Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Book Bites: 21 January

Published in the Sunday Times

100 Nasty Women of History
****
Hannah Jewell, Hodder & Stoughton, R315

Every feminist and generally decent person felt a severe pang of disappointment when Trump won the US elections. Hannah Jewell wrote 100 Nasty Women of History in retaliation for his calling Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman”. Open this book and learn the names and stories of some of history’s coolest “nasty” women – like the most successful pirate ever, or some of the many brilliant female poets forgotten over time. Be pleasantly surprised by the number of factors in today’s everyday life that have been shaped by women, like the technology used for Wi-Fi or the numbering system of 1, 2, 3. This light-hearted collection of brief biographies provides, in very crude language and colloquialisms, a small bit of justice every feminist needs. – Jessica Evans

I’ll Take the Sunny Side
****
Gordon Forbes, Bookstorm, R290

Gordon Forbes is best known for his tennis memoir A Handful of Summers, which decades on is still in print. In this new book he returns to the international tennis circuit of yesteryear, but he adds much more. Forbes belongs to a distinguished lunch club that meets once a month and includes such friends as the historian Charles van Onselen, columnist James Clarke and the author Richard Steyn. All are men of letters, all are of a certain age, and they ruminate and crack wise about politics, growing old and sport. From discussing the oysters on the buffet table, to the unseemly yowls of women tennis players to the best boots for the Otter Trail, this is a charming memoir of full lives and friendship. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

Future Home of the Living God
****
Louise Erdrich, Corsair, R295

Louise Erdrich has created a chilling dystopian thriller. In the spirit of The Handmaid’s Tale, women’s bodies are the central theme as Cedar and her family attempt to hide her pregnancy. Evolution has stalled, reversed, genetically malfunctioned, creating religious fervour and a national state of emergency. Women are being torn from their families, held captive, while the survival rate for birthing mothers plummets. This is a new beginning, where your friends may be your enemies, your postman a spy, and women are drafted in and forced to incubate embryos from a different age. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Book details


» read article

Andrew Donaldson on Heinrich Gerlach’s “lost” fictional account of the Battle of Stalingrad, Sue Grafton’s passing, and Michael Wolff’s inside look at the sentient naartjie’s presidency

BACKSTORY’S MAKE FOR THE BEST STORIES

Breakout at StalingradSOMETIMES the story behind the publication of a novel can be even more extraordinary than the novel itself. This is certainly the case with Heinrich Gerlach’s Breakout at Stalingrad (Apollo), which is now published in English for the first time after being “lost” for 70 years. This is the original version of Gerlach’s 1957 classic of post-war literature, The Forsaken Army, an epic, fictionalised account of the battle of Stalingrad from the invading Germans’ point of view.

The 30-year-old Gerlach, an academic, was drafted as a reservist into the Wehrmacht in 1939, and in November 1942 was one of the 300 000 troops trapped by the Red Army outside Stalingrad. When the Germans surrendered in February 1943, only 91 000 remained. Gerlach, severely wounded, was one of them.

As a Soviet prisoner, he worked on an anti-Nazi newspaper, Free Germany. For this he was tried in absentia by the Nazis who sentenced him to death. He also worked on his novel, convinced the Soviets would allow its publication. They confiscated it instead. In 1950, the Soviets offered Gerlach his freedom – if he spied for them. He refused, but then changed his mind when he realised that failing to cooperate would result in a 25-year prison sentence. He was put on a train to Berlin where he was to meet his East German spymasters.

Fortunately, his train arrived hours early. The platform was empty. Gerlich hopped off and caught a local train to the western sector. In West Germany, he returned to teaching – and started afresh with his novel, taking a course in hypnosis to recall the contents of his confiscated manuscript. That 600-page manuscript, untouched for decades, was found in a Moscow archive in 2012 by Carsten Gansel, a researcher working on an unrelated project.

According to the London Sunday Times the differences between the two versions are instructive. “Where The Forsaken Army is almost thematically analytical, emphasising the deliberate betrayal of the army by Hitler and the Nazi leadership, the original Breakout at Stalingrad is more obviously built of viscerally immediate experiences.”

CRIMES & MISDEMEANOURS

Farewell, then, to Sue Grafton, author of the alphabetically titled detective series that began in 1982 with A Is for Alibi who passed away last month at 77.

