Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Coconut” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.61  ·  Rating details ·  871 ratings  ·  99 reviews
Debut novel about growing up black in white suburbs, where the cost of fitting in can be your very identity. Redefining what it means to be young, black and beautiful in the the New South Africa. Winner of the European Union Literary Award.
Paperback, 190 pages
Published 2007 by Jacana Media
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.61  · 
Rating details
 ·  871 ratings  ·  99 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I do not know how to make it pretty. I do not know how to mask it. It is not a piece of literary genius. It is the story of our lives. It is our story, told in our own words as we feel it every day. It is boring. It is plain. It is overdone and definitely not newsworthy. But it is the story we have to tell

Too much humility in this afterword; this text may not be pretty but it certainly isn't boring or overdone, and it's plain only in the sense of being true in the way that only fiction can be, a
Jun 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Kopano dared to talk about how us, the post apartheid black people of South Africa perceive what is important and what is not, in order for us to survive and prosper. Sadly but true, the repressive colonial and apartheid systems we've been under made us regard our languages and everything African as inferior. We are black but propagate the European agenda and dreams for our own lives and those of our children.
Nonetheless life will forever remind a person who she is, through the frustrations and
Feb 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Are You Getting White With Me?

(Rediscovery Blog – Leg IX – Cracking the Coconut with Dr. Matlwa)

Dear Kopano,

You are roughly half my age, yet somehow you have written a book that is unnervingly “mature” in its dissection of a theme that, in my opinion, is the placenta that feeds many of the world’s great novels – the quest for identity and autonomy.

To be quite honest, I was expecting African chicklit. Fortunately, you gave me a whole lot more. The purpose of my Voyage of Rediscovery is to broade
Apr 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An excellent but disturbing look at the lives of two black girls living in post aparteid South Africa. One has the support of family and money whilst the other has neither. Both girls have dreams about making it in the world but to achieve those dreams there is an underlying pressure to fit in, to conform, to assimilate into the culture that gives the most opportunities, the white culture. They aspire to be accepted into white society and reap the benefits. The tension it creates while challengi ...more
Leslie Reese
“In every classroom children are dying. It is a parasitic disease, seizing the mind for its own usage. Using the mind for its own survival. So that it might grow, divide, multiply and infect others. Burnt Sienna washing out. DNA coding for white greed, blond vanity and blue-eyed malevolence. IsiZulu forgotten. Tshivenda a distant memory.”

A "coconut" in South Africa is what's called an "oreo" in the United States: black on the outside and white on the inside. This story is about two different typ
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a 3+ read for me.

My thoughts:
• This was a quick read once I got use to the author’s writing style.
• This book is divided into two parts – each part telling the story of a girl in the post-apartheid South Africa from different economic statuses – the girls do not know each other and there is only one scene in the book where they unknowingly meet briefly.
• For me the sum of the two stories works better than the parts of the story so it was after reading the book that the storylines were
Feb 04, 2014 rated it liked it
At the very end of this book, Kopano Matlwa writes, "I do not know how to make it pretty. I do not know how to mask it. It is not a piece of literary genius. [...] It is overdone and definitely not newsworthy. But it is the story we have to tell."

I agree that the writing is generally not captivating, although at times it is very poetic. I ran into some frustrations with the style, especially in the first half--so much so that I almost stopped reading it. But the first few pages of the second hal
Sinovuyo Nkonki
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Having been called a 'coconut' all my life, this book caught my attention immediately. It captured the dual world influence that young Black South African's brought up in the suburbs and exposed to Westernised settings (like my self) experience. It is, in my opinion, so culturally and socially relevant!(and well-written) I was just upset I hadn't written it first lol!Her writing carries a lot of depth and insight.
Matlwa sorta captured this book in her self-conscious dedication/apology at the end:
I do not know how to make it pretty. I do not know how to mask it. It is not a piece of literary genius. It is the story of our lives. It is our story, told in our own words as we feel it every day. It is boring. It is plain. It is overdone and definitely not newsworthy. But it is the story we have to tell.

Not because it's bad at all, but because it sacrifices traditional structure in favour of meaning, of trying
Coconut is set in post-Apartheid South Africa, where legally everyone is equal but in reality things are more complicated. The narrators here struggle in and against their circumstances, constantly seeking to be something they are not, constantly thinking that something else is better. That white is better.

There's not actually much by way of plot/story here. As the book unfolds, we get a clearer and clearer idea of the reality of life for these two characters (as opposed to that which they seek
Jul 07, 2009 added it
The author doesn't hold back with the punches.

The characters are full of faults and humanity. Neither woman is easy to like. But their stories are gripping.

I am not sure if the author has a solution. But with her two main characters, the author has drawn a masterful portrait of the problems and pitfalls that face the emerging South African middle-class (or those striving for it) in the New South Africa.

