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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

Jacket Notes: Pamela Power chats about writing her book Things Unseen and what she’s working on next

Published in the Sunday Times

Things UnseenThings Unseen
Pamela Power (Clockwork Books)

I started writing Things Unseen in 2010 during the Soccer World Cup, when I was in a dark place in my life. My mother-in-law had died of cancer in December 2008, my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and died a year later. Six weeks after my mother died, my nephew contracted cerebral malaria. He spent nine days in a coma with multi-organ failure and recovered, but only after having nine of his toes amputated.

I remember sitting in the carpark of Milpark Hospital and weeping uncontrollably about his toes. It was stressful and there wasn’t time to mourn my mother properly. So I did what I always do in times of crisis, I wrote about it. About how losing your mother – no matter how difficult your relationship was – is always profound.

After everything we had been through, I didn’t feel like writing something light. But I had a panic attack because my first novel, Ms Conception, published in 2012, was such a different genre – light, racy, funny and about suburban life. I kept dilly-dallying over whether I should be writing something in the same style. I whined about it to anyone who would listen until my bossy eldest brother said, “For Pete’s sake, just write both novels!”

So I did. I started writing another novel in 2013 which was grip lit (what author Marian Keyes calls thrillers so engrossing that you can’t put them down) and I wrote the psychological thriller Things Unseen.

Just as well, as my publisher, Penguin Random House South Africa, did not like Things Unseen, which was devastating at the time. Luckily, my husband loved it (probably because he was ecstatic I had stopped writing about our lives) and my independent publisher, Sarah McGregor, loved it as well. Well, obviously not that much, as she made me rewrite about 50 per cent of it.

It was such a labour of love – I had doctor and lawyer friends reading it, Karina Brink gave me notes and a wonderful shout for the front cover, and my husband did a final proofread (my knowledge of golf clubs is sadly lacking). The book’s also been getting great reviews, which came as a complete surprise. I always think everything I write is rubbish and I’m amazed that people might want to read it.

In terms of what’s next for me, the grip lit is called Delilah Now Trending and will be published by Penguin Random House South Africa in April 2017.

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‘Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine these things’ – Abantu Book Festival launched in Soweto

Thando Mgqolozana

 
The Abantu Book Festival was officially launched at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto this afternoon.

The festival is the brainchild of Thando Mgqolozana, who explained how and why it came about.

Why Abantu?

I named the festival Abantu because I could not think of any other festival that was focusing on black people – that was created for and by black people – and I wanted to create that.

I was absolutely tired of always begging to be integrated more comfortably into coloniality. I realised that I was ashamed, actually, that we had been begging to be integrated into coloniality. It’s like asking to be put nicely into a fire. It’s not going to end well. You are going to burn.

So I wanted to walk away from the fire. I wanted to create a different kind of fire, for abantu and by abantu.

Thando Mgqolozana

 

Mgqolozana first conceptualised the Abantu Book Festival on Facebook, creating it as a purely imaginary event. One year later, it is a reality.

“I’m a fiction writer, so I know what it means to imagine something into existence, I’ve done it many times,” he said.

“I have written books that were just fleeting ideas, and you write it and you publish it and it affects real people in their real lives.”

Images: Abantu Book Festival on Facebook

 

Mgqolozana also thanked Rhodes Must Fall and the young people of South Africa for creating an environment in which a festival like Abantu can feel possible.

“If we had tried to do something like this five years ago, it would probably not have happened. But Rhodes Must Fall created the context for us, made it possible for us, to imagine these things. Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine things that are not framed by coloniality.

“So I want to thank the young people for affording us the opportunity to dream and hope, and be able to deal with our pain in a different way from before.”

Mgqolozana is the author of three novels, A Man Who is Not a Man, Hear Me Alone and Unimportance. He said he finds it unacceptable that the people he has written for and about do not have access to his work.

“I write about the people I was born with, I was raised with, the people in my street. It makes me so angry that these people cannot access this literature. And it is not by accident, it is by design. I cannot accept that. I cannot keep on writing about these people and for these people and not do anything about the fact that they cannot access this literature.

“I would really love to just be a writer and just be in my imagination the whole time. But I think I was born in a time that requires me to do more than just that.

“We have libraries in all black communities now, and if you go to any of them you will find that there is an African fiction section. We shouldn’t have an African fiction section in Africa: that should be the standard. It reminds me of the Homelands Act; the rest of the space belongs to other people.

“So it is my mission to change this thing. I am not going to do it alone. I am going to require all of your support.”

Panashe Chigumadzi

 

Panashe Chigumadzi, the festival curator, explained the thinking behind this year’s theme: Our Stories.

“A key part of our thinking around Abantu Book Festival and how we can remove the alienation that many of us as black people have around literature and books is to try and destabilise the centrality of the book,” she said.

“Yes, it is Abantu Book Festival, but we want to remind ourselves that storytelling is very much a part of what it is to be black people and it’s always been part of our cultures.”

Chigumadzi stressed that Abantu Book Festival should be a safe space for difficult conversations, and emphasised its zero tolerance policy to sexual harrassment and other kinds of prejudice.

“When we are creating these spaces for black people and new visions of futures, it is important that all black people are recognised, all of our humanity is recognised, and it is not only for a particular kind of blackness.

“We are really interested in having important, necessary, uncomfortable, robust but loving conversations amongst us as black people, that really is the important part about this. This is for us. All those things that we haven’t been able to say, we’d like this to be the kind of space that we can talk about them, and be able to challenge each other in the ways that we often can’t.”

* * * * *

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

Follow @projectjennifer on Twitter for more

 

Related news:

 

The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesMemoirs of a Born FreeRumoursEat, Drink and Blame the AncestorsAffluenzaWe Need New NamesHappiness is a Four-Letter Word
The Everyday WifeRapeEndings and BeginningsWhat Will People SayGa ke ModisaAlmost Sleeping My Way to TimbuktuWhen a Man Cries
Ukuba MtshaThe Woman Next DoorLondon – Cape Town – JoburgSweet MedicineNwelezelanga

 

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‘A kaleidoscope of contemporary African literature’ – Read Thando Mgqolozana’s introduction to the Abantu Book Festival

Image: Abantu Book Festival on Facebook
Black Widow SocietySigh The Beloved CountryPowers of the KnifeNight DancerThe Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story!Memory is the WeaponWalter and Albertina Sisulu
Run Racist Run#ZuptasMustFall and Other RantsHave You Seen Zandile?The ScoreTo Quote MyselfThese handsIn a Ribbon of RhythmA Half Century Thing

 
The inaugural Abantu Book Festival is taking place this week at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto.

