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Listen to five short stories by Nadine Gordimer (including Loot read by the author) via @openculture:

Archive for the ‘Academic’ Category

David Attwell Reveals the Four “Surprises” he Discovered in Reading JM Coetzee’s Manuscripts

David Attwell

The UCT Summer School Extension programme welcomed South African academic David Attwell, visiting Head of English at the University of York, to the Kramer Building earlier this month for a series of two lectures on JM Coetzee.

The first seminar was titled “Autobiography Into Fiction: JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K”, and was attended by a cohort of Attwell’s students visiting Cape Town from the University of York.

Life and Times of Michael KJM CoetzeeDoubling the PointAttwell based the talks on an expanded analysis of the reclusive author’s papers. His exploration into Coetzee’s private world was facilitated by the opening of the JM Coetzee Archive by the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center last year.

Attwell, who is highly regarded worldwide for his in-depth analysis of Coetzee’s oeuvre, is the author of JM Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing (Perspectives on South Africa). He edited Coetzee’s Doubling the Point, co-edited The Cambridge History of South African Literature with Derek Attridge, and Bury Me at the Marketplace: Es’kia Mphahlele and Company. Letters 1943–2006 with Chabani Manganyi.

Finuala Dowling welcomed Attwell, noting that since he edited Doubling the Point, Coetzee’s intellectual autobiography, it has been “almost impossible to write about either Coetzee or South African literature without beginning one’s bibliography at ‘Attwell’”.

“Soon,” she added, “we’ll be able to place besides Doubling the Point, as its matching book-end, David’s critical biography, JM Coetzee and the life of writing, face to face with time.” This manuscript is scheduled for publication in 2015 by Jacana Media.

Dowling said Attwell’s work was the result not just of his scrutiny last year of the original notebooks and manuscripts but “a unique and enduring rapport between a writer and his critic”. She said that relationship was an ongoing dialogue between two remarkably attuned minds, which began many years ago at UCT, when Attwell registered for an MA under Coetzee’s supervision. “It is particularly fitting that the subject of tonight’s lecture is The Life and Times of Michael K, a novel which was set in Cape Town, had its genesis in this city, and was written on this university’s stationery!” Dowling added.

UCT exam books bound between a piece of cardboard, and held together with what appears to be a
segment clipped from a wire hanger. Photo by Alicia Dietrich, courtesy of the Harry Ransom Centre.

Attwell began by expressing his delight to be back on the UCT campus, and to be speaking on Coetzee where the author had spent most of his academic career. “Coetzee’s studies are a global project, a global undertaking,” he said. “There are centres named after him, centres of creative writing, centres for creative and performing arts named after him, in places at other ends of the world – Adelaide, Australia, and Bogota, Columbia. There is even an asteroid named after Coetzee.”

In his talk, Attwell discussed the four main surprises that had emerged in the process of reading Coetzee’s manuscripts, and the interrelationship of fiction and autobiography, particularly in the genesis and development of The Life and Times of Michael K, which won the Booker Prize in 1983.

“The first surprise appearing in Coetzee’s manuscripts has to do with impersonality,” Attwell said. “For a writer who is so famously guarded, who polemicises against the idea of fiction being a simple expression of reality, Coetzee’s manuscripts reveal him to be much more autobiographical than one would have imagined.” With some exceptions, such as Foe, which is a reworking of Robinson Crusoe, Attwell believes Coetzee’s fiction often derived from personal experience, with his “confessional impulse at least as strong as the impulse to self-masking”.

Attwell said this discovery reminded him of the true meaning of aesthetic detachment: “It’s not a point of departure, it’s a point of arrival, a progressive writing out of the self. The taboo in literary criticism is that the text is a public document, but that taboo disables us from appreciating that the disappearance of the author into the work is actually a cultural artefact, the result of a particular orientation towards the creative process.

“The arch-theorist of impersonality was TS Eliot. His influence on literary criticism was very strong because of this. That influence was so strong that we’ve actually forgotten what he meant. For Eliot, the creation of a work of art was actually a process of self extinction. The self must be present before it can be extracted from the text, as it were, before it can be extinguished. This is the direction that Coetzee followed in his early and mid career.”

