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A History of Disappearance

by Sarah Lubala


Sarah Lubala’s A History of Disappearance made:
* Brittle Paper’s “Notable African Books of 2022”
* African Arguments’ “The Best African Books of 2022”
* The Africa Reports’ “15 Must-read Books This Summer”
* Open Country Mag‘s “The 60 Notable Books of 2022”


Sarah Lubala’s debut collection of poetry, A History of Disappearance, centres on the experiences of those living on the margins, particularly girls and women. The opening poem, “6 Errant Thoughts on Being a Refugee,” for which Lubala was shortlisted for the prestigious Gerald Kraak Award, sets the tone for this important collection. The 56 poems span themes such as forced migration, gender-violence, xenophobia, race, mental illness, love, and belonging. The notion of disappearance runs like a thread through each of them, not only as an event, but, as Lubala describes it in an interview with OkayAfrica, also “as a structure of experience.” Lubala writes in taut, bare sentences, potent in their lyrical beauty. Every word is exact and necessary, none are superfluous. Many of her poems read like prayers, and indeed this is a word that returns again and again in the collection. In spite of the adversity her speakers face, they refuse to remain silent. Each of their voices shines through the language, loud with resistance. Her poems navigate the pain of displacement, loss, absence, and grief with empathy and care. Lublala has said of her work that she hopes to expand the “moral imagination” of her readers. She achieves just this, confronting the reader with the human face, obliging us to look and imagine beyond the margins of our own experience.
(Description courtesy of Kharys Ateh Laue)


Sarah Lubala is a Congolese-born poet. Her family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo two decades ago admidst political unrest as militant factions tried to overthrow the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Her family relocated first to Cape Town, South Africa, then Abidjan – the capital of the Ivory Coast – before returning to South Africa and settling in Johannesburg. She has since spent her life in various parts of Africa, Asia and Europe and believes herself to be from here, there, everywhere and nowhere. She currently lives in Johannesburg with her husband and cat. Sarah has been twice shortlisted for the Gerald Kraak Award, and once for The Brittle Paper Poetry Award as well as longlisted for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award. She is also the winner of the Castello Di Duino XIV prize.


“These poems are not about resolution, but about making a path through spaces of mourning. It is a collection to travel with, a soundtrack to the loop of losing and finding oneself.”
– Shari Daya

It is a lyrical, painfully beautiful debut for Sarah […]”
– Alesia Alexander

“What more would you want from a collection? It shines in its mystery; and it haunts your thoughts.”
– Kris Van der Bijl

Her poetry collection weaves together different forms of disappearances. ‘Death, abandonment, displacement, disavowal, much of these histories are marked by disappearances of all kinds,’ she tells OkayAfrica. ‘I wanted to write about disappearance as a structure of experience, and not only as an event.’”
– Adhiambo E Magak, (Interview)

“Lubala capitalizes on powerful imagery to communicate in an emotive voice. The tone is meditative, the mood somber. At times, she deliberately bends the rules of grammar and syntax to challenge dominant narratives that invisibilize “others”.
Wesley Macheso 

ISBN 9781990922602
Pages 58
Dimensions 210 x 148mm
Published 2022
Publisher Botsotso Publishing , South Africa
Format Paperback

(SA) Order Direct: botsotso@artslink.co.za

(International): African Books Collective: A History of Disappearance