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Congratulations to Alex Smith (@africa_alex), whose Devilskein & Dearlove has been nominated for a Carnegie Medal!

Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Fiction Friday: Excerpt from Steve Biko – The Graphic Novel

nullA comic book featuring Steve Biko, who died 37 years ago in September, has been published as part of the Africa Illustrated series.

The book, which is aimed at children, is the result of a combined effort by the Steve Biko Foundation and comic production company Umlando Wezithombe, who have already produced works on Xhosa prophet Nongqawuse, World War II veteran Job Maseko and the Curse of Mapungubwe.

Steve Biko tells the story of the black consciousness activist’s life, from his birth and first incarceration, to his death in 1977.

View excerpts from the graphic novel below.

Nic Buchanan, creative director at Umlando Wezithombe, told Books LIVE a little about the Biko project.

How did the idea for the Steve Biko graphic novel come about?

The response from most children, when asked about studying history, is a long face and an indication of the overwhelming text books. We wanted to take Steve Biko’s story and put it into an engaging format, one that could reach children of a young age, and so the storytelling and picture combination was perfect.

Can you tell us about the process of translating the life and philosophy of Steve Biko into this form?

To make any comic book is a huge labour of love. We start with researching all material available, then it goes to scriptwriting, storyboarding (where we lay out the balance of visuals and script), illustration, inking (fine line tracing over the illustrations), colouring (on computer, adding all the visual effects), lettering, print preparation and finally printing. There are numerous skills required along the way, and so it’s not just about drawing nice pictures.

How do you think this story will be beneficial to preteen and teenage readers?

The feedback has been amazing. The young readers always want to know why all their study material can’t be in this format. What is probably the most interesting feedback is that it sparks an interest for them to learn more about Steve Biko, so the comic has given a platform for them to investigate deeper.

Why is it important for young people to understand Steve Biko’s legacy?

He contributed so much to this country from such a young age, and young people can learn from him, and grow using his learnings.

If readers take only one thing away from this book, what would you like it to be?

That they have a proud history with role models to light the way.

* * * * *

Excerpt from Steve Biko (Africa Illustrated Book 8) by Books LIVE

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Fiction Friday: Excerpt from Nick Mulgrew’s Short.Sharp.Stories Award-Winner, “Turning”

Adults OnlyRead an excerpt from Nick Mulgrew’s “Turning”, which was awarded Best Story in this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories Awards.

“Turning” is published in this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Adults Only: Stories of love, lust, sex and sexuality, along with stories by Ken Barris, Efemia Chela, Christine Coates, Alexander Matthews, Wamuwi Mbao and Dudumalingani Mqombothi, among others.

Adults Only, which was edited by Joanne Hichens, was launched at The Book Lounge recently.

The judges called Mulgrew’s piece: “A story of youthful love that was handled with a deft touch; elevated by its clever linguistic insertions and a lovely sense of place … With depth and richness, it captures very well the false bravado and even misogyny of a heartbroken macho male.”

Nick Mulgrew’s Turning, from Adults Only


About the Short.Sharp.Stories Awards:

The Short.Sharp.Stories Awards for South African short-story fiction are presented each year by the National Arts Festival. An anthology of selected stories is published annually, with the theme set for writers differing from year to year. The winning stories, selected from the stories to be published, by a panel of independent judges, are announced at an annual launch event at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. It is the aim of these awards to encourage, support, and showcase established and emerging South African writing talent. The Awards are curated by Joanne Hichens.

The title, and theme, for the 2015 competition is Incredible Journey

From Short.Sharp.Stories: Think road trip, or futuristic ride, or a journey of the mind. Or think more laterally. But whether the story moves purely through the sheer force of the imagination or ambles along on dusty, pot-holed South African roads, whether the protagonists stay in the country or venture forth into new terrain by train or boat or plane (or foot), the story must retain a South African nuance and sensibility. The title INCREDIBLE JOURNEY allows the writer the scope to create a pulsing narrative with forward-moving momentum, though some journeys may be less fast-moving and powered more by reflection. We’ll be looking for stories which move us from A to B – or from A to Z with any number of letters in between. We’re looking for the what-happens-next factor, but also for stories that move us emotionally. Mainly, we want to be enthralled and intrigued by a sense of change that cannot fail to be experienced as we get to the last lines of your story. Your incredible journey can be one of political or personal change; it can be inspirational or can focus on a small challenge. The landscape may alter radically … but please, we’re not looking for descriptive essays. As ever, we want uniquely South African voices – voices, in this case, that capture roller-coaster rides of incredible experience.

