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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Making us laugh while it makes us think – The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the English debut from award-winning Moroccan author Fouad Laroui

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The Curious Case of Dassoukine's TrousersThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the long-awaited English-language debut from Morocco’s most prominent contemporary writer, Fouad Laroui.

In its original French, The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers won the Prix Gouncourt de Nouvelles, France’s most prestigious literary award, for best short story collection.

In the introduction to the English edition, award-winning Moroccan-American novelist and essayist Laila Lalami says: “Laroui’s prose moves fluidly between languages, between high and low culture, between affecting personal commentary and sharp cultural associations. This constant code-switching is no doubt a testament to a life lived between cultures, and made all the richer for it.

The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is a comic book, occasionally even a farce. [...] But beneath the humour is Laroui’s constant concern with power and displacement. His prose is delightfully energetic, filled with double entendres, and he is not afraid to experiment with syntactic structures, as he does in the story ‘Dislocation’.

“In its exploration of culture, identity and religious dogma, Dassoukine consistently makes us laugh while it makes us think. Laroui turns his appraising gaze on the foibles and foolishness of his characters – with irreverence, but never without tenderness.”

Laroui has published over 20 novels and collections of short stories, poetry, and essays, and teaches econometrics and environmental science at the University of Amsterdam. He lives between Amsterdam, Paris, and Casablanca.

The English edition of The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers is published by Deep Vellum, who published Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Etisalat Prize-winning Tram 83.

Read an excerpt from The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, courtesy of Words Without Borders:

* * * * *

“Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism,” sighs Dassoukine, staring into the distance.

I don’t respond because this phrase seems like a prologue – and in the face of a prologue, what can you do but await what follows, resigned. My commensal examines his mug of beer suspiciously, even though we are, after all, in the country that saw the birth of this pretty blonde, sometimes brunette, child—in an abbey, I’m told. The server eyes us. In this superb spot situated on the Grand-Place of Brussels, opposite the Maison du Cygne, we form a trio hanging on this thesis: “Belgium really is the birthplace of Surrealism.” This incipit is still floating in the air when Dassoukine decides to elaborate.

“What just happened to me, in any case, exceeds all bounds.”

I restrain myself from adding: “And when boundaries are crossed …”

He begins:

“So, I set out yesterday from Morocco on a very delicate mission. You know the grain harvest is off to a bad start in our country: it has rained, but not a lot. We are in desperate need of flour, but where to find it? Ukraine is in flames, the Russians cling tightly to their crops, it’s a long way to Australia. There’s only one solution: Europe. The government sends me to buy flour from Brussels. They’ve entrusted this mission to me. The country’s future is at risk. At the airport, in Rabat, they’re all on the tarmac, the ministers standing straight as yews, to bid me bon voyage as if their fate depended on little old me. Well, little … I’m taller than all of them by a head. The prime minister shakes my hand while the airplane engines roar and my eyes blur:

“‘—Get the best price, my boy, the best price! The budget of the state depends on your negotiating skills.’

“He nearly pulled my ear, as if to say, ‘the homeland is counting on you, grenadier.’ I board the plane and set sail for the haystacks. On the Place Jourdan in Brussels, I get a room in the hotel where high-flying diplomats normally stay. Check-in, shower, quick glance at the TV – the world still exists – I’ll spare you the details. I go down to have a drink at the bar. Surprise! While I’ve come to the land of Tintin to buy wheat, suddenly I find myself on the first floor at a soirée whose theme is – adjusting our glasses and leaning in to look at the placard – ‘the promotion of Alsatian wine and cuisine.’ Curious. I had thought the gastronomy on the borders of the Rhine could stand up for itself – didn’t the Maginot Line used to be there? But anyway … I mingle among the guests. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and no one seems to notice this tall freeloading foreigner who tomorrow will be buying twenty million pounds of wheat. No one … except for two gentlemen.”

“Two gentlemen?”

“Yes, one plus one.”

“You pronounce the ‘t’ when you say it?”

Dassoukine looks at me, dumbstruck.

“I’m telling you about the fiasco of the century and the only thing you’re worried about is whether you say ‘two gentlemen’ or ‘two gennelmen’?”

“Apologies.”

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Read Lidudumalingani’s 2016 Caine Prize-winning story “Memories We Lost”

Read Lidudumalingani's 2016 Caine Prize-winning story - and listen to him read it

 

This Fiction Friday, celebrate South African writer Lidudumalingani’s recent Caine Prize victory by reading his winning story, “Memories We Lost”.

The piece was originally published in the 2015 Short Sharp Stories anthology Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You, when it was described by Diane Awerbuck as “a terrifying examination of mental illness based on the writer’s real-life familial experiences”.

At the prize announcement, Chair of Judges Jarrett-Macauley said the story “explores a difficult subject – how traditional beliefs in a rural community are used to tackle schizophrenia”.

“This is a troubling piece,” she continued, “depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape. Multi-layered, and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.”

Tseliso Monaheng gives a beautiful reading of the story, available to listen to on Soundcloud:


 

 
Don’t miss Lidudumalingani in Johannesburg for an iSwareyi at the end of July.

Without further ado, read an excerpt from “Memories We Lost”:

There was never a forewarning that this thing was coming.

It came out of nowhere, as ghosts do, and it would disappear as it had come. Every time it left, I stretched my arms out in all directions, mumbled two short prayers, one to God and another to the ancestors, and then waited on my terrified sister to embrace me.

The embraces, I remember, were always tight and long, as if she hoped the moment would last forever.

Every time this thing took her, she returned altered, unrecognisable, as if two people were trapped inside her, both fighting to get out, but not before tearing each other into pieces. The first thing that this thing took from her, from us, was speech, and then it took our memories.

