South Africa – A C Jordan, The Wrath of the Ancestors

By Jordan Stier

What was the last book you read? If you are an English-speaker, the chances are that the author was either British or American. So, to celebrate World Book Day (23 April), I am starting a series of book reviews celebrating authors from countries around the world.There is so much literature in other countries that has yet to be explored. Some of the books will be originally written in English, some will be translated works, and all will be written by incredible and under appreciated authors. And where better to start than in my home, South Africa?

 

Originally titled in isiXhosa, Ingqumbo Yeminyanya,  A C Jordan’s tale is regarded by many as the first real isiXhosa novel. The grandiose style, the hearty  characters and the central conflict that is still core to a huge majority of black South Africans, fifty years after he wrote it, makes this book an excellent read.

The first thing that strikes in both the English and the isiXhosa narratives is the incredibly epic nature of the telling, reminiscent of grand epics  of thrones and treachery throughout time, from Othello, to The Hobbit and even George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The parallels with these epics  of fantasy don’t end there – the story is entrenched in  incredibly magical realism that leads characters to suicide and readers to chills and goose pimples.

A wide variety of staunchly stirred characters fill the pages. Dingindawo has the fruitless deviousness of a failed Iago. Ngxabane cares for his people like a powerless Gandalf. Mphuthumi is the supportive friend of the overpowered figure of power in ways that even Samwell Tarly cannot be.

However, in all their noblest of motivations, the characters of the novel are unified in being plagued by an incredible powerlessness in their colonial contexts, which  deeply disrupts the fate of a whole kingdom, a whole people, and a tragically conflicted king.

The clash of traditional beliefs and modern ideas that leads to civil war within the Mpondomise people amplifies the conflict of Africa and the West at the heart of millions of Africans today, most of whom are struggling with identity crises that have seen uproars over simple statues.

The novel acutely, poignantly, and very relevantly depicts the conflict of the individual that has led to Rhodes University students feeling unrepresented in their home today. There has never been a more relevant time for this novel to be read on my campus, and there will never be an irrelevant time for it to be read around the world.

The Wrath of the Ancestors  is an incredible chronicle of inner struggle, an astute analysis of cultural dislocation, and a fantastic yet unheard epic  tale. Give it a read.

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