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‘I’m over it: African Immigrant Literature’ – Siyanda Mohutsiwa explains why

 

Perhaps I had begun to truly believe that the importance of African literature was to connect us ordinary Africans to each other’s lives.

Open CityWe Need New NamesAmericanahThe Granta Book of the African Short StoryWater

 
Siyanda Mohutsiwa, a young writer from Botswana who is rumoured to be working on a book, has written a thought-provoking and somewhat controversial article for Okay Africa in which she categorically states:

“I’m done with African Immigrant Literature.”

Mohutsiwa, who was recently longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize and won second place in the 2015 Bessie Head Short Story Awards, makes a call for African stories set on the African continent.

Read the article, and let us know what you think in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter:

I’m over it: Immigrant Literature

I don’t know when it happened. It might have been somewhere in the middle of Teju Cole’s Open City, as I followed his protagonist around the streets of New York. Or maybe it was at the end of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, when I boarded the flight to America with its precocious star. Or perhaps it was a few weeks after finishing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and I had finally begun to forget the stress carried by illegal African immigrants in Europe.

Whichever way it happened, it happened. And I found myself flinging my copy of The Granta Book of the African Story across the room, vowing to never read a piece of African Fiction again, or at least its “Afropolitan” variety.

Let me explain.

Mohutsiwa recently presented an inspiring TEDxTalk in Amsterdam entitled “Is Africa’s Future Online?”. She ends the talk on a powerful note:

I realised that, even though sometimes it’s very difficult to believe in Africa, Africa has no problem believing in me.

Is Africa’s future online? Yes. We are Africa’s future, and yes, we are online.

Watch the TEDxTalk, then read an article about her experience at the event:

YouTube Preview Image

My TEDx speech was about hope. I didn’t mean it to be. The organizers certainly didn’t mean it to be. They’d invited me to give a speech about a hashtag (#ifafricawasabar) and possibly add a bit of color to a line-up of otherwise European intellectuals.

After my speech, I went backstage and something truly moving happened. I was met by every African person who had attended the TEDx conference that day. They hugged me tightly and told me how proud of me they were. And then one of them, a middle-aged man who I would later find out was once a refugee from Congo, told me that my speech had melted his heart and in-so-doing had lifted the anger and disbelief he had nursed about leaders like Kabila and Mobutu his whole life.

 

Related stories:

 

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Don’t miss the Cape Town launch of Stations by Nick Mulgrew, with Masande Ntshanga

Invite to the launch of Stations by Nick Mulgrew

 
StationsDavid Philip Publishers invites you to join them for the Cape Town launch of Stations, the debut collection of short stories by Nick Mulgrew.

In Stations, Mulgrew tells 14 subtly interlinked tales set along the Southern African coastline from Cape Town to Mozambique, in which relationships, dreams and even narrators die; where fields catch fire, towers implode, and the shadows of the past grow long. But even from the most uneasy corners – tourist traps, colonial purgatories and libraries for the blind – these stories offer small mercies: glimpses of faith, beauty and the possibility of salvation, no matter how slight.

Told with a magpie’s eye for the vivid in the ordinary, and the surreal in the everyday, Stations presents a fresh, compelling and essential new voice. Masande Ntshanga will be chatting to Mulgrew on Thursday, 3 March at The Book Lounge to find out more about the book.

Mulgrew launched the myth of this is that we’re all in this together , his debut collection of poetry, at the end of last year and co-edited the new Short Story Day Africa anthology, Water: New Short Fiction from Africa, with Karina M Szczurek. Ntshanga is the author of The Reactive, one of the biggest debut novels of the past two years.

See you at The Book Lounge!

Water: New Short Fiction from AfricaThe Reactive

 
Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 3 March 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge
    71 Roeland Street
    Cape Town | Map
  • Interviewer: Masande Ntshanga
  • Refreshments will be served
  • RSVP: booklounge@gmail.com

 

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Jonathan Silver reviews South Africa’s Insurgent Citizens by Julian Brown

South Africa's Insurgent Citizens: On Dissent and the Possibility of PoliticsVerdict: carrot

The book is a useful addition just for showing how protests and dissent on the streets are policed and manage to hinder the growth of emancipatory politics. However, Brown doesn’t just stop with these powerful accounts of street based forms of protest and contestation. Instead, the author draws the reader into the variety of ways in which communities, activists and civil society have found new, insurgent ways of challenging the existing order and of enacting the political.