She began speaking in a language that was unfamiliar, her words trembling as if trying to relay unthinkable revelations from the gods. The memories faded one after the other until our past was a blur.

Some of the memories that have remained with me are of her screaming and running away from home. I remember when she ran out to the fields in the middle of the night, screaming, first waking my mother and me and then abducting the entire village from their sleep. Men and boys emerged from their houses carrying their knobkerries as if out to hunt an animal. Women and children stayed behind, frightened children clutching their mother’s nightgowns. The men and boys, disorientated and peeved, shuffled in the dark and split into small groups as instructed by a man who at the absence of a clear plan crowned himself a leader. Those with torches flicked them on and pushed back the darkness. Some took candles; they squeezed their bodies close and wrapped blankets around themselves in an attempt to block the wind, but all their matches extinguished before they could light a single candle.

Those without torches or candles walked on even though the next step in such darkness was possibly a plunge down a cliff. This was unlikely, it should be said, as most of them were born in the village, grew up there, got married there, had used that very same field as their toilet for all their lives, and had had in overlapping periods only left the village when they went to work for the white man in large cities.

They had a blueprint of the village in their minds; its walking paths, its indentations, its rivers, its mountains, its holes where ghosts lived were imprinted in their blood.

Hours later, the first small group of men and boys, and then another and another, emerged from the darkness. They did not find her. They had looked everywhere, at least they had claimed. They were worried about not finding my sister or annoyed at being woken in the middle of the night – I could not tell. Morphed into defeated men, their faces drooped to the floor, and their bodies slouched as if they had carried a heavy load. Each group was not aware of the other groups’ whereabouts.

They did not even know if the other groups still existed or if the night had swallowed them. They had last seen them when they wished them luck when they split up. They had heard them yell my sister’s name, in the dark, before going silent.

She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not respond to the calls.

Each group chanted with great terror. With each group that emerged, I hoped that it would chant something else, but nothing changed; the chant was, as if it had been rehearsed for a long time, repeated the same each time, tearing my heart apart.

She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not scream.
She did not cry.
She did not respond to our screams.

The chant went on until all groups had returned.

Mother, a woman of tall build and wide hips, only returned home when the sun was way up in the sky the next day, carrying my sister on her back.

She would scream in intervals as if to taunt me, my mother said.

Related stories:

Incredible JourneyLusaka Punk and Other StoriesThe Gonjon Pin and Other Stories10 Years of the Caine Prize for African WritingA Memory This Size and Other StoriesThe Caine Prize Anthology 2009: Work in Progress and Other Stories

 

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Images courtesy of The Caine Prize


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Long Story Short’s first African language podcast – Presley Chweneyagae reads Sabata-Mpho Mokae’s Ga Ke Modisa

Ga Ke ModisaThe Story of Sol T. Plaatje

 
The Long Story Short initiative, launched by arts and culture entrepreneur Kgauhelo Dube, has reached yet another literary milestone – their first podcast in an African language!

In this podcast, well-known actor Presley Chweneyagae of Tsotsi fame reads an extract from Sabata-Mpho Mokae’s Setswana novel Ga Ke Modisa. In 2013, Mokae’s novel won an M-Net Literary Award in the African languages and film categories.

Listen to the reading, which was recorded earlier this year at the inaugural Rutanang Book Fair in Tlokwe, North West Province. At the time, Dube exclaimed: “We are also very excited as the talented performer Presley Chweneyagae will be reading the first Setswana story in the Long Story Short series!”

Watch the video:

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Related stories:

 

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Read an excerpt from Binyavanga Wainaina’s new short story, “Alien Taste”

Kwani?One Day I Will Write About This PlaceHow to Write About Africa

 
“There are times that even Graham believes the story he has peddled for so many years, about how he came to be gay.”

This Fiction Friday, dip into “Alien Taste”, a new short story on Brittle Paper by acclaimed author Binyavanga Wainaina.

The story starts with the protagonist thinking back on the time he first realised he was gay. Fifteen-year-old Graham drinks beer and has had sex with an older woman (but isn’t convinced that he liked either events).

“He assumed that sex was like beer—that soon it would create an unquestioning language in him, and he could lose himself in its subtleties.”

On the day he decides to smoke in public for the first time, Graham meets a man named Fred, a big Irishman with a deep, careless voice.

Read the excerpt:

There are times that even Graham believes the story he has peddled for so many years, about how he came to be gay. That he had always known; that he used to dress up in his mother; that he had been riveted by the biceps of Mohammed Ali, the anger of those black panthers on television; that he had played the kerfuffle game in public school; that the old gay friends of his mother, who had hosted him when she was in rehab, or consulting her guru in Lucknow, had made it easy to see possibilities in this world. These things are all true, but only small accessories to the main event.

But the main event, as seen by him now, is also untruthful: it was not as clear a sexual selection as he prefers to imagine, and he knows this enough not to share this story– it could well be that he was always gay, and that he would have come to it in one way or another, despite his self-protests to the contrary. But the unambiguous epiphany that the first gay fuck gave him marked not his sexuality, but his approach to life itself, it was his Woodstock, his civil rights movement. And inside himself, he remains unconvinced of his visceral homosexuality, believes that he has willfully created himself.

 
Related stories:

 

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Image courtesy of Brittle Paper and Department of Arts and Culture


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The campaign to stop Afrikaans-medium lessons: Excerpt from Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt

Year of Fire, Year of AshTo commemorate the 40th year anniversary of the Soweto Uprisings, HSRC Press has shared an excerpt from Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt – Roots of a Revolution? by Baruch Hirson.

