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Nigeria has a new star: Read an excerpt from Jowhor Ile’s ‘unforgettable’ debut, And After Many Days

Nigeria has a new star: Read an excerpt from Jowhor Ile's 'unforgettable' debut, And After Many Days

And After Many DaysThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Jowhor Ile’s newly released debut novel, And After Many Days.

Fiction fans in the know have been waiting for this book since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned it in an interview with the Boston Review back in 2013: “There’s a young man called Johwor Ile who is just finishing a novel, who I think is really spectacular,” she said. “His novel, when it comes out, will be very good.”

And now, it’s out!

And After Many Days has also received high praise from literary luminaries such as Taiye Selasi, Chigozie Obioma, Uzodinma Iweala and Binyavanga Wainaina, who says:

Jowhor Ile is a rare talent. This rich book is ripe with mood and full of love, masterfully written with the perfect emotional pitch. Nigeria has a new star.

Jowhor Ile was born in 1980 and raised in Nigeria, where he currently lives. His fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly and Litro Magazine. And After Many Days is his first book.

Scroll down for an excerpt.

About the book

An unforgettable debut novel about a boy who goes missing, a family that is torn apart, and a nation on the brink

During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of 17-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family.

Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.

In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.

And After Many Days introduces Ile’s spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.

Chapter One

Paul turned away from the window and said he needed to go out at once to the next compound to see his friend. It was a Monday afternoon in the rainy season of 1995. Outside, the morning shower had stopped and the sun was gathering strength, but water still clung to the grass on the lawn. “I’m going to Fola’s house, “he said again to his brother Ajie, who was lying on the couch, eyes closed, legs hooked up the back of the chair. If Ajie heard, then he gave no sign.

Ajie sighed as a woman presenter’s voice came up on the radio, cutting through the choral music, “Why do they always interrupt at the best part?” Paul floundered by the door as though he had changed his mind; then he bent to buckle his sandals, slung his backpack on, left the house and did not return.

At least this is one way to begin to tell this story.

Things happen in clusters. They would remember it as the year Mile Three Ultra Modern market burnt down in the middle of the night. The year the Trade Fair came to town and Port Harcourt city council, in preparation for this major event, commissioned long brightly painted buses which ran for cheap all the way from Obigbo to Borokiri (a full hour’s journey for a mere two Naira!). It was the year of the poor. Of rumours, radio announcements, student riots, and sudden disappearance. It was also the year news reached them of their home village Ogibah, that five young men had been shot dead by the square in broad daylight and the sequence of events which led to this remained open to argument. Ajie stretched out and yawned, then dropped his arm and let it dangle from where he lay on the couch. He heard the gate creak as Paul let himself out and the house fell back to the radio music and the sound of Bibi, their middle sister, blow-drying her hair in the bathroom. Ajie and Bibi were due back in school that weekend. Their tin trunks were packed, school day uniforms already ironed and hanging, waiting in wardrobes. Their mother, Ma, went through the school lists, as she always did before the start of each term, checking if everything had been bought. Paul had just finished his final School Certificate exams that past June, so he stayed back at home while Ajie and Bibi spent hot afternoons at Mile One market with Ma, buying school supplies for the term: textbooks, notebooks, buckets, mosquito nets, provisions, T-squares, drawing boards, four figure tables, cutlasses, brooms and jerry cans.

Their father Bendic had decided that since Bibi’s school was on the outskirts of town, she would be dropped off on Saturday evening. Ajie’s school was four hours away, so they had all of Sunday reserved for his journey. The blue Peugeot 504 station wagon was sent out to the mechanic for servicing. For a whole afternoon their driver, Marcus, sat under the guava tree and read a paper and fanned himself and when the cloud changed face, he carried his seat into the gate house where Ismaila had a little pot set on the stove. The pot boiled and the lid clattered against the rim, letting go a fold of steam that escaped through the windows into the trees outside, and the sharp scent of dadawa sauce reached toward the main house.


