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The Heart of Redness
Zakes Mda
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The Heart of Redness

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,373 ratings  ·  112 reviews
A startling novel by the leading writer of the new South Africa

In The Heart of Redness -- shortlisted for the prestigious Commonwealth Writers Prize -- Zakes Mda sets a story of South African village life against a notorious episode from the country's past. The result is a novel of great scope and deep human feeling, of passion and reconciliation.

As the novel opens Camugu,
ebook, 288 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2000)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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May 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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Xoliswa Ximiya, she embraces the western culutre at the expense of her traditional culture.she sees her people as being outdated by following the thier culture, her traditional culture is as if its an obstilce for progre ...more
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
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tumelo Moleleki
This book is certainly a fun way to learn about and understand some of the things what went on in kwaXhosa during the times of Nongqawuse. It is also a fun way to observe the cultural beliefs of the people and how they have evolved since those days. Makes you want to go see this valley where people congregated to witness people rising from within the sea and see how those who claimed to see visions might have been fooled into thinking they were seeing something. I know that psychology is a power ...more
Writing, and introducing, the Xhosa customs and stories to the world in this book, Zakes Mda
conjures up a landscape so beautiful and so unknown to many people, with such warm hearted people, that the reader is left with a yearning to meet the characters and visit the hidden paradise. It is an excellent novel.
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting, mesmerising, supernatural, clever, memorable, partly historical fiction novel set in South Africa. The story swaps between the 1800s and the 1990s. It’s a novel about the traditions, myths and beliefs of black natives and the change that occurs with the settlement of the white man in South Africa. The story states that some blacks in the 1990s are still influenced by their history, myths, superstitions and religious beliefs.

There is a feud between the Believers and Unbelievers of
Jul 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Zakes Mda’s The Heart of Redness is one book which has been cropping up a lot in my working life. When I started working as a librarian proper in the fall of 2006 I came across two battered copies of The Heart of Redness. As I was doing a major weeding operation at the time, I felt that these books should not be thrown or given as I found the subject matter to be useful as a teaching aid. I stored them in my cupboard for safe keeping.

Come a few weeks ago and I discover that this book is on the l
John Mountford
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘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
Andiswa M
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to give myself a proper hiding for waiting this long to give Zakes Mda a chance ,why no one ever told me what I was missing?

The story is so beautifully written, maybe I am more appreciative being Xhosa and all, the story of Nongqawuse has always interested me hearing bits and pieces from adults.Zakes managed to put a lot of things for me into perspective, Fictitious Yes but a lot of the beliefs and cultures ring through even today. How he managed to moved from present back to way back w
Mindy McAdams
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
Not an easy read, but fairly compelling. Part of what makes it difficult is that the story flows back and forth between a community of people in the 1850s and their descendants in the late 1990s. It doesn't help that some of the present-day people have the same names as the past people. Another challenge for the reader is that there are a lot of characters, and they come and go in such a way that I found it hard to keep track of them for about half of the book.

I'm glad I stuck with it, though. T
i acknowledge everything this novel tries to do but i just couldn't connect to it at all. i found the storyline confusing if not irritable, i did not like any character and i just generally didn't enjoy this. I should probably point that i am probably missing a lot of cultural / historical background which would be useful for this novel. ...more
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was pretty difficult to get into & understand at times, but absolutely wonderful once I managed to sit down and just read it. I've never read anything quite like it, and I would definitely recommend this book if you want to read something a bit different! ...more
Nina Postma
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that really requires your full attention. Not always an easy read, but most definitely one that is culturally a masterpiece.
Mpho Mokhoro
FINALLY, I am introduced to the ill-famed prophetess Nongqawuse! insert lady-dancing-in-red-dress emoji here I have heard this name murmured amongst my Xhosa friends and have, silently, wondered about it's origin. It felt like an empty-cup-being-filled when she was introduced to me.

The story details the journey of Camagu from Johannesburg to Qolorha-by-Sea, lured by what I believe was a blend of lust and intrigue after he encounters a woman singing at a funeral. He then becomes embroiled in the
Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Lauren Ellwood
This is one of my favourite books of 2015. I'd recommend it to all South Africans and anyone interested in an intriguing piece of history that is often overlooked.

Focussing on different generations of the same Xhosa family, Mda uses their parallel storylines to demonstrate the relevance of cultural history. It is a great novel that introduces you to the nuances of this particular time in Xhosa history in an approachable way.

