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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

8 books to help you tap into the mind of student activists

Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko are the names usually cited during the fees protests. However, according to TMG Digital, fiction authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Thando Mgqolozana and Niq Mhlongo “have become part of the conversation around decoloniality and decolonised education”.

 
Without further ado, here are eight books to help you tap into the mind of student activists.

Memoirs of a Born Free
Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation by Malaika wa Azania

The struggle of the generations before that of the Born Frees was a struggle for political freedom and democracy and was the foundation for revolution and reform but not the ultimate goal. Wa Azania contests the notion of the born-free generation when it is a generation that was born in the midst of a struggle for economic freedom and the quest for the realization of the objectives of the African Renaissance. The book’s purpose is to give an alternative narrative to the existing one that suggests that Wa Azania’s is a generation of apolitical and desensitised people.

Americanah
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A powerful‚ tender story of race and identity by the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful‚ self-assured Ifemelu heads for America‚ where despite her academic success‚ she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet‚ thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her‚ but with post-9/11 America closed to him‚ he instead plunges into a dangerous‚ undocumented life in London. 15 years later‚ they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria‚ and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

Dog Eat Dog
Dog Eat Dog by Niq Mhlongo

Dingz is an average Wits student who spends his time partying with his friends‚ picking up girls‚ skipping lectures‚ making up elaborate excuses for missing exams‚ and struggling to make ends meet. Dingz‚ a bright‚ articulate student‚ and his circle of friends like to sit around drinking and discussing AIDS‚ racism‚ history and South African politics.

They also have some hair-raising adventures; like being kidnapped by taxi-drivers‚ contracting gonorrhea and trying to fake a death certificate. The novel’s constant backdrop is the subtle but institutionalized racism at Dingz’s university; which threatens to deny him financial aid. Dingz is an intelligent and likable character — but he is certainly no saint. His anger at the racism around him is sometimes over-the-top but certainly not hard to understand‚ and his self-aware‚ cynical usage of the ‘race card’ is at times incredibly amusing. This is an authentic‚ witty‚ slice-of-life piece of fiction set at the time of the first South African democratic elections.

Nervous Conditions
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Dangarembga’s first novel‚ set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s‚ centres on the coming of age of a teenage girl‚ Tambu‚ and her relationship with her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu‚ who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village‚ especially the circumscribed lives of the women‚ thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price. At the school she meets the worldly and rebellious Nyasha‚ who is chafing under her father’s authority. Raised in England‚ Nyasha is so much a stranger among her own people that she can no longer speak her native language. Tambu can only watch as her cousin‚ caught between two cultures‚ pays the full cost of alienation.

Where We Stand
Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks

Drawing on both her roots in Kentucky and her adventures with Manhattan Coop boards‚ Where We Stand is a successful black woman’s reflection – personal‚ straight forward‚ and rigorously honest – on how our dilemmas of class and race are intertwined‚ and how we can find ways to think beyond them.
 
 

Unimportance
Unimportance by Thando Mgqolozana

Mgqolozana addressed the student crisis head-on by inhabiting the persona of Zizi‚ who is the favourite to win an election for SRC president‚ Mgqolozana reveals an intimate knowledge of student politics and student grievances. On the one hand the novel functions as parable for party politics all over the world but on the other it also specific to South African students in the 21st century.

 
 

The Wretched of the Earth
The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon’s seminal work on the trauma of colonisation‚ The Wretched of the Earth made him the leading anti-colonialist thinker of the twentieth century.
 
 
 
 

I Write What I Like
I Write What I Like by Steve Biko

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Like all of Steve Biko’s writings‚ those words testify to the passion‚ courage‚ and keen insight that made him one of the most powerful figures in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid.
 
 

Source: TMG Digital
(Descriptions of the books below are extracts from the publishers’ notes)

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They’re peculiar but there’s nothing to fear: Jennifer Platt chats to Jen Thorpe about her novel The Peculiars

Published in the Sunday Times

They’re peculiar but there’s nothing to fear: Jennifer Platt chats to Jen Thorpe about her novel The Peculiars

 

The PeculiarsThe Peculiars
Jen Thorpe (Penguin)
****

The Peculiars at a glance seems to be tapping into the zeitgeist of books about mental issues. But it’s an easy read, although Jen Thorpe doesn’t make light of any of the issues in her debut novel, which is part mystery, part romance, part family drama and part political thriller.

It’s about phobias and Thorpe has a deft touch discussing what is a debilitating problem for a lot of people as she had a fear of driving herself – the same phobia her main character Nazma has. “I understood how frustrating it could be to be limited by what type of public transport was available, and safe. This was all before Uber so I was often stuck wanting to go somewhere but limited by my own fear.”

Nazma signs up for group therapy sessions at the Centre for Improved Living. The centre brings together a quirky lot of other characters – among them Sam, whom Nazma and Ruth (the director of the centre who has to hide her own tics) have both taken a liking to. There’s also the racist Simon who has a fear of immigrants, and Nomboniso, a yoga teacher, who suffers from extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder. All of them are relatable and Thorpe gives them real phobias to work through.

“I obviously had my own personal experience and ideas about how I’d overcome it, but I wanted to make sure that a group setting like I’d envisioned could actually work for the characters. So I read up quite a bit … the book is certainly not meant to be taken as psychological theory, but I did make sure it was at least possible to try.”

And then there is Cape Town. It’s not the sunny, picturesque, postcard version. It’s the harsh winter – a windy, grey and rainy city. Thorpe makes it feel as if it is another obstacle to deal with when you have particular phobias. “I am originally from the warm, sunny North Coast, and all you see of Cape Town is sunny perfect pictures. Then I got here and my first winter felt like a lifetime of wet jeans and damp shoes. It really felt like a force to be reckoned with … when the wind blows here it still feels like a character to me.”

There are many threads that Thorpe pulls on: there’s Jericho, the homeless man who when not pissing on the wall outside the centre, spouts visions that seem to come true; Nazma’s mother who has a secret fear of her own; and the minister of wellbeing who was insulted by Ruth and now seems to be on the warpath.

Follow Jennifer Platt on Twitter @Jenniferdplatt

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How to cut your novel in half – Nnedi Okorafor describes the painful process of writing Who Fears Death

Nnedi Okorafor at the 2016 Open Book Festival
BintiLagoonWhat Sunny Saw in the FlamesThe Book of PhoenixChicken in the KitchenWho Fears DeathAkata Witch

 
Award-winning Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor was in Cape Town recently for the Open Book Festival, and chatted to filmmaker Wayne Thornley about writing in collaboration, the differences between writing for film and writing a novel, and her upcoming feature animation, Camel Racer.

Okorafor won the movie deal, along with her collaborator, Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu, in a competition held by Triggerfish Animation Studios, established with the support of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Walt Disney Company.

During the conversation, Thornley said that in filmmaking often you experience “seismic events” where you realise you need to dump six months of work.