The series’ female protagonist was introduced thus: “My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind.”

The latest in the series, Y Is For Yesterday (Mantle) was published in August last year. At the time of her death, Grafton had been battling with a final, Z Is for Zero.

Grafton’s daughter, Jamie Clark, has said that it would not be completed. Her mother, she wrote on the author’s website, “would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

EVEN IN WESTERN EUROPE? YES, EVEN IN WESTERN EUROPE. . .

Fire and FuryDid you know Donald Trump pronounced Xi Jinping’s name as “Ex-ee”, and had to be reprogrammed to think of the Chinese president as a woman so that he would be able to pronounce “She” when they met? True story, apparently.

By now, most of us are familiar with the contents of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Little, Brown); its revelations about the childlike nonentity now sometimes resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that made pre-publication headlines are now old news.

Reviews have been mixed. Most of his detractors have accused Wolff of unethical journalism. All those off-the-record comments from Steve Bannon, the most indiscreet of the author’s informants, now on-the-record? As critic Peter Conrad put it in The Observer, Wolff’s observation that Trump is “a symbol of the media’s self-loathing” is an indictment that applies to Wolff in particular.

Conrad does have a particularly elegant turn of phrase. “Fire and Fury,” he writes, “also gives the lowdown on the lacquered trompe-l’oeil that is Trump’s hairdo, with those tinted tendrils combed over a cranium that is totally bald and resonantly empty. But beyond such acts of exposure, what makes the book significant is its sly, hilarious portrait of a hollow man, into the black hole of whose needy, greedy ego the whole world has virtually vanished…”

Fire and the Fury has however found favour in North Korea. According to the country’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper, run by the ruling Workers’ Party, “The anti-Trump book is sweeping all over the world so Trump is being massively humiliated world-wide… Voices calling for the impeachment of Trump are on the rise not only in the United States but also abroad. Since the book was published, it has triggered a debate on whether Trump is qualified to be president, even in Western Europe.”


THE BOTTOM LINE

“Factory manufacture robs us of a special something: contemplation.” – Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands (WW Norton & Company)

Book details


» read article

Win a copy of François Bloemhof’s Feeding Time!

It was recently announced that the Capetonian author, François Bloemhof, a prolific writer of adult, teenage and youth fiction, who has written close to 80 titles, is going to Hollywood!

This versatile writer’s adult work explores thriller, supernatural and more conventional dramatic themes, but for his Hollywood debut, he will be writing the screenplay of a movie with a thriller/sci-fi slant.

A friend encouraged him to pitch for the screenplay for Hollywood. Cleverly, he took the outline of an Afrikaans thriller which was published in 1997, Die Nagbesoeker, and gave it a sci-fi twist. And so, The Night Visitor was born.

The plot centres around the story of a successful city model whose sister is murdered in a coastal town, but hers is not the only murder that takes place! The model, who is already in a relationship, visits the town and becomes attracted to a man who recently moved there. Strange things happen. Friends react unexpectedly. She comes to the conclusion that no one is to be trusted.

Three copies of Bloemhof’s most recent novel, Feeding Time, are up for grabs. To stand a chance to win a copy, simply tell us the title of the Afrikaans thriller which Bloemhof adapted into The Night Visitor. E-mail your answer to mila@book.co.za.

 

Book details


» read article

Man Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan, on his new novel

Published in the Sunday Times

First Person
****
Richard Flanagan
Chatto & Windus, R290

Richard Flanagan has long been an eloquent advocate for the novel form. Soon after his sixth novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, garnered the 2014 Man Booker Prize he reiterated his belief in the indestructibility of novels, and declared “they allow us to come closer to certain truths for which we have few tools to otherwise comprehend”.

So it’s no surprise that he should peer deep into the nature of lies and truth, memoir and fiction in his seventh novel, First Person. But that it should speak so presciently to the nature of our times is something the 56-year-old Australian author shrugs off as “an accident of history”.

Indeed, First Person was seeded back in 1991 by his experiences when, as a young novice writer, he agreed to ghostwrite the memoir of Australia’s then most notorious conman and corporate criminal, John Friedrich, in six weeks for A$10 000. “Half-way through the six weeks Friedrich shot himself,” recalls Flanagan, “and I was left having to invent his memoir”.

