Six Enticing Reads for South African Readers

franschhoek literary festival

As winter approaches in South Africa, book enthusiasts across the nation gear up for some cozy downtime filled with the warmth of enticing stories, especially since the season’s long weekends beckon. At the same time, anticipation among readers is rising as the Franschhoek Literary Festival approaches, and renowned authors prepare to gather for what will again be a unique literary celebration.

To kickstart this season of literary indulgence, Jennifer Ball, programme director for the Festival, shares several book recommendations by authors set to grace the Festival’s stage in 2024. Her carefully curated selections promise to transport readers on unforgettable journeys that will please those seeking solace in the embrace of a good book during the weekends and colder months ahead.

  • Gaslight by Femi Kayode (Bloomsbury)

You can’t help but adore Femi Kayode’s reluctant detective, investigative psychologist Philip Taiwo.

When we first meet him in Kayode’s debut Lightseekers, Taiwo travels to a university town near Port Harcourt to investigate the devastatingly violent mob killing of three university students. He’s funny, incredibly smart and going through some marital issues.

This was an utterly gripping page-turner and I can’t wait to meet Philip Taiwo again in Kayode’s latest novel, Gaslight, in which he looks into the pastor of a Nigerian megachurch who has been charged with the murder of his wife.

  • Place by Justin Fox (Umuzi)

I’m not planning to go away every long weekend, and so Justin Fox’s Place is my ticket to a literary tour of South Africa. In this travelogue, the author visits the places he’s explored in the pages of favourite books by great South African writers. I’m enchanted by this concept, especially since I know Justin Fox not only as a great travel writer and novelist but also as an accomplished poet. I’m looking forward to passages of great power and beauty, especially those describing landscapes and places.

  • In a Thousand Different Ways by Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins)

This book takes readers into the world of young Alice Kelly, who is growing up with a rare condition called emotional synesthesia. The emotions of the people around her manifest in clouds of vivid colour, which overwhelm and sometimes frighten her. Alice also faces more than her condition, as she must navigate the weighty responsibility of caring for her bipolar mother.

Cecelia Ahern is a true master at drawing readers into the emotional lives of her characters, and her descriptions of Alice’s experiences are simultaneously beautiful and intense. Still – love, friendship and joy shine through this powerful novel.

  • The Reed Dance Stalker by Angela Makholwa (Pan Macmillan)

The opening scene of Angela Makholwa’s bestselling debut novel, Red Ink, still haunts me, and I can’t wait to binge-watch the terrifying story play out on screen in the recently released Showmax adaptation of the book. Good news for readers who are doing the same thing this long weekend is that the plot thickens in Makholwa’s latest novel, The Reed Dance Stalker. This new novel raises the chilling question: Is Napoleon Dingiswayo really dead, as the C-Max prison authorities claim?

  • Sunshine and Shadows by Busisekile Khumalo (Kwela)

This novel is the first in a new series by Busisekile Khumalo, whose The Harvard Wife has been a firm favourite with South African book clubs. In Sunshine and Shadows we meet Vimbai, a gorgeous, fashionable and fiercely intelligent law student who is savvy about both love and money. This fresh campus novel promises hot romance and intrigue, and a glimpse into the social and political elite of urban Zimbabwe, the Sunshine City of Dreams. I have been told that it ends in a tantalizing cliffhanger – and so I hope that Khumalo’s next instalment will be in bookstores very soon!

  • The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams (Penguin Random House)

My father studied Latin at school, and I’ve inherited his fascination with language and etymology. Little surprise, then, that I rushed to read Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words. I loved her fictional account of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, as told from the perspective of a young girl growing up in a scriptorium and collecting “lost” (discarded) words.

This new novel takes readers back to Oxford at the start of World War I, and into the lives of the young women who worked in the book binderies when the men of Oxford University Press were called to war.

A moving and brilliantly researched historical novel about books and the people who make them.

The Franschhoek Literary Festival taking place from 17 to 19 May 2024 will be offering book lovers a wide array of enriching experiences. Jennifer’s recommendations serve as a tantalising glimpse into the many literary treasures awaiting discovery at this year’s festival.

So whether you find yourself drawn to tales of adventure, romance or even introspection, the Festival promises to captivate and inspire. For more information about the event and its speakers, including the complete programme and ticket details, please visit the Festival site.