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Ten Quick Questions with Achmat Dangor

Published in the Sunday Times

If you could require world leaders to read one book, what would it be?
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Set in America during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on a family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by economic hardship. They head for California, the “promised land”. There they find workers exploited to the point of starvation. Leaders need to ask: what has changed since 1929?

Which book changed your life?
Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country. I was 15 when I read it. I grew up thinking all white people were racist. Paton’s novel made me realise that our country was not simply black and white.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?
While writing Kafka’s Curse, in which one of the characters turns into a magnolia tree branch, I climbed into such a tree, perched there for hours, imagining what it was like to be part of a tree.

Do you keep a diary?
Yes, in the form of poems that reflect happenings around me and in the world.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?
Bride, a young African-American woman in Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child.

What phrases do you most overuse?
“Oh God, the history I was trying to get away from …”

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
Zakes Mda’s Little Suns and JM Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus.

What’s more important to you: the way a book is written, or what it’s about?
The way it’s written; exciting subjects can be made dull by bad/clichéd writing.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?
Toni Morrison, Ivan Vladislavic and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?
Nadine Gordimer’s No Time Like the Present, a signed birthday gift from her, the year before she passed away..

Bitter FruitDangor’s Bitter Fruit (Picador Africa) has been re-released. Dikeledi (Picador Africa) is out in September.

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