Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category
A number one New York Times bestseller and hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading” – read an excerpt from Between the World and Me, the new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Framed as an eloquent letter to the author’s teenage son, Between the World and Me is an essay about being black in America, attempting to answer the questions: What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can America reckon with its fraught racial history?
Through a series of personal stories, Coates maps his path towards an understanding of how the world works, and offers hopes for his son’s future.
Toni Morrison says of the book: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”
Read an excerpt, and scroll down to watch a video of Coates reading from the book:
Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labor — it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest. And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random manglings, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this. I have no praise anthems, nor old Negro spirituals. The spirit and soul are the body and brain, which are destructible —that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings. The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden. And the fruits were secured through the bashing of children with stovewood, through hot iron peeling skin away like husk from corn.
It had to be blood. It had to be the thrashing of kitchen hands for the crime of churning butter at a leisurely clip. It had to be some woman “chear’d … with thirty lashes a Saturday last and as many more a Tuesday again.” It could only be the employment of carriage whips, tongs, iron pokers, handsaws, stones, paperweights, or whatever might be handy to break the black body, the black family, the black community, the black nation. The bodies were pulverized into stock and marked with insurance. And the bodies were an aspiration, lucrative as Indian land, a veranda, a beautiful wife, or a summer home in the mountains. For the men who needed to believe themselves white, the bodies were the key to a social club, and the right to break the bodies was the mark of civilization. “The two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black,” said the great South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun. “And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” And there it is—the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has always meant that there was someone down in the valley because a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below.
You and I, my son, are that “below.” That was true in 1776. It is true today. There is no them without you, and without the right to break you they must necessarily fall from the mountain, lose their divinity, and tumble out of the Dream. And then they would have to determine how to build their suburbs on something other than human bones, how to angle their jails toward something other than a human stockyard, how to erect a democracy independent of cannibalism. I would like to tell you that such a day approaches when the people who believe themselves to be white renounce this demon religion and begin to think of themselves as human. But I can see no real promise of such a day. We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own.
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Today people all over the world are celebrating the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.
The name Nelson Mandela means different things for different people, but on this day we forget our differences and strive to do better, to live in a world built on the pillars of peace and reconciliation.
We pay tribute to a great man and salute him on this day:
Leading up to Mandela Day Power FM created and shared a documentary that celebrates the life of the great leader. In the podcast Madiba says, to the great amusement of the audience: “I would like to be remembered as a 91-year-old pensioner who’s looking for a job. It is for humanity of our society to decide how I should be remembered.”
The documentary explores Madiba’s homestead in Qunu in the Eastern Cape where he is buried in a modest grave alongside his closest family members. The archival footage captures some of Madiba’s greatest speeches and quotes, among others: “I never wanted to be regarded as an angel, I’m an ordinary human being with weaknesses, some of them fundamental, and I’ve made many mistakes in my life. I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
Who was Nelson Mandela? Here he tells you in his own words:
“I am the product of the people of South Africa. I am the product of the rural masses who inspired in me the pride in our past and the spirit of resistance. I am the product of the workers of South Africa who, in the mines, factories, fields and offices of our country, have pursued the principle that the interests of each are founded in the common interest of all. I am the product of Africa and her long-cherished dream of a rebirth that can now be realised so that all of her children may play in the sun.”
Listen to the 22-minute documentary, which features anecdotes from the man himself, including his famous retirement speech in which he said, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you”:
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Last year Pan Macmillan announced that they’ve acquired the rights to publish the sequel to Long Walk to Freedom, tentatively titled The Presidential Years. The Nelson Mandela Foundation also released the first pages of the sequel.
In the article South Africa’s former first lady Graça Machel said: “Madiba started working on a manuscript provisionally titled ‘The Presidential Years’ in 1998. He wanted to put on record his own reflections of those important years in his life (1994 – 1999) when he was President of South Africa. The book he had in mind was to be a natural progression from his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
“Circumstances did not allow him to complete the project. I am very pleased that a team comprising former senior advisors of his have accepted responsibility for completing this unfinished task on his behalf.”
