Books are the quietest and most constant of friends, they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”

– Charles William Elliot

Books, be it fiction or non-fiction, are passports to other amazing and exciting worlds. Judging by how well Afrikaans books are selling locally and how well translations of the works of several acclaimed Afrikaans authors are received internationally, it is clear that Afrikaans authors are on top of their game. They have proven they can tell their stories boldly.

They educate and inspire and make their readers laugh (and sometimes cry) while creating literature that compares well with international work. Authors like Eugene Marais, André P Brink, Breyten Breytenbach, Etienne van Heerden, Dalene Matthee, Marlene van Niekerk, Antjie Krog and countless others are both locally and internationally renowned for their huge contribution to literature.

Younger, newer voices have joined them since, like Jaco Jacobs, local author of more than 150 books for children and teenagers. His teenage novel, ‘n Goeie dag vir boomklim (which can be translated as ‘a nice day for climbing trees’) has recently been chosen by British children’s literature experts to be part of a British translation project.

Apart from crime writer Deon Meyer, arguably the most successful export “product” of Afrikaans fiction (his books have been translated into 27 other languages, including Russian and Mandarin) writers like Chanette Paul, Elsa Winckler and Irma Joubert managed to break into the very competitive overseas fiction market in the last year or two. When it comes to e-books, Afrikaans books are doing well, with authors like Deon Meyer, Nataniël and Irma Joubert publishing in Afrikaans on Amazon.

Jaco Jacobs, the writer of many children and teenage books.

Dalene Matthee signs a copy of her book, Fiela’s Child for the actress, Shaleen Surtie Richards, who starred in the movie and several stage productions of the book.

Gripping stories that close intercultural gaps

Afrikaans authors tell stories that grip people – regardless of their language, cultural background or value system. This is why so many books originally penned in Afrikaans are translated into English and many other international languages. Ask any reader: a good story knows no cultural boundaries and links people across the world to each other. Writers like André P Brink and Breyten Breytenbach have been doing exactly that for years – in fact, during the apartheid years, while their work was banned in South Africa because it was seen as too liberal, overseas audiences enjoyed and supported their writing.

More recently, the English translation of Elsabé Brits’ book on Emily Hobhouse (Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde Verraaier) did the opposite: it tells such a poignant story about Hobhouse that Britain, her country of birth, sat up and took notice of this remarkable woman who they shunned as a traitor for many years. The English translation of the book will be published in the UK in 2018 to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Creating motion from words…

While some books attracted the public eye thanks to their ‘politically incorrect’ content, others were identified as potential pieces for theatre and film. A famous example would be Fiela se Kind (Fiela’s Child) by Dalene Matthee. With a plot that grabbed everyone’s imagination, this book was soon translated into English as well. It proved so popular that a 1999 survey to determine the top 100 books undertaken among 350 libraries across the country, selected Fiela se Kind as Book of the Century!

Other mediums that Afrikaans books are published in

Many Afrikaans books have also been published in large print, Braille, audio-books and e-books, e.g.:

Braille books
Deon Meyer – 7 Dae: Bennie Griessel se week van hel
Marieta van der Vyver – Dis koue kos, skat
Irma Joubert – Verbode drif

Audio book versions
Deon Meyer – 13 Uur
Verna Vels – Die groot Liewe Heksie – storieboek
Eugene Marais – Die siel van die mier

Deon Meyer – Ikarus
Irma Joubert – Tussen stasies
Nataniël – 150 Stories

Meet Deon Meyer, the king of crime novels

Have you noticed that Deon Meyer’s name pops up everywhere in Afrikaans literature? That is because he is considered the master of Afrikaans crime fiction. This summary of his biography will explain why:

Deon Meyer was born in Paarl in 1958 and holds a Masters’ Degree in Creative Writing. After starting his career as a journalist, he moved on to the advertising industry as a copywriter and later brand strategist. His fiction career kicked off with a short story published by ‘Huisgenoot’ magazine. This was followed by more short stories and followed by his first novel published in 1994. Since then he published eleven novels and two collections of short stories. He also wrote several movie scripts.

His novels are published in more than forty countries. Dead Before Dying was turned into an international TV series called Cape Town. His latest novel, Koors, (translated into English as Fever) took the world by storm, as it is the first crime novel with an apocalyptical theme ever written in Afrikaans.
Some more facts about Meyer, who writes full time and lives in Stellenbosch:

  • Detective Benny Griessel, one of a few lead characters in his different novels, is arguably the best-known fictional cop in Afrikaans literature
  • His books are translated into 27 other languages like French, German, Russian and Mandarin
  • His work is published in various mediums: paper, Braille, audio and e-books
  • Most of his Afrikaans books have had 50 000 print runs in South Africa alone
  • He wrote numerous scripts for TV and film
  • He wrote the script for two popular TV series: Transito (original series) and Orion (based on his bestselling book)
  • Other film rights awarded: 13 Ure (Thirteen Hours), Proteus (Heart of the Hunter)
  • Received many awards in South Africa and Europe
  • He is passionate about South Africa, Mozart, cooking, photography, mountain biking and rugby – the Free State Cheetahs and the Springboks.

The Afrikaans treasure chest of books will continue to captivate both English and Afrikaans readers for many years to come.

Afrikaans book sales have doubled over the past ten years. Read more …

Click here to have a look at the list of the greatest Afrikaans books of the century.