Book details

Thabo Jijana wins the 2016 Ingrid Jonker Prize for Failing Maths and My Other Crimes

Thabo Jijana wins the 2016 Ingrid Jonker Prize for Failing Maths and My Other Crimes


Failing Maths and My Other CrimesAlert! Thabo Jijana has been announced as the winner of the 2016 Ingrid Jonker Prize, for his collection Failing Maths and My Other Crimes.

Jijana was born in Peddie, in the Eastern Cape, and is currently enrolled for an MA at Rhodes University. He won the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award in 2014 and was longlisted for the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize; his story "Native Mayonnaise" appears in the 2015 SSDA anthology Water. Jijana is also the author of a searing first-person investigation into the taxi industry, Nobody’s Business, published in 2014.

Failing Maths and My Other Crimes was published by uHlanga Press.

Read an excerpt here!

From the Ingrid Jonker Prize Committee"

In a fiercely-contested struggle among seven eligible volumes, Jijana’s debut emerged victorious. Jijana was championed by one judge in particular, who described his debut, with its ‘subtle, wry and memorable title’, as ‘a rich and satisfying collection where, unusually, every poem strikes something hard and vital.’ The judge went on to remark that ‘Jijana has a painterly way with the image, capturing in impossibly few words a picture that does most of the poem’s outer work, so that the poet himself can get on with what it is he is trying to say’.

The judge observed that ‘while the self is – in any enquiring poet’s obsessions – an important project, what emerges here is not the self as the bull’s eye, but the self as link – between histories, times, generations and people’.

Two other entries also received judges’ commendations: Matric Rage by Genna Gardini - also published by uHlanga - and The Attribute of Poetry by Elisa Galgut, published by Modjaji Books.

Matric RageThe Attribute of Poetry

The judges praised Gardini's "lyrical-experimental imagination", the "edginess" and "sexiness" of her debut collection, and the "wonderfully varied scenarios" of her poems.

Galgut’s collection was described as "a stunning debut" that "moves with great ease from the personal to the philosophical".

This year’s judges were Karin Schimke, Jim Pascual Agustin and Professor Sally-Ann Murray. Judges of the Ingrid Jonker prize are unaware of one another’s identities until judging is complete.

The Ingrid Jonker Prize is awarded in alternate years to the best debut collections in English or Afrikaans. The winner receives a bronze medal and a cash prize dependant on the interest accumulated in an account originally established for this purpose.

The 2016 Ingrid Jonker Prize will be awarded at the Franschhoek Literary Festival on Saturday, 14 May at 5:15 PM in the Council Chamber.

Ronel de Goede is the convenor of the Ingrid Jonker committee. The other committee members are Leon de Kock, Finuala Dowling, Diana Ferrus and Danie Marais.

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Don’t miss the launch of UP UP: Stories of Johannesburg’s Highrises at Fourthwall Books

Invitation to the launch of UP UP: Stories of Johannesburg's Highrises


Up UpFourthwall Books is pleased to announce the launch of UP UP: Stories of Johannesburg’s Highrises, edited by Nele Dechmann, Fabian Jaggi, Katrin Murbach and Nicola Ruffo, with photographs by Mpho Mokgadi.

UP UP: Stories of Johannesburg’s Highrises presents a selection of buildings in the inner city of Johannesburg. The focus here is on tall modernist towers that quickly became iconic in the architecture of the city. Witnesses to profound shifts in the political history of the metropolis, the skyscrapers have themselves endured immense changes. They are documented here in two ways: firstly, through historical facts, floor plans, archival records and contemporary photographs of their formal architecture; and secondly, through reportage, interviews and essays.

