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South Africans at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival: Round-up

South Africans at the Edinburgh Festival

A number of South Africans, including Lauren Beukes, Niq Mhlongo, Margie Orford, Mark Gevisser, Damon Galgut, Zakes Mda and CA Davids, were guests at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival this year.

Broken MonstersWay Back HomeWater MusicArctic SummerThe Sculptors of Mapungubwe

The Blacks of Cape TownThe Book of ForgivingThe Savage HourLost and Found in Johannesburg

Check out the extensive coverage from Africa in Words and Edinburgh Spotlight, as well as all the action on Twitter:

Beukes and Davids spoke about how their work treads the line between South African and Global, as well as the problem of genre fiction, in an event chaired by Stuart Kelly:

“The first idea was raceless,” says Davids, speaking of her debut work The Blacks of Cape Town, “but I had to go into race.” Though at its heart, the novel is a fictional family history focusing on the limits of forgiveness. “People have taken a step back,” she says. “Forgiveness is a very important part of the South African discourse.”

Beukes’ novel Broken Monsters is set in Detroit, a world seemingly at first far removed from South Africa. Describing the American city as “the ruins of our civilisation”, Beukes goes on to draw parallels with her chosen setting and her homeland, describing it as an “analog for Johannesburg”, and how her latest work examines how “we’re all broken inside.”

Isobel Dixon (@isobeldixon) tweeted from the event:

In another event, Beukes shared the floor with Russian author Mikhail Shishkin in a discussion about the power of language, with novelist and critic Peter Guttridge as chair:

Both writers then go on to discuss their approaches to writing. Shishkin describes how he feels like the servant to his writing’s master, with his role being to transcribe what the novel dictates to him. Beukes speaks of how her novels often spring from a strong mental image, with the writing then “developing like a polaroid”.

James Smith, Professor of African and Development Studies and Vice Principal International at the University of Edinburgh, attended Gevisser’s event, as well as Beukes and Davids’, and wrote a thoughtful guest blog for Africa in Words, entitled: “The Responsibility of Writing in/for/about South Africa – after the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2014″:

I think it is very easy to get caught up in ordinals and dichotomies – a particular book is this or that and therefore ultimately is more or less South Africa. This makes for too-easy a nuance, which is not really nuance at all. We simply need to hyphenate or concatenate and we have new things which are possibly not really new and almost certainly didn’t need defining. For Beukes in particular, thinking about the delineations of genres or “genre wars” is a pointless exercise, it’s the mix that matters as that is what drives experimentation and enables more people to write. Davids is possibly the writer of the three who most closely identifies with ‘SA Lit’ but equally felt that the sheer growing diversity of South African, African and ‘global’ literature was great.

Edinburgh Book Fest (@edbookfest) tweeted from the event:

Katie Read attended Damon Galgut’s event, which was chaired by Claire Armitstead, books editor of The Guardian and The Observer. Armitstead pointed out that despite Arctic Summer being a very different book to Galgut’s other work, certain themes recur: “travel, the search for identity, particularly sexual identity”. The author conceded that writing Forster’s life was a way of writing his own life, “giving voice in a ‘coded way’ to some ‘overlapping’ aspects he and Forster may have shared”.

According to Galgut, what Forster was not was “a politically aware person … this comes through in everything”. Armitstead points out that the strange colonial society Forster moves in is informed in Arctic Summer by two locations, two colonial possessions, India and Egypt. Forster worked in Egypt for the Red Cross during the Great War, between his visits to India. (His first trip was in 1913 and he returned to see Masood in 1921.) That Forster felt differently about his own status in each place is clearly written in the novel. In the Book Fest session, Galgut responds to this question about location by saying that it’s no accident that Forster “lived out his emotional life to the extent that he did when he was far from home” – in India with Masood, and in Egypt, with Mohammed el-Adl, an Alexandrian tram conductor with whom Forster had his first sexual relationship and love affair.

Edinburgh Book Fest (@edbookfest) tweeted from the event:

General Twitter round-up of South Africa news from the festival:

 

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