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Kevin Bloom's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Kevin Bloom recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Kevin Bloom's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Notes from the Middle World

Praise for Breyten Breytenbach's Return to Paradise:

"This wonderful book . . . is written with a wild heart and an unrelenting eye, and is fueled by the sort of rage that produces great literature."—The Washington Post

What is the place of the artist and writer in a globalized world? In dialogue with the voices of the dead and the living—Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama— internationally distinguished South African artist, activist, and writer Breyten Breytenbach's new collection of essays traces the collisions between utopia...
Recommended by Kevin Bloom, and 1 others.

Kevin BloomI had a profound problem with this book, which I will come to in a moment. Breyten Breytenback is another one of our most esteemed Afrikaans poets. His most celebrated work of English prose is The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, which was a memoir about his seven years in prison. (Source)

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Ever since Nelson Mandela dramatically walked out of prison in 1990 after twenty-seven years behind bars, South Africa has been undergoing a radical transformation. In one of the most miraculous events of the century, the oppressive system of apartheid was dismantled. Repressive laws mandating separation of the races were thrown out. The country, which had been carved into a crazy quilt that reserved the most prosperous areas for whites and the most desolate and backward for blacks, was reunited. The dreaded and dangerous security force, which for years had systematically tortured, spied... more
Recommended by Kevin Bloom, and 1 others.

Kevin BloomThis is an astounding work of nonfiction. Antjie is one of South Africa’s most important Afrikaans poets. This was her first full book-length work of English prose. She worked as a journalist for the South African Broadcasting Corporation at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and she went around the country listening to testimony of victims of apartheid and families of people who had been... (Source)

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After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated smallholding.

For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become...
Recommended by Kevin Bloom, Justin Cartwright, and 2 others.

Kevin BloomThis book was written in the late 90s and although it is very difficult – especially with writers like J M Coetzee – to link the work to the man, my personal reading of the book is that it is a work of profound disappointment and sadness. It is all about a fifty-something professor, David Lurie, who teaches at a Cape Town university. He has an affair with a young student – Melanie. He gets hauled... (Source)

Justin CartwrightThe book is a sort of farewell note to South Africa – a Goodbye, I’m off. (Source)

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“Surely one of the most ingenious love letters—full of violence, fear, humour, and cunning—ever addressed to a city.” —Geoff Dyer

In the wake of apartheid, Johannesburg has changed - still divided, but now as much by poverty and violence as by race. Through precisely crafted snapshots, Ivan Vladislavic observes the unpredictable, day-to-day transformation of his embattled city: the homeless people using manholes as cupboards;a public statue slowly cannibalized for scrap. Most poignantly he charts the small, devastating changes along the post-apartheid streets: walls grow...

Recommended by Imraan Coovadia, Kevin Bloom, and 2 others.

Imraan CoovadiaAnother unpronounceable name. His dad may have been from Croatia or something. It’s always suspicious when people immigrate to South Africa. But Ivan is the most interesting writer on modern urban South Africa. Portrait with Keys is a fictionalised set of little stories. I thought it was a memoir at first but in the book he has conversations with a nonexistent brother. So I decided to classify it... (Source)

Kevin BloomI think that Ivan Vladislavic is probably our most unheralded writer. It is my personal belief that since J M Coetzee left for Australia, Ivan is the best craftsman living and working in South Africa today. He is an astoundingly accomplished master of the English sentence. This book is his first work of nonfiction. (Source)

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A classic of literary nonfiction, My Traitor's Heart has been acclaimed as a masterpiece by readers around the world. Rian Malan is an Afrikaner, scion of a centuries-old clan and relative of the architect of apartheid, who fled South Africa after coming face-to-face with the atrocities and terrors of an undeclared civil war between the races. This book is the searing account of his return after eight years of uneasy exile. Armed with new insight and clarity, Malan explores apartheid's legacy of hatred and suffering, bearing witness to the extensive physical and emotional damage it has caused... more

Philip GourevitchIt goes deep, deep, deep into individual lives, which I increasingly have come to believe is the only way that we can understand these large, political shapes, particularly in stories that are foreign to us. (Source)

Murtaza Mohammad HussainThis is an amazing book I’d never heard of. I feel it should be read by all Americans but even more so people from countries like Israel that are governed according to a system of racial caste (Source)

Kevin BloomRian was commissioned by Random House to go and write the story of the history of his clan, but he realised 100 pages in that the story was actually a memoir and it was about his struggle. (Source)

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