An American Library Association Notable Book
In The Madonna of Excelsior, the new novel by the acclaimed South African writer Zakes Mda, a sex scandal in a small town is transformed into an emblematic story of a country whose racial history can be rendered authoritatively only in art.
In 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior, a farming community in South Africa's rural Free State, were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sexual relations between blacks and whites on the pretext of avoiding miscegenation. The women were jailed as they awaited trial and their white counterparts were released on bail. In the end, the state withdrew the charges, but the accused women's lives, already complicated, became harder than ever.
Mda tells the story of a family at the heart of the scandal, revealing a country in which apartheid, even as it sought to keep the races apart, concealed interracial liaisons of every kind. Niki, the fallen Madonna, transgresses boundaries for the sake of love; her choices have profound repercussions in the lives of her black son, Viliki, and her mixed-race daughter, Popi, who come of age in the years after the end of apartheid, when freedom allows them—indeed compels them—to figure out their racial identities for themselves. As the story advances to the present, the mixed society of Excelsior comes to suggest South Africa today, a society far more complex—and more dramatic—than conventional notions of black and white will allow.
In this, his fourth novel—his first since the acclaimed The Heart of Redness—Zakes Mda once more reclaims the troubled history of his country as the terrain of the imaginative writer. Many novels have sought to dramatize the consequences of apartheid; The Madonna of Excelsior is the rare work in which the political issues are only one aspect of a vital and complex human drama.