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Read an excerpt from Nick Wood’s debut Azanian Bridges, an alternate reality thriller where apartheid still rules

Read an excerpt from Nick Wood’s debut novel Azanian Bridges, where apartheid rules in a dark alternate reality
Azanian BridgesAfrican MonstersAfrosfv2The Stone Chameleon

 
Azanian Bridges, Nick Wood’s debut novel, is published and due to be launched at the British Science Fiction Association Convention this Easter, and the author has kindly given Books LIVE an excerpt to share.

Wood is a South African-British clinical psychologist, researcher and genre writer, with stories in two recently published anthologies, Afrosfv2 and African Monsters. His Young Adult novel The Stone Chameleon was published in 2004. He is also a reader for the Short Story Africa Day Prize.

Like Nikhil Singh’s Taty Went West, which we featured as our Fiction Friday recently, Azanian Bridges was longlisted for the inaugural Kwani? Manuscript Prize in 2013. It has impressive shouts from authors such as Sarah Lotz, Ian Watson and Ursula K Le Guin, who says: “I read Bridges with much pleasure … chilling and fascinating.”

The novel’s cover art is by Capetonian illustrator Vincent Sammy.

Azanian Bridges is a socially acute fast-paced thriller that takes place in an alternate modern day South Africa where apartheid still rules, and a young man, Sibusiso Mchunu, finds himself in possession of a secret that could offer hope to his people. Pursued by the ANC on one side and Special Branch agents on the other, Sibusiso has little choice but to run.

Wood explained a little bit about the process of writing the novel, and his decision to partner with Long Story Short.

“Busisiwe Siyathola, a clinical psychologist working at the hospital where some of the novel’s scenes are set (I worked there too, a good few years ago now), helped with beta advice, particularly with Sibusiso and all the Zulu references.

“I also agreed to share author royalties with Long Story Short as it felt unethical for a white writer to solely benefit from a tale around apartheid.”

Read the excerpt:
 

* * * * *

 

Chapter 1 – Sibusiso’s Start

 
I never knew it would be so hard to say goodbye – especially to my father. (I leave him until last.)