“If we’re serious about quality, if we’re serious about authenticity, if we’re serious about reaching a wider audience, if we’re serious about story being king,” Thornley said, “if we do go down the wrong alleyway and realise it, we have to have the courage to back out.”

In reply, Okorafor said she has never had to take something she has written and throw the whole thing away, but she did have to go through the painful process of cutting one of her novels by half – after it was finished.

How to cut your novel in half

Who Fears Death was published in 2010, and was Okorafor’s first adult novel. It won the 2011 World Fantasy Award – with Okorafor becoming the first black person to win the award since its inception in 1975 – and the 2010 Carl Brandon Kindred Award “for an outstanding work of speculative fiction dealing with race and ethnicity”. The prequel, The Book of Phoenix, was published last year, and was a top seller at Open Book.

But it didn’t come Who Fears Death didn’t come into the world without a fight.

Who Fears Death started off at over 700 pages, a Book 1 and a Book 2, and I showed it to my agent and he was like, oh this is wonderful, it’s going to win all these awards, but you need to shrink it down a lot, because this is African science fiction and it’s new, and nobody does Book 1 and 2 – what is that, a duology?

So he said, keep the same plot, keep the same everything, but get it down from over 700 pages to 300. And I did it! It took me two years, but I did it.

Okorafor said she used a method taught to her by her agent, who also happens to write books on writing.

I took the manuscript and looked at every single word and took out every single word that didn’t need to be there,” she said. “And then I combined the ‘weak phrases’ into ‘strong words’, so instead of saying ‘very big’, you say ‘huge’.

So I took the 700 pages, scattered them around, mixed them all up, and then took each page out of context and went through the whole thing. It took years, but I got it down to 389 pages, and that became Who Fears Death. Even though it had the same story, it was a completely different book.

Okorafor added that the process of making Camel Racer is very different – starting with her collaboration with Kahiu.

“With Wanuri and I, we first sit down and talk extensively about the idea and have long, long conversations. And then one of us will say, okay I’m going to write this thing, whether it’s a treatment or a piece of script, or whatever. And they write a first draft. And once that’s done and nice and typo free, they hand it over to the other person, who then has complete, open, full rein to do whatever they want with it. Then they hand it back, and we go back and forth like that. The end product is so hybrid we can’t tell which thing she wrote and which thing I wrote. It’s one thing. And it’s something that I would never have written by myself.

“Importantly, the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, and that’s another big change that I have really come to enjoy. That I can give something that I’ve just freshly written to someone else and not have to make that thing perfect. When I’m writing a novel I feel like I can’t show something to someone else unless it’s very much together. But when you’re collaborating it’s like you’re one brain.

It does have to do with chemistry. They way we work together, the honesty, and nine times out of 10 we are in complete agreement. It’s uncanny.

From there, Okorafor and Kahiu work with Thornley and three or four other people from the Triggerfish team on the more technical aspects of the project.

“During those meetings we’ll take the whole film and break it down into narrative aspects. That’s something I have never done with a novel and it was a part that was difficult for me. I’ve learned a lot. There are times when it feels like we are taking a living creature and dissecting it into pieces until it dies. But when we get to the end of the process, I see what they are trying to get me to see. And when we put it back together, it’s always better. It’s been an eye-opening experience, but it’s painful. But sometimes a little pain is necessary.

The soul of Camel Racer has stayed the same, but it keeps changing shape. The storyteller in me finds that fun, because it’s still storytelling, it’s just finding a way to tell the story in a different way.

 
Related stories:

Image: Retha Ferguson

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The books that built me, by Nadia Hashimi

Published in the Sunday Times

 

A House Without WindowsA House Without Windows
Nadia Hashimi (William Morrow)

The pages I’ve consumed since I first started to read, through today, have become essential to me, building and changing and rearranging all the parts of me at different times in my life.

 
 
 

null
As a girl I read His Majesty, Queen Hatshepsut (Dorothy Sharp Carter), the story of an Egyptian queen who names herself pharaoh. She presided over upper and lower Egypt and dismantled patriarchy for a time. Women could be leaders. Women had led. My young spine straightened and I set my sights a few degrees higher.

 
 
 

Beloved
As a teen I read Beloved (Toni Morrison) and learned that the cry of the hurt was sometimes not much more than a whisper. My ears strained to listen, then to hear and grow into organs of compassion.

 
 
 

To Kill a Mockingbird
As an adult I read To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and learned that injustice wasn’t nearly as tragic as inaction. Atticus Finch stood up so that his children would live in a more just world. I grew fingers that would curl with the healthy tension of outrage.

 
 
 

Zorba the Greek
As a sleep-deprived student I read Zorba the Greek (Nikos Kazantzakis). Zorba pulled his bookish friend into nights of debauchery. My legs twitched with a promise never to shy from celebration.

 
 
 

The House of God
As a fresh-faced doctor I read the witty and satirical The House of God (Samuel Shem). Medicine could break down the healer. It could make her weary and jaded and cynical unless she made a conscious effort to stay human first and foremost.

 
 
 

Love in the Time of Cholera
As a woman I read Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel García Márquez). How beautiful and sad was the devotion of Florentino Ariza for Fermina Daza! Was it possible to pine so steadfastly for one unattainable person? Love, I learned, could be loud or quiet, quick or slow. My heart grew stronger, wiser.

 
 
 

The Poisonwood Bible
As a citizen I read The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver), a story about Nathan Price’s mission to save the soul of the Belgian Congo. His good intentions are met with bewilderment. No one wants to be baptised in the river thick with crocodiles. My eyes sharpened.

 
 
 

Bossypants
As a mother I read Bossypants. Tina Fey’s letter to her daughter is hilarious and insightful. How empowering and important it is to chuckle at ourselves, to see humour even when we’re stricken with fear about the world our children will venture into!

 
 
 

The books I’ve written have built me, too. I’ve infused them with the stories of my family: the uncle who hiked across mountains to escape into Iran, the grandmother who gave her children the motherly love she never felt. Their legacies are the bones that hold me up.

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Pretend you are in a dark room: Elnathan John presents 3 questions to ask yourself to avoid the pitfalls of identity politics in writing

Writers should pretend they are going into a dark room and move delicately, slowly, carefully so that they do not disrupt the balance of things. – Elnathan John

Elnathan John’s 3 questions to avoid the pitfalls of cultural appropriation in writing

 
Born on a TuesdayElnathan John shared his three rules for writing about other people’s experiences and communities.

John was a guest of the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, to chat about his debut novel, Born on a Tuesday.

Born on a Tuesday is a coming of age tale about a young Muslim boy who left his home to study Islam and ended up joining a gang of street kids. He and his friends are recruited to cause trouble during an election, and when violence breaks out he is forced to flee. He finds shelter at a mosque run by a kindly imam who takes a liking to him.