This isn't an issue that is unique to South Africa. Immigrants to the US struggle with cult
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
In the end the stories come together. It explores issues of identities very well. Though I must admit to being a simple reader and did not appreciate the going in and out of style and character, which lost me and frustrated me on a few occasions. But still a good book discussing relevant issues that apply to us in the US too, but perhaps more stark in a country were indigenous languages are spoken.
Oct 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Just superb. This book is an amazing insight into the thoughts of two young black girls in the New South Africa, one living the privileged life and trying to ignore her cultural heritage, and one living, with loathing and shame, in one of the townships. It's too much to talk about; it must be read. Lyrical, wonderful first novel, and a worthy European Union winner.
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was amazing. Small vignettes that were beautiful woven together to set a heartbreaking tone. The childlike perspective of race relations was a bit quaint but the story has a powerful message overall.
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is such an important book to read as a South African. It explores the generation who have been born free by following two black girls trying to succeed in the New South Africa. It shows the struggle for identify. For Ofilwe, she barely knows her African culture, is unable to speak sePedi, her mother's language (her mother cannot speak English well at all), but does not fit in with the white kids in her extremely wealthy private school. Fikile has not had a wealthy upbringing, but has grown ...more
Aug 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
Seeking only to be completely honest, my commentary is as follows:
Reading Coconut was not without difficulty. I found that I could not easily identify with the analogies / choices of description that form the narrative of the book. I also felt that (in places), the analogies failed to depict and explore the depth of the issues the author was trying to tug at, and that the interactions between some of the characters was not adequately developed.
I did not find the use of italics, and the oscillati
Oct 01, 2017 rated it liked it
It took me a while to connect with the book, about half if I'm honest but by the time I got to Fiks view point it all started to come together for me. Two girls living in the new South Africa and what perceptions this gave them from two totally different backgrounds but really in away thinking in the same way. Ofilwe has a privileged world with her family's new money but it is soulless and she struggles to fit in and Fiks lives in a township and will push herself to become one of ideals from the ...more
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I was partly biased towards this book because my husband's name is Kopano and then he got excited and said the author Kopano had reached out to him in the early days of facebook because they had the same name.

Anyway, I thought this novel dealt with race/language/culture/wealth in SA very directly and cleverly. I wasn't fully convinced by the way the past/thoughts were interspersed, but did like their balancing out. Sum: general recommendation re African women writers and race relations in South
Oct 25, 2010 rated it liked it
I could almost totally relate to this book. But i felt like there was no real story. Like it was just flashbacks, with no tension involved.
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book captures the intricacies of the new generation in South Africa after democracy.
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Got a bit lost at times with the jumpy plot. There were some interesting insights.
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great perception of how South African society today shapes the minds of two characters. Really good read.
Jun 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
wow, interesting read indeed.....
Tumelo Motaung
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I don't care if I'm beautiful; I don't care what I am on the outside. It isn't about the outside.- Donna SummerI purchased Kopano Matlwa's Coconut about a month ago and could not keep my hands off it. I read it whenever I got a chance - in the office during lunch, and in the dark of the taxi, morning and night, with the assistance of my phone light. It made me think a lot about the life I have lived thus far, the choices I have made and how I relate to other people, both of colour and of pale sk ...more
3.5 stars
This book actually meant more to me after I finished it than it did while I was reading it. I could never get the rhythm of the writing style & I felt that it distracted me from grasping the impact of the story. With this in mind, I don't feel I can give a true review.
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Coconut showcases two voices of young black women living in South Africa, sectioned so one character, Ofilwe, narrates the first part, and a second character, Fikile, narrates the second part to the end.

Ofilwe's story looks at her childhood years up until she is around sixteen; born to a businessman father and a lower class mother, her family is fairly well off, she is in school and mostly in contact with quite privileged people; the narrative looks at her struggle to be noticed and cared about
Madison Lowery
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Madison Goodreads Response 6

In Coconut, readers see the modern day, post-apartheid, world of South Africa through the eyes of two young black female narrators. Ofilwe and Fikile each narrate the same Sunday day as they both experience it, with flashbacks in italics to related past events. However, due to class differences, Ofilwe and Fikile have very different stories to tell. Ofilwe comes from a home of privilege: her parents have "new money", they take celebratory trips to Disney world, she at
Aug 18, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tony Mercer
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: south-africa
An interesting account of life in post-apartheid South Africa. From a female black perspective, one narrator is unaware that she lives the life of a white South African, while the other sets all her goals on becoming white. Matlwa provides an interesting setting to grapple with what it means to be white and black in modern day South Africa. The narrative is split into two different stories, the first is a young middle school aged black girl whose family is wealthy enough to live in a white neigh ...more
Itumeleng Mehale
Jan 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I appreciate her honestly on the current dilemma born-free children from the cities and the townships are facing, even though from their perspective is derived from separate spectrum's. Their issues about identity are very much the same, they 'all' suffer from identify crisis.

Borne out of the apartheid era, there is/was a fear of realising and embracing blackness from the Black community. Now that the effect of apartheid are easing from the psychology of the black man, more and more black people
« previous 1 3 4 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Annie Allen
  • Flight to Canada
  • The Sabi
  • Oil on Water
  • Playing in the Light
  • Welcome to Our Hillbrow
  • Head Off & Split
  • Blood in My Eye
  • The Weary Blues
  • When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race
  • The Sculptors of Mapungubwe
  • A Change of Tongue
  • The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman's Guide Through Life's Dilemmas
  • Powder Necklace
  • Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter
  • Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class
  • Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing
  • The Smell of Apples
See similar books…
Podcast with Kopano Matlwa by Victor Dlamini (May 5th, 2008)
“Uncle wanted to eat his pie and then have us feel sorry for him because it was making him fat.” 7 likes
“Tshepo reckons that it is inevitable that one’s circle of friends will become smaller as one grows older. He reasons that when we begin we are similar, like two glasses of water sitting side by side on a clean tray. There is very little that differentiates us. We are simple beings whose interests do not extend beyond playing touch and kicking balls.

However, like the two glasses of water forgotten on a tray in the reading room, we start to collect bits. Bits of fluff, bits of a broken beetle wing, bits of bread, bits of pollen, bits of shed epithelial cells, bits of hair, bits of toilet paper, bits of airborne fungal organisms, bits of bits. All sorts of bits. No two combinations the same. Just like with the glasses of water, Environment, jealous of our fundamentality, bombards our basic minds with complexity. So we become frighteningly dissimilar, until there is very little that holds us together.”
More quotes…