Mda’s novel a tragic story

Zakes Mda’s new novel is based on historical fact
Zakes Mda’s new novel is based on historical fact

Prolific Eastern Cape-based author Zakes Mda is working on a new novel, due to be published early next year.

The work of historical fiction, titled The Zulus of New York, will draw on the true history of Farini’s Friendly Zulus, a group of men who were taken to Britain and then America as performing curiosities in the late 1800s.

The main character, Mpiyezintombi, simply called Em-Pee by the English-speakers, loses more than his name in this far-off foreign country.

In fact, he is seen as little more than a freak-show act, though he is not kept in a cage like the beautiful Dinka princess, with her gold-painted papier-mache crown and fur cape.

Mpiyezintombi falls in love with the caged woman, but finds she is not free to love him back as she is considered the “property” of Monsieur Duval.

The Zulus of New York is set to be one of Mda’s most striking stories, one depicting terrible historical injustices and indignities, while at the same time celebrating the transformative power of love.

“A new novel by Mda is always a glorious event,” Penguin Random House publisher of local fiction Fourie Botha says.

Isobel Dixon, of the Blake Friedman Literary, TV and film agency – who although based in England has family links to Graaff-Reinet – brokered the Mda publishing deal with Umuzi for Penguin Random House.

A recipient of the Order of Ikhamanga, Mda was born in the Eastern Cape in 1948 and has had his work translated into 20 languages, with the most famous of his novels perhaps Ways of Dying and The Heart of Redness. His creative work includes paintings as well as theatre and film productions.

Although he now lives in Athens, Ohio, in the US, he returns home to the Eastern Cape from time to time.