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The Heart of Redness

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  613 ratings  ·  52 reviews
In a new novel by one of the premier writers of the ''new'' South Africa, an exile returns from America--where he fled during the apartheid regime--to find his newly democratic country in a shambles.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 1st 2003 by Picador (first published 2000)
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This is the story of Camagu who returns to South Africa from America. He becomes disillusioned with the new democracy and moves to the Eastern Cape where the Xhosa people live; he follows a woman he heard sing at a funeral. He does not find her but finds a people split between Believers and Unbelievers; two strands of the same family/ancestors. In the nineteenth century a young prophetess commanded the people to destroy their cattle and crops; if they did the ancestors would rise and drive the w ...more
My thoughts:
• First I needed to remind myself that this novel was published in 2002 and at that time this was a very forwarding novel and a way to present the political/cultural issues South Africa at the time the book was published
• Understand some of the historical background helps with the understanding of the book and the issues presented
• In some ways the book is very universal in its themes and presentation – especially for cultures/countries that were colonized and the native cultures wer
Gary  the Bookworm
I came across this novel because it was listed as part of a blog post on Facebook, 20 Moments that Changed History: A Reading List. This is how it was described: "The parallel story of colonized South Africa of 150 years ago and post-apartheid South Africa...this is a book that you will devour because it's so well written, and yet it will stay with you." Published in 2000, I suspect that the author, Zakes Mda, hoped to illuminate problems facing contemporary South Africa by revisiting an extraor ...more
John Mountford
‘The Heart of Redness’ by Zakes Mda, is the work of a master storyteller. And stories are why we read fiction: we want to be transported away to another place and time, to escape the one we are in for a short while. Why? Because the reality we live in is, for the most part, monotonous and meaningless.
In this story, Zakes Mda takes us to not just one, but two, alternative realities, centuries apart, and weaves them together like the beautiful red isiXhosa costumes of its peoples. And their stori
what a book, i enjoy it.As a Xhosa i felt unease because of some the charecters.When reading the book i identify some themes this of course was all done in my understanding.the first theme that seem to prevail throught out the novel is the clash of cultures.this could be seen in Xoliswa Ximiya, she embraces the western culutre at the expense of her traditional culture.she sees her people as being outdated by following the thier culture, her traditional culture is as if its an obstilce for progre ...more
I wanted to give this 4 stars but the abruptness of the ending squashed that. I actually sat there for a few minutes flipping pages back and forth trying to figure out if there were pages missing or not. Sadly that was just the ending. Still, overall I really enjoyed the book. There is something about the way Zakes Mda writes that really appeals to me, this mix of brutal realism and a magical dreamlike quality so that often times you aren't sure if the events he is talking about are real or not ...more
Thomas Armstrong
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The narrative is set among the Xhosa people in a village in eastern South Africa, right at the end of the 20th century but is interlaced with a mix of real and fictitious characters from the mid-19th (derived from the "cattle-killing movement" and prophetess Nongqawuse). The story starts with the feud between twin brothers who separately chose to believe or not believe in the chiliastic prophecies that arose at a particularly grim period in colonial history. Their descendants have maintained the ...more
i love historical fiction. i love eloquently written and well-crafted tales. i love how this book combined those things into an intricately woven tale of love, lust, and progress.

more than a century after Nongqawuse set the Xhosa people on course to permanently change their society the battle against modernity and colonization still wages in post-apartheid South African. by happenstance a disillusioned expatriate stumbles upon an alluring woman singing at a funeral. as he prepares to abandon hi
This book was a gigantic letdown. If you want a ridiculous plot and some more stereotyping of how illogical and primitive Africans are, as well as a creepy-ass protagonist who seems to think he's entitled to any woman he wants, then by all means, read this book.
John Erik Lindgren
Fantastisk fortelling om en isolert stamme og deres befatning med og reaksjoner på den hvite, britiske/nederlandske kolonialiseringen av Sør-Afrika. Paralellhistorie i nåtiden, der man ser hvordan intern splid som oppsto på 1800-tallet fremdeles lever i beste velgående, og at det jaggu ikke er lett å forene vestlig sivilisasjon med tradisjonell stammekultur (ingen overraskelse, men veldig godt skildret). Hvorfor kan ikke svart/hvitt få være svart/hvitt noen ganger? Hvorfor skal det bestandig vær ...more
Alan Jacobs
Zakes Mda is a master teller of historical fiction. The history that he recounts is one of which I was totally unaware: a series of battles between the Xhosa people of the Eastern Cape in South Africa and the British. (The British won the war.) The Xhosas were done in my the prophecies of the daughters of a chief, who had visions of Xhosa ancestors returning to defeat the British. In order to summon these ancestors, all Xhosa had to slaughter their cattle. The ancestors never came, and the belie ...more
Tammi Morgan
A few years ago I read Ways of Dying and loved the book. It is easily one of my top 10. I was quite hesitant to read another one of Zakes Mda's novels as it can sometimes be that the second one makes the first seem smaller than what you remembered it to be or that you realise the author is not as talented as you thought he was. Luckily this was not the case with the Heart of Redness. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was transported to a place of magic, untouched wonder and simplicity.

The book
Steph Su
I had to read Heart of Redness for my English class, and I am more than glad I got to read it! This is the parallel story of colonized South Africa of 150 years ago and post-apartheid South Africa. 150 years ago, two brothers split over their different beliefs of a teenage prophetess' warning that only the slaughtering of all cattle will allow the new generation of people (the ancestors) to arrive and drive away the whites. The miracle never happened, of course, and many starved as a result.


