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The Heart of Redness

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  1,216 ratings  ·  92 reviews
In the 1850s the prophet Nongqawuse gave a message to the Xhosa people: all cattle should be killed, crops should not be planted. A dead army would appear and drive the foreign occupiers into the sea from which they came. Some believed, some did not,m and families were divided. Many cattle were killed, many starved. More than a century later families are still divided, and ...more
Paperback, 12th impression, 320 pages
Published 2012 by Oxford University Press (first published 2000)
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3.70  · 
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 ·  1,216 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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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
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
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Xoliswa Ximiya, she embraces the western culutre at the expense of her traditional culture.she sees her people as being outdated by following the thier culture, her traditional culture is as if its an obstilce for progre ...more
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
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.
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
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
Mpho Mokhoro
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: legendary
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
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
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
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.
Stephen Hayes
I've already written something about this book in a blog post here Post-apartheid writing and posthumous books | Khanya. Many wondered what South African writing would or should look like after apartheid, and Zakes Mda certainly provides one answer. This is what it looks like, and this is what it should look like. Mda puts his finger on some of the pressing problems of post-apartheid South Africa in this book, especially the problems of rural development.

In recent months there has been much con
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 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
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.
Claudia Cavanagh
Once every ten years or so a book comes along that I know will always be with me somewhere - this is one of those. It’s a modern African tale that digs deep into the past, full of rich emotion, vivid and yet believable characters, a truly beautifully written dream of a story that left me feel restored, equilibrium regained and utterly satisfied. Immediately bought another of his - Ways of Dying - and about to tuck in.
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Zakes Mda is such a brilliant authorn. The Heart of Redness tells the history or legend of Nongqawuse, a young Xhosa prophetess, with such clarity that will leave you wanting to go and see Qholorha by Sea.
Un Moine Vexé
Seamlessly weaves past and present into an engrossing narrative.
Andrew R
Need to read The Dead Will Arise by Peires, an incredibly good history book which was the basis for a lot of the novel.
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.
Refilwe N
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I could not put this book down. Intriguing story about the Xhosa culture during the times of Nongqawuse.
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Colonial and post-colonial South Africa novel with diverging timelines, fantasy elements, and a question of power.
Dylan Groves
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Worth reading for the account of Nongqawuse and the cattle-killings alone.
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
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.
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Reading 1001: The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda 1 8 Mar 31, 2019 09:12AM  
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