         “Sala kahle, tata!” I say, bowing my face so he cannot see my eyes.
         For a brief moment, he holds me close to him and I can smell the Earth, sweet, sharp sweat and the decades of cattle manure on his skin. His jacket buttons poke into my stomach – he has indeed dressed for this occasion too. He is so like a fragile bird – a kiewietjie comes to mind for some reason – but then he pushes me away, turns and walks off in a hurry and without looking back. He has left me with a little gift, a small beige plastic digi-disc, on which I can record the happenings in my life. I put it in my pocket.
         Since when did my father get so old, so delicate, so suddenly?
         I look over my brother and sisters’ heads to watch his stiff blue-jacketed back disappear into the house. The brown door shuts against yellow brick and the late afternoon sun glints off the corrugated silver eaves and roof.
         Behind our master’s house, I hear the cows sounding out as a dog barks, unsettling them.
         Lindiwe is crying openly but I keep my own eyes dry. I am the eldest son; I am strong.
         There is time for one last hug before the taxi arrives.
         Mandla grips my arm tight. ”Careful brother,” his eyes are almost on a level with my own, despite the three years I have on him, “There is much danger and distraction in the city.”
         I nod and brush my lips with the back of my left hand to hide my smile: “I hear what you say, Mandla – you repeat father too – but I will be careful.”
         He grins and puffs his 15-year old chest, which looks increasingly like a solid drum of utshwala besizulu – but only the finest of beer.
         There is a high-pitched car hooter sounding behind me. Father had to pay much to have the man detour off his route to come here.
         My five sisters wave as I step with difficulty into the crowded taxi; the door is slid fully open, the minibus is silver and muddy brown from the farm tracks splatter of early-summer showers.
         The driver accelerates before I can sit. I fall into a large woman’s lap and realise there is indeed no seat. She shovels me aside with a large forearm and I sway, trapped between her fat hip and a thin man’s sharp thighbone. He wriggles a bit like a contortionist and my buttocks manage to find some sticky leather to ease the weight off my feet.
         My grey Sunday slacks sticks to the seat, as we sway around and bump over farm potholes.
The ‘gamchee’, as the Cape Coloured people call them, waves a hand towards me from the front seat: “Where you going again, boy?”
“Fundimiso College, Im-, Imbali,” I say, finding it hard to breathe, crushed as I am as the large woman squeezes against me.
         The gamchee turns to the driver, who is accelerating into a violent right-turn onto the tarred road: “Seems like we have a clever boy in our taxi, hey Smokes?”
         Smokes just grunts from under his Man U cap and shakes his dreads. I see he has an OPod plugged into his ears.
         I plug an earpiece into my ears, folding my arms tightly over my old music pod and the rands strapped in a leather purse across my stomach inside my white buttoned shirt, the purse hot and wet against my skin from the late afternoon heat.
         The sky still looks clear – no gathering thunderstorm tonight it seems. I glance across at the passengers swaying and talking in front of me. They’re arguing about the price of bread.
         I am too tired to listen and try to sleep. Keeping my arms crossed across my hidden money pouch, I doze in fits and starts to random braking, accelerations and Church-Rap from the Crischen-Niggaz.
         I finally fall asleep to Muth’fuckas Who Don’t Know Jesus
         The fat woman is climbing over me and I see she has a baby hanging off her right hip, swinging it onto her back as she steps outside. It’s built like me; it keeps right on sleeping …
         Then I see the driver getting out too – what’s his name?
         I look across to the open door and see I’m the last one inside. I stretch and rub my eyes. My OPod has gone silent.
         A big white man with a fierce brown handlebar moustache and blue police cap sticks his head inside: “Out, kaffir!”
         Hayi no, it must be a roadblock.
         I step outside, sweating hard, although the sun is low and the air is cooling.
         There’s a mellow yellow police van parked in front of us. We’re pulled off to the side of the road, traffic whooshing past us and down the hill, down into the smoky valley of umGungundlovu – or Pietermaritzburg as the boere like to call it.
         So close, why did they have to stop us now?
         Fierce-moustache policeman is going through the driver’s papers. Two other black cops are rummaging through our taxi, looking for guns or drugs, probably both.
         “Hey, line up!” the white cop shouts, throwing the driver’s papers back at him – Smokes, that’s his name, catches the papers deftly with a weary shrug of his shoulders and turns back to his cab.
         We stand in a ragged line, all nine of us, as he slowly works his way through our dompas. My hands are clammy as I pull mine out of my hip pocket.
         He moves alongside me and snatches it from my hand; as if angry they’ve all been in order so far.
         I sweat, even though it’s getting cold, the sun sinking below the city’s smog.
         He looks at me and I’m reminded of Ballie Boetze, the big white South African world-boxing champion from several decades ago – whose face has received a nostalgic comeback on TV since his death, advertising Rocket Jungle Weetie-Oats.
         “Hey, why you sweating so much, boy, what you hiding?”
         “Nothing, sir!” I hate my sweat and my use of “sir”, but all I want is to get to College safely.
         “Ach man, they can go!” He slaps my dompas into my open palms.
         I see the two black cops are standing behind him, hands on hips, empty.
         “Next time I’ll give you a bledy fine for over-crowding, hey!” he shouts at us as we climb back into the taxi.
         Smokes lights a cigarette, but no one says anything.
         This time I find a space next to the window and keep my face averted from the others, watching the lights popping up like fireflies, as the quick dusk deepens into murky darkness.
         The rest of the journey is made in a tense silence – as for me, I shake until the end.
         I miss my father already.

