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The Madonna of Excelsior

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  714 ratings  ·  72 reviews
In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa's white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of one irrepressible fallen madonna, Niki, and her family, at the heart of the scandal. ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published March 1st 2005 by Picador USA (first published January 1st 2004)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
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 ·  714 ratings  ·  72 reviews

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Madolyn Chukwu
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Two things came to my mind after I read this novel (which was recommended to me) and I did some research on the author; firstly here is an African author who deserves the Nobel award for Literature, and secondly, the author is also an excellent painter/artist. The latter is very much evident from this work, the start of chapters and the profound descriptions of painting and its arsenal, so to speak. The author certainly vividly tells his story (ies) and we become highly engrossed. We see the pli ...more
Paul Lothane
Nov 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Zakes Mda is probably the best novelist in Africa today, and certainly the most prolific. This is one of his most impressive works, taking a very close look at how what used to be illicit sex across the colour
lines would impact on a particular community. There is a skillful constant introduction to chapters by reference to drawing. Nikky, Poppy and other characters are very well rounded and convincing. The
author is firmly objective in presenting the characters, white, black, or coloured. It is n
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Magnificent novel centred on the charming small town of Excelsor in South Africa. Sex across the colour line - with invariable consequences
Friederike Knabe
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, african-lit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cultural
This book is set in South Africa during apartheid. I liked the journey of the characters, but ultimately, this was just okay for me. I deducted a star for some of the extra flowery writing. I don't care for the wordiness when it comes to colors of things, from skin, sky, clothes etc. I cringe a little when this is abused and it was here.

There were a lot tragic and sad events in this book. It was heartbreaking what was endured and why. I thought the author portrayed his characters well as well a
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: african-fiction
A truly artistic tale told during the end of Apartheid in South Africa. During a time when it was illegal for whites to have sex with blacks, one of the protagonists, Niki, is put on trial and spends time in prison for giving birth to a blue eyed daughter Popi. The story then follows Niki, her son Viliki and Popi through the end of apartheid and post apartheid worlds. All the while Popi tries to find her place in the world, never feeling totally black, and never white.

Although the story is amazi
Suanne Laqueur
Sep 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
I've never read any books set in South Africa and I truly enjoyed this one. I loved how the opening of each chapter was a description of a painting, and then the painting dissolved into the storyline. ...more
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-lit
I keep waffling between 2 and 3 stars on this one. So 2.5 it is.

A friend of mine who got her doctorate in African literature recommended 4 books to me. This is the 3rd one I’ve read. The first two were excellent. This one was alright.

Once again I found myself learning a part of true African history that I was taught nothing about in school, so I was thankful for the broadening of my knowledge.

I found the character of Popi specifically to be very compelling.

The breakdown for me was everything rel
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating look at recent South African history. It would be a great book to pair with Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, as it’s a fictional account based on an actual trial of white men and black women having children during apartheid. It mostly follows one particular family, particularly the daughter.

It was a bit of a slow burn for me - fascinating but it took me quite a while to read.
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Masterful. I loved this book.
May 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: b-the-good
Most times, books talking about South Africa either show the wealthy, fancy, stuck-up white side of South Africa, or the stereotypical native, out in the grassland black native. But The Madonna of Excelsior shows both sides, the inbetween.

It's no surprise the rich are white and the poor are black. But what about the ones they call "colored"? The ones who are both black and white? This book explores that.

