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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Kingsmead Book Fair programme and authors announced!

Authors, editors, poets and publishers will congregate at Kingsmead College on Saturday 12 May from 8:30 AM to 6 PM for the seventh annual Kingsmead Book Fair.

Bibliophiles can expect an assortment of literary discussions including deliberations on political unrest in South Africa, culinary conversations with some of South Africa’s most prolific food-writers, and the mysterious processes authors go through to get their stories onto the page.

Authors you can look forward to include Achmat Dangor (Bitter Fruit, Dikeledi), Sisonke Msimang (Always Another Country), Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Stay With Me), Claire Bisseker (On the Brink), Fred Khumalo (Bitches’ Brew), Fred Strydom (The Inside-Out Man), Glynnis Breytenbach (Rule of Law), Gregg Hurwitz (HellBent), Ishay Govender-Ypma (Curry), Kate Mosse (The Burning Chambers), Jacques Pauw (The President’s Keepers), Sally Partridge (Mine), Zinzi Clemmons (What We Lose), Pumla Dineo-Gqola (Reflecting Rogue), Redi Tlhabi (Khwezi), Tracy Going (Brutal Legacy), Rehana Rossouw (New Times), Peter Harris (Bare Ground), Mandy Wiener (Killing Kebble), and many, many more…

Kingsmead Book Fair supports numerous literary projects across the country, encouraging and instilling a love of reading and contributing to South African literacy rates across the board. The Link Reading Programme, Alexandra Education Committee, Sparrow Schools, Read to Rise, and St Vincent’s School for the Deaf are all supported by this singular book fair.

The full programme for this year’s fair is available here.

Tickets can be purchased online via WebTickets.

‘Til May 12th!

Bitter Fruit

Book details

 
 
Dikeledi

 
 
 

Always Another Country

 
 
 

Stay With Me

 
 
 

On the Brink

 
 
 

Bitches' Brew

 
 
 

The Inside-Out Man

 
 
 

Rule of Law

 
 
 

HellBent

 
 
 

The Burning Chambers

 
 
 

The President's Keeper

 
 
 

Mine

 
 
 

What We Lose

 
 
 

Reflecting Rogue

 
 
 

Khwezi

 
 
 

Brutal Legacy

 
 
 

New Times

 
 
 

Bare Ground

 
 
 

Killing Kebble


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The Killing of Butterfly Joe is a tale of violence, guns and greed – and the process of storytelling – told from a prison cell, writes Anna Stroud

Published in the Sunday Times


Rhidian Brook’s protagonist sells butterflies in glass cases – a job he once had. Pic: Nikki Gibbs. © Unknown
 
The Killing of Butterfly Joe
****
Rhidian Brook, Picador, R285

The Killing of Butterfly Joe is a fast-paced, neo-gothic thriller that starts in the Catskills Mountains of New York and takes the protagonists on a whirlwind adventure across America. The provocative set-up of the title adds to the sense of dread as the story unfolds, while cutaway scenes reveal the narrator is telling the tale from his prison cell. From the start we know that the narrator, Welsh wannabe-writer Llew Jones, is in for a wild ride when he becomes entangled in the Bosco clan and their butterfly business.

Rhidian Brook is like his main character – a Welsh novelist, except he is successful and living in London with his wife and two children. This year readers can look forward to a film based on his 2013 novel The Aftermath, starring Keira Knightley.

Brook explains where this latest novel comes from: “When I was 23 I had a job selling butterflies in glass cases in America. I worked for a guy who, as well as being a butterfly salesman, had ambitions to be America’s first Pope (an ambition he ditched on account of wanting to marry). I drove all over the US and sold in 32 states. It was 1987 and was pre-internet and pre-mobile phone, which increased the sensation of having an adventure in a land far, far away. I was not a novelist at the time but I told myself that I had to write about these butterflying days if I could. And so I did – 30 years later.”

The characters are well-rounded and entertaining. There’s Joe Bosco, the charismatic, dynamic oldest son; Edith, the powerful, terrifying matriarch; Isabelle, the sensible sister; Mary, the sensual sister; and Clay, Elijah and Celeste who, like the narrator, come to the business in unorthodox ways.

