For today’s Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from JM Coetzee’s new novel, The Schooldays of Jesus.
Coetzee recently lost out on a chance to win a third Man Booker Prize, when The Schooldays of Jesus was left off the 2016 shortlist.
However, The Bookseller shared excerpts from all the longlisted novels, so you can get a taste of the book there.
The Schooldays of Jesus is a sequel to Coetzee’s 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus, featuring the same characters. Coetzee’s long-time editor Geoff Mulligan said of it: “The Schooldays of Jesus is an intriguing and wonderful novel and we are delighted to be publishing it.”
Read an excerpt:
The Schooldays of Jesus by J M Coetzee (Harvill Secker)
He was expecting Estrella to be bigger. On the map it shows up as a dot of the same size as Novilla. But whereas Novilla was a city, Estrella is no more than a sprawling provincial town set in a countryside of hills and fields and orchards, with a sluggish river meandering through it.
Will a new life be possible in Estrella? In Novilla he had been able to rely on the Office of Relocations to arrange accommodation. Will he and Inés and the boy be able to find a home here? The Office of Relocations is beneficent, it is the very embodiment of beneficence of an impersonal variety; but will its beneficence extend to fugitives from the law?
Juan, the hitchhiker who joined them on the road to Estrella, has suggested that they find work on one of the farms. Farmers always need farmhands, he says. The larger farms even have dormitories for seasonal workers. If it isn’t orange season it is apple season; if it isn’t apple season it is grape season. Estrella and its surrounds are a veritable cornucopia. He can direct them, if they wish, to a farm where friends of his once worked.
He exchanges looks with Inés. Should they follow Juan’s advice? Money is not a consideration, he has plenty of money in his pocket, they could easily stay at a hotel. But if the authorities from Novilla are really pursuing them, then perhaps they would be better off among the nameless transients.
“Yes,’ says Inés. ‘Let us go to this farm. We have been cooped up in the car long enough. Bolívar needs a run.”
“I feel the same way,” says he, Simón. “However, a farm is not a holiday camp. Are you ready, Inés, to spend all day picking fruit under a hot sun?”
Published in the Sunday Times
The Midnight Watch
David Dyer (Atlantic Books)
This is an astoundingly good novel on the sinking of the Titanic, no doubt the most fictionalised ship of all time. Forget the romances, murders, mysteries and domestic dramas usually spun around that voyage: this book is based on real events. The SS Californian was within sight of the Titanic, close enough to see her lights. So why did she not go to her aid? Fictional journalist John Steadman interviews the crew, looking for answers. Real events, real people, meticulous research and excellent writing transform this roman à clef into a literary thriller. – Aubrey Paton
How to Find Love in a Bookshop
Veronica Henry (Orion)
After his partner’s death, Julius Nightingale opens a bookshop in the Cotswolds. He had met the love of his life in a bookshop and believes that’s just what the town needs – love. 32 years later, his daughter Emilia finds herself stumped. The bookshop is running at a loss and there’s a property developer breathing down her neck to sell. But as more and more customers share their stories about what Julius and the bookshop means to them, Emilia realises that selling is just not an option. A feel-good novel with frills – the perfect antidote to a bad news-headlines kinda day. – SA Partridge @Sapartridge
Imagine Me Gone
Adam Haslett (Penguin Random House)
When John is hospitalised for depression, his fiancée Margaret decides to marry him anyway. The story of this couple and their three children is told over decades by alternating family members, and the intimate and elegant prose captures the individual characters and their inner lives and struggles. John’s depression returns, with tragic results. The eldest son Michael shares his father’s illness, becoming increasingly anxious and, eventually, debilitatingly drug-dependent. The book is an empathetic and candid portrayal of the effects of mental illness on the family – the poignancy of the devotion and loyalty, as well as the relentless frustration and fear. – Kate Sidley @KateSidley
The King’s Assassin
Angus Donald (Sphere)
Anyone who has missed the first six novels of The Outlaw Chronicles, and who loves medieval blood-and-thunder, had better get going with The Outlaw and work up to this one. Alan Dale (sweet singer and harder-than-nails warrior) still narrates, dictating to a monk, his story of the devilishly charming, ruthless and brilliant Robin Hood, mighty foul-mouthed Little John, and others equally interesting. Dark betrayal, torture and personal complications interlace with Donald’s usual roaring action. Never have the Robin Hood legends or the 12th century been as vivid, as bloodily real and as stirring as here. – David Pike @pikedavey
Published in the Sunday Times
Jen Thorpe (Penguin)
The Peculiars at a glance seems to be tapping into the zeitgeist of books about mental issues. But it’s an easy read, although Jen Thorpe doesn’t make light of any of the issues in her debut novel, which is part mystery, part romance, part family drama and part political thriller.
