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

Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Fiction Friday: Excerpts from New Stories by Richard de Nooy and Henrietta Rose-Innes

IrregularityJurassic London has shared an excerpt with Books LIVE from its new short story collection Irregularity, edited by Jared Shurin, which features stories by Richard de Nooy and Henrietta Rose-Innes.

Irregularity is published to coincide with current exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London; one focused on a quest for longitude at sea, and a steampunk show at the Royal Observatory.

Irregularity is about the tension between order and chaos in the 17th and 18th centuries. Men and women from all walks of life dedicated themselves to questioning, investigating, classifying and ordering the natural world. They promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual rigour in the face of superstition, intolerance and abuses of power. These brave thinkers dedicated themselves and their lives to the idea that the world followed rules that human endeavour could uncover … but what if they were wrong?

Read the two excerpts, the first from “Animalia Paradoxa”, by Rose-Innes, and the second from De Nooy’s “The Heart of Aris Kindt”:
“Animalia Paradoxa” by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Île-de-France, 1792

“In Cap d’Afrique,” I tell Michel, “the cattle are more beautiful than the French varieties. Great spreading horns. Red or grey, or speckled.”

Michel grunts. He watches me with suspicion as I rearrange the bones on the long table in the Countess’s orangery.

Through the glass doors and the dome above me, I can see bats flitting in the evening sky. A few lamps burn in the upper rooms of the chateau across the terrace. The Countess is no longer here. After the recent troubles in Paris, she left with her retinue for the countryside, perhaps even for another country. I did not speak with her before she departed. Perhaps I am simply shunned. Perhaps she is seeing other suitors, charlatans selling her the usual curiosities: misshapen bears, dull tableaux of common birds, amusing scenes of mice and foxes.

It is a cool autumn evening, but inside the orangery the weather is warm, even tropical. For a moment the expanse of glass makes me feel observed, as if I am placed here for display.

Michel is very slow, and has no sympathy for the material. He is an old village soul, accustomed to the creatures of the old world. He knows how they are put together: four feet, two horns, milk below.

“This cannot be just one animal,” he says. He is laying out the long-bones, and indeed there seem to be too many of them, and oddly sized. Everything is in a sorry state. Some of the more delicate items have crumbled to dust in the sea-chests.

“Linnaeus himself does not account for all the creatures of the world,” I tell him. “Not of Africa.”

Michel shrugs, and lets a femur clatter to the table. “Monsieur,” he says. “I am leaving now. You should go too: it is not safe.”

But I cannot go, of course I cannot, not when I am so close. Late at night in the lamplit orangery I work on, fitting femur to radius, long bones to small. Boldness, I think, boldness and vision are needed here. But the bones will not do my bidding. They do not match up. They do not create a possible animal.

The streaks of light fade from the sky; it is that slow cooling of the day, so different to nightfall in southern climes.

I miss the boy’s quick hands, quick eyes.

I remember the shape of his head. Jacques, Jakkals. He was a thin child, dressed in nothing but ragged sailor’s trousers, held up by twine and rolled to the knee. Hard-soled feet, skin tight over ribs and shoulder-blades. All of him shades of earth and ochre, but flashed with white, like the belly of a springbok as it leaps away. Ostrich-eggshell beads at his neck, teeth like Sèvres porcelain. And that round head, close-shorn. One could imagine the bone beneath. When I first saw him, tagging behind as our party struck north from the Cape, I thought: there are men in France who would like that cranium in their collection. A pretty piece to cup in the palm.

Shadows gutter on the ceiling as the last of the lamp-oil runs out. Outside I see points of light and at first I think they are stars, burning low to the ground: the sky turned upside down. But no. They are flames, moving up the hill from the village, torches lighting faces in the crowd. The voices build.

The last time I saw Jacques his skull was crushed on one side, the front teeth gone, face caked with blood and dust.

I imagine he was buried with the usual native rites. Sitting upright, as I have heard it is done, in the old hide blanket, with nothing to mark the place but a small pile of stones. The vitreous black stones you find there in the north, in that dry country.

Cape of Good Hope

Venter was a chancer from the start. I met him on the church square; he was selling skins and ivory. With what was left of the Countess’s money, I was procuring oxen, muskets, what men I could afford.

“I hear you’re coming north,” he said, his face shadowed by a leather brim. “I hear you’re looking for animals.”

“Special animals,” I nodded. “Rare ones.” I had been in the Cape a month by then, and my own rough Dutch was improving.

“Visit with us,” he said. “We have a hell of an animal for you.”

“Ah. And what kind might that be?”

I was not overly excited. Already I had received several offers of specimens. There had been enough European adventurers in these parts for the locals to imagine they knew what we sought. On the docks, a hunter had thrust a brace of speckled fowl at me, their bodies stinking in the heat. In a tavern, a wrinkled prospector had produced a pink crystal, its facets glinting in the candlelight. But the Countess wished for something she had not seen before. The foot of a rhinoceros, a pretty shell — these would not be enough. One of the slave-dealers had promised more exotic sights, native girls with curious anatomies, but this, too, I had refused. I was looking for something spectacular, something to cause a sensation; but not of that kind.

“It’s big,” said Venter.

“Like an elephant? An ostrich?” I said. “Perhaps a whale?”