Zakes Mda is an amazingly detailed writer, his words helping the reader see everything he spe
Oct 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i enjoy reading the book by Mr Mda, lately i have become a fan of his work.The book is set in the apartheid era when blacks where not allowed to mingle with the white foks.reading the book i was able to identify few themes.Forgiveness, self-acceptance. forgiveness- would come in the form of Niki coming into terms with her past and the guilt she had when her daughter was batlling with acceptance. And self acceptance would be Popi, she had difficulty accepting who she was and the fact that she wa ...more
Feb 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Mda's creates vivid and abstract imagery and scenes that flow deliberately and haphazardly across the pages. Every word, every description, so carefully placed in such a controlled manner to create an ever flowing sense of emotions and world building.
He skims through real events, clear in the readers mind, but abstract in its portrayal. His words flow over time and space, never faltering, until years, and moments and characters have been born, lived, breathed and died before you. Stereotypes in
Oct 16, 2019 rated it liked it
what i love about my South African lit class is that i get to read books that i never would have even heard of otherwise. this one follows the townspeople of Excelsior in 1971 South Africa where the Immorality Acts forbids sexual activity between black and white people. when a scandal rocks the town, everyone gets involved and their behavior shows the true effects of the discrimination and separations of the Apartheid era. the story delves into the culture of rape and prostitution of black women ...more
Sandra Helen
Apr 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Set in South Africa, the novel is based on true events that occurred during apartheid. The protagonist shows us what life was like for a black woman during that time, how she was raped, used, and abused by white men. She bore a "coloured" daughter by the husband of a woman she worked for, caring for their son, who of course was the brother to her daughter. She was arrested and charged under the Immorality Laws. Her daughter grew up in political opposition to her half-brother. The protagonist was ...more
Sisipho Bunyonyo
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really liked the book though I felt it was out of my league in terms of the usage of the language. I am used to reading about what happened in the townships during apartheid and post-apartheid. I love the microscopic view of Excelsior, as it was a farm. The author covered various themes that were prevalent in that time like politics, power struggle, womanhood, motherhood, relationships and "taboo" relationships, racial segregation and stereotypes. It is a reflection of what was happening in SA ...more
Hlulani Baloyi
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
I generally love consuming our history in a very much of a fictionalised manner because then it is more bearable for me, and South African history is one that is so hard to look back to if you attack it raw, I have appreciated that Zakes has succeeded in doing that,

If I am very honest about the start of every chapter, I feel as though the fuss of what sounded like poetry got too much for me to consume and everytime I kept asking myself if I was reading a poetry book or fiction, then he would br
Masosote  Masosote
Mar 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Brilliant read. Transports you to the little town of Excelsior during a time when the political and social landscape was dominated by stunted thinking regarding the colour of people. Zakes weaves it so well together and uses basic day to day issues such as sex and art to illustrate that human beings are just but one species.
May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
The art descriptions in the beginning of each chapter were rather annoying and that is the only flaw. I enjoyed the pace of the story and the smooth transition from apartheid to post apartheid South Africa.
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
I’m thankful for this book for giving me more exposure to South African history with beautiful writing and characters to remember. This book wasn’t a page turner, but I enjoyed it every time I picked it up. I savored it in small bits, and felt almost like looking at a piece of art.
Marlo Goff
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant novel about South African history and politics. @zakesmda’s imagery paints a vivid picture of life under apartheid. What I found disturbing was how many parallels I saw with the BLM movement today. Read this book.
Apr 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: stand-alones, 3-stars
3.5 stars!
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a brilliant book. I must admit I skipped over all the imagery but the plot is incredible.
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully written and totally captivating.
Dec 27, 2020 rated it liked it
The plot moves along well considering the time span and events. I enjoyed the painting references, but was never clear on who "we" (the narrators/observers) were. ...more
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was so well done!

Mda really impressed me with his style of story telling. Set during Apartheid in South Africa, this book initially looks at the immorality act, and heads through to a few years after the change in government.

Every chapter begins with a description of a painting, which in some way, relates to the chapter. The bright colours help emphasise the legal divide between the races. The story is moved with realistic characters in realistic situations, striving towards goals that were
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africana
Finished this in 2 days while travelling through the Freestate. A place is always more than it seems.
Nyakallo Lephoto
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Madonna of Excelsior is a novel that highlights the plight that once engulfed the community of Mahlatswetswa in Excelsior, Free State, where several white men were accused of having coerced sexual relations with black women from which children were born.

During apartheid, interracial sexual relations, consentual or not, were not only forbidden but illegal.

Mda uses a story of Poppie, a child born of a white male farmer raping a female black employee, to relate how the township of Mahlatswetsa
Alex Hoffman
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really glad that this book was set for my English seminar. Mda writes beautifully and his imagery really sticks in your mind. He tells the story of the "scandal" of Excelsior in 1971 but threads this into a bigger picture of Apartheid and post-Apartheid South Africa. Mda confronts a lot of the hard truths about expedience, corruption and racism involved in the creation of the "new South Africa" and does this, for the most part, really well. However, I think that he does too much almost textbook ...more
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Lovely. i read this book twice and really enjoyed it. It is a colourful exploration of the exelsior scandal that took place in a small town is Azania during apartheid, when a group of white men (including the town dominee) were arrested along with 21 black women for contravening the immorality act. Under this law it was illegal for black and white people to have "relations".
Of course the whole was grossly unfiar because the power relations in the town made it impossible for the black women to de
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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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