am today. Since I used to travel a lot, not all of my books are set in Southern Africa, but I have a passion for sharing my African stories with the world, and in a few of my novels, I include African wildlife in the storyline. Being a translator, I also translate books into German/English, and four of my own books - so far - are also available in German.


I wrote...

The Rhino Whisperer

By Evadeen Brickwood,

Book cover of The Rhino Whisperer

What is my book about?

Rhino poaching and the murder of a ranger create havoc in the peaceful Shangari Safari Park in South Africa. When another murder takes place in Johannesburg, it becomes clear that there is a lot more to this case than meets the eye. A criminal network is not just dealing in the illegal rhino horn trade with impunity. The San-people, who live in Shangari can communicate with the animals in the park and try to keep this a secret hidden to protect their way of life. 

Maru

By Bessie Head,

Book cover of Maru

When I moved to Botswana, I wanted to learn more about the country, where I should live for more than 2 years. Somebody gave me books by Bessie Head and I learned so much by just reading these books. Maru was not the only book I’d read by Bessie Head, but it was one of the best books on Botswana.


Who am I?

I moved from Germany to Botswana when I was a fledgling translator and then on to South Africa 2 years later. I fell in love with this part of Africa that had a hand in making me the person I am today. Since I used to travel a lot, not all of my books are set in Southern Africa, but I have a passion for sharing my African stories with the world. My latest project is the Charlie Proudfoot murder mystery series, which is set in South Africa. Being a translator, I also translate books into German/English and four of them so far, are my own.


I wrote...

Singing Lizards

By Evadeen Brickwood,

Book cover of Singing Lizards

What is my book about?

Bridget Reinhold’s sister disappears in the southern African country of Botswana. Although she is the more reclusive of the sisters, she courageously heads out to live in Africa to order to find Claire. At first, she suspects that a crime was committed, but the more she is drawn into the spell of Africa, other possibilities begin to emerge. Bridget’s life takes unexpected turns and she begins to wonder what is real and what is not and what she is doing in Botswana in the first place.

Blood and Diamonds

By Steven Press,

Book cover of Blood and Diamonds: Germany's Imperial Ambitions in Africa

A brand-new gripping, revealing history of German colonialism, focused on the brutal diamond trade in Southwest Africa on the eve of World War I. With pellucid prose, Press tells how the Germans cordoned off a so-called “forbidden zone,” behind which rapacious explorers, colonial authorities, miners, and businessmen carted off these precious, if largely useless rocks, for which there was a huge, artificially created demand, especially in the United States.


Who am I?

I am a historian of modern Germany at Vanderbilt University and have followed this field for more than thirty years. After a bit of respite, interest in Imperial Germany is suddenly chic again, as 2021 Germany looks back on the past 150 years of its unification in 1871. These five books, all published since 2000, are major recent contributions to the history of Imperial Germany’s prewar period; they also raise questions about the extent to which this conflict-ridden era represents a distant if imperfect mirror for our own contentious times.


I wrote...

Germany: A Nation in Its Time: Before, During, and After Nationalism, 1500-2000

By Helmut Walser Smith,

Book cover of Germany: A Nation in Its Time: Before, During, and After Nationalism, 1500-2000

What is my book about?

With a wide array of sources, including oodles of maps and images, this book shows how the idea of the German nation developed and changed over half a millennium. Modern nationalism was a major, if extremely destructive part of the story of the German nation. But it was not the whole story. In Germany, as in other countries, nationalism was always only one possible way of imagining the nation.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

By Peter Godwin,

Book cover of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa

A beautifully intertwined story of the decline of a man and the parallel decline of a nation, Zimbabwe, which pivots into an entirely new story: the author’s dying Christian British father was actually a Polish Jew, born Kazimierz Goldfarb, whose family was killed in Treblinka concentration camp.

Godwin’s story is ultimately inspiring and uplifting as he comes to terms with his family’s past while building his own future in his new country.


Who am I?

In my work as a news reporter and war correspondent, I met people on the worst day of their lives. I always wondered: What now? How will they get on with life? My own parents faced that dreadful dilemma. Penniless refugees, their families murdered in the Holocaust, unemployed in London, how on earth did they find the strength to carry on? One day at a time, they just did what they had to do. That is the subject of my fiction, always trying to answer that existential question: How do we live with trauma, and still find love and happiness?


I wrote...

Promised Land: A Novel of Israel

By Martin Fletcher,

Book cover of Promised Land: A Novel of Israel

What is my book about?

Promised Land begins when fourteen-year-old Peter is sent west to America to escape the growing horror of Nazi Germany. But his younger brother Arie and their entire family are sent east to the death camps. Only Arie survives.