Some 35 years after its original publication, but never previously available in South Africa, Year of Fire, Year of Ash still stands as one of the leading accounts of the 1976-77 Soweto Revolt, one of the most significant acts of resistance in the history of the anti-apartheid movement.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 10. The Soweto Revolt: June 1976:

The Campaign to Stop Afrikaans-medium Lessons

The instructions issued from the office of the Minister of Bantu Education that half the subjects taught in Standard 5 and in the first form be in Afrikaans was immediately opposed by parents, teachers and pupils. This opposition grew during the closing months of 1975, and by early 1976 there were demonstrations in some schools against the introduction of lessons in Afrikaans. As the protests increased, school after school, at least in the Soweto region, joined forces and eventually marched together in the demonstration of 16 June that sparked off the Revolt.

The widespread opposition to the new regulation, which brought together conservatives and radicals, teachers and taught, indicated that the many strands of opposition – based on very different premises – were uniting against something more than an instruction over language. In 1976 the united stand against Afrikaans was only the external manifestation of the deep resentment inside the townships against the entire administration. Moreover, the language predominantly used by police, prison warders, pass-office officials, township administrators and, indeed, the entire bureaucracy, was Afrikaans.

There were reasons for opposing Afrikaans, and there were reasons for preferring English. From the point of view of the educationalist, a switch to instruction in Afrikaans would be disastrous. Time and again both teachers and pupils stressed the fact that their education was inferior to that of the whites. The view of a young African, reported in the Natal Mercury in February 1975, was not atypical: ‘The education given to Africans is so low that a Junior Certificate [that is, third form pass] with us is equivalent to a standard 6 in the other racial groups.’6 There were no easy solutions to the problem and little chance of improvement in a system which was designed to fit youth for a subservient position, economically, socially and politically. Yet it was perceived that education conducted in Afrikaans would lead to a definite deterioration in standards. African teachers had received instruction almost exclusively in English, and many were barely able to converse in Afrikaans. They could not possibly have conducted a course of instruction in that language, and it was inconceivable that they could ever master the technical language required for the classroom in a language they did not speak – more especially for arithmetic or mathematics.

The secretary of the African Teachers Association of South Africa (ATASA) stated the teachers’ case in measured terms:

To say that the Blacks are opposed to the study of Afrikaans is a gross understatement … In strict terms what we oppose now is the manner in which this is being done without regard to the interests of the children concerned. And if this trend continues without being checked then the education of the Black child will be seriously threatened …

Parents and their children and, undoubtedly, many teachers objected to the new regulations for a number of reasons which included the widely held contentions that English was the main language of industry and commerce, and was essential for any youth who wanted to find a place inside the economy of South Africa; it was an international language and the medium through which contact could be maintained with the rest of Africa; and it was the one lingua franca which bound blacks, at least in the urban areas, together.

For the school pupils, or at least for that section which sought to organise opposition to the system of Bantu Education, the language issue assumed importance because it bound together pupils in the primary and the secondary schools on a single issue and offered a theme around which a campaign could be built.

The first vocal protests seem to have come from the School Boards in Soweto. These were bodies set up under the Bantu Education Act to
administer Community Schools, and were considered by all anti-government groups to be instruments of the Department of Bantu Education. Nonetheless, the first recorded opposition came from the Meadowlands Tswana School Board early in 1976. The Board issued a circular, under the names of Abner Letlape and Joseph Peele, countermanding the instruction that Afrikaans be used as a medium of instruction in the schools. The two men were dismissed and the dispute, between School Boards and parents and the Department, was openly acknowledged.

Active student opposition seems to have commenced with an altercation between third form pupils of the Thomas Mofolo Secondary School and their principal over the introduction of Afrikaans on 24 February 1976. Motapanyane, recalling the confrontation in 1977, stated:

As early as March 1976, Thomas Mofolo was the first school to have Afrikaans imposed on it, and immediately there was a student protest. In March 1976, the principal called in the police to cool the students and force them to accept Afrikaans. Some students from my school, Naledi High School, went there to investigate their problems. We also visited schools in Meadowlands. We found that these students also felt bitter about what the government was doing. They immediately stopped attending classes because they felt as we did that what was needed was a positive reaction.

The parents’ committee then intervened and approached the school inspectors. But they were rebuffed. Motapanyane continued his account:

The Naledi High SASM branch also went to Orlando West Junior Secondary … The students there agreed with us and started destroying their books and refused to attend classes. And this was the first effective protest started in Soweto … because the students there were quite clear about what they wanted. Despite the threat by the Bantu Education inspector that the schools would be closed … they remained very firm … We went on to other schools … By May 1976, the protest actions were quite general in many schools.

By now a large number of schools in Soweto were in an uproar. Normal lessons were replaced by debates on current affairs or on the shape of things to come. Essays were attempted on the shape of South Africa twenty-five years hence. Teachers joined pupils in these discussions and there were few signs of the supposed age gap between the generations. The students discussed the US, the role of the Black Power movement and Martin Luther King (a much-admired figure). They spoke of orderly change in the country leading eventually to majority rule and there was, it appears, little talk of revolutionary activity. Some schools were more aware politically than others, and the extent to which such discussions took place varied from school to school. Naledi and Orlando West (amongst others) were developing a very conscious student leadership and were to provide many of the leaders in the months to come.

Young men and women were drawn into the vortex of politics and learnt, within the space of weeks, what might otherwise have remained outside their experience. Daniel Sechaba Montsitsi, fourth president of SASM, told the World in an interview on 27 February 1977 that, until he joined SASM, he knew nothing of the ANC or the PAC. Thousands of other could undoubtedly have made similar remarks.

By May 17, 1 600 pupils had withdrawn from Orlando West Junior Secondary School12 and over 500 pupils at the Phefeni Junior Secondary School refused to attend classes and stoned the principal’s office. The following day two further schools closed and the children congregated in the school grounds, playing and skipping, while teachers stood by unwilling to interfere.