The second surprise was insecurity: “Coetzee’s famous control, his minimalism, his taut management of materials, is related to procedural indirection, to an acute self-consciousness. We’ve known this because he’s spoken about writing as a matter of awakening the counter-voices in oneself. Carrol Clarkson’s study of Coetzee’s linguistics confirms this. What is seen in the papers, is just how much insecurity this version of creativity entails. At times it is almost debilitating insecurity. Getting through passages of self-doubt often involved Herculean levels of effort.”

The third surprise articulated by Attwell related to the metafictional quality of Coetzee’s writing. “Metafiction is writing about writing, the building into work of an implicit commentary on the work itself,” he said. “Coetzee is renowned for doing this but the metafiction is not developed programmatically as a way of making general statements about language or art or fictionality. Even though this is a widespread assumption of literary criticism – there is even a popular view that Coetzee writes novels to expound principals derived from post-structuralist theory, for example.”

Attwell believes this is wide of the mark: “There’s an existential impulse that informs the metafiction. A typical question he would pose for himself in his notebook, for example, would be, ‘Where in this work is there room for me?’ That was something he often writes to himself. Or, in a more sophisticated form, ‘When is this book going to achieve self-consciousness?’”

Attwell then referred to Robert Alter’s Partial Magic: The Novel as Self-Conscious Genre, finding an observation recorded in Coetzee’s notes: “Alter correctly observes that the self-conscious novel is aware of impermanence and death in the way that realism cannot be. He’s on the right track. As a result of this strand of thinking in Coetzee’s work, I’ve subtitled my book, ‘Face to Face with Time’. The key element of his authorship involves pushing himself to the point at which he begins to confront existential questions, about himself and about authorship too.”

For Attwell, the fourth and final surprise had to do with the intertextuality that peppers Coetzee’s work. “However, these references don’t precede, rather, they follow the work of invention,” Attwell said. “The allusions enter only once the project has found its own feet. Often this intertextuality is a result of a reading campaign which he will embark on in order to resolve particular difficulties that have arisen in the development of the work.”

Should these surprises even be surprises? Or are they are startling only because of the myths that circulate about Coetzee? “Really,” said Attwell, “it should not come as a surprise to us to discover that Coetzee is human, after all.”

Attwell enjoyed discovering some of the “disarmingly personal gems” he’d come across in the archive. He shared an image of Coetzee’s school notebook dating back to 1948, when the author, aged eight, did a project on bees. “Critics write about his interest in animals, in particular his interest in insects,” Attwell observed. Another of Attwell’s favourites was a photograph of the top of an oak tree in the Coetzee home in Rosebank, which he says he hopes to use on the cover of his next book.

On screen, Attwell showed another remarkable find, a detailed hand-drawn map Coetzee had made as a young man visiting the British Museum. Coetzee, who was reading Burchell’s Travels in the Interior of South Africa, “constructed a beautiful map of where Burchell had been through the country. The isolated boy with an Afrikaner background was reinventing himself in London, but hanging on to a South African identity somehow, realising that that identity was fundamental to the writing”.

The next notebook entry, which illustrated the germination of Coetzee’s idea for The Life and Times of Michael K, was dated 17.X.79 in Coetzee’s neat, orderly script. The provocation was a household burglary in suburban Cape Town.

“Coetzee spent most of 1979 in the USA on sabbatical leave from UCT, refreshing his linguistics, attending seminars on syntax in the departments of linguistics at the University of Texas, at Austen, and at Berkley. He was also finishing Waiting for the Barbarians during those travels,” Attwell said.

Soon after returning to his Rondebosch home, Coetzee experienced a burglary. “The following month he sketched a plan: A man of liberal conscience returns home to discover his home has been broken into and vandalised. He reports the incident to the police but he quickly learns that they are more interested in keeping the lid on the suppressed classes than they are in petty crime. Having effectively no recourse to the law he succumbs to rage. He recklessly drives into the townships posting notices offering rewards, too angry to notice the squalor around him. Matters come to a head when there is another house invasion when he is present and he shoots the intruder. Inured to violence now, and out of control, he calls down a plague on both houses and begins a vendetta.”

