Book Review: Zakes Mda’s The Madonna of Excelsior

The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda is a work of fiction published in 1971 and is about the happenings in the township of Mahlatswetsa, Excelsior, where 19 citizens where charged in 1971 for violating the Immorality Act by engaging in interracial sex.

In this book we come across a girl named Popi whose mother, Niki, fell prey to a white man because of her poverty and eventually fell pregnant. When she gave birth to a “white baby” Niki and a few other black women who suffered the same fate as her are arrested together with five other men. The case comes to nothing, but the families live in shame and the “fatherless” children in self-hate.

This book is written in extremely inaccessible language, the author blabbers in some points and unnecessarily drags the story by referring to paintings which quite frankly have nothing to do with the storyline.

I quite enjoyed the historical lessons and how the immorality of the Immorality Act was given a face by the author. Even though I had heard of the case before, it no longer was about the number of black women who were raped by white women but these individuals had names and families with stories and circumstances that dictated their actions.

The only negative I could speak of is the use of big words and how the author added unrelated content that dragged the story for longer than it really should have.

I’d recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction, and any other person that wants access to a personal tragedy of the application of the Immorality Act.

Out of ten, I rate The Madonna of Excelsior an eight, taking away the two points solely because of just hard it is to get through the writing.

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