At this stage there was no clear direction from any organisation; children left the classrooms and in many cases drifted back. None of them, however, took any heed of threats – either of expulsion or that schools would be closed down and teachers transferred.

The first overt violence was reported on 27 May, when a teacher of Afrikaans at Pimville Higher Primary School was stabbed with a screwdriver. The police who arrived to arrest the offending pupil were stoned. The stonings were henceforth a regular feature of the violence that was evident everywhere. On 5 June, pupils at the Belle Higher Primary School stoned children who had returned to classes during an apparent lull in the boycotts.

Motopanyane adds from his own recollections:

Early in June the police sent their men to collect one of our colleagues … They arrested one student but he was later released. Then on the 8th they came again. Hey, it was unfortunate for them to be seen by the students. They were beaten and their car was burnt. On that day they were coming to arrest our local secretary of SASM at our school … in connection with the student protests …

Thereafter, said Motopanyane, the students informed the staff that they would not write the half-yearly examination. On 13 June, the Naledi branch of SASM called a meeting to discuss the entire issue. Between 300 and 400 students were present and they decided on a mass demonstration. An Action Committee of SASM, composed of two delegates from each school in Soweto, was placed in charge of the demonstration, and it was this body, renamed the Soweto Students Representative Council (SSRC) after 16 June, that henceforth assumed the leadership of many of the events of 1976.

Tebello Motopanyane was the first chairman of the Action Committee and was secretary general of SASM. Motopanyane also stated that the demonstration, planned for 16 June, was to be peaceful – but that if the police used violence they were resolved to defend themselves and, if possible, to retaliate.

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Excerpt from Soweto Burning: A Family’s Journey to the 1976 Soweto Riots by Don Emby

Soweto BurningJune 16, 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, which took place in 1976.

To commemorate this important date, Donald Emby has shared an excerpt from his book Soweto Burning, part factual history and part fictional novel, published in 2014.

About the book

In the 1950s a routine underground inspection in a goldmine turns into a horrifying experience for a South African mining engineer.

In the 1970s a young woman decides to hike the Fish River Canyon in Namibia; and an American Catholic priest journeys to Soweto to care for abused women and children.

These seemingly unrelated strands form the foundation of a family’s journey to a day that would forever change them – and the country in which they live. Wednesday 16 June, 1976, the day on which highschool pupils in Soweto organised a riot to protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of education, marked a clear watershed for South Africa.

Soweto Burning is part factual history and part fictional novel, portrays the parallel journey of a family and a country to a crescendo that rocked the world. It starkly illustrates how this dramatic turning point, and the policy of racial segregation through apartheid, affected one white family and the country as a whole; how our actions impact on others, and how even one courageous decision can change countless lives.

About the author

Donald Emby was born in 1949 in Durban, South Africa. He studied medicine at Wits University, graduating in 1973. Much of his clinical training was at Baragwanath Hospital. He retired from full time radiological practice in 2012, having contributed more than 20 articles to medical literature; and turned his hand to non-medical writing.

Extracts from Part 2 of Soweto Burning: Wednesdays Children

The first encounter between the protesting school children and the police.

At 8:30 a.m. Col Kleingeld issued revolvers and live ammunition to his men, and led the patrol that set out from the Orlando Police Station. He had 48 policemen in his group, 40 of whom were black. His patrol drove past the still empty Orlando Stadium and encountered the vanguard of the marchers as they approached the old Orlando West Bridge.

The organisers of the march had cautioned the students to remain calm if they encountered police patrols, and not to act in ways that might be construed as contrary to the peaceful nature of the gathering. But with emotions running high, a small group of students started throwing stones at the police. Others rapidly joined in as the pent-up aggression of the marchers rapidly overtook the initial mood of peaceful defiance.

A stand-off ensued, with a distance of approximately 50 metres separating the two sides. Col Kleingeld was hit on the thigh, and the windscreen of his vehicle was shattered by the barrage of stones. In response he threw three teargas canisters at the crowd but far from dispersing them, this only acted to further incense the students. Cupping his hands to his mouth, he shouted to the students to disperse, but without a loudhailer, his voice was lost in the din and commotion.

With the teargas having had no effect in dispersing the marchers, the prudent response from the police would have been to withdraw the patrol, wait for backup and monitor the behaviour of the crowd from a safe distance. It would have been easy to call in helicopters for this purpose. This was, after all, only a throng of school children who carried no firearms, hand grenades or modern armaments of any kind. Their only weapons, other than stones, were sticks and the occasional knife.

Kleingeld, however, refused to back off believing, without any evidence other than the stone-throwing to support his conviction, that the intention of the march was to purposefully damage property and to endanger lives. In retrospect, one could perhaps try to equate the situation at that point with a monumental misunderstanding; a classic scenario of failed communication on a gigantic scale. If there had, at all, been a window of opportunity, however brief, for communication between the police patrol and the students, that window was, as a result of Kleingeld’s intransigence, not only closed but barred and barricaded, its glass panes shattered and boarded up so that any ray of hope had been totally obliterated by the hatred and distrust inherent at the time. In the prevailing climate of polarisation, communication was, if truth be told, never destined to see even a glimmer of the light of day.

During the course of the day, several hundred children sought sanctuary within the Regina Mundi Church.

With the teargas assault failing to drive the crowd of students out of the church, a tense, momentary stand-off followed.

Then the unthinkable happened.

With guns blazing, the police stormed the entrance to the church, firing into the narrow gap between the students’ heads and the top of the doorway. The panicking students in their path tried to flee deeper into the church, but only succeeded in tripping over, and trampling, each other. As the police advanced, their firing became more indiscriminate. Bullets smashed into, and ricocheted off, the marble altar, leaving the once smooth marble cracked and, in places, shattered. Rows of bullet holes tore through the ceiling. Not even the figure of Christ on the Cross in the alcove above the altar was spared from the demonic frenzy of gunfire that defiled the holy sanctuary.