Brook says the characters’ interaction is vital to the story: “Llew is coming into an established, albeit eccentric, family in which there are different temperaments and different histories all clashing. Part of Llew’s journey is working out who is true and trustworthy. The characters also bring out the best and the worst in our narrator.”

Llew and Joe’s relationship reminds the reader of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby; Llew is enthralled by the sheer magnitude of Joe’s personality and despite his affection for both sisters, it is Joe he loves.

Joe was inspired by two “untameable, creative/destructive mavericks” in literature, The Cat in the Hat and Zorba the Greek. There are echoes of Kerouac and F Scott Fitzgerald in the story, and Brook unpacks the notion of the American Dream in a new and refreshing way.

“The American Dream is a chimera. And yet, the sense of possibility – the idea – of America is so powerful it gives you the feeling that you can do and be anything. And sometimes that happens. Joe actually despises the idea of it – for him it stems from the constitution’s attempt to encode happiness in law. He also thinks it’s a kind of idolatry. In his view America is a religious country but its real religion is money, backed by violence and guns. True religion has been lost.”

Writing is a central theme as elements of storytelling appear throughout the book. Joe tells Llew, “If it’s your story, you can do what you like with it”, Joe makes up his own words and Llew admits he’s an unreliable narrator. Brook says: “I was interested in the tension between experiencing versus imagining, but also how we can sometimes stumble into being writers via the most unexpected roads. Llew gets to write his ‘Great Welsh-American Novel;’ just not in the way he expected.” @annawriter_

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“His Michael K has to stand on his own. And he manages to do just that.” Lorraine Sithole reviews Nthikeng Mohlele’s Michael K

Published in the Sunday Times

Michael K
****
Nthikeng Mohlele, Picador Africa, R220

Nthikeng Mohlele is brave to bring out a book under the heavy shadow of JM Coetzee’s classic The Life And Times Of Michael K. His Michael K has to stand on his own. And he manages to do just that. Mohlele writes his story beautifully with a tactile sensuality. He arranges words, sentences and paragraphs like a gifted composer.

The book begins with Miles, the narrator. We are then transported to Dust Island where Miles meets Michael K, who has nothing but the rags on his body, a few seeds, a bent spoon and a string.

Miles spends 31 months on the island, hoping that being with Michael K will awaken his inner poet. In those months, he is fascinated by Michael K’s harmonious existence with nature. No more than two words are exchanged between them, and Michael K remains an enigma to Miles as he lives a life devoid of earthly trappings.

Miles leaves Dust Island following a tragic event. He settles in Johannesburg with the intention of writing poetry, a quest he hopes will get him to live on the periphery of life. Miles soon discovers that, unlike Michael K, he cannot exist merely by the soil.

Miles becomes consumed by Michael K. He questions, prods and dissects Michael K’s existence. How does a man grow into an adult having not touched and experienced carnal pleasures? A shot of good whisky? A great piece of steak? Having not voted? Not participated in a protest?

Michael K survived wars and deprivation but came out with his soul well on the other side. Maybe, just maybe, Miles thinks, we are not fully living because of the societal, economic, political and cultural pressures. Maybe Michael K was the answer to a life of true freedom for he was beholden to no one. To nothing.

As in his previous novels Rusty Bell and Pleasure, Mohlele writes with an orchestral precision about the nature of pleasure and existence. Lorraine Sithole @LS3841

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Book Bites: 15 April

Published in the Sunday Notes

The Swimming Lesson and Other Stories
****
Kobus Moolman, UKZN Press, R160

Like his poems, Kobus Moolman’s short stories examine life through what can be described as a philosophical lens. The story “Like Father, Like Son” explores the impressions of religion – its restrictions on desire and language, its racial stratification, and its love, presaging violent discipline in obedience to God, nation and family. Though distinctly South African and context-specific, there is something general about contemporary society. At the same time, “The Rubbish Collectors” is a small story about who cleans up after whom. Whether it’s Maggie who smells of cigars, not perfume, or Jesus waking you up in the night because he has something on his mind, it’s the oracy of these narratives that will keep you turning the pages. Chantelle Gray van Heerden @CGrayvH