The author of the Best Story prize will win R20 000, out of a total of R35 000 in prize money. The deadline is 30 November.

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Sunday Read: Excerpts from Nobel Prize Winner Patrick Modiano’s Novels Honeymoon, Missing Person and Catherine Certitude

French author Patrick Modiano became the 111th Nobel Laureate in Literature this week.

At the award announcement, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Peter Englund made everyone feel slightly better about not having heard of Modiano, saying: “He is a well-known name in France, but not anywhere else.”

(Modiano was apparently as surprised as the rest of the world at the award: when he heard the news he was eating lunch at a restaurant with his wife. He reportedly just started laughing.)

The Search WarrantMissing PersonNight RoundsRing Roads: A NovelVilla Triste
A Trace of MaliceHoneymoonOut of the DarkSuspended Sentences

Luckily for us, David R Godine, which has been publishing English translations of Modiano’s work since 1993, has shared excerpts from Honeymoon, Missing Person and Catherine Certitude.

Read the excerpt from Missing Person (tr. Daniel Weissbort):

Synopsis: In this strange, elegant novel, Patrick Modiano portrays a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation, the black hole of French memory.

For ten years Guy Roland has lived without a past. His current life and name were given to him by his recently returned boss, Hutte, who welcomed him, a one-time client, into his detective agency. Guy makes full use of Hutte’s files—directories, yearbooks, and papers of all kinds going back half a century—but leads to his former life are few. Could he really be that person in a photograph, a young man remembered by some as a South American attaché? Or was he someone else, perhaps the disappeared scion of a prominent local family? He interviews strangers and is tantalized by the half-clues until, at last, he grasps a thread that leads him through the maze of his own repressed experience.

Excerpt: I am nothing. Nothing but a pale shape, silhouetted that evening against the café terrace, waiting for the rain to stop; the shower had started when Hutte left me.

Some hours before, we had met again for the last time on the premises of the Agency. Hutte, as usual, sat at his massive desk, but with his coat on, so that there was really an air of departure about it. I sat opposite him, in the leather armchair we kept for clients. The opaline lamp shed a bright light which dazzled me.

“Well, there we are, Guy … That’s it … ,” said Hutte, with a sigh.

A stray file lay on the desk. Maybe it was the one belonging to the dark little man with the frightened expression and the puffy face, who had hired us to follow his wife. In the afternoon, she met another dark little man with a puffy face, at a residential hotel, in Rue Vital, close to Avenue Paul-Doumer.

Thoughtfully, Hutte stroked his beard, a grizzly, close-cut beard, but one which spread out over his cheeks. His large, limpid eyes stared dreamily ahead. To the left of the desk, the wicker chair where I sat during working hours. Behind Hutte, dark wooden shelves covered half the wall: there were rows of street-and-trade directories and yearbooks of all kinds, going back over the last fifty years. Hutte had often told me that these were the essential tools of the trade and that he would never part with them. And that these directories and yearbooks constituted the most valuable and moving library you could imagine, as their pages listed people, things, vanished worlds, to which they alone bore witness.

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Fiction Friday: “Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela” – One Last Story by the Late Chris van Wyk

South African literature was left that much poorer when Chris van Wyk passed away last week. As well as being an esteemed writer, poet and editor, Van Wyk was also well known for his children’s stories, and as a final good bye Times LIVE has shared his story, “Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela”.

Ouma Ruby's SecretThe Year of the TapewormShirley, Goodness & MercyEggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch
Now Listen HereDaar's 'n hoender wat 'n eier nie kan leLong Walk to Freedom


Sunday Times Storytime“Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela” is one of the last stories Van Wyk wrote before he died and appears in the anthology, Sunday Times Storytime: 10 South African Stories for Children.

In this story Mr Hare finds a R200 note on his doorstep. When he turns the note over he sees Mr Mandela’s face and decides to brave the big city of Johannesburg to return Mr Mandela’s property.

But Mr Hare cannot read and he encounters many people along the way who want to get their hands on Mr Mandela’s money. What’s more, Mr Hare cannot figure out why the note keeps changing colour!

