Emil Coetzee, a civil servant in his fifties, is washing blood off his hands when the ceasefire is announced. Like everyone else, he feels unmoored by the end of the conflict. War had given him his sense of purpose, his identity. But why has Emil's life turned out so different from his parents’, who spent cheery Friday evenings flapping and flailing the Charleston or dancing the foxtrot? What happened to the Emil who used to wade through the singing elephant grass of the savannah, losing himself in it?
Continuing the interconnected stories she began in her award-winning novel The Theory of Flight, Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu explores decades of history through the eyes of one man on his journey from boyhood to manhood, and the changes that befall him through love, loss, and war. With sympathy, complexity, and penetrating insight, The History of Man explores what makes a man, a father, and a nation.
"In her prize-winning debut novel The Theory of Flight, Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu surprised and delighted readers and critics with her ingenious excavation of the post-colonial moment in an unnamed Zimbabwe-esque Southern African country. In The History of Man, her second novel, she turns her attention back in time to the colonial era, in the same country. While quite different in tone, more linear and less obviously touched by folklore and magic, it shares its predecessor's intriguingly slippery relationship with history, and its author's skilful execution." — Sunday Times (South Africa)
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu’s The History of Man allows the reader to feel and sympathize with an unlikeable protagonist, which, in itself, is a feat in storytelling. The History of Man is not just a history of man but a history of a country and colonialism as told by an unapologetic and sensitive writer who loves the place they write about. —Zukiswa Wanner, author of London Cape Town Joburg
“Yes, Emil Coetzee is no Pontius Pilate; the handwashing ritual that begins this extraordinary novel has its prototype, not in the New Testament, but in Shakespeare’s bloody play, “Macbeth.” Coetzee, the novel’s protagonist, a product of settler subculture, a chartered company, takes it upon himself to provide the humiliated indigenous people of an unnamed African country with a History. Ironically, the veld with its singing elephant grass and its wide blue sky – Coetzee’s sanctuary – is where the real history of “Man” begins, where our first mother stood up and walked.
Siphiwe Ndlovu’s unique voice, unclassifiable, takes us to a time and space which is all time, all space; where we find ourselves, never bullied or cajoled, but caressed, beguiled – so subtle is her point of view – from laughing out loudly to breathing in quietly; from condemning settlers as perpetrators, to considering that they too, may be victims of history. For Emil Coetzee is no stereotype. His creator has a kind heart and she, indirectly, poses a solution to colonial and postcolonial conflict, slow-brewing, in the love of Coetzee’s life, the enigmatic Marion, the girl with a blue-and-white scarf.” —John Eppel
"The ego and paradox of the well-meaning colonizer, and the ways they naively deny the fallacies and violence of colonization, are at the heart of Ndlovu’s exuberant tale. In Emil Coetzee, Ndlovu paints a nuanced portrait of a man whose ambition and desires blind him to truths he refuses to reckon with. This sentient history is one a reader won’t soon forget." — Anjali Enjeti, author of The Parted Earth
"From the author of The Theory of Flight, this book is a remarkably insightful and sensitive ‘excursion into the interiority of the coloniser’ – at once a psychological exploration and a searing political examination, but at its core intensely human and filled with empathy and pathos." — Jet Club (South Africa)
"[A] superb piece of writing, and a troubling and thought-provoking book." — The Witness (South Africa)