“All of those things,” he said, and tilted his head so that his pale eyes caught the sun, colour piercing the hues of hide and roughspun cloth. He was a handsome man, tall and with a strong jaw under his yellow beard, grown very full as is the habit of the farmers here. “It’s all of those things, God help us.”

I tried not to smile at his ignorance. “Come now, it must be one thing or the other. Fish or fowl.”

He shrugged. “It flies, it runs. Here,” he said, leaning forward and pulling off his hat. A waft of sweat, a herbal tang, the coppery hair compressed in a ring. “That is its skin.”

I did not wish to touch the greasy hat, but he pushed it into my hands, pointing at the hide band. Spotted, greyish yellow. It might have been hyena fur, or harbour rat for all I knew.

“Keep it.” He spat his tobacco into the dust. “You are welcome on my land. Ask for Venter. Up north the people know me.

“The Heart of Aris Kindt” by Richard de Nooy

“Who stitched him up, sir?”
“The preparator. He was at work when I came in.”
“But we …”
“They took the heart, Ferdinand, and the rest of his innards.”
“There will be no incision in our painting.”
“But that’s preposterous, sir!”
“Tulp’s letter is on the table.”

The young apprentice removes his cloak and rubs his hands until they squeak and tingle. January’s stinging chill draws deeper into his bones as he circles the naked cadaver of Aris Kindt. The callous morning light falling from the high windows of the Theatrum Anatomicum lends the dead man’s skin a translucent sheen that leaves no blemish undisguised. Hurried sutures have raised an angry, Y-shaped seam upon the dead man’s abdomen.

The young apprentice bows his head and mumbles a brief prayer before unfolding the surgeon’s letter with his winter-clumsy fingers.

Amsterdam, 18th Day of January 1632

Dear Sir,

It is with some regret that, after due consultation with my esteemed peers, we have decided that we would prefer to see the torso depicted unopened, as it detracts from the overall composition and may cause consternation among our guests, particularly emissaries of the Church, who might question such a bold display of our enquiry into God’s intentions and creative genius. We assure you that our decision has nothing whatsoever to do with the manner in which the organs have been rendered, as this was of the high standard that prompted us to commission you in first instance. Should you feel that our decision has necessitated additional effort on your part, we would like to assure you that we are already considering future commissions that we would almost certainly leave in your good hands.


Nicolaes Tulp, Praelector Chirurgic et Anatomie

“He makes no mention of the heart, sir!”
“Indeed, Ferdinand, indeed.”
“Are these men of science, sir?”
“Among the foremost, Ferdinand, but our friend here evidently confounded their principles.”
“This is absurd. First the hand and now this!”
“The client is king, Ferdinand. Let me hear you say it.”
“The client is a meddlesome tyrant, sir. Why would they do such a thing?”
“Ours not to reason why, Ferdinand.”
“Whatever crimes he may have committed, sir, this man, too, is a creature of God and it is our duty as artists to celebrate the glory of His creation by rendering all of that creation as precisely as we can — alive or dead.”
“Of course, Ferdinand, but God does not pay our fee, and the surgeons have every reason to conciliate the emissaries of the Church. To work. We have a great deal to do. And our silent friend will not stay fresh for ever.”
“My father shall hear of this. The Guild of Surgeons in Dordrecht would never…”
“That would be imprudent, Ferdinand. Bear in mind that it will be our word, as humble artists, against that of two dozen surgeons, well versed in matters anatomical and very well connected with the city council, before a committee of their peers. And what might we hope to achieve, Ferdinand? Do we wish to cast a shadow of ill repute upon the city’s finest surgeon? Will it bring Aris Kindt back to life? A man hanged by the neck is dead, Ferdinand, even if he dies a second time.”
“Consider your career, Ferdinand, and at what expense it has been purchased. Your father’s investment must be recouped and I have mouths to feed. To work, young man, those details will not draw themselves.”

16th Day of January 1632

Master R and I today had the honour of attending the public dissection of Adriaan Adriaanszoon in the Theatrum Anatomicum at De Waag, presided over by Doctor Nicolaes Tulp, praelector of the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. It was truly a privilege to sit among the city’s most influential councillors and learned men to witness this rare event, which — as you know — takes place only once a year and is subject to the strictest protocol.

We were permitted to sit in the front row in order to make our preliminary sketches, which I did with immense discomfort, knowing that some of the city’s mightiest men were looking over my shoulder. This was further compounded by the unnerving butcher-shop scent of the dead man’s viscera, deftly laid bare by the Guild’s preparator, who stood constantly at Dr Tulp’s side, scalpel in hand like a Sword of Damocles. I am not ashamed to admit that I had to make a concerted effort to retain my dejeuner, which rumbled like an angry behemoth in my guts. Fortunately, I did not defile and embarrass myself. Instead, the experience redoubled my respect for surgeons such as yourself and Dr Tulp, who conducted his duties with immense grace and precision under such gruesome circumstances, all the while enlightening the audience with the most fascinating revelations regarding the workings of the human body.

Book details

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Sunday Read: An Excerpt from Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

RubberneckerBelinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker has won the 2014 Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year award, with one of the judges describing it as “original and compelling” and “utterly absorbing”. Val McDermid, notable Scottish crime author, says in her review of the book: “Breathtaking. I read this and wished I’d written it.”