The Wicked Cometh
***
Laura Carlin, Hodder & Stoughton, R275

“Danger is never overcome without danger,” is how Hester White has survived in the Victorian-era slums since the death of her parents. But fortunes appear to change when a carriage accident sweeps her into the arms of the wealthy Brock family, under the tutoring care of Rebekah. Yet the aristocratic world is not as far away from the slums as it first appears, tugging the women down into the depths of mystery and murder. A sensuous Gothic tale that is slow to begin, picking up as the plot thickens and twists. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Force of Nature
****
Jane Harper, Little Brown, R275

Beware the office team-building experience, especially when they take you out to the wild. In Australia. This is the second outing of Harper’s detective Aaron Falk and this time he investigates the disappearance of Alice Russell, who vanishes one night after her team of female co-workers lose their way in the forests near Melbourne. Alice is a police informer, forced into getting files on the nefarious dealings of her firm. Falk needs to find out if any of her colleagues or bosses know what she was doing. Harper won plenty of awards for The Dry, and the pace, setting and constructed character building of this follow-up will most probably garner more accolades. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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“An excellent novel about the issue of comfort women” – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Mary Lynn’s Bracht’s White Chrysanthemum

Published in the Witness: 12/04/2017

White Chrysanthemum
Mary Lynn Bracht, Chatto & Windus

THE issue of “comfort women”, kidnapped by Japanese forces from Korea and China and forced into prostitution for the use of their soldiers is one that has simmered shamefully along since the end of the Second World War.

Neither the Japanese nor the Korean governments have shown sufficient willingness to confront the issue, let alone insist on a genuine apology or reparations from the Japanese side. It has taken determination by the surviving women themselves – now very few – and other activists to drag this horrible episode into the light. They erected a bronze statue of a comfort woman, the Statue of Peace, in Seoul opposite the Japanese embassy: the Japanese demand its removal as the precursor to any kind of admission or apology.

Mary Lynn Bracht, a Korean-American, has taken the subject of comfort women for her very impressive debut novel.

The politics and history of Japan, Korea, China, Manchuria and Mongolia are little known in the West, and make a fascinating and elegantly illuminated backdrop for the stories of two sisters, Hana and Emi. They live on the island of Jeju off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula and are the daughters of a haenyeo, one of the women who dive for fish and crustaceans. Even under Japanese occupation, it was a powerful, matriarchal society, now sadly reduced to little more than a tourist attraction.

Bracht’s novel is told in alternating chapters by Hana and Emi. Hana’s are set in 1943, the year in which, as a young woman diver, she rushed out of the sea in an effort to save her little sister from a Japanese soldier she saw approaching. She did save Emi, but was herself taken captive and removed to a life of abuse and rape at a military brothel in Mongolia. Emi’s story is set in 2011 when she is an elderly woman, consumed by guilt that her sister vanished while protecting her and still desperately trying to find her, or at least discover where she went and what was her fate.

Perhaps Bracht is guilty of striving a little too hard for a sense of closure, if not exactly a happy ending to a story that ended badly for the estimated two hundred thousand women taken into slavery and for those left behind, but this is fiction and in White Chrysanthemum, she has created two powerful and unforgettable characters. And shone a spotlight not only onto an episode that should never be forgotten but onto the plight of women and girls in all theatres of war. An excellent novel.

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Book Bites (8 April)

Published in the Sunday Times

Darwin Comes To Town *****
Menno Schilthuizen, Quercus, R315

This book started many conversations: with my children, husband, his co-workers and friends. It contains observations on how animals and plants are evolving and adapting to urban landscapes. There are crows that have alarm systems for approaching hunters, catfish that have figured out how to catch pigeons, mosquitoes that have evolved different varieties for different tunnels of London’s Underground, and Sendai crows who, in Japan, use slow-moving traffic as their nutcrackers. Fascinating. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