It’s about phobias and Thorpe has a deft touch discussing what is a debilitating problem for a lot of people as she had a fear of driving herself – the same phobia her main character Nazma has. “I understood how frustrating it could be to be limited by what type of public transport was available, and safe. This was all before Uber so I was often stuck wanting to go somewhere but limited by my own fear.”
Nazma signs up for group therapy sessions at the Centre for Improved Living. The centre brings together a quirky lot of other characters – among them Sam, whom Nazma and Ruth (the director of the centre who has to hide her own tics) have both taken a liking to. There’s also the racist Simon who has a fear of immigrants, and Nomboniso, a yoga teacher, who suffers from extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder. All of them are relatable and Thorpe gives them real phobias to work through.
“I obviously had my own personal experience and ideas about how I’d overcome it, but I wanted to make sure that a group setting like I’d envisioned could actually work for the characters. So I read up quite a bit … the book is certainly not meant to be taken as psychological theory, but I did make sure it was at least possible to try.”
And then there is Cape Town. It’s not the sunny, picturesque, postcard version. It’s the harsh winter – a windy, grey and rainy city. Thorpe makes it feel as if it is another obstacle to deal with when you have particular phobias. “I am originally from the warm, sunny North Coast, and all you see of Cape Town is sunny perfect pictures. Then I got here and my first winter felt like a lifetime of wet jeans and damp shoes. It really felt like a force to be reckoned with … when the wind blows here it still feels like a character to me.”
There are many threads that Thorpe pulls on: there’s Jericho, the homeless man who when not pissing on the wall outside the centre, spouts visions that seem to come true; Nazma’s mother who has a secret fear of her own; and the minister of wellbeing who was insulted by Ruth and now seems to be on the warpath.
Follow Jennifer Platt on Twitter @Jenniferdplatt
Kate Moore gives us a cautionary tale of corporate evil, writes Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times
The Radium Girls
Kate Moore (Simon & Schuster)
It usually started with their teeth. Young female factory workers in the United States were complaining of toothache, and it being early in the last century, when cosmetic dentistry was unheard of, the problem teeth were simply removed. But their mouths didn’t heal, and more teeth were rotting. The dentist in Newark, New Jersey, was confounded, until the day he tried to remove yet another tooth from a young woman’s mouth, and her entire jawbone came away in his hand.
The patient’s name was Mollie Maggia and she worked at the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation. When she died soon afterwards, the doctors insisted the cause was syphilis.
In this gripping account of appalling corporate malfeasance and awing courage, Kate Moore presents a roll call of the bright young things who went to work in the factories producing luminous dials for clocks and watches and also for military instruments. The job was well-paid and glamorous. The paint they used contained radioactive radium, which made it glow. There was so much of it in the air that the girls’ clothes sparkled with it in the dark; and they used to paint their teeth with it to make them shine at the dances. They were told that it was completely safe, even beneficial, in small doses. As ludicrous as it seems now, radium was marketed as “liquid sunshine”, and infused into everything from face creams to chocolate, butter and lipstick. Radium-laced lingerie promised to perk up sex lives; taken orally it was claimed to act as Viagra.
To paint the dials the girls were instructed to suck the end of the paintbrush into a fine tip – “lip-pointing” – thereby ingesting the radium-laced paint, which settled into their bones.
The girls in New Jersey began to fall ill. Apart from tooth decay they grew grotesque bone sarcomas, their paper-thin skin split open, their leg bones shortened on one side. Their spines disintegrated and they had to wear steel braces. Death certificates stated random illnesses like diphtheria and heart attack as cause of death.