Read the first chapter of Rubbernecker in this excerpt shared on Amazon to be introduced to the peculiar thoughts of Patrick Fort – a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome who finds himself in the midst of an ongoing murder trial:


Dying is not as easy as it looks in the movies.
In the movies, a car skids on ice. It slews across the road, teeters on the edge of the cliff.
It drops; it crumples and arcs – and finally stops against a tree, wheels up, like a smoking turtle. Other drivers squeal to a stop and leave their doors open as they rush to the precipice and stare in horror, while the car –
The car pauses for dramatic effect. And then bursts into flames.
The people step back, they shield their faces, they turn away.
In the movies, they don’t even have to say it.
In the movies, the driver is dead.

I don’t remember much, but I do remember that the Pina Colada song was on the radio. Pina Colada and getting caught in the rain.
I hate that song; I always have.
I wonder whether I’ll tell the police the truth about what happened. When I can.

Book details

Image courtesy Harrowgate

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Sunday Read: An Excerpt from The Miniaturist and An Interview With Its Author, Jessie Burton

The MiniaturistJessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, caused a buzz at last year’s London Book Fair and secured the debut novelist a hefty advance (reports vary on whether it is six or seven figures). The book, published this week, is set in Amsterdam in the 17th century and follows 18-year-old Nella as she enters into an arranged marriage with Johannes, a wealthy merchant.

Nella is given a cabinet-sized replica of their home by her husband, who she finds to be kind but distant. She spends her time with Johannes’ sharp-tongued sister, leaving her feeling unwelcome and shut out of the house, until the miniaturist commissioned to furnish the house helps her to start unlocking its secrets.

Waterstones have shared an excerpt from the book and Richard Lee from the Historical Novel Society interviewed Burton:

The Old Church, Amsterdam: Tuesday, 14th January 1687

The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends. But words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot, and the church’s east corner is crowded. She watches the scene unfold from the safety of the choir stall, as guildsmen and their wives approach the gaping grave like ants toward the honey. Soon, they are joined by VOC clerks and ship’s captains, regentesses, pastry-makers – and him, still wearing that broad-brimmed hat. She tries to pity him. Pity, unlike hate, can be boxed and put away.

The church’s painted roof – the one thing the reformers didn’t pull down – rises above them like the tipped-up hull of a magnificent ship. It is a mirror to the city’s soul; inked on its ancient beams, Christ in judgement holds his sword and lily, a golden cargo breaks the waves, the Virgin rests on a crescent moon. Flipping up the old misericord beside her, her fingers flutter on the proverb of exposed wood. It is a relief of a man shitting a bag of coins, a leer of pain chipped across his face. What’s changed? she thinks.

RL: At what stage did you know this novel was working for you? (Have you started and not finished other novels?)

JB: In 2008, I did start 80,000 words of a novel set in London in 1796, and I might go back to it one day. But this one, The Miniaturist – well, it just had so much fuel in it, that even when it was difficult (which it was), I just didn’t mind carrying on, staring into the void, because I knew one of these characters, or one of my thematic explorations, would come good again. This might sound contradictory, but though I wrote the book chronologically, the writing process never felt that it was going in a neat and linear way. I had early, impressionistic scenes in my head, and sometimes getting the novel out of me was like blood from a stone – finding the plot a sprawl, a character not enough, or I was over-writing and making things too complicated – and other times I really flew, I could see that character standing in front of me, they began speaking before I put the words in their mouth.

Book details

Image courtesy The Observer

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Sunday Read: The Literary World Cup

Football, football, football. It’s all pervasive at the moment. But it’s not all kicking and diving, and Books LIVE has gathered together the best of the writing on the World Cup’s literary connections.

In what has turned out to be a social media tour de force, Penguin UK put together a literary XI for 16 of the World Cup nations, with line-ups made up of leading authors. The only African team included is Nigeria, but Teju Cole was pleased as punch to be included:

The Penguin Cup led to much hilarity on Twitter, with the publisher reporting that JD Salinger had failed to turn up for training, and Paulo Coelho announcing himself as a supporter of Brazil’s team, which features him in right midfield. Nick Hornby took to Facebook to voice his concern at Zadie Smith’s lack of a “left foot”:


Despite Bafana Bafana not making it to Brazil (What, you hadn’t heard?) this Books LIVE editor would like to offer a South African edition: Brink – Vladislavić, Meyer, Ndebele, Bosman – Plaatje, Mda, Benedict Vilakazi (the writer, not the former Orlando Pirates player), Coetzee – Gordimer, Rive. Vladislavić at right back, Bosman making forays up the left, a solid central defensive partnership of Meyer and Ndebele. Plaatje’s speed and flair on the right wing, Coetzee offering a more analytical option on the left. The unpredictable creative force of Mda and Vilakazi in midfield, and clinical finishers Rive and Gordimer up front.

The Paris Reviews‘s coverage of the tournament, consisting of more literary articles by “serious” writers, continues with a piece by poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who ruminates on the demise of the once-dominant Spanish national team, in the context of newly discovered work by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:

The same day that, in Chile, more than twenty previously unknown works by Pablo Neruda were discovered in the most unlikely of places — a drawer — Spain thought it was a good idea to continue their monarchy by changing the constitution so the prince could replace the abdicating king. I rejoiced at one and shrugged at the other. Fittingly, Chile beat Spain 2-0 yesterday.