This book is the first to document Joburg’s skyscrapers and it offers new insights not only into these classic buildings, but also into contemporary urban life in South Africa.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 12 May 2016
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Fourthwall Books
    Reserve St, cnr De Korte St
    Johannesburg | Map

Book details

Nick Wood’s Azanian Bridges included on The Guardian’s best science fiction list

Azanian BridgesVerdict: carrot

Nick Wood’s debut novel, Azanian Bridges (NewCon, £11.99), fuses two well-used SF tropes – alternate history and a single technological invention – to great effect. We are in near-future South Africa and the country is still suffering under the grinding oppression of apartheid. Clinical psychologist Martin Van Deventer has invented a device, the Empathy Enhancer, which allows the user to enter the head of a subject and experience their thoughts, emotions and memories. When he helps Sibusiso Mchunu overcome post‑traumatic stress disorder with the machine, events escalate and Sibusiso appropriates the device and flees to Zambia. The ANC want the Empathy Enhancer as an aid to assist the dismantling of apartheid, while the government are after it as a tool in interrogation. What follows is a fast-paced thriller, an intelligent examination of prejudice in all its forms and a convincing portrayal of characters under extreme stress.

Book Details

New JM Coetzee novel announced

JM Coetzee
The Good StoryJM Coetzee: Two ScreenplaysThe Childhood of Jesus

Alert! A new novel by JM Coetzee has been announced, according to The Bookseller.

The book is titled The Schooldays of Jesus and will be a sequel to Coetzee’s 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus, following the same characters.

Coetzee’s long-time editor Geoff Mulligan told The Bookseller: “The Schooldays of Jesus is an intriguing and wonderful novel and we are delighted to be publishing it.”

Liz Foley, publishing director at Harvill Secker, said: “The Childhood of Jesus was one of my favourite books of 2013 so I am over the moon that we have this brilliant new novel following the same unforgettable characters to look forward to.”

The Schooldays of Jesus will be out from Harvill Secker in September.

Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. He was also the first writer to be awarded the Booker Prize twice, for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999. Peter Carey and Hilary Mantel have since earned the same honour.

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Book bites: 1 May 2016

Fans of the Impossible LifeFans of the Impossible Life
Kate Skelsa
This debut is so much more than just another teenage love-triangle story – it’s a captivating novel that follows three young friends and the struggles they face for being “different” in high school, something many readers will relate to. The book latches on to the international trend of issue-driven YA and features a line-up of nasties, such as bullying, homophobia, teen suicide, trauma and depression. It’s not an easy ride, but there are touching moments and memorable characters that make this a wonderfully moving read. For fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower. – Sally Partridge @Sapartridge

At The Edge Of The OrchardAt The Edge Of The Orchard
Tracy Chevalier
A vivid and uncomfortable read from the author of Girl with the Pearl Earring. Chevalier tackles a realistic portrait of the pioneers and the American Dream. It’s 1838 and James and Sadie have an apple farm in the bleak and inhospitable land of the Black Swamp in Toledo. They’re struggling to make it work with Sadie keeping herself fuzzy on applejack. This toil is hard on their fractured relationship. A tragedy takes place in the orchard which is pivotal to their children’s lives, especially their elder son, Robert. The book is gloomy but the characters are intriguing and they draw you in. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Happiness for BeginnersHappiness for Beginners
Katherine Center
A cynic would write off Happiness for Beginners as a fictionalised rewrite of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. A woman (Helen), at a new life-low, goes hiking. It’s a frothy read and pretty people are still undeservedly awarded accolades and a woman at only 32 can be made to feel old. But readers will adore this book because of Jake, best bud of Helen’s brother. The young man is hilarious, intelligent and cuts through the BS. Heck, ladies, he’s read The Beauty Myth. Helen’s grandma won’t be the only one wanting to reach out and rumple Jake’s hair. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Aga Lesiewicz
Like Girl on the Train, Gone Girl and The Widow, this is a sophisticated thriller with general appeal. Anna Wright lives in London: beautiful, successful and popular. She is a strong woman making a name for herself in the TV industry. At night she unwinds by running in the park with her dog. But then her favourite route is no longer safe — there ’s a rapist around, possibly a killer, and it is soon clear Anna is his target. A slick and exciting debut. – Aubrey Paton

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South African romance author nominated for prestigious international award

Not a Fairy TaleJohannesburg-based romance writer Romy Sommer has become the first ever African author to be nominated for the prestigious international RWA Rita Award.

