Five books have been named on the shortlist for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. They are: Bronwyn Law-Viljoen’s The Printmaker; Kopano Matlwa’s Period Pain; Zakes Mda’s Little Suns; Yewande Omotoso’s Baileys Prize-longlisted The Woman Next Door; and Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know. 

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize is awarded as part of the Sunday Times Literary Awards, in association with Porcupine Ridge. Its twin prize is the Alan Paton Award for Nonfiction. The winner goes home with R100,000.

Books Live calls the shortlist “writing of rare style and imagination, stories that chose the personal over the political, and themes that are fresh and provocative.” The chair of the judges, Rehana Rossouw, describes the books as “words strike at the reader’s heart.”

Here are the five books, with their accompanying synopses from their publishers.

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The Printmaker, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)

When a reclusive printmaker dies, his friend inherits the thousands of etchings and drawings he has stored in his house over the years. Overwhelmed by the task of sorting and exhibiting this work, she seeks the advice of a curator.
What compulsion drove the printmaker to make art for four decades, and why did he so seldom show his prints?
 When the curator discovers a single, sealed box addressed to a man in Zimbabwe, she feels compelled to go in search of him to present him with the package, hoping to find an answer to the enigma of the printmaker’s solitary life.
Bronwyn Law-Viljoen’s subtle and sophisticated novel reflects on one man’s obsessive need to make meaning through images and to find, in art, the traces of love and friendship.

Period Pain, Kopano Matlwa (Jacana Media)

Period Pain captures the heartache and confusion of so many South Africans who feel defeated by the litany of headline horrors; xenophobia, corrective rape, corruption and crime and for many the death sentence that is the public health nightmare. Where are we going, what have we become? Period Pain helps us navigate our South Africa. We meet Masechaba, and through her story we are able to reflect, to question and to rediscover our humanity.

 

 

Little Suns, Zakes Mda (Umuzi)

‘There are many suns,’ he said. ‘Each day has its own. Some are small, some are big. I’m named after the small ones.’
It is 1903. A lame and frail Malangana – ‘Little Suns’ – searches for his beloved Mthwakazi after many lonely years spent in Lesotho. Mthwakazi was the young woman he had fallen in love with twenty years earlier, before the assassination of Hamilton Hope ripped the two of them apart.
Intertwined with Malangana’s story, is the account of Hope – a colonial magistrate who, in the late nineteenth century, was undermining the local kingdoms of the eastern Cape in order to bring them under the control of the British. It was he who wanted to coerce Malangana’s king and his people, the amaMpondomise, into joining his battle – a scheme Malangana’s conscience could not allow.
Zakes Mda’s fine new novel Little Suns weaves the true events surrounding the death of Magistrate Hope into a touching story of love and perseverance that can transcend exile and strife.

The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus)

Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility and pruning both with a vim and zeal that belies the fact that they are over eighty.

But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. And gradually the bickering and sniping softens into lively debate, and from there into memories shared. But could these sparks of connection ever transform into friendship? Or is it too late to expect these two to change?

The Safest Place You Know, Mark Winkler (Umuzi)

After his father’s violent death on a hot November day in the drought-stricken Free State, a young man leaves the derelict family farm with no plan, and with no way of knowing that his life will soon be changed for ever by two strangers he encounters on his journey south: a mute little girl who bears a striking resemblance to his late niece, and a troubled lawyer who detests the Cape wine estate she’s inherited from a father she despised.
Set in South Africa against the backdrop of a country in flux, The Safest Place You Know is a powerful story, rendered in meticulously crafted, lyrical prose, about redemption and recovery, and what it means to carry the past with you.

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Congratulations to the five authors. The winner will be announced on 24 June.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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