In a lengthy profile for The New York Times, Jeff Himmelman regards the linguistic identity of the most famous, and popular, player at the World Cup. Lionel Messi was born in Argentina, but moved to Spain to play for Barcelona before his teens. He was often been accused of not playing as well for his country as he does for the Catalans.

In much of Argentina, where Lionel Messi lived until he was 13, native speakers replace the “y” sound with a “sh” sound. Yo, the personal pronoun for “I,” becomes “sho,” and calle, which other Spanish speakers would pronounce “ka-yay,” becomes “ka-shey.” The sound gives Argentine Spanish a slurry softness that resembles aspects of the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. More important to this story, that “sh,” and the fact that Messi has retained it all his life, has at times been the sole lifeline between the greatest soccer player in the world and the country he plays for.

Tom Dispatch has shared a series of excerpts from award-winning Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano’s iconic, poetic meditation on the sport, Soccer in Sun and Shadow:

For lovers of the game, in his celebrated masterpiece Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano long ago caught the way the spectacle of soccer and the spectacle of reality intertwined. Of the Brazilian protests, he recently observed: “Brazilians, who are the most soccer-mad of all, have decided not to allow their sport to be used any more as an excuse for humiliating the many and enriching the few. The fiesta of soccer, a feast for the legs that play and the eyes that watch, is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland. The most popular sport in the world wants to serve the people who embrace it. That is a fire police violence will never put out.”

Galeano, who has been outspoken about the World Cup protests in Brazil, has had his books translated into 25 languages. From Soccer in Sun and Shadow:

The ball turns, the world turns. People suspect the sun is a burning ball that works all day and spends the night bouncing around the heavens while the moon does its shift, though science is somewhat doubtful. There is absolutely no question, however, that the world turns around a spinning ball: the final of the ’94 World Cup was watched by more than two billion people, the largest crowd ever of the many that have assembled in this planet’s history. It is the passion most widely shared: many admirers of the ball play with her on fields and pastures, and many more have box seats in front of the TV and bite their nails as 22 men in shorts chase a ball and kick her to prove their love.

At the end of the ’94 Cup every child born in Brazil was named Romário, and the turf of the stadium in Los Angeles was sold off like pizza, at twenty dollars a slice. A bit of insanity worthy of a better cause? A primitive and vulgar business? A bag of tricks manipulated by the owners? I’m one of those who believe that soccer might be all that, but it is also much more: a feast for the eyes that watch it and a joy for the body that plays it. A reporter once asked German theologian Dorothee Sölle, “How would you explain happiness to a child?”

“I wouldn’t explain it,” she answered. “I’d toss him a ball and let him play.”

Finally, those of us who have been watching will be aware that African teams have been unbearably disappointing at this year’s World Cup – so far – and everybody is wondering why. In a long piece for Grantland, Jordan Conn examines the complex history of the Ivory Coast national football team, who are known as the team that helped end a civil war.

By this point, I’m confused. I’ve been in Ivory Coast only a couple of days, but I’ve asked about a dozen kids to name their favorite players. I’ve heard Messi and Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, and even Karim Benzema and Sergio Busquets. A kid in a Drogba jersey told me, with a big smile on his face, just how much he loves Samuel Eto’o. But no one has mentioned Drogba himself. Nor have they mentioned Touré or Gervinho or, for that matter, any other Ivorians. I’ve seen plenty of evidence that Ivorians love Drogba and his teammates, but I’ve found none of the idol worship I’d been led to expect. According to what I’d read, this was the country where soccer has saved lives, the one place on Earth where the athletes could still be called heroes. And here we were, in the very neighborhood where Drogba spent part of his childhood, and this kid wants to talk about Xavi?

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Caine Prize Fiction Friday: “The Gorilla’s Apprentice” by Billy Kahora

Billy Kahora

This week’s Fiction Friday features Billy Kahora’s “The Gorilla’s Apprentice”, which was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing.

Kwani? 05, Part 2The True Story of David Munyakei, Goldenberg WhistleblowerA Memory This Size and Other Stories10 Years of the Caine Prize for African Writing

Kahora is the managing editor of Kwani Trust, a publisher and promoter of new writing focused mainly on Kenya, and was on the judging panel for this year’s debut Etisalat Prize for Literature. He was also shortlisted for the 2012 Caine Prize for his short story “Urban Zoning”, which was published in McSweeney’s.

Joining Kahora on the shortlist are Diane Awerbuck, Zimbabwean Tendai Huchu and fellow Kenyan Okwiri Oduor.

Read our previous Caine Prize Fiction Fridays:

Read “The Gorilla’s Apprentice”, which was first published in Granta:

That last Sunday of 2007, just a few days before Jimmy Gikonyo’s eighteenth birthday – when he would become ineligible to use his Nairobi Orphanage family pass – he went to see his old friend, Sebastian the gorilla. Jimmy sat silently on the bench next to the primate’s pit waiting for Sebastian to recognize him. After a few minutes, Sebastian turned his gaze on Jimmy and walked towards the fence. The gorilla’s eyes were rheumy, his movements slow and careful. Their interaction was now defined by that strange sense of inevitable nostalgia that death brings, even when the present has not yet slipped into the past.

