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Announcing the Inaugural André Brink Memorial Lecture, to be delivered at this year's @FranLitFest

Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Sunday Read: Collected Excerpts from the Oddest Book Title of the Year Shortlist

Nature's Nether RegionsThe Madwoman in the VolvoStrangers Have the Best Candy

Where Do Camels Belong?The Ugly Wife Is a Treasure at HomeDivorcing a Real Witchnull

The shortlist for this year’s Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year has been announced.

The seven books on the shortlist are:

  • Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China edited by Bo Tian (Trans Tech)

Scroll down to read excerpts Books LIVE has collected from the shortlisted titles.

The winner will be chosen by a public vote, which takes place on We Love This Book.

Voting closes at midnight on Friday, 20 March, and the winner will be announced on Friday, 27 March. There is no prize, but the person who nominated the book will receive a “passable bottle of claret”.

Diagram Prize coordinator and The Bookseller’s features and insight editor Tom Tivnan said: “Britain’s, arguably the world’s, premier literary prize once again delivers the goods, with seven magnificent titles that are unparalleled in their oddity. With two of the last three winners sporting the word ‘poo’ in their title, 2014 was something of a return to the Diagram’s more hygienic roots.”

The Bookseller’s diarist Horace Bent said: “This is one of strongest years I have seen in more than three decades of administering the prize, which highlights the crème de la crème of unintentionally nonsensical, absurd and downright head-scratching titles. Ultimately, it is a stunning collection of books. Let other awards cheer the contents within, the Diagram will always continually judge the book by its cover (title).”

Are Trout South African?: Stories of Fish, People and Places by Duncan Brown came second last year, sharing the spot with The Origin of Feces by David Waltner-Toews.

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Excerpts from the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year shortlist:

Nature's Nether RegionsNature’s Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us About Evolution, Biodiversity, and Ourselves by Menno Schilthuizen

Even more infamous is the traumatic insemination that is practiced by cimicids, blood-feeding bugs to which also Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug, belongs. Unforgettable to anyone who has ever been unlucky enough to spend several nights in bedbug-infested sleeping quarters, they will be truly memorable once you have learned about their sex lives. Living in densely packed colonies in crevices near the sleeping place of their “host,” sexual encounters are frequent, quick, and literally stabs in the dark. Bedbug researcher Mike Siva-Jothy of Sheffield University says: “When a female has not fed, she can avoid copulating males. But when’s fed and bloated, she’s a sitting duck. There’s no courtship—it’s brutal in every sense of the word.”

* * * * *

The Madwoman in the VolvoThe Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh

Excerpt from 'The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones' by Sandra Tsing Lo.

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Where Do Camels Belong?Where Do Camels Belong?: Why Invasive Species Aren’t All Bad by Ken Thompson

Where do camels belong? Ask the question and you may instinctively think of the Middle East, picturing a one-humped dromedary, some sand and perhaps a pyramid or two in the background. Or if you know your camels and imagined a two-humped Bactrian, you might plump for India and central Asia. But things aren’t quite so simple if we’re talking about the entire camel family. Camelids (the camel family) evolved in North America about 40 million years ago. Titanotylopus, the largest camel that has ever lived, stood 3.5 m high at the shoulder and ranged through Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Arizona for around 10 million years. Other species evolved very long necks and probably browsed on trees and tall shrubs, rather as giraffes do today. Much, much later camels spread to South America, and to Asia via the Bering Strait, which has been dry land at various times during the recent Pleistocene glaciations. Camels continued to inhabit North America until very recently, the last ones going extinct only about 8,000 years ago. Their modern Asian descendants are the dromedary of north Africa and south-west Asia and the Bactrian camel of central Asia. Their South American descendants are the closely related llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas (llamas are only camels without humps; all you need to do is look one in the eye for this to be pretty obvious). Now you know all that, let me ask you again: where do camels belong?