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Jumoke Verissimo reviews Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Season of Crimson BlossomsVerdict: carrot

Season is a narrative that brings together several accounts of cultural deviancy in Northern Nigeria. The work is significant as a resource for understanding the psychological landscape of Northern Nigeria, which until now, has appeared impenetrable. It also demystifies the culture’s feminine construct, which has always seemed as unflappable to those outside the culture.
In this Marquez-styled story, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim invents life, offering the reader a perspective on the undercurrents of human idiosyncrasies. He addresses questions that show the moral complexities of life. His characters’ lives explore emotions like doubts, fears, pain, anger, and love, and offer meaning to nothing.

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Book Bites: 7 February 2016

InnovationInnovation: Shaping South Africa through Science
Sarah Wild (Pan Macmillan)
*****
Book buff
This is a valuable book for contemporary South Africa. It reminds us of our potential. It shows how, through science, we can solve some of our most pressing problems. Wild focuses on how we can use our skills and knowledge to sort out the crises in energy, industry, education and the environment. New ideas abound, although innovators face many obstacles, the main one being the lack of funding for research and development. Wild explores a range of issues from topical skin cancer treatments to ways of solving the electricity shortage. Inspiring reading. – Kgebetli Moele

After YouAfter You
Jojo Moyes (Penguin Random House)
***
Book fling
The sequel to Me Before You picks up after Louisa has euthanised Will Traynor, the paraplegic love of her life, upon his request. An accident forces her to move back in with her family and she has given up on finding happiness. Louisa’s social life consists of support group meetings for the bereaved. But then a figure from Will’s past unexpectedly appears, forcing her to participate in life again. And there’s the sexy paramedic … it’s light reading but it explores some pertinent questions about grief, healing and moving forward after loss. – Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin

Blue Cow SkyBlue Cow Sky
Peter Church (Burnet Media)
***
Book bru
Leo is an author. He is also a drifter and womaniser who is more often homeless and penniless than not. Our anti-hero wanders from one sweaty sexual encounter to the next, ending in mayhem for the unfortunate woman who is desperate or vulnerable enough to sleep with him. Will Leo ever finish his second book or hold down a relationship for more than a week? The chances are slim. But, like watching a car crash, the reader is compelled to come along for the bumpy ride, as if trapped in Leo’s jalopy with the doors locked. Also stinking up the pages is Jerome, Leo’s partner in crime, a soft-hearted gangster with not-so-fresh takkies. In fact, the smell of BO, dirty socks and dog farts almost jumps from the pages. It’s a non-demanding read for those who won’t be offended by non-PC humour and toilet sex. Get the air freshener ready. – Jim Hislop

The Marble CollectorThe Marble Collector
Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins)
***
Book fling
It’s always comforting to dip into a novel by Cecelia Ahern. You know it will be warm and funny, with subtle twists carefully placed to keep one reading. Fergus Boggs has lost his memory after suffering a stroke. Going through his possessions, his married daughter Sabrina discovers his marble collection and the meticulous inventory he painstakingly wrote out. A few marbles are missing and through her quest to find them Sabrina learns that her father lived a double life. Her world is shaken by these revelations – but will it help her failing marriage? – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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2016 Time of the Writer Festival heading to Clermont, Cato Manor, Umlazi, Inanda and KwaMashu

 
The Centre for Creative Arts has announced a change in venues and a special programme for the Time of the Writer festival this year, under the theme Decolonising the Book.

The 19th edition of the Durban festival will take place from 14 to 19 March, in partnership with the eThekwini Municipality Libraries Department. The day programme this year will take place in these libraries.

In addition, the Time of the Writer is shifting venues for its evening panel discussions. These are usually held at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, but this year they will each take place in a different location across the surrounding areas of Durban, in Clermont, Cato Manor, Umlazi, Inanda and KwaMashu.

All events will be free to library or student card holders. People without either will be charged a nominal fee of R20.

The developments follow a conversation around inclusiveness in South African literature sparked at last year’s festival by Thando Mgqolozana, which culminated in him announcing at the Franschhoek Literary Festival that he was quitting the “white literary system”.

The CCA says it is hoping to gather leading voices from every facet of literature in the areas of writing, editing, publishing, translation, marketing, bookselling and promotion, to provide a platform for conversation and debate on this issues of transformation and the growth of literature.