In anticipation of this book, here is a preview of “Nelson Mandela: Presidential Years”:
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Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu released a statement on The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in commemoration of Madiba.
In the video Tutu says: “For 67 years, Nelson Mandela placed the welfare of others above his own.” He reflects of Madiba’s life, which he calls “a lifetime of selflessness” and concludes by saying: “Imagine how much better the world would be were we all to recognise our common humanity, as Madiba did, and do something kind for someone else every day?”
Watch the video:
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On the anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison on 11 February this year, Daily Planet shared a free eBook entitled Freedom for Nelson Mandela, published by Times Media Books.
The title sheds light on three key events surrounding Mandela’s release, with chapters entitled “Preparing for Nelson Mandela’s Release”, “The Day of Freedom 11 February 1990″ and “The Immediate Impact”.
Read the free eBook here:
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What are doing for Mandela Day? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comment section below. Follow the hashtag #MandelaDay on Twitter for inspiration:
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Images courtesy of the SABC and Be Limitless
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The Guardian has released an exclusive extract from Harper Lee’s long-awaited new novel, Go Set a Watchman, which will be released this month in South Africa by Penguin Random House.
Readers will remember the furore that occurred in February this year when news of the 88-year-old’s new novel was announced. Go Set a Watchman is set 20 years after the events in that timeless classic To Kill a Mockingbird. A now grown-up Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout, returns to her father’s house and tries to understand both the place where she grew up and the way Atticus sees the world.
Stephen King tweeted this weekend:
The Guardian has shared the first chapter from the novel, including an animated version and a podcast of Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon reading from the book. In the first chapter we meet Scout on the last leg of her train journey from New York to Maycomb Alabama.
Read the extract (for the animated first chapter click here):
Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical. Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied, her joy rose.
Jean Louise Finch always made this journey by air, but she decided to go by train from New York to Maycomb Junction on her fifth annual trip home. For one thing, she had the life scared out of her the last time she was on a plane: the pilot elected to fly through a tornado. For another thing, flying home meant her father rising at three in the morning, driving a hundred miles to meet her in Mobile, and doing a full day’s work afterwards: he was seventy-two now and this was no longer fair.
She was glad she had decided to go by train. Trains had changed since her childhood, and the novelty of the experience amused her: a fat genie of a porter materialized when she pressed a button on a wall; at her bidding a stainless steel washbasin popped out of another wall, and there was a john one could prop one’s feet on. She resolved not to be intimidated by several messages stenciled around her compartment – a roomette, they called it – but when she went to bed the night before, she succeeded in folding herself up into the wall because she had ignored an injunction to PULL THIS LEVER DOWN OVER BRACKETS, a situation remedied by the porter to her embarrassment, as her habit was to sleep only in pajama tops.
Listen to the podcast for Witherspoon’s narration of Go Set a Watchman:
Since the first chapter was released on Friday people have shared their reaction via The Guardian’s live blog. From reminiscing about the first time they read To Kill a Mockingbird to politely asking the internet to refrain from spoiling the plot, Go Set a Watchman has sparked an international interest among young and old.
What makes this book so influential, even though it hasn’t been released in full yet? Alabama arts reporter Carla Jean Whitley commented in a podcast about the relevance of the themes in the book to the south of America, where she’s lived all her life and where racial hatred remains rife.
Listen to the podcast:
For more tweets, photographs of people reading the long-awaited novel and insight into the larger themes of the book, follow The Guardian’s live coverage here. You can also see people’s comments and queries on Twitter by following the hashtag #GoSetAWatchman:
Read Michiko Kakutani’s review of Go Set a Watchman for The New York Times:
We remember Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s 1960 classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as that novel’s moral conscience: kind, wise, honorable, an avatar of integrity who used his gifts as a lawyer to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town filled with prejudice and hatred in the 1930s. As indelibly played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie, he was the perfect man — the ideal father and a principled idealist, an enlightened, almost saintly believer in justice and fairness. In real life, people named their children after Atticus. People went to law school and became lawyers because of Atticus.
