Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Memoirs of an Outsider

by Zakes Mda

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-374-28094-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Acclaimed South African novelist, playwright and poet Mda (Cion, 2007, etc.) pens a memoir setting his experiences against the backdrop of a country in turmoil.

Both the author’s life and his narrative style are characterized by a sensorial roving through experience. Although he spent his early years in Soweto, Mda was forced to escape to Lesotho after his father was exiled because of his activism against apartheid. This change brought many adjustments for the young Mda involving his spoken language, local customs and the level of political awareness of his family and peers. Although his family was connected to power players in the anti-apartheid movement, including Nelson Mandela, Mda’s own peripatetic journeys of romance, rebellion and his search for an artistic calling often kept him feeling like an outsider, a theme repeated throughout the memoir. Mda’s eventful life is full of colorful characters, including childhood sweethearts, pedophile priests, shaman uncles and carousing artists. The structure of the narrative is challenging, as the author moves fluidly between the past and a point of relative present, and provides extensive commentary on both the details and the major events of his life. At nearly 600 pages, the book does contain some overwrought passages but is generally engaging.

A readable, insightful memoir by a major talent, particularly enjoyable for those already familiar with Mda’s body of work or with the cultural moments that helped to shape him.