The Calling of Katie Makanya: A Memoir of South Africa / Edition 1

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Winner of the Johannesburg Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize for Nonfiction

Discover a people's enduring power through the inspiring life of a fascinating woman.

Critical acclaim for The Calling of Katie Makanya

"A very marvelous and precious document. . . . It is a magnificent story superbly told. The combination of Katie's extraordinary life and McCord's immense talent as a storyteller is overwhelming. I found it compulsive reading and deeply moving." —Athol Fugard.

"I fell in love with the Delaney sisters, enjoying both the book and the play. It is good to know their sister in Africa also has her say, that Katie's life, too, can be shared." —Nikki Giovanni.

"To know the story of Katie Makanya is to feel the pain and promise of life for blacks in South Africa for generations." —Detroit Free Press.

"Emotionally compelling, resonantly detailed, and of extraordinary cultural significance." —Kirkus Reviews.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This life story of a black South African woman who died in 1955 at age 83 recently won major prizes in South Africa. Indeed, for South African readers, Makanya's story restores dignity and identity to a generation-and gender-of South Africans often ignored by history; moreover, the tale is told loyally and lovingly by the daughter of the white doctor for whom Katie toiled diligently as an interpreter. However, American audiences undeterred by the book's style-which is full of novelistic dialogue-may find it interesting but less compelling, as the emphasis on narrative sacrifices some context. At 17, Katie went to England with a black choir for more than two years, and despite the racism she encountered, emerged strengthened after meeting a black West African woman who ridiculed a white minister's prejudiced explanation of racial difference. Back in South Africa, her story encompasses courtship, marriage, family life and a career as a translator between African languages (and traditions) and the English of white South Africa. Even before the racist laws were intensified under apartheid in 1948, Makanya and other Africans protested unjust laws such as the pass system and formed a women's group to organize the black community. Thus this unheralded woman brims with a sense of justice. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Born in the latter part of the 19th century, Makanya lived a remarkable life. In her mid-teens, she and her elder sister (destined to be the first South African black women to attain B.A.s) spent two years in England as part of a choir, performing before Queen Victoria. After returning to South Africa to marriage and motherhood, Makanya worked for a white missionary doctor in Durban for 40 years and organized emerging political organizations. Her story is ably written by McCord, who is the youngest daughter of the doctor Makanya worked beside for so long. The work results from tape recordings McCord made with Makanya in the mid-1950s shortly before her death. Highly recommended as a testament to one woman's character, intelligence, and faith.-Don R. Brusha, Sebring P.L., Fla.
Kirkus Reviews
A moving, beautifully told account of an ordinary, yet extraordinary, life in South Africa.

With a few notable exceptions, most South African memoirs of the 19th and early 20th centuries record the life and doings only of whites. This is why McCord's oral history of the life of Katie Makanya is so welcome and valuable. Winner of the Johannesburg Sunday Times/Alan Paton Prize for Non-Fiction, it is a sensitive and penetrating portrait of a culture, a time, and a place rarely seen from the inside. Makanya was well into her 80s when she insisted that McCord—the daughter of physician James McCord, for whom Makanya worked for 35 years as an interpreter and assistant in the province of Natal—tape and write up her recollections. Makanya was born in the early 1870s in the Cape Province. She did well in school and could speak any number of languages, but her real gift was her voice. When the choir she sang in won a local competition, a promoter sent the group on a tour of England. They traveled around the country to great acclaim, singing even to Queen Victoria. Makanya stood out clearly from the rest, and the prospect of a celebrated career in Europe was dangled before her. But after more than two years abroad, she wanted to return to her own people and find a husband and have children. And so she hid away the jewels she'd been given, concealed her education, put on the humble clothes and attitude that whites would expect of her, and became a servant. Eventually she met a Zulu man, Ndeya, and, overcoming parental resistance (her mother's people, the Fingoes, had been chased off their land by the Zulus), married him. The Boer War was brewing, so the newlyweds retreated to Ndeya's home in Natal, where Makanya was hired by the new doctor from America, Jack McCord, as his assistant. With few interruptions, they would work together until they both retired.

Makanya's story is emotionally compelling, resonantly detailed, and of extraordinary cultural significance.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471246916
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 2/23/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 9.21 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

MARGARET McCORD grew up in South Africa. KATIE MAKANYA asked her to record this true story.

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