The festival is the brainchild of Thando Mgqolozana, who imagined it on Facebook. After a year of planning it has become a reality.
 


 
This year’s event is curated by Panashe Chigumadzi, who recently won the K Sello Duiker Award for her debut novel Sweet Medicine, and the inspirational African Flavour Books is the official bookseller.

In his introduction to the programme, Mgqolozana says it is the organisers’ wish that “when the festival ends, the bookseller has no books to take back – they’ll all have been adopted by readers”.

 

 

Read Mgqolozana’s introduction:

Dear Reader

It gives us great pleasure to bring you the inaugural Abantu Book Festival. We can hardly believe that this dream, longheld by writers and readers alike, is finally coming true.

Through the lens of literature and the arts, the festival creates a platform to celebrate Our Stories, and amplify brave voices that grapple with social phenomena – this being the end of 2016, the year of rebellion and hard questions, marking with certainty the end of an era, there’s no shortage of said social phenomena to grapple with.

This first edition is ably curated by Panashe Chigumadzi, author of Sweet Medicine, a Fallist as well as a vociferous campaigner for a Global Black Literary Network.

We’re hosting over 50 superbly accomplished poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, literary scholars, screenwriters, performing artists, and children’s writers from Soweto, South Africa, Africa and the diaspora. The line-up is a kaleidoscope of contemporary African literature, illustrating a sense of continuity in our narrative.

The traveling writers arrive on the 6-7 December 2016. In these two days the authors will visit schools and cultural centres in and around Soweto, as well take part in the media launch.

From 8-10 December 2016, the Abantu Book Festival programme spans 32 unmissable panel discussions, in-conversations, hands-on masterclasses, poetry slams and film screenings, many of which are free.

The day events are held at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Mofolo, 09:30-16:00, and the evening sessions at the Soweto Theatre at 18:00-21:30.

The people’s bookseller, African Flavour Books, which specialises in African Literature, has all your favourite titles on sale at both venues throughout the festival. It is our wish that when the festival ends, the bookseller has no books to take back – they’ll all have been adopted by readers.

We hope to create a festival that truly speaks to our pan-Africanist ideals wherein we have more writers from the continent represented, not just within Anglophone Africa, but to include Francophone and Lusophone Africans. The black experience is global, so we need to be hosts to Black British, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African-American writers.

Even as we use the languages of our (former) colonial masters to reach each other across regions, we must work to ensure indigenous languages are prominently featured.

We also need to have a greater contingency of young writers. We’re learning that many of our writers are self-published, so we will work to include more of them.

We invite you to peruse the schedule of events, take note of where you need to be, at what time. Some of the events will be running concurrently, so you’re bound to have several dilemmas to solve.

Welcome to Abantu Book Festival. We wish you a fine week of bibliotherapy.

My best regards,
Thando Mgqolozana
Festival Director

 
Have a look at the programme:

2016 Abantu Book Festival programme by Books LIVE on Scribd

 

The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesMemoirs of a Born FreeRumoursEat, Drink and Blame the AncestorsAffluenzaWe Need New NamesHappiness is a Four-Letter Word
The Everyday WifeRapeEndings and BeginningsWhat Will People SayGa ke ModisaAlmost Sleeping My Way to TimbuktuWhen a Man Cries
Ukuba MtshaThe Woman Next DoorLondon – Cape Town – JoburgSweet MedicineNwelezelanga

 
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The extraordinary incident of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s BBC Newsnight interview

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Half of a Yellow SunWe Should All Be FeministsAmericanahPurple HibiscusAmericanahThe Thing Around Your Neck

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says she felt “upset” and “ambushed” by her recent interview on BBC Newsnight.

The interview, which took place just after the United States election, made international headlines, as Adichie was horribly mismatched with Donald Trump supporter R Emmett Tyrrell, and made some strong remarks about the president-elect, racism and privilege.
 

 
In a statement on her Facebook page, Adichie reveals that she was given no indication that she would be pitted against a Trump supporter.

In a comment on the post, BBC Newsnight give a half-hearted apology, saying they are “terribly sorry” Adichie “felt ambushed by the encounter”, claiming that it was “an honest mistake” and expressing the hope that the author will return for a one-on-one interview “some time”.

The programme’s intentions with the match-up were made clear, however, by the simple fact that they couched the title of their initial YouTube video of the encounter in antagonistic terms: “Is Donald Trump racist? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie v R Emmett Tyrrell”. As Adichie says, “It is about entertainment.”

(This is not Adichie’s first unfortunate run-in with the British press. In February 2015 The Guardian erroneously published a very personal piece by Adichie on depression, and had to “apologise unreservedly” for the error.)

Tyrrell, who is editor in chief of the American Spectator, was equally perturbed by the encounter, and wrote a piece for The Washington Times that is nothing short of bizarre. In it, he refers to Adichie and Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis as “two apparently intelligent English-speaking women” – being sure to emphasise their gender – speaking “incomprehensible” “gibberish”. “They showed no sign of drunkenness or of drug abuse so I left the studio perplexed,” he writes.

He refers to Adichie by her first name throughout the article and calls her a “so-called novelist”, “a Nigerian lady of supposedly great gifts”.

“I had never heard of her, and for decades I have kept an eye on the intellectual vistas as editor in chief of The American Spectator,” he trumpets, before switching to misplaced wry amusement and 1920s flapper slang:

“Why on earth she was appearing before a British audience to discuss an American election I have no idea. If the BBC wanted to explore creative writing I suppose she was their gal, but then what was I doing there?”

Tyrrell writes that he even contacted his very good friend and distinguished historian Andrew Roberts, who hadn’t heard of her either.