It is funny and emotional and an easy read that you don't realise is hav
Feb 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
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
May 31, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Apr 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa-fiction
I would have given this book 4 were it not for the fact that he writes of "the warm air blowing off the sea". The warm winds in the Eastern Cape (and they are often furnace-like) always come off the land. This suddenly burst my bubble of immersion in the story and I never quite got it back. ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: 1001 Books
My recent reading of Return Ticket by Jon Doust triggered my impulse to pick up The Heart of Redness, a celebrated novel by South African novelist Zakes Mda. In Doust's novel, South Africa in the apartheid years is vividly depicted, and the narrator exemplifies the psychological disconnect experienced when living in a society that is fundamentally immoral. Life as a privileged white man becomes unendurable, and he leaves, because he can. But what if it's not possible to leave, and if one feels a ...more
Glass River
Jul 16, 2020 marked it as fic-guided  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Frazer MacDiarmid
I didn't find this book particularly compelling, and had to force myself to keep going (it was for a book club). None of the characters particularly resonated with me, and they all seemed quite caricatured. Rather than fully embodied human beings, they were made to stand for ideas.

The ending was also bizarrely abrupt, and left several loose ends hanging. Genuinely wondered whether my library copy may have had some pages removed.

Having said that, the book does a great job of using magical realis
May 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I am not from America. I am an African from the amaMpondomise clan. My totem is the brown mole snake, Majola. I believe in him not fo you, not for your fellow villagers but for myself."

This is an account of how one prophecy- or not by Nongqawuse split one nation into two. The supposed prophecy One half believed the prophecy, the other believed she was a porn sent by the brits and lied about how she got the message to manipulate her people into bowing to the coloniser.

It shows how the xhosa peo
Aphelele Tapile
I was so excited to read this book as not only and African woman, but as a Xhosa woman who has so often heard the tale of Nongqawuse who was the fall of the Xhosa Empire. What an underwhelming read. The concept and the historical accounts are all that kept me going. It was painful to power through and complete, at times annoying. Zakes Mda wrote more for a Western audience and the authenticity of it all was thus lost on me. The writing style I also found to be less than desired. Unlike Achebe or ...more
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A stimulating read for those interested in ins and outs of international development. It shows how far away all the professional training and a high level status in the field could be from actually getting down to solving real problems on the ground when real people, emotions, cultures, histories are involved. Going back and forth between the past and the present of a village in South Africa, the novel explores what development really is or is not. At times humorous, at other times - tear-jerkin ...more
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: south-african
A story about Camagu, a South African returning from the United States where he'd spent a great deal of his life. His dissatisfaction with the state of post-apartheid Johannesburg leads him to following a woman who he had a brief encounter with (as well as a dream) to the Eastern Cape province. Once there, Camagu adjusts to a new life in the village of Qolorha, it's history, demographics and progressions.

Zakes Mda tells a beautiful story about a new democracy in South Africa blending it with ane
Gabrielle Schwabauer
A strange book. I read it in less than 24 hours for an English course, and it was surprisingly engaging. A lot of the past/present parallels were cleverly constructed, and the wry overtones gave the narration personality.

I wish we could have spent a lot less time on Camagu's creepy obsession with women, and definitely less time romanticizing his obsession with the final woman. The characters feel very human, but it's hard to like any of them. Most of them seem deeply selfish, Believers and Unbel
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have learned a lot from this book. From history to a lot of other isiXhosa names and ways. I am moved and touched by the people's behavior, beliefs and customs. Most importantly i also learned how not to deal with things and respecting other people. The war between the believers and the unbelievers tore families apart and didn't just end there but it also split the Xhosa nations and set them against each other.

Overall i would say loved all the characters from the rebel Qukezwa to the great Cam
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent structure and plotting. The back story on the events that led to the cattle killing was really interesting. I also liked that the present doesn’t solve every problem - there is still tension and unresolved conflicts at the end of the novel. The characters are complex and interesting. I did find that the narrative style kept me at an ironic distance from the characters at times, which was funny, but did pull me out of the story a little.
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Reading 1001: The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda 2 13 Mar 29, 2021 12:52PM  
Great African Reads: Mda: Heart of Redness | (CL) first read: Mar 2013 40 55 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

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