Read the story:

Mr Hare Meets Mr Mandela

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Sunday Read: Meet Qian Xiaohong, the Heroine in Sheng Keyi’s First Translated Novel, Northern Girls

Northern GirlsSheng Keyi is one of the exciting international authors who attended the 2014 Open Book Festival, coming all the way from China to be part of the festivities. Her novel Northern Girls, the first of her works to be translated to English, represents China in the 1990s – a country very different to South Africa. However, as Keyi pointed out during her time in Cape Town, there are important similarities between the setting of her novel and our country.

CA Davids, who interviewed Keyi during a session at Open Book, said that she felt this book was important and also deeply political, although not in an obvious way. For this reason it was quite difficult for Keyi to find a publisher for Northern Girls. Keyi has never been censored or threatened, however, perhaps because she is (in her words) just “a small potato” in the Chinese publishing industry.

The following excerpt is from the first chapter of Northern Girls, in which the sultry and headstrong heroine, Qian Xiaohong, is introduced:

Her. Right there. That’s Qian Xiaohong, from Hunan province.

A little over a metre and a half tall, sporting short black hair with just a hint of a curl, her round-faced look is pretty much that of a model citizen, good and decent. She’s just the sort of girl a guy wouldn’t mind taking home to meet his parents. However, her breasts – through no fault of her own – are much too large for civilised, polite society. Such breasts could not help but invite the same suspicion and groundless gossip normally saved for young widows.

Xiaohong’s breasts, to put it bluntly, are gorgeous! Even observed through clothing, it’s easy to imagine their consistency. To touch them must be heavenly. To simply gaze upon them is to fall under their seductive power. The problem is that same unavoidable difficulty that always arises in tight-knit communities. When everyone is cast from the same mould, the person who stands out for any reason at all is sure to be seen as something of a maverick. And so, Xiaohong’s full figure has always made her just a little too striking in the eyes of those around her.

Xiaohong’s mother died of cirrhosis of the liver at a young age. Her chest was as flat as could be so it’s clear the child gained nothing by inheritance. From then on, Xiaohong was brought up in the shelter of her paternal grandmother’s bosom.

Her grandmother, a widow for fifty years, passed away at the age of eighty. She was the only one who knew the secret behind Xiaohong’s well-endowed physique, but she went to the grave without ever breathing a word of it.

Ever since Xiaohong was in year five of school, rumours had surrounded her. There was always a stinging word hissed in her direction, ever a pointing finger trailing in her wake. All the other girls in the village duitfully hunched forward, guarding their chests under loose-fitting clothing, doing all they could to prevent their breasts from giving the slighest impression of sluttiness. Only Xiaohong allowed her twin bulging mounds to appear as openly and ominously as storm clouds descending upon an unsuspecting city. It was a rare gift she had, the way she carried that pair, and no one could denythat it required courage for her to do so.

At the ripe old age of thirteen, Xiaohong lost all interest in her studies. As soon as she finished middle school, she dropped out, preferring to take life easy and hang around the village.

Her father’s work regularly took him away from home for weeks at a time. When he was back, Xiaohong would run and sit on his lap like a little girl, cuddling up to him, cheek to cheek. The villagers would look at them askance. Clearly the affection between father and daughter made them uncomfortable. He worked as a contractor and, with his earnings, built a two-storey house with suites on each floor. Both the interior and the exterior of the house had a more cosmopolitan air than anything in the city. Xiaohong chose for herself a room on the upper floor with a private staircase running up the outer wall.

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Fiction Friday: Excerpt from Tiah Beautement’s New Novel, This Day

Open Book 2014: This Day

This DayRead an excerpt from Tiah Beautement‘s newly released second novel, This Day.

This Day was launched at the Open Book Festival, and you can see the author read from it on the Books LIVE YouTube channel, along with readings by Kader Abdolah, Rabih Alameddine, Philip Hensher and Fiona Leonard.

At that event, Beautement said of her protagonist: “I gave her everything I wanted. Perfect health, financial independence, lots of energy, and made her life stink!”