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The Ugly Wife Is a Treasure at HomeThe Ugly Wife Is a Treasure at Home: True Stories of Love and Marriage in Communist China by Melissa Margaret Schneider

The 1950s Generation
When Love Didn’t Exist

I was twenty-four when I married my first wife, but I knew nothing about females. I didn’t understand why I had to marry at all, or what purpose marriage served. — Tom Liu, b. 1958

The 1950s generation, the first citizens born in Communist China, came of age in a world devoid of romantic love. They learned that life was a high-stakes mission and that their role was critical to its success. They grew up building socialism and fighting class enemies, not thinking about boyfriends or prom dresses. They were taught
to care about the causes and teachings of Mao Zedong and to work selflessly for their country. In the harsh light of this grand collective vision, any private desires for romantic love, intimacy, or happiness appeared petty, selfish, even criminal.

Under Mao, public life was purposely desexualized. Men and women dressed alike in drab blue or gray uniforms, cutting their hair in identical bobs trimmed around the ears. Books and movies were heavily censored, scrubbed clean of any reference to love or sex. The married people that the 1950s generation could observe, including
their own parents, did not touch or say “I love you.” Outside of the bedroom, life was generally sexless. Inside the bedroom it was hardly easier, as many couples shared their sleeping quarters with other relatives.

Interestingly, in the early years Mao Zedong thought of sexual satisfaction within marriage as an effective social pacifier.

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Strangers Have the Best CandyStrangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte

Strangers Have the Best What?

The sun set over blue tropical waters as I swung gently in a hammock at Bahia Honda, a state park in the Florida Keys. It was a Thursday evening in May, a few days after my 29th birthday. The hammock was new; it had been a birthday gift.

“Barry?” I said.

“Hmm?” My husband was swinging in his own hammock, a few feet away.

“All our friends have to go to work tomorrow. Isn’t that weird?”

He was unmoved by my epiphany. “I guess so.”

Listening to the distant thunder of waves crashing on the beach, I envisioned our friend Andy, at home in his apartment. Back in northern Virginia, he’d be packing his lunch, folding his laundry, cooking dinner, maybe reading a book or watching TV. In the morning, he would take the bus to a government office and sit at his desk, talk on the phone, review documents. He’d take a lunch break, do more of the same work in the afternoon, and go home at the end of the day. The next day would bring the same familiar routine.

A month earlier, my life had been similar. Then we quit our jobs, gave up our apartment, and stored our belongings. We packed our Honda Civic with camping equipment and started driving south, staying at inexpensive state parks and free national forest campgrounds. We thought we had enough savings to travel like this through the summer. In the fall, we’d settle down again, find jobs, and resume a life with furniture and responsibilities. Maybe in Milwaukee.

For the first couple of weeks, it felt like a normal vacation. But on that evening in May, I recognized that I had left my old life behind, and I didn’t know if I would ever return. The absolute freedom was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

I didn’t know that this pursuit of freedom would define my life for decades, not months.

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Divorcing a Real WitchDivorcing a Real Witch: For Pagans and the People That Used to Love Them by Diana Rajchel

Most of us model marriage on what we witnessed as children. Even when we try to see that experience as what not to do, we can find ourselves referring to that first when proceeding in our own relationship. In some ways, it’s experiencing two marriages at once: the one with your partner and the one in your own mind.

My own parents were married for 41 years; it ended with my father’s death by leukemia. My father always gave me an impression of a happy marriage. My mother always gave me an impression of a miserable one. My opinion of marriage, as a result, is that it needs to be deregulated.

I came to maturity in the 1990s; and interacted daily with children of divorced parents. Every year at least one classmate went through a parental breakup. Only a few of these children of broken homes seemed broken themselves – all of those talked about bad family dynamics long before divorce. For most of my peers, both parents worked. The media nicknamed them “latchkey children” and made them sound like the pending Apocalypse. Supposedly these children were more prone to drug use, dropping out of school and spreading general mayhem. In the long run, it turned out, that children in bad environments had these problems – and not all latchkey children lived in bad circumstances with neglectful parents.

* * * * *

nullAdvanced pavement research: selected, peer reviewed papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation (ICCPDCR 2013), December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China by Bo Tian

No excerpt available. Unfortunately.

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Book details

  • Nature’s Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us about Evolution, Biodiversity, and Ourselves by Menno Schilthuizen
    EAN: 9780670785919
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!
  • The Ugly Wife Is a Treasure at Home: True Stories of Love and Marriage in Communist China by Melissa Margaret Schneider
    EAN: 9781612346946
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Fiction Friday: “Lunch with Ifemelu” – Erotic Fan Fiction Based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah

Kiru Taye, a Nigerian-born novelist residing in the United Kingdom, has written an erotic fan fiction short story inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah.

