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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Book Bites: 12 November

Published in the Sunday Times

Blackwing: The Raven’s Mark
***
ED McDonald, Gollancz, R310

Multi-volume fantasy series are generally soap operas, but every so often there is an excellent series with a rich, complex story that’s simply too long for a single volume. Blackwing may be one such, set in a world with three moons, where energy is spun from moonlight, magic has replaced science, and The Deep Kings (evil sorcerers) battle against The Nameless (non-evil magicians). Captain Ryhalt Galharrow works for Crowfoot, one of the Nameless; his workplace is the blasted wasteland of The Misery, frontier between The Republic and the Dhojara Empire of the Deep Kings. Galharrow and his cronies win this battle, but the war is still to come. Riveting. – Aubrey Paton

100: A Lovely Spirit Here
****
Cynthia Kros

Written to commemorate the centenary of Parkview junior and senior schools in Joburg, the book traces their evolution from one small school for whites to two multi-cultural, racially diverse schools open to all. Parkview Government School opened in 1917, a difficult time in both South African and world history. Kros has built a picture of what the school must have been like then, with the discovery of a fragile admissions register unearthed at Parkview Senior. Fast forward 100 years and you have a Model C school known for its academic excellence. This is not just a book about a school but one about the sorrows and triumphs of South Africa. – Bridget Hilton-Barber

Reading with Patrick
****
Michelle Kuo, Macmillan, R330

In her early 20s Michelle Kuo was determined to teach US history through black literature. Instead, the reality of rural poverty and institutionalised racism slapped her in the face. She persisted, making progress with her students before leaving for law school. A few years later, Patrick Browning, her most promising student, landed in jail for murder. Kuo returned to the Mississippi Delta to tutor him during his incarceration, feeding his love of words. The memoir goes beyond their story, providing insights into US racism. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

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Prince Albert Leesfees: 3 – 5 November

Book lovers it’s almost time to head for Prince Albert in the Karoo.

The town’s sixth Leesfees takes place over the first weekend of November, with a list of writers, books and performers in a programme that offers something for everyone.

The theme this year is ‘The Soul of the Karoo ~ In die Gees van die Karoo’, with writers, poets, artists, musicians, a comedian and films in the lineup. The talks, presentations and stage experiences include discussions with crime and suspense writers, Rudie van Rensburg (Kamikaze) and Mike Nicol (Agents of the State), debut writers Mohale Mashigo (The Yearning) and Sara-Jayne King (Killing Karoline), as well as academic and novelist, Cas Wepener (Johanna).

Matters legal and political are the subject of Glynnis Breytenbach’s memoir, Rule of Law; she will be in conversation with Tim Cohen.

Our visiting author from Europe this year is Bart de Graaff whose book on the KhoiKhoin: Ik Yzerbek/Ware Mense (translated by Daniel Hugo) traces the experience of the earliest peoples of our land.

Artist Elza Miles has made a major contribution to the art scene of SA, with her historical works on various visual artists, she will be in conversation with writer and journalist Johan Myburg who will also speak about his new poetry anthology Uittogboek.

Rapper, Hemelbesem, Simon Witbooi will discuss his autobiography, God praat Afrikaans with Anzil Kulsen.

Joyce Kotzè and her translator, Daniel Hugo speak about her Anglo-Boer War novel: The Runaway Horses/Wintersrust, fiction based upon fact. Joyce relates how her forebears fought on different sides during the War. They will be in conversation with Carel van der Merwe, author of Donker stroom.

Local ornithologist Dr Richard Dean will launch his book, Warriors, dilettantes and businessmen – Bird Collectors during the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries in South Africa.

Karel Schoeman’s contributions to South African literature will be the focus of a panel discussion with Nicol Stassen and Cas Wepener (author of van Die reis gaan inwaarts- die kuns van sterwe in die werke van Karel Schoeman) co-ordinated by Prof Bernard Odendaal.

New food celebrity Nick Charlie Key will reveal banting tips and how to enjoy a healthy lifestyle whilst indulging in decadent desserts, from his book Jump on the Bant Wagon with food-lover Russell Wasserfall.

Poets Gaireyah Fredericks, Daniel Hugo, Johan Myburg and local raconteur Hugh Forsyth will read some of their favourite poems in English and Afrikaans literature.

Two music and word highlights will be Tribal Echo with Huldeblyk aan Adam Small/Tribute to Adam Small and Afrika my verlange/Afrique mon désir: Laurinda Hofmeyr, Schalk Joubert, with six West African singers, in collaboration with the Cape Town Music Academy.