Read the excerpt:

* * * * *

The water devours the words.
            A solid half hour of writing in the starlight, the sharp stick gouging the glassy sand, until it resembled a pewter tablet bearing prophecy. Moses would have been impressed. Now my work has nearly vanished, the water sucking the letters until they pop out and drift away.
            The tide has changed, precisely when the tide table said it would. My mind cannot comprehend how they predict the ocean’s behaviour so far in advance. I’ve had it explained to me, this gravitational pull between the sea, the moon and the sun. But life has so many variables – solar flares, falling stars, an unexpected gust of wind – how do the tides keep ticking by on schedule, as if these anomalies have not occurred?
            Low tide: 4:59am.
            This is what the pamphlet said.
            That is what happened.
            Dawn whispers in as the ocean surges forward. My stomach rolls and my flesh prickles as the surf collects around my ankles, combing through my toes. I remain planted, waiting for the sun.
            ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ An often-spoken sentiment at funerals. I should know; I’ve been to enough. But in truth, we are mostly water: around sixty-to seventy-percent, if the experts are to be believed. They say an adult should drink two litres of water a day in order to maintain the approximately forty litres that compose the individual. I, Ella, am water. My words are somewhere in these waves, coating my feet. I should not be afraid. This sea contains droplets that were once in me, in my son, that sustained us both.
            The sky grows brighter. There are no surfers out on dawn patrol. Not the right kind of waves. They are small and crumbly. Perhaps later today this will change. I used to be more aware of the surf report. Bart, my husband, had scheduled his days around it. Now my daily excursions to the beach are made alone, in silent homage to our beloved boy. Perhaps words reach us, even in death.
            A barefoot fisherman in tatty trousers and a rusty red t-shirt approaches. A weathered plastic carrier bag dangles from calloused fingertips. His hooked knife glints in the dim light. He pays me no notice. We’ve seen each other often enough. I don’t know his name, nor he mine. But like the rocks along the shore, we have become part of one another’s scenery.
            With slow deliberate steps, he works his way to the rocks where the mussels cling. The water continues to swirl about my ankles, at times brushing up against my calves. The sun’s rays grow stronger. They reach out and lick my face. Soon the fisherman has wandered out of my line of vision. I do not turn my head. I wait and watch until the sun has finished emerging from the sea.
            The interior of the Prius is cool, promising, as cars often feel in the early hours. By noon the cabin air will be stale, tired with disappointment.
            Every day we begin again.
            This day is no more significant than the one before, or the one before that. Little progress, if any, seems to be made. Yet, I keep trying, pushing, as if working towards something, even if that something cannot be named. What is it that I hope to gain? It would be easier to succumb to the endless cycle. I could crawl into bed and lie next to Bart. With a sigh, whisper his full name, ‘Bartholomew,’ as I welcomed the rot. Gradually, we would waste away. It is, after all, not without precedent. Then death would claim us, as it did his mother. Yet, even now, I can’t help but think of it as the cowardly way out.
            Making my way up Church Road, heading home, the sun rises steadily behind me. We do not live far from the sea. The walk would do me good. But Bart insists that I drive. I have yet to inquire what shadows he envisions stalking me on the Mossel Bay streets. He believes me safe in our home, surrounded by palisade fencing. He believes me safe on the beaches, no matter the hour. How, after all of this, can he continue to have such trust around a large body of water?
            ‘You never go deeper than your ankles,’ he says.
            In the past I would have argued his odd logic, pointing out the holes. Or I might have ignored his protests entirely and simply walked. But the fact that he can muster the energy to insist on anything is … something.
            We all need something.