Nicole, ducking down close to the altar, watched in speechless horror as the callous act of disrespect for the time-honoured tradition of the sanctity of the church unfolded before her. Splinters of marble from the altar became imbedded in her arms and legs, although she barely felt the pain or noticed the blood that was running down her limbs.

As she looked across the central aisle towards the mayhem, she saw a student kneeling beside one of the pews, pull a bottle from under his school blazer. It was filled with amber liquid and a piece of white rag protruded from the neck. Realising the insane stupidity of his desperate act, she launched herself at the student. The double risk of further provoking the police, and the disastrous consequences of a fire in the crowded, confined space of the church, were too terrible to contemplate.

But before she could reach him, a second student struck a match and lit the petrol-soaked fuse. As the teenager holding the flaming bottle stood up and raised his arm to throw the fire bomb towards the main entrance where the police were concentrated, she lunged at him, catching hold of his wrist before he could release the missile.

Forcing his arm backwards, she caused him to lose his balance. As he fell, his grip loosened and she wrenched the bottle with its deadly contents from his grasp.

But Nicole’s victory came at a horrifying price. As she jerked the bottle from the student’s hand, part of its flaming content splashed into her face. In an instant her hair was on fire. She turned desperately towards the buckets of water on the marble altar but only one remained standing following the destruction caused by the police gunfire. A sea of frightened children blocked her way. As she struggled to reach the life-saving coolness of the water, searing pain enveloped the right side of her face, and the unmistakable smell of burning flesh permeated her nostrils as the petrol-driven flames scorched her cheek and forehead, devouring her right ear and the hair and flesh of her right eyebrow. Without hesitation she plunged her head into the bucket. After a few seconds, she lifted her head and with water streaming down her face, plunged her burning right hand, still clutching the flaming Molotov cocktail, into the container. When the flames died away she released the bottle, and as she withdrew her hand from the water she was suddenly aware of a new, heart-stopping pain. Looking down, she saw to her horror that the skin from the palm of her hand had remained behind, burnt onto the glass surface of the bottle in the bucket.

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Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Henrietta Rose-Innes discusses the genesis of her novel Green Lion

Published in the Sunday Times

Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Henrietta Rose-Innes discusses the genesis for her novel Green Lion

 
Green LionGreen Lion
Henrietta Rose-Innes (Umuzi)

My “spark” was a lion in a glass case. The South African Museum in Cape Town has always been a potent place for me: my mother worked there, and I’ve been visiting it pretty much since birth. There’s a picture there that entranced me as a child – a black-and-white photo of a stuffed Cape black-maned lion, a subspecies that was hunted to extinction in the 19th century. There are no such specimens remaining in South Africa, and only a handful in the world. (One of the most satisfying episodes in researching Green Lion was tracking down that very same diorama in the depths of the London Natural History Museum.) That lost lion is a poignant emblem of species destruction, and was for me a natural and personally affecting starting point for a novel about our estrangement from the non-human world. It was also clear that the story had to play out on Table Mountain, which looms large in my relationship with Cape Town.

I’m interested in how this city lays claim to our patch of semi-wilderness: the competing demands of access, ownership, exclusion and conservation. In the world of the novel, these problems have been “solved” by fencing off the mountain to keep out all but a few privileged tourists – with predictably troubling results.

Green Lion was written at a time when I was very preoccupied, because of family circumstances, with ageing, mortality and the attempt to rescue what we love from time and oblivion. These old dilemmas are intertwined with the anxiety of environmental change, and are ultimately what drive Con’s hopeless pursuit of Sekhmet, his beloved, impossible, soon-to-be-gone-from-this-world lioness.

Extract

Soon Con had established a routine. Each day he was at work early to do an hour or so of e-mailing and to listen for the lioness’s first groans and rumbles. Then he’d go out to the refrigerated shed, where a bloody bucket had been set aside by the nightshift. It would be heavy with meat: a big beef bone, two whole plucked chickens. The corridor to the den would still be in shadow, cool and pungent.

He’d pause at the exterior bars, smelling, watching. Unlike Isak with his whistles and bangs, Con didn’t have to make a sound. She knew he was there.

Movement in the shadowy back of the cage – nothing dramatic, just a kind of lolling, side to side. She could be very silent when she wanted to be, almost delicate. Then two large lemon-yellow eyes, pale moons, materialising in the gloom. The suggestion of a massive head, lowered from the shoulders. Bigger, much bigger than the lion statues at the memorial; she might take his whole skull in her mouth. A guttural rumble filled the air between them and vibrated through his flesh – in his throat, in his eyeballs, in his groin. His heart sped up, pumping a rich new mixture. He could feel his pupils expanding, the hairs standing up on his arms and the back of his neck. Not a purr: a lush, continuous growl.

“Hello, girl,” he’d say, although he couldn’t hear his own words; the lion’s voice enveloped any other sound. It made the bars tremble like tuning forks. Beyond them, one layer of wire mesh, as thin as skin, separating the human from its ancient enemy. The animal on that side of the wire was designed to do one thing: demolish the animal on this, on his side. Con wasn’t brave enough to touch the bars. He took out the big key and tapped it once on the metal: a formal click of greeting. Now, the next part of the game.

He hauled the bucket up to the ramparts and cranked open the gate, whistled softly through his teeth, and tossed the meat down into the arena. He didn’t bother with the gloves these days, and his hands were red to the elbow and chilled by the time he’d cleaned out the pail. Above him on the slope he could hear the groan of the first tour bus pulling up. Although there was only one unco-operative lion left to pull the punters, still they came.

