Read The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda Online


"A generous, patient, wry and intelligent voice...[that] suggests not just a writer who can seduce us through beautiful language and unfailing humor. We also encounter a writer who has the power to shock and frighten us, to astound and anger and unsettle us...In short, his is a voice for which one should feel not only affection but admiration." --Neil Gordon, New York Time"A generous, patient, wry and intelligent voice...[that] suggests not just a writer who can seduce us through beautiful language and unfailing humor. We also encounter a writer who has the power to shock and frighten us, to astound and anger and unsettle us...In short, his is a voice for which one should feel not only affection but admiration." --Neil Gordon, New York Times Book ReviewSelection, Summer Reading, New York Times Book ReviewIn 1971, nineteen citizens of Excelsior in South Africa's white-ruled Free State were charged with breaking apartheid's Immorality Act, which forbade sex between blacks and whites. Taking this case as raw material for his alchemic imagination, Zakes Mda tells the story of one irrepressible fallen madonna, Niki, and her family, at the heart of the scandal....

Title : The Madonna of Excelsior
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780312423827
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Madonna of Excelsior Reviews

  • Paul Lothane
    2019-02-21 21:00

    Zakes Mda is probably the best novelist in Africa today, and certainly the most prolific. This is one of his most impressive works, taking a very close look at how what used to be illicit sex across the colourlines would impact on a particular community. There is a skillful constant introduction to chapters by reference to drawing. Nikky, Poppy and other characters are very well rounded and convincing. Theauthor is firmly objective in presenting the characters, white, black, or coloured. It is not only whites who discriminate, we see, as the coloured ones are not the darlings of many blacks too. A veryintelligent, powerful work.

  • Friederike Knabe
    2019-02-22 03:11

    Fiction does not always facilitate or augment the understanding of complex realities of time and place. Zakes Mda, however, has achieved this mixture admirably in this novel of his native South Africa. The political events of pre- and post-Apartheid periods take a central place in the story. Yet he manages to avoid being overly heavy on facts and details as he builds the narrative around the impact of one specific event and its aftermath on one small community, Excelsior. He captures the essence of life under Apartheid and the difficulties awaiting all when the regime ends. Old prejudices and tensions remain and the transition to the new SA adds new challenges and conflicts, including among the black political leadership.Mda uses the 1971 case of the Excelsior 19 as the focus of the first part of his account. A group of white men and black women were charged with violation of the Immorality Act that prohibits intimate relations across race lines. The primary character is Niki, one of the Excelsior 19 women, whose life story is a symbol for this time and place. As a naïve, pretty 18 year old, she attracts the attention of a white Afrikaner who assaults her and keeps pursuing her. Escape into marriage is some protection and also results in her confidence growing. Life is good with a husband and her son, Viliki. Never questioning her role as a servant and second class citizen, a humiliating incident with her white woman boss changes all that.Her rage leads her to take revenge. Realizing her power as a black beauty and the hold it has over white Afrikaners, she applies it deliberately. The mixed-race daughter Popi is evidence of the hushed-up relationship. Despite the indisputable evidence of children like Popi, the charges against the Excelsior 19 are withdrawn. Still, those implicated and their families have to somehow work out their lives and their various relationships: within families, among neighbours, between Afrikaners, English and Blacks and Coloured. Niki and her children also suffer the consequences. As the narrative of their lives continues, the focus shifts to Popi and her extraordinary beauty. Her features increasingly reveal her parentage to everybody in the community. In the new SA she can play an important role in the community despite the continuing suspicions against mixed race people, who are "not black enough".Mda does an excellent job of bringing diverse individuals to life. We see them from different angles, we empathize with them and comprehend them as part of a larger reality being is being played out. Nothing is black and white (excuse the pun!), nobody is all "good" or all "bad". Mda acknowledges that Afrikaners maintain their dreams of returning to power and depicts realistically the political conflicts within the black leadership. He introduces two kinds of observers to the novel: Father Claerhout, the Belgian priest-artist living in the region and a knowledgeable "we" narrator. The "trinity" (man, Father, painter), as the Father is referred to, is fascinated by black "madonnas" who sit for him in all their nude loveliness and grace. Niki becomes a preferred subject, mainly because of beautiful young Popi.The chapters open with the description of one of the trinity's paintings. They create an imaginary world with blue or purple madonnas in lush robes or naked, sitting in yellow corn fields, among surreal bright sunflowers or surrounded by pink and white star like blossoms. The child of the heavy-set full-breasted Madonna is of a lighter shade of brown and with delicate features. Sometimes other elements are added, creating portraits of life in the rural community. Semi-abstract and dreamlike, the paintings are reminiscent of van Gogh. They are always a lead in to the chapter and often the protagonists literally walk off the canvas. The transition between bold imagination and reality is fluid. We, the reader, follow with curiosity and emotion. To complement the trinity's visions, the "we" observer steps in to reflect on people and events. Assumed to be witnesses of Popi's generation, they follow her closely and comment in particular on the attention and mixed feelings she draws in the community. Sometimes critics, sometimes voyeurs, they establish the connections between the paintings and the reality of this microcosm that represents South Africa.Mda's novel is wide-ranging and multifaceted. While it moves fast through time and events, it allows pauses to ponder scenes and portraits of life and invites reflection of decisive historical events in modern South Africa. You will come away enriched and keen to read more by this remarkable autho