Sommer, author of four contemporary romance novels published by HarperCollins as well as four self-published historical novellas, has been nominated for a 2016 RWA Rita Award in the Mid-Length Contemporary Category for her latest novel, Not a Fairy Tale.

Run by Romance Writers of America (RWA) for over 30 years, this contest is the highest award of distinction in romance fiction internationally. Past winners include bestselling authors Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Barbara Freethy.

Up to 2,000 novels are entered annually into 12 categories. This year’s winners will be announced at a black-tie awards ceremony on July 16 at the RWA’s Annual Conference in San Diego, California.

Sommer is a film production manager by day and a romance writer by night. She is also a single mom and the Chairperson of ROSA (Romance writers Organisation of South Africa).

Not a Fairy Tale is a Hollywood romance, featuring a brawny stuntman hero and the career-driven actress who hires him to train her for the role of a lifetime. Building on Sommer’s experience in the film industry, this lighthearted novel has been described as “enchanting sizzling, adult fairy tale”.

Waking Up in VegasThe Trouble with MojitosTo Catch a Star


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Anne-Marie Reynolds reviews Losing a Child and the Grieving Experience by Bruce Watt

Losing a Child and the Grieving ExperienceVerdict: carrot

Losing a Child and the Grieving Process by Bruce Watt is an emotional roller coaster of a read. For many people, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to lose a child, no matter what age they are at. This book offers up a real insight on what it must be like, the emotions that change by the hour, the fear, the grief that never leaves you, and how life can change in an instant.

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Truth and tears, but not the boring sort – Diane Awerbuck reviews Stations by Nick Mulgrew

By Diane Awerbuck for the Sunday Times

Nick Mulgrew (David Philips Publishers)

“Life: lived forwards; understood backwards.” So wrote Søren Kierkegaard in the 1800s, and not much has changed. He wouldn’t have couched it in these terms, but Kierkegaard’s approach – like Nick Mulgrew’s – is peculiarly African. The philosopher was against the segregation of “the world of the spirit”: he argued for subjectivity and participation as the way to fathom any truth worth knowing about existence.

The stories in Mulgrew’s prose debut, Stations, deal with this kind of subjectivity in the flawed interactions between people. To understand the characters, Mulgrew says, the reader must realise that we do not have to be intentionally bad to do bad things. “A lot of my characters would probably think they’re perfectly good people, but they’re otherwise complacent or ignorant. The stories share themes, settings, even characters: they all intersect, although sometimes I will be the only one who sees where and how.”

The title, he explains, is a 14-story suite with each story loosely corresponding to one of the Catholic Stations of the Cross, the 14 places of contemplation that mark the progressive agony of Jesus on the way to his death at Golgotha – his dying intentionally stripped of its power because it happens alongside two notorious thieves.

Stations are traditionally places of connection and transition – consider train stations, or resting places for weary travellers, or simply received ideas about our place in the social hierarchy. Many of the conflicts that play out in Mulgrew’s fiction are the result of characters getting ideas above their station, as the terrifying story “Gala Day” reveals.

Mulgrew’s own station is a colourful and wildly decorated place, a composite of his childhood and maturity in uMhlanga, Auckland and Cape Town: never boring, “but not great for your sense of self”. For a man in his mid-20s, his ticket’s been punched into confetti: writer, poet, journalist, print designer, typesetter, beer and restaurant critic, magazine editor and publisher, Masters student and NGO deputy chair. The “origami construction” of a character in the award-winning story “Turning ” might as well apply to himself.

Mulgrew says he is “cautious of gimmicks and glibness”, and his style is mercifully free of self-consciousness and ornamentation. The stories are so affecting because they are high-concept, but their prose also delivers various bangs for your buck. Take this sex scene: “How can one deserve the way everything was constructed, from dirt and ash and rock, all to place this person here with me? How worlds and universes and stardust were broken up and subsided here, in the midst of brick and sheet-roofing and oak; how two bodies of water and carbon and phosphorous and bone fight here with all their will to inhabit the same points of space and time as the other. I hadn’t prayed in all my life until the night you fell asleep, afterwards, next to me.”