Attwell outlined the model Coetzee chose for this story: Heinrich von Kleist’s Romantic novel of 1810, Michael Kolhaus. “Set in the late medieval period, a horse dealer is stopped on the way to market and a license is demanded. Unable to produce one, his horses are confiscated. It turned out the officials are corrupt so Kolhaus becomes an outlaw, embarking on a campaign of robbery and insurrection.”

Attwell described how the style of Kleist’s book interested Coetzee, and offered further extracts from journal entries that outlined the novel: “Michael K started with concept of vendetta, and Coetzee briefly imagined Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country rewritten as vendetta with the theme of the theft of the good land underpinning the novel. The protagonist’s rage was to be fuelled by the discovery that burglars used the typescript to wipe their backsides! Michael K then drifts from being an intellectual to being a working-class coloured.”

Attwell read out Coetzee’s fiery self-scrutiny about the state of the country: “I am outraged by tyranny, but only because I am identified with the tyrant, not because I love (or ‘am with’) their victims. I am incorrigibly an elitist (if not worse); and in the present conflict the material interests of the intellectual elite and the oppressors are the same. There is a fundamental flaw in all my novels: I am unable to move from the side of the oppressors to the side of the oppressed. Is this a consequence of the insulated life I lead? Probably.”

Attwell further examined the spiritual difficulties and contradictions Coetzee wrestled with. The notion of how to attach an outlaw narrative to the outrage he felt as a white victim of crime was one Coetzee pondered deeply. Attwell suggested that in the questions “How do I find my own voice?” and “How do I attain consciousness?” Michael K’s innocence existed as an expression of Coetzee’s own need to attain consciousness. He also explored Coetzee’s need to move away from verisimilitude, with his utilisation of the second narrator in the novel crucial to that requirement, enabling Michael K to become an elusive figure.

The lecture took place just days before the death of Nadine Gordimer, and Attwell mentioned how she had argued in a review that Coetzee did not recognise victims. Coetzee had felt the smart of her criticism, which he perceived as an expression of his lack of political courage.

Attwell’s focus turned to the different literary critical elements in Coetzee’s work, to his elusiveness, insecurity and impersonality. “He was a very guarded figure, tremendously self masked. In each category we learn something new about his authorship. There’s a different game now. Pursue the making of art as much as it is to pursue the art.”

A vibrant question and answer session commenced with interesting responses and queries from some of the academics in the audience. Dowling, Leon de Kock, Lucy Graham and Herman Wittenberg offered in-depth insights, and Attwell fielded questions about intertextuality, as well as the ethics of scrutinising Coetzee’s journals. He posited that Coetzee was “such an enormous figure” and mentioned that Hedley Twidle’s Bodley Head/FT Essay Prize. In the essay Twidle, who was also in the audience, had written about “getting past” Coetzee in a South African context. Attwell suggested that perhaps we had, rather, to “go through him, to immerse ourselves in him, to try to understand the James Joyce of South Africa”, adding that nobody in Dublin would trash Joyce, and nobody in the USA would want to circumvent William Faulkner. “It’s not the same, but Coetzee is as big a figure in our literary firmament,” he insisted.

“The notebooks are a rich resource for the students of the future. The entire archive, some 155 boxes of his papers, are now in the public domain and are very revealing. Some personal letters have been restricted and Coetzee has written humorously about this. He said that the literary executors sit with an author’s material after his or her death. The world wants the material but the literary executors make a decision that the author wasn’t competent to agree to make them available, so they disregard the author’s wishes. That just happened with Patrick White. If you want to destroy your papers, make sure you do it yourself, while you still can, so that somebody else doesn’t!”

In conclusion, Attwell said that the full disclosure available from these documents will enable a vital debate to continue: “The integrity of Coetzees’s overall life, completely immersed, will shine through.”

* * * * * * * *

Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks

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Anita Worrall Reviews How to Fix South Africa’s Schools by Jonathan Jansen and Molly Blank

How to Fix South Africa's Schools: Lessons from Schools that WorkVerdict: carrot

This very moving book, described as a “short and simple manual any community of principals, teachers and parents can use to ‘turn around’ a dysfunctional or ineffectual school” is anything but “simple”. It represents the combined efforts of Professor Jonathan Jansen, who identified 19 “successful” schools around South Africa, and researcher Molly Blank, who travelled around the country filming the schools and talking to their principals, teachers and students.