The book has earned praise all over the world and from some high profile authors and critics, including Petina Gappah, Taiye Selasi and Uzodinma Iweala. John was also recently shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature – along with Chika Unigwe for Night Dancer and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for Season of Crimson Blossoms – an award worth $100,000 (about R1,4 million).

John grew up in northern Nigeria, but is not Muslim himself. At a panel titled Notions of Nationhood, where he shared the stage with Danish-Norwegian novelist Kim Leine, chair Andrew Brown asked him: “Are we entitled to write about other communities, other nations, from our own perspective?”

The question was topical, as We Need to Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver had caused a walkout just days before at the Brisbane Writers Festival in Australia with her keynote address, “Fiction and Identity Politics”, which many other writers considered culturally insensitive.

Elnathan John at the 2016 Open Book FestivalIn answering Brown’s question, John asked: “Is anyone entitled to anything? Does any experience belong solely to one person?”, and shared a story from his childhood to illustrate his point.

“My brother died in 2003. One of the biggest issues I had with my family was that at some point my parents were upset that I seemed to be grieving more than other people. It was almost like they were saying, ‘He was our child, we raised him, we gave birth to him, we put him through school. We have a greater loss than you. You cannot mourn more than us. Stop being a complete asshole.’

“And so the question that has always been in my mind is, to whom does any experience belong?

“I didn’t think I owned this experience, but I thought I was an integral part of it, being that I removed his body from the water, I did mouth to mouth; the last moments of his life were in my hands. I thought, well, I certainly should have a right to this experience. But even in this very close experience, I was being challenged. So you can challenge any experience.

“For me, what is important is not whether a person owns an experience they want to write about. Most experiences are external to us. If you have a female character and you are male, that experience is external to you. If you are writing about other nations, they’re external to you. Even if you are writing about your own nation, most of the experiences will be those you’ve not had.”

John said that instead of agonising over who the experience belongs to, writers should consider three questions before they start writing a story.

“What a writer needs is a certain level of empathy that allows us to show respect for the subject. That empathy, normally, would lead people to determine for themselves: One, if they should write a story. Two, if it is time to write that story. And three, how that story should be written, with the respect that it deserves. And if one cannot answer these three questions, then one should not write the story.

“Often people tell writers to write what they know. I like to say the writer should write what they want to know. What that does is that it pushes you into a dark space. And in a dark space you are more careful.

“Writers should pretend they are going into a dark room and move delicately, slowly, carefully so that they do not disrupt the balance of things.”

Read an excerpt from Born on a Tuesday here

Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer) tweeted live from the event:

Main author image courtesy of Elnathan John on Twitter; image composite by Books LIVE/Secondary author image Retha Ferguson

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Chains of events: Jennifer Malec speaks to Yaa Gyasi about her book Homegoing

Chains of events: Jennifer Malec speaks to Yaa Gyasi about her book Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi covers two continents and three centuries in an epic story of race, war, slavery and exploitation, writes Jennifer Malec for the Sunday Times

HomegoingHomegoing
Yaa Gyasi (Penguin Random House)
****

Ambitious and absorbing, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing stands out, even among a recent crop of outstanding fiction by young African writers. The book spans seven generations and 300 years, and has been compared to Alex Haley’s Roots and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. It is, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “a monster” – especially for a debut. Roxane Gay calls it “the strongest case for reparations and black rage I’ve read in a long time”.

Gyasi, who was born in Ghana, made headlines last year when she was offered a seven-figure advance for the manuscript of Homegoing. “It’s been overwhelming but wonderful,” she says of the acclaim. “I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child, so the warm reception that Homegoing has got has made me so grateful that I’ve been able to fulfil that dream.”

Gyasi has lived in the US since she was two, but Homegoing is charged with the mythology and customs of her home country. “My parents always made sure to foster community with other Ghanaian immigrants wherever we lived,” she says, “so I always had this extended family of elders who shared the stories, food and language.”

The geographical distance, however, gave her the room to explore Ghana’s history openly and honestly. “I had to build so much of the Ghanaian world in the book ‘from scratch’ rather than from that point of familiarity with which I approach the American world,” she says.

Homegoing begins in the 18th century on the Gold Coast, with two half-sisters: one is sold into slavery; the other marries a British slaver. While Esi is being kept captive in horrifying conditions in a dungeon, Effia is living in luxury on the castle’s upper levels. The narrative that follows traces the sisters’ descendants on each side of the Atlantic, with each chapter focusing on one character.

The structure of Gyasi’s novel is in delicate balance with the narrative, and the result is enjoyably pacy. Although abandoning a character just as you get to know them can feel frustrating, this feeling is soon soothed by the pleasure of immersing yourself in the next story.

Gyasi says the structural limitations she imposed on herself were a sacrifice to the whole. “I really wanted this novel to feel like a mosaic piece of artwork, one where the individual pieces were beautiful and strong, but when you step away and see the whole piece, the work gains its meaning. The long arch of this novel was so important to me that I didn’t mind moving on to a new chapter when the time came.”

Gyasi’s characters are not simply drawn and what sets Homegoing apart is its brutal honesty in depicting the complicity of Africans themselves in the slave trade. “Growing up in Alabama, I was kind of always thinking about race, and the irony of being from a country that had a role in the slave trade and ending up in a place where the effects of slavery are still so strongly felt was never lost on me,” she says.

“When I took a trip to the Cape Coast Castle in 2009 and heard the tour guides talk about slavery — not just from the European perspective, but from the Ghanaian as well — I realised that you shouldn’t have to travel to Ghana to have this information.

“Complexity of individual human nature is crucial in a book like this,” she adds, “where there are so many characters and so much ground covered. I wanted all of the characters to be complex, even the minor ones.”

The last character we are introduced to is Marcus, a Stanford graduate student researching black history who in the course of his work finds himself overwhelmed by his subject matter and incapacitated with anger.

Homegoing itself deals with slavery, the Asante-Fante wars, British colonialism, Southern plantations, coal mining in Alabama and the convict-leasing system, the Harlem Renaissance and the subsequent heroin epidemic.

But fiction offers some specific advantages in the face of such vast and troubling subject matter. “I think fiction gives you access to a kind of emotional truth that can be obscured when you have to adhere to the facts,” Gyasi says.

“Fiction can also collapse that distance between reader and character in a way that allows the reader to feel deeply empathetic for people who don’t even exist. It’s a powerful tool.”

Gyasi’s sketching of characters is occasionally patchy and some may argue that Homegoing suffers from a regrettable lack of levity. But the novel draws its strength from the accumulation of subjects, echoing its epigraph, an Akan proverb: “The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.”

Homegoing’s momentum is captivating and its impact is powerful. It’s a forest well worth getting lost in.

Follow Jennifer Malec on Twitter @projectjennifer

* * * * *

Yaa Gyasi’s favourite books

The Door of No Return
The Door of No Return by William St Clair. This book takes you through the Cape Coast Castle in great detail. I used it in researching the first two chapters.