Zakes Mda’s ”The Heart of Redness” has grown on me since I finished reading it a week ago. In retrospect, I appreciate the slick structure of the novel, the intrinsic humour of Mda’s writing, and the moral complexity of his storylines. I also appreciate the novel for its modernity, for giving us a reading of modern society not ignorant of its religious roots, and for its incisive small-scale caricature of politics as an inherited good.

Stylewise, The Heart of Redness reminded me of Schulman’s ”Ra
Jun 25, 2012 Daniel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anybody interested in South Africa
I love books that show me new perspectives and cultures - and this book has plenty of that. A millenerian movement results in a famine and the division of a nation into Believers and Unbelievers. The two camps blame each other for the decline of their nation and have radically different views of their culture, heritage, different belief systems and visions for the future. Caught in between are a white shop owner and Camagu from Johannesburg. Camagu gets to know a new lifestyle in the village, th ...more
Jul 18, 2009 Mabogoshi rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
the book is beautifully written and explores issues of culture,beliefs and ancestory in the post-apartheid South of the most remarkable things about it is that the author Mda,is able to shift from different eras with ease and comfort.this shift is vital because it helps the reader to understand the history of the believers and non-belivers because the two generation inherit the same names and the characters who have the same names often emit the same values.what really struck me is ho ...more
The Heart of Redness is a parable of sorts - a modern day tale of two related factions of a South African village, one desperate to hang on to the old traditions and beliefs, and the other ready to modernise and embrace the technological and capitalist excitement of the American Dream. This is overlaid by the story of their ancestors, who faced a similar dilemma when the English tried to "civilise" their people many generations ago. It's mostly told through the eyes of Camagu, a member of a dist ...more
Mda is not Conrad, the most immediate connection, though each is after an essence of sorts. "Redness" is more ambiguous than "darkness" -- best described perhaps loosely around "traditional beliefs and customs" -- tho Mda undermines the whole notion in some ways. No, Marquez is a better touchstone here, as Mda melds generations, repeats names, intertwines stories and family issues to a fare the well. Belief and unbelief are constant themes, as are family, politics, corruption, "love" and more. A ...more
This book took a little while for me to get oriented. I had to recall some of the oral tradition of the Xhosa in order to start to get pulled along- the book was helpful in this as Mr Mda slowly used flashbacks and recall to set the scene for the story. That was great.

Also, I really loved the setting and style. The Historical fiction part was fantastic. The story itself was a little slow- but I think this book was more about character development, magical realism, oral tradition, and philosophic
Robyn Ausmeier
Interesting historical perspective, looking at events not often explored. Enjoyed the transitioning between past and present, although it did get confusing at times.
Really enjoyed this book. It is located in Qoloraha Bay, Eastern Cape, and captures both landscape and society perfectly.
Ryan Lawson
An absolute mess of a book, Mda's "The Heart of Redness" is filled to the brim with numerous unmemorable characters and a jumbled, loose story. This novel and its players are about as flat as the pages on which they are presented.

I will never understand how books like "The Heart of Redness" gain ground and experience even mild success.

Mda takes an interesting and powerful notion of a story and completely ruins its contents. "The Heart of Redness" has the potential to stand for something, yet it
Generally good. Interesting characters if sometimes one-sided. Past and present histories of South Africa alternate and intertwine. Gives a pretty good idea of the affects of Colonialism and Globalization on the smaller towns and cities of post-colonial societies esp. South Africa. A better understanding of why building super resorts is not necessarily a way for societies to emerge from so-called economic and technological backwardness. Can be a little idealistic at times in offering social and ...more
This is wonderful historical fiction about a region, a people and a time which is so colorful but rarely depicted in literature! I'd heard the story of the Xhosa prophecy which resulted in their near-decimation but was fascinated by the intricacies of the story, for instance the role of the British and the Bushmen. I'm still wondering if it's true that the Xhosa became so polarized into believers and non-believers and if this can still be felt today. The descriptions of the present day Wild Coas ...more
It's a novel about life in a village in South Africa, and it moves back and forth in time between the present day and the histories of the ancestors of the people in the story, showing both the unfolding of this old conflict between the "Believers" and the "Unbelievers" and how the conflict is still playing out between the characters now. The big themes are colonialism and development and there is also a lot of commentary on the "new" South Africa, and who its structures do and do not benefit. I ...more
This book was quite interesting - Based in South Africa, the story combines two time periods - modern times and then back to the ancestral times of the tribal community in the story. There is magic realism in the stories, but not overdone which adds a lot of color. What I enjoyed the most was subtle hints of promoting local community initiatives as a sustainable solution to poverty. Sounds similar to an organization I know!
- Gamagu used to see himself as a pedlar of dreams. That was when he could make things happen. Now he has lost his touch. He needs a pedlar of dreams himself, with a bagful of dreams waiting to be dreamt. -
Mpho Bernadette
Everyone, ok not everyone, but a lot of people have been raving about Zakes Mda as a writer and that I should read his books. So this is the first book if his I read and it was a confusing mess. I'm really dreading trying another one of his novel. I can easily read a 400 page novel in 2 days but this one took months to read. Thinking really hard if I want to try his other books.
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Great African Reads: March: Speculative Fiction | "Heart of Redness" 40 49 Nov 01, 2013 08:08AM  
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Zakes Mda is the pen name of Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda, a novelist, poet and playwright.

Although he spent his early childhood in Soweto (where he knew political figures such as Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela) he had to finish his education in Lesotho where his father went into exile since 1963. This change of setting also meant a change of language for Mda: from i
More about Zakes Mda...
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