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The Heart of Redness

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,012 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews
"In The Heart of Redness 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, Camagu, who had left for America during apartheid, has returned to Johannesburg. Disillusioned by the problems of the new democrac ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 31st 2002 by Oxford University Press Southern Africa (first published 2000)
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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Xoliswa Ximiya, she embraces the western culutre at the expense of her traditional culture.she sees her people as being outdated by following the thier culture, her traditional culture is as if its an obstilce for progre ...more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
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
Non so che dire... di solito quando recensisco i libri prima ancora di finirli vuol dire che sono o pessimi, o meravigliosi.
Verranno dal mare non è pessimo, ma per me è dimenticabile. Ho faticato nei primi capitoli a collegare tra loro i personaggi e, non lo nego, forse ero un po' distratta, ma non c'è mai stato un passaggio in cui la mia attenzione sia stata davvero catturata.
Siamo in Sudafrica, tra una popolazione blandamente in conflitto per vecchie questioni religiose. Se a fine 800 gli avi
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Dec 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Gabrielle de Waal
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
Edward G. Madsen
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting combination of history and current events gives the reader a sense of the history of South Africa's Xhosa people.
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Shirley Exall
I read this in the middle of last year but never got around to putting down my thoughts until I decided to join Goodreads. Reading other people's views on this has also been useful. I liked the writing, and found it generally educative and genuine. The balance between oral tradition and pre-history and history is intriguing and neatly crafted I found a little difficulty in the simplicity of some of the assumptions. I don't think all returning exiles are as wise as we assume they are in assessing ...more
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
Thomas Armstrong
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Alan Jacobs
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, school
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.

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
Nov 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
May 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-list-books
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
Roxana Dreptu
I found this book hard to relate to, and the parallels between current day and prophet times felt to me overworked and far-fetched. The cramming of half-explained traditions and so many unknown words and customs was a bit off-putting. Yet it was interesting and thought-provoking to get a glimpse of a society I know so little about. I was especially captivated, although more often than not disturbed by the profoundly misogynistic aspects of most of the exposed traditions. However, the female char ...more
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Great African Reads: Mda: Heart of Redness | (CL) first read: Mar 2013 40 53 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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