Most people will want to prepare properly for an upcoming visit to any foreign country. Reading travel guides is an excellent resource for preparing the practical side of your journey. Over the years, I’ve read heaps of travel guides for all sorts of trips. A great addition to these travel guides is reading novels to learn more about the country itself.
South Africa is also known as ‘The Rainbow Nation’, for its multicultural diversity. So what is better than getting to know this Rainbow Nation in all its colour than reading stories about the country itself. These stories will give great insight into South African history over the years, as well as modern day life.
I like to read these kind of books while I’m travelling in the country, and even more books that are easy to read. Fast paced page turners with a great story line, nice descriptions of the country and some historical insight, both fiction and non fiction.
I’ve compiled a list of books that meet those requirements, books that I’ve read during the times that I’ve travelled through South Africa and that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading. I’d love to share these with you and hope you will like reading them as well.
Inspiring books to read before or while travelling through South Africa
Swahili For The Broken-Hearted – Peter Moore
This is a fun and at times hilarious book to read. After the author gets dumped by his girlfriend he decides to go on a crazy adventure without much preparation from Cape Town to Cairo. It’s a great read to join Peter Moore on his crazy adventure and especially the beginning of the book, when he is still travelling through South Africa.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Run – Peter Allison
In ‘Whatever You Do, Don’t Run’, Peter Allison tells about his time in Africa when he was working as a safari guide. It is a compilation of short stories about his life in the African bush, about all the things that can happen, in nature, while on safari, with complaining guests,…He tells it in such a funny and hilarious way you often start laughing out loud. This is a great read for anyone going on a safari. It shows how hard but funny the life of a safari guide in the African bush can be. It’s very easy reading, with lots of interesting facts, and somewhat educational.
When the lion feeds – Wilbur Smith
Wilbur Smith is probably one of the most well known South African novelists writing mainly about historical fiction. He has written about 35 novels and sold 120 million copies worldwide. He is one of those authors that cannot be left off a list of must read South African books. His books are real page turners, with all the necessary ingredients of romance, history, betrayal, murder, adventure and intrigue. Sean has read most of his books, I still have some catching up to do.
‘When The Lion Feeds’ was Smith’s first novel and this story is the beginning of many subsequent books. It describes the lives of twin brothers Sean and Garrick Courtney and their adventures. Interesting fact: Sean is even named after Sean Courtney.
Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood – Trevor Noah
It is hard to deny that Trevor Noah is currently one of the most popular South African comedians. He also recently took over from John Stewart the hosting of The Daily Show. In his book he narrates via a collection of stories of growing up as a child of mixed race parents (Swiss dad and Xhosa mother) in South Africa during Apartheid, and he does that in his own unique Trevor Noah style.
Blood Safari – Deon Meyer
For the lovers of mystery / thriller / detective books, I highly recommend the books of Deon Meyer. He is a South African novelist whose books have been translated in to over 20 languages. His books are highly paced page turners, which grab you until the end, and they are all set in South Africa. The stories give the reader a great insight into modern everyday South African life, interspersed with great descriptions of places and landscapes in South Africa.
‘Blood Safari’ is great to read when going on a safari in The Kruger National Park. I also added one of his other books, ‘Devil’s Peak’, which is set in Cape Town and starts with the main character of Bennie Griesel.
Both books are set in different locations and start with different protagonists, which appear again later in his sequels.
Devil’s Peak – Deon Meyer
All of Deon Meyer’s books are good. Check out a list of all his books .
A Beautiful Place To Die – Malla Nunn
I discovered the books of Malla Nunn in a library in Belgium. ‘A Beautiful Place To Die’ was her first published novel and tells the story of detective Emmanuel Cooper. The story is set in 1950’s Apartheid South Africa when new Apartheid rules were being introduced. This book is the first of a series about the detective. The novel has a fast pace, the landscapes are beautifully written, and the characters complex. I enjoyed reading this book and also read the 2nd, ‘Let The Dead Lie’.
Silent Predator – Tony Park
Tony Park is an Australian writer who got completely addicted to the African continent after visiting it multiple times. He now resides in Africa six months a year to get the inspiration for his books through the African wildlife, landscapes, countryside and people. I first discovered his books while travelling in South Africa and got completely hooked on his novels. Through his stories, Tony Park takes you on a trip through various countries, while beautifully and very accurately describing the places you will visit and hopefully recognize. I can recommend all his books, but if you want to focus on South Africa, read ‘Silent Predator’. The story is mainly set in South Africa, in a lodge in The Kruger National Park.
If you are interested in his stories of other African countries like Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Kenya and Botswana, I highly recommend to check out his other books as well.
Long Walk To Freedom – Nelson Mandela
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” ~ Nelson Mandela
No trip to South Africa is complete without having read the autobiography of one of the countries greatest political leaders, Nelson Mandela. The Nobel peace prize winner and ex-president of South Africa describes his early life, his fight against racial oppression and his 27 years of imprisonment. It’s definitely a must read for everyone that’s interested in the history of South Africa, the fall of Apartheid and the vision and life of one of the world’s greatest leaders. I really enjoyed reading this book.
Zulu – Caryl Ferey
Zulu is a dark thriller set in the aftermath of South Africa’s Apartheid in the Cape Town area. Reading this book gave me goosebumps as it’s a violent story, but it is narrated in an honest, emotional and intelligent way. If you read this book, don’t let it put you off visiting this beautiful country. It’s a story told about something a tourist will never come across but will nevertheless happen in many other countries.
The book has also been turned into a movie by the same name starring Forest Whitaker and Orlando Bloom.
The Long Way Down – Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman
In ‘The Long Way Down’, actor Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman take up the challenge to ride from the the top of Scotland all the way to Cape Town on motorbikes. It is an interesting story to follow their adventures through the African continent and their successful arrival in South Africa after a few months navigating some of the most difficult ‘roads’. It was a great opportunity for them to be able to take on this great road trip and to allow readers to enjoy their adventure as much as possible through the book.
Spud – John van de Ruit
‘Spud’ is again one of those funny and hilarious books I highly recommend. This book, which is written in the form of a diary, takes us through the first year adventures of John ‘Spud’ Milton, a 14 year old boy in a South African boarding school. The story is set in the year 1990, the year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. It’s a very amusing, entertaining and enjoyable book to read which should get you laughing out loud at times. The next ‘Spud’ books take you through the rest of the years of his boarding school adventure. Check them out as well.
1000 Places To See Before You Die – Patricia Schultz
And last but not least, a must have for every avid traveller out there, ‘1000 Places To See Before You Die”. I added this book because it can really give you some serious wanderlust. Not only for Africa, but also for the rest of the world, which will then allow you to continue ticking those things off that bucket list. This book has been (and still is) one of the worlds best selling travel books.
The above list of books are ones I really enjoyed and would highly recommend reading before or during a trip through South Africa. Most of them are pretty easy reading and will be good for long bus trips, flights and transfers (South Africa is big) or just to wind down the day before going to bed.
Which book about South Africa did you really enjoy reading and should be added to our next list of South African must-reads?
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