“This theme aims to interrogate the central question of how to go about decolonising literature in South Africa, from writing to readership,” the CCA says in a statement.

Tiny Mungwe, festival manager at the Centre for Creative Arts, says: “We are very excited about the plans for this year’s festival, which came about as a result of a growing call from within the literary world and South Africa as whole for increased diversity, access and inclusiveness.

“The Centre for Creative Arts would like to acknowledge one of South Africa’s leading writers, Thando Mgqolozana, who has been very vocal about change in our society and has assisted in the programming of this edition of the festival.

“The change is very big for us and by breaking from years of tradition we will have another set of operational challenges, but it is something we believe is absolutely crucial for the festival and for the face of literature in South Africa if we are to effect some kind of shift in our thinking.”

The full 2016 Time of the Writer programme will be announced in a few weeks.

 
Related stories:

See some of Books LIVE’s coverage of last year’s event:

 

 

Author Q and A: Samuel Bjork, author of I’m Travelling Alone

Published in the Sunday Times

I'm Travelling AloneI’m Travelling Alone
Samuel Bjørk (Penguin Random House)

Where do you write best?
At home, at night, in the dark, when the world around me is quiet.

What books are on your bedside table?
I never have books on my bedside table, it makes me think about writing, and then I can’t sleep.

What music helps you write?
I usually need silence to concentrate, but if I need to get pumped up I play Sonic Youth.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
I downloaded and listened to private phone calls between a cult leader and his eight wives. I will never do that again. I’m still scared.

What is the last thing that you read that made you laugh out loud?
I really can’t remember, I must be reading books that are too serious. I’ll have to do something about that.

What are you most proud of writing?
A short scene in I’m Travelling Alone, where four journalists get only one minute to decide which one of two girls gets to live, and which one has to die. If they can’t decide, both girls die. I feel that scene was perfectly executed.

What keeps you awake at night?
Work, especially if I’m not happy with my plans for my next book.

Which book changed your life?
Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?
I would make more music, and write songs for other artists.

What are you working on next?
The third book in the series about Holger Munch and Mia Krüger.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“It was dark.” “It was cold.” I live in Norway. Our climate can be very depressing.

•

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The weight of memory: Michele Magwood discusses Letters of Stone with Steven Robins

A tragic history emerges from an old photograph and a cache of letters, writes Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

Letters of StoneLetters of Stone – From Nazi Germany to South Africa
Steven Robins (Penguin Books)
****

At the beginning of this devastating book Steven Robins quotes the writer WG Sebald on the subject of memories: “If they remained locked away, they would become heavier and heavier as time went on, so that in the end I would succumb under their mounting weight.”

Letters of Stone is the story of the weight of memory, of the burden of guilt and regret; of the obliteration of hope, of identity, of human beings.

Robins grew up in Port Elizabeth in the ’60s and ’70s in a thoroughly anglicised, secular Jewish home. He was aware, as children so often are, of unspoken things. In the dining room an old photograph of three women watched over their meals. He was vaguely aware that they were family members but he never asked who they were, and no one ever spoke of them. It would be many years before he learnt that they were his father’s mother, Cecilie, and his sisters Edith and Hildegard, and that they had died in the Holocaust. His father went to his grave without ever mentioning them. “There was a silence that completely shrouded anything about them,” he says.

Robins is a professor of anthropology at Stellenbosch University and he speaks in the cadences of a man used to debating, analysing and explaining. He writes in this tone, too. At first one presumes it is because he is an academic: he lacks the artistry of Edmund de Waal in The Hare With Amber Eyes, the dramatic skill of Mark Gevisser in Lost and Found in Johannesburg, the rich idiom of Dov Fedler’s Out of Line, all family histories dealing with the extermination of Jews in World War II. What Robins does, instead, is let the material speak eloquently for itself.

“I thought if I got too closely caught up in the emotions of the story it would swallow me up,” he says, “and I also didn’t want to burden the reader too much with the heaviness.”

Robins’s father, Herbert Robinski, escaped from Germany to South Africa in 1936; his younger brother, Arthur, settled in what was then Northern Rhodesia. They left behind their parents, their sisters, and another brother, Siegfried, who hoped to follow them. Over the years, all Robins was able to learn was that they had perished in Auschwitz and Riga. Having come to a dead end with his research, he visited Berlin in 2000, laid commemorative Stolpersteine outside their home, and believed he was closing the chapter.

