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Ways of Dying: A Novel Paperback – August 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (August 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312420919
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312420918
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #611,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist and playwright Zakes Mda's Ways of Dying was a big hit in his native South Africa, where it was even adapted into a jazz opera. Toloki is a Professional Mourner, making a meager living by attending funerals in the violent city where he lives. In his ratty suit he adds "an aura of sorrow and dignity," often serving as peacemaker when fights break out. He encounters Noria, a childhood acquaintance whose son has just died, and the two renew their friendship, finding comfort in reminiscing over the harrowing events of their lives. There are shades of the absurd in Mda's darkly humorous descriptions of the crime, poverty, violence and ethnic unrest that plague the characters in this oddly affecting novel.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Writing from the heart of the new South Africa, Mda tells his country's stories through beautifully realized characters whose search for love and connection takes you up close to the black experience, past and present.Ways of Dying is set in the transitional years before the first democratic elections. Toloki has invented his job as professional mourner in a shantytown, and he finds plenty of work. The violence is horrific--by soldiers and police as well as migrant tribal groups and locals--but even after the worst massacre, where children are "necklaced" with burning tires, Toloki finds love, tenderness, and laughter with a woman from his childhood home and they build a shack together in the urban wasteland. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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There are various different characters in this novel, which make it as interesting.
Kinalma Bashman
After this, the story wrapped itself around me- as I was transported- Mda is a very poetic writer- and his pacing is perfect in this book.
royaltlioness
The second reading only confirmed why the first time I had read it stayed with me and haunted me for years.
Sam LaFoy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By John Anderson on March 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
WAYS OF DYING is one of the most fascinating novels that I have read in years. The book is set in South Africa during a period that seems to span the end of the apartheid regime and focuses exclusively on the lives (and deaths) of poor South African Blacks in rural villages and urban shanty towns near what I suspect is Durban. Fans of Marquez will feel very much at home here in a world of "magical realism", yet while Mda may have been influenced by novels like 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE he has a voice that is uniquely his own, and one that I sense is profoundly rooted in Africa. Mda's "hero" is a self-declared Professional Mourner, who ekes out an existence at the edge of society. Some aspects of his life are almost grotesque in form, and the deaths that surround him are often truly horrifying, yet somehow I found this a profoundly optimistic and human book. In spite of the worst that the world can throw at him the Professional Mourner is able to transcend mere existence & by the end I was shamelessly rooting for him. I should add that I used this book in a course on the Turn of the Century, and one of my toughest-case students, whom I had failed to excite with anything else, came into my office today saying "I just LOVE Mda" You will too,
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By artemis on January 13, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am an avid reader of African literature, both fiction and non-fiction (especially memoirs). I am always searching for contemporary non-white writers (the white writers are good, but it is not unreasonable to want other perspectives), so I was happy to learn about Zakes Mda from a recent New York Times book review column, and I ordered his two books immediately.
'Ways of Dying' is not about post-apartheid South Africa, though the blurb suggests that. I estimate it to be set in the late 1980s, shortly before the end of the old regime was drawing near.
It's a short book, but it's well written, and paints a vivid picture of life in South Africa. And yes, the 'black perspective' is different, and very interesting, and most welcome.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kinalma Bashman on August 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
Recently i had the pleasure of reading material from one of South Africa's most celebrated black authors, Zakes Mda. An Oxford University Press published book titled "Ways of Dying", this is a South African fiction selection. Being a fiction, it is wtitten in a very creative manner that i could hardly associate with any of the books i had read before.

This is a story of love written with expectation of one's imagination to take over. The wording, grouping, style and context of this book make it so. It is mainly based on two characters and the way they live their lives. Toloki is a man consumed with the profession of mourning the dead whilst his love Noria has lost immensely through life, still has the ability to show Toloki how to live.

There are various different characters in this novel, which make it as interesting. Even with their differences, they jell well together making the story line easily readable and understandably creative enough to follow. The vast lines go from Toloki who grew up as the ugliest boy in the village and people taking no note of him to the same character turning into a man who is widely respected for his chosen profession in the city outskirts where it was the only place he found recognition. In the village where he grew up Toloki had a friend who had the identity he wanted. Her name was Noria. Toloki hated and loved her with the same heart. Noria was everyone's favorite in the villafe; she had her mother's beauty and brought all the boys and towns' man attention and had the most amazing laugh that made all the village people happy whenever they heard it. When she was sad, everyone was too.

The writing style used in this book is that which is very easy to follow.
Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Beautifully written. Story recalls memories of South Africa. Even though the most terrible things happen throughout the book the author makes it's tone light and somewhat ironical.
The "theme" is death and ways that people die, thought the story is about two people from the same village, things that happened in their lives and how the meet again and go on from there.
The optimism of the main character is painful yet not unrealistic.
I enjoyed recognising the typical South Africna expressions and the atmospere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Chris Spencer on May 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
What a great, somewhat abstract, work of fiction. All that you need to know about the plot is that it follows a man that takes it upon himself to serve as a professional mourner. He cries at funerals for a living! Its a brilliant idea, as harrowing as it is hilarious. The cover explains the novel perfectly. Full of colorful personalities and satirical undertones. I loved it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Weber Baker on June 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
I loved this book; and I cannot tell why. For me it was one of those disturbing reads that I could not put down. The imagery is pointed; the themes uniquely universal. I say uniquely because this story grows out of its setting, but is imaginable in Durban, Gaza, Burma, or Sarajevo (of the last century).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By royaltlioness on October 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
I read this book many years ago. I think I just picked it up one day- cannot remember why- and it was surely a surprise. The opening page drew me in completely and immediately. After this, the story wrapped itself around me- as I was transported- Mda is a very poetic writer- and his pacing is perfect in this book. His characters are full and real- and human.

It is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming.

I also very much enjoyed the socio-cultural atmosphere Mda was able to evoke without being heavy handed. Moreover- I very much enjoyed that the city in which Toloki resides is not identified by name (fictional or otherwise) this had my extra senses on alert for more geographical information- and really involved me in the movement of the story.

The dignity and positivity that exists at all in this book seems to come natural for Mda despite situations- and the use of magical realism in this book was also subtle and perfectly attuned to the development of the plot and characters.

I later heard Mda Speak on two occasions- and wow. He is wittier and more intelligent than I even imagined.

Apparently this was his first novel- having grown accustomed to writing plays. Well done.

I was also impressed by the fact that Mda was able to evoke the feelings, auras, scents, and rythym of life in a SOuth Africa he had had to exile for a number of years.

I have read two other Mda Books- each one different- but with some similar Mda-isms. I enjoyed these as well- but this one is still my favorite so far.

It is interesting how this novel captures a slice of life in South Africa that spans two generations and sheds some light on a sort of cultural context that is enlightening.

I saw the 'Sequel' on a bookshelf and was somewhat disappointed to see it- but I bought it anyway because I actually really love the character and the way Mda Writes- I have not yet read it- just the back:-)
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