Drawing on the true history of ‘Farini’s Friendly Zulus’, a group of men who were taken to Britain and then to America as performing curiosities, the novel opens in 1885 in wintry New York City.
The protagonist, Mpiyezintombi, simply called Em-Pee by the English-speakers, loses more than his name in this far-off foreign country; 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-mâché crown and fur cape. For EmPee, it is love at first sight, but the caged woman is not free to love anyone back: she is the property of Monsieur Duval, proprietor of Duval Ethnological Expositions.
And so begins one of Zakes Mda’s most striking stories, one that depicts terrible historical injustices and indignities, while at the same time celebrating the vigour and ingenuity of the creative spirit, and the transformative power of love.
In an already-great pantheon of Mda love stories and classic gems, this may be his most powerful work yet.
Zanemvula Kizito Gatyeni Mda, better known as Zakes Mda, is an award-winning South African playwright and novelist whose work is published throughout the world. He is also an accomplished artist, a musician, a film maker and a beekeeper. And as a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, he is an internationally acknowledged scholar.
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