It is a mystery why Tyrrell did not simply type Adichie’s name into Google. If he had done so, he could have read about her academic and literary background, he would have seen a (very long) list of awards, and would have learnt that she has been based in the United States for 20 years. Further Googling would have revealed that earlier this year Adichie wrote a short story about Donald and Melania Trump for The New York Times Book Review (clearly not enough of an intellectual vista for Tyrrell).

Repeating what was his biggest gaffe in the Newsnight interview, he again refers to Adichie as “highly emotional”, and paraphrases two of the farcically illogical points he made that day as if they prove that he won the debate.

He tops it all off with a gloriously ironic reference to Adichie’s “invincible ignorance”.

Tyrrell hits so many stereotypical notes one would be forgiven for suspecting that he was a very good actor hired to play the part of Fuddy Duddy number one.
 

 
Adichie, meanwhile, showing the same composure and eloquence she did in the Newsnight interview, has written a response on Facebook criticising the BBC’s handling of the interview, reiterating her statements about Donald Trump and racism, and specifically taking issue with Tyrell’s problematic use of the word “emotional”:

He didn’t say my name. Perhaps he didn’t know it because he had not paid attention when we were introduced. Mine is not an easy name for languid American tongues anyway. But that word ‘emotional.’ No. Just no.

Normally I would not think of ‘emotional’ as belittling. Emotion is a luminous, human quality. I am often emotional – gratefully so. But in this context it was coded language with a long history.

To say that I responded ‘emotionally’ to the election was to say that I had not engaged my intellect. ‘Emotional’ is a word that has been used to dismiss many necessary conversations especially about gender or race. ‘Emotional’ is a way of discounting what you have said without engaging with it.

 

Read the full piece, as shared on Adichie’s Facebook page:

ON THE BBC NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW

By Chimamanda Adichie

Two weeks ago, BBC Newsnight contacted my manager to ask for an interview with me. I would be interviewed by the presenter, they said, and would broadly be asked about the election. I said yes.

When I arrived at their studio in Washington DC, the show’s producer casually said, “You’ll be on a panel with a Trump Supporter. A magazine editor who has supported Donald Trump from the beginning.”

“What?” I said. At no time had I been told that there would be anyone else in the interview, never mind being pitted against a Trump Supporter.

I felt upset and ambushed.

I wanted to walk away, but decided not to. I was already there. And I did want to talk about the election, which I had experienced in a deeply personal way. I was still stunned and angry and sad. I still woke up feeling heavy. Not only because I am an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton, but also because, with Donald Trump’s win, America just didn’t feel like America anymore. The country that grew from an idea of freedom was now to be governed by an authoritarian demagogue.

“I’m sorry you didn’t know it was a panel,” The producer said. “There must have been some mistake somewhere when your manager spoke to the people in London.”

Some mistake somewhere. My manager had simply not been told.

“We want to have balance,” he said.

But sneakily pitting me against a Trump Supporter was not about balance – we could have easily been interviewed separately.
It is a deliberately adversarial strategy that news organizations use in the pursuit of what is often called ‘good television.’
It is about entertainment.

I told the producer that my condition was that I not be asked to respond directly to anything the Trump Supporter had to say.
We could both air our opinions without being egged on to ‘fight it out.’

The Trump Supporter arrived. A well dressed, well groomed elderly man. The producer greeted him, gushed a little. He introduced me to the Trump Supporter. “She will be on the panel with you,” he said.

The Trump Supporter barely glanced at me.

The producer wanted us to shake hands, and he gestured to complete the introduction. We shook hands.

“How are you?” I said. Something about the tilt of the Trump Supporter’s head made me think that perhaps he had hearing problems – and suddenly his standoffishness was forgivable.

I felt a kind of compassion, while also thinking: why would this man, editor of a conservative magazine, be willing to put America in the hands of a stubbornly uninformed demagogue who does not even believe in classic conservative principles?
We got on air. We were seated uncomfortably close. The studio itself was strange, a flimsy tent on top of a building that overlooks the White House. A strong wind rattled the awning.

The interview began. I was determined to speak honestly, and not be distracted by the Trump Supporter, and be done with it and go home and never again allow myself to be ambushed in a television interview.

Until the Trump Supporter said that word ‘emotionally.’

“I do not respond emotionally like this lady,” he said.

I thought: o ginidi na-eme nwoke a? [“Just what is wrong with this man?” - hat-tip to Brittle Paper for the translation]

He didn’t say my name. Perhaps he didn’t know it because he had not paid attention when we were introduced. Mine is not an easy name for languid American tongues anyway. But that word ‘emotional.’ No. Just no.

Normally I would not think of ‘emotional’ as belittling. Emotion is a luminous, human quality. I am often emotional – gratefully so. But in this context it was coded language with a long history.

To say that I responded ‘emotionally’ to the election was to say that I had not engaged my intellect. ‘Emotional’ is a word that has been used to dismiss many necessary conversations especially about gender or race. ‘Emotional’ is a way of discounting what you have said without engaging with it.

No way was I going to ignore that. Which, predictably, led to an interview in which I found myself, rather than talking about misogyny and populism, responding to a man who claimed that an anti-NAFTA, China-bashing, America-First Donald Trump would be an ‘internationalist’ rather than an ‘isolationist.’

Who presumed that he, a white man, could decide what was racist and what was not. And who insisted that Donald Trump is not a racist, even though the evidence is glaring, even though the House Majority Leader of Donald Trump’s own Republican party condemned Donald Trump’s racism.

So much for responding ‘emotionally’ to the election.

I left that interview still feeling upset. But it made me better see why America no longer feels like America.

 
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Covers revealed for local and UK editions of Fred Khumalo’s new book, Dancing the Death Drill

Cover revealed for Fred Khumalo’s new book, Dancing the Death Drill
#ZuptasMustFall and Other RantsSeven Steps To HeavenThe Lighter Side of Life on Robben IslandZulu Boy Gone CrazyBitches' BrewTouch My Blood

 
Alert! Fred Khumalo has revealed the cover for his new novel, Dancing the Death Drill.

The book will be published in February 2017, by Umuzi in South Africa (left) and by Jacaranda Books in the UK and Ireland (right).