Flanagan completed Codename Iago, declaring: “I can vouch for the veracity of none of it” before going on to carve out a luminous literary career with novels that include Gould’s Book of Fish, Wanting, The Unknown Terrorist and The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as the years passed, he says: “I thought often about Friedrich and this bizarre small delirium he’d created that had fleeced millions of dollars out of banks and investors and how, in so many ways, he spoke to the coming age, this new world we’re now living in. I wanted to use that small experience to create a larger story about the world that was coming into being.”

He’s done that and more besides in First Person, which tells of a ghostwriter who is haunted by his conman subject. Narrated by Kif Kehlmann, a reality-TV producer who recalls when, as a young, penniless writer, he agreed to write the memoir of notorious conman and corporate criminal Siegfried Heidl in six weeks for $10000, it is an elegantly written tale. Sometimes comic, often dark, even disturbing, it lingers in the mind long after reading. For Kehlmann enters a Faustian bargain the moment he enters Heidl’s world, a world built on lies and which Kehlmann himself believes presages the world to come, resonant with names like Enron, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns, and where “a malicious future was already with us … a world of compounding fear”.

Despite completing First Person before fake news became an everyday term, before Trump was elected, Flanagan dismisses notions of prescience, pointing out that “the world that allowed Trump to reach the position he has was already in place. And when we talk about ‘fake news ‘and ‘alternative facts’ the question we should be asking is ‘why do so many of us want to believe in these untruths?’ People have to understand how, in the absence of stories that speak to the truth, we will search for stories that speak to lies and the worst in us.”

What intrigues him now “in a world that seems to use the word reality in place of the word truth”, he says, “is how novels seem to be the new counter culture. Novels, when they’re done with enough craft and honesty, they’re not a lie, they’re a fundamental and necessary truth about ourselves. Because a novel is not just what the author intended, it’s what others make of it. It’s in that act of reading where people discover not what the writer intended,” he adds, “but an aspect of their own soul.” @BronSibree

Book details


» read article

Book Bites: 14 January

Published in the Sunday Times

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
*****
Matthew Sullivan, Cornerstone, R290

Prepare to be thrust into the life of Lydia Smith, a clerk at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, as she is plunged into shock, confusion and mystery by an unfortunate discovery during the late shift – a regular customer has killed himself. The suicide forces her to confront a traumatic childhood memory. The plot is complex and puzzling from the get-go and, in the best way, becomes even more so, until ultimately everything links together in a wonderful net of sense and epiphany. Sullivan’s writing is exceptional, and it flows naturally between the past and present and culminates in an absolutely enthralling novel. – Jessica Evans

The Mitford Murders
***
Jessica Fellowes, Little Brown, R275

Fellowes, who has written the Downton Abbey official companion books, has started a new mystery series, The Mitford Murders. The story is inspired by the unsolved 1920 murder of Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of the original Nightingale, on a Brighton-bound train. But in the land of fiction, anything can happen, including an 18-year-old nursery maid and the 16-year-old daughter of a lord turning into sleuths. It is a gentlewoman’s mystery, where the society of pearls and furs collides with the realm of washerwomen and gamblers. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation
*****
Edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, HarperCollins, R270

With all that is happening in Israel, this collection of essays is more important and urgent than ever. Written from inside the territories illegally occupied by Israel, the essays are glimpses into a water-restricted, violent world that finds creative solutions to the problems forced upon Palestinians. Whether it is the story of the soapmaker, the NGO that serves as a utility company or the parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement, each essay looks unflinchingly at life in Palestine and the occupied territories. No light reading, but its clarity and honesty make it as compelling as it is authentic. – Zoe Hinis @ZoeHinis

Book details


» read article

Sam Wilson on the importance of reading to your children, the power of words, and the value of storytelling

Nal’bali column No 1, Term 1: Published in the Daily Dispatch, 15 January 2018; Herald, 18 January 2018

By Carla Lever

Scriptwriter, director and Zodiac novelist, Sam Wilson. ©Matthew Brown

 
Your output is amazingly varied – you’ve penned everything from a conceptual thriller to a comic book series commissioned by the Welsh Rugby Union. Your knack for storytelling has spanned different ages, genres and media. What’s the secret ingredient?