 
 
 
 
 

Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900
Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama 1865-1900 by Mary Ellen Curtin. I used this book to research H’s chapter and it was truly eye-opening. I knew very little about the convict leasing system and this book helped me enter the world.

 
 
 
 

One Hundred Years of Solitude
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A wonderful, bold book. Reading it made me feel expansive, like fiction could do anything.

 
 
 
 
 

Song of Solomon
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I read this in my senior year of high school. It was the first book by a black woman that I had read and it gave me something to aspire to. It is still my favourite book.

 
 
 
 

Americanah
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love how this book engages with questions of the African diaspora.

 
 
 
 
 

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Read ‘Space II’ – a new story by Masande Ntshanga

Read ‘Space II’ – a new story by Masande Ntshanga
The ReactiveThe ReactiveThe Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories

 
For today’s Fiction Friday, Masande Ntshanga has generously shared a new short story with Books LIVE.

Ntshanga wrote the story during the Caine Prize workshop in Zambia in March, and a version of it appears in the latest award anthology The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories.

The story is a sequel to Ntshanga’s 2013 PEN International/New Voices Award-winning story, “Space”.

Ntshanga’s debut novel The Reactive was published in South Africa by Umuzi in 2014, and by Two Dollar Radio in North America in 2016.

Read “Space II”:

SPACE II

Yesterday, Lona showed me a picture of her daughter, the second one, before she told me she couldn’t get wet for her boyfriend. We’d gone straight up without starting out at the bar with Lukhanyo, the bar-back, next to the slots, and I wanted to tell her that I didn’t ask, but she pressed my fingers against the side of her thigh, and before I could answer, the two of us got drowned by a siren wailing down from Claim Street. They’re shooting at more kids on that campus in Parktown, she said, before turning over to sleep, and while I sat next to her, I traced the small scab on her elbow with my front finger, picking at it a little, before she opened her legs and I waited for the siren to fade before we could start.

~

I go there once a week, now, and we always work it out the same way. Lona’s new; a few months on the job; and they keep her on the top floor with the premiums. That’s 22-year-olds from Mozambique and Swaziland, Bots and Zam; where she splits the blinds and tells me to undo my belt and drop my shoes next to the bin with the used rubbers and wipes. Lona tells me to turn off the light, too, and I do as she says, most times, but sometimes I’ll ask her if she wants me there and she’ll turn around, the covers hitching up against the crook of her waist, and a bruise brushing up from the small of her back up to her neck. I don’t even know you, I imagine her thinking, during those times, and I’ll start to feel a fever touching me at the base of my neck, but other times she won’t turn and I’ll feel her dry hands pulling on the loose skin between my legs, a way of bringing me back, I tell myself.

~

Once a week, after shedding half a grand on Lona at the club, I’ll get in touch with my father on the line. I’m edgy, Thembi used to say, and I’d tell her how Pa used to get me that way since I was young. He’d heave me up on his shoulders in our hallway, eBhisho, until my stomach would churn, the acid catching at the back of my throat from fear. I figure it’s the only reason we still get on – I act like he’s still got his old size and Pa believes he could push his palms through a wall. He likes to make claims, my father, harkening us back to things past and things shared, he apportions us blame, and places me here and himself there, before marking the events that lead to his collapse. I’ll let him, most times, but sometimes I’ll ask him how things were before Ma, just to set him off, and we’ll go through the seventies – his bachelor years in the hotel lobbies of Umthatha – with me acting like I can’t hear how deep he’s sunk into his nip, or that I wouldn’t find him scattered the same way the following day. Do you remember when we found her in the garage after the ‘rover crashed? It was ’02, back in the old house, and we had just the mattresses at the back behind the Nissan.
               I don’t, I tell him.
You don’t?
I don’t.
It isn’t unusual for us to fall silent over the line. Pa’s my last living relation, and we used to have him set up in a home in Port Alfred after his collapse, where it was the house policy for long distance clients to keep up with calls. I used try and negotiate them off it.
               He’s not really sick.
               He isn’t?
               It’s grief.
               There’d be silence on the line. We prefer to preserve a contented atmosphere.
               Is that realistic?
               He’s your father.
               I know he’s my father, I’d sigh.
               Eventually, when I lost my first job at the ISP in Victory Park, we had to cut Pa’s insurance down and move him out to a small two room close enough to a lake.
Clean air, he told me, meant he didn’t have to keep up with old friends.
               Fair enough, I said, but I knew by then the calls were a habit for him.

~

On weekdays, I do the admin support for a campus network in town, where we’re set up as an FET, a squat block with its windows lined opposite the soccer pitch at Ellis Park. It isn’t hard. We split the duties down the middle, myself and Colin, and take turns on the maintenance jobs, before we do our rounds at the computer labs with the first-years. Most of the time, we manage to tell ourselves that work is fine. We even have a sign. This department has not yet been outsourced, but you may want to refer to management for confirmation.

~

We’d met at some party, Thembi and I, the house warming of a distant acquaintance, a French-Canadian post-grad we’d both later discard without much thought. There were American students at the digs, pink and sweaty from excursions into the neighbouring townships, drawling give-me-fives in the living room and dressed in the robes of ancient pillages, spilling pink potato chip crumbs on the wooden floors under the high ceilings; and I guess celebrating Halloween there. I found Thembi in the kitchen, replacing a hidden bottle of Jameson in a cabinet below the basin; she was slender, with a fatigue vest, faded jeans.
               You always steal from your hosts?
               Only the wealthy ones, she said.
               Well, you’re in luck, then, I told her, and pointed at my chest.
               I don’t know. You don’t look like this word I just used.
               I’m in disguise.
I watched her get on the cluttered counter, nurse the drink in both hands.
               You from outreach?
               No.               
               Well, here, she said, tossing me a t-shirt with a solar logo on it. It was hers, I figured.
Thanks.
Is that the move, though, these days?
What is?
Looking for kegs to crash at community outreach.
No, I know the guy, I said, and hooked a thumb over my shoulder.
Right, she said. James. Of course you do.
I grinned to show that I’d been caught. Then I reached behind her, got a glass and rinsed it; after Thembi poured us both a shot and stirred the ice in with her finger, I told her I’d seen her before.