AmericanahMaking ScandalKeeping Secrets

In March last year Adichie became the first African to win the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for Americanah. It also won the 2013 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Taye’s story, entitled “Lunch with Ifemelu”, follows the love story of Ifemelu and Obinze.

Obinze is waiting for Ifemelu in a restaurant. He arrived 15 minutes early to please her and to avoid suspicion since he is a married man. He hasn’t seen Ifemelu since she returned to Nigeria, but when she walks into the room he doesn’t need to look up to know that she has arrived.

She was the one person who could faze him and when he lays eyes on her he feels the all too familiar pangs of regret.

A few lines of witty banter later, Ifemelu and Obinze leave the restaurant, and a night of magical bliss follows.

Read the extract:

Her moan rang out, echoing in the hotel room. It felt like forever since he’d tasted her.

“I want to give you so much pleasure, Ifem.” He’d purposely shortened her name. Literally translated it meant, ‘My thing’ or ‘Mine’ qualifying his claim on her.

His hot mouth plunged onto her clit making her gasp. She grabbed the white sheet beneath. Her body quaked as he drove it to a state of madness.

Her skin felt hot to the touch as his tongue glided over the layers of her wetness.

She moaned long and low.

He smirked at her response. One of the things he’d learned in his sojourn abroad was how to use this mouth of his expertly and for climactic effect. He circled his tongue around the sweet bud of her clit, wanting to raise an orgasm out of her. Gentle spasms erupted from her core, spreading over her body announcing the arrival of sweet euphoria.

Book details

Picture courtesy of Brittle Paper

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Fiction Friday: “The New Equality” from Melissa de Villiers’ New Collection, The Chameleon House

The Chameleon HouseThis week’s Fiction Friday is a short story from The Chameleon House by Melissa de Villiers, one of our local books to look out for this year.

De Villiers will be speaking about her new book of short stories with Liesl Jobson, author of Ride the Tortoise, at The Book Lounge on Tuesday, 24 February.

Modjaji Books publisher Colleen Higgs describes the short stories as “well written, tight and challenging”.

Read the excerpt:

"The New Equality" Short Story From The Chameleon House by Books LIVE

Book details

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Sunday Read: Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, a Poem, a Review and an Excerpt

Langston Hughes


Selected Letters of Langston HughesThis week’s Sunday Read is a review of Selected Letters of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, with Christa Fratantoro. The read also includes an excerpt from the book and one of Hughes’ most well-known poems.

Hughes (1902–1967) is thought of by many as the central poet the Harlem Renaissance. He saw himself as a scribe of the negro people, and dutifully recorded the experience, culture and rhythm of African American life. For this he was highly regarded by ordinary people and scholars alike.

Hughes grew up feeling isolated, and did not have a comfortable family life. But, as Gwendolyn Brooks, in his 1986 review of the biography The Life of Langston Hughes by Rampersad, says “Who he was is a smallish part of what he was”. He was a hugely important poet, and still is.

The poem “Theme for English B”, shared by the Poetry Foundation, demonstrates how Hughes regarded his identity as intertwined with that of the community around him. Read the poem:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Hughes used language to establish connections with his community. In her review of Selected Letters of Langston Hughes for the LA Times, Lynell George draws a connection between his work as a poet and his writing as a correspondent:

Hughes had been set afloat, estranged early on from his immediate family. Writing was his way of creating community. Letters weren’t incidental; the sheer volume of correspondence sometimes became the subject of the missive itself: “I got 30 letters today, which took me all day to read and answer….” Though the ritual crowded into his workday, these letters weren’t tools of procrastination, they were lifelines.

Mail arrived from many corners of the black experience — from the first bloom of Harlem Renaissance stretching well into the trenches of civil rights era. The specific details and texture found within them granted him entree — and lent him gravitas as an informed eyewitness who helped to shape a deeper understanding of blackness in a global sphere.