Our programme includes two films. Director and producer, Roberta Durrant, will attend the Karoo premiere of her award-winning film Krotoa. Eerstewater is a documentary film set in and around Prince Albert based on Hélène Smit’s book, Beneath.

We’ll look at the state of children’s book publishing in South Africa, enjoy an evening in the company of comedian Nik Rabinowitz, enjoy delicious meals at the on-site restaurant and generally savour the Soul of the Karoo.

The 2017 Leesfees is a festival you cannot miss. The full programme can be found on the festival website - www.princealbertleesfees.org – and the Facebook page www.facebook.com/princealbertleesfees – offers daily updates on the people, books, poetry and experiences which make up this great cultural event.

Tickets can be bought online at www.princealbertleesfees.org and at the Prince Albert Library, Church Street, Prince Albert. Tel: 023 5411 014. For information and enquiries: princealbertleesfees@mweb.co.za and WhatsApp: 073 213 3797.

Agents of the State

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The Yearning

 
 
 
 

Killing Karoline

 
 
 
 

Rule of Law

 
 
 
 

Ware Mense

 
 
 
 

Uittogboek

 
 
 
 

God praat Afrikaans

 
 
 

Wintersrust

 

Die reis gaan inwaarts

 
 

Jump on the Bant Wagon


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Book Bites: 1 October 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

King Kong  King Kong: Our Knot of Time and Music
Pat Williams, Portobello Books
****
Award-winning author Pat Williams documents the jazz opera King Kong. The musical is centred on heavyweight ’50s boxing champion Ezekiel Dlamini. Hailed as the unbeatable champ of those days, Dlamini was said to be dangerous, as William writes: “He would fight someone in the ring and then invite them to come outside and fight again on the street.” Fame turned to infamy when he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing his girlfriend. He later committed suicide, drowning himself in the prison dam. According to Williams it was thanks to King Kong that jazz legends like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela found fame, and it was where Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu met and fell in love. Williams also describes the impact the opera had on her and on the show’s original cast. – Khanyi Ndabeni

The MayflyThe Mayfly
James Hazel, Bonnier Zaffre
***
A paint-by-numbers thriller that starts off with too much exposition but relaxes into a character-driven narrative. Protagonist Charlie Priest is large, handsome and clever, with more than the required number of flaws. Once a detective inspector, Priest left the police to start a legal firm for a handful of high-end corporate clients in London. As a result he is loathed by most of his former colleagues, one of whom happens to be his ex-wife. He suffers from bouts of dissociative disorder during which he cannot communicate, although it’s hard to see how his appalling social skills could get any worse. And then there’s his brother, a convicted serial killer with whom Priest plays Holmes-and-Watson observation games during visits to the psychiatric prison ward. Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

A Jihad for LoveA Jihad For Love
Mohamed El Bachiri with David Van Reybrouck, Head of Zeus
****
“Life no longer tastes the same to me, but the setting sun is still glorious,” writes Bachiri after his wife, Loubna Lafquiri, was murdered on 22 March 2016 in a terrorist bombing in Brussels. Bachiri’s raw grief seeps through the pages of this tiny book that is part poetry, part memoir, and part tribute. This varied collection comes together as an overall plea to the world to cease reacting with hate and to fight for love. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

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Jacket Notes: Sara-Jayne King talks about the difficulty of writing her book Killing Karoline

Published in the Sunday Times

Killing KarolineKilling Karoline
Sara-Jayne King, MFBooks/Joburg

I was about three-quarters of the way through writing Killing Karoline when the message arrived on Facebook. “Are you trying to destroy us?” That was all it said. It was from my biological mother’s sister. A woman I had never met, and never wanted to; one of “them”. That’s often what adoption does. It turns family into complete strangers. “Them” is my biological family – a team of which I am not a member, on whose side I will never be. “Them” is the woman – who, after having delivered me, her hybrid progeny, in Sandton in 1980 – sequestered me away to England to be adopted. She returned to South Africa, and told people I had died. That awful lie formed the final part of her plan to keep secret her forbidden relationship with my biological father.

While it had always been my intention to write down my story, for many years I was crippled by a fear that to allow myself a voice, to speak my truth and reveal myself as the dreadful secret would be to hammer the final nail in my own coffin.

So the page remained blank and I pretended I did not need to write. I convinced myself that I should not write. It was not so much writer’s block as adoptee’s misplaced guilt. Many of us suffer from it.