Book details

Image courtesy of Etisalat Prize

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A Revolt Against Loss: Sunday Times Fiction Prize Shortlistee Dominique Botha on Writing False River

Dominique Botha

False RiverThe Genesis: Dominique Botha on the creative origins of False River, which was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize:

Some years back I was walking along a pan, redolent in the summer stink of rot and regrowth, when longing struck me. Like an arrow perforating a membrane of silence to make a small wound. My brother Paul and I used to set foot onto that same path into a rich world of animals and stars, that now eludes me. Childhood is the original Atlantis flooded in the deluge of time, then sanded over by the present.

Like water recedes, so does memory. I took up a pen when even Paul’s absence was ebbing away. Writing is a way to fasten and rehabilitate the past. At some point the story outruns the history.

The hero in False River is a charismatic, self-destructive older brother whose life and death bookend the telling. The writer is both the narrator and a character whose ‘innocent’ eye acts as prism and mirror. Pa and Ma are the mythological archetypes of mother and father. Pa, in particular, is a complex oddball, both a contradiction and an affirmation of his time. Into this are woven madmen, policemen, good women, and brave priests peopling the flat landscape of a paper Free State.

Nature pervades, in all her conjugations of beauty. The languages around you, the birds you hear, the sounds of thunder and flies, the bended light, the food, the history, the music, all imprint on the writing. No environment is neutral.

I allowed myself to write freely in the manner of a novel. To uncage memory is to allow a first wing beat in the flight of the imagination. And the better the writing, the more readers may recognise themselves in the pain and joy that ‘everyman’s story’ embodies.

I wrote the book as one builds a cairn. In revolt against loss and in commemoration of love. It fails and succeeds in its objectives, as most small shrines do. What remains true, the residue, is feeling.

* * * * *

Excerpt from False River:

“You are too close to the water,” Paul whispered. “There are barbels in the mud. They will wake up if you step on them.”

He pushed past towards the sweet thorn shade.

I saw a dead carp with its eye rotted away. Finches were chattering in the reeds. The water in the pan stank.

“I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true. Barbels aren’t like normal fish. They grow as big as men and they eat mud. When it’s dark, they crawl up to the house on their shoulders to graze on the lawn.”

I ran to catch up with him. “Ma says if you feed silkworms beetroot, they weave threads of crimson. Is that true? I mean, what does crimson mean?”

“It means red. Hurry up you spastic.”

I kept silkworms in a shoebox on top of my piano. Ma told me mulberries and silkworms came from China long before our country became the only one in the world. She said silkworms could be tricked into spinning hearts and clovers. If you left them in peace, they spun cocoons the colour of farm butter. At night pale-winged moths fluttered up against the shoebox lid and laid eggs stuck together like crochet beads. Then they died and moth dust silvered the cardboard floor. It was a long walk to the only mulberry tree that grew on our farm. Its roots were lifting the graveyard walls near the ruins of the old house and Pa was threatening to cut the bloody thing down. Ma said he should fix the wall instead.

Paul walked ahead along the footpath that ribboned through the long grass.

Leguaans lived around the pan. That was definitely true. They can whip you off your feet with their tails and they eat snakes, even rinkhalse or pofadders. Abram once killed a leguaan with his pickaxe and brought it to the house. Ma was upset. “He’s just going to use it for muti or some nonsense,” Pa said. Abram told me leguaans destroyed his fish traps. Even in death the giant lizard held fast to its electric colouring. The long nails at the end of the claws drew lines on the brick paving as Abram dragged it away by the tail.

“Look,” Paul said, pointing at some veld lilies sprouting in a groove of cracked mud. “A cluster of midday stars.” There were more blooming in the shade of the cemetery wall. I bent down to touch them. Paul went inside and lay down on the grave of our great-grandfather Paul Michiel Botha, which was the family name for firstborn boys. The gate whistled on its hinges like a wire toy made by the piccanins at the stat.

“You shouldn’t do that,” I said, lingering at the gatepost.

Along the wall grew blue teardrop trees that tolled with singing pigeons. Ma called them graveyard cypresses. “Listen to the birds,” Paul said, closing his eyes and putting his feet up. He called them Sunday afternoon doves.

Our family tree had dropped many branches into the graveyard. Lots of Paul Michiel Bothas and their wives and children cut down by the Great Trek, the Great Flu and great age. I walked through the gate, sat down next to the smallest tombstone and trailed my fingers across remnants of chiselled High Dutch effaced by a century of rain.

“What does it say?” I asked.

Petronella Botha. 1880 tot 1887. Hier rust ons geliefde dogtertji, dees aard was niet uw lot.

“I could have been her twin, if I were born a hundred years ago. Dutch sounds like Afrikaans spoken by a person who is mentally retarded.” Paul was ten years old and could speak Afrikaans and English. Pa said that made you a true South African.

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Link Love: Excerpt from Sandile Memela’s New Book Zenzele: Young, Gifted and Free

ZenzeleIntroducing Zenzele: Young, Gifted and Free by Sandile Memela, from Porcupine Press:

“The long-awaited book to move us away from blaming apartheid for everything.”

Zenzele: Young, Gifted and Free is a motivational book that aims to help young South Africans let go of their entitled attitude and take charge of their lives. It will be launched this month, to coincide with Youth Month. To pre-order your copy, contact Clare-Rose at Porcupine Press on 011 791 4561.