Then in 1925 a pioneering doctor, Harrison Martland, proved the connection between the paint and the illnesses, but the company denied responsibility. It lied to the workers, covering up evidence with its own “expert” advisers. The women didn’t have the money to pay lawyers – they could barely keep up with their medical bills.
Over in Illinois another radium painting studio opened, but the staff were unaware of the danger. There was little sharing of medical information at that time so doctors in the town didn’t make the connection, and after a few years the agonising ailments started up there, too.
This time a young lawyer took the case pro bono for a group of dial painters who had been given only months to live, accusing the company of “cold, calculating, money-making murder”. The press went big with it, dubbing the girls “the living dead” and igniting enormous sympathy. There were photos of dramatic bedside hearings, interviews with families, and a ghoulish demonstration of lip-pointing for the court by a victim who had had one of her arms removed.
The case was long and drawn-out but they finally won, after eight appeals, in 1938.
Moore started investigating the radium girls when she directed a play about them called These Shining Lives. She was shocked to find so little information about the women themselves, so she set about researching them, travelling to the US to visit the sites of the story, interviewing the girls’ relatives and raiding newspaper and court archives.
By centering her book on the girls themselves, their backgrounds, personalities, friendships and loves, she pays homage to their short lives. There is some comfort in knowing that because of them, proper safety standards were introduced to protect not only a new generation of dial painters, but also those working with plutonium in making atomic bombs. The girls’ case transformed workers’ rights in the US, leaving a crucial legacy of legislation to ensure safe working conditions. “The radium girls did not die in vain,” Moore writes.
There’s an eerie footnote to the story. Years after she was buried, Mollie Maggia’s remains were exhumed to test the syphilis diagnosis on her death certificate. When her casket was opened, they found her bones were still glowing faintly.
Follow Michele Magwood on Twitter @michelemagwood
Published in the Sunday Times
Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me
Andy Martin (Penguin Random House)
“I’ve just written this great four-word sentence,” said Lee Child. “Come and have a look.” He ushered me into his apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. He works in an office in the back, adorned with framed pages of the New York Times bestseller lists featuring his own novels sitting squarely at no. 1. I perched on the couch and he hit me with his four words. They were good words. High quality, high value. Each word emerging from his keyboard was worth $100. Each of his books is at least 100 000 words long. Make Me, the book he was working on, was his 20th Jack Reacher novel. You do the math.
Child, numero uno thriller writer, a giant in airport bookstores around the world, is half-poet, half-pirate, both ruthless materialist and dreamy head-in-the-clouds fantasist. The real mystery was: what the hell was I doing there? Which is a question a lot of his friends were asking. “Lee, hold on a second. You’ve got a Cambridge academic sitting behind you watching you write? You cannot be serious, man! He’s going to put you off your stroke. He is a literary voyeur!”
It was a crazy idea, I admit. Bear witness to the moment of creation, be there while a writer is writing and write about him writing in real time. Follow the composition of an entire novel from the first word (“Moving”) all the way through to the last word (“needle”). Capture the process at close quarters, try to climb inside the writer’s head, spectate while the words are spun into a book, like watching an alchemist transform lead into gold. Complete madness, obviously.
But Child said, “Yes, cool idea. You’d better get over here. I’m starting next Monday.” He always starts a new book on September 1, it’s a religion with him. It could have been any writer, in theory. But Donna Tartt takes 10 years, so I crossed her off. And Albert Camus was dead. I saw Child as not just a bestselling phenomenon, but as a serious writer whose first book, Killing Floor, reads like a sequel to Camus’s The Outsider.
Child has this theory that anyone in the world might want to kill quite a few people, given the opportunity. Jack Reacher kills people on our behalf. He enacts the revenge we so rarely get the chance to carry out ourselves. He is a Messiah and avenging angel all rolled into one. And he is like a kid, just a very big one (1.95m and 113kg).
Those four words? Reacher is surveying the street before breaking into a house. It’s empty. “No eyes, no interest,” Child writes. A characteristic structure: “No x, no y.” No hell, no heaven. A double negation. Notice that, in those four words, Reacher is an inaction hero. And this for me is what makes Reacher work, as a protagonist. Of course he beats people to death with his elbows. But he is also a philosopher who thinks his way through his fights.