  • Zandile
    2019-03-03 20:04

    i enjoy reading the book by Mr Mda, lately i have become a fan of his work.The book is set in the apartheid era when blacks where not allowed to mingle with the white foks.reading the book i was able to identify few themes.Forgiveness, self-acceptance. forgiveness- would come in the form of Niki coming into terms with her past and the guilt she had when her daughter was batlling with acceptance. And self acceptance would be Popi, she had difficulty accepting who she was and the fact that she was different from the black girls in her community and she looked alot like the 'whites'. She was costantly teased about her hair and her appearence. this made her resent especially her hair because they were a constant remainder that she was different. As the novel was ending she was able to love,appreciate who she is. even her mother was able to observe this sudden change in her daughter:" I am so happy that atlast you are so free of shame about being coloured ..."(mda,2002:260). The acceptance that took place in Popi allowed Niki the mother to forgive and move on, she was no longer afraid for her daughter. Niki: " For along time, I felt guilty that i had failed you... that i had made you coloured!Every time they mocked and insulted you, it ate my heart and increased my guilt".The novel is for any one wanting to know how ordinary families like that of Pule and Cronje delt with issues that had risen becuase of they behaviour.

  • Sammy
    2019-02-19 18:52

    Most times, books talking about South Africa either show the wealthy, fancy, stuck-up white side of South Africa, or the stereotypical native, out in the grassland black native. But The Madonna of Excelsior shows both sides, the inbetween.It's no surprise the rich are white and the poor are black. But what about the ones they call "colored"? The ones who are both black and white? This book explores that.Zakes Mda is an amazingly detailed writer, his words helping the reader see everything he speaks of in perfect clarity. The only thing that bothered me about his writing, or at least this book, was the description of a painting at the beginning of each chapter. But that's solely a personal opinion, because while it sometimes helped push the story along, most of the time I felt it pulled me from it.At times I felt the story didn't really have a plot to it, it's more of a character driven book rather than plot driven, and even then the characters didn't do too much driving.Still there was something that kept me reading and enthralled. Maybe it was Mda's beautiful words or his attention to detail. It could have been his characters and their journey to better themselves and the world around them. But whatever it was, something grabbed at me and kept me reading.I warn you that this may be one of those cup of tea books: it's either your cup of tea or it isn't. Still give it a chance.

  • Dillon
    2019-03-14 23:46

    A truly artistic tale told during the end of Apartheid in South Africa. During a time when it was illegal for whites to have sex with blacks, one of the protagonists, Niki, is put on trial and spends time in prison for giving birth to a blue eyed daughter Popi. The story then follows Niki, her son Viliki and Popi through the end of apartheid and post apartheid worlds. All the while Popi tries to find her place in the world, never feeling totally black, and never white.Although the story is amazing, the beauty is in the way Mda tells the story. He brilliantly mends together descriptions of painting of the characters with stories of the characters lives, creating a vivid picture of the Rainbow Nation.

  • Yandisa
    2019-03-12 23:01

    The art descriptions in the beginning of each chapter were rather annoying and that is the only flaw. I enjoyed the pace of the story and the smooth transition from apartheid to post apartheid South Africa.