~

On the way to work, today, we passed a taxi overturned in a ditch next to Empire Road. It was caused by a cell phone, our driver said, and some of us took photos of it as he drove past. I leaned my head back against the window after the wreckage had receded, and watched the road as we came to a stop at the following intersection, near Constitution Hill, where a line of men and women in red berets were holding up placards, chanting a protest song, and blocking our line of traffic from gaining passage through the crossing. From the cracked backseat, I remembered how this morning, on street lights across the city, the headlines from the dailies had reported the EFF’s call to return the ownership of the stock exchange to its workers. The march had started in Newtown and was set to end in Sandton, and up front, our driver drew down his window and hooted, whistling in support as he banged out a rhythm from the side of his door. The men and women laughed and began to separate in turn, and when I looked back again, they seemed to have grown into an even bigger mass. I closed my eyes, then, and remembered how my father had once tried to explain the stock exchange to me; in those days, Pa had been an economics lecturer at a Technikon in East London, and we’d both been sitting on the living room floor with a stack of his grading when the stocks had come up on TV.
               He called me, yesterday.
               It’s about your mother, he said. Call me back.
               I deleted the message and called Lona, but there was no answer. I called Pa back, but there was no answer there, too. Then I reached into my pants, but felt limp in my palm.
               I texted Lona.
               Nothing is as beautiful as the hood between your legs, I said.
Then I thought about it.
Not even you, I told her.
               Later, it took me over an hour to fall asleep, and when I woke up, I found a please call me from her number. I’d never got a response from Lona, before, or anyone I’d ever met at the clubs.
               

~

I walk into work late and find Colin with his legs crossed over our counter, watching the TV we took from one of the staff common rooms for indefinite repairs.
               How are things on the outsource front? I ask him.
               He uncrosses his legs. No labour brokers at the gate, sir.
               Hear, hear, I tell him.
Then I walk into our kitchen, rinse out a mug and scoop out Ricoffy and Cremora. I make it sweet, and waiting for it to cool down, open Lona’s message and call her back. The phone rings once before the call is declined, but I wait and get a text message from her a moment later. Meet me at the McDonald’s down from the club, she says.
I write to her that I will.
Then I sit down next to Colin and point at the TV.
               He shrugs. I left it on anything but the news.
               I look at the screen again, a beach scene blurred behind a veil of static, and think of how much Thembi used to like to travel towards the end. We’d part over the course of her different destinations, but before then, I remember how she told me she lost a phone in Zimbabwe once, close to the border, and how she couldn’t drink the tap water in Thailand, and how in Zambia, she’d taken so badly to a course of Malanil, that she couldn’t pet the cheetahs for all the time she spent over the sink in a lodge in Lusaka. The art was something to see, though, she’d added to me over the line.
I stretch my arms, now, and finish the coffee.
Who’s got lab, today? I ask Colin.
You’re on, he says, before leaning forward to turn off the TV.
I leave the IT room and make my way down the lino in the corridor.
I don’t always mention it, but you should see our students. Twice as many of them arrive for registration towards the end of Feb, and by the time we start on our second semester, they’ve been culled down in half; most of it from fees; the other cases from grades. It’s tempting to think of them as survivors, on certain days, braving the corridors of Ellis Park in Chuck Taylors and tank tops, but most of the time, I can’t help but think of them as pushing towards something rumoured. I stop at Mrs. Mokoena’s office and knock twice on the chipped door; I can hear her talking on the line before she pauses to invite me in.
Dumela, mme, le kae? I say at the door.
I’m fine, she says, and as usual, I watch her hand wave me towards the key cabinet, where I find the double set we use for the labs.
On my way out, again, I hear her calling for me.
Placing a palm over the receiver, Mrs. Mokoena looks at me and smiles. Tell me, she says. Isn’t it enough to be late once a day? You’ve had those students waiting for ten minutes in the corridor next to Mr. Dukisa’s class. You know he doesn’t like to be disturbed.
I scratch my head. I thought they’d changed the schedule.
You thought they’d changed the schedule, she says. Just go, will you.
I go and find half of them on the floor in the next block, leaning against the wall of the computer lab, their backpacks set between their legs, and their faces fixed on their phones. I tell them to get up. Then I look at my watch and join them on the wall.
If you start getting here any earlier, I say, I’ll be out of a job.
They laugh, and as they do that, I open the door to set them up for their tutorial class. It’s one of the introduction sets from Mr. Longela – they start a new chapter of Matlab the following month – and they get through the 45 minute exercise in half an hour. We spend the rest of the time watching the clock.
Teacher, did you hear two students were hospitalized from Parktown?
Wits?
Yes. Not even rubber bullets. They’re shooting to kill us, now.
I nod, thinking of Lona, again, and open a browser and direct it to Google. Ever since the start of the protests, Lona’s filled her head with the plight of the students, and I’ve even come close to telling her of how I grew up in Bhisho during the year of the massacre; how I came to lose my mother to another version of this.
My head hurts. It says here they torched a bus, I tell them.
Yes, they did. The students need to be heard, now. This is a matter of free education and ending financial segregation. We cannot back down from colonial administrators.
This comes from Philani, an engineering student in a black track top, the zip left undone to reveal a yellow SASCO shirt. The ribbing on the sides of his sweater looks bright in the light, almost bleached, and his hair is shaved close to his skull and trimmed.
I nod at him and get up from my desk.
Right, I say. It’s time to pack up and log off.
Then I take another look at their scores.
You all did well, today, I say, but they can’t hear me over the sound of their packing; after they’ve cleared out, I lock up and get back to Mrs. Mokoena, before finding Colin asleep. I look at the TV and it’s back on, again, full of static, and set on the news.

~

I get in touch with Pa after work, and he lets the phone ring once before he picks it up, sounding out of breath, and I brace myself outside a spaza shop in Kew. Inside my line of view, the Joburg traffic is turned up, jammed at the crossing near Wynberg.
               You took your time, he says.
               I tried you last night; what’s wrong with your breathing?
Nothing.
               You sound like you’re losing air.
               I was out gardening.
               You were out gardening?
I listen to him laugh for a while. Yes. Madala does the garden in the yard next door and I asked him over and then I gave him a hand. I gave him two hands.
It’s past six, I start to say, but decide against it. You told me I should call you back.
We need to talk.
I heard that much.
I’m thinking of a trip.
               I cup my brow in my palm and choose each word. Where to?
               To my son, he says. The City of Gold.
               I breathe for a while. Fine. Let me arrange you a ticket.
               I’ve already bought a Greyhound, he says. I arrive tomorrow.
               I see.
               Then Pa takes a moment to clear his throat. How are you?
               I’m fine, I tell him. I have to go.

