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Book Bites: 11 December 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

Minds of WinterMinds of Winter
Ed O’Loughlin (Quercus)
*****
Book buff
A novel as wide and daring in its execution as its subject – centuries of mystery, horror and human courage in polar exploration. It opens in a tiny town on the edge of the Arctic Circle in present day Canada. Two lost souls, Fay and Nelson, searching separately for some evidence of their lost relatives, find each other by accident. Fumbling towards some sort of meaning, both in their searches and in their growing intimacy, they lead the reader into a grand adventure that stretches across time and the vast, white, howling geography of the North. This rollicking, beautifully written tale ranges from the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin in 1845 – with its promise of British heroism mingled with hints of cannibalism – to the expeditions of Roald Amundsen both to the South Pole and the Northwest Passage, with a fascinating dose of Nazi U-boats and Cold War spying. The stories fade out, like so many lives lost in blinding snowdrifts, leaving the mysteries to echo hauntingly in readers’ minds, hoping always for a little more. – Hamilton Wende @HamiltonWende

Tannie Maria and the Satanic MechanicTannie Maria & The Satanic Mechanic
Sally Andrew (Umuzi)
****
Book mystery
Rippling with humour and affection, salted with violence and dark themes, leavened by “moan-out-loud” food: Sally Andrew’s second book in the Tannie Maria series hits the spot for her devotees. When a San activist is murdered at the KKNK Festival in Oudtshoorn – poisoned by a sosatie – Tannie Maria is once again catapulted into an investigation. But there’s a lot more going on here: in an effort to resolve her problems of intimacy with her suitor, the beeswaxed-mustachioed Henk, she joins a PTSD counselling group run by Ricus, the satanic mechanic of the title, who fixes people as well as cars. A comforting, cosy whodunnit set in the magical Klein Karoo, and imbued with gentle wisdom and a longing for small communities. And cheesecake. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

The Last Time We SpokeThe Last Time We Spoke
Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby Ltd)
***
Book buff
Sussman’s gritty novel was catalysed by a real-life home invasion on a New Zealand family farm. Both the stunned and bereaved mother who was celebrating a special anniversary, and the young gang member whose hopeless, squalid circumstances have now led him to prison, must navigate their respective changed realities, and find new ways to rebuild shattered lives. As counterpoint, an ancestral voice, personified as “Beyond”, details the richness of precolonial Maori society and laments the marginalisation of New Zealand’s indigenous people. “Time stacks each generation upon the one that has gone before, just like layers of rock.” Sussman unerringly focuses on the nexus of race and poverty, and the distance between the landed and the landless, echoing the postcolonial power dynamics of both her adopted home, and those of her native South Africa. A reminder that we cannot escape history, even as the choices we make today shape tomorrow’s history. – Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee

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