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Loren Kruger Clarifies Her Stance on Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls at WiSER Seminar

Lauren Beukes

Loren Kruger, who wrote a recent draft paper suggesting Lauren Beukes suppressed all traces of significant sources in The Shining Girls, defended her speculation in a WiSER seminar yesterday.

MoxylandZoo City (SA edition)The Shining GirlsBroken Monsters

Imagining the Edgy CityThe Drama of South Africa

Kruger, who grew up and went to university in South Africa but is now a professor of comparative literature at the University of Chicago in the United States, presented her paper at the University of Witwatersrand yesterday, and fielded some questions about her methods and choice of terminology, which had caused Beukes some consternation:

Kruger – who made it clear that her paper is a work in process – reiterated her belief that Beukes relied on Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, an account of the real life 1890s-era serial killer HH Holmes, to form her character Harper Curtis. It was unclear whether Kruger had seen Beukes’ response on Twitter or her public Facebook page, where the author said: “I’m afraid I specifically avoided HH Holmes so he wouldn’t be an influence and while I own a copy of Devil and the White City, I still haven’t read it.”

“My concern with Beukes is not that she’s using multiple sources,” Kruger said. “I hope I make that clear, I think the pastiche of multiple sources is really what pulp fiction is about. What concerns me is that this [The Devil in the White City] is the key source for the character that Harper Curtis presents himself to be and it’s just striking to me that it doesn’t get a mention. And I wonder what that has to do with the way in which the research was conducted and the way in which the book was marketed.”

The Real vs the Imaginary

Kruger noted that her main criticism of The Shining Girls is the problematic relationship between the real and the imaginary. Kruger believes Beukes sets the novel up as having a solid grounding in the “real” Chicago, which is part of the reason for its success as the fantastic fictional events then become more surprising and powerful. However, she also believes Beukes fails to sustain that authenticity.

“What is interesting about Beukes’ fiction is that on the one hand she wants a certain grounding in urban specifics, but on the other hand moves away from them. What’s interesting to me about speculative fiction, or what [Margaret] Atwood calls social science fiction, is not that it’s simply happening in a galaxy far, far away but that it has some purchase on the way we think now about the world we might inhabit, say, 50 years hence. So it matters, for example, that she gets right where she puts Harper at a particular moment, in which Chicago, or when Chicago. So she’s thinking carefully about both time and place, and perhaps I’m just holding her to the standard that’s implied by the book itself, by its specificity, and by the claims, at least in the American edition, of her sources,” she said.

“Part of my dissatisfaction with The Shining Girls is that she does seem to want not just spacial specificity but temporal specificity. In other words ‘this is Chicago at a particular moment’. If the novel were simply set in some future space it wouldn’t perhaps be important but clearly she does want, and this is perhaps the background in journalism, to be very specific. At certain points, it seems to me, where she’s inviting us to look at the specificity she’s not being specific enough. If you don’t want to invite veracity questions then why be so specific?”

Kruger believes Beukes succesfully negotiated the “slipstream” between reality and the imaginary in both Moxyland and Zoo City, but that in The Shining Girls influences beyond her authorial power muscled in behind the scenes.

“Part of the frisson, part of the thrill of the book, that keeps you going, is the slipstream between plausibility and complete fakery, and it’s that that interests me; it’s a very fine line. It seems to me she pulls it off, that balance of plausibility and fakery, in the first two novels in a way in which she doesn’t in The Shining Girls, and I think part of that has to do with relying on a committee of researchers to a far greater degree than she did in the first two.”

Unintended Publishing Conspiracies and “Theft” – But Not Plagiarism

When asked about the insinuation of a “conspiratorial” relationship between author and publisher, Kruger said she would prefer the word “convergence”, and does not see the author as necessarily complicit in the intentions of a large publishing companies: “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy between her and the publishers. What I see is a convergence between her project and the project of multinational multimedia conglomerates to circulate product. Which isn’t to say that individual authors in their orbit are merely cogs in the machine, but the way in which this work is produced does make it difficult to decide, ‘okay, this is the authors work’ or ‘this is the author’s work in collaboration’, sometimes intentional, sometimes beyond the author’s intention. And it’s that that interests me.”