Cover revealed for Fred Khumalo’s new book, Dancing the Death DrillCover revealed for Fred Khumalo’s new book, Dancing the Death Drill

 
Dancing the Death Drill recounts the tragic story of the SS Mendi, a passenger steamship that sank in the English Channel in 1917 killing 646 people, most of whom were black South African troops heading for France to serve in World War I.

February 2017 will mark the centenary of the disaster.

Jacaranda Books founder Valerie Brandes said: “We are delighted to work with Umuzi and Penguin Random House South Africa on such a brilliant novel that will help shine a light on this dark moment in our history.”

Khumalo revealed the lovely looking covers on his Facebook page, saying: “What a journey it has been: writing, fighting with publishers and editors, editing, fighting some more … finally sighing in relief.”
 

 
We can’t wait to lay our hands on Dancing the Death Drill. Keep your eye on Books LIVE for more details as they emerge.

Book details

  • The Lighter Side of Life on Robben Island: Banter, Past Times and Boyish Tricks by Fred Khumalo, Gugu Kunene, Paddy Harper
    EAN: 9780620540537
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Read an excerpt from Lake of Memories – the new book in Bontle Senne’s Afrocentric fantasy adventure series

Shadow Chasers Book 2: Lake of Memories Cover2Cover Books has shared an excerpt from Bontle Senne’s new book, Shadow Chasers Book 2: Lake of Memories.

The book is the follow-up to Powers of the Knife, and part of the Shadow Chasers series, a contemporary Afrocentric fantasy adventure series.

The book will be launched on Saturday, 26 November at Skoobs Theatre of Books at Montecasino, when Senne will be chatting to Pamela Power.

“I’ve never been one to buy into the ‘Africans don’t want to read’ hype,” Senne said in a recent interview.

“I’m not saying that there isn’t a huge challenge for trade publishers and booksellers in South Africa. There is, of course. But the absence of relevant, engaging, local and accessible literature is something that is improving pretty slowly.”

* * * * *

 
Read an extract from Chapter 3 of the book:

They knock on the door and hear Gogo’s voice telling them to come in. As they enter the candle-lit room, they see that Gogo is already in bed.

“Zithembe, Nomthandazo,” Gogo says with her eyes closed. “I thought you would come.”

“You did?” Nom blurts out.

“Yes. You see, many years ago I was one of the Bhekizizwe, a Shadow Chaser. Just like you. I know why you are here,” she says. “You want Zithembe’s knife. You want to use it to get into the dreamworld, where the Army of Shadows lives, and rescue his mother. You will need to find her knife to do so. But I cannot help you. The Army of Shadows is too dangerous and powerful now.”

“But they have Mama,” Zithembe blurts out. “I have to rescue her, Gogo. She’s been trapped in the dreamworld for years.”

Gogo’s eyes snap open. She stares at Zithembe, her lips pressed tight, before whispering, “Do you think I haven’t thought about rescuing her? Itumeleng is my daughter! I have prayed every night for her.”

“But the war against the Army is bigger than one person or one Shadow Chaser, even if she is my only child,” Gogo continues. “Itumeleng knows this, and if she was here, she would agree with me: you must stay out of this fight, Zithembe.”

Zithembe goes to this grandmother’s side, kneels besides the bed and takes her hand. “Please, Gogo,” he pleads. “Where is my knife?”

Gog pulls her hand away from Zithembe and rolls over, away from him, to face the wall.

“I am an old woman,” she says. “I have forgotten where the knife is. Now leave me. I want to sleep.”

Zithembe stands and steps back, unsure of what to do next. But Nom walks straight towards Gogo.

“That’s it?” Nom says.

“Nom!” Zithembe says, as if he is warning her – or scolding her. He tries to grab her arm to drag her out of the rondavel, but she pulls away from him.

“No, I don’t care about being respectful. This is a war!” Nom says, folding her arms. “I know you know where the knife is, Gogo. Please, you have to tell us!”

“How dare you! Gogo does not take orders from children,” says a voice from the door.

Zithembe and Nom whip around to see Zithembe’s cousin, Rosy, standing in the doorway with both hands on her hips.

“Gogo is right,” says Rosy as she walks into the room. “This is not a game. The Army of Shadows is dangerous, and you two are too young to be in a war with monsters.”

Nom rolls her eyes. “How old are you?’ she asks. “Thirty-five?”

“I’m fifteen. I’m old enough to take Gogo’s knife as my own. I’m old enough to be a real Shadow Chaser. Twelve is too young – you are too young,” Rosy says, kneeling beside Gogo’s bed. The sleeves of her dress are long, but Nom thinks she sees a flash of an angry yellow scar on Rosy’s arm. “You heard what Gogo said,” Rosy continues. “Get out.”

Nom is about to start a real fight, but Zithembe is faster than her this time. He grabs her arm and drags her out of the rondavel.

“You can’t just – ,” Nom begins to argue, but Zithembe puts a hand over her mouth and a finger to his lips. He points towards the back of the rondavel and pulls Nom with him as he sneaks into the shadows. They crouch in the weeds and nettles underneath an open window. Rosy’s voice drifts to them in an urgent whisper.

“… an evil water spirit that calls itself Mami Wata. Gogo, I believe that the Army has sent Mami Wata to tear apart the village in search of the knife.”

There is a pause before Zithembe’s grandmother says, “I wish I could remember where Zithembe’s knife is. If I could remember, I would hide the knife again, somewhere new, somewhere no one could find it. But for now, you must protect the village. And we must keep Zithembe and Nomthandazo safe until they are old enough to fight.”

“Yes, Gogo,” agrees Rosy.

“Go to the beach and attack just before midnight tonight. Your knife will be the light to guide the way and open the door to send this monster back to the dreamworld. Good luck, ngane yam. Be safe,” says Gogo.

 
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Report from the first Bridge Book Festival: Books are incredible; access to books is more incredible – Yewande Omotoso

Words by Thato Rossouw, most images by Purilarb Tommy Cherngphatthana

Yewande Omotoso and fans

 

“Books are incredible, but what is more incredible is access to books,” were writer Yewande Omotoso’s opening remarks as she sat down to do a reading on the Bridge Books balcony during the inaugural Bridge Book Festival.