Shockingly, in Ms. Lee’s long-awaited novel, “Go Set a Watchman” (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” Or asks his daughter: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”
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What did you think of the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman? Tell us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below!
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Image courtesy of Time Magazine
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Paper Towns is a novel by John Green, best known for his first YA novel The Fault in Our Stars.
Paper Towns, which featured fifth on the New York Times bestseller list in the first week after its publication, has been made into a film that will be released later this month.
Green, who is an executive producer for the adaptation, is involved in promoting Paper Towns. He is currently promoting the movie across America on the “Get Lost Get Found” tour with Cara Delevingne and Nat Wolff, who play the leads in the movie.
Earlier this week, Twentieth Century Fox released a “Story Featurette” in which John Green introduces the story:
Entertainment Weekly interviewed Green to find out more about Paper Towns. He says he was thinking about “how young men often romanticise, and in the process dehumanise, the girls they like”.
In the interview, he also speaks about Agloe, New York, the strange real-life made-up town that features in the book and other things that inspired him:
Quentin Jacobsen, the focal character in the book, has been in love with his neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman for as long as he can remember. This excerpt from the book, shared by Teenreads, is Quentin memory of their shared childhood:
The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.
Our subdivision, Jefferson Park, used to be a navy base. But then the navy didn’t need it anymore, so it returned the land to the citizens of Orlando, Florida, who decided to build a massive subdivision, because that’s what Florida does with land. My parents and Margo’s parents ended up moving next door to one another just after the first houses were built. Margo and I were two.
John Green has a lively question and answer page, where he answers fans questions about what inspires him, what his characters get up to in their spare time and just about everything else.
Read what he has to say about the writing in Paper Towns:
Q. Why did you sometimes switch from writing in past tense to writing in present tense?
A. So when people tell stories, they often switch from past to present tense—sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. Often, they do this because whatever they’re describing in the present tense feels so immediate and unresolved to them that it seems as if it is still happening, even though the events of the story occurred in the past.
So you might tell a story of the time your car hit a deer by saying, “So I was driving down the highway listening to Aerosmith’s new album and then BAM out of nowhere This deer jumps out and destroys my windshield.”
Putting aside the question of why you were listening to the new Aerosmith album, there’s the question of why you changed tenses when telling that story. I think it’s because driving down the highway is something you’re accustomed to and reconciled to and can definitely see as being an event in the past.
But the deer hitting your windshield was so shocking and scary that it feels as if you are still experiencing it, so you tell this part of the story in the present tense.
This happens all the time in regular human conversation, and I wanted to use this to give the reader a sense of immediacy and disquiet when Q switches to the present tense. When he narrates in the present, he’s talking about things that shake him so deeply that he doesn’t feel like they happened; he feels like they are still happening.
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Read an excerpt from The Fishermen, the debut novel of Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma that is going places.
The Fishermen, which was published in April, has been longlisted for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the Edinburgh Festival First Book Award.
Binyavanga Wainaina recently told Books LIVE he thinks Obioma is “something quite serious”, adding: “I’m on page 10 and already I have goosebumps.”