Hughes believed that writing was the only place that his was really free. NPR Books has shared an excerpt from a letter to Charlotte Mason, his godmother, in which he explains the deficiency of freedom in other spheres of his life:

In all my life I have never been free. I have never been able to do anything with freedom, except in the field of my writing. With my parents, with my employers in my struggle for food, in all the material circumstances of life, I have been forced to move this way and that — only when I sat down for a moment to write have I been able to put down what I wanted to put down, to say what I’ve wanted to say, when and where I choose …

Book details

  • Selected Letters of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, with Christa Fratantoro
    EAN: 9780375413797
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Fiction Friday: “Forensic Investigation”, From Reward Nsirim’s Etisalat-Longlisted Fresh Air

Fresh Air and Other StoriesRead a short story by Reward Nsirim entitled “Forensic Investigation”, from his book Fresh Air and Other Stories, shared by Su’eddie in Life n Literature.

Nsirim was longlisted for this year’s Etisalat Prize, for Fresh Air and Other Stories, although he missed out on the shortlist (which includes two South Africans, Nadia Davids and Songeziwe Mahlangu, and Chinelo Okparanta – to be announced on 22 February).

Read the story:

Officers Boyd and Fletcher sat in a small briefing room inside the Empress State Building, listening to a really quirky commander. It was meant to be a brief briefing, but the man had spent the better part of half an hour sharing jokes, anecdotes and bits of weird police news. Finally, he got around to the matter.

“An assassination spree is in progress in Africa’s most populous country. As you already know, the bloodshed is something very usual during election periods in those parts. The coming elections are almost a year away, which means the killing season began a little early this time.”

He grinned, took a gulp from his tea cup and dropped the cup on the table beside him. “Thus far nearly fifty prominent souls have perished in cold blood, and it appears the guns are only rehearsing. On Election Day proper in the past the death toll has run into thousands, and in years when ethnic adn religious matters assist politics, the death toll can run into tens of thousands.”

Nsirim, a trained healthcare practitioner and senior programme manager on the Global Fund’s HIV/Aids portfolio in Nigeria, presented a TEDxTalk during the 2014 TEDXPortHarcourt gathering, speaking on the topic, “A healthier world with less medicines”.

He imagines a Nigeria where the health focus is on the things that can prevent the need for healthcare as we know it today:

YouTube Preview Image

Book details

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Free eBook: Andre Philippus Brink 1935-2015: Interviews, Notes and Testimonials

Times Media Books has shared a free ebook with Books LIVE, available for you to read and download: Andre Philippus Brink 1935-2015: Interviews, Notes and Testimonials.

South Africa’s celebrated novelist passed away recently, at the age of 79.

The book contains old news clippings on Brink and Die Sestigers, as well as interviews, profiles and photographs.

Have a read:

Free eBook: Andre Philippus Brink 1935-2015: Interviews, Notes and Testimonials by Books LIVE

* * * * *

Look out for other titles in this series: Freedom for Nelson Mandela (ISBN 978-1-928216-54-4) – available for download on the Daily Planet.

    Related news:


Books by Andre Brink:

PhilidaDevil's ValleyLooking on DarknessAn Instant in the WindThe Other Side of SilenceA Chain of VoicesOther Lives

Mediterreense herinneringeBidsprinkaanPhilidaDie eerste lewe van AdamastorBidsprinkaanDonkermaanHoud-Den-Bek

Book details

  • Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life edited by Okwui Enwezor, Rory Bester
    EAN: 9783791352800
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Sunday Read: In Celebration of Andre Brink

andre brink young

With the passing of André Brink yesterday, Books LIVE would like to celebrate his writing this Sunday morning.

JM Coetzee and André BrinkWe have compiled a selection of excerpts from Brink’s more recent work, including The Blue Door (2007), Ander Lewens (2008), A Fork in the Road (2009) and Touch: Stories of Contact by South African Writers (2009), and concluding with JM Coetzee’s impressions of Brink, from Encounters With André Brink (2010), which was edited by Karina Magdalena Szczurek.

But first, listen to Brink reading from his last novel, Philida, in a Vintage Special Edition podcast commemorating it being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize:


The Blue DoorFrom The Blue Door:

She is already in bed when I arrive, lying on her side, reading, her back turned to me, the outline of her body gracefully traced by the sheet, one smooth brown shoulder exposed.