The Woman Next DoorThe Relatively Public Life Of Jules BrowdeEyes in the NightAffluenzaHappiness is a Four-Letter WordFrom Whiskey to Water

 

The one-day festival, which was hosted in association with Sunday Times, took place on 29 of October throughout the Johannesburg CBD – at Bridge Books on 85 Commissioner Street; Corner House on 77 Commissioner Street; the Rand Club on the corner of Lovedale and Fox; and Ernest Oppenheimer Park on the corner of Albertina Sisulu and Joubert Street.

It featured book readings and discussions, and Omotoso said: “the event is brilliant for its location, in particular, how it uses the city.”

Readers and book fansReaders and book fans
Readers and book fans

 
Bridge Books owner Griffin Shea said he wanted to use the festival to give people an invitation to visit the city centre and walk inside heritage buildings that can sometimes be closed off.

“Because so many buildings downtown are weighed with history, it’s also important to redefine our urban spaces,” he said. “One way to do that is by celebrating contemporary South African culture, like our outstanding writers.”

Readers and book fansReaders and book fans

 
The festival featured a variety of writers including Omotoso, Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Raphael d’Abdon, Sarah Godsell, Flow Wellington, Nomavenda Mathiane, Niq Mhlongo and Samantha Cowen, and, after reading from their latest work, the writers had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience.

Yewande Omotoso reading

 
Omotoso, the award-winning author of two novels, read from her latest book, The Woman Next Door, and discussed her work, inspiration and future plans with the audience. When asked about her main interests when writing her books, and whether or not she ever has “messages” in her work for her readers, Omotoso said her interest is in writing about “the myth of purity”, but she added, “I don’t try to teach people anything.”

Omotoso also spoke about the connection she has with the characters she develops in her stories, saying that she could never have written any of them if she didn’t have a connection with them.

Readers and book fansReaders and book fans

 
Another author who had a reading at the festival was former journalist Nomavenda Mathiane who, after her reading in the foyer of the City Central building, spoke about the importance of having Africans tell their own stories and the journey that ended with her writing her new book, Eyes in the Night. Mathiane outlined the lessons she learned while writing the book and how valuable they were for her. “I have learned so much about myself, my family and the Zulu nation from writing this book. It has been the best experience I have ever gone through,” she said.

Nomavenda Mathiane

 
The audience was treated to a taste of upcoming work as well, as author of the famed novel turned movie Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, Nozizwa Cynthia Jele, read a chapter from an untitled work in progress, which she hopes to have published late next year. After reading from the new novel, which she described as totally different from Happiness is a Four-Letter Word, she spoke about the struggles of writing a second novel after the success of her first one.

Present at the event were publishers, writers and readers. Some of the reading groups that were present include the Hector Peterson Museum Book Club, the Bookamoso Book Club and the BookWormers Book Club, among others.

The event ended on a successful note with an after party, where authors, readers and publishers came together to discuss their love of books and the work they do. Shea said the event was an indication of the goodwill that people have for downtown Johannesburg and the number of people who want the city to succeed. “It’s also a celebration of the joy that our city takes in reading,” he continued. “We have to keep looking for new ways to tap into that enthusiasm.”
 

Celebrating Joburg and South African writing: 2016 Bridge Book Festival programme revealed

 

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Thato Rossouw and Jennifer Malec (and others) tweeted live from the event:

 
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Scandi colonialism: Rosa Lyster talks to Kim Leine about his book The Prophets of the Eternal Fjord

Giant, icy Greenland is the setting for this absorbing novel, writes Rosa Lyster for the Sunday Times

The Prophets of Eternal FjordThe Prophets of the Eternal Fjord
Kim Leine (Atlantic Books)
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The protagonist of The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, a priest named Morten Falck, is a mystery to himself. Idealistic, but not clear on what those ideals mean. Not particularly good, and not bad, he sees without understanding, and is buffeted by forces beyond his control. He sails from Copenhagen to Sukkertoppen, Greenland, in 1787 to convert the Inuit to the Danish church, and his experiences there make up much of the novel.

He keeps a diary in which events, including the founding of a rival settlement on Eternal Fjord, are transcribed but not processed. Sensory experiences are described with a hallucinatory intensity, and his catastrophic relationship with Lydia, “the widow”, is presented to the reader in vivid detail. No final conclusions are drawn, however, at least not by the priest. It is left to the reader to do this, to absorb the import of the novel’s key preoccupations: colonialism and its effects (especially on women), the way landscape shapes us, the ways we love each other.

It is tempting to draw parallels between an author and his protagonist. Other characters take up important positions (the catechist, the widow, the prophetess), other voices take over, but the novel begins with the priest, and it is his journey we are often concerned with. There are, certainly, one or two important similarities between Kim Leine and Morten Falck.

Like Falck, Leine has spent a significant part of his life in Greenland, participating in what he calls “the great post-colonial adventure”. Educated as a nurse, he spent 15 years as a primary healthcare practitioner in Greenland’s capital Nuuk and on its eastern islands.

The similarities end here. If Falck is a mystery to himself, if he sees much but understands little, Leine has internalised the lessons learned in Greenland, and effortlessly communicates them to others.

In a recent interview Leine spoke about his output (prolific), his influences (Melville and Flaubert), his past (turbulent in parts), future projects (again, intimidatingly prolific), his feelings about Greenland (strong), and about Denmark (occasionally mixed). He speaks about the implications of the “mild tyranny” of the Danish colonial project, its reverberating effects in Greenland today and the Danish people’s perception of it, with clarity and insight.

Leine’s prose, at first, can take one aback. The novel shows the brutal life in Greenland, and harrowing events are described in unemotional language. Leine himself describes the novel’s tone as “un-empathic”, saying that “the book doesn’t care about the [frequent] deaths of its characters”.

The book doesn’t care, but the reader does. Despite (or perhaps because of) the utter lack of sentiment in the novel’s pages, it is difficult not to get completely absorbed by Falck’s strange, complicated journey. This is due, in part, to Leine’s eye for the significant detail: the mud on someone’s boots, the lice tumbling from someone’s dress, the grease on someone’s cheeks. His characters, and the landscape they inhabit, are hugely present: what they see, how they look, what they smell like, what they eat, where they sleep, how they speak, how they pray.