Honestly, it’s poor self control. I can’t say ‘no’ to a project if it sounds interesting, no matter what it is or how much I’m already doing. Occasionally it’s a disaster and I won’t sleep, but at least I tried something new.

You have a lot of fun with words, whether it’s for work or play. For instance, there’s your @genrestories Twitter account, where you pepper us with 140-character short stories in wildly varying styles. What is it about stories and language that gets you excited?

Words are incredibly powerful. You can create thoughts and emotions and ideas out of nothing. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

You’ve written four children’s stories for the charity Book Dash, volunteering with other writers, editors, illustrators and designers for a day of intense work to create open access stories for children that are also printed and distributed locally. What makes you so passionate about this cause?

Literacy is a huge issue in South Africa. Book Dash creates books that are free online, and can be printed and sold by anyone. It’s an amazing way to give every child in South Africa their own books. And I get to do something I love for a great cause.

What was your most recent 2017 Book Dash experience like?

Every Book Dash is great. A large group of people makes new books in a 12-hour sprint. It’s a highly creative environment, and as you can imagine, the kind of people who would do it are the kind of people worth spending time with. It’s a blast, and this year the quality of the final books was extremely high.

A recent PIRLS global report put literacy in SA at crisis levels – 8 out of 10 grade fours currently cannot read for meaning in any language. Where on earth do we start as regular citizens?

The simple answer is, read to your children. It takes time, but nothing will have a bigger impact on their enthusiasm for reading.

You’ve created several children’s books that are entirely wordless. What inherent value do you feel storytelling has for children and adults everywhere?

Wordless story books teach something more fundamental than reading: That if you look at them in the right way, a bunch of flat pieces of paper can become a world full of emotions and surprises and things worth knowing. If kids don’t understand this then they won’t want to learn the squiggly symbols we call words. But once children love books, they’re hooked.

What value is there to always playing with words and ideas?

Play looks messy, but it’s a great way to understand things on a deep level. And if you get really good at play, it becomes indistinguishable from work. People pay you to do it. It happens in an office. It can be really, really hard, and it can take years. The difference is that it’s fun.

You have a young daughter. Can you tell us a little about how you are introducing her to imaginative worlds through books and storytelling?

Matilda has just turned one, and we read to her every day. As soon as she can talk I’ll make up stories for her. I’m looking forward to it, but not as much as I’m looking forward to the stories she’ll be telling me.

Help Nal’ibali read aloud to one million children this World Read Aloud Day, Thursday 01 February! Visit the Nal’ibali webpage at www.nalibali.org to sign up and download the brand-new story by acclaimed South African author, Zukiswa Wanner, in any official South African language. You’ll be joining a wave of adults across the country reading to children and raising awareness of the importance of this simple yet effective activity.

Zodiac

Book details


» read article

A new year, a new pile of books to read…

Published in the Sunday Times

A new year, a new pile of books to read. Here are some highlights to look forward to in 2018, as compiled by Michele Magwood.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (Headline)

Four siblings are told the exact date of their death by a psychic. The novel traces their lives over four decades in a story described as “a moving meditation on fate, faith, and the family ties that alternately hurt and heal”.

Under Glass by Claire Robertson (Umuzi)

The much-anticipated third novel from the award-winning author, set on a sugar estate in 19th-century Natal and chronicling the lives of the Chetwyn family. A deeply researched historical novel and an intriguing mystery, it is described as “a high-stakes narrative of deception and disguise”.

What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson (Little Brown)

A new essay collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist that examines the political climate and the mysteries of faith. She offers hope and a call to action.

Michael K by Nthikeng Mohlele (Picador Africa)

A brilliant take on JM Coetzee’s classic that explores the weight of history and of conscience, by one of South Africa’s most compelling young authors.

Knucklebone by NR Brodie (Pan Macmillan)

Nechama Brodie is a welcome new voice on the krimi scene. This is a disturbing story set in Johannesburg that wrangles sangomas, disillusioned cops and animal poaching.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo (Hogarth Shakespeare)

Setting aside his popular detective Harry Hole, Nesbo takes on Shakespeare’s immortal story. “It’s a thriller about the struggle for power, set both in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind,” he says.

Heads of the Colored People: Stories by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Simon & Schuster)

Timely and darkly funny stories examining black identity in a supposedly post-racial era.