About the book:

Zenzele: Young, Gifted and Free is a provocative work that seeks to transform our attitudes. Are we merely victims of apartheid or should we now be accepting full responsibility for our own lives? Thought provoking and politically controversial, this book offers strong guidance on how to become a self-determining and responsible achiever.

There is exciting potential for the 21st century young person who is not willing to blame history but who develops a clear personal vision of what is needed to have a purpose in life.

“This book has come at the right time, to the right people … our young people. We cannot continue to blame apartheid but now have to look at our reaction to it.” – Mike Ngila Muedane, Pan-Africanist author, motivational speaker and life coach

“Zenzele takes us to another level of not only knowing (about) the solutions to self-responsibility but to begin implementing them to make life more productive. This is a book that every black South African should have … and read.” – Minah Sindane-Bloem, Communication Strategist and Life Coach

* * * * *


Apartheid Blame Game

This book has a politically incorrect meaning. You will agree or disagree with its perspective, depending on what you want to promote: victimology or victorology. Blaming the legacy of apartheid as an excuse for not taking personal self-responsibility is a provocative subject. But we have to encourage and inspire people to look at themselves in the mirror with an eye towards assuming responsibility for what happens and does not in their lives.

Blaming outside factors is easy. If, like the new Africans, you want to resist the easy temptation of making others responsible for your failures, you will need to take the first step to take charge of your life. But if you want to continue carrying the apartheid baggage, you may not like this book.

I love the provocative perspective it brings. I hope you will enjoy not just reading but critically thinking about what it says.

While I am not an apologist for apartheid, neither do I support the view that every failure on the part of
individuals, especially in the historically disadvantaged communities, should be attributed to it. I have followed this politically incorrect route because I do not believe that ‘being poor,’ for instance, means that you cannot achieve anything in life.

Poverty, unemployment and lack of skills are not the be-all and end-all of life. Life changing opportunities
are within the grasp of each one of us. I believe that we have countless examples of poor and working class people who show victorious qualities of focus, discipline and hard work which make them, in their own right, super-achievers. I do not believe in the easy explanation that blaming everything on the apartheid legacy is enough to explain why many ordinary folks did not become astronauts, physicists, judges, top executives, multi-millionaires and other high flyers because some have.

This book is an attempt to spread an alternative gospel – an approach that encourages people to take
personal responsibility for what happens in their lives, plus inculcating new values and a desire to become achievers in whatever field they choose. It is an unusual approach that calls for new attitudes. If you have self-confidence, someone who believes in individual talent, you may find yourself saying, ‘This is the book that should have been written in 1948.’

You would be right. African people did not need others to define their limits. All they had to do was to define their own goals and do things that would make it easier for them to fulfill them. You are not born to be oppressed. Anyone who oppresses you can only do that with your cooperation. This is something that Africans have refused to acknowledge about their attitude to apartheid. They too, through cooperating, made it work.

Each chapter of this book is written with an educational purpose to inspire. This approach is meant to encourage readers to learn tactics towards selfresponsibility. The tendency to blame outside factors, not to assume responsibility for what happens to one, is critically examined. The emphasis is on helping readers understand that, much as there are things we cannot control in life, we are all responsible for what happens to us. Then the thinking that makes it easier for people to blame history and other external factors for what happens in their lives is explored.

The behaviors of people who do not want to lose the apartheid baggage are examples we find in many people we know in our lives. In reality, this is harmful to our own self-development. There are stories torn from the pages of life where men have changed their attitude to their circumstances and who have transformed their mental attitudes, which has resulted in winning behavior.

The first few chapters attempt not only to define the problem but to offer a solution. These chapters try to answer the question: ‘How do I change my behavior and attitude to not being a victim?’ As you read each chapter you will discover that there is a common thread that ties all the chapters together. You will discover that the solution to all your challenges lies in your own mind. Moreover, you simply get rid of these problems through your mind power.

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Sunday Read: Eimear McBride on Challenging Readers and Herself with A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing (Plus: Extract and Videos)

A Girl is a Half-formed ThingThis week, Eimear McBride was awarded the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing.

In an interview with Kira Cochrane of The Guardian, Eimear reveals that James Joyce’s Ulysses had provided the spark for her own novel. “I started reading the book, got off at Liverpool Street, and just thought: that’s it. Everything I have written before is rubbish, and today is the beginning of something else.”

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is “the inner narrative of an Irish girl from before birth to the verge of death, written to capture what McBride calls ‘the moment before language becomes formatted thought’,” explains Justine Jordan in a review of the book in The Guardian. It tells the story of the girl who has to deal with the consequences of her brother’s childhood brain tumour and the abuse she experiences.

Because of the difficulty of selling such a narrative, McBride struggled for nearly ten years to get A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing published. In the interview, McBride says that publishers underestimate readers. “There are serious readers who want to be challenged, who want to be offered something else, who don’t mind being asked to work a little bit to get there.”

Eimear McBride was in her mid-20s, living in Tottenham and working at a terrible temp job in the City, when she decided to read Ulysses. She had been trying to write for a while, and one 20-minute train journey with James Joyce changed everything. “I started reading the book, got off at Liverpool Street, and just thought: that’s it. Everything I have written before is rubbish, and today is the beginning of something else.”

