“A rare gem of African literature. I believe a critical edition at this time will lead to its rediscovery by scholars of African and postcolonial literature everywhere….It is a swashbuckling mixture of truths, lies, dead seriousness, contradictory self-inventions, levity, exaggerations, and all through poignant recordings of soul-crushing apartheid’s impact on black life in South Africa. On theme and style, it was postmodern before that concept became common currency everywhere.”
Tejumola Olaniyan, the late Louis Durham Mead Professor in English and Wole Soyinka Humanities Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
“The novel has vital documentary value for the manner in which it represents the criminal underworld of the townships in the apartheid years, the manner in which black males negotiated the treacherous politics of race at the time, and the questions it raises about collaborative writing and authorship in a context of severe repression and deprivation….[It] will be of interest to professors teaching courses about the South African apartheid years and seeking to assign a range of texts that offer a flavor of the times from a variety of vantage points.”
Moradewun Adejunmobi, professor of African American and African Studies, University of California, Davis.
“This new edition of Dugmore Boetie’s enigmatic and complex narrative introduces the work to a new generation of readers. The editors contextualise the text within the current scholarship on race and authorial agency in South Africa, and provide imaginative and useful notes for readers less familiar with the enduring legacies of apartheid.”
Carli Coetzee, editor of Journal of African Cultural Studies
“Based on meticulous archival research and interviews with descendants and acquaintances of the author, this new critical edition of Dugmore Boetie’s fast-paced, semi-autobiographical text will be welcomed by a new generation of scholars, teachers, and readers. In a compelling introduction that provides historical, geographical, and biographical context, the editors also invite us to think about such issues as authorship, genre, and black male identity in apartheid South Africa. The apparatus they provide in the form of notes to each chapter will make unfamiliar language and contexts accessible to readers. Bravo to the editors for making available once again a text that deserves to be more central to the canon of African literature.”
Gaurav Desai, professor of English, University of Michigan
A fast-paced romp through apartheid-era South Africa that exemplifies the creative human capacity to overcome seemingly omnipotent enemies and overwhelming odds.
The picaresque hero of this novel, Duggie, is a dispossessed black street kid turned con man. Duggie’s response to being confined to the lowest level of South Africa’s oppressive and humiliating racial hierarchy is to one-up its absurdity with his own glib logic and preposterous schemes. Duggie’s story, as one critic puts it, offers “an encyclopedic catalogue of rip-offs, swindles, and hoaxes” that regularly land him in jail and rely on his white targets’ refusal to admit a black man is capable of outsmarting them.
Duggie exploits South Africa’s bureaucratic pass laws and leverages his artificial leg every chance he gets. As “a worthless embarrassment to the authorities and a bad example to the convicts,” Duggie even manages to get himself thrown out of jail. From Duggie’s Depression-era childhood in urban Johannesburg to World War II and the rise of the white supremacist apartheid regime to his final, bitter triumph, Boetie’s narrative celebrates humanity’s relentless drive to survive at any cost.
This new edition of Boetie’s out-of-print classic features a recently discovered photograph of the author, an introduction replete with previously unpublished research, numerous annotations, and is accompanied by Lionel Abrahams’ haunting poem, “Soweto Funeral,” composed after attending Boetie’s interment, all of which render the text accessible to a new generation of readers.
Dugmore Boetie is the pen name of South African journalist, writer, and musician, Douglas Mahonga Buti (c.1924–66). More info →
Vusumuzi R. Kumalo is lecturer in history at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elisabeth, South Africa. His research explores the history of independent black education. More info →
Benjamin N. Lawrance is an author and editor of eleven books, and editor in chief of the African Studies Review. He is professor of History at the University of Arizona. More info →
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Every city has an unspoken side. Cape Town, between the picture postcard mountain and sea, has its own shadow: a place of dislocation and uncertainty, dependence and desperation, destruction and survival, gangsters, pimps, pedophiles, hunger, hope, and moments of happiness.
In Tales of the Metric System, Coovadia explores a turbulent South Africa from 1970 into the present. He takes his home country’s transition from imperial to metric measurements as his catalyst, holding South Africa up and examining it from the diverse perspectives of his many characters.
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