A Spy in Time by Imraan Coovadia (Umuzi)

A new novel from the award-winning Coovadia always creates a buzz. Here he imagines a futuristic South Africa, where Johannesburg has survived the end of the world because of the mining tunnels that run beneath it.

The Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin (HarperCollins)

Has a book ever been as eagerly awaited as this? The sixth novel in the fantasy series on which the TV show Game of Thrones is based is due for release this year. But then, it was due last year too.

Tsk-Tsk: The story of a child at large by Suzan Hackney (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

In a style reminiscent of Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Hackney writes of a childhood on the run, fighting to survive in a world of abandoned and abused children.

The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head by John Hunt (Umuzi)

Surely one of the best titles of the year, it’s the story of a boy growing up in Hillbrow in the ’60s and his friendship with an eccentric homeless person.

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (Pan Macmillan)

The acclaimed Australian author leaves his familiar coastland settings and heads for the interior to the saltland next to the desert. A young runaway is on a desperate quest to find the only person who understands him. Described as “a rifle-shot of a novel – crisp, fast, shocking – an urgent masterpiece”.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson (Transworld)

The popular author’s new novel is based on the life of a female former Secret Service worker. Sure to be another runaway bestseller.

A Short History of Mozambique by Malyn Newitt (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

A comprehensive overview of 500 years of turbulent history, from its modern origins in the Indian Ocean trading system to the 15-year civil war that followed independence and its lingering after-effects.

Toy Boy by Leon van Nierop (Penguin)

Billed as an erotic coming-of-age tale and based on the life of a real person, this is the story of Tristan, a mysterious Johannesburg gigolo.

Homeland by Karin Brynard (Penguin)

The much-awaited English translation of Karin Brynard’s bestseller Tuisland. Captain Albertus Beeslaar is about to hand in his resignation when he is sent on one final assignment to Witdraai.

Brutal Legacy by Tracy Going (MF Books Joburg)

The shocking story of TV star Tracy Going’s abusive relationship that emerged when her battered face was splashed across the media in the late ’90s. She writes of her decline into depression and the healing she has finally found.

The Broken River Tent by Mphuthumi Ntabeni (Blackbird)

An entrancing novel that marries imagination with history, set in the time of Maqoma, the Xhosa chief at the forefront of fighting British colonialism in the Eastern Cape in the 19th century.

The Fatuous State Of Severity by Phumlani Pikoli (Pan Macmillan)

A fresh collection of short stories and illustrations that explore the experiences of a generation of young, urban South Africans coping with the tensions of social media, language and relationships of various kinds.

Born in Chains: the diary of an angry ‘born-free’ by Clinton Chauke (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Debut author Chauke shows how his generation is still affected by apartheid policies but writes with wit and a unique sense of humour about his life. It’s a story of hope and perseverance, and of succeeding against all the odds.

The Golddiggers: A Novel by Sue Nyathi (Pan Macmillan)

The Zimbabwean author recounts the experiences of her fellow compatriots trying to make a life in Jozi. The stories of these desperate immigrants is both heart-breaking and heartwarming.

Cringeworthy by Melissa Dahl (Penguin UK)

Subtitled “How to Make the Most of Uncomfortable Situations” New York Magazine’s Dahl offers a thoughtful, original take on what it really means to feel awkward, relating all sorts of mortifying moments and how to turn them to your advantage.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove Press)

One of the most talked-about books coming in 2018. Described as unsettling and powerful, it is an extraordinary debut novel about a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.”

The Madiba Appreciation Club: A Chef’s Story by Brett Ladds (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

A delightful memoir by Mandela’s former chef, spilling stories about meeting kings and queens, presidents, rock stars and even the Pope, as well as sharing Mandela’s favourite foods. – Michele Magwood, @michelemagwood

The Immortalists

Book details

 
 

Under Glass

 
 
 

What Are We Doing Here?

 
 
 

Macbeth

 
 
 
 
Heads of the Colored People

 
 
 
 
The Winds of Winter

 
 
 
 
The Shepherd's Hut

 
 
 
 
Transcription

 
 
 
 

A Short History of Mozambique

 
 
 
 
The Broken River Tent

 
 
 
 

Freshwater


» read article

“I do believe our nation is scarred by violence” – Rehana Rossouw discusses the issues addressed in New Times

Published in the Sunday Times

New TimesNew Times
*****
Rehana Rossouw
Jacana, R250

Rehana Rossouw follows her award-winning novel, What Will People Say?, with the riveting New Times. Set in 1995, on the cusp of the rugby World Cup, the story revolves around political reporter Aaliyah (Ali), a woman whose faith is at odds with her sexuality.