~

I take a taxi to Bree, before I connect to Hillbrow at the rank, and then I ride until the bus stop on Edith Cavell, and walk up Pretoria Street, where I find the McDonald’s at the corner of Claim. I look inside and find Lona sitting at a table towards the back, nursing a fountain soda and a copy of The Star. I use my hand to clear the crumbs from the seat in front of her.
               You South Africans used to be lucky, she says, but look at this, now.
               I look and see students standing in front of riot police in Soshanguve; sometime last week; and place a palm over her fingers, feeling surprised when she doesn’t flinch.
               I sigh. They were promised even more than we were, I tell her.
               It’s easy to see that.
That’s what we all say. Do you want to eat before we go upstairs?
               I can eat, she says, but can you?
               No one knows me, here, I tell her, but even if they did.
               Then what?
               Then nothing.
               I come back with a tray holding a pair of cheeseburgers and two cartons of fries. Placing them on the table, I refill Lona’s fountain Coke from mine.
               You look good in the light, I tell her.
               Well, you don’t; what happened to your tooth?
               I smile. It got knocked against a beer bottle. You’ve never seen it before?
               Of course I’ve seen it before. Does no one ever play with you?
               I laugh at that. Not that I can remember, I say.
               Later, I take my hand and push it between her cheeks like I used to with Thembi and she pushes it away; we carry on, twisting over each other as the dawn blushes her cracked window a pink shade, and we go at it twice before I get up to drop the plastic in the bin next to her door. I get back in the covers with her as the morning traffic begins to hum, and closing my eyes, I think of how the two of us could be trapped inside the hull of a giant machine, but Lona’s body feels warm against my own, and I decide to listen to her breathe.
               I need your help, she says, and still lying in bed, I don’t say anything back. Lowering the covers, Lona lifts her arm and shows me the bruise on its underside. I got this in the car accident, she tells me, but I didn’t tell you how it happened.
               How did it happen?
               I was drinking in Mbabane.
               I listen for more.
               My parents are in Joburg, this weekend, she says, and I want to see my daughter.
Then I think about what Lona tells me next for a while.
I’ll do it, I tell her.

~

I arrive at Park Station on time, but Pa’s bus is delayed, having broken down on the national road outside Kokstad. I go back to the parking lot, absorb the morning sun, and rest my head over my forearms. Then I get up to find him again, which I do, next to the escalators.
               I help him with his suitcase.
               These roads, he says. This country won’t run out of ways to kill us.
               I laugh to set the two of us at ease. You’re safe, at least, I say.
               That’s why you go with Greyhound, he tells me.
               That’s why you go with Greyhound, I echo him.
               Out in the parking lot, I take out my cell phone and call for a taxi; after the Uber arrives, I help pack Pa’s baggage into the boot. My father takes the back seat and I sit up front, on the passenger side, so I can direct the driver towards the shortest route. Then we drive out onto Rissik and merge into Victoria towards Parktown.
               I’ll start us off at the mall for something to eat, I say.
               I hope it’s affordable. I know you people like to spend.
               We join Oxford and head out towards Rosebank before Pa tells me he doesn’t understand why I don’t have a car. You’re definitely smart enough for it.
               I shrug. I’m working on affording the instalments, I say.
               Do you remember when you scored 139 for that IQ test?
               I thought it meant my life would be different, I tell him, but I don’t really like computers. Then I wait for him to answer, but Pa only leans back in his seat.
               We drive past Killarney, going through Riviera, and when we come to a stop at an intersection with an armless man holding up a sign with his chin, I look out of the window and where we are reminds me of an old colleague I used to have.
Chantel used to wear shaded glasses; she had a sharp chin and always shared her pack of Rothmans with the rest of us on the team. We were colleagues at MWEB, the second largest internet service provider in the country, and our offices were stationed in Victory Park, between Randburg and Parkhurst. Even though we’d been hired as customer service reps – most of us were latched onto tech support through inbound calls – our duties were extended to include sales, that summer, in order to facilitate the roll out of the country’s first uncapped ADSL service. It was during this time that Chantel and I were teamed together and scheduled on the same route close to town.
               We’d park our van at the start of each block, check the log for the houses that needed tech support, and we’d cover those first before we knocked on the doors of the rest, asking if they were interested in upgrading to the company’s latest broadband package.
               We’d get through them quick, most times. Chantel and I had both done well at A+ in college, and she had a way with the people who came from these neighbourhoods, too – Illovo, Parktown North, Riviera – that made them open their doors long enough for us to sell.
               We had a lot of downtime as a result. We’d park the van under a tree, share cigarettes and listen to the countdown on Y. Chantel thought she’d be rich from what we’d gone to school for, and I used to tell her that I thought she was thinking of a different time.
               It went on like this for most of the summer of oh ten, until one day, after I’d gone down on Chantel inside the van, we serviced the router of a client in Illovo who waited for us to drive off before she called our offices in Victory Park, lodging a complaint with client services that she’d picked up the smell of marijuana.
               The two of us were called in, having already decided that I would shoulder it for the sake of her son, and after my dismissal, Chantel gave me a contact number linked to her sister, who worked for a mobile clinic initiative in town, where they were looking to install a network for stock taking and keeping records for their returning patients.
               I joined Chantel’s sister Catherine the following week, and on my first day on the job, we took the clinic out to the corner of Commissioner and Polly, the first stop in a series of brothels that were getting HIV treatment in preparation for the World Cup. In the bus, during her break, I told Catherine about the first man I’d ever seen suffer from the illness it lead to. I was a child in Bhisho, I told her, and I’d seen the father of a friend of mine fade in a shed at the back of a tavern in ‘92. We headed up to Royal Park, after that, starting off at the Hillbrow Inn, before we parked outside The Summit, which was how I started going to the club, years before I would come across the Lona I know now, whom I’d find late one Wednesday evening, dancing on the floor without a top on under a blue strobe.

~

Our driver banks into Tyrwhitt Avenue and comes to a stop before the boom gates that lead into the parking bays at Rosebank Mall. I get out and help Pa with his suitcase. Then we walk past the Woolies store and settle ourselves under a sunshade at Café Europa, next to the craft market with its curios, and opposite the Mimmos Eatalian, where two businessmen sit in front of a chicken finger platter, taking sips from draughts of craft beer.
               You don’t like computers, Pa says. I always told your mother she was spoiling you with those videogames, but she broke her back for them. Now you don’t like computers.
               That’s different.
               I know it’s different, he says. You were clever. You needed the stimulation.
               I order an espresso from the waiter; Pa asks for a tea and gets honey to sweeten it. We sip on the drinks when they arrive, and I look out towards the lawn with the artificial grass.
               You made time for me, he says.
               I take a sip from the espresso. Then the two of us watch as two girls walk past the cafe, dressed in high-waisted jeans and black, printed tank tops.
               You used to have a girlfriend, he says.
               I blow on the coffee before I finish it. Then I leave both my hands in the sunlight.
               Ma never liked her, I tell him.
               Your mother always wanted happiness for people. It wasn’t realistic.
               We spent some time apart, me and Ma. Thembi was someone who understood that.
               Did she?
               We both didn’t understand our parents, I tell him, and in the end, when she said the two of us were too similar in our unhappiness, it was hard for me to disagree.
               I look at him and Pa traces his finger along the rim of an ashtray on the table.
               I could never talk to my father, either, he says. I suspect it could be this country.
               I lean back on my seat as a black jeep approaches the rear end of the mall, close to the FNB ATMs, and I hear “Face Down” by White Lung coming out from its speakers.
               I’ve moved from Port Alfred, Pa says.
               I look up.
               It’s true. I’ve gone home to eDutywa.                
               You have?
               The old plot was abandoned and growing weeds, he tells me, and I used my retirement on it. I feel it’s the best decision I’ve made in the last ten years.
               Pa looks at me, then, and smiles. I’ll be herding goats like my father, now, he says, and that makes the two of us laugh. We cause the table to rock until our waiter arrives to take our orders, and after lunch, when the taxi arrives and we pack his suitcase inside the boot, Pa tells me changing our focus doesn’t have to mean we’re forgetting. Then my father pauses again, and before he closes the backseat door, he tells me he doesn’t think it’s possible to.

