The Lost Language of the Soul, a new novel from Mandla Langa

As one of South Africa's most highly regarded literary authors - in the same category as Zakes Mda or Njabulo Ndebele or Sindiwe Magona - Mandla Langa needs very little introduction. His two previous novels, The Texture of Shadows, and Lost Colours of the Chameleon, are both bestsellers, and this new novel displays his trademark lyricism and powerful storytelling that engages the reader from the very first page.

The Lost Language of the Soul is the story of the coming of age of Joseph Mabaso, who is a mere 14 and 15 years old in the course of the novel.

‘If I disappeared, I’d expect my children to search for me high and low. A mother disappearing goes against the laws of nature. Fathers disappear all the time; it’s their speciality.’

Joseph Mabaso is used to his father Sobhuza’s long absences from the family home in Lusaka. Sobhuza is a freedom fighter and doing important work, and Joseph has learned not to ask questions. But when Chanda, his mother, disappears without a trace, leaving him and his siblings alone, Joseph knows that something is terribly wrong.

And so begins a journey, physically arduous and dangerous and emotionally fraught, that no 14-year-old boy should have to undertake alone. Following the most tenuous of threads, Joseph finds some unlikely guides along the way: courageous Leila and her horses; Sis Violet and the guerrilla unit she commands; Mr Chikwedere, stonecutter and illicit trader; Madala at the Lesedi Repatriation Camp, who helps him find his voice; and Aunt Susie Juma, unofficial Zambian ambassador in Yeoville, Johannesburg, whose detective skills are legendary.

As Joseph navigates unfamiliar and often hostile territory in his search for his parents, he is on a parallel journey of discovery – one of identity and belonging – as he attempts to find a safe house that is truly safe, a language that understands all languages, and a place in his soul that feels like home.

Mandla Langa was born in Durban, grew up in KwaMashu, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1980 he won the Drum story contest for ‘The Dead Men Who Lost Their Bones’ and in 1991 he was awarded the Arts Council of Great Britain Bursary for creative writing, the first for a South African. Langa’s published works include Tenderness of Blood (1987), A Rainbow on a Paper Sky (1989), The Naked Song and Other Stories (1997), The Memory of Stones (2000), the award-winning The Lost Colours of the Chameleon (2008) and the bestselling The Texture of Shadows (2014).


‘A tremendous achievement. With insight and literary flair Langa forges a vision of the humane out of the violence, bloodshed and treachery of South Africa’s transition to democracy. This beautifully nuanced account of the liberation struggle is a must-read.’ – ZOË WICOMB