‘A tour de force. Bold, raw and surprisingly elegant Gonzo style writing.’ This is how the judges for this year’s Sunday Times Fiction Prize described debut author Tshidiso Moletsane’s Junx. The book is published by Penguin Random House under the Umuzi Trailblazer imprint.
For Tshidiso (29), who was just about speechless when accepting his award, it came as a real surprise. ‘I didn’t have any real expectations for it. I believed the literary scene probably wouldn’t take too well to the content or the premise. The character is unlikable, there isn’t a lesson at the end, the language is coarse, the book is too short.’
He also says that the writing of Junx was part of satisfying a goal that was on his vision board for some years. ‘Once it got published, I thought, I did it! I did it! I’m done.’
‘We at Penguin Random House Local Fiction are doing a victory dance,’ says Catriona Ross, the book’s editor. ‘This is a story that captured our attention back in 2016, when Tshidiso first submitted a sample to us. He then lost all his notes in a hijacking, spent the next couple of years reconstructing the novel, and finally resubmitted it. When I read those first chapters I was sold: here was a unique voice, an unnamed, unbelievably cool narrator leading us through a wild night in Joburg with honesty, intelligence and humour. A Catcher in the Rye for this crazy country; a book with the potential to garner a cult following (see the Trevor Noah part!).
‘Junx captures the spirit and sass of South Africans as they pick their way through multiple challenges daily: corruption, poverty, mental health issues, dodgy parties. Tshidiso Moletsane is a unique local talent. We are so proud of him. Thank you, judges, for recognising the genius of his book.’
Telling the story of a guy who kicks off his day by sharing a joint with his imaginary friend Ari, Junx is a rollercoaster without a seatbelt. With Ari perched on his shoulder, both protecting and goading him, our man will end up joyriding to a brothel in a snatched tourist rental car, then trying to outrun the police while the tourists catch up. At some point, things are going to come to a head. Will they turn out okay? Ask Ari. Ari never lies.
Both in style and content, Junx meets the prize criteria, being ‘a novel of rare imagination and style, evocative, textured and a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction’.
Moletsane was up against worthy competitors, including Damon Galgut (The Promise, 2021 Booker Prize winner), Joanne Joseph (Children of Sugar Cane), Karen Jennings (An Island) and Thenjiwe Mswane (All Gomorrahs Are the Same).
The cover of Junx, designed by Fahiema Hallam, won the inaugural Good Book Cover Design Award for Fiction.
About Umuzi trailblazers
These short works of high-quality fiction break new ground in terms of content, style and/or form. Written by authors from South Africa, other African countries and the African diaspora, they tell stories that spark insight into what it means to live on this continent. To spot a Trailblazer, look for the Africa outline on the front cover. You’ll also notice a title number on the spine. Tshidiso Moletsane’s debut novel Junx has the distinction of being the very first Umuzi Trailblazer.
Tshidiso Moletsane submitted his draft manuscript to his publisher in 2016. At the time he had most of his notes to complete the book on his phone, but then he was hijacked and shot (don’t worry, he’s fine). His phone was in the car and he had to start over (he did). He lives in Gauteng, splitting his time between Soweto and Weltevreden Park.