His communion with the lioness was unpredictable. Sometimes, he was allowed to glimpse only significant parts: a paw, a flank, an eye; as with the elephant in the fable, he could never see the whole. She’d wait for him to look away, then slip out and snag the meat, pulling it inside or into the shelter of a rock or bush. Often, though, she’d let him watch her eat through the observation window. Sometimes she’d lift her eyes momentarily from her bloody meal to meet his gaze through the glass.

 
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Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist: Nkosinathi Sithole discusses the genesis of Hunger Eats a Man (Plus: Excerpt)

Published in the Sunday Times

Nkosinathi Sithole

 

Hunger Eats a ManHunger Eats a Man
Nkosinathi Sithole (Penguin Books)

The novel is about poverty and people’s struggle to overcome it, or survive in spite of its prevalence. The idea came from the fact that I had experienced poverty growing up. So when apartheid ended everybody thought their lives were going to change for the better. It did not happen for many people. In fact, most people are worse off than they had been during apartheid. I hoped to write a book that would alert the people in power about the danger that we face in South Africa if the gap between the rich and the poor is not bridged. Indeed, in dealing with poverty, the question of corruption could not be ignored. The idea was to try tell the story of a suffering people in a way that is not so depressing, that people can enjoy in spite of everything.

Extract

“The only thing that moves here in Ndlalidlindoda is time. Everything else is stagnant,” Priest says to himself as he contemplates the land which has been his home for more than twenty years. It is now winter, and Priest hates winter. Gxumani, of which Ndlalidlindoda (Hunger-Eats-a-Man) is part, is situated near the Drakensberg Mountains, so it gets very cold in winter. He has heard many people say that the City of Gold is cold, but he knows that no place can be colder than Gxumani, not in winter.

Yet Priest is now inured to the discomforts of cold. His only concern regarding winter is that the land loses its beauty. To him the only thing that thrives in winter is the wind, and the wind makes him feel uncomfortable. Everything else is ugly and hungry. He focuses his gaze far away in the land owned by Wild Life and notices that the grass is dry and reddish white. Even the grass in his homestead seems to be crying for food. This prompts a thought in him that interests him so much that he wishes to share it with his wife. He goes inside and seats himself on the sofa.

MaDuma is fixated on the beadwork she is crafting to sell to the tourists at Zenzele (Do-It-Yourself). Priest spends a full minute studying the features of his wife. She is not really beautiful, but she is also far from ugly. MaDuma has lost almost all her back teeth and her cheeks are now sunken. However, this does not interfere with the fairness of her features. Priest thinks that her eye-glasses make her look more beautiful than she actually is and decides that this is unfair. But what is fair in this world anymore?
Priest clears his throat and says, “I think here in Ndlalidlindoda it has been winter for many years now.” He sounds excited by his observation.

MaDuma does not honour his introspection by raising her head as she answers, “You are hungry.”

“Exactly! We all have been hungry for many years and that is winter.”

MaDuma is greatly annoyed by her husband’s asinine talk. She removes her eye-glasses and confronts him. “Get out!” she roars. “Don’t bring your hunger to me. I’ve got my own problems!”

But later she calls him from where he is sitting outside and leaves a tray with his food on the coffee-table. The food is served on a green and white plate and another identical one is used to cover it. Next to the covered plate his wife has placed a glass of water. Priest does not have to open the covering plate to know that his food is pap and potatoes. For a long time now he has eaten pap and potatoes with his family. The taste of the food, or the absence of it, does not matter. It is better to have pap and potatoes than to have nothing.

As Priest is chewing his disagreeable food, he hears a soft voice speaking to him, “Father, the principal said we should bring R50 to school.”

The voice is Sandile’s, Priest’s son of fifteen. He is, according to his father, a cute young boy who took after him in being smart. Priest loves his son very much. But right now, just when he is hungry but cannot eat what is supposed to be his food, just when he is depressed, this boy tells him that he should miraculously have R50 to send to school. No! This is not his son!

He glances at the boy and sees a ghost or devil who has come to tempt him. Priest is angered by this devil in front of him. But his anger is contained when he recalls a day when, as a young boy, he was crying for food and his mother asked him if he thought that by giving birth to him, she could give birth to the food as well.

“He said they need the money to pay the privately-paid teachers and the security guards,” Sandile continues.

This makes Priest even angrier. The principal is now at the receiving end of his anger. The idiot! He will go to him right now! He looks at the ticking clock on the wall and decides that it is late, the principal will have gone home already. He seems ready to spit or swear, but then changes his mind when he sees the picture of Jesus hanging next to the clock, looking directly at him. For a moment he closes his eyes and says a short prayer. But his rage is too much for him, so he explodes, “This principal of yours is crazy! Where does he expect us to get the money from? Doesn’t he know that there is no work? Even if we did have work, does he think that we could give our money away to be wasted?”

Sandile looks at his father and thanks God that he does not have his black complexion. “But, Father …”

“No, my son. They will not eat my money. Let them do that to the fools.”

As Priest finishes speaking, Sandile waits, confused. He is hoping that despite what his father has just said, he will tell him something meaningful to say to the teachers at school tomorrow.

Realising that his son is not satisfied, Priest can only pledge to go himself to school first thing in the morning. This will be a chance for him to spit out his anger. “Don’t worry, son. I will tell the truth as I know it. They have to know that we know the truth.”
Sandile becomes frightened.

“It took a brave man, son, to confront Shaka the king when he ruined his kingdom just because his mother had died. Sometimes the truth heals.”

“Yes father, I understand.” Sandile sounds as if he is going to cry.

