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Top minds suggest good reads: from espionage to doomed love and race

What better way to spend your year-end holiday than absorbed in a good book or ten? Shutterstock

Top minds suggest good reads: from espionage to doomed love and race

Running a university doesn’t leave a lot of time for recreational reading. But with the academic year wrapping up across the continent, Africa’s vice-chancellors finally have the chance to read for pleasure. Natasha Joseph, education editor of The Conversation Africa, asked three vice chancellors what’s on their holiday reading lists.

Jonathan Jansen, University of the Free State

  1. Negroland (Margo Jefferson): I am fascinated by how middle-class black students negotiate their identities, politics and futures at the intersecting and entangled lives of poor black and middle-class white students in divided communities and countries. This also forms part of the research for my upcoming book – Race, Romance and Reprisal on university campuses.

  2. Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates): Something is happening in the land where my children were born. It intrigues and scares me at the same time. The book is about the lives and experiences of black men in particular in white America, what this means and how – or whether – it can be resolved. There are also many parallels to South Africa. In November 2015 Coates won the National Book Award for non-fiction in the US.

  3. National Liberation in Postcolonial Southern Africa (Christian Williams): This brilliant young anthropologist at the University of the Free State writes in a vivid, moving way about the South West Africa People’s Organisation’s exile camps. This brings what could have been a boring academic book to life for a much broader audience of readers.

  4. What If There Were No Whites In South Africa? (Ferial Haffejee): I am hoping this is a more insightful reflection than the typical anti-white, pseudo-leftist rant that should not be occupying bookshelves in South Africa or anywhere else for that matter.

Dennis Hardy, University of Seychelles

The prospect of time to read for pleasure is a highlight of the year. To make sure that I have a good stock of books in hand, for many months before the seasonal break I keep an eye on reviews and recommendations from family and friends.

  1. High on my list this year is a novel that my wife tells me is a “must read” – Jamrach’s Menagerie (Carol Birch). I live on an island, so the ocean setting – and the theme of human resilience pitted against the might of the sea – will have special meaning.

  2. Another book I missed first time round is In the Land of Oz (Howard Jacobson). A few years ago my wife and I travelled round much of Australia in a campervan and this will help me relive the experience of horizons that go on for ever and red sand getting into everything.

  3. Still in the Antipodes, I’ve also got a real door-stopper of a book, The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton). It won the Booker Prize in 2013 when it was published. People tell me it’s quite a long haul but worth the effort. Set in a gold mining community in New Zealand in the 19th century it is, by all accounts, finely researched and imaginative in scope.

  4. As an aficionado of espionage books, I’m intrigued by The Secret War (Max Hastings). It’s received excellent reviews and sees Hastings leading the reader through the shadowy world of plot and counter-plot. Sounds a bit like academia!

  5. Finally, there’s always the joker in the pack – a book received as a present that I would not otherwise have thought of. You take your chances, but it could be the best thing ever.

Wim de Villiers, Stellenbosch University

  1. Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink & Ingrid Jonker. Translated by Karin Schimke and Leon de Kock; edited by Francis Galloway. The doomed love story of these two Afrikaans poets and writers has fascinated many South Africans. I guess I am a romantic at heart and this is why I want to read the letters which have captured the imagination of academics and non-academics alike.

  2. The Fishermen (Chigozie Obioma). Being a South African, I am interested in literature from everywhere on our continent. Obioma’s book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and should be interesting. Nigeria has produced such great writers as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

  3. Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles (Bernard Cornwell). The Battle of Waterloo took place 200 years ago, yet the events that ended Napoleon’s military career remain intriguing. Cornwell’s account is bound to provide keen insights into this important moment in history.

  4. Die sneeuslaper (Marlene van Niekerk). This book, a collection of four stories, was published in 2010 but I have not read it yet. I am looking forward to this work by Van Niekerk, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2015 in recognition of her oeuvre, which includes the acclaimed Triomf and Agaat.

  5. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age (Manuel Castells). The protests on South African campuses in 2015 should be seen in broader context. This work by Castells, one of the most highly cited communication scholars in the world, provides useful background. He analyses the wave of social movements across the globe the past few years and looks at the role of information and communication technology advances in making it easier for people to organise themselves and press for change. It was published in 2012, but remains relevant.