But it is quite an obstacle course before I get there. First there is the bathroom. Automatically I go to the one where I bathed the children, but it is immediately evident that this is meant for the children only, or possibly for guests. Playing Blind Man’s Buff, I have to feel my way along the main passage where the lights have already been turned off, past the bedroom where the children have been tucked up for the night, towards a glimmer halfway to the left. From the passage door I can see another door leading from the bedroom, to my right, opposite the bed. To my great relief it turns out to be the en-suite bathroom. But this is by no means the end of my problems. I decide to spend a few minutes under the shower first: although I have already had a bath with the children, that was a rather hurried affair, and furthermore I need time to reflect on my immediate challenges. Which of the two toothbrushes – one blue, one red – am I supposed to use, which towel is mine? And afterwards, should I proceed to the bedroom naked, or with a towel around my waist, or wearing pyjamas? (Which will be where?)

In the end I decide not to aggravate the situation by wondering about what her expectations may be but simply to follow my inclination, doing what comes naturally to me.

So I am naked when I come into the bedroom and furtively slide in behind her back, trying to hide the evidence of my state of anticipation.

She glances over her shoulder and says, ‘Oh.’ Which may mean anything.

Ander LewensFrom Ander Lewens:

As I lay in our crumpled bed this morning, fondling memories, I heard a car arrive downstairs, then the front door slamming, and footsteps. Silke was back from the school where she’d deposited the children. It really was time for me to move on into the day.

I threw off the still-fragrant sheet, swung my legs over the edge of the bed, and remained sitting like that for another few moments, allowing my eyes to gaze through the wide window across the sweep of the bay far below before I walked across the deep pile of the carpet to the en-suite bathroom opposite. There were puddles on the white tiles, and Carla’s dark green towel lay crumpled in the middle of the floor. I stooped to pick it up and drape it over the chrome rail, then removed my own, which I put on the thick white mat in front of the shower cubicle, and stepped inside, bracing myself against the copious spray of steaming water from above.

I took my time to work my way through the strict routine of the daily shower: soaping and washing and rinsing my hair, then up the lengths of my arms and down under them, my chest and stomach, lingering with satisfaction along my genitals, then my buttocks, and finally down my legs to my feet: all of this with my eyes closed to protect them against the foam. A few last minutes of pure cold water as I gasped for breath and yodelled with shock and primitive pleasure, before I stepped out, picked up the towel, and vigorously dried myself until my whole body glowed with replenished vitality.

It was my shaving day. I took the razor from its shiny container beside the elegantly shaped double basin, ran in hot water, tested the temperature, then luxuriously lathered my face and prepared to proceed from there.

This is where I stop.

I stare into the art nouveau mirror, into the harp shape of the glass held up in the gracefully curved arms and hands of the nude pewter girl with the flowing long hair.

Uncomprehending, petrified, shivering in a sudden rush of coldness, I keep staring.

Then lean forward until my forehead touches the steamed-up surface of the mirror.

I see my eyes, stricken and wide, then screwed up into thin slits.

With one wet hand I stroke across the mirror, trying to clear the surface.

The nude girl embossed in the pewter frame stares back at me. Is there a grimace on her shapely face which I have never noticed before?

I drop the razor, bend down to rinse all the lather off my face, before I straighten up again.

Once more I peer into the mirror. It is a face I have never seen before in my life. Involuntarily I bring a hand up to my cheek. The reflection in the mirror does the same.

I can feel the astonished touch of my fingers on my cheek. It must be me.

Yet it cannot be. It cannot possibly be me.

The face staring at me from the mirror is black. So is the hand touching the cheek.

And as I turn away from the reflection to look down at myself, across my chest and stomach, the vulnerability of my penis still half-distended from the exuberance of the shower, along my legs, all the way to my feet, my whole body is a clear, clean, shiny, deep, dark brown.

A Fork in the RoadFrom A Fork in the Road:

It is now more than forty years since Ingrid Jonker died, yet, through her poetry, there may be more people to whom she is a living presence than she was during her short lifetime. In other respects she may be more remote than ever. She was drowned in the night of 19 July, 1965 when she walked into the fiercely cold Atlantic Ocean at Three Anchor Bay in Cape Town, and moved straight into myth. The myth of the maligned, rejected, abused, misunderstood nymph of sea and sun who had foretold her death in her poetry since she’d been a teenager, finally canonised when Nelson Mandela read her poem ‘The Child’ at his inauguration in parliament in May 1994. How little could we, could anybody, have expected this life after death in that dark time when she opted out of the world?