It ends in tears, of course. Ne estas kialo, proclaims the girlfriend’s tattoo. There is no why. But that’s no reason to stop prospecting. Mulgrew’s next novel is set between the KwaZulu-Natal coast and the North Island of New Zealand. “That one is about white flight, and, if I do it right, should make a lot of people very sad.”

Ever the journeyman, he ends his last story so: “This place had a geography that had to be relearned.” That’s a truth worth knowing.

Diane Awerbuck is the author of Home Remedies

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South African writer Faraaz Mahomed wins 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize: Africa Region

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize


Alert! The five regional winners of the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize have been announced.

South African writer Faraaz Mahomed has been named the Africa Regional Winner for his short story “The Pigeon”.

Mahomed is a clinical psychologist and human rights researcher based in Johannesburg. “I am an unseasoned writer, who continues to struggle with the insecurities and anxieties of inexperience,” he says. “Winning the Commonwealth Prize for the African region is more than an accolade, it’s a prompting to continue down this path.”

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize judge Helon Habila says: “The Africa region included stories on almost every conceivable theme, accentuating the endless complexity and beauty of the continent; a testament to the inexhaustible talent that abounds there. ‘The Pigeon’ is a carefully and patiently woven tale about love, lust, guilt, and escape. It illustrates just how, as humans, we will always come short of our ideals, and we must learn to live with that.”

Other South African writers on the shortlist were Andrew Salomon, Cat Hellisen and Mark Winkler. From Nigeria, Lausdeus Chiegboka, Enyeribe Ibegwam and Oyinkan Braithwaite were also shortlisted.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize aims to “brings stories from new and emerging voices, often from countries with little or no publishing infrastructure, to the attention of an international audience”. 26 stories by writers from 11 countries made up the shortlist. Five winners from the five different Commonwealth regions are selected, winning £2,500 (about R53,000) each. The overall winner will be announced at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica on 5 June, and will be awarded £5,000 (about R106,000).

2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners

  • Pacific Regional Winner: “Black Milk” by Tina Makereti (New Zealand)
  • Asia Regional Winner: “Cow and Company” by Parashar Kulkarni (India)
  • Africa Regional Winner: “The Pigeon” by Faraaz Mahomed (South Africa)
  • Canada and Europe Regional Winner: “Eel” by Stefanie Seddon (UK)
  • Caribbean Regional Winner: “Ethelbert and the Free Cheese” by Lance Dowrich (Trinidad and Tobago)

Chair of judges, South African novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, said of the regional winners: “From Faraaz Mahomed’s ‘The Pigeon’ with its playful tone and unreliable narrator, Parashar Kulkarni’s ‘Cow and Company’, a witty satire that engagingly immerses the reader in its world, and ‘Eel’, a simply told and moving story of childhood by Stefanie Seddon to Lance Dowrich’s comedic ‘Ethelbert and the Free Cheese’ and Tina Makereti’s ‘Black Milk’, which impressed with a lyricism that takes the reader into another world while keeping us always on earth, these were all worthy winners and show how well the short story is flourishing in the Commonwealth.”

Commonwealth Writers has partnered with Granta, and on winning story will be published online on that platform every Wednesday until 1 June. At the same time, a conversation between the regional judge and the regional winner will be available as a podcast.

In the meantime, read a short excerpt from “The Pigeon”:

Each morning, for about four months now, I am woken by the same foul, fat pigeon. I am certain that he’s the same one, even though I have no means to prove it. In truth, I have no way to be sure he is a he either. It used to occur to me that maybe he had left something at the window, or inside and was hoping that being here to retrieve it would allow him some release. On most Saturdays, I leave the window open. It makes me feel kind, because I am easing his spirit into the next phase or something of that nature.

Excerpts from all 26 stories are available to read on the Commonwealth Writers website.

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