  • Nyakallo Lephoto
    2019-02-27 19:12

    The Madonna of Excelsior is a novel that highlights the plight that once engulfed the community of Mahlatswetswa in Excelsior, Free State, where several white men were accused of having coerced sexual relations with black women from which children were born.During apartheid, interracial sexual relations, consentual or not, were not only forbidden but illegal.Mda uses a story of Poppie, a child born of a white male farmer raping a female black employee, to relate how the township of Mahlatswetsa ended with children born of his violation of privileged whute men taking advantage of desperately poor and disempowered black women.

  • Alex Hoffman
    2019-03-02 22:09

    Really glad that this book was set for my English seminar. Mda writes beautifully and his imagery really sticks in your mind. He tells the story of the "scandal" of Excelsior in 1971 but threads this into a bigger picture of Apartheid and post-Apartheid South Africa. Mda confronts a lot of the hard truths about expedience, corruption and racism involved in the creation of the "new South Africa" and does this, for the most part, really well. However, I think that he does too much almost textbook style explaining and some of the things that characters say towards the end are way too blatant to be realistic. People don't say exactly what they think and they don't often think what an outsider, a voyeur, may want them to think. This sort of clean-cut dialogue detracted from an otherwise poetic and beautiful book.

  • Daniel
    2019-02-27 20:14

    Another great and educating read by Zakes Mda. This one takes us to Free State and to the privilege, discrimination, and struggles of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. The small town of Excelsior, set up by white farmers, has an amazing variety of characters along the political and racial spectrum - moderate white people, radical racists who take advantage of black women during the Age of Immorality, black resistance fighters, opportunists, corrupt officials and the average folk who just want to be left alone. Again Zakes Mda manages to portray a complex issue with a great number of facets over different generations without making the book a difficult read.

  • Thobile
    2019-02-18 23:59

    Lovely. i read this book twice and really enjoyed it. It is a colourful exploration of the exelsior scandal that took place in a small town is Azania during apartheid, when a group of white men (including the town dominee) were arrested along with 21 black women for contravening the immorality act. Under this law it was illegal for black and white people to have "relations".Of course the whole was grossly unfiar because the power relations in the town made it impossible for the black women to deny the advances of the white men, and then later to defend themselves in court.The evidence presented in court against the women was... their babies!If you havent yet - read this book.

  • Laurie
    2019-03-03 22:47

    Excellent book, based on an actual case in 70s South Africa, and describing paintings by an actual artist. It takes us up to post-apartheid times, when a woman who was imprisoned as a baby merely because she was half-white becomes part of the new inclusive government. It is a celebration of love, of motherhood (as the title suggests), art, literature, freedom and overthrowing racist governments. But the happy ending is nuanced: the government is not without corruption, and there is a lot of work to do. The book is at times painful because of the events it described, but it is always vivid and compelling.

  • Lark Benobi
    2019-03-05 00:59

    This was a bland book with cardboard characters that were moved around in obvious ways to stand for certain generalized experiences of South Africans living through the late apartheid era, and on into the post-apartheid era. The blend here between fact and fiction did not take off--the story makes weird and unnecessary changes from the facts of Excelsior, while the fiction feels like heavy dough that never rises. The book disappointed me especially because I really enjoyed Mda's Ways of Dying, which was in every way a surprising and marvelous first novel.

  • Julie
    2019-03-06 22:56

    I never fully finished this book, and while I enjoyed it, I have no desire to actually pick it up to finish it. Read it for my African Literature, and it was one of the ones I liked better in the class. I found myself skipping over the artistic scenes at the beginning of each chapter, which was probably an important part - but I found it rather boring. It was interesting learning about Niki's story, however I did not think it was representative of the other women who chose to break the immortality act - an important story that remains untold in this book. Somewhat starling rape/sex scenes.

  • Marisela
    2019-03-05 22:57

    I really loved this book. I read it for my book club at work and we've been reading books by South African authors lately. At the beginning of most of the chapters there are these descriptions of paintings (similar to the art on the book cover) and the language is so saturated, it's like the words are swollen, but not in a sexual way. Though sex is a main focus of the book since it's about Morality Act trials.This is definitely a good read.