And then, in 2012, while clearing out their parents’ flat in Sea Point, Arthur’s children found a cache of old letters. They were written mostly by Cecilie to her sons in Africa, reporting on their days in an increasingly frightening Berlin, and their futile attempts to leave. The quotidian details of their doomed lives are heartbreaking: a new felt hat, card games with coffee and cake, the scarcity of matzos, and the constant gathering of papers to help them emigrate.

At last Robins was able to “hear” their voices. Indomitable Cecilie, keeping up a cheerful front; her quiet husband David; proud, spirited Edith; and Hildegard, who it is clear was disabled. The years pass, Cecilie’s optimism begins to wear thin, and as readers we watch the dates on the letters with dread, knowing what lies ahead. And after the last letter, silence.

There is another important strand to this story which emerged for Robins when he was researching a forebear in the Karoo – the work of the German professor Eugen Fischer, a pioneer of eugenics and racial science. Fischer conducted experiments on the Baster people of what was then German Southwest Africa before returning to institute his diabolical programmes in Nazi Germany. Southern Africa was his laboratory.

As an anthropologist, this was crucial for Robins. “I didn’t want it to be yet another holocaust narrative that didn’t deal with the broader implications. I’m hoping this book does something different, that it draws wider connections between what happened in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s and what had happened earlier in the colonies.”

One senses that at last Robins has shifted the heavy stone at the heart of his family history, filled the lacuna of emptiness with commemoration. We are reminded of the words of Philip Larkin in his poem “An Arundel Tomb”: “What will survive of us is love.”

Follow Michele Magwood on Twitter @michelemagwood

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Start working on your bucket list now: Andrew Unsworth reviews Graham Hancock’s latest, Magicians of the Gods

By Andrew Unsworth for the Sunday Times

Magicians of the GodsMagicians of the Gods
Graham Hancock (Coronet)
***

Are we silly to worry about climate change when we all will be wiped out by a comet within the next 25 years? That’s the implication of the latest theory from Graham Hancock, the consummate but controversial master of alternative history. He is usually discredited by orthodox historians, astrologers, geologists and a whole slew of academics, but unlike them he writes bestsellers.

One of those is Fingerprints of the Gods, written 20 years ago. In it, Hancock argues that an ancient civilisation was wiped out, leaving behind massive monuments and mysterious buildings, including the earliest temples in Egypt. Members of that ancient civilisation, he argues, were gods to the primitive hunter-gatherers, who survived and kickstarted civilisation again. The monuments left behind carried a message for future generations to be deciphered at a time when they could be understood: that the disaster will happen again – soon.

Now, in Magicians of the Gods, Hancock argues that said ancient civilisation ended when the Earth took a direct hit from a comet 12 800 years ago. The impact threw so much dust and smoke into the atmosphere that it precipitated an ice age that lasted 1 200 years.

Hancock travels the world to explore the monuments to decipher the message: from the scablands of Washington State, to Gunung Padang in Indonesia, to Easter Island to Syria. This message indicates Earth will cross the path of the comet again sometime between 1960 and 2040.

There is new information too, such as the discussion of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, an ancient site first excavated in 1995. Hancock’s writing contains fascinating information and insights but it does not all add up to a lost civilisation. He does not argue that the monolithic blocks of Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman in Peru, Baalbek in Lebanon, or the Valley Temple at Giza are remnants of the lost civilisation.

He also never gets round to explaining why there are strange handbags drawn on a pillar at Göbekli Tepe, the same handbags as carried by engraved figures in Babylon and Mexico.

Hancock has been accused of lifting ideas, cherrypicking his evidence to fit with his argument, and ignoring that which does not. He postulates that the lost civilisation was one of high technology, but he never says exactly how advanced. At times one feels overwhelmed by astronomical details. And too often, he refers the reader to his earlier books for more detailed examination of a point. However, whatever his faults, Hancock is a brilliant storyteller.

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