The Prophets of Eternal Fjord is the first volume of a trilogy dealing with the Danish occupation of Greenland. Leine has already embarked on Volume 3, which deals with the 1880 colonisation of East Greenland, led by an expedition of female rowers, “the toughest women in the world”. He speaks about these women as if he knows them and, in a way, he does. This is what good writing can do: take us out of ourselves and into an entirely new and unfamiliar world.

Follow Rosa Lyster on Twitter @rosalyster

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Hedley Twidle interviews Rustum Kozain for Wasafiri 86 – Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry

Hedley Twidle interviews Rustum Kozain for Wasafiri 86 – Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry
This Carting LifeGroundwork

 

The publishers of Wasafiri magazine have kindly shared an excerpt from issue 86: a conversation between Hedley Twidle and Rustum Kozain.

This special issue of WasafiriUnsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry – features poetry by Kozain, Harry Garuba, Ingrid de Kok, Antjie Krog, Mxolisi Nyezwa and Karen Press – among others – articles by Kelwyn Sole and Finuala Dowling, as well as reviews, interviews and art. Guest editor Ben Etherington calls it “a significant undertaking, with 24 contributors, new works from 13 poets, essays and interviews”.

Wasafiri 86 - Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry“It is the first issue of Wasafiri focused on either Australian or South African poetry,” he adds.
 
If you are interested in purchasing Wasafiri’s Special Issue Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry (no. 86 Summer 2016) please email wasafiri@open.ac.uk
 
Below is an excerpt from Twidle’s contribution: “An Interview with Rustum Kozain”, in which the two discuss the decline of literary criticism, the perils of nostalgia, and the exhaustion of imagination in the current South African moment, as well as the influences and aesthetics of Kozain’s poetry.

We would recommend you order the magazine so that you can enjoy the interview in its entirety.

Twidle is a senior lecturer in the English Department at the University of Cape Town, who writes regularly for the New Statesman, Financial Times and Mail & Guardian.

Kozain is the author of two award-winning books of poetry, The Carting Life and Groundwork, and the only person to win the Olive Schreiner Prize twice in the same genre.

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An Interview with Rustum Kozain

By Hedley Twidle

Rustum Kozain was born in 1966 in Paarl, South Africa. He studied for several years at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and spent ten months (1994-1995) in the United States of America on a Fulbright Scholarship. He returned to South Africa and lectured in the Department of English at UCT from 1998 to 2004, teaching in the fields of literature, film and popular culture. Kozain has published his poetry in local and international journals; his debut volume, This Carting Life, was published in 2005 by Kwela/Snailpress.

Kozain’s numerous awards include: being joint winner of the 1989 Nelson Mandela Poetry Prize administered by the University of Cape Town; the 1997 Philip Stein Poetry Award for a poem published in 1996 in New Contrast; the 2003 Thomas Pringle Award from the English Academy of Southern Africa for individual poems published in journals in South Africa; the 2006 Ingrid Jonker Prize for This Carting Life (awarded for debut work); and the 2007 Olive Schreiner Prize for This Carting Life (awarded by the English Academy of Southern Africa for debut work).

The following conversation took place on 31 July 2015 at Rustum Kozain’s flat in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town. Prior to my arrival, Rustum had prepared a chicken balti with cabbage according to a recipe from Birmingham, and also a dry cauliflower and potato curry. During our discussion (lasting one and a half hours, condensed and lightly edited here) he occasionally got up to check on the dishes – which we ate afterwards with freshly prepared sambals.

Hedley Twidle  Rustum, you wrote an article for Wasafiri twenty-one years ago (issue 19, Summer 1994) in which you discuss the reception of Mzwakhe Mbuli’s poetry. There you were sceptical of South African critics who were lauding his work and its techniques of oral performance as if these things had never happened before. You suggested that if one looks at Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ), there is an equally established and perhaps more skilful tradition of this in another part of the world. My response after reading the article – because you take issue with several critics of poetry – my response was: ‘Well, at least people were discussing South African poetry.’ I can’t think of a similarly invested debate around the craft of poetry going on now. Or am I not seeing it?

Rustum Kozain  That’s an interesting question, especially as so many people now seem to consider poetry as this casual activity, which is dispiriting. There isn’t a discussion of, to use the basic terms, whether a poem is a good poem or whether it is a terrible poem. My sense is that we talk about poetry, and literature more generally, simply in terms of its content or its thematic concerns. Some of the controversy around the Franschhoek Literary Festival – or one of the points raised by younger black writers – was that they (the writers) are treated as anthropological informants. They link it specifically to a history of apartheid and racism in South Africa where the black author is there to answer questions about what life is like for a black person, to a mainly white audience. But I think it goes beyond race. In general, literary criticism has kind of regressed into simply summarising a content that is readily available. Part of the reason I think poetry disappeared off syllabuses in South Africa towards the late 1980s and early 1990s is that fewer and fewer teachers at university were prepared for or knew how to engage with teaching poetry beyond analysing its contents.

I had been listening to Linton Kwesi Johnson since I was a teenager, so when Mzwakhe Mbuli exploded onto the scene in South Africa and people were hailing him as someone who had revolutionised English poetics, I thought: ‘These people must be talking crap; have they not heard Linton Kwesi Johnson who was doing it ten years before and in a much better way?’ So my argument was partly about how people are evaluating literature and it was clear that Mzwakhe Mbuli was hailed also because his politics were seemingly progressive and he was on the side of the anti-apartheid struggle. That wasn’t enough for me to want to listen or read his poetry again and again – one wanted to talk about the aesthetics of his poetry.

HT  I suppose we’re getting closer now to the thematic of the issue which is about poetic craft at a time of cultural contestation. You’ve mentioned Linton Kwesi Johnson and you’re often referring to musicians in your poetry; obviously you are drawing a great deal from an auditory response or imagination, but your poetry is not like LKJ’s at all. In fact, I read it as quite a written form of poetry; I think Kelwyn Sole had a nice phrase for it. He said it has a ‘deliberative sonority’ – which I like because even that phrase sort of slows you down and I find that your poetry slows a reader down. I wonder if you could speak a bit about the fact that you’re in some senses devoted to the sonic, auditory, to sound, to jazz. I think Charles Mingus was playing when I arrived – you’ve written poems about him – and yet there’s quite a disciplined – I want to say almost modernist – restraint to a lot of your poetry.