Read an excerpt from the first chapter of The Fishermen:
We were fishermen:
My brothers and I became fishermen in January of 1996 after our father moved out of Akure, a town in the west of Nigeria, where we had lived together all our lives. His employer, the Central Bank of Nigeria, had transferred him to a branch of the bank in Yola—a town in the north that was a camel distance of more than one thousand kilometres away—in the first week of November of the previous year. I remember the night Father returned home with his transfer letter; it was on a Friday. From that Friday through that Saturday, Father and Mother held whispering consultations like shrine priests. By Sunday morning, Mother emerged a different being. She’d acquired the gait of a wet mouse, averting her eyes as she went about the house. She did not go to church that day, but stayed home and washed and ironed a stack of Father’s clothes, wearing an impenetrable gloom on her face. Neither of them said a word to my brothers and me, and we did not ask. My brothers—Ikenna, Boja, Obembe—and I had come to understand that when the two ventricles of our home—our father and our mother—held silence as the fishermen the ventricles of the heart retain blood, we could flood the house if we poked them. So, at times like these, we avoided the television in the eight-columned shelf in our sitting room. We sat in our rooms, studying or feigning to study, anxious but not asking questions. While there, we stuck out our antennae to gather whatever we could of the situation.
Image of the author courtesy Pontas Agency
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This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from The Book of Phoenix, the new novel from Nigerian-American cyber-punk author Nnedi Okorafor.
The Book of Phoenix – which was released internationally in May – is the prequel to Okorafor’s World Fantasy Award-winning novel Who Fears Death (2010), and features some kick-ass cover artwork by our very own Joey Hi-Fi.
Okorafor was born in the United States to Nigerian parents, has a PhD in English and is professor of creative writing at the University of Buffalo. As well as novels, she writes short stories and young adult books, and her work is inspired by her Nigerian heritage and her many trips to Africa. She lives in Chicago.
Tor.com’s Brit Mandelo says of The Book of Phoenix: “It isn’t just well written, and it isn’t just smart as hell; it’s also a damn good story, and it kept me reading almost nonstop all the way through.”
Read a synopsis from SFGate:
In this futuristic outing, she focuses on Phoenix Okore, a “speciMen” created by LifeGen Technologies and sequestered in Tower 7 in midtown Manhattan. An “accelerated being,” Phoenix is only 2 years old chronologically but middle-aged biologically. What she knows about the outside world comes mostly from the voluminous reading she is allowed to do by the attendants who provide her with e-readers and basic care.
Phoenix begins a tentative romance with Saeed, another speciMen, whose altered metabolism forces him to eat metal, glass and other inorganic materials. When Saeed witnesses something unspeakably disturbing within the corridors of Tower 7, he commits suicide, an act that causes an anguished Phoenix to recognize her own true nature. Something unimaginably hot burns within her mind and body, and she makes her escape by giving full rein to her newfound power — and the wings that sprout from between her shoulder blades.
On the run and with little notion of where to find sanctuary, Phoenix heads to Africa to begin a new chapter of her life. But even though she finds acceptance and love in her new locale, it seems as if there is no escaping the attention of “Big Eye,” the all-seeing agents of LifeGen. Unless she commits the ultimate act of revenge, Phoenix may never be free.
Mixing aspects of African folklore, magical futurism and superhero exploits, “The Book of Phoenix” blazes with anger for Phoenix and her predicament, and by extension for all people who suffer at the hands of uncaring scientists, bureaucrats and marketers.
The tale is also a gripping examination of the power of myth and of who is allowed to write and preserve history. Toward the end of the book, a character muses, “Now it was a time for stories that were truer than the truth, stories that spoke to the soul.” Okorafor’s fantastical “The Book of Phoenix” has that ring of truth, a superlative adventure that addresses all-too-harsh realities.
Read the excerpt:
There is no book about me. Well, not yet. No matter. I shall create it myself; it’s better that way. To tell my tale, I will use the old African tools of story: Spoken words. They’re more trustworthy and they’ll last longer. And during shadowy times, spoken words carry farther than words typed or written. My beginnings were in the dark. We all dwelled in the darkness, mad scientist and specimen, alike. This was when the goddess Ani’s still slept, when her back was still turned. Before she grew angry at what she saw and pulled in the blazing sun. My story is called The Book of Phoenix. And it is short because it was…accelerated.