Rossouw explains that even today, things are not easy for women in Ali’s position: “Muslim lesbians living openly are still very thin on the ground, despite there being mosques for gay people started after 1994. The country has made massive progress … but this has not filtered through in many communities in the grip of patriarchy.”

Ali’s inner tug-of-war does not hold her back in the newsroom. Tenacious and driven, she is chasing one exclusive story lead after another. It is a whirlwind of sources, deadlines, and office politics, a setting that Rossouw knows all too well, having worked as a journalist for over 30 years. That didn’t, however, make Ali’s story easy to write: “I started writing a book about a young woman whose father had died and who was struggling to cope as the head of the household. Three chapters in, my father died and the post-traumatic stress disorder I have been battling with for decades – as a result of the violence I witnessed as a young reporter – hit me hard and long.”

Mental health, violence, and PTSD thread through the narrative, from the newsroom, to Ali’s mother, to Ali herself. “I do believe our nation is scarred by violence,” Rossouw says. But while New Times may be set in the past, it is also a caution to the new generation. Rossouw explains, “The book was started in a fit of anger with the #FeesMustFall activists who blithely believed that their violence was justified because they had to ensure we all understood that Mandela was a sell-out. I wanted to warn them that violence is not a toy and could cause lasting damage.”

The well-drawn characters are damaged – whether an Afrikaans ex-military man turned sports reporter, a gay HIV/Aids activist, or Nelson Mandela’s right-hand man. But these broken souls all have one thing in common: Ali’s family table. This everyday piece of furniture pulls together a sense of community, responsibility and strength. The descriptions of the food throughout the book are so vivid that the smell of home cooking practically rises from the pages.

“The Malay community in Bo-Kaap made a massive contribution to early South African identity with their food,” Rossouw says. “Everyone knows koeksisters and bobotie and all of their sweets. Because the slaves that made up the Malay community had no roots they could pass down generations, their food showed that they were a fusion of Malay, Indonesian, Javanese and Indian people.”

But even a good meal cannot stop the déjà vu when reading about the HIV/Aids crisis in 1995. Yes, ARVs are now available, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that over seven million South Africans are living with the disease, according to UNAIDS data. Nor does it mean the old players in the HIV/Aids denialism have disappeared. “It is astounding that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma considered herself presidential material when she supported the development of Virodene, a toxic industrial solvent, as an ‘Aids cure’,” Rossouw says.

But she is far from giving up: “I am fighting all over again as a novelist.” – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Book details


» read article

“Good, skilful, dirty fun” – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Joseph Kanon’s Defectors

Published in The Witness

DefectorsMaybe it’s because anything seems better than the present, or perhaps the excitingly glamorous art of spying has now been reduced to a slew of dubious “intelligence” reports and fake news, but there’s a lot of fictional nostalgia for the Cold War.

It was ugly, depressing and horrible to endure, but it still makes for great spy thrillers.

This time, it’s Joseph Kanon (Los Alamos, The Good German, Leaving Berlin) who is trawling in the murky waters of the 1960s.

Back in 1949, charming, clever Frank Weeks, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and a leading spook at the CIA was exposed as a Russian spy, and escaped to Moscow, where he and his wife become part of the ex-pat community of British and American traitors, loathed by those they betrayed and not trusted by their new masters.

But in 1961, Frank is given permission to write a memoir explaining his actions, or at least the bits of them the Russians want explained.

His brother Simon, who had been an unwitting source of some of the secrets Frank took to Russia, is now a New York publisher and is invited to fly to Moscow and work with Frank on the manuscript.

As a boy and young man, Simon worshipped his elder brother, but there is now a bitter history, and their reunion is fraught.

Still, a chance to reconnect with Frank’s wife, with whom Simon once had a brief fling, a bit of Russian sight-seeing, a trip to the Bolshoi and so on have their attractions, and glimpses of other high profile spies, both real (Guy Burgess) and fictional, have been laid on, along with the prospect of a bestseller at the end of the process.