After the Fire ****
Henning Mankell, Harvill Secker, R280

Mankell is famous for his thrillers featuring the melancholy Wallander, but this is the last book he wrote before his death in 2015 – and it’s different. It is not about crime, nor is it thrilling. It is, however, vastly compelling. This is the elegiacally written story of Fredrik Welin, a doctor who retired in disgrace to the family home on an island in the Swedish archipelago. Old age is starting to bite and Welin has few friends. As in a Greek tragedy he loses everything when his home is destroyed in a fire the police suspect him of setting. He endures a grim winter of discontent, but does not give up. Others die, or leave, but he continues until spring brings warmth and new hope. It is a fitting epilogue to Mankell’s oeuvre. Aubrey Paton

Year One ****
Nora Roberts, Little Brown, R295

There’s romance but it’s a smidgen compared to how broad Roberts goes in her latest endeavour – a trilogy of post-apocalyptic fiction. An untreatable flu has spread. Originating as a curse in Scotland on a magical rock where a bird’s blood released it, two billion people were subsequently infected. Now survivors have to leave the cities where The Raiders — a group intent on looting, raping and murdering – rule. The good survivors have to find solace but it’s not just The Raiders out to get them. The government is taking them against their will, and the evil of the dark forces – witches and wizards – has been increased by the curse. It’s incredibly entertaining. Most horribly, book two is out only in December. Boo. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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Knucklebone – the debut novel of veteran writer NR Brodie – was started six years ago. Read William Saunderson-Meyer’s interview with the author

Published in the Sunday Times

NR Brodie, author of Knucklebone. ©Sarah de Pina (Sunday Times).

 
NR Brodie is Nechama Brodie – veteran journalist and bestselling author of five non-fiction books. Knucklebone is her first novel – an unusual thriller about poaching and magic, driven by an engaging ex-cop, Ian Jack, and former colleague Reshma Patel.

Your previous writing was non-fiction. Now you produce this crime/occult thriller out of the blue. Explain.

It’s the illusory magic of publishing, that anything happens ‘out of the blue’. I started writing Knucklebone nearly six years ago, finished a first draft five years ago. Fiction publishing is a constant exercise in patience and humility.

If you had asked me, as a child, which I was more likely to write, it would have been magic, made-up stories. The non-fiction happened by accident. A very happy, wonderful accident, but not intentional.

Now I sit in the fortunate position of really loving both. I have an unpublished young adult fantasy, and another two works in progress. They all have an edge or core of the supernatural or fantasy. I write the stories I love to read.

You wrote a highly rated contemporary history of Johannesburg and one of the pleasures of Knucklebone is that you know the city so well. Tell me about you and Joburg.

When the first edition of The Joburg Book came out in 2008, it was harder for people to declare their love for the city. The book was part love song, part dirge, part call to action. The city felt rough, but redeemable. And it has done more than that in the last decade.

Nobody owns Joburg, which is the way it should be. But Joburg is a character. I have a very specific relationship with its parts. What does fear feel like in a suburb? What does belonging feel like in another place?

When you write histories of cities – I have written a history of Cape Town, too – you train yourself to observe people and spaces in specific ways. I try and imagine or understand how the parts fit into the whole. Joburg is unique, in the ways that it threatens you and the ways it rewards you.

Sangomas and witchcraft are a reality for many. Suburban covens of white witches, perhaps less so. How does it all fit into your world view?

I encounter many people who put faerie signs in their gardens, or dreamcatchers in their cars, but would treat African traditional beliefs as primitive or suspect. But, yes, sangomas are a reality in many lives. I would be wary of using the term witchcraft. It implies a great deal and not mostly positive. When used in print, it is often to do with the murder of a woman, typically an elderly woman, accused of ‘witchcraft’. Usually that has very little to do with actual traditional beliefs, and more to do with systems of fear, suspicion. Old women are easy targets. This book attempts to acknowledge that, and unpack some of our societal prejudices.

I am writing my PhD thesis on murder. I spend my days trying to explore rational explanations for things that, honestly, are so damn hard to explain. I reject the Hobbesian notion of life as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. But it also is like that. The entire world exists on a spectrum.

There are charlatans that try exploit the gaps between faith and facts. Prayer doesn’t cure HIV. Neither does olive oil and garlic and African potato and vitamins. But that doesn’t mean faith, belief, has no place. Perhaps the shorter answer is: just because I don’t believe in something or I can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true, or that it doesn’t exist.