Not long afterwards, aged 27, she wrote her novel, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, in six feverish months. This week, 10 years later and after a stack of rejections, it won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange prize), beating big, brilliant novels by established literary stars Donna Tartt, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri.

When Baileys announced its sponsorship of the women’s prize for fiction last year, there were mischievous musings about what sort of novel one might wash down with such a sweet tipple. The inaugural winner, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, is certainly not a cream liqueur kind of book.

Jaggedly uncompromising in both style and subject matter, it languished unpublished for a decade before being picked up by a fledgling independent house. Since its publication last summer, when Anne Enright hailed it in the Guardian as an “instant classic”, it’s been feted by the sort of prize juries that set out to reward stylistic innovation, winning the Goldsmiths prize and being shortlisted for the first Folio prize. That it should now bag an award that traditionally keeps accessibility in mind is a surprise, but a wonderful one.

Get a taste of the experimental syntax in A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing from the following extract:

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.

Walking up corridors up the stairs. Are you alright? Will you sit, he says. No. I want she says. I want to see my son. Smell from dettol through her skin. Mops diamond “oor tiles all as strong. All the burn your eyes out if you had some. Her heart going pat. Going dum dum dum. Don’t mind me she’s going to your room. See the. Jesus. What have they done? Jesus. Bile for. Tidals burn. Ssssh. All over. Mother. She cries. Oh no. Oh no no no.

Watch videos of McBride talking about A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing and reading from this award-winning book:

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Trial, Error and Experimentation: Sunday Times Fiction Prize Shortlistee Claire Robertson on Writing The Spiral House

Claire Robertson

The Spiral House The Genesis: Claire Robertson on the creative origins of The Spiral House, which was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize:

What came first with The Spiral House was learning that, in the late 1950s, a score or more Americans travelled from Cape Town to Cairo in a caravan of Airstream trailers. They must have passed by the farm that holds a magical place in my family’s founding saga, which hooked my attention. Getting from there to an exploration of the weird science of the Enlightenment and the art of wig-making as told by a freed slave girl on a slave estate in the Cape in 1794 was a process, if that is not too concrete a word, of being lead by the characters.

Next there came a gentleman farmer, frustrated to the point of tears with the South Africa he finds himself in, in the far northern Transvaal in 1961. He loves an impossible woman – but all women are impossible to him. His life has taken a turn towards solitude and here he is, on an island of rationality amid folk who are not his own, frozen as he watches a tall, clear-eyed nun perform an act of immense courage in leaving her convent. He, the lad Jacob Kobe and Sister Vergilius form a sort of splintered family into which there comes an American, travelling as part of the inciting caravan and stopping off long enough to act as a catalyst in their lives.

In 1794, on the slave estate Vogelzang in the Cape, the girl Katrijn van der Caab has no such help. She has been brought to logic and literacy by her beloved mentor, the wigmaker Le Voir, to whom she is apprenticed, but when it comes to the act of rescue and the escape to sanity she must perform, she has to find strength in her own instincts.

Vergilius and Jacob echo in Katrijn, she in them; the farm Bandolier in 1961 is in the sway of – when it is not defining itself in opposition to – the humours that shape the farm Vogelzang in 1794.

In all the trial, error and experimentation of the writing of The Spiral House, the part I was most conscious of was the obligation to follow through, and tell as much of their story as honestly as I could. I had a terrible vision of characters abandoned, only half formed and I was roundly skrikked into making sure that did not happen here.

* * * * *

Excerpt from The Spiral House :

Vogelzang’s people were at the outdoors slave kitchen at noon when Calcoen came there in a train, he in coat and new wig, then a boy with books and paraplendia, then a boy with a table and one with a chair. The knecht came behind. Some of the party set up the table and laid out ink and pens and so on; the knecht pressed those there into a line and called us from the kitchen to take our place, and sent a boy for Doof Hendrik. Calcoen sat at the table, pen at the ready over his ledger.

The knecht took charge of the line; he held in his hand the lanyard of polished leather pieces that I had handled in Calcoen’s room.

Each person that came forward was made to show his right arm with the sleeve loosed and pushed up as far as the shoulder. While the knecht was employed with so arranging the shirt he told each one’s name to Calcoen and guessed his age and had from him his birth place if that were known. These the master of Vogelzang wrote in columns ready ruled on the page, I would see when it came to my turn.

The knecht next took the wrist of the person and held it so that the arm was in Calcoen’s view, and it must be kept thus while the knecht held discs against the skin to find a match, one for the outer side of the forearm and one for the inside arm higher up, that being hid from the sun in the usual course and paler. He would try several discs until Calcoen judged the correct one had been come upon and then, at a grunt from Calcoen, the knecht read off the numeral cut into the leather, only he gave the numbers as ‘vee one’ or ‘one ex’ as they came, for he was truly ignorant. These Calcoen noted under columns headed with little drawn pictures – a sun for the fore arm, a sickle moon for the upper.

We were some thirty in the line and the going slow. We preferred it to work we told each other, though uneasily, for there never was a new plan from a master that did not cost us in some way.