Returning, I make my way down the hall, studiously ignoring the door to the main bathroom. We have yet to arrange for repairs. As far as I am aware, the antique bathtub remains in ruins – cast iron marred by the sledgehammer, shattered porcelain pooling at the base of clawed feet.
            Stepping into the master bedroom I locate Bart, wrapped in a quilt, exactly as I left him. A line of drool channels along a heavily shadowed cheek. His ashy blond curls are overgrown and greasy. His once bronzed skin resembles spoilt yoghurt, the white separating into transparent layers that are tinged with blue. But it is the rhythmic rise and fall of his thin chest that holds my attention. Alive. This is never guaranteed. Each time I venture out of the house provides an opportunity to bring himself to conclusion. Despite everything, I do not wish for his death. I fear it. Anticipate it. Because I no longer understand what motivates him to exist. Gradually he has released us all from his care. Even his art.
            His art was the last to go. In the past sixteen months, only two pieces have been created. The first was a glass box in blues, greens, and purples so dark they almost looked black. The colours drift together, echoing the sea’s calm before the storm. The silver lines where the sections were soldered together give the box a distinctly religious overtone. We are not religious. But there is comfort in the aura of solemnity, given its contents.
            The other piece is a glass blown sculpture, unlike any of the vases, bowls, platters, Christmas ornaments and cut glass jewellery that he, or his three partners, typically craft. The popularity of Bart’s creations has gradually grown. People from as far as Norway, Sweden, Japan and New York are in possession of a Bartholomew Original.
            This sculpture was a disaster. His trembling caused the rod to rotate poorly. The glass folded in on itself, stopping short of total collapse. Yet, it was auctioned for a mind-boggling amount, as if the time lapse between pieces added to its worth. One art critique wrote: ‘Bartholomew’s latest work is the embodiment of grief.’
            I am no longer certain if grief plays any part in Bart’s moods, which sway between vicious anger and total apathy. It appears to be more of a habit. A habit he has no reason to break. We own the house outright. We inherited money from both sets of parents. His languid depression is a luxury most humans cannot afford. I’ve
often wondered if I would better serve him by draining the bank accounts, giving the whole lot to charity. Perhaps then he would see reason to emerge.
            The therapist tells me I misunderstand his disease. That it is a disease. A part of him is broken and should be respected as much as if he’d shattered his tibia, ruptured a spinal disc. Care should be administered, as surely as if he were bound to a hospital bed. Thus, each morning I am to approach my husband’s side with profound gentleness. I am not to say, ‘Just get up. There are things to do and people to see.’ No, I am to say, ‘You appear to be having a spot of trouble rising this morning. Is there anything I can do to assist?’
            This requires a plenitude of patience. And kindness. And fortitude. All of which I lack. Because what I would dearly love to do is to toss a bucket of cold water across this slumbering heap. Such an action, I suppose, would soak the mattress and could lead to mould. A great pity, indeed.
            I suppress a sigh and leave. Stepping over a trail of ants, which are doubtlessly doing untold damage to our hardwood floors, I enter the en suite. The original home had no such frills. It is a renovation orchestrated by my mother-in-law after the death of her husband. Upon its completion, she phoned Bart, ‘That Ms Spinner of yours will not be able to object to moving in now, the house boasts the latest amenities.’
            She never did forgive me for keeping my own name.
            ‘I am the last one,’ I once said to her, ‘and you must admit, there are still a plethora of Simonds about.’
            She’d been aghast. ‘Simonds, perhaps, but not the Simonds of the third cousin of the original Huguenots that …’
            I have never been able to precisely trace her version of the Simond family tree, of which Bart is apparently the last. Nonetheless, I bore her a small olive branch in the form of Kai Simond, only to have her tear it loose.

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Sunday Read: An Excerpt from Raymond E Feist’s Magician’s End in Anticipation of Open Book


Magician's EndAmerican fantasy author Raymond E Feist will be at this year’s Open Book Festival in Cape Town where he will speak to Sarah Lotz on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 about Magician’s End and all that came before.

Magician’s End is the final book in the Riftwar Cycle. Feist’s epic saga has now come full circle, with the black magician Pug/Milamber facing a final and brutal test.

We first met Pug in 1977 as the orphan keep-boy in Magician who became an apprentice to the magician Kulgan. When his home was invaded by the Tsurani warriors of a different dimension, Pug was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Thus began an adventure that would span over 30 years and be captured in 30 books.

Feist is a New York Times and Times of London bestselling author.

The following excerpt is from the first chapter of Magician’s End, where Pug and his son, Magnus, witness the destruction of an ancient race:

* * * * * * * * * * *



Chaos erupted.

A light so brilliant it was painful bathed Pug as he instinctively threw all his magic into the protective shell Magnus had erected around them just a moment before. Only Magnus’s anticipation of the trap had prevented them all from being instantly vaporized. Energy so intense it could hardly be comprehended now destroyed everything at hand, reducing even the most iron-hard granite to its fundamental particles, dispersing them into the fiery vortex forming around them.

The light pierced Pug’s tightly shut eyelids, rendering his vision an angry red-orange, with afterimages of green-blue. His instinct was to shield his face, but he knew the gesture would be useless. He willed himself to keep his hands moving in the pattern necessary to support Magnus’s efforts. Only magic protected them from conditions no mortal could withstand for even the barest tick of time. The very stuff of the universe was being distorted on all sides.

They were in what appeared to be the heart of a sun. In his studies, Pug knew this to be the fifth state of matter, beyond earth, air, water, and fire, called different names by various magicians: among them, flux, plasma, and excited fire. Energy so powerful that it tore the very essentials of all matter down to their very atoms and recombined them, repeating the process until at some point the plasma fell below a threshold of destruction and creation and was able finally to cease its fury.

