The Madonna of Excelsior

A Novel

Zakes Mda

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A new novel by a towering presence in contemporary South African literature

In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa's white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of a family at the heart of the scandal -and of a country in which apartheid concealed interracial
liaisons of every kind.

Niki, the fallen madonna, transgresses boundaries for the sake of love; her choices have repercussions in the lives of her black son and mixed-race daughter, who come of age in post-apartheid South Africa, where freedom prompts them to reexamine their country's troubled history at first hand.

By turns earthy, witty, and tragic, The Madonna of Excelsior is a brilliant depiction of life in South Africa and of the dramatic changes between the 1970s and the present.


Praise for The Madonna of Excelsior

Praise for Zakes Mda's The Heart of Redness:

"Mda has responded to South Africa's rapid changes and unpredictable transitions with a work that is itself a new kind of novel: one that combines Gabriel García Márquez's magic realism and political astuteness with satire, social realism and a critical reexamination of the South African past."
-- Tony Eprile, The New York Times Book Review

"Mda's fascinating narrative skill reveals the past as a powerful presence in the present: of his characters, and of all of us, as we live."
-- Nadine Gordimer

"[An] inspired synthesis of history, myth and satire about this emblematic seaside village, and about post-apartheid South Africa by extension."
--Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Zakes Mda

  • Zakes Mda, a novelist and playwright, has received every major South African prize for his work. Born in 1948, he has been a visiting professor at Yale and the University of Vermont. He is writer-in-residence at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. His previous novel The Heart of Redness was published by FSG in 2002.
  • Zakes Mda Sal Idriss
    Zakes Mda


Available Formats and Book Details

The Madonna of Excelsior

A Novel

Zakes Mda

ALA Notable Books - Winner, Hurston/Wright LEGACY Award - Finalist