The History of Man by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu


Jennifer de Klerk: What makes a man? In this perceptive, easy-flowing novel, Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu explores this topic with subtlety and charm in her own evocative way.

I found it impossible to put down.

We meet Emil Coetzee in a basement washing blood off his hands, an action he has done many times before. Why? His country, never named but echoing Rhodesia, is at war, a futile war that will resolve nothing.

Is it an Inevitable war according to the tides of history, aspiration, and colonialism? Perhaps, but all Emil wants is to end it.

What brought him from the joyous six-year-old who fell in love with the golden savannah, to the tired, disillusioned man with a perverted dream?

The author tells his story from before the beginning, from his grandparents, to his parents, to his schooling steeped in ideas of empire and adventure, to his friends, the women who shaped him and the son who never knew he loved him.

What does it mean to be a man, a man’s man, a gentleman, a man of history? The author writes with insight and compassion, creating not only Emil Coetzee, but the many characters who surround him, those who look forward, or back, or differently, who strive for new attitudes and desires.

This is the author’s second novel. The first, the magical The Theory of Flight, won the 2019 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. In The History of Man, she moves with assurance and a deceptively light touch through the illuminating and thought-provoking layers of her story. Her work is imbued with clarity, a masterly command of language and its own special flavour.

I await her next novel eagerly.

The History of Man
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu
Penguin/Random House
ISBN 978-1-4859-0421-2

Jennifer de Klerk is editor of