Ian Holding is a 27-year-old schoolteacher who lives in Harare, Zimbabwe. His first novel, Unfeeling, is set in contemporary Zimbabwe and is one of the first literary attempts to come to terms with the recent violent history of the country.
1. Disgrace by JM Coetzee
No other novelist renders the inner truths of man more palpably than Coetzee, and here the story of a fallen university professor turns into deft allegory, the everyman for an entire nation struggling to comprehend changes to its national identity.
2. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
“Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa …” so begins Alexander McCall’s tribute to the spirit of character which defines this engagingly ebullient and much loved African heroine, and in doing so gives us all a much needed tonic: hope.
3. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
As Franz Fanon says, “The condition of a native is a nervous condition,” and Dangarembga’s use of illness as a metaphor for the consequences of imperialism sets up a coming of age story which subtly parallels the domination of one culture by another.
4. The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer
A novel evoking breathtaking landscape, atmospheric in its detail of the lush veld and tangy bush air, yet sitting utterly at odds with a malign, indifferent political regime. Gordimer’s novel was a landmark statement from an isolated South Africa.
5. Harvest of Thorns by Shimmer Chinodya
A brutal, honest account of the freedom fighter’s struggle for independence in Zimbabwe, yet, in a tone of veiled cynicism, Chinodya suggests that little real change takes place, leaving his protagonists unsettled and wanting.
6. The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut
Galgut’s strange and detached prose paradoxically brings into bright focus the unsettling realities of post-apartheid relations and expectations. It’s a gripping and confounding read.
7. Looking on Darkness by Andre Brink
With its classical structure and stated ideological beliefs, Brink’s novel of a coloured actor awaiting execution for the murder of his white lover, reads like an African Greek tragedy.
8. The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera
Provoking polarised critical reactions, Marechera’s 1978 novella is difficult and disturbing, yet has at its core certain themes which to this day remain haunting and true; the title a metaphor which has sadly transcended colonialism into independence.
9. The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
Just like Eliot’s The Wasteland, from which its title derives, to read Lessing’s novel is to stand in a time and place which surrounds you utterly, making you shiver with the unspoken truths of what it must have been like to be a white Rhodesian struggling with your conscience.
10. Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor
Memory, confession and retribution: Dangor’s novel is dark and powerful, yet in exploring pain and the past, the reader is massaged into a catharsis which lingers long after the novel is put aside.