I love non-fiction and probably read three for every book of fiction that I read. But fiction can explain the subtleties of real life in ways that non-fiction can’t touch. I recently discovered the mystery writing of Malla Nunn, a writer and film-maker born in Swaziland (southern Africa) who lives in Australia. Her books take place in South Africa during the early 50′s just as the most oppressive apartheid laws were being implemented in that country. These laws, the racism, and the political power struggle between (Dutch) Afrikaners and Brits are all described in lush detail creating a nuanced snapshot of daily life in South Africa at that time. Her stories are disturbing and engaging, revolving around the black, colored and white cultures that were forced to co-exist and interact, but never mix, under apartheid rule.
These books are about murder, politics, corruption, racism, friendship, morality, hypocrisy and survival. English Detective Emmanuel Cooper is a complex character with family secrets and personal problems to hide. His friendship with Zulu Constable Samuel Shabalala is inspired – and illegal under apartheid law. Their shared love for indigenious culture combined with their humanity make them worthy allies as they fight the repressive system from within. Cooper reminds me of Michael Dibdin’s character Aurelio Zen, who also fights against a corrupt system, is manipulated by his bosses, but wins in the end because of his high integrity and pursuit of the truth at all costs.
My only problem with these books is that she can’t write faster. I am already eagerly awaiting the next one!