I’d never known any other place. The 13th floor of Tower 7 was my home. Yesterday I realized it was a prison, too. Granted, maybe I should have suspected something. The two-hundred-year-old marble skyscraper had many dark sides and I knew most of them. There were 39 floors, and on almost every one was an abomination. I was an abomination. I had read many books and this was clear to me. However, this place was still my home. Home: a. One’s place of residence. Yes, it was my home.
They gave me all the 3D movies I could watch, but it was books that did it for me. A year ago, they gave me an e-reader packed with 700,000 books of all kinds. When it came to information, I had access to everything I wanted. That was part of their research.
Research. This was what happened in Tower 7. There were similar towers around the world but Tower 7 was my home, so this one was the one I studied. I had several classified books on Tower 7. One discussed each floor and some of the types of abominations found on them. I’d listened to audios of the spiritual tellings of long dead African and Native American shamans, sorcerers and wizards. I’d read the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran. I studied The Buddha and meditated until I saw Krishna. And I read countless books on the sciences of the world. Carrying all this in my head, I understood abomination. I understood the purpose of Tower 7. Until yesterday.
In Tower 7, there was “transformative” genetic engineering, the in-vitro fertilization of organic robots, “rejuvenation” surgery on the ancient near-dead, the creation of weaponized weeds, the insertion and attaching of both mechanical and cybernetic parts to human bodies. There were people created in Tower 7, some were deformed, some were mentally ill, some were just plain dangerous, and none were flawless. Yes, some of us were dangerous. I was dangerous.
Then there was the tower’s lobby on the ground floor that projected a different picture. I’d never been down there but my books described it as an earthly wonderland, full of creeping vines covering the walls and small trees growing from artistically crafted holes in the floor. In the center was the main attraction. Here grew the thing that brought people from all over the world to see the Tower 7 Lobby (only the lobby; there were no tours of the rest of the building).
A hundred years ago, one of the landscapers planted a tree in the lobby’s center. On a lark, some scientists from the 9th floor emptied an experimental solution into the tree’s pot of soil. The substance was for enhancing and speeding up arboreal growth. The tree grew and grew. In a place where people thought like normal human beings, they would have uprooted the amazing tree and placed it outdoors.
However, this was Tower 7 where boundaries were both contained and pushed. When the tree began touching the lobby’s high ceiling in a matter of weeks, they constructed a large hole so that it could grow through the second floor. They did the same for the third, fourth, fifth. The great tree has since earned the name of “The Backbone” because it grew through all 39 of Tower 7′s floors.
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James Patterson has had more New York Times bestsellers than any other writer, ever, according to Guinness World Records. Since his first novel won the Edgar Award in 1977 James Patterson’s books have sold more than 300 million copies. He is the author of the Alex Cross novels, the most popular detective series of the past twenty-five years, including Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider.
Patterson’s books span across many genres, including science fiction, young-adult fiction, comedy, romance, realistic fiction, suspense and thrillers. The last two are especially popular, with a rumour that one in four modern novels in those genres were written by him. These genres are both like catnip to most men, making Patterson’s books ideal gifts for the males in your life.
As it is Father’s Day today, we give you an excerpt from his latest book, which is set to be released this coming week. Truth or Die, written with Howard Roughan, proves that the truth will set you free – if it doesn’t kill you first!
After a serious professional stumble, attorney Trevor Mann may have finally hit his stride. He’s found happiness with his girlfriend Claire Parker, a beautiful, ambitious journalist always on the hunt for a scoop. But when Claire’s newest story leads to a violent confrontation, Trevor’s newly peaceful life is shattered as he tries to find out why.
Chasing Claire’s leads, Trevor unearths evidence of a shocking secret that—if it actually exists—every government and terrorist organization around the world would do anything to possess. Suddenly it’s up to Trevor, along with a teenage genius who gives new meaning to the phrase “too smart for his own good,” to make sure that secret doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. But Trevor is about to discover that good and evil can look a lot alike, and nothing is ever black and white: not even the truth.