  • Lora Stovall
    2019-03-01 00:15

    Inspired by an incident in South Africa in the days of apartheid, when there was a rash of mixed race children born to young black women. They were fathered by prominent men in the area, and the young women were prosecuted for bearing these children. Like they could have stood up to the men. It goes on through the changes during the years these children grow up. Mda has a unique writing style. It's not a straightforward story line, but very interesting to read.

  • Tessa
    2019-03-04 18:45

    A snapshot look into the immorality laws of South Africa and the impact for one woman and her child. As is often the case, I learned a lot from reading this book. But, I found the style to be more "distanced" in its telling. It left me feeling a bit flat. I wanted to see more deeply into the characters. But, it was still worth the read.

  • Jon
    2019-03-09 20:54

    This was just not my type of novel. From the artsy depiction of colors at the beginning of each chapter to the seemingly plot-less story, the book didn't have any redeemable value to me. I couldn't pull out one aspect from it that I can honestly say I enjoyed. However, the social commentary was spot on, and it's easy to see why the book would win South African literary awards.

  • Stephkay
    2019-03-02 20:10

    Overall I enjoyed the story, but I didn't understand or want to read the artistic blahblah at the beginning of each chapter. They must correspond symbolically with whatever happens in the chapter, right? I can't tell, because I couldn't finish those paragraphs without my mind wandering away. Rest of the story a pleasant read with tidbits on culture, history, and, of course, drama.

  • Maria
    2019-03-07 02:50

    Inspiring, thought provoking, and filled with forgiveness. Zakes Mda writes with such brilliance that the colours of the veld filled with cosmos are easily imagined. I loved the way each chapter starts with a flash of artistic colour, paint on canvas and disapates into the story each time. His characters are real and unbiased in their clarity. Highly recommended!

  • Miranda
    2019-02-22 02:02

    a view into old South Africa...the battle and shame of families with and girls who are "mulatto" children, born of the "farm boss" and the helper black woman. All happening in the era of apartheid! History, humanness, instinct, attraction.No one is spared in Mda's book: the Afrikaaner farmer, the simple black woman, the priest, the pretty and the ugly. A must READ for anyone...loved it!

  • Kate
    2019-02-26 20:08

    Life could be joyful and colorful as well as weird and cruel under apartheid. Sharp post-modern look at the old life and its collapse from the viewpoint of those who could present both perspectives because their survival depended on intimately knowing their oppressors. Wonderful character development, beautiful imagery.

  • Suanne Laqueur
    2019-03-11 02:10

    I've never read any books set in South Africa and I truly enjoyed this one. I loved how the opening of each chapter was a description of a painting, and then the painting dissolved into the storyline.

  • Geordie Armstrong
    2019-02-18 23:51

    This book took me a little while to get into, but I'm happy I stuck with it. It is an excellent story about family, an excellent insight into apartheid, and reconciliation. "From the sins of our mothers, all these things flow"

  • Alex
    2019-03-05 20:09

    I was suppose to read this for a class last year and never got around to it. I held onto it because it seemed interesting and finally got around to it. I enjoyed the book but the story wasn't too fascinating. It did lead me to read more about South Africa and its history so that's good.

  • Shannon Herbst
    2019-03-08 01:46

    An eye opening novel making one think about what really goes on behind closed doors. What is practiced and preached aren't always the same thing which is clearly depicted in this novel. Highly enjoyable.

  • Ammie
    2019-02-19 20:05

    Although eventually the story did manage to draw me in, I was definitely put off by the lengthy and only somewhat relevant-seeming descriptions of paintings in the first part of the book. Still good, but I liked "Ways of Dying" much better.

  • Cassandra
    2019-03-12 22:15

    A true story about how we set up boundaries in society between certain groups of people, usually around racial lines (this book takes place in South Africa during apartheid) and how utterly useless it is to divide humans. We all belong to each other.

  • Wayne Jordaan
    2019-02-27 23:59

    A seriously good read. I was a bit worried towards the end that the narrative might end in an unsatisfactory and cheesy improbability, but my fears were unfounded. I will eagerly grab the next Zakes Mda work that I can lay my hands and eyes upon.

  • Chris
    2019-02-22 21:03

    I wasn't huge on the art motif throughout the book, but otherwise it's absolutely fabulous. A must-read, esp. if you're interested in South Africa.

  • David Smith
    2019-02-22 03:01

    Still want to read more....and it's worth a visit to Excelsior: Free State at its best!