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Book Bites: 17 January 2016

From Playground to ProstituteFrom Playground to Prostitute
Elanie Kruger with Jaco Hough-Coetzee (Jonathan Ball)
***
Book buff
Engela is from a broken home. Her parents are alcoholics, and at 10 years old her life is one of poverty and sexual abuse. Isolated and shunned by her peers, Engela gravitates to a satanic group called Group 13. For a while she thinks she has found acceptance, but then she witnesses something horrific at a satanic ritual. Scared, she runs for her life. She is betrayed by the one closest to her and is sold into prostitution to pay a debt. Kruger and Hough-Coetzee shine a light on the dark and insidious world of human trafficking. — Kholofelo Maenetsha @KMaenetsha

The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation
Erika Swyler (Corvus Books)
*****
Book fiend
Simon loses his librarian job and is on the verge of losing everything else when an antiquarian bookseller named Mr Churchwarry sends him a mysterious old book. The book appears to have belonged to one Hermelius Peabody, proprietor of a travelling carnival circa 1780. Simon soon discovers that it holds his family secrets, including why all the women in his family succumb to death by drowning. Skilfully written, it weaves past and present with intricate strands of fantasy, mythology and Slavic folklore. — Annetjie van Wynegaard @Annetjievw

The Chameleon HouseThe Chameleon House
Melissa de Villiers (Modjaji)
****
Book buff
This local short story collection showcases ordinary, imperfect, messy lives, with characters ranging from a desperate pregnant woman to a lonely adolescent grappling with sexual awareness. Several tales occur in the Eastern Cape, with its distinctive flavours, accents and scenery coming alive on the page. De Villiers has a knack for crafting unexpected endings, some of them leaving the reader to decide what ultimately happens. — Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee

Numero ZeroNumero Zero
Umberto Eco (Harvill Secker)
***
Book thrill
At first, Numero Zero seems to be a deliciously hard-boiled crime thriller. The illusion is short-lived. The story turns out to be a rich businessman’s plan to start a fake newspaper to exert influence on his peers, echoing the alleged political origin story of Silvio Berlusconi. An assortment of hacks are gathered together to produce it: Colonna, who self-identifies as a loser; Maia, young, slim, misunderstood; and Braggadocio, who sees conspiracies at every turn. After some amusing satirical observations about the creation of news, Braggadocio’s obsessions dominate the final third, and the book descends into a hyper-complex tale concerning the death of Mussolini. The main disappointment is how old, grumpy Colonna inexplicably ends up with bright-eyed, promising young Maia. — Jennifer Malec @projectjennifer

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