~

I install him in my flat in Kew, take his suitcase to my bedroom, and sit him down on the couch in front of a soccer game in second half.
               No, I want to read, he tells me, and I turn off the TV.
               I walk to the kitchen and fill up a glass with ice before he calls me back to the living room. I close the tap, and when I walk to him, I find Pa holding up an old photo of himself; he has an afro in the picture, and his moustache is thick and glistening.
               This is what I looked like when I met your mother, he says.
               I nod and take a sip from the water.
               I was working as a sales rep, back then, before going back to school.
               I know, I tell him.
               Your mother was a beauty, Pa says, and packs the photo away.
               I take a seat next to him and turn the TV back on, pressing the volume down to mute the match. You never stayed with us at the house on Rharhabe Road, I say. It was her, Nana, and myself. I remember meeting you for the first time. That doesn’t seem right as a memory.
               It was a different time. We were living in an occupied country.
               There were things you could’ve protected me from.
               Pa sighs. It broke families, this place, and you could say it still does.
               We watch the flickering green of the soccer pitch, the ball leaping between players.
               Well, I’m glad you came back, I tell him.
               I’m glad, too, he says. You, your mother and I had a good ten years before her health problems started. You know, I had no idea, and sometimes, I think even she forgot.
               The only thing I remember about that year is trying to fail Afrikaans and seeing a dying man at Ma Thano’s, I tell him. I remember Ma working, too. I remember how she’d been promoted at her job and how she wanted to get me to a better school.
               Pa smiles before he lets his face drop again. It’s what made it all so surprising, he says. That she would do what she did on top of everything else.
               I tell him that I know.
               There was something remarkable in her, he says. Then he turns to look at me and tells me he’s certain it’s something I have, too.
               I smile enough to make him turn back, and then I switch off the TV.
               Later, after he tells me he’s tired, I set Pa up in the bedroom and take my laptop back to the lounge. There, I open my browser and look at my history tab: Roxy Reynolds, Ms Goddess, Harley Dean, Cassidy Clay, Jasmine Jae, Teanna Trump, Shazia Sahari, Sabrina Taylor, Maya Hills, Jazmine Cashmere, Valentina Nappi, Franceska Jaimes, Noemilk, Mya G, Leah Jaye, Sahara Knight, Marquetta Jewel, Loona Luxx, Ashlyn Brooke, Sophia Knight, Diamond Legacy, Penelope Cum, Giselle Mona, Lela Star, Sara Jay, Susana Caliente.
               The list goes on, and I remember how I couldn’t stop touching myself the morning we got up to bury my mother. It had started in a moment of inattention, I guessed, a disbelief that reached towards the force of habit – aiming to fend off that morning’s facts – but the act solidified into a respite that felt like putting her death on hold. I couldn’t tell whether or not it was the act or the anticipation – the rush of blood that changed the feeling of nausea into light-headedness – but after a while, the only thing that gave more relief than arousal or coming was sharing them with someone else.
               Ma had died fifteen years after sustaining a bullet wound at the Bisho Massacre in ‘92, when eighty-thousand protestors, led by the ANC and aiming to dissolve the last remaining Bantustan in the country, had been gunned down by the Ciskei Defence Force, killing twenty-eight and injuring over two-hundred in place.
               I hadn’t known about it on the day it happened; Ma was gone for a fortnight, that month, and my grandmother, Nana, and I got help from our neighbour, Sis’ Khethiwe, before my father arrived with his bags a week after Ma’s return. We moved towns after that, but Ma never told us that the wound had given her complications that would last her the rest of her life, and even ten years later, when she crashed the Land Rover – complaining of a momentary loss of consciousness – my father and I, who’d found her sitting alone on a mattress inside the garage next to our double cab Nissan, had been none the wiser.

~

I rummage for my passport in the cabinet below the TV. Then I sit down at the coffee table and write a note for Pa, which I take back to my room and tape onto the door for him to find. I watch him on the bed; he’s fallen asleep sitting upright against the wall, the book he was reading – The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle – split in half and sliding down his thighs. I place it on the bedside with a bookmark. Then I close the door and make it out of the apartment to the parking lot, where the air feels warm and moist on my skin.
               I call a taxi to Hillbrow, and on the way there, the driver asks me how life’s been for me in the city. I turn the question back on him and look out of the window, again, watching as the orange lights glow against the darkened skyline below the Vodacom tower.
               It’s about money, big man, he says, and I grunt in agreement.
               I’m saving up for my own car, he tells me. These white people have everything, you see, and all we can do is work, no?
               I nod, and we go silent for a while before the cab drops me off at the corner of Van der Merwe. I take out a hundred for the doorman and see Lukhanyo, the bar-back, next to the entrance after I’ve been patted down. I walk over to him.
               Long time, he says, and I nod.
               I ask him if he’s still working the slots.
               No, mfowethu, I gave that up. You can’t make money that way.
               The bass thumps against the walls around us, and the blue and pink strobes cut tapered beams through the dark. Lukhanyo lifts his forefinger and rubs it under his nostrils.
               I shake my head, saying no, and ask him if that’s what he’s doing, now.
               Ja, I sell a little here and there, but nothing to the girls.
               I nod. You have to be careful.
               You know me, he says, and I tell him that I do.
               Then I point a finger towards the ceiling.
               I haven’t seen her come down today, boss, but she should be up there.
               We shake hands and I walk towards the lift, where two girls eye me from inside the elevator car, and I smile back without taking on their offer. The two of them walk past me, then, into the club, and I make my way up to Lona on the top floor; when I knock on the chipped panel, she tells me it’s open and that I should lock the door behind me. I find her sitting up in bed, smoking a Dunhill Light and scrolling through her phone.
               Yesterday, when Lona told me her parent’s conditions for letting her see her daughter, I didn’t think much of the hour of pretence it would take from me.
               Now I sit on the edge of the bed, take out my passport, and flip through the pages in front of her, asking if her parents will believe her fiancé’s papers.
               Lona laughs, and later, when I can feel her sweat cooling down on my skin, she asks me if I don’t ever want to see the other girls, downstairs, or even the dancing.
               I tell her not more than anyone else.
               Maybe that means something, then, from what you’ve told me about yourself.
               I think about what she means by that for a long time.
               Then I tell her that maybe it does.