Read an excerpt from Truth or Die:
Prologue | OLD HABITS DIE HARD
AT PRECISELY 5:15 every morning, seven days a week, Dr. Stephen Hellerman emerged from his modest brick colonial in the bucolic town of Silver Spring, Maryland, and jogged six miles. Six-point-two miles, to be exact.
Depending on whether it was Daylight Saving Time or not, it was either still dark or just dawn as he first stretched his calves against the tall oak shading most of his front yard, but no matter what the season, Dr. Hellerman, an acclaimed neurologist at Mercy Hospital in nearby Langley, rarely saw another human being from start to finish of his run.
That was exactly how he wanted it.
Although he’d never been married, dated sparingly, and socialized with friends even less, it wasn’t that the forty-eightyear-old doctor didn’t like people; he simply liked being alone better. Being alone meant never being tempted to tell someone your secrets. And Dr. Stephen Hellerman had a lot of secrets.
A brand-new one, in particular. A real dandy.
Taking his customary left turn out of his driveway, heading north on Knoll Street, Hellerman then hung a right onto Bishop Lane, which curved a bit before feeding into the straight shoot of Route 9 that hugged the town’s reservoir. From there it was nothing but water on his left, dense trees on his right, and the weathered gray asphalt beneath his Nike Flyknit Racers.
Hellerman liked the sound the shoes made as he ran, the consistent thomp-thomp-thomp-thomp that measured off his strides like a metronome. More than that, he liked the fact that he could focus on that sound to the exclusion of everything else. That was the real beauty of his daily run, the way it always seemed to clear his mind like a giant squeegee.
But there was something different about this particular morning, and Hellerman realized it even before the first beads of sweat began to dot the edge of his thick hairline.
The thomp-thomp-thomp-thomp wasn’t working.
This new secret of his —less than twelve hours old —was unlike all the others encrypted inside his head, never to be revealed. The facts that Hellerman moonlighted for the CIA, was paid through an offshore numbered account, and engaged in research that no medical board would ever approve were secrets of his own choosing. Decisions he’d made. Deals he’d cut with his own conscience in a Machiavellian trade-off so big that it would garner its own wing in the Rationalization Hall of Fame.
But this new secret? This one was different. It didn’t belong to him.
It wasn’t his to keep.
And try as he did, there simply wasn’t enough thomp-thompthomp-thomp in the world to let him push that thought out of his head, even if only for an hour.
Still, Hellerman kept running that morning, just like every morning before it. That was what he did. That was the routine. The habit. Six-point-two miles, every day of the week. The same stretch of roads every time.
Suddenly, though, Hellerman stopped.
If he hadn’t, he would’ve run straight into it.
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Image courtesy of James Patterson Facebook page
Sol T Plaatje, journalist, linguist, politician, translator, writer and intellectual, died on this day in 1932, aged just 55. To celebrate his life, read an excerpt from his novel Mhudi – the first novel in English by a black South African.
Plaatje wrote Mhudi in 1919, although it was only published in 1930. RRR Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy was published in 1928, making it the first published black South African novel in English, although Mhudi was written first.
Mhudi is set in the 1830s, during a period of conflict between the Ndebele, the Barolong, the Griqua and the Boers, and Plaatje called it: “a love story after the manner of romances; but based on historical facts … with plenty of love, superstition, and imaginations worked in between wars. Just like the style of Rider Haggard when he writes about Zulus.”
But Plaatje was being flippant in this description. Mhudi is deeply political; it explores the origins of segregation and is an implicit attack on the apartheid government’s 1913 Land Act.