 
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Barry Ronge Prize shortlist: Craig Higginson talks about the genesis of The Dream House (Plus: Excerpt)

Published in the Sunday Times

Barry Ronge Prize shortlist: Craig Higginson talks about the genesis of The Dream House (Plus: Excerpt)

 

The Dream HouseThe Dream House
Craig Higginson (Picador Africa)

My previous novels had been displaced in terms of setting and location, so I decided to write a novel that was about us right now. How could I capture this strange in-between space the country was in? I returned to a one-act play I had written – no more than a single scene, a single encounter – and started opening it up and writing more deeply into it. I wanted to write a novel that borrowed some theatre techniques – especially the dialogue of conflicting perspectives, where the audience or reader is faced with a puzzle they themselves must navigate. It seemed this was a task each of us faced.

But I also wanted to write a personal, moving, surprising tale. I hoped to stretch our expectations in terms of content and form. What emerged was a stark, fragmented drama in which the placement of the words on the page often assumed the significance we expect from poetry – and where the white spaces around them started to speak.

My characters are each dreaming of a house to dwell in and a country they can unambiguously call home. That remains an aspiration for each of us. South Africa is still in the making and we have become its only makers.

Extract

Something has been busy near the grave. As recently as last night. The black earth has been churned up here and there – randomly, as a porcupine might do – but the small headstone and slight mound where Rachel lies have been left untouched. Then he sees it’s one of the dog graves that was dug up. He knows this because he dug the grave and buried the dog himself: a Rhodesian ridgeback called Jess that was always said to be too soft. A white bone gleams in the mud, wiped or licked clean by the animal that unearthed it.

The earth is soft but the coffin is buried deep – deeper than expected – and it requires some effort to reach it. The wood looks slightly slimy, almost black, but the coffin still seems to be intact. Moving with deliberation, he clears the earth away until the coffin stands alone, restored to its shape – and then he gets to his feet and stretches and they both regard it.

He and Beauty have hardly spoken since they came out here. She seems to be sulking with him for some reason. He never spends much thought on her moods, for they are as mysterious as the weather that comes in from the mountains: unpredictable, changeable, brooding, dramatic.

He bends down and passes his hands underneath the box, and Beauty copies him. It is heavy with wet. Spreading their four hands as wide as they can underneath it, they draw the box upwards as gently as they can. It wobbles slightly but retains its shape.

He can still picture the moment they put the box in the earth. Then it had been the colour of a horse chestnut, with a nutty glow inside it, carefully varnished. To the small boy holding onto the clothes of his father – part of the gathering of workers observing the ceremony from a distance – it seemed almost a pity to put such a beautifully crafted object into the earth, where no one would ever admire it. But now he is grateful for the quality of the wood.

The Madam was standing very still when the workers finally stepped forward to bury the child. She threw flowers into the little hole, but no earth. It is said that she only wept later, when she was alone in the house. And the servants of the time never disturbed her grief: they would bring her tea and something to eat only when she had exhausted it. Then the Madam would devour whatever was given her without seeming to notice it: she could eat a whole cake, or a chicken, or a pot of soup – pouring in bits of cut-up buttered toast and a jug of cream.

It is also said that the only period the Madam was happy was when the boy Looksmart was in her house. Bheki recalls seeing the boy walk in through the front door like he’d always lived there – and how he’d admired the boy for it. Because the boy expected the best of the Madam, and thought nothing of her sorrow, he managed to provide a place where she could laugh again and be a better person for a while. After Looksmart went, Bheki continued to be her driver, but all the words that could ever have been spoken between them already felt finished. There was nothing left to do but drive up and down the driveway in the same car, buy the same food from the same shop, and occasionally visit the old umlungu, John Ford.

The coffin fits neatly into the blue trunk. They gaze at it for a while before he bends to scoop and pack the earth around it – so that it won’t slide around inside. He even pats a layer of earth over the top of the coffin – picking away the odd wayward frond or twig – so that it can once again be out of sight. Then Beauty locks the trunk with the combination lock she has been carrying in her pocket. He knows that only she and the Madam know the numbers for opening it.

The Madam is waiting for them in her wheelchair in the sunlight of the stoep. She watches their progress across the lawn. Both of them are wearing the expressions of those who know they are carrying a dead child. This is not just a bale of teff. They show her how respectful they are feeling, even though they are feeling it. Inside the house, the phone is ringing, but no one moves to answer it. And there is no sign of the Baas.

High above them, the weaverbirds are attending to their nests. And from the other side of the trees an earthmover is groaning towards them. There is nothing unusual in the air, yet with the arrival of the dead child, everything has changed: for the first time Bheki begins to understand that these people will be leaving for good.

 
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Read an excerpt from Donald Molosi’s We Are All Blue – the first print publication of a play from Botswana

Read an excerpt from Donald Molosi’s We Are All Blue – the first print publication of a play from Botswana

 

This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from actor and playwright Donald Molosi’s groundbreaking We Are All Blue, the first Botswanan drama to be published in print form.

We Are All Blue is a collection of two plays, “Motswana: Africa, Dream Again” and “Blue, Black and White”, and includes an introduction by Quett Masire, former president of Botswana.

“Blue, Black and White” tells the story of Botswana’s first democratically elected president, Seretse Khama, and his interracial, transformative marriage to Ruth Williams in the 1940s. It is the longest-running one-man show in Botswana’s history and the first-ever Botswana play staged Off-Broadway in New York, for which Molosi won the 2011 United Solo Best Short Solo Award.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence, and Khama’s marriage is also the focus of a forthcoming film called A United Kingdom, which will David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King in Selma, and Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike, who starred most recently in Gone Girl. Molosi also has a small role in the film.

Molosi won the 2015 Bessie Head Short Story Award and was longlisted for the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize. He was also a facilitator for the 2015 Writivism creative writing workshops.