When the time did eventually come and the book began demanding more fervently to be born, the idea that I owed these strangers – “them” – my silence, became all the more nonsensical. I refused to tell the story in a way that protected them from their own shame. That did not mean I did not think about them, it just meant I refused to write with them in mind.

“Write as if they are dead,” my publisher told me, and I did.

My maternal aunt’s message was, oddly, both predictable and surprising. Somewhere along the grapevine had obviously come word that the book was on its way. Something that would expose the lie and the liars. But unlike the baby that had arrived some 37 years before, this was not something that would be kept secret. I knew the book would be the voice of my most authentic self, because at the end of it all, no one can tell our stories better than we can ourselves…

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Sisonke Msimang’s memoir out in October!

In her much anticipated memoir, Sisonke Msimang writes about her exile childhood in Zambia and Kenya, young adulthood and college years in North America, and returning to South Africa in the euphoric 1990s.

She reflects candidly on her discontent and disappointment with present-day South Africa but also on her experiences of family, romance, and motherhood, with the novelist’s talent for character and pathos.

Militant young comrades dance off the pages of the 1970s Lusaka she invokes, and the heady and naive days of just-democratic South Africa in the 1990s are as vividly painted. Her memoir is at heart a chronicle of a coming-ofage, and while well-known South African political figures appear in these pages, it is an intimate story, a testament to family bonds and sisterhood.

Sisonke Msimang is one of the most assured and celebrated voices commenting on the South African present – often humorously; sometimes deeply movingly – and this book launches her to an even broader audience.

Sisonke Msimang currently lives in Perth, Australia, where she is Programme Director for the Centre for Stories. She is regularly in South Africa where she continues to speak and comment on current affairs. Sisonke has degrees from Macalester College, Minnesota and the University of Cape Town, is a Yale World Fellow, an Aspen New Voices Fellow, and was a Ruth First Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand. She regularly contributes to The Guardian, The Daily Maverick and The New York Times and has given a very popular TED Talk which touches on events which appear in Always Another Country.

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Also available as an eBook.


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Book Bites: 27 August 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The Age of GeniusThe Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind
AC Grayling, Bloomsbury
Book buff
****
The book of the year for history buffs and closet philosophers. The question at the centre is: how did the events of the 17th century radically alter the way people thought about the world and their place in it? Grayling offers a detailed yet riveting account of the history of ideas; how ideologies transformed despite – or because of – the tumultuous events of the 1600s. The 17th century is known for its battles between Catholics and Protestants, and Catholicism and science. But it was also a triumphant time that gave rise to, among many other things, the postal service. – Anna Stroud @annawriter_

A Fast Ride out of HereA Fast Ride out of Here: Confessions Of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man
Pete Way
, Constable
Book real
***

Pete Way is a colourful character who played bass for ’70s rockers UFO and a number of other bands. In his day he was capable of – as detailed throughout this book’s 250 or so pages – ingesting enough drugs and alcohol to make even Keith Richards arch a concerned eyebrow. It’s a direct, old-fashioned sex and drugs and rock ’n roll tell-all. It entertains and frustrates in equal measure – Way’s lackadaisical “that’s just how I was” attitude to his excesses and the pain he caused often comes across as selfishness rather than as a request for the leeway sometimes required by an artistic nature. – Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

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Watch Trevor Noah’s acceptance speech for the Booksellers’ Choice Award

The Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award this year went to Trevor Noah for his memoir Born a Crime and other stories, published by Pan Macmillan. Noah was not present to receive the prize at the convivial awards evening on the 22 August, however his publishers were there, bursting with pride. Andrea Nattrass, Noah’s publisher at Pan Macmillan had arranged for him to record a short acceptance speech, which was shared with the audience at the awards. Noah thanked booksellers, publishers and the sponsors Nielsen Book for the award, along with his English teacher who inspired him to read.

Watch Trevor’s speech here.

PS – Trevor has also been shortlisted for the Thurber Prize for American Humor!

Born A Crime

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Trevor Noah wins the Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award

Trevor Noah was announced as the winner of the 2017 Nielsens Booksellers’ Choice Award for his autobiography Born a Crime and Other Stories on the 22nd of August.

The award is bestowed upon a local author for a South African published book that booksellers most enjoyed selling or that sold so well that it made a difference to the bottom line of booksellers across the country.

The books are voted for by members of the South African Booksellers Association all of whom are booksellers; the booksellers vote for the book they most enjoyed selling during the year. The winner receives R20 000.

