Around the World in 12 Books {#1 South Africa}

Tsotsi by Athol Fugard

TitleTsotsi
Author: Athol Fugard
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780802142689
Length: 226 pages
Published: 1980
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5
Challenges/Resolutions: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge (2012); Years of Books Resolution (2012); Years of Books Goal (lifetime)

Summary (from Goodreads):

Set amid the sprawling Johannesburg township of Soweto, where survival is the primary objective, Tsotsi traces six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader. When we meet Tsotsi, he is a man without a name (tsotsi is Afrikaans for hoodlum ) who has repressed his past and now exists only to stage and execute vicious crimes. When he inadvertently kidnaps a baby, Tsotsi is confronted with memories of his own painful childhood, and this angry young man begins to rediscover his own humanity, dignity, and capacity to love.

I haven’t ever really read a book quite like this. Firstly, the beginning of this book shocked me more than any other book beginning I’ve ever come across. There was a gruesome and ruthless murder of a quite innocent man by Tsotsi’s little gang. Secondly, the story was a little hard to follow at some points, as far as the flow of the story went. I have to be honest that reading this before bed was difficult because it’d put me to sleep. That’s not because it was boring or uninteresting. While I was interested in the overall story, the way it was written made me uninterested in actually reading it.

I read this book to complete the first month of Shannon at Giraffe Days’ Around the World in 12 Books Challengefor 2012 which was South Africa. To discuss the book a little more, here are some questions Shannon came up with for the challenge:

1) What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?

2) How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?

3) Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?

1) Unfortunately, I don’t think I really learned that much about South Africa, or even about Johannesburg. The setting of the story could have the book taking place in any larger city in a “poorer”, post-colonial country. The “white man’s money” alluded to a society of non-white people and “Native Administration” (as a governmental department) told me that it was a post-colonial society. (Why would they say “native” if there had never been a majority–or ruling class–of non-natives at one point?) But this doesn’t even mean the story would have to take place in Africa–it could easily be South America or Asia! Regardless, I was a little sad that there wasn’t much to the story that wasn’t at the surface, at least not from my reading. Maybe I would have found more complexities had I been familiar with the culture of South Africa. But, for the most part, all I saw was a story about a teenage thug who realized, in the end, he didn’t have to be a bad person.

2) This story was definitely more focused on plot than on description. This might have been part of the reason I didn’t feel the story flowed very well. The story is written in such a way that assumes the reader is familiar with the environment–I am not up on all that is to do with 1980 Johannesburg, sadly. There was mention of some slums and some ruins, factories, train stations, beggars, queues for water, and shebeens. But these seem to be basic elements of a “bad part” of a town.

3) Seeing as the story took place in an environment filled with robbery and thugs, I don’t particularly wish to visit there. I would not mind reading more about South Africa. And I suppose I think it’d be nice to say I wouldn’t want to read the obvious books that have a lot to do with apartheid. But, for some reason, I assume any contemporary fiction set in South Africa should have an element to do with apartheid. I know that’s wrong, but I guess–and I hate to admit it–that I feel I’d be uninterested if it didn’t have that as part of the story.

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About the Author

Harold Athol Lannigan Fugard (b. June 11, 1932, Middelburg, South Africa), better known as Athol Fugard, is a South African playwright, actor, and director. His wife, Sheila Fugard, and their daughter, Lisa Fugard, are also writers.

Working in the court environment and seeing how the Africans suffered under the past laws provided Fugard with a firsthand insight into the injustice and pain of apartheid. The political slant of his plays bought him into conflict with the government. In order to avoid prosecution, he started to take his plays overseas. After Blood Knot, was produced in England, his passport was withdrawn for four years. In 1962, he publicly supported an international boycott against segregated theatre audiences which led to further restrictions.

He is an adjunct professor of playwriting, acting, and directing in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California, San Diego. For academic year 2000–2001, he was the IU Class of 1963 Wells Scholar Professor at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. The recipient of many awards, honors, and honorary degrees, including the 2005 Order of Ikhamanga in Silver “for his excellent contribution and achievements in the theatre” from the government of South Africa, he is also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

(information about Fugard is copied, in parts, from Goodreads and Amazon.com)

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Here is the very simple story of how I came to choose this book for this challenge. Made of Honor is a really funny movie and in it there is a discussion about the name of Athol (which sounds a lot like “asshole” with a lisp). When I was looking up South African authors, my eye was caught by Athol Fugard and I immediately thought of this movie clip and determined to read one of his books. Simply because his name was Athol…

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One thought on “Around the World in 12 Books {#1 South Africa}

  1. This book sounds so harrowing! I couldn’t help but wonder, if someone wrote a more positive book set in South Africa, whether it would be considered naive and unrealistic – but I’d like to think that today especially it’s a more positive place than it was in the 80s (mine was set in the 80s too). It just makes me think: Maybe the scary stuff is the only thing people want to write about – or the only thing they think is worth writing about? Maybe it’s an indication that they feel that things are far from resolved? Probably it’s just that I haven’t read much set in South Africa. It’s been great reading other people’s reviews this month, though!

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