During the writing of the book, I did meet and talk with women who identified as what perhaps we would call witches, and who also referred me to other reading and resources on magic and pagan beliefs in South Africa. I also met and consulted with different izangoma, at different stages of my work.

As regards the poaching, I think I started off with what I had read in the news – at the time I started writing Knucklebone, rhinos were big in the news, and the carnage seemed to defy any rational explanation. I don’t believe stereotypes of supposedly hypersexed Asian men count as valid explanations; even a slightly more nuanced reading of stories on animal poaching shows how poor these stereotypes are in informing us of reality, and how wide the web is outside of Asia.

There’s a lovely touch of Hogwarts on the Highveld about the way that Ian Jack changes from prosaic cop to warrior against the forces of darkness. What are your fictional inspirations? What are you reading?

Jack is looking for a way to do the right thing, without becoming part of the wrong things. I think this is a personal conflict for me, for many people. How do you make your community safer without having armed patrols infringing on others? Am I going to donate towards anti-poaching mechanisms that target poorly educated poachers and local communities, rather than the fat cats?

Reshma is the bureaucrat – she wants to do the right thing, but also wants to follow the instructions. Ian doesn’t think the instructions work anymore, but he doesn’t want to turn into a law of his own, which is kind of like his dad and many apartheid-era cops were. Magic is just a narrative device for hard human choices.

I like characters that are a little cynical, but who don’t give up too easily. Hard-boiled detectives, the guys Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett wrote about. But a little less boiled, less resilient. I like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch a great deal. I was a big fan of the late Sue Grafton and her PI, Kinsey Millhone. Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski is still a favourite. I like Deon Meyer’s Bennie Griesel but I I want to shout at him sometimes – the character, not Deon – which is a sign of engagement.

I have a growing pile of books to be read. I have to read by mood. I can’t do certain books when I’m not in the right frame of mind. I really want to get to Christa Kuljian’s Darwin’s Hunch, about the African origins of humankind and racism in paleo sciences. And I need to get properly stuck in to Hennie van Vuuren’s Apartheid Guns and Money. I have Nick Harkaway’s novel Gnomon lying on my dining dining room table (which is where I also work), but I’m not allowed to read it until I’ve met certain writing targets on my own books. @TheJaundicedEye

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Toll of madness, redemption of love – Michele Magwood reviews Zack McDermott’s Gorilla and the Bird

Published in the Sunday Times

Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love
*****
Zack McDermott, Piatkus, R315

This book is one of the gems of the year, the true story of a young man who suffers a catastrophic psychotic break and his sliding, slipping climb to normality.

Zack McDermott was a promising public defender in New York, an idealistic man raised working class in Wichita, Kansas, “a baloney sandwich throw from the trailer park”. His mother nicknamed him Gorilla as he was barrel-chested and hirsute. He calls her The Bird because of the small, avian movements she makes with her head. The Bird taught high-school English to the roughest students, gathering “any thug, gang-banger, ex-con or other members of the discard pile” around their dining-room table every afternoon for extra lessons.

It was understandable that he would want to become a lawyer defending “the dregs, the cast-offs, the addicts and the Uncle Eddies”. Uncle Eddie, it turns out, was institutionalised for schizophrenia.

So mental illness is in the family gene pool, but in Zack’s case it has manifested as Bipolar 1 disease.

Pitched straight into the gutting system in New York, he soon feels overwhelmed by the responsibility of his job and the hopelessness of his abject clients.

At the same time he is doing some fairly crazed stand-up comedy at night. He’s smoking dope, not sleeping, not eating. And one morning he steps out into the city believing he is being filmed, Truman-style for a real-life documentary. We want to avert our eyes as he careens through the day, until he ends up shirtless and shoeless on a subway platform, sobbing. From there he is transported by police to the pysch ward, deep in psychosis. Only the Bird can rescue him.

Seeing it from the inside, bipolar is utterly terrifying, and Zack’s struggle – he has more breakdowns – is deeply affecting. But the story belongs to the big-hearted Bird, too, for her determination to not let go of him. @michelemagwood

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Yewande Omotoso shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018!