Until recently, I have chosen not to be drawn into discussions or evocations of her life, notably in documentary films, some unforgivably bad. But precisely because of these I have begun to believe that perhaps I owe it to her at last to unfold, without drama or melodrama, some of the things I have kept to myself. Not the icon but the person. The woman I loved. And who nearly drove me mad. In some respects, it should be done to set the record straight; in others, simply to remember. To hold on.

TouchFrom “Surprise Visit” in Touch: Stories of Contact by South African Writers:

There is no one at the reception desk to welcome him. This suits him perfectly. One can only assess the standard of care-giving in an old-age home if they aren’t alerted to your coming. Even more important is that he wants to surprise her. He has something to tell her, something he has spent a lifetime looking for and which he must share with her. It is now almost two years since his last visit. One doesn’t feel good about these long intervals, but what else can one do? Princeton is not exactly round the corner from Cape Town. And, anyway, his sister Jolene is living right here in the city, close by, in Claremont, and since her husband’s death she hasn’t had much to occupy her. In any case, it isn’t as if Mum is really aware of what is going on around her. For at least three years now, since the last stroke, she has just been lying here. Waiting. For ‐ well. Still has some lucid moments, says Jolene, but fewer and further between. Hardly ever recognises anybody.

He goes through the reception area to the corridor, where he quickly makes sure that nobody is approaching from either end. Then, following Jolene’s instructions, he turns right. The last time he visited her was with his family, just before they left the country. Her room was to the left then, three doors down. But the home likes to shift them around. A change of scenery? Hardly. His own feeling is that the old people ‐ Mum, undoubtedly ‐ find these shifts deeply distressing. Every time it becomes a radical displacement. As bad as those moves in his youth, from one town to the next, as the bank authorities in their wisdom transferred them across the map of the country. Every time a new school, new friends, new teachers, new everything. He never really learnt to cope with that. The only constant in those years was Mum. His father was always more of an absence than a presence. But Mum, yes, she made the difference. Which was why he finally had to make the effort to come all this way to see her. For the last time? Before he went to the States he had already paid her a number of visits, of which each could have been the last. But she held on. Not without some perversity, he sometimes thought. Always a contrary old bird.

Encounters With André BrinkFinally, read JM Coetzee’s impressions of Brink, from Encounters With André Brink:

JM Coetzee
Colleague and collaborator

I first heard the name André Brink in the 1960s, when I was living and studying in the United States. From home came rumours of a changing of the guard in Afrikaans letters, of the rise of a new generation led by André and Jan Rabie and Etienne Leroux. I had heard of Jan Rabie (he was a friend of Uys Krige’s, I knew, one of the Onrus circle), but not of the other two. I searched out the only Brink book available, an English translation of Die ambassadeur.

In 1971 I returned to South Africa and was able again to read the South African newspapers. In the Sunday Rapport I came across lengthy literary articles under André’s name, which stood out from the rest of the literary journalism. They reviewed new poetry and fiction with what seemed to me total command of the field, yet were engagingly enough written to entice the ordinary educated reader. Their author was clearly familiar with what was going on in contemporary letters in Europe and America.

I had no actual contact with André until the early 1980s, when he and I were brought together by Koos Human to collaborate in editing a new anthology of South African writing. This anthology, which would eventually be published by Faber in the UK and Viking in the USA, was planned to bring together within the same covers English-language and (in translation) Afrikaans-language South African writers; I would be responsible for the former, André for the latter. The selection was to be as up to date as possible.

Knowing of André’s reputation as the superstar and enfant terrible of Afrikaans letters, I was expecting a stormy time: tantrums, ultimatums, missed deadlines. Instead of which I found the perfect collaborator, a man who swiftly and efficiently and without fuss did a first-class job. The product of our collaboration, A Land Apart: A South African Reader (1986), still seems to me a good book of its kind, offering the wider world a snapshot of South African writing at a time of crisis in the country’s history.