Read an excerpt from Mhudi, taken from Chapter 2, “Dark Days”:
Ra-Thaga, in order not to be attacked by wild animals, was won to sleep in the top branches of some large tree, where he would weave a hammock of ramblers and ropes of inner barks, tying it up with twigs. In this manner he spent many nights alone in different woods. This was a wise precaution, for occasionally his sleep and the stillness of the night were disturbed by the awful roar of the kind of beasts, making thunder in the forest. One morning, at the end of another restless night, when the wood pigeons began to address one another in their language, after the dawn of day had caused the whining of the hyenas to cease, the sun rose slowly, and Ra-Thaga, descending from his late solitary nest, commenced the misery of another day. Each of his mornings was but the resumption of his fruitless search for the company of human beings, which is seemed he was never to find in this world. As he dragged his feet through the dewy grass he seems to have no particular destination in view. He wondered how much longer this solitude would last. With a drooping spirit he mused over the gloom of existence and asked himself if he still could speak his own language; or if, supposing he met anyone and was address, he could still understand it.
These thoughts tormented him for the sixtieth time, when he suddenly saw a slender figure running softly towards him. It was clear that the maiden was frightened by something terrible, for she ran unseeingly towards him, and as he arrested her progress the girl stood panting like a hunted fox. It was only after some moments that with a supreme effort she could utter the short disyllable, tau (that is, a lion).
‘Where?’ asked Ra-Thaga.
‘Oh, stranger,’ gasped the girl, recovering her voice, ‘how good of you to appear just when my succession of misfortunes has reached a climax. I almost stumbled over a huge lion just beyond that ridge, not far from here – I am afraid he will hear us if we speak above a whisper. I did not notice the brute at first because his hair looked just like the tops of the autumn grass. He must have been eating something, for straight in front of me I heard a sound like the breaking of a tree. I think he was crushing the leg of a cos – oh, how silly of me to forget that there are no cows in this wilderness. Anyway,’ continued the girl between her gasps, ‘I noticed that in front of me there was, not a tuft of grass, but a living animal feeding on something. So I stepped quietly backward, without turning around, until I was at some distance, and then I turned and ran.’
Ra-Thaga, successfully concealing his own fears, asked, ‘You were not, then, observed by the animal, were you?’
‘No,’ she replied, ‘I believe that he is still devouring his prey.’
Ra-Thaga did not know what to do, for if there were two things he was against meeting, they were a Matabele and a lion. ‘But here is an awkward position,’ he thought, ‘a young woman fleeing to me for protection. What is best to be done?’
His native gallantry urged him to go after the beast; the young woman persisted in following close behind him. Vainly he tried to persuade her to remain where she was, but she was obdurate. ‘Nay,’ she replied, in a loud whisper, ‘I dare not remain alone.’
Ra-Thaga thought he knew what was passing through her mind before she spoke. She added: ‘I have wandered through this lonely wilderness for days and nights, since my people were scattered at Kunana; I have lived on roots and bulbs and wild berries, yearning to meet some human being, and now that I have met you, you cannot leave me again so quickly. In fact, I am not quite certain that you are a man, but if you are a dream, I will stay with you and dream on while the vision lasts; whether you are a man or ghost I have enjoyed the pleasure of a few words with you. I am prepared to see ten other lions with you rather than stay behind of my own free will. Walk on to the lion, I will follow you.’
Ra-Thaga heard this with a shiver. He believed that women were timid creatures, but here was one actually volunteering to guide him to where the lion was, instead of commanding him to take her far away from the man-eater. How he wished he might find it gone! However, he summoned up courage and proceeded, his companion following. At times he felt pleased that she had not obeyed him, for her presence stimulated his bravery. As they proceeded, however, he certainly began to doubt the wisdom of his adventure. ‘In our country,’ he said to himself, ‘lions were usually hunted by large companies of armed men aided by fierce mastiffs, and not by one badly armed man guided by a strange girl.’
Suddenly their extreme peril struck him and, before he had time to ponder it, the maiden touched his should and pointed to what looked like a moving tuft of grass, some fifty yards ahead – it was a black-maned lion.
