Ways of Dying A Novel

Zakes Mda




Trade Paperback

224 Pages


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Winner of the M-Net Book Prize
Shortlisted for the CNA and Noma Awards

In Ways of Dying, Zakes Mda's acclaimed first novel, Toloki is a "professional mourner" in a vast and violent city of the new South Africa. Day after day he attends funerals in the townships, dressed with dignity in a threadbare suit, cape, and battered top hat, to comfort the grieving families of the victims of the city's crime, racial hatred, and crippling poverty. At a Christmas day funeral for a young boy Toloki is reunited with Noria, a woman from his village. Together they help each other to heal the past, and as their story interweaves with those of their acquaintances this elegant short novel provides a magical and painful picture of South Africa today.

Ways of Dying was awarded South Africa's prestigious M-Net Book Prize, awarded by the TV channel M-Net to books written in one of South Africa's official languages, and was shortlisted for the Central News Agency (CNA) Award and the Noma Award, an Africa-wide prize founded by Shoichi Noma, onetime president of Kodansha International.


Praise for Ways of Dying

"[A] marvelous picaresque . . . Mda's purpose comes through clearly: to show how many ways of dying there are in the transition to a new South Africa, whether through the brutality of white overseers and policemen or that of black gangsters . . . Reflecting the startling contrasts in such a world, tender humor and brutal violence vie with each other in Mda's pages, as do vibrant life and sudden death. The struggle between them creates an energetic and refreshing literature for a country still coming to terms with both the new and the old."—Tony Eprile, The New York Times Book Review

"Mda possesses the lyricism of a storyteller . . . He draws his readers into an Africa where racial hatred and its accompanying violence are commonplace. As a result, the act of mourning is almost a constant state."—Seth Taylor, San Diego State University, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"In two quiet, subtle and powerful novels [Ways of Dying and Heart of Redness], we are taken from the brutal, nearly unbearable horror of life during the revolution against white minority rule to the daily, nearly unbearable hopelessness of life under the cronyism, corruption and injustice of the post-apartheid government. That this universe is not just depressing but also enlightening is due to the enormous talent behind Mda's vision."—Neil Gordon, The Washington Post Book World

"A rollicking, at times whimsical tour through the dying days of apartheid as witnessed by the Professional Mourner Toloki, who wanders from township funeral to township funeral with the hapless wonder of a Chaplinesque loner."—Anderson Tepper, The Village Voice

"Ultimately, this emotionally rich novel dares to seek redemption amid desolation. In these devastated lives, Mda finds grace, tenderness, even the kind of world-weary humor that is born of hardship."—Rene E. Graham, The Boston Globe

"Does much to portray South Africa culture in transition through the movement of provincial villagers to the city, with its greater risks and opportunities. Casualties may be many and atrocious, but Mda's position is ultimately affirmative . . . What Chinua Achebe has done for Nigeria, Mda appears capable of doing for South Africa."—Choice

"Writing from the heart of the new South Africa, Mda tells his country's stories through beautifully realized characters whose search for love and connection takes you up close to the black experience, past and present."—Hazel Rochman, Booklist

"A strange and terrifying account of the realities of the new South Africa told with irony, humor, and originality."—Sheila Kohler, author of Children of Pithiviers

"Once you have finished Ways of Dying, you won't know whether you read the novel or dreamt it. Zakes Mda has gathered up all the human waste and political detritus of South African life and distilled it into a magic realist text of great beauty, humor, pathos."—The Sunday Independent (South Africa)

"A flawless, intricate, seamless weave, with magic and mystery . . . Mda is a master storyteller."—Sindiwe Magona

"The future is not far when Mda could come to be recognized as South Africa's leading literary figure . . . Ways of Dying can be read as an allegory for the contemporary life of Africans. Yet despite its depressing title . . . the book ends up not being being about many ways of dying but many ways of living."—Sowetan (South Africa)

"An excellent novel."—Tim Couzens

"Creates a vivid, bustling image of contemporary Africa in transition."—Kirkus Reviews

"A moving and startlingly original novel."—Mail & Guardian (South Africa)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

‘There are many ways of dying!' the Nurse shouts at us. Pain is etched in his voice, and rage has mapped his face. We listen in silence. ‘This our brother's way is a way that has left us without words in our mouths. This little brother...

Read the full excerpt


  • Zakes Mda

  • Zakes Mda has received every major South African prize for his work, which includes The Heart of Redness, Ways of Dying, and She Plays with the Darkness—all published in paperback by Picador. Born in 1948, he has been a visiting professor at Yale and the University of Vermont. Mda is now a dramaturg at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg, and a professor in the Creative Writing Department at Ohio University.

  • Zakes Mda Sal Idriss
    Zakes Mda