Day 11: Soweto Stories

Across the first month of 2020, Sophie Baggott is sharing her thirty favourite books by women from across the world. Find out more about her project to read women writers from every country worldwide here.

I picked up this book impulsively on a lunchtime visit to The Second Shelf just after it opened in November 2018, and wow what a fabulous collection they have there. Soweto Stories is a unique, memorable collection of short stories by the first black South African woman to publish a novel (Muriel at Metropolitan / Between Two Worlds, 1975).

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Soweto Stories by Miriam Tlali

In a nutshell: This 1989 short story collection casts a unique light on Sowetans – mostly women – persevering within a cruel landscape of apartheid and patriarchy.

To pluck out a line“It was a strong, stoic and steadfast face which, to both her children, never seemed to yield to the vicissitudes of life and the inevitable hazards of ageing.”

If I had to choose one image: In one of the perennially congested train carriages into which black South Africans were forced, a woman clenches as a man probes her thighs – her screams unheard in the noisy, suffocating compartment; on arrival she is “too hurt, too shamefully abused, to speak” (gender-based violence runs throughout Tlali’s fiction).

Sharing a thought: At first I found the style challenging – e.g. Tlali often dips into other languages (which I worked out were Sesotho and Afrikaans, maybe among others) not necessarily with translation, and many English words are punctuated ‘like this’ – but after a while I came to appreciate how she kept her world alive in this distinct way.

Fact: The first black South African woman to publish a novel (Muriel at Metropolitan / Between Two Worlds, 1975), most of Tlali’s writing was originally banned by the South African apartheid regime and she endured years of harassment by police for her work.

If you’d like to read Soweto Stories, please visit here.

 

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