Years of perfecting his art had gifted him with myriad skills, some talents deployed reflexively without conscious effort. The magic tools he used to assess and evaluate were overloaded with sensations he had never experienced in his very long lifetime. Obviously, whoever had constructed this trap had hoped it would be beyond his ability to withstand. He suspected it was the work of several artisans of magic.

In his mind, Pug heard Miranda asking, Is everyone safe?

Nakor’s voice spoke aloud. “There’s air. We can talk. Magnus, Pug, don’t look. It will blind you. Miranda, we can look.”

“Describe what you see,” Magnus said to the two demons in human form.

Miranda said, “It’s an inferno hotter than anything witnessed in the demon realm. It has destroyed a hundred feet of rock and soil below us and we are afloat in a bubble of energy. Farther out from where we stand, it’s turning sand to glass. A wall of superheated air is expanding outward at incredible speed, and whatever it touches is incinerated in moments. As far as my eye can discern, all is flame, smoke, and ash.”

Less than a minute before, the four of them had been examining a matrix of magic, which was obviously a lock, but had turned out to be a trap.

Ancient beings of energy, the Sven-ga’ri, had been protected in a quiet glade atop a massive building built by a peaceful tribe of the Pantathians, a race of serpent men created by the ancient Dragon Lord, Alma-Lodaka. Unlike their more violent brethren, these beings had been gentle, scholarly, and very much like humans.

Now that peaceful race had been obliterated. It didn’t matter to Pug that they had been created by the mad vanity of a long-dead Dragon Lord as pets and servants: they had evolved into something much finer and he knew he would mourn their loss.

Book details

Image courtesy of Jamie’s Pages

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Fiction Friday: ‘”He Would Tweet His Death” – On the Road to Fame’, a Short Story by Williams Magunga

Ainehi Edoro has shared ‘”He Would Tweet His Death” – On the Road to Fame’, a short story by Williams Magunga, on Brittle Paper.

Edoro says Magunga “writes about Nairobi like no one I know”.

In the story, a young hip-hop artist makes his way to his first radio interview – although his girlfriend is not convinced it’s a worthwhile trip. While traveling to the studio, however, disaster strikes.

Read on:

“He Would Tweet His Death” — On the Road to Fame by Williams Magunga | A Nairobi Story

Sunday is the day God takes the roll call.

On this day of the week, when all creations show off themselves to the Almighty, the sun becomes a sadist. It smiles its blistering heat upon the world as if looking to pick a fight with earthlings.

Man brings out his best garments, bulls dust their hides with their tails, hyenas polish their table manners- they say please and thank you when asking slugs to pass the table salt. Pigs brush their teeth, and flowers open up their petals like a drunk virgin opens her legs on her eighteenth birthday.

This Sunday, Philip walks across Nairobi CBD in a black velvet jacket. This is the jacket he wears once in a while when he wants to make a statement. It has a double slit at the back, two silver buttons, and patches at the elbow. It exudes class and accomplishment.

His girlfriend, Wangeci had told him to take it off. That it is foolish to put on a jacket when the sun baked the universe like that. If she squinted her eyes just right, she could see heat waves floating around the air. She said he was trying too hard to impress.

“But that is the point, Tanya,” he had said. He always called her by her first name every time they were in an argument. In most cases, when they disagreed about anything, they would compromise. This always translated to following Wangeci’s lead. But this time it was different. He wanted to look pristine.

Image courtesy of Matatu Travels

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Fiction Friday: Excerpt from Phaswane Mpe’s Twenty in 20 Short Story “Brooding Clouds”

Twenty in 20nullnull

This week’s Fiction Friday comes from Phaswane Mpe’s short story “Brooding Clouds”, which has been included in Twenty in 20: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s 20 Years of Democracy, launched at the start of National Book Week.

Mpe’s debut novel, Welcome to Our Hillbrow, was published in 2001, to great critical and commercial success. His life was cut short when he passed away suddenly in 2004, at the age of 34. “Brooding Clouds” is the titular story from his posthumous collection of short stories and poems.

Both books were recently published in the Picador Africa Classics collection.