She also clarified her use of the word “theft”, saying she was in fact utilising a term originated by Eric Lott in his Love and Theft, and strongly denied that she was implying Beukes plagiarised in The Shining Girls:

“I should also make it clear when I used the word theft – as opposed to plagiarism, which is not a word I used because I don’t think what’s going on here is plagiarism – there is a very useful book on a completely different subject by Eric Lott called Love and Theft [...] Theft in the production of fiction happens all the time. But I want to see not just more of the love but also a more sustained engagement with the way you’re twisting the sources.”

Beukes, like many of the seminar attendees, got the distinct impression that a form of plagiarism is what Kruger was implying:

Author Interview on the Cards?

One of Beukes’ main complaints in her social media retort was that Kruger had not contacted her to discuss her sources:

Kruger said she had her reasons for doing so, but did not discount a dialogue with Beukes in the future, “if she will talk to me”.

“I didn’t conduct any interviews because I wanted to get a sense of the novels as I read them as other people read them, and the intentions as they are embedded in the text,” Kruger said.

“Having done interviews in the past, with theatre people rather than novelists, they’re a complicated form of fiction and I wanted at least in this initial round, this is far from publication, to work with the text.”

Kruger ended by saying the seminar discussion had been immensely helpful and thanked the participants for their observations.

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Gwen Ansell Reviews Marxisms in the 21st Century by Michelle Williams and Vishwas Satgar

Marxisms in the 21st Century: Crisis, Critique and StruggleVerdict: carrot with some criticism

The aim of this collection is not to define Marxism but, as its title declares, to explore the variety of positions, analyses and debates that have emerged under the banner. That provides a refreshing diversity. All the same, some readers – especially if their only previous encounters with the term are through media calumnies – might hanker after one essay drawing together the unifying threads.

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  • Marxisms in the 21st Century: Crisis, Critique and Struggle edited by Michelle Williams and Vishwas Satgar
    EAN: 9781868147533
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Tributes Pour in for Wole Soyinka in Celebration of His 80th Birthday

Wole Soyinka

Nigerian playwright, novelist and poet Wole Soyinka, the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, turned 80 on Sunday.

AkeHarmattan Haze on an African SpringOf AfricaWole SoyinkaThe InterpretersSelected PoemsYou Must Set Forth at Dawn

Being the first black Nobel laureate, and the first African, the African world considered me personal property. I lost the remaining shreds of my anonymity, even to walk a few yards in London, Paris or Frankfurt without being stopped.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Soyinka explained where his love for literature came from:

“I suspect that I probably come from a long family of ‘word spinners’. I mean that in the sense of an extended family, because ‘family’ as we use it is a very large one. I was constantly surrounded by aunts, uncles, my father’s intellectual companions. All of them were raconteurs of some sort or the other,” he said.

As part of his birthday celebrations, Soyinka personally presented this year’s Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa to fellow Nigerian author Akin Bello recently.

The winner of this years Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa was announced at a grand ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos this past Friday night. His name is Akin Bello and the work that won him the award is the play The Egbon of Lagos beating the two contenders Toyin Abiodun and Othuke Ominibohs. He went home with the prize money of $20,000.

Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986, has always been vocal about political and social injustice, and has been outspoken on Nigeria’s Boko Haram kidnapping crisis this year. However, in an interview with The Guardian in 2011, Soyinka appeared to announce his retirement from political life. In an article for Nigeria’s Premium Times, Tolu Ogunlesi offers his sympathies to the man for the “random act of pre-existential allocation” that twinned him with Nigeria, a country that “delights, more than most, in numbing its people with unoriginal frustration”.

