"This transcendent and powerful testament to the indomitable human spirit is not to be missed." — Publishers Weekly, starred review
As Imogen Zula Nyoni, aka Genie, lies in a coma at Mater Dei Hospital after having suffered through a long illness, her family and friends struggle to come to terms with her impending death. This is the story of Genie, who has gifts that transcend time and space. It is also the story of her forebears - Baines Tikiti, who, because of his wanderlust, changed his name and ended up walking into the Indian Ocean; his son, Livingstone Stanley Tikiti, who, during the war, took as his nom de guerre Golide Gumede and who became obsessed with flight; and Golide's wife, Elizabeth Nyoni, a country-and-western singer self-styled after Dolly Parton, blonde wig and all. With the lightest of touches, and with an overlay of magical-realist beauty, this novel sketches, through the lives of a few families and the fate of a single patch of ground, decades of national history (a country in Southern Africa that is never named) - from colonial occupation through the freedom struggle, to the devastation wrought by the sojas, the HIV virus, and The Man Himself. At turns mysterious and magical, but always honest, The Theory of Flight explores the many ways we lose those we love before they die.
"A triumphant story told in a magical way." — LitNet (South Africa)
Winner of the 2019 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize
“This is not a tale about morality or the vagaries of war, although these are real issues in the novel. It is, rather, a clever reimagination of childhood, family, community and power in a postcolonial Africa, with a generous dose of magic. Genie is a charming character, and witnessing her coming of age is an intimate experience. The theory of flight comprises a complex plot, and there are plenty of personalities who are not easily forgotten. Ndlovu manages to keep the reader reined in throughout this rolling tale, taking on heavy issues such as war, patriarchy, corruption and disease without weighing the spirit down. A triumphant story told in a magical way.” Karabo Kgoleng, Litnet
“This is an extraordinary novel, painted in luminous gold, silver and blue with the finest of brushes. A mystery shrouds Genie’s life and death which is revealed slowly and deftly with the author’s characteristic delicacy of touch and fine taste in metaphor. A rare achievement, exquisite in its language and insight. I am enriched.” Jennifer de Klerk, Artlink
“The Theory of Flight may be Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu’s first novel, but it’s written with the kind of excellence and detail one would expect of an author with decades of experience. Enchanting…you feel as if you’re part of the very fabric this interconnected story is woven on. The book is a delightful, heartrending, thrilling and heartbreaking read that will leave the reader sad that they couldn’t be a part of Genie’s short yet impactful life.” – Pam Magwaza, Drum Magazine
“Ndlovu is a gifted storyteller, skillfully interweaving the real and the magical, beauty and devastation, historical and personal perspectives, simplicity and complexity. She has a vivid imagination and the tale shimmers with magic…A marvelous and unusual flight of fancy. When Genie dies, and flies away on huge silver wings, she will take a little piece of your heart with her.” Kate Sidley, Sunday Times
“[Ndlovu has a] glorious gift of storytelling.” Diane de Beer, Business Day.
"When we want to base our shared reality with each other on facts, we also must allow, acknowledge, and cherish the existence of magic. The Theory of Flight is full of magic, a magic willing to be observed by eyes that can see the beauty in knowledge, facts and far beyond. "— Full Stop Magazine
"Ndlovu’s deeply moving and complex novel is astonishing for the amount of hope it evokes despite the darkness that’s so pervasive in Genie’s world, where she creates her own reality in order survive. This transcendent and powerful testament to the indomitable human spirit is not to be missed." — Publishers Weekly, starred review
"With the lightest of touches, a cast of unforgettable characters, and moments of surreal beauty, The Theory of Flight sketches decades of history in this unnamed Southern African nation. It does not dwell on what has been lost in its war, but on the daily triumphs of its people, the necessity of art, and the power of its visionaries to take flight." — Tropics Magazine
"There is an ethereal enchantment that the prose brings to the tumultuous history of this unnamed country." — The Millions
The Theory of Flight is a beautifully told narrative, memorable and innovative, and a skillfully structured novel. [...] The fact that this is a work of nearly ten years in the making manifests in its maturity of vision and execution, despite this being Ndlovu's first novel" — LItnet
- Barry Ronge Fiction Prize