5 books set in Cape Town


A novel by a Nobel laureate, a thriller, a haunting debut novel, a historical novel and a collection of poetry: check our selection of books set in Mother City.


books set in Cape TownThis blog brought to you 5 books set in Joburg a while ago, tipping the scales considerably in favour of business hub of the country. Now it is time – long overdue, some would say – to pay respects to the city many consider as the most beautiful in South Africa (if not the world).


So, without further ado, here are 5 novels worthy of your attention that are set against the unsurpassable backdrop of Table Mountain:


Disgrace (1999) by South African Nobel-winning author J.M. Coetzee is set in post-apartheid South Africa, in Cape Town and in Eastern Cape. It covers a variety of themes: the transition in the post apartheid South Africa, violence towards women, personal shame, animal rights, and romantic poetry and its symbolism. A 2008 film adaptation of Disgrace stars John Malkovich.


Mixed Blood (2009) by Roger Smith has been described as cinematic Cape Town thriller. It is about a corrupt policeman, a member of a street gang, an American ex-marine – and three million dollars he stole (albeit reluctantly) from a bank in USA. As one reviewer put it, the novel is also “a bleak, but magnificent portrait of a still-divided city”, Cape Town.


The Smell of Apples (1993) is a debut novel by Mark Behr. It tells the story of South Africa in the 1970s, with its social turmoil and racial oppression seen through the eyes of an 11 years old Afrikaner boy Marnus Erasmus.


Philida (2012) by André Brink is a novel set in 19th century Cape Town about the slave Philida, mother of four children fathered by the son of her master and her determination to survive and be free. Told in a bland of first person and third person narrative, this historical novel is based on actual events of Andre Brink’s distant relative.


The Other City: Selected Poems 1977-1999 (2000) by Stephen Watson. Reviewers have called Watson “a lyrical chronicler of the Cape’s natural beauty”. However, Watson does not shy from portraying the city in dark colours too. J.M. Coetzee said that the author of The Other City is “a better poet than (…) the squalid yet beautiful Cape Town can ever deserve”.


Here is an excerpt from the poem Coda:


This city on its peninsula, between a mountain and the sea,
that in the decay of its greying wind, monotonies of rain,
that under its provincial skies, in the solitude of its lives,
its great dualities, divided peoples, darkening the future,
gave you early on, over and over, a fair idea of hell.


Cape Town