Ogunlesi quotes Soyinka’s interview with The Guardian:

“I’m getting a little bit bored with this Sisyphean struggle. I’m not exhausted; I can drop down dead tomorrow, that’s irrelevant, I want be around to witness the event. At the moment I do not feel I’m devoid of energy; [or that] my energy is diminished, whether mentally or physically. No. But something in me is getting very weary. And that is the burden of repetition; that it is possible in my own state for someone to sit down and try and turn a town house meeting into his own thuggish platform. It’s over fifty years now, I’ve been marching, I know the number of times I’ve been tear-gassed and of course gone through trials, a prisoner without trials, and so on and so forth. I don’t mind any of that. Mandela spent one entire generation of his life in jail; so I don’t grudge any of that. But if I feel inside me that I’m getting bored on a subject or theme or endeavour I become less creative and I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Tributes to the great man flooded in on Twitter:

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Image courtesy of Victor Dlamini

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JM Coetzee, Ivan Vladislavic and NoViolet Bulawayo Read at the Worlds Literature Festival

JM Coetzee, Xiaolu Guo, Julia Franck and Ivan Vladislavić

JM Coetzee, Ivan Vladislavić, NoViolet Bulawayo, CJ Driver and Isobel Dixon recently took part in the in the 10th annual Worlds Literature Festival, organised by Writers’ Centre Norwich.

nullThe Childhood of JesusJM Coetzee: Two ScreenplaysDouble NegativeWe Need New NamesShades of DarknessThe Tempest Prognosticator

Bulawayo read from her Etisalat Prize-winning novel We Need New Names, while Coetzee read a short story identified by festival-goers on Twitter as “Nicht Verloren” (probably his much-talked-about 2009 story “Nietverloren” from Ten Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing). Vladislavić read a short excerpt from Double Negative, which was recently re-released in the United Kingdom along with The Restless Supermarket.

Rowan Whiteside of Writers’ Centre Norwich reports that Vladislavić’s reading had the audience enraptured:

The highlight of the week, however, was seeing Ivan read from Double Negative to a packed audience. It was probably one of the best readings I’ve ever heard from an author (and I’ve been to a lot of literary events). Ivan read alongside Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee and began by saying what an inspiration Coetzee was to him, and how honoured he was to read alongside such an iconic writer.

There was a pindrop silence as Ivan read. The words seemed to sluice the audience from Norwich to South Africa, 200-odd people transported from a dark theatre to a sun-baked land, rich with possibility. The power of Ivan’s writing seeped into the room and created a world filled with bright imagery and ordinary tragedy.

Flickr gallery

Isobel Dixon and Ivan VladislavićJM Coetzee

* * * * *

Writers’ Centre Norwich tweeted from the event using the hashtag #worlds14:

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David Attwell to Deliver Public UCT Lecture on “Autobiography Into Fiction: JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K

JM Coetzee: South Africa and the Politics of Writing (Perspectives on South Africa)Life and Times of Michael KUniversity of Cape Town Summer School Extension presents a public lecture by Professor David Attwell entitled Autobiography into Fiction: JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K.

The lecture will be held on Wednesday 9 July from 6 PM to 7 PM and will cost R75 or R37 for staff and students or R19 (reduced).

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 9 July 2014
  • Time: 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM
  • Venue: University of Cape Town
    Lecture Theatre 3
    Kramer Building
    Middle Campus
    Cape Town | Map
  • Cost: R75, R37 (staff and students); R19 (reduced)
  • RSVP:, 021 650 2888

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South Africa’s Iconic Stories: Exclusive Books Reveal Homebru Selection for 2014

Alert! Exclusive Books has announced the annual Homebru list, celebrating the best of South African fiction and non-fiction.

There are 48 books on the list, including the shortlists for this year’s Sunday Times Alan Paton Award and Fiction Prize, the winners of which were announced last Saturday.

Fiction highlights on the list include Lauren Beukes‘ latest offering, Broken Monsters, Sarah Lotz‘ thriller The Three and Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer.

Non-fiction fans are also spoilt for choice, with titles including Lost and Found in Johannesburg by Mark Gevisser, Gareth van Onselen’s Clever Blacks, Jesus and Nkandla: The Real Jacob Zuma in His Own Words, Tony Leon’s Opposite Mandela, Justice: A Personal Account by Edwin Cameron and Zelda la Grange’s explosive memoir Good Morning, Mr Mandela, which is already taking the country by storm.

Here’s the complete 2014 Exclusive Books Homebru list. Get reading!