Child is the same when it comes to writing. I didn’t really have to ask him questions. He was like Lionel Messi running rings around the opposition and at the same time commentating on what he is doing and exactly how he is going to score.
Alert! The New Yorker has published a new story by Petina Gappah, from her forthcoming collection Rotten Row.
She is the first Zimbabwean writer to be featured in the publication for fiction.
Gappah won the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award for her acclaimed debut book of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly in 2009. More recently, she was shortlisted for the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award – the world’s richest prize for a single short story – and also became the first Zimbabwean author to be longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, for her novel The Book of Memory.
Her new story, “A Short History of Zaka the Zulu”, is set at the College of Loyola, a Jesuit school in Zimbabwe based on a school Gappah attended. In an interview with The New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, Gappah says the idea came to her about four years ago, when she was invited to give a speech at an old school’s prizegiving.
I had not been back during term time since I left. It struck me then how incredibly young the boys were, even the oldest of them. That realisation inspired me to write a story about the closed and insular world of boarding school, and about the choices that teenagers can make in the arrogant belief that they know everything. I don’t believe in the “write what you know” school of writing; I believe in writing what I can realistically imagine. I love to write across class, across race, across sex and gender, and I wanted badly to put myself in the shoes of those boys. It would have been too easy to write it from the girls’ perspective; I wanted to push myself by imagining another.
Gappah’s new collection of short stories, Rotten Row, will be published by Faber and Faber in the UK in November. The book is named after the street in Harare where the Criminal Division of the Magistrate’s Court is based, and is made up of 20 stories about crime, from different perspectives.
“I also experiment with different approaches to storytelling,” Gappah tells The New Yorker, “I use a court judgment, an autopsy report, and an internet discussion forum, as well as other voices. I love the short story and want to master the form. I love the sentence-by-sentence, word-level attention that the short story demands, and that is its greatest pleasure.”
Read “A Short History of Zaka the Zulu”:
He was always a bit of an odd fish, Zaka the Zulu, but he was the last boy any of us expected to be accused of murder. Not a wit, a sportsman, or a clown, he was not a popular boy at our school, where he wore his school uniform every day of the week, even on Sundays. Of course, we could have admired him for his brains. In the high-achieving hothouse that was the College of Loyola, which won the Secretary’s Bell Award fifteen years in a row, we admired any boy we labelled a razor. Zaka, though, made such a song and dance about his sharpness that you’d have thought he was the only razor in the school.
He became even less popular when he was made head prefect. In a school like Loyola, where the task of keeping everyday order is entrusted to the prefects, being head can bring out the tyrant in even the nicest chap, and Zaka brought to the position an obnoxious self-importance that made him absolutely insufferable. As head prefect, he issued demerits for the slightest offenses, marking down boys who did not wear ties with their khaki shirts at Benediction, making spot checks for perishable goods in our tuck boxes and trunks, sniffing for beer on the breath of every boy who had snuck out to Donhodzo, the rural bottle store in the valley below our school, and, from the strategically placed Prefects’ Room, making forays at unexpected times to see if he could catch anyone smoking outside the library.
Author image courtesy of The New Yorker/Composite by Books LIVE
Anyone who tries to understand what is happening in South Africa today without first digesting Allister Sparks’s lucid, sensitive and comprehensive exploration of the country’s multifaceted mind, does so at his own peril.
- André Brink, on The Mind of South Africa
Allister Sparks, Mpho and Desmond Tutu and Bono
at the launch of Tutu: The Authorised Portrait
Allister Sparks, veteran journalist, newspaper editor, author and political analyst, has died at the age of 83.
According to a media release, Sparks passed away at the Morningside Clinic yesterday after a heart attack, after spending 12 days in hospital.
Sparks has been the recipient of numerous awards and is the author of several bestselling books about South Africa, including Beyond the Miracle and Tomorrow is another Country. His writing covers South Africa from the birth of apartheid, the rise of political opposition, the dawn of democracy, right through to today.