Related news:

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Image courtesy of Salon

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Sunday Read: I Want to Believe – An Excerpt from David Duchovny’s Debut Novel Holy Cow (Plus a Recording of Him Reading it)

David Duchovny Holy Cow

Holy CowWe have no idea how we missed this on our list of books to look out for in 2015, but David Duchovny has written a novel.

It’s called Holy Cow – which oddly enough is precisely the reaction we had when we heard the news – and the former X-Files heart-throb says, modestly, that it’s “like Charlotte’s Web or Animal Farm, if I’m lucky”.

Described by his publisher as “a comic delight that will thrill fans of Jasper Fforde and Ben Aaronovitch”, and by the LA Times as “a loopy fairy tale”, Holy Cow is the story of a cow from Upstate New York who decides to travel to India. She is joined by a Jewish pig and a turkey.

It’s due out on 3 February.

Back in the day, Duchovny wrote his senior thesis at Princeton on Samuel Beckett – it was entitled “The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels” – and then went to Yale to do his doctorate, but as he admits to the LA Times: “I didn’t write my dissertation, so I don’t have a PhD.”

In an interview with The New York Times, however, Duchovny says his writing style was not influenced by the Irish playwright: “I still like language a little too much to call myself Beckettian. He is very austere, and I like fooling around with words. I guess I’m more Joycean, although that’ll sound really pretentious.”

If the excerpt below isn’t enough Duchov for you, you’ll be pleased to know that in addition to the confirmed return of Twin Peaks and the rumoured return of The X-Files, Duchovny is also releasing an album this year.

Read the excerpt from Chapter 1 of Holy Cow:


Most people think cows can’t think. Hello. Let me rephrase that, most people think cows can’t think, and have no feelings. Hello, again. I’m a cow, my name is Elsie, yes, I know. And that’s no bull. See? We can think, feel, and joke, most of us anyway. My great-aunt Elsie, whom I’m named after, has no sense of humor. At all. I mean zero. She doesn’t even like jokes with humans in them doing stupid things. Like that one that goes—two humans walk into a barn . . . Wait, I may not have much time here, I can’t mess around.

Just trying to get certain things out of the way. Let’s see, oh yeah, how am I writing this, you may wonder, when I have no fingers? Can’t hold a pen. Believe me, I’ve tried. Not pretty. Not that there are many pens around anymore, what with all the computers. And even though we can think and feel and be funny, we cannot speak. At least to humans. We have what you people used to call an “oral tradition.” Stories and wisdom are handed down from mother cow to daughter calf, from generation to generation. Much the way you receive your Odysseys or your Iliads. Singing, even. Sorry for the name-dropping. Homer. Boom. I’ll wait while you pick it up.

Listen to Mulder … er, I mean Duchovny reading the first chapter:

And watch a video of him explaining himself:

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Image courtesy of Duchovny Central

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Link Love: An Excerpt from The True State of the Nation and Interviews with its 17-Year-Old Author, Andile Mchunu

After listening to President Jacob Zuma’s 2014 State of the Nation Address, Andile Mchunu, a 17-year-old from Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, found himself unsatisfied with what he had heard. Consequently he started following politics and eventually sat down to write a novella titled The True State of the Nation.

Set in small town in South Africa, it follows the story of a young boy as he discovers the beauty and evils of his nation. It speaks boldly of the atrocities committed by the government and the governed.

The True State of the Nation is currently published as an ebook on Amazon.

Look inside Mchunu’s book and read the first few pages by clicking on the book cover on Amazon’s website:

On some days going to school is a tough ordeal, but on other days it’s a legendary tough ordeal. I am a normal South African boy in the sense that I go to public school, I have to travel a long distance in order to get to school and I grew up in a supposed “post-apartheid South Africa”.

It sounds better than it actually is because I grew up in rural Ntabamhlophe which roughly translated means “White Mountain”. It got its name from the colour it takes during the winter season as snow falls on its sides. It provides people who are passing by with a breath-taking experience and a picture perfect view, but that is the only place in which it is perfect, in pictures.

The story begins on a normal Monday morning. I get up, get dressed and begin my journey to school. The journey itself takes up three hours of my day because when the closest town in twenty five kilometres away we have to commute, but the nearest bus stop is two and a half kilometres away, which means by six o’clock I begin my journey to catch the seven o’clock taxi, which is rarely on time.