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Published in the Sunday Times
By Zoë Wicomb
Surrounded by grandchildren, I decided to write a novel about childlessness, one in which the central character does not regret her decision. But how to go about it? As usual I was paralysed by my plan, or rather, lack of planning. Then a number of random events kickstarted the writing. The first: a visit in Scotland to see the salmon perform their spectacular leap upstream in order to lay their eggs in the redds of their birth. Thus reproduction, home and belonging coalesced into my theme. Next, I read Marilynne Robinson’s extraordinary novel Home, and was struck by certain parallels with my half-formed characters. I decided to use it, to transpose the story of genteel Americans to rural Namaqualand. I invented a small settlement called Kliprand, a common country name. My protagonist Mercia, in fact, carries Robinson’s Home from Scotland to her family home in Namaqualand. This novel was turning out to be the same old story: my preoccupation with moving between two countries.
In the same year, Toni Morrison published a novel called Home, also about brother-sister relations. I resolved to call mine Home, and that name remained until just before publication when it turned out that my New York publisher had been humouring me. Under no circumstances would she allow that title, so I settled on October. Dylan Thomas’s “Poem in October” had lodged in my mind since the day of writing about the salmon leap. A writer is, of course, influenced by all the things she has ever read, and it gave me great pleasure to incorporate in my novel a few lines from Adam Small’s wonderful Kanna hy kô Hystoe, a work that speaks so poignantly of home, deracination and class in a rural coloured community.
The third serendipitous event related to photographs taken by Sofia Klaase in an impoverished Namaqua settlement, Hanging on a wire – photographs by Sofia Klaase (UCT Press, 2015). Desiree Lewis asked me to contribute an essay on this work, but I couldn’t. What do I know of photographs? But the self-portraits breathed new life into my existing secondary character, Sylvie, and inspired some of the flashbacks into Sylvie’s youth. Thus came about October, a novel drawn from a variety of influences, a patchwork of other texts.
Excerpt from October
She is drawn to the strange movements of a small turtle with yellow markings on its shell, the markings, she assumes, of youth. It swims in circles, apparently trying to gain the attention of a large, older turtle that clumsily turns away and moves off, only to find itself repeatedly confronted by the youth. With its left flipper it swipes in irritation at the stalker, whilst steering itself away. But the young turtle persists until it manages to face the elder squarely. It reaches out with its flippers – how like little hands they are, the bones between the webbing raised like fingers – as if to touch the face of the other, the splayed fingers quivering with excitement as they slowly shiver forward, but before they touch, the older turtle turns away, evidently repelled, and hurriedly makes off.
Mercia leans over to inspect more closely. The young one does not give up. It describes wide arcs around its quarry, then homes in. It earns a few clips around the ear, is rudely rebuffed, given the cold shoulder, but when the older turtle is lulled into dropping its guard the younger slips round and deftly confronts it once more, face to face. The prehistoric head turns away in distaste, and as its pursuer moves round to capture the eyes, the exasperated creature lifts its head out of the water. Give me a break, it seems to cry; give me space to breathe, but when the head drops back into the water the little face is right there, looking into the elder’s eyes, supplicating. There is language in the movement of those fingers, shivering with passion, as they reach out to touch the face of the other.
I am here! Please, oh please. It is I!
That is what it seems to say. The trembling digits are about to make contact when the older creature swipes at them, cruelly lashes out, then plunges deep into the water and manages to get away.
Phew, what a performance. What could the little chap be pleading for? What does it want? Perhaps, unlike its land cousin, the tortoise, who can walk away from its eggs, this lot left against nature in the same pond, thrown together in the same waters as their parents, will not be abandoned. Will keep on circling the elder in abject supplication. Will stutter through those quivering hands, Acknowledge me, it is I I I I…
October by Zoe Wicomb
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Full 2015 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award shortlist
Full 2015 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist
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