RK  I think a large part, if not the largest part, of my influences would be modernist and what comes after modernism. I studied at university in the 1980s when modernism was still a significant part of the English literary syllabus at the University of Cape Town, so that is a part of me. But even before I enrolled for English, an older friend introduced me to ‘Prufrock’ [by TS Eliot]. And I thought this poem was remarkable because it was something completely different from what we were used to at school, which were typically a few Shakespeare sonnets, some Victorian poetry, I don’t think any of the Romantics.

The idea of sonority – I have to agree with you. I do have a thing for the sound of words. So the sound of a word often plays a large part in its choice in a line or a poem. Why don’t I sound like Linton Kwesi Johnson? That’s one of my greatest frustrations in life [laughs] – that I can’t write like Linton Kwesi Johnson in any believable way. Part of that is because I don’t have a Caribbean background. A large part of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s charm has got to do with the language he is using, which is tied so closely to drum rhythms in the Caribbean. He has a gift but he also has that legacy or that inheritance that he can work with. I’ve tried writing parodic poems in [my reggae-sourced] Jamaican Creole, but it’s rubbish. I’ve tried writing hip hop as well, but there is a particular skill in composing for oral performance that I don’t have.

HT  I was raising the question of slowness, but certainly not as a lack. Because, in a sense, what I find when reading poetry nowadays is the need to remind myself to slow down. I think we’re all programmed to read so fast now – online and on screens – to read instrumentally and for content. So I sense the kind of syntactical mechanisms you put in place to ensure a certain productive slowness.

RK  There are two things that definitely lie behind the slowness in much of my poetry. The one thing is that I feel myself to be a frustrated filmmaker, so my poems are often visual and it’s often as if a camera were panning across a scene. The other thing that lies behind this kind of slowness was something Kelwyn Sole said – or someone said in a blurb on one of his books – it has to do with his poetry looking at the quiet or the silent moments and trying to unpick what goes on in those moments; to think about what happens on the edges of normal events.

HT  At the end of your essay ‘Dagga’ you talk about the question of nostalgia, around which there have been a lot of debates recently, especially following from Jacob Dlamini’s Native Nostalgia in which he reminisces about growing up in Katlehong outside Johannesburg. He begins the work with quite a complex rhetorical position, he asks: ‘What does it mean to remember elements of a childhood under apartheid with fondness?’ It’s a question that was often taken up by reviewers (some of whom refused to read the book at all) as evidence that his book should be filed in the ‘apartheid wasn’t that bad’ genre, that he was pining for bad old days. I don’t think you’ve ever been accused of that in any way; but I wonder if you can talk a bit about the perils of nostalgia in our cultural moment, in which certain forms of subjectivity and expression are being policed in some ways?

RK  It is an interesting and, for me, a very central question. At times I get despondent about what I’m doing because I think that it could just be dismissed as exercises in nostalgia. I think we tend towards nostalgia as we grow older. Whether nostalgia in general is a pathology or whether it’s something positive, I don’t know. For me the moment we are living in in South Africa is a nightmare moment. So part of my looking back is also to try and deal with this weird and perverse relationship we have between the present – which is a nightmare – and the past – which was a nightmare, but during which we had this hope or this dream of an escape from a nightmare. The thing we looked forward to, that added something to our lives. But that added value is nowhere to be found in the present moment. When I write in ‘Dagga’ about growing up in Paarl, yes it is partly the nostalgia of a man turning fifty and it’s a nostalgia for a place partly because of biographical migrations away from that place and away from the social relations of that place as well. So those are two properly nostalgic impulses. Part of this – and I’ve come across this idea in many writers, most prominently in Mandelstam – is the desire to freeze time. For me that’s what I try almost every time I write a poem, to freeze time in the non-fiction, in the prose – to freeze time at that time when there was still hope, in a way, that’s part of it.

HT  So why is the present a nightmare?

RK  Do you have to ask? I never studied politics or sociology or political economy so I’m very reticent to talk politics as such. That’s probably why I write poetry, because in poetry you can get away with associative meanings. You don’t have to be completely rational, analytic, precise, so you can make political statements under the cover of the associative meanings that poetry allows you. I’m happy to expose myself in my poetry because, I think, there I can say things – maybe it’s a lack of courage, but there I can say things that people can’t challenge me with, with the whole locomotive and carriages of expert knowledge. So I’m reticent to talk about politics straight up, but South Africa is not the place that we imagined in the seventies and eighties that we were going to create. On the one hand conservatives and reactionaries can laugh at us and say ‘Well, what did you expect? What did you expect from a liberation movement that was communist inspired?’ and all that nonsense. But at the same time we had a dream and we lost a dream. What do we do now?

HT  A poem that really struck me when reading across your work was ‘February Moon’, Cape Town, 1993. I was quite taken aback when I saw the date because at the time it must have seemed pessimistic. But now this kind of discourse and this kind of dissatisfaction is gaining ground; in a sense it has become our daily bread. So my question then is about rhetorical exhaustion. Because how can you, on the one hand, ‘make it new’ in the Poundian sense; but, on the other hand, how do you (any ‘you’ that is politically aware) keep saying the same thing for years and years and years? There’s a line from Arundhati Roy that I often think of at the end of her essay ‘The End of Imagination’ – which is about India and its nuclear programme. She says

Let’s pick our parts, put on these discarded costumes and speak our second-hand lines in this sad second-hand play. But let’s not forget that the stakes we’re playing for are huge. Our fatigue and our shame could mean the end of us. (Roy 122)

How does one deal with or ward off a kind of exhaustion about having to say the same things which, in a sense, is what politically astute people have had to do for over two decades now?