 
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The Rosa Parks Library Book Club celebrates Angela Makholwa and Lerato Tshabalala in Soweto

By Thato Rossouw

Angela Makholwa and Lerato Tshabalala

 
The Rosa Parks Library Book Club recently hosted Angela Makholwa and Lerato Tshabalala during the August edition of their monthly book club, held in the library’s Innovation Studio.

The Way I See ItBlack Widow Society

 
The library, which is located at the Ipelegeng Community Centre in White City, Jabavu, Soweto, is one of nine American Spaces run by the US Mission South Africa. It first opened its doors to the South African public in 1976, at the premises of the Orlando YMCA. It was moved to the Ipelegeng Community Centre in 1985.

This month’s event was held in celebration of women writers, and Makholwa and Tshabalala were asked to speak about their journeys in the world of literature.

Lerato Tshabalala

 
Tshabalala, whose debut The Way I See It has had the country speaking ever since its launch, spoke about what her book was really about.

“More than anything the book is about people understanding the plight of us as black people,” she said.

Angela Makholwa, who is the author of three books – and currently working on her fourth – spoke about the need for research grants for South African writers.

“I wish that was something we had. The ability to have the time and the money to go out there and interview our subjects,” she said.

Angela Makholwa

 

The event ended with a Q&A session where the writers answered questions ranging from their thoughts on the role of women in society to their choice of subject matter when writing.

Angela Makholwa, Lerato Tshabalala and the audience

 
Thato Rossouw (@Thato_Rossouw) tweeted live from the event:

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Jacket Notes: Sam Scarborough on her book Trapped, a story about verbal and emotional abuse

Published in the Sunday Times

Trapped•Trapped
Sam Scarborough (Human and Rousseau)

My story is about verbal and emotional abuse. I wrote the book initially to help me understand what was going on in the relationship I was in. It was a diary of events and conversations that I felt I had to record so that I would not have to constantly question my sanity. I was being accused of things that I knew were not my doing, nor my fault, so I thought I was going mad. Adding to that, I could not believe that I had got myself into an abusive relationship, me, the strong one, the Leo, the independent woman. So I started writing a diary, to keep track of events and to make sure I was not imagining things.

Shattered dreams went into this book, along with written accounts of each day, my thoughts and emotions, while I waited to see what the evening would bring, when my partner, more often than not, came home drunk.

The inspiration to publish was because, many years ago, I helped a friend get out of an abusive relationship by giving her a book to read. I can’t remember what the book was, but it helped her. And this is why I published, because if this book helps just one person, then it was meant to be a book and not just a sad diary sitting on my laptop taking up megabytes. I hope that by reading about my experience, other woman may find the courage to get out of whatever situation they are in.

At times, I found writing and reading the book tedious because I could see the repeat pattern of behaviour. Yet it took time for me to come to grips with the situation and to finally leave. I was angry that I had allowed myself to get into the situation in the first place. And when I wrote the book, I was still very angry – the book definitely has this tone. And I tried not to edit the anger out, even though it didn’t make me look good at times.

This was the difficulty – including the truth of it, without making it sound glamorous, or better. Some people have asked me why I would want to tell people about what happened. Others have said I am very brave. But mostly, people have encouraged me to tell my story.

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Guilty of captivation: Bron Sibree talks to bestselling author Liane Moriarty about her latest novel Truly Madly Guilty

Reading Liane Moriarty’s novels is an innocent pleasure, writes Bron Sibree for the Sunday Times

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty
Liane Moriarty (Penguin Random House)
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Imagine lunching in Los Angeles with one of Hollywood’s finest. If you think that’s surreal, then you know just how author Liane Moriarty felt this April, when she sat down to lunch with Reese Witherspoon. Along with Nicole Kidman, Witherspoon is among a formidable line-up of luminaries starring in an HBO series based on Moriarty’s sixth novel, Big Little Lies. Then came a meeting with the legendary writer and producer David E Kelley, who has adapted Big Little Lies for the screen. “It was a real honour for me, but a very surreal experience,” says Moriarty. “That’s the only word I can use, it’s so difficult to describe how it feels.”

For the Australian-born Moriarty, this capped a momentous year during which three of her novels not only hit the New York Times bestseller list, but film options to all three were snapped up by major studios. CBS was first off the mark, optioning her fourth novel, The Husband’s Secret, and Jennifer Aniston is now attached to TriStar’s adaptation of her fifth, What Alice Forgot. Not that Moriarty is any stranger to success. Well before her US breakthrough – which brought her worldwide sales to more than six million — she had garnered a doting international readership, and admits she has long “felt lucky to be able to make a living from writing”.

The imminent release of her seventh novel, Truly Madly Guilty, marks 13 years she has now spent crafting the kind of novels that prompted Kirkus Reviews to describe her as “an edgier, more provocative and bolder successor to Maeve Binchy”. Moriarty dreamt of being a writer since the age of eight, but lost her confidence in adulthood, becoming a copywriter instead. She recalls it was only when her sister, Jaclyn, published a teen novel that sibling rivalry took over and she felt compelled to write her own debut novel. “I remain eternally grateful to her.”

She was 36 when the success of that debut, Three Wishes, enabled her to quit her advertising job and write her second, The Last Anniversary, which folded potent thematic concerns, believable characters and a quirky brand of humour into a superbly plotted mystery. Five novels on, Truly Madly Guilty speaks to a different set of thematic concerns, yet still reprises familiar ones. Notably guilt. “I do seem to keep returning to guilt a lot in my novels, and I feel guilty about it,” laughs Moriarty. “But I’m just interested in it. Women seem to be pretty good at it, certainly it’s an emotion I struggle with on a daily basis.”

Truly Madly Guilty has a mystery at its heart, shaped around an unspoken-of event at a barbecue. Revolving around three disparate couples, it also probes the nature of a lifelong friendship between two successful women. Erica’s miserable childhood had led to her being unofficially adopted by Clementine’s family since both first attended school, and their adult friendship is sharply observed by Moriarty.

“I’ve known many people who were unofficially adopted by other families because of their difficult home lives. Families just let them become part of their family, which is an amazing thing that people do, but not an official thing. I then thought, what if one member of the unofficial ‘adoptive’ family didn’t really like this person, and how they’d then have this permanent struggle between wanting to feel generous but feeling guilty.”

Now 49, Moriarty, intends taking cues from Margaret Drabble. “If you look at her books, her characters seem to have aged along with her, and I love that. So I’d like to do the same thing.” She also ranks Anne Tyler at the top of her list of inspirational authors, but for Moriarty writing is a choice more than a compulsion.

“I find that I’m happier when I’m writing, I start to get a bit tetchy when I’m not. I hadn’t realised that until I wrote Three Wishes, and then I felt so relieved. Imagine,” she adds softly, “I could have gone my whole life and not realised that something was missing.”

Follow Bron Sibree on Twitter @BronSibree

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