We Are All Blue was published by The Mantle in January.

“The publishing scene in Botswana favours textbooks, and so it is extremely difficult to publish and sell non-textbook material in Botswana,” Molosi said in an interview with World Literature Today. “What We Are All Blue offers is an opportunity to engage with Botswana of the past, present, and future at the same time.”

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Read an excerpt:

* * * * *
BLUE, BLACK AND WHITE
by
Donald Molosi

 

Based on the lives of Sir Seretse Khama (1921-1980)
and Lady Ruth Khama (1923-2002),
and the history of a nation.

ACT 1

Prologue

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. — Rumi

قوشعم روا قشاع
(“Lover and Beloved” in Urdu)

 
Present day is July 2002. A multiracial group of students enters and performs a folktale as the villagers of Serowe, perhaps accompanied by live guitar music. The students are also putting together the set and putting on costume as they tell the story.

This folktale is the theme to the class’s commemoration of Sir Seretse Khama Week, especially today (July 1) being Sir Seretse Khama Day. The class is also honoring Sir Seretse’s wife, Lady Ruth, who passed away two months prior to July 1, 2002.

ALL VILLAGERS: We begin this Sir Seretse Khama Week with the folktale that is our theme. The folktale is about a boy who brought his father back from the dead.

VILLAGER 1: It is said that there was once a boy who was living in a land far away from his kgota, his home. His father died while the boy was very young, so he did not know his father.

VILLAGER 2: When the boy was growing up and became aware that he did not have a father, he asked his mother.

ALL VILLAGERS: Mother, where is my father?

VILLAGER 3: And his mother replied—

ALL VILLAGERS: Your father is dead, my son. His name was Ngwedi, which means “the moon.”

VILLAGER 4: His mother had also since died. Hei!

VILLAGER 1: Now that the boy was growing older, he found himself wondering a lot about his father.

VILLAGER 4: People around him were treating the boy badly and beat him for no reason. He wanted his father’s protection.

VILLAGER 3: He wondered and wondered about his father and wanted desperately to see him. He wondered for days and weeks and months.

VILLAGER 2: One day he decided to yoke the donkeys to the wagon and set off for his father’s family dwelling place, his father’s kgota.

VILLAGER 1: Since his father’s name was Ngwedi, the kgota was also called Ngwedi, because he had been its headman when he was alive.

VILLAGER 2: It was evening when the boy left for his father’s kgota and the clouds were gathering over the moon. On the way he met a woman and sang out to her—

ALL VILLAGERS: Take heed, those who delay me! Where is Ngwedi’s kgota? Listen to what I ask, for the clouds are where the moon was. Don’t delay me.

VILLAGER 1: The woman said—

ALL VILLAGERS: Stay on this road, ngwanaka. You will meet some people going there. Ask them.

VILLAGER 3: Stay on this road. You will meet some people going there. Ask them.

VILLAGER 1: The boy continued his journey. On the way he met a man and he sang—

ALL VILLAGERS: Take heed, those who delay me! Where is Ngwedi’s kgota? Listen to what I ask, for the clouds are where the moon was. Don’t delay me.

VILLAGER 2: The old woman pointed to a place and said—

ALL VILLAGERS: That is the kgota you want over there, ngwanaka. Turn off the gravel road, walk a little bit and you will get to it.

VILLAGER 3: That is the kgota you want over there. Turn off the gravel road, walk a little bit and you will get to it.

VILLAGER 2: When the boy reached the kgota, he said to the people there—

LEFIKA: I am Morwangwedi, the son of Ngwedi. I want black sheep and white oxen; kill them for me. I am looking for the place where my father was buried.

VILLAGER 4: And so the people of the kgota took him to the kraal and showed him his father’s grave. The boy dug out his father’s bones and fastened them together. When he had done this, he took the meat of the sheep and oxen and put it on the bones. Then the boy began to sing—

LEFIKA: Take heed, those who delay me! Where is Ngwedi’s shirt? Listen to what I ask, for the clouds are where the moon was. Don’t delay me.

(As each item of clothing is mentioned, the villagers pull it out of their baskets and dress Lefika in it. Every time he puts on a new item of cloth- ing he transforms more into Sir Seretse Khama. Lefika is isolated from the rest of the ensemble. Soft, ethereal guitar music plays.)

VILLAGER 3: So the people of the kgota gave him his father’s shirt, and he put it on top of the meat of oxen and sheep, which was fastened to the bones.

VILLAGER 2: Then the boy asked for his father’s trousers in the same way.

VILLAGER 1: And his shoes.

VILLAGER 2: All the time urging them to hurry because the clouds were covering the moon.

VILLAGER 4: When the flesh was clothed, his father came to life! The boy yoked the donkeys, took his father, and set off back to where the boy had been living as an orphan. And when he arrived with his father, the people treated the boy like a king.

ALL VILLAGERS: They did not treat him badly like before, be- cause now he had his father to protect him.

(There is much jubilation and ululation. Lefika, one of the students has been transformed by the costume into Sir Seretse Khama. He poses as a statue of Sir Seretse and then melts out of the pose to deliver the follow- ing version of one of Sir Seretse’s speeches. Ensemble gathers around him and uses their bodies and configuration to establish a radio station studio and a microphone that Sir Seretse is speaking into. No music.)

LEFIKA: (Putting on his glasses.) Bagaetsho, we must write our history books to prove that we did have a past, and that this is  a past that is just as worth writing and learning about as any other. My fellow Batswana, we must excavate our history, dress it up in pride, intelligence, and foresight so that it may indeed come alive in our consciousness today.

(Lights fade and the rest of the speech is done in the fade-out to imply evanescent memory, or a glimpse.)

We must connect the present to the past so that the future may be secured. Because the past can disappear.


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