But this is the Cold War, and nothing and no-one is quite what they seem on the surface.

As Frank draws Simon into a web of intrigue, the latter catches glimpses of other schemes and forces at play.

Spying is an amoral trade: collateral damage will occur and to those involved, will not matter all that much. The reader needs to concentrate as the tension builds, the complexities increase and the levels of duplicity deepen to a violent and shattering conclusion. Good, skilful, dirty fun. – Margaret von Klemperer

Book details


» read article

The best books of 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

Looking for book recommendations? Who better to ask than the people who create them. Spoiler alert: The Nix gets most votes…

Eusebius McKaiser (Run, Racist, Run)

It is unsurprising that the best local non-fiction titles of 2017 are also the most predictable. They have had public success and rightly so. These include, for me, The Republic of Gupta by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, The President’s Keepers by Jacques Pauw, Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang, Khwezi by Redi Tlhabi, Reflecting Rogue by Pumla Dineo Gqola and Democracy & Delusion by Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh. They deserve to be read, and engaged, as an anthology that brilliantly captures the capture of the state, the danger our democracy is in, the elusive promise of exile that one day home will be safe again, rape culture’s persistence, our various identity journeys and crises that endure, and the disillusionment of the youth with the neocolonial leadership of the ANC government. Painful but urgent truths.

Karin Brynard (Our Fathers)

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead was a late discovery for me. I devoured all three of her novels, but Gilead took my breath away. The prose alone felt like a religious experience, never mind the themes of belonging, redemption, salvation and grace. The Third Reel by SJ Naudé – a two-fisted exploration of art, politics, loss and love – left me reeling. Naudé is destined for a great career. I first read A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg by Harry Kalmer in Afrikaans some years back. I’m glad this gem of a book will now reach a wider audience. Johannesburg is like a bedeviled wife. You eventually become besotted with her. Kalmer shows you how. Having read Paul McNally’s The Street, an excellent real- life account of life on a particular street in Joburg, I no longer marvel at the depths of depravity in our politics.

Paige Nick (Unpresidented)

The Nix by Nathan Hill. It’s a fantastic, immersive, topical read that spans lives and decades. The basic plot revolves around an underachieving writer forced to face his mother, who abandoned him as a child. But it’s about so much more than that, including American politics. Good Cop, Bad Cop by Andrew Brown is riveting non-fiction that changed the way I think about South African divides: humanity, townships, crime and policing. It should be prescribed reading for every South African – law enforcement and politicians in particular. I ugly cried and ugly laughed on consecutive pages. Dark Traces by Martin Steyn is one of the most gripping, graphic, dark and twisty crime thrillers I’ve read. Set in the world of a cop investigating teenage girls who go missing, this is a book of much evil for poor Detective Magson, and the brave reader.

Achmat Dangor (Dikeledi)

All The Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan is a riveting story about a passionate love affair between an Israeli Jewish woman and a Palestinian Muslim man that embroils them in all kinds of turmoil. It bravely crosses ethnic and religious “rivers” that divide people. Exit West by Mohsin Mohammed is told through the eyes of a young couple – Saeed and Nadia – who flee from an unnamed city during a civil war. It explores the traumas that migrants and refugees face, without ever descending into rhetoric. To leave their country, they use a magical system of fictitious doors to places around the world, and the story, as it unfolds, introduces us to a new version of “magical realism”.

Hamilton Wende (Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut)

I’m researching a novel on Ancient Rome and Africa at the moment, so my two best books of the year hands-down are: The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus. Its blood and sex-filled chronicle of betrayal and survival across the Roman Empire is as good as anything in Game of Thrones. My second book of the year is Satires by Juvenal. His descriptions of the excesses of Rome are breathtaking: perfumed wine drunk from conch shells at midnight oyster suppers, dizzy ceilings spinning round and dancing tables. The Roman world without too much politics!

Ray Hartley (Ramaphosa: The Man Who Would Be King)

New Times by Rehana Rossouw brings to life a journalist covering the first years of the Nelson Mandela presidency – and dealing with deep personal issues – with such raw brilliance that it is startling. I was gripped and could not put it down.