The brothers reunite in the nascent Jewish state, where Arie becomes a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel while Peter becomes a top Mossad agent heading some of Israel’s most vital espionage operations. One brother builds Israel, the other protects it. But they also fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, a lonely Jewish refugee from Cairo. And over the next two decades, as their new homeland faces extraordinary obstacles that could destroy it, the brothers’ intrigues and jealousies threaten to tear their new lives apart.

Into Africa

By Martin Dugard,

Book cover of Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone

This is another story that has been parodied out of any semblance of the magnificently foolish endeavor that ended up becoming almost noble. While today the idea would be risible, this book contextualizes the time and culture that created a national hero of the Reverend Livingstone, a clergyman traveling to “darkest Africa” to spread the Good Word to the savages and why finding him became a Western obsession. The insights into the day-to-day life and difficulties of the many and varied characters, tribes, and nations are balanced nicely against the struggles of the main characters to find their way through Africa and life itself.


Who am I?

I love history that is about people. The discoveries they made or the adventures they had (or endured) are thrilling and fascinating, but it’s the people who make it compelling. From Ernest Shackleton dumping handfuls of gold on the ice to show his stranded men he was committed to getting them out of Antarctica alive, to a fussy young William Travis writing desperately for help that would never come, and being of the first to die during the attack on the Alamo…the best books make those events, the times, and the stakes very very real. And the very best histories give you the humanity of the choices and decisions that led them there.


I wrote...

By the Hands of Men: Book One: The Old World

By Roy M. Griffis,

Book cover of By the Hands of Men: Book One: The Old World

What is my book about?

A soldier fights for his soul in the trenches of France. A field hospital nurse battles death every day. Are duty and honor enough of a reason to go on in the hell of a world at war?

An English Lieutenant and an immigrant Russian nurse meet scarcely a mile from the bloody trenches of World War One France, where they witness the hell that the hands of men can create. The memory of their brief weeks together will follow them for years as they cross a world staggered by war, revolution, and duplicity. Epic historical fiction, the By the Hand of Men saga sweeps across four continents in a gripping tale of fate, loss, redemption, and love.

The Memory of an Elephant

By Alex Lasker,

Book cover of The Memory of an Elephant

I fell in love with Ishi, the ageing bull elephant, who is the narrator of this saga. If ever you doubted that elephants were sentient creatures, this book will change your mind. After fifty years as a captive, shipped overseas, mistreated in a circus, and landing in a zoo, by miraculous serendipity, Ishi finds himself back in Africa, hundreds of miles from the animal sanctuary where he was raised. Making a final desperate journey to reach the human family that rescued him as a baby, when his mother and entire herd were killed by ivory poachers, our hero encounters one peril after another. A highly emotional tale, it speaks of good and evil. Ishi’s story will have you contributing to every campaign to save these noble beasts.


Who am I?

I am mom to three daughters, grammy to seven grandchildren. I am a storyteller and a voracious reader. There’s nothing better than to immerse myself in books about history, espionage, and family sagas. Growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania, I never suspected that I would travel the world one day, although I always dreamed of writing novels. Living in India for a time, I developed a passion for international affairs. I try to make the settings and culture of my novels as authentic as possible. To research the background for The Expatriate, I traveled to England, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and the Eastern Republics of the former Soviet Union. 


I wrote...

The Expatriate

By Harriet Segal,

Book cover of The Expatriate

What is my book about?

The saga of Alexa Summerfield, an American woman who studies abroad in the 1930s, falls in love with an idealistic Austrian surgeon, and is caught in the maelstrom of World War II.

The Expatriate is a tale of international intrigue and danger, espionage and heroism, and undying love. Set in war-torn Europe, its main characters are involved in the OSS and the Austrian Resistance. There was an active anti-Nazi organization in Austria after the German occupation in 1938. It was especially strong among army doctors. The promise of Allied support for the nascent democratic movement became a sacrifice to realpolitik. At the war’s end, over 150,000 Austrian soldiers remained prisoners of war in Russia. Many of them would never see home again.

Move Your Shadow

By Joseph Lelyveld,

Book cover of Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White

Move Your Shadow is a masterpiece of reportage. Lelyveld, a former executive editor of the New York Times, spent considerable periods in apartheid South Africa in both the 1960s and the 1980s. The sixties was the period of “baaskap”—“bosshood” apartheid, when the perverse racist cruelties of the system were imposed with a sledgehammer. I would call the eighties the era of “facelift” apartheid—why, the word was hardly used by the regime anymore. 

To paraphrase Gramsci, the old world was dying, a new one struggled to be born. Monsters abounded. Nobody captured the period better than Lelyveld. The chapter on Philip Kgosana, the idealist who led Cape Town demonstrations in 1960—at age 19—was betrayed by the state, and wound up in exile in Sri Lanka—is worth the price of the book.


