Book Review: The Sculptors of Mapungubwe by Zakes Mda

Zakes Mda is a name many readers from all walks of life are familiar with and his novel The Sculptors of Mapungubwe is an ideal read for all those who are interested in of Southern African history. Packed with adventure, love, envy and art, this work of literary fiction will have you tirelessly turning from page to page way past your bedtime.

Originally published in 2013, the book is based on the pioneer kingdom of Mapungubwe revolving around the sons of the royal sculptor. Chata and Rendani were involved in sibling rivalry that not only deepened but got more hostile with age. Not only did they fall for the same woman, but each had a different calling that saw life lead them in different but intertwined directions that would eventually see them face off. Chata learned the secrets of arts and crafts while Rendani was called by nature to master forms of animals. The two gifts and visions collide in a dramatic climax.

The author beautifully articulates a time in history that embraces a natural way in which Africans lived. One where our people thrived socially, spiritually and economically in a well structured and organized society.

The novel — in its inviting nature — keeps one turning the page and feasting off words written in simple and comprehensible language. Mda’s ability to paint intricate pictures with simple words is stuff of wonder.

What stood out for me was the time period in which it was written exposing a different narrative about Africa from what we had been told in history class, thus making it hard for me to critique any aspect of it as it goes against the grain of retelling African history.

The Sculptors of Mapungubwe is a must read for people interested in factual African history told in an African fictional story; I highly recommend it for anyone who thinks the history of South Africa started in 1652, I also highly recommend it to anyone that knows our history did not begin in slavery and colonialisation but may be curious on the nitty gritty of life before Dromedaris docked in our shores.

On a scale of one to ten, I give it a well deserved eight.

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