Debuts from Australia and South Africa

I love reading books from other cultures and find that not many of them make it in to our shelves in the US. One way I have found to discover new authors from overseas is to follow books that win prizes, the only problem is that there is often a gap between when a book gets published overseas and when it makes it to the US. For example, Nayomi Munaweera’s Island of a Thousand Mirrors was longlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Prize after it was published in South Asia, but didn’t come out in hardback in the US until 2014. And she is an author who even lives in the US!

But e-publishing can shorten a wait for a book. The books I write about today have not yet been published in the US but some you can buy e-versions of via Amazon.

The Stella Prize celebrates women writers in Australia. Last week they announced their shortlist, and three of the six authors are debut writers. Of the three debuts, two are short story collections. Maxine Beneba Clarke wrote Foreign Soil, a collection of stories about people on the margins in the US, the UK and Australia. Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light is a collection of literary and speculative short fiction. And Emily Bitto wrote a historical novel set in 1930s Melbourne. The story is about a young girl, Lily, who befriends a girl, Eva, who is brought up by avant garde artists.

And last night, in Nigeria, the second Etisalat Prize for Literature was awarded to Songeziwe Mahlangu, a South African novelist. This is a prize awarded to a debut African author. Mahlangu’s novel Penumbra is the story of a young man living in Cape Town who recently graduated from college, and struggles with mental illness.

I am struck by how diverse all of these debuts are. Of the Australian books, Bitto’s novel sounds like something we would read about in the US market, but the short story collections are less mainstream and not easily summarizable, not a quality found in our market where debuts often need pithy plot lines to get noticed. And Penumbra is described as a difficult book and is less mainstream than last year’s Etisalat winner, NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names. An intriguing collection of books and voices!

Next up, I review Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper—a quirky novel about an 83-year old woman’s journey to the sea.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Debuts from Australia and South Africa

  1. The only thing I’ve read from Australia was that author who wrote the Bone People. At least, that is, I started it. I couldn’t really get into it. There are a number of authors I didn’t even realize were Australian including Thomas Keneally. I liked Janet Frame (NZ). Sort of like Flannery O Connor. African authors the best I read so far (and I haven’t read many) were Achebe and also Coetzee.

  2. Have you read Janet Frame and JM Coetzee (Waiting for the Barbarians)?

    • Thanks for your comment @kinneret. Janet Frame is an author I feel I should have read, but haven’t. I have much enjoyed all of Coetzee’s books. I feel like books from both of these places are slow to reach us.

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