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‘A damn fine collection of stories!’ Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips launched at The Book Lounge

Jolyn Phillips

Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips is “something that has not been done before,” said Mervyn Sloman of The Book Lounge, where the book was launched to a full house recently.

Many of the guests had come from Gansbaai by taxi to celebrate Phillips’s success. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries is a remarkable book that reflects something different in the South African literary canon, bringing South African readers a unique new literary flavour.

Meg Vandermerwe and Jolyn PhillipsTjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesSloman said the power of Tjieng Tjang Tjerries went beyond the use of language and Phillips’ representation of the Gansbaai’s fishing community. The author, who is a Mandela Rhodes scholar, was joined in a fascinating conversation with Meg Vandermerwe, who supervised her MA in Creative Writing at the University of the Western Cape.

Vandermerwe spoke about the joy of watching as “the student surpasses the teacher”.

“Many things make this a damn fine collection of short stories!” she said. “In particular, one of the outstanding and original points is Jolyn’s voice. There’s more than just the account of an underrepresented facet of society, there is also polylingualism operating where a fusion of English and Afrikaans occurs. The stories are written in English, but contains a lot of Afrikaans. The voice carries with it the timbre and melody of Afrikaans.”

Jolyn’s mother tongue is Afrikaans, but she wanted in the stories to introduce her home and people’s lives, as captured in the way they speak. The author spoke about how music and translation are vibrant aspects of her life. “Something about the way people speak is more than just the words. I wanted the rhythm to come through. As I wrote, I sounded it out loud, keeping words in that enabled a kind of cultural translation,” she said.

For Phillips, the aim is to carry the culture and feelings of her people into English. She said, “I was trying to translate the people, rather than the language.” She also noted the curious experience of being somebody who appeared in the lives of her characters who came knocking on her door at 2 AM to rouse her to write!

How does Phillips explain memory? She quoted Aristotle, who said, “Memories are the scribe of the soul.”

“My memory was doing the writing for me,” she said. “This book is a collection of my soul, who I am as a human being, and how I connect to the people I come from.

“Landscape and language are the melody of the book, but the characters defined themselves in the stories.”

Tjieng Tjang TjerriesTjieng Tjang Tjerries


Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event:


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