The shortlist for the International Dublin Literary Award 2018 has been announced and it boasts a South African title!

Congratulations to Yewande Omotoso, whose novel The Woman Next Door (Chatto & Windus) was selected as one of the 10 shortlisted titles. This isn’t the first time that Yewande’s literary ingenuity has been recognised – The Woman Next Door was also shortlisted for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize 2017.

This prestigious award is cited as “the world’s most valuable annual literary prize for a single work of fiction published in English”. Books are nominated for the award by public libraries throughout the world; the South African titles were nominated by Cape Town Library and Information Services. Local authors Mohale Mashigo (The Yearning) and Nthikeng Mohlele (Pleasure) appeared on the longlist.

The winner will be announced on the 13th of June and will receive €100,000.

Good luck, Yewande! :)

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Wenners van die 2018 UJ-pryse bekend!

Die wenners van die gesogte UJ-pryse vir letterkunde is onlangs bekendgemaak.

Dié pryse woord jaarliks in twee kategorieë toegeken vir uitsonderlike Afrikaanse boeke wat in die vorige kalenderjaar gepubliseer is. Genre word nie in ag geneem nie met die beoordeling van die boeke nie.

Prysgeld vir die UJ-debuutprys beloop R30 000 terwyl die wenner van die UJ-prys met R75 000 beloon word.

Die wenners!

Jolyn Phillips. (©Naomi Bruwer)

 
Die wenner van die UJ-debuutprys is Jolyn Phillips vir haar digbundel Radbraak.

Radbraak is Jolyn, kortverhaalskrywer van Tjieng tjang tjerries, se digdebuut in Afrikaans.

In dié digbundel verbrokkel sy taal, draai sy rug op haar vel-taal, pleeg sy ‘radbraak’ op haar eie taal. Dit is die enigste medium wat sy het, maar sy breek dit, sy vernuwe dit, sy ‘ont’taal dit.

Phillips is ’n nuwe stem in Afrikaans – by tye liries maar deurgaans skreiend en ook uitdagend.

Volgens bekroonde digter Petra Müller is Radbraak ’n ‘klein aardbewing van ’n bundel’.

Ook uit Müller se keurverslag:’Hierdie skrywer het die engel in die klip beet.’

Jolyn Phillips, 27, is gebore en getoë in Blompark, Gansbaai. Haar debuutkortverhaalbundel, Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories, verskyn in 2016. Sy is tans besig om met haar doktorale tesis aan die Universiteit van Weskaapland (UWK). Sy beskryf haarself as ’n woordswerwer maar werk ook deeltyds as ’n dosent en sangeres.

SJ Naudé. ©Liné Enslin.

 
Die wenner van die UJ-prys is SJ Naudé vir sy roman Die derde spoel.

Etienne is twee-en-twintig en studeer filmkuns in London nadat hy uit Suid- Afrika gevlug het om diensplig te vermy. Dit is 1986, die tyd van Thatcher, optogte teen apartheid, en Vigs, maar ook van eksperimentele kuns, postpunk en die Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Etienne raak verlief op ’n Duitse kunstenaar in hierdie skadustad waar mense in bouvallige kunstenaarskommunes woon.

In Londen kom Etienne af op die eerste van drie filmspoele wat tydens die dertigerjare in Duitsland verfilm is. Etienne begin na die verlore spoele soek, ’n soektog wat ’n obsessie word wanneer sy geliefde vermis raak in Berlyn. Terwyl Etienne die gevaarlike ruimtes weerskante van die Muur navigeer, begin die verhaal van ’n groepie Joodse filmmakers in Nazi-Duitsland vorm aanneem.

Etienne word egter teruggeruk na die hede en na Suid-Afrika, maar sy soektog na die vermiste film duur voort.

Argitektuur, kinematografie, seks, musiek, siekte, verlies en liefde deurweek SJ Naudé se kosmopolitaanse en roerende Die derde spoel, waarmee hy nuwe grond vir die roman in Afrikaans breek.

Boekbesonderhede


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