Karina Szczurek (The Fifth Mrs Brink)

The following books provided me with intellectual, emotional and aesthetic joy: Ingrid Winterbach’s deeply satisfying novel The Shallows; Hedley Twidle’s great essay collection Firepool: Experiences in an Abnormal World; Sara-Jayne King’s remarkable and moving memoir Killing Karoline; the highly entertaining Rapid Fire: Remarkable Miscellany by John Maytham; Anne Fadiman’s touching tribute to her father, The Wine Lover’s Daughter: A Memoir; and the visionary, beautiful Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndall Gordon.

Mike Nicol (Agents of the State)

Being Kari by Qarnita Loxton is a funny, insightful novel about contemporary life. The Cape Town setting is a bonus. Queen of the Free State by Jennifer Friedman captures the quizzical voice of a young girl growing up in the 1950s. It’s charming. And then the massive Apartheid Guns and Money by Hennie van Vuuren revealed everything we had expected but were too afraid to acknowledge.

Malebo Sephodi (Miss Behave)

Grace by Barbara Boswell will have you gasping at every turn. Her word use is absolutely delicious and the weaving of the story is close to perfection. I would love a sequel because the protagonist has never left me since I read the book months ago. I find myself wondering how she’s coping. If I Stay Right Here by Chwayita Ngamlana. This experimental fiction had me crossing legs. Shifting. Crying. Triggered.

Steven Sidley (Free Association)

The Nix by Nathan Hill is a sprawling tour de force of style and story and character, the great American novel of the year. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry is about forbidden love, deprivation and redemption, the poverty and danger of the American 1850s, told through the eyes and vernacular of a teenage refugee from the famine of Ireland. A masterpiece. Midwinter by Fiona Melrose – a story of two tragedies on two continents and its effects on a father and son, who through mutual awkwardness, incoherent grief and rage play out against their attempts at love and family in the deep and muddy earth of county Suffolk in England.

Diane Awerbuck (South)

Nick Mulgrew’s The First Law of Sadness is tied for first place with Koleka Putuma’s Collective Amnesia. They are both what I love and look for in fiction and poetry: truth in all its awkward beauty. I also love that you can see these two perform their work, because they’re local, and because they care.

Tony Park (The Cull)

The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith, who writes sparingly yet beautifully and still manages to produce a gripping page turner. A disillusioned veteran of Mussolini’s dirty war in Africa returns to civilian life as a fisherman in his native Venice, which is still under Nazi Occupation. Into his lap lands a beautiful, rich woman on the run. Perfect. The Cuban Affair by Nelson Demille is a good example of how an author can try something different without alienating fans. Ex Afghanistan veteran “Mac” MacCormick is lured out of retirement to take a Cuban-American woman back to her ancestral home to rescue a store of treasure. Mac reflects Demille’s own experiences and many others who return home glad to be out of a war zone but missing the military and a life less predictable. He paints a picture of a Cuba crumbling under Communism, but also squeezes in enough rum and rhumba to make me want to visit.

Book details

The Nix

 
 
 

Run Racist Run

 
 
 

The Republic of Gupta

 
 
 

The President's Keeper

 
 
 

Always Another Country

 
 
 

Khwezi

 
 
 

Reflecting Rogue

 
 
 

Democracy and Delusion

 
 
 

Our Fathers

 
 
 

Gilead

 
 
 

The Third Reel

 
 
 

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg

 
 
 

The Street

 
 
 

Unpresidented

 
 
 

Good Cop, Bad Cop

 
 
 

Dark Traces

 
 
 

All the Rivers

 
 
 

Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut

 
 
 

The Annals of Imperial Rome

 
 
 

Satires

 
 
 

Ramaphosa: The man who would be king

 
 
 

New Times

 
 
 

 
 
 

The Shallows

 
 
 

Firepool

 
 
 

Rapid Fire

 
 
 

The Wine Lover's Daughter

 
 
 

Outsiders

 
 
 

Agents of the State

 
 
 

Being Kari

 
 
 

Queen of the Free State

 
 
 

Apartheid Guns and Money

 
 
 

Miss Behave

 
 
 

Grace

 
 
 

If I Stay Right Here

 
 
 

Free Association

 
 
 

Days Without End

 
 
 

Midwinter

 
 
 

South

 
 
 

The First Law of Sadness

 
 
 

Collective Amnesia

 
 
 

The Cull

 
 
 

The Girl from Venice

 
 
 

 
 
 


» read article