South African media personality and broadcast journalist Joanne Joseph has published her first fiction book. The book is titled Children of Sugarcane and was published on May 5, 2022 by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Joseph is a widely celebrated journalist with over 20 years of experience including hosting prominent radio and television shows for major broadcasters, like the South African Broadcasting Corporation and Primedia House. Her debut book, a non-fiction title called Drug Muled: Sixteen Years in a Thai Prison: The Vanessa Goosen Story, was published in 2013 and sold over 10,000 copies. Drug Muled documents the harrowing story of model and Miss South Africa finalist Vanessa Goosen who was sentenced to 16 years behind bars in Thailand for a crime she didn’t commit.

With Children of Sugarcane, Joseph shifts to fiction while retaining her investigative approach and focus on research. Children of Sugarcane, set in the 19th century, follows the story of a young woman, Shanti, who dreams to leave India and believes South Africa is the place for her to start afresh. After a traumatic voyage across the sea, Shanti arrives in the province of Natal, South Africa and realizes life there is full of “violence, injustice and hard labour.” While the story is fiction, Joseph shared with Brittle Paper her personal connections to the story and her efforts to shine light on the experience of Indian female indentured workers in 19th century colonial South Africa.

Children of Sugarcane was inspired by the story of my great-grandmother, Athilatchmy Velu Naiken, who left India to take up indenture in Port Natal in 1884. This part of history has been well-documented by academics who have scoured the archives with great success, but very little of the resulting information is generally known. I attempted to bring this narrative into the public conscious in South Africa, and other countries where the book has been released, in the hope that Children of Sugarcane will promote an understanding of and interest in our shared history particularly in Britain, South Africa and India.

The story is told from Shanti’s perspective as a young teen through adulthood, through four decades and two continents. An early, prominent figure in Shanti’s life is Aunty Saras, a bold, educated woman in India who supports Shanti through her teachings and encouragement. This relationship is one of many that shaped Shanti’s independent spirit as she grows up and fights to make a life for her self, find love, and maintain bonds with her family and friends, even from afar. Zimbabwe-born novelist Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu remarks that “Shanti is a heroine that the reader will not easily forget. The story that is told here is worth not only knowing but also remembering.” This speaks to Joseph’s storytelling, how she brings the past to life in a character whose story continues to resonate with current events and conversations.

If you’ve enjoyed historical novels that center women through time and major events, like The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste or spirited coming of age stories featuring a female protagonist like, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, Children of Sugarcane is right up your alley.

Buy Children of Sugarcane: Amazon