The following books were shortlisted for this prestigious award:

· Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde verraaier by Elsabe Brits (Published by Tafelberg)
· JAN: A breath of French Air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen (Published by Struik)
· Kook saam Kaaps by Koelsoem Kamalie and Flori Schrikker (Published by Lapa Uitgewers)
· Koors by Deon Meyer (Published by Human & Rousseau)
· My own liberator by Dikgang Moseneke (Published by Picador Africa)

 

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“Hamba kahle, Emma!” Doyenne of South Africa’s trade union movement passes away

Prominent trade union veteran, women’s and human rights activist, and former Restitution of Land Rights Commissioner Emma Mashinini has passed away in her home in Pretoria at midnight last night at the age 87.

Mrs Mashinini is regarded as the doyenne of the trade union movement in South Africa, serving as a shop steward on the National Union of Clothing Workers (NUCW) and a founder of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) in 1975. She was integrally involved in the establishment of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in 1985.

Mrs Mashinini played several prominent roles in the transition to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s.

Funeral arrangements are being finalised and details will be communicated in due course.

Terry Morris, MD of Picador and Pan Macmillan, paid homage to this remarkable woman:

The feisty and inspirational Emma Mashinini has passed away at age 87. Emma’s memoir, Strikes Have Followed me All my Life was originally published by The Women’s Press UK in 1989 and republished by Picador Africa in South Africa in 2012 with a new foreword by Jay Naidoo.

It was a privilege to publish her book and to have her as an author on our list.

Hamba kahle Emma!

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Acts of useless beauty: Bron Sibree talks to Tim Winton about his new memoir The Boy Behind The Curtain

Published in the Sunday Times

The Boy Behind the CurtainThe Boy Behind the Curtain
Tim Winton (Picador)
*****

Tim Winton refers to his new memoir, The Boy Behind the Curtain, his 28th book to date, as a midlife “looking over the shoulder”. Yet it’s difficult to conceive of more a revealing work from a novelist so revered by his fellow countrymen, but so renowned for shunning the limelight. It is a companion volume to his 2015 non-fiction meditation on the role of Australian landscape on his own fiction and that of the Australian psyche, Island Home.

Yet, this collection peels back the curtain on his life as a man and a writer in far more revealing ways. It also surprised Winton with what the book unveiled. “What sticks out for me,” he says, referring to a body of work that has earned him two Booker Prize shortlistings, “is just how unlikely it all is, having come from this modest, working-class background where no one had ever finished school”.

He writes of his sadness that members of his family remain illiterate in a chapter in The Boy Behind the Curtain, that also probes his concerns about the growing divide between rich and poor. For this is no conventional memoir, but a series of profoundly personal essays in which the 56-year-old author of such novels as Eyrie, Breath, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and The Riders, attempts to make sense of the world, his childhood and the unconscious patterns of his fiction. “You are drawing on real stuff as a fiction writer whether you know it or not, so it’s me trying to acknowledge and also make plain some of those strands that make up the rope.”

Some of that rope’s most significant strands are those of his childhood. The book takes its cues from its titular chapter in which Winton recalls himself before he found words: a troubled, inarticulate 13-year-old who took to aiming his father’s .22 Lithgow rifle at “innocent passers-by” from behind the curtains of his parent’s bedroom. “When I think of that kid at the window, the boy I once was,” he writes, “I get a lingering chill.”

In another he recalls his fears as a nine-year-old, clinging to the steering wheel in the aftermath of a road accident in which his traffic cop father gave his son a job to do while attending an injured motorcyclist. Winton was an adult before he realised his fears related to an earlier traffic accident: one in which his father had been so badly injured that then six-year-old Winton felt he’d been robbed of the father he knew. “That scene,” he reveals, “has puzzled me all my life. Haunted me, in a way.”

That those childhood events remain so resonant in his life and work also surprised Winton . “To recognise myself as the little boy still clinging to the steering wheel, and also to recognise in this long-ago boy holding the gun behind the curtain, that he’s been and gone in one sense, but he’s still present. The people that you’ve been in your life are still with you. They still inform you and you have to be mindful of them, learn from them and not pretend that they’re not there.”

Then there is his obsession with “useless beauty” as he describes his passion for the natural world. “I realised late in life, just from surfing, that in indulging in all those thousands of mornings and afternoons surfing, I was essentially indulging in acts of useless beauty.”

He writes of his abiding need to tap into the power of the ocean in a dance he calls “the wait and the flow” in this memoir. And to read it is to swim marginally, fleetingly, closer to comprehending the miracle of Winton ’s preternatural ability to harness the power of the natural world to the page. For he writes just like he surfs. “And the feeling is divine.”

Follow Bron Sibree @Bron Sibree

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