Category Archives: South Africa

Ways of Dying: A Novel by Zakes Mda

Picador Press, NY, 1995 (paperback, 212 pages)

There are indeed many ways of dying as the opening statement made by one officiating a funeral declares.  From the life of the central character, Toloki, a professional mourner in South Africa, Mda creates spokes like that on a wheel examining those many ways in the lives of the revolving characters through greed, politics, poverty, sexuality, blind loyalties, etc…just as Toloki himself is coming back to life from his social death by reuniting with a homegirl, Noria, and falling in love.  The act of falling in love, slowly and gently and purely, seems to be the redemption of not just their individual lives but Mda seems to offer a subtle suggestion as the redemption for a country mired in acts of violence which has become the typical method of deaths of young and old alike.  The violence and poverty form the backdrop for the story but Mda focuses on how love and humanity survive and thrive in spite of the circumstances.  In this novel, the violence and poverty and tragedies do not win.

The Toloki in this novel shows more discretion compared to the Toloki in Cion which employs more satirical humour.  At first this wasn’t working for me as the same character seemed to have too different of a personality…but then I was able to just let it go and see a younger Toloki surrounded by different realities in this book and I became comfortable with what I perceived as disparities in the character. 

Here Mda offers tip for writing.  Interviews with the author; one, two, and three.

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Filed under African Diaspora reading challenge, Author Links, Fiction, South Africa, Story Telling

Cion, conclusion

*See the 2 previous posts also for reviews of Cion.

By far and without a doubt this is the strangest story with the most strangest characters I have EVER read!!!!!  And that is saying something since I’m a huge fan of Zadie Smith, Gayle Jones, and Toni Morrison.  I guess Cion would fall under magic realism. 

It did take me over half way through the book before I was able to really relax into the unfolding of events and just allow the story to tell its tale without making judgements about the characters and the writing itself.  I found the writing disjointed.  One technical aspect that was appealing was the way Toloki, the central character, addresses the reader directly in spots and refers to Mda’s other book, Ways of Dying, in which Toloki is also the central character. 

Another line that I loved is when Toloki says to Orpah “you are a fabric poet” in reference to her drawings for art quilts.  I’m entertaining using the description on my business cards…Karen Davis, Fabric Poet.  Of course no one would have a clue about what that really is, but I sure do love the idea.

The next book in the challenge will be Mda’s Ways of Dying.

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Filed under African American, African Diaspora reading challenge, Cion, Fiction, Quilting, South Africa