Nelson Mandela called him: “One of South Africa’s eminent journalists, whose outspoken views have served the cause of democracy in this country magnificently.”
Sparks was born in Cathcart in the Eastern Cape in 1933, and began his career as a journalist in 1951, at the age of 18, with an interview with then-Minister of Native Affairs Hendrik Verwoerd.
As Ray Hartley writes, Sparks quickly rose through the ranks, and won a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard in the United States in 1962:
When he returned to the country, it was under the iron-fisted rule of BJ Vorster and his security henchman, ‘Lang’ Hendrik van den Bergh.
When two senior ANC officials, Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe, escaped from security police cells and fled to neighbouring Botswana, Sparks tracked them down to their redoubt.
“My name is Allister Sparks. I’m from the Rand Daily Mail, and I want to talk to Arthur and Harold,” he said, after knocking on the door.
After interviewing them for hours, he wrote a series of scoops, leading to the publication of special editions of the Rand Daily Mail.
The story was dramatic. A plane scheduled to ferry the ANC leaders away was burned down on the runway and an escape plan had to be hatched.
Sparks really made his name, however, as the editor of the Rand Daily Mail. Under his leadership, the newspaper revealed the real cause of Steve Biko’s death – a story reported by Helen Zille – as well as the details of the Information Scandal in the mid-1970s.
With Sparks at the helm the Rand Daily Mail’s black readership grew substantially, and he was eventually let go because advertisers wanted to target a white audience. After that he worked for The Observer, The Washington Post and other major international publications as a South African correspondent.
His most recent book, The Sword and the Pen: Six Decades on the Political Frontier, was published just a few months ago.
A memorial service is being planned for Friday, 14 October at 11 AM at the Braamfontein Crematorium.
Books LIVE offers condolences to Sparks’s family and friends.
This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Yewande Omotoso’s short story “Cupboards in the Dark”, as featured in the new, free to read anthology How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa.
The anthology has been published by Arterial Network and includes articles, poems and works of fiction by writers such as Albie Sachs, Chenjerai Hove, Koleka Putuma, Lauren Beukes, Sylvia Vollenhoven, many more.
The book is described as “a meditation on the artistic health of the continent”.
Yewande Omotoso is a Barbadian-Nigerian who has spent many years in Johannesburg. An architect by day, she is the author of the acclaimed Bom Boy, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the MNet Film Award and the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature and won the South African Literary Award for First Time Published Author.
Her most recent novel, The Woman Next Door, was recently released internationally.
Cupboards in the Dark
Suppress – to inhibit the growth and development of
THEMBI COULD HEAR it. A knock-knock. She thought to get out of bed and put her ear to the wall between her room and her parents. She peeped over the top of her duvet.
The big shape was the cupboard, but in the dark it looked like a ghost, a giant tokoloshe, a monster waiting … one of those things from the horror movie she was not supposed to watch but did anyway.
The dark shape looked as if it could talk, as if it had moving parts and if she stared long enough it would start walking. It was on nights like these that Thembi wished she had a sister, older or younger didn’t matter. There was that sound again. Knock-knock.
She would even be happy with a brother on such nights.
Her parents had told her she was going to have a brother and her mother’s belly grew a bit and then after some time it became small again. And still she had no brother.
Thembi ducked back underneath the duvet, and to really feel invisible she closed her eyes. The noise continued. The reason she wanted someone else in the room with her, someone like her not an adult, was because on nights like these she wanted to be able to talk, get through the darkness and the unnerving knock-knock.
She wanted to be able to say, “That noise again, can you hear?” and “Can you see the tokoloshe?”
There was no one to talk to right away. And talking about what happened at night the next day was not the same. But it was better than nothing so Thembi spoke to her only friend, Esther.
The following day at school, during playtime, Thembi looked for Esther. She wanted to ask her to come to the far-off swings that scared the other children. There was a story that if you sat in those swings – the ones with rust and not nice paint – an evil spirit will enter through your toes, move up your legs and never leave your heart. Thembi didn’t believe in things like that – not during the daytime anyway. Swings could not send spirits up your toes, it was stupid.
with rust and not nice paint – an evil spirit will enter through your toes, move up your legs and never leave your heart. Thembi didn’t believe in things like that – not during the daytime anyway. Swings could not send spirits up your toes, it was stupid.