RK  If you find yourself repeating yourself, what do you do? For me there is an exhaustion, but not of the imagination. Much of my poetry is not written from the imagination – I don’t imagine scenarios and portray characters in a particular scenario or events. My poetry is directly about a certain reality, my reality or something I see out there, but I understand what Roy means by an exhaustion of imagination and I think our state, our government, our civil servants, the service industry, the way people interact with each other, the advertising industry, representations of South Africa in the media, by our own media, how we see ourselves and how we understand our relationship with each other – there’s no imagination, there’s no vision, there’s no forethought. So my surroundings, my context, my circumstances exhaust me. Especially if they cohere around certain ideas of the nation and what has happened politically in South Africa – that I would have touched on in previous poetry. So you just sit there and you go: ‘Why does no one read my poetry?’ [laughs] It is not just me. This has been one of Kelwyn’s hobby horses; that when you read South African poetry, there has been a constant and continuous fatigue since the early nineties about the new South Africa running through our poetry. But since no one reads poetry, no one’s hearing the poets and no one’s listening to the poets.

At the moment I’m in a kind of trough where it concerns my own writing because a lot of my poetry now has a wider focus; it’s not only about South Africa, it’s about other things as well. And they’re difficult subjects, it’s difficult to treat these subjects with the kind of gravitas that they require and to resolve that treatment in the poetry. And it is not only South Africa; the rest of the world seems to have lost that foresight, vision, imagination in the way global politics and economics are run. My exhaustion is globally inspired, though it may only have a local impact [laughs].

For the full interview, purchase Wasafiri’s Special Issue Unsettled Poetics: Contemporary Australian and South African Poetry (no. 86 Summer 2016) by emailing wasafiri@open.ac.uk

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Are publishers afraid of new ideas? Margaret von Klemperer examines the trend of updating Jane Austen and Shakespeare

By Margaret von Klemperer for The Witness

EligibleWhat is happening to creative imagination? Killed off by a push for profit? These questions are prompted by the arrival on my desk of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible for review. I’ve been looking forward to this – Sittenfeld’s American Wife was a terrific book – and with Eligible, she has been persuaded to join in Harper Collins’s Austen Project.

I thought she might rescue one of the silliest ideas to come from a publishing house in recent years – not as daft as adult colouring-in, but close. The plan was for bestselling writers to “update” Jane Austen’s novels into a contemporary setting, keeping the basic plot. First was Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility (the ampersand to distinguish it from Austen’s version, not that anyone was likely to confuse the two). She could have been a good choice, but she lacked Austen’s delicate sense of irony.

Then we had Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma. I was never going to be easy to convince as this is my favourite Austen, and it was a thumping dud. The plot, which worked in the early 19th Century is disastrously wrong for the 21st, and McCall Smith’s central character is irredeemably nasty in a way Austen’s never is. Val McDermid’s take on Northanger Abbey was harmless but unmemorable. Comedy of manners is tricky when manners have changed so much in a couple of hundred years, and this one fell flat.

They all flopped. Good writers being laced into cripplingly tight corsets. So on to Sittenfeld. She has moved Pride and Prejudice to Cincinnati, called it Eligible after the television dating show in which “Chip” Bingley has been a participant, and produced a lively, hefty (it clocks in at 514 pages compared to the 369 of my battered old P&P) romp. The Bennet girls are older than in the original. Jane teaches yoga; Lizzy is a magazine journalist; Mary a perpetual student and Kitty and Lydia do nothing except tone themselves in the gym and live off their parents. Mrs Bennet is a compulsive shopper and Mr Bennet has been too idle to keep control of his money, so times are about to get very hard. Darcy is an arrogant neurosurgeon, alarmed by the extreme tackiness of the Bennets. It is engaging, and Sittenfeld has found clever ways to deal with things like elopement that would hardly cause a flutter now. Fun, but for a writer of Sittenfeld’s ability, it seems rather pointless.

So, who are the readers for this wobbly collection? Austenites are unlikely to be blown away by a feeble attempt to update their favourite characters. We also know the stories, so narrative tension is long gone. Anyone who hasn’t read Austen is hardly likely to be sent to the originals. Trollope, McDermid, McCall Smith and Sittenfeld fans may be a bit bewildered.

Personally, I blame Colin Firth’s delectable wet shirt moment in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Suddenly, Austen was sexy. So greedy publishers’ eyes turned to pound and dollar signs at the thought of a contemporary bestseller hitched to sexy old Jane. I haven’t seen an announcement of new names attached to Persuasion or Mansfield Park, so I hope this is the end of it.

There has been life in Austen for authors happy to use their own imaginations rather than be dragooned into a publisher’s template. PD James had fun with Death Comes to Pemberley, taking the Pride and Prejudice story forward, and even better was Jo Baker’s dive below stairs in the Bennet household in Longbourn, which is a fine standalone novel. A homage to Austen that digs a little deeper.

Poor old Austen isn’t the only one getting the treatment. There is the Hogarth Shakespeare series where – wait for it – bestselling contemporary authors are reworking the plots of some of the plays into novels. This is actually more successful – a borrowed cloak rather than a straitjacket. Three have crossed my path up to this point, all using problematic Shakespeare texts. Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time is a new look at The Winter’s Tale. The novel is a winner, being clever, sparky, moving and managing to make a kind of sense of what, with apologies to Will, is a distinctly weird story.

Ann Tyler’s Vinegar Girl takes on the rampantly un-PC The Taming of the Shrew. The play is seldom staged these days, but here another writer at the top of her game has picked it up and shaken the pieces into a glorious jeu d’esprit with a fabulously silly twist. When it comes to Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is my Name, I admit to not being Jacobson’s greatest fan, but the novel has been well received and Jacobson has wisely not tried to update the plot but has tackled the underlying themes. Still to come, we have Margaret Atwood’s take on The Tempest, published this month as Hag Seed and set in a prison; Tracy Chevalier’s Othello; Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet; Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and Edward St Aubyn’s King Lear.

But even if all of them, the Austens and the Shakespeares, worked well, I would still ask: what is it for? It is as if publishers, like movie makers who seem to rely on films based on comic book superheroes to win at the box office, are afraid of genuinely new ideas. Attach the names of Austen or Shakespeare to something and make money. But two or four hundred years from now, I doubt if any of the updates will still be around. Unlike the originals.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible is published by Harper Collins.

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