The subject as writer: Substituting discourse and story in Jonny Steinberg's a Man of Good Hope

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Writers of South African narrative non-fiction often write texts about subject matter far removed from their personal or professional experiences, yet these texts are nevertheless seen as useful or otherwise valuable. How do these writers make such depictions seem authoritative to their readers, especially those readers who may have doubts about writers’ abilities to bridge epistemological or experiential gaps? The issue of narrative reliability is not sufficiently studied as it applies to narrative non-fiction in South Africa, and this article seeks to explore the theoretical basis of narrative reliability – especially with regard to the operations of ‘story’ and ‘discourse’ as these terms are defined by the structural narratologist Seymour Chatman – and how it can be seen to operate in narrative non-fiction. This article uses Jonny Steinberg’s 2014 text A Man of Good Hope as an archetype of a narrative strategy that uses the ‘discourse’ of its human subject’s personal narrative as the ‘story’ of its own narrative. This gambit of narrativity shows how, even in spaces of epistemological and experiential disjuncture, writers of narrative non-fiction texts may create narratives that readers may find authoritative, and thus useful in explicating complicated social phenomena in South Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1023-1038
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number6
Early online date28 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • Jonny Steinberg
  • South Africa
  • Journalism
  • Migration
  • Narrative non-fiction
  • Narrative reliability
  • Narrative theory
  • Story and discourse


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