Zakes Mda’s RACHEL’S BLUE has been longlisted for the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award, alongside fellow Blake Friedmann author Joseph O’Connor, and other authors like David Grossman, Haruki Murakami, Rabih Allamedine, Neel Mukherjee, Michael Cunningham, Ali Smith and Helen Oyeyemi. Books are nominated for the Award by invited public libraries in cities throughout the world - making the Award unique in its coverage of international fiction. Titles are nominated on the basis of 'high literary merit' as determined by the nominating library.
Mda’s book was selected by the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Library and Information Services, South Africa and explores the suffocating nature of a small-town community, prejudice, and the complicated relationship that develops when the boundaries of love and friendship become confused between two high-school friends reunited in adulthood. Novelist Zakes Mda has made a name for himself as a key chronicler of the new, post-apartheid South Africa, casting a satirical eye on its claims of political unity, its rising black middle class, and other aspects of its complicated, multiracial society.
In this novel, however, he turns his lens elsewhere: to a college town in Ohio. Here he finds human relations and the battle between the community and the individual no less compelling, or ridiculous. In Athens, Ohio, old high school friends Rachel Boucher and Jason de Klerk reconnect and rekindle a relationship that quickly becomes passionate. Initially, all seems well. Not only the couple, but their friends and family, are happy at this unexpected conjunction. But then Rachel meets someone else. Jason’s anger boils over into violence—violence that turns the community on its head, pitting friends and neighbours against one another. And all this happens before Rachel realizes she’s pregnant.
RACHEL’S BLUE was written as a response to the legal situation that persists in many US states today – that the father of a child conceived from rape can claim the same paternity rights as any father. Although RACHEL’S BLUE is set in Athens County, Ohio, many of the issues raised in the book are familiar to South Africa and reviewer Eckard Smuts wrote on SlipNet that “one of the novel’s strongest accomplishments is the ease with which Mda has transplanted his sensitivity to such issues – and to their human impact – from the more familiar South African setting of his earlier work to the apparently fertile grounds of the American Midwest.”
RACHEL’S BLUE won the University of Johannesburg Prize 2014, and you can learn more about that and read the first chapter of the novel here. It is published in South Africa by Kwela, and Seagull Press will bring out an edition for the UK and the US in early 2016.
Zakes Mda is the author of the much loved classics of South African literature WAYS OF DYING and THE HEART OF REDNESS, among many others. He was born in the Eastern Cape, but spent his early childhood in Soweto, finishing his school education in Lesotho. He is a prolific writer of novels, plays, poems and articles for academic journals and newspapers, and his writing has been translated into twenty languages. His creative work also includes painting, and theatre and film productions. Mda, whose forebears were exiled from Qumbu to Lesotho after the assassination of Hamilton Hope, is a recipient of South Africa’s Order of Ikhamanga. He is based in Athens, Ohio, where he spends his time writing and teaching.
Penguin Random South Africa’s Umuzi imprint will publish his new novel LITTLE SUNS next month.
Praise for Zakes Mda
‘Mda writes from the inside with a rare combination of passion and truth that will connect with readers everywhere.’ Booklist
‘A voice for which one should feel not only affection but admiration.’ New York Times
‘Zakes Mda is among the most acclaimed exponents of a new artistic freedom. His fiction has a beguiling lyricism and humour.’ The Guardian