I do not have many complaints about the trip because I get to spend time with friends who sometimes have to travel a further five kilometres a day to a rural school and back. The journey is normally pleasant because after I catch the taxi I get to enjoy the music in the taxi.

Some of my friends usually joke about only being able to listen to music in the taxi because they do not have electricity at home. On rare occasions we would have gospel playing and the normal exchange of stories of sorrow would take place.

Mchunu spoke to Creamer Media’s Polity and Kaya FM‘s 180 with Bob team to discuss his book and what inspired him to write his own version of the State of the Nation Address.

Sane Dhlamini, for Polity, asks the young author how he decided to write about politics, the people and events that inspired his book, his writing process, his future plans and what he would advise the president in preparation for the 2015 State of the Nation Address.

Watch the video:

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During his interview with Bob Mabena and Kuli Roberts, Mchunu says that he was moved to writing this book when he realised that the president was not giving South Africans the honest truth in his address. “I decided to write the book and give South Africa the full picture, from a student’s perspective,” Mchunu tells the Khaya FM listeners. He discusses his background and shares more about the characters and basic principles of The True State of the Nation.

Roberts and Mabena both praise Mchunu for his wisdom and way of thinking about South Africa which is remarkable for a man of his age. Listen to the podcast:


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Sunday Read: An Excerpt From Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, Plus a Video Interview with National Geographic

Times Talks with Jodi Picoult

Leaving TimeBestselling author Jodi Picoult has written 23 novels, with her last eight debuting at number one on the respected New York Times bestseller list.

Picoult’s latest novel, Leaving Time, is set partially in Africa, with elephants as the spindle for a story about parenting, love and loss. 13 year old Jenna Metcalf is searching for her mother Alice, an elephant researcher who disappeared years ago after a traumatic event at the elephant sanctuary where Jenna was born. Her father is of no help, he has been in a psychiatric hospital since that fateful day. Jenna convinces a disgraced psychic and the now alcoholic cop who initially investigated the case to help her in search.

Wreathed throughout the story is Alice’s research on the extraordinary behaviour of elephants. Picoult has explained that she started writing this book as a way to cope with her children leaving home after she came across an article about how elephant mothers and daughters stay together their entire lives, until one of them dies. “Given my frame of mind, it seemed so much more pleasant to do things the way elephants do. I began to dig a bit more about elephants, and their reaction to death, and what I uncovered became a metaphor for the novel,” Picoult writes on her website.

Whether or not you are a fan of Picoult, read an excerpt to Leaving Time:

Some people used to believe that there was an elephant graveyard—a place that sick and old elephants would travel to die. They’d slip away from their herds and would lumber across the dusty landscape, like the titans we read about in seventh grade in Greek Mythology. Legend said the spot was in Saudi Arabia; that it was the source of a supernatural force; that it contained a book of spells to bring about world peace.

Explorers who went in search of the graveyard would follow dying elephants for weeks, only to realize they’d been led in circles. Some of these voyagers disappeared completely. Some could not remember what they had seen, and not a single explorer who claimed to find the graveyard could ever locate it again.

Here’s why: The elephant graveyard is a myth.

True, researchers have found groups of elephants that died in the same vicinity, many over a short period of time. My mother, Alice, would have said there’s a perfectly logical reason for a mass burial site: a group of elephants who died all at once due to lack of food or water; a slaughter by ivory hunters. It’s even possible that the strong winds in Africa could blow a scattering of bones into a concentrated pile. Jenna, she would have told me, there’s an explanation for everything you see.

National Geographic editor Don George recently interviewed Picoult, asking her about the extensive research, something this author is known for, that went into writing about these giants of Africa. During the discussion she shares fascinating facts and anecdotes she learned during the process.

“People don’t necessarily realise the cognitive abilities elephants have. They can feel grief and pain and loss and they have incredible memories,” Picoult explains. She also discusses her other books, her feelings about film adaptations of her novels and her core reason for writing.

Watch the interview:

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Picoult visited South Africa last week, making a pitstop in Johannesburg to join Michele Magwood for a Times Talks event at Kingsmead. Keep an eye on Books LIVE for a report from the event and have a look at some of the photographs from the successful evening:


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