Brooding Clouds by Phaswane Mpe

It is the beginning of autumn, the season in which the people of Tiragalong, a tiny village not far from Pietersburg, tend to look younger because of the nourishment they get from their abundant harvest. It is autumn, but this year the fields show no signs of life. Mealie plants are grey – grey like ash. Trees have lost their leaves, which turned sickly yellow before their time. Grass is dry already, and there have been several veld fires. The nearest river is so dry, livestock go there only to look at the cracked clay where water used to be. Even the word ‘livestock’ is misleading, for here are merely collections of bones in the shapes of cattle, sheep and goats.

Everything is dry. One does not need the help of a sangoma to predict that, towards the end of the season, when harvest time knocks on the doors of the villagers, there shall be nothing to reap. The rains take some pleasure in not relieving this tiny village. The old men, sitting under the trees whose shades are no match for the scorching sun, complain that the Gods have turned their backs on them.

Makgolo is one of the oldest women in the village. Tonight she is alone in her hut. She sits with her legs stretched out before her. Her eyes stare vacantly at the fireplace. The fire has been out for quite a long time but Makgolo does not notice. She rubs her hands together like a person who is just warming them up a bit.

Tonight she has no children to tell stories to. A dreadful thing happened yesterday. Although children love her stories – she tells the most beautiful stories in the village and its neighbourhood – they shall not come to listen to her any more.

Her stories begin, almost always, like this: ‘Long, long ago, when stones were still soft and edible and trees could walk . . . ’ Who does not want to know what happened in those good old days? Children are fascinated by her stories, stories of witchcraft and ordinary lives, of poverty and abundance, of wars and peace. The children give very little heed to the moral side of her tales.

But Makgolo has no audience tonight. She whiles the time away by drawing patterns in the air with her failing eyes. The thickening darkness in the hut sharpens the bright edges of her mental pictures. She is the solitary watcher of her own art. She has to be alone. Has not the boy Thušo come running in the heat of the afternoon sun to warn her to fly away on her broom? He overheard a group of youngsters who called themselves Comrades talk about Makgolo.

‘She is a witch,’ they said, ‘and can fly on a broom. What is more, she has sent lightning to strike Tshepo.’

Tshepo was a young man of promise, coming from a poor family. His father was killed in Alexandra for reasons unknown to his family and the village. His mother did not even own a fowl. The mother and son lived on lice, as the villagers would say. But her brother who, although not really wealthy, was far better off than herself, assisted in the education of her only son.

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Sunday Read: Excerpt from Another Great Day at Sea by Geoff Dyer in Anticipation of 2014 Open Book Festival

Another Great Day at SeaGeoff Dyer is one of the exciting international authors coming to the 2014 Open Book Festival happening in Cape Town next month.

His latest book, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, is “the definitive work of an author whose books defy definition”. It chronicles Dyer’s experiences on the USS George H.W. Bush as he navigates the routines and protocols of “carrier-world,” from the elaborate choreography of the flight deck through miles of walkways and hatches to kitchens serving meals for a crew of five thousand to the deafening complexity of catapult and arresting gear. Meeting the Captain, the F-18 pilots and the dentists, experiencing everything from a man-overboard alert to the Steel Beach Party, Dyer guides us through the most AIE (acronym intensive environment) imaginable.

Read an excerpt from Another Great Day at Sea:

We were going to be flying to the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush from the Navy base in Bahrain on a Grumman C-2A Greyhound, an ungainly propeller plane. There was nothing sleek or speedy about it. The sky was doing what it always did at this time: waiting for the sun to show up. The temperature was pleasant; a few hours from now it would be infernal. Sixteen passengers, all but two Navy, gathered around the back of the plane to listen to the safety briefing. Our luggage had been weighed and taken away for loading. I had had to hand over my computer bag, because when we landed on the carrier—when the plane touched down and hooked the arresting wire, the “trap”—we would go from a hundred and forty miles per hour to zero in a couple of seconds. The “trap”—the first of many words that I would hear for the first time.

Get to know Dyer with this interview by Matthew Specktor for the Paris Review:


The first thing I’d like—


Excuse me for interrupting, but—at the risk of sounding like some war criminal in the Hague who refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court in which he’s being tried—I have to object to the parameters of this interview.


On what grounds?


It’s titled “The Art of Nonfiction.” Now I could whine, “What about the fiction?” but that would be to accept a distinction that’s not sustainable. Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.


You don’t distinguish between them at all?


I don’t think a reasonable assessment of what I’ve been up to in the last however many years is possible if one accepts segregation.

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Image courtesy of Dyer’s website

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