I was in the line behind Derde Susann, who balked at the knecht’s pulling her chemise to expose the swinging purse of flesh on her arm but allowed herself only a hissed curse. Then it was my turn. I moved with haste to pull back my sleeve to give him no reason to lay a hand on me but he made to fuss with the cloth, rolling it back with care and with every turn pressing his plump knuckles to my breast. He groaned in his throat, looking into my eyes the while, until I lowered mine in shame. When they were done with me he made to roll the sleeve down my arm but I pulled away, and stumbled against Calcoen’s table.

I could hear the knecht snigger behind me as I ran to escape his sight, around the back of the workshop. There I turned my face to the wall, my arms held tight across my bosom, pressing into myself to remove the memory of his fist at my breast. I thought, I will find a stone and bite down on it and with my splintered teeth I will shred the skin from his face, and I rolled the curse in my mouth to get every taste of it, the more because that was the closest it would get to being.

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Sunday Times Fiction Prize: Featuring Lauren Beukes and The Shining Girls

The Shining GirlsThe Genesis: Lauren Beukes on the creative origins of The Shining Girls:

I was messing around on Twitter in random banter with a stranger (I’ve never been able to find out who it was), when it came about that I should write my next book about a time-travelling serial killer. And I said, ‘wait that’s a brilliant idea’, and immediately deleted the tweet before anyone else could see it.

It’s a very slick elevator pitch: time-travelling serial killer, which immediately made me want to make it more interesting and richer. So it’s not your Bill and Ted’s Excellent Killer Spree Through Time – from the Neanderthals through to Shakespeare. I didn’t want to do any of the time-travelling cliches – no velociraptors, and so on, as much fun as that would have been. Imagine riding a velocirapter through time to kill Hitler.

Instead, I wanted to subvert the serial killer genre. I knew it couldn’t be set in South Africa, because the story of our country in the 20th Century is apartheid, which is an important story, one I’ve told through allegory in my previous books, and one I will return to. But for this novel, I wanted a broader scope and to specifically look at women and how history has changed for women. I wanted to make this story about them – to make the reader care and to feel. I know some people found the violence shocking, but I would ask them to look at it again and see that the reason they find it shocking is because they are emotionally invested in that person.

As for the killer: you take that one kernel of nasty, vicious cynicism that you feel when someone cuts you off in traffic and you want to bash their head in and you pull on that, like a magician pulling string out of a wand.

* * * * *

Excerpt from The Shining Girls:

A shadow slipped out among the coils of white fabric artfully arranged on the stage, dressed top-to-toe in black like an Arab. Her eyes glinted once briefly, catching the light from outside as a late arrival was grudgingly allowed entry by the thickset doorman. Cool and feral as an animal’s eyes caught in the headlights. Harper thought, like when he and Everett used to drive to Yankton before dawn to pick up farm supplies in the Red Baby.

Half the audience didn’t even realise anyone was there, until, cued by some undetectable shift in the music, the Glow Girl slid off one long glove, revealing an incandescent disembodied arm. The onlookers gasped and one woman near the front screamed in shrill delight, startling the cop, who craned his neck to see if there had been any impropriety.

The arm unfurled, the hand at the end twisting and turning in a sensual dance all its own. It teased its way around the black sack, exposing, briefly, a girlish shoulder, a curve of a belly, a flash of painted lips, firefly bright. Then it moved to tug off the other glove and throw it into the crowd. Now there were two glowing arms, exposed from the elbow down, sensually contorting, beckoning the audience: Come closer. They obeyed, like children, clustering around the stage, jostling for the best view and tossing the glove up into the air, passing it hand-to-hand, like a party favour. It landed near Harper’s feet – a wrinkled thing, with radium paint streaks showing like innards.

‘Hey, now, no souvenirs,’ the huge doorman said, snatching it out of his hands. ‘Give it here. That’s Miss Klara’s property.’

On stage, the hands crept up to the veiled hood and unclasped it, letting loose a tumble of curls and revealing a sharp little face with a bow mouth and giant blue eyes under fluttering lashes, tipped with paint so they glowed too. A pretty decapitated head floating eerily above the stage.

Miss Klara rolled her hips, twisting her arms above her head, waiting for the suspense of a dip in the melody and the sharp clang of the cymbals she held between her fingers before she removed another piece of clothing, like a butterfly shrugging out of the folds of a black cocoon. But the movement reminded him more of a snake wriggling out of its skin.

She wore dainty wings underneath, and a costume beaded with insect-like segments. She fluttered her fingers and winked her big eyes, dropping into a contorted pose among the coils of fabric like a dying moth. When she re-emerged, she had slipped her arms into sleeves in the gauze and was swirling it around her. Above the bar, a projector flickered to like, casting the blurry silhouettes of butterflies on the gauzy cloth. Jeanette transformed into a swooping, diving creature among a whirlwind of illusory insects. It made him think of plague and infestation. He fingered the folding knife in his pocket.

‘Zank you! Zank you!’ she said at the end of it, in her little girl voice, standing on stage wearing only the paint and a pair of high heels, her arms crossed over her breasts, as if they hadn’t already seen all there was to see. She blew the audience a grateful kiss, in the process revealing her pink nipple to roaring approval. She widened her eyes and gave a coquettish giggle. She quickly covered up again, playing at modesty, and skipped off stage, kicking up her heels. She returned a moment later and wheeled round the stage, her arms held up high and wide in triumph, chin raised, eyes glittering, demanding that they look at her, take their fill.

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