Who am I?

For fifty years I have studied and taught the history of Africa, which  makes me about the luckiest guy around.  My focus has been on Southern Africa, and especially Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.  Aside from the fantastic physical beauty, the region attracts because of the comparability of its history and experience with that of the United States at many points:  for instance, a colonial past, systems of slavery, and fraught [to say the least] racial dynamics.  I have enjoyed 23 journeys or lengthier sojourns in Southern Africa, and have taught at five universities, including North Carolina State, Duke, and the University of Zimbabwe as a Fulbright Lecturer.


I wrote...

The African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela

By Kenneth P. Vickery,

Book cover of The African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela

What is my book about?

The story of Africa is the oldest and most event-filled chronicle of human activity on the planet. And in these 36 lectures, you'll explore this great historical drama, tracing the story of the Sub-Saharan region of the continent from the earliest evidence of human habitation to the latest challenges facing African nations in the 21st century.

By learning with these lectures, you'll finally be able to bust myths and correct potential misunderstandings about Africa. For example, in Africa, the word 'tribe' is often used in a neutral way to connote ethnic identity, and not as a veiled comment on some bogus level of 'civilization,' as it often is in the West. Another example: Sub-Saharan Africa was not as isolated as is often suggested by references to the "lost" continent; in fact, an ancient Greek sailing guide from 2,000 years ago clearly shows that the East African coast was already connected commercially with areas to the north.

Game - Ranger

By Hannes Kloppers,

Book cover of Game - Ranger

This is the true story of a game ranger who worked with African Wildlife in the early part of the history of the Kruger National Park. It is a well-written account of a bygone error where the heroic deeds of one man could make a difference. I loved this book because it evoked in me a sense of the dramatic history of the Southern African Game Reserves and the struggle to attain recognition during the early days when animals were a resource only to be hunted. There were a few brave men who recognized the value of conservation and preservation of wildlife, leading to the wildlife game reserve industry as we know it today. If not for the efforts of these few brave souls our world today would be a poorer place.


Who am I?

I am a veterinarian who has worked extensively with African Wildlife in the heart of the African bush. I have also met African Sangoma’s, witch doctors. I have made a study of African mysticism and Ancestral communications and have participated in African mystic rituals, including the cleansing ritual called smudging or burning of herbs and utilizing the smoke for spiritual cleansing. In my books, I fuse my knowledge of African wildlife, African customs and rituals, and my innate ability to tell a good story and have brought forth the Jamie James series. They are quintessential African Adventures taking place in the heart of the African bush.


I wrote...

The Curse of the Ancestors, with Jamie James

By Roy Aronson,

Book cover of The Curse of the Ancestors, with Jamie James

What is my book about?

Jamie James is 15. His parents have been divorced since he was five and he has not heard from his father since the divorce. Suddenly he receives a communication from him, beseeching him to come and visit because their lives are in danger. His father lives in Nelspruit, the wildlife capital of Southern Africa. He travels there and discovers that there is a death curse on his family and his father, who turns fifty in a few weeks is about to die. Jamie undergoes a mystical transformation to lift the curse. Can Jamie and his friends lift the curse in time to save his father. Join them in a race against time to change the fate of his family that is two hundred years in the making?

The Grass Is Singing

By Doris Lessing,

Book cover of The Grass Is Singing

I don’t remember if there is actual wildlife in this book (apart from a dog), but nature plays a big part in the story. It was one of the first novels about Africa I read and it moved me deeply. Doris Lessing has written quite a few books about Africa, some political, others with a focus on the land, its people, and nature. She grew up in Zimbabwe (which was called Rhodesia back then) and is an award-winning author. I had to include at least one of her books in my list, so there.


Who am I?

I moved from Germany to Botswana when I was a fledgling translator, and then on to South Africa 2 years later. I fell in love with this part of Africa that had a hand in making me the person I am today. Since I used to travel a lot, not all of my books are set in Southern Africa, but I have a passion for sharing my African stories with the world, and in a few of my novels, I include African wildlife in the storyline. Being a translator, I also translate books into German/English, and four of my own books - so far - are also available in German.


I wrote...

The Rhino Whisperer

By Evadeen Brickwood,

Book cover of The Rhino Whisperer

What is my book about?

Rhino poaching and the murder of a ranger create havoc in the peaceful Shangari Safari Park in South Africa. When another murder takes place in Johannesburg, it becomes clear that there is a lot more to this case than meets the eye. A criminal network is not just dealing in the illegal rhino horn trade with impunity. The San-people, who live in Shangari can communicate with the animals in the park and try to keep this a secret hidden to protect their way of life. 

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