How to Fix South Africa's SchoolsRetreatThe Story of Anna P, as Told by HerselfDoing Life with MandelaSouth African BattlesWhat's Gone Wrong?On Route in SA

Op Pad in Suid-AfrikaLost and Found in JohannesburgThe ThreeDear BulletOpposite MandelaClever Blacks, Jesus and NkandlaJustice

Oliver Tambo SpeaksKrokodil aan my skouer21st Century MegatrendsDubbelspelUntitledLondon – Cape Town – JoburgThe Ties That Bind

Verdeelde landA Time Traveller's Guide to Our Next Ten YearsWinterkos in ProvenceWinter Food in ProvenceVyf-en-veertig skemeraandsange uit die eenbeendanser se werkruimteI'm Not Your Weekend Special

IncognitoThe Crazy Life of Larry JoeUnbelievable!Good Morning, Mr MandelaGoeiemore, Mnr. MandelaBo-Kaap Kitchen100 Good Ideas

Arctic SummerDark WindowsCall It Like It IsBroken Monsters

The Sunday Times Alan Paton Award Shortlist

A Rumour of SpringThe Concentration Camps of the Anglo-Boer WarMy Second InitiationPortrait of a Slave SocietyRichard Rive

The Sunday Times Fiction Prize Shortlist

The Spiral House PenumbraWolf, WolfThe Shining GirlsFalse River

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Sunday Times Alan Paton Award In Context: Q&A on Karel Schoeman’s Portrait of a Slave Society: The Cape of Good Hope 1717 – 1795

Portrait of a Slave SocietyBy Michele Magwood for The Sunday Times

Portrait of a Slave Society: The Cape of Good Hope 1717 – 1795, by Karel Schoeman, was recently shortlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award. Editor Danél Hanekom discusses the book:

In what way do you think the book is “an illumination of truthfulness”?

In his preface Schoeman explains that this book is not the history of slavery at the Cape, but “a description of the world of slaves in which the slaves lived, worked and died”. The focus is on the fact that slaves were people living in a dynamic and complex society who had little control over the course their lives took.

The book is a sequel to Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope. What was Schoeman’s aim in writing these books?

Both books were intended for non-specialist and non-South African readers, in other words for the general reader. Schoeman wants to remind us that although the early Cape may have been another country, its inhabitants thought and acted in ways which made good sense to them, and it is the task of the historian to make that understandable to the modern reader.

Did Schoeman bring a fiction writer’s eye to bear on the dense historical fact?

One of South Africa’s leading novelists, Schoeman has the talent for telling stories and making the individual slaves come alive as real “characters” with personalities. He captures mood and character, time and place based on detailed research.

What is the legacy of slavery in South Africa and how does it play out in our contemporary society?

Schoeman searches for the slave as a human being in the history. He explains that the study of early slavery at the Cape is still relevant, because, “Rather than an institution limited to the coastal Cape periphery, slavery spread throughout South Africa, was adapted to fluctuating human and physical environments and deeply affected the human landscape.”

Do you think this is the definitive book on the subject? Can there ever be a “definitive” historical study?

This book is a worthy and commanding addition to other studies. It challenges others to look at the available sources from a fresh angle. Schoeman narrates the facts without entering into a debate with other historians or authors who have written about this already, and leaves a wealth of information and aspects to be interpreted and argued by others in future.

Schoeman is one of South Africa’s most prolific and distinguished authors, with numerous awards across the fields of fiction, history and biography. What books are forthcoming from him?

Among other items, he has completed Bailie’s Party: The Old World, 1757‒1819, based on the original research of MD Nash, to be published in 2016 by Protea Boekhuis. In 1820 John Bailie, a member of an Anglo-Irish landowning family, led a large party of British immigrants to South Africa as part the 1820 Settlers. This book attempts to trace the European background of both Bailie and the members of the settler groups, and to understand the cultural heritage they brought with them to South Africa.

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Jonathan R Beloff Reviews Africa’s Urban Revolution edited by Susan Parnell and Edgar Pieterse

Africa's Urban RevolutionVerdict: carrot

Africa’s diversity is not only confined to the jungles, savannas and desert that ecologically occupy the continent. It encompasses the complexities of a continent that is slowly developing to become the next economic centre of the global economy. Unfortunately, most people know Africa based on its current conflicts, food scarcity and underdevelopment.

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