Cupboards in the dark, though.
- How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa
Read online for free!
A group of protesters are attempting to disrupt operations on the University of Cape Town campus‚ while at Stellenbosch University students occupying the library have been given notice to vacate the area or face sanction.
The UCT libraries‚ including the 24/7 study area‚ were also closed until further notice midday on Friday.
On the UCT campus‚ protesters are demanding a halt to disciplinary action against students implicated in violent protest. At Stellenbosch‚ a group of students have been staging a sit-in at the institution’s JS Gericke Library to demand free tuition.
Tweeting about the UCT protest‚ @KhumbulaniJali commented: “Who thinks they can come to lectures? You don’t take us serious #FeesMustFall #BringBackOurCadres”.
“Occupation of SRC office now! #UCTshutdown #BringBackOurCadres‚” Lindsay Maasdorp said.
At Stellenbosch‚ @FeesMustFallWC posted a copy of a letter they had been served to vacate the library and claimed‚ “We are under attack‚ forcefully removed here at SU. They almost crushed a person closing a door #SFMFDefiance”.
They also allege that pepper spray had been used against them:
Source: TMG Digital
The identity of the explosive new mystery book Exclusive Books has been hinting at for the last few weeks has been revealed …
The book is called Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS’s Elite Crime-busting Unit, and is written by Johann van Loggerenberg, with Adrian Lackay.
From Jonathan Ball Publishers:
Rogue is an exposé of national importance that identifies the dark forces at play in politics and the business world.
It provides clarity to a saga that has left us asking “Who can we trust?”
About the book (from Jonathan Ball)
The story of a “rogue unit” operating within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) became entrenched in the public mind following a succession of sensational reports published by the Sunday Times in 2014. The unit, the reports claimed, had carried out a series of illegal spook operations: they had spied on President Jacob Zuma, run a brothel, illegally bought spyware and entered into unlawful tax settlements.
In a plot of Machiavellian proportions, head of the elite crime-busting unit Johann van Loggerenberg and many of SARS’s top management were forced to resign. Van Loggerenberg’s select team of investigators, with their impeccable track record of busting high-level financial fraudsters and nailing tax criminals, lost not only their careers but also their reputations.
Now, in this extraordinary account, they finally get to put the record straight and the rumours to rest: there was no ‘rogue unit’. The public had been deceived, seemingly by powers conspiring to capture SARS for their own ends.
Shooting down the allegations he has faced one by one, Van Loggerenberg tells the story of what really happened inside SARS, revealing details of some of the unit’s actual investigations.
About the authors
Johann van Loggerenberg was a group executive at SARS before he resigned from the tax authority in early 2015 after 16 years’ service. His name featured publicly for his involvement in SARS investigations into individuals such as Billy Rautenbach, Irvin Khoza, Julius Malema, Lolly Jackson, Glenn Agliotti and Radovan Krejcir. He currently consults for law firms and private forensic investigation companies.
Adrian Lackay is a former spokesperson for SARS. Before he started at the tax authority in 2003, he worked as a journalist and political correspondent.
Statement from Exclusive Books Group CEO Benjamin Trisk:
Occasionally, very occasionally, a book comes along that refocuses us as booksellers and gives us the feeling that we can serve our community by being brave enough to support something desperately worthwhile. A book of this ilk was The Super Afrikaners published 40 years ago by a courageous young publisher whose name was Jonathan Ball.
A book with the same potential to make an impact is available on our shelves in select stores now (V&A Waterfront, Cavendish, Canal Walk and Cape Town Domestic Airport stores), and will be available nationwide from next week. We are proud to sell it, proud to stand by its disclosures and convinced that it will have a significant impact on our national discourse. It presents an alarming picture of how a national institution has failed the country it serves and it shines an unnerving light on Intelligence structures that are used to serve individual or factional interests.
Every South African who is concerned about issues of leadership, good governance and the equitable treatment of those who serve the State needs to read this book. Being informed offers a chance for redress; being ignorant will impoverish us all.
Exclusive Books Group