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Archive for the ‘Jonathan Ball’ Category

Book Bites (3 December)

Published in the Sunday Times

My Absolute DarlingMy Absolute Darling
Gabriel Tallent, HarperCollins, R250

It wasn’t the repulsive violence of this novel that defeated me. By now everyone knows that it features incest between a father and his 14-year-old daughter. It was never going to be a comfortable read, but judging by the euphoric reviews one expected something trenchant and thought-provoking. Instead the characters are straight out of central casting — ghastly gun-toting father spouting undigested philosophy before raping his daughter; she the tough tomboy with little interiority; kindly grandfather, caring-but-puzzled teacher. Tallent ladles on description with a palette knife, perhaps in an attempt to lift it to the heights of “literary fiction”, but ultimately it’s a hollow, crassly prurient book. – Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

The Dying Game
Asa Avdic, Penguin Books, R295

Set in 2037, a faceless government coldly manipulates its citizens into overworking at the expense of their personal lives. The central character is Anna Francis, emotionally damaged from a mission on the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. On her return to Stockholm she is promised freedom if she completes one final mission – a high-pressure exercise to test the character of citizens being vetted for a top-secret intelligence post. Anna must travel to an island with an alcoholic colonel, a shallow TV host, one of Sweden’s richest men, a hyper-sensitive HR specialist and a key figure from her past who she thought she’d never encounter again. On the first night she will fake her death then monitor the reactions of the candidates. This well-paced Scandi Noir will certainly keep most readers captivated until the final chilling scene. – Efemia Chela @efemiachela

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic
Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, R285

Hoffman’s prequel to her bestseller Practical Magic is the delightful backstory of the magical Owens sisters’ eccentric aunts, Jet and Frances, and their mysterious brother Vincent. It’s late ’50s New York and the three children are brought up in a strictly no magic house by their parents. But their power cannot be harnessed and when they find out who they are, disaster happens. They realise they can’t love without consequences due to an ancestral curse. A fantastical tale of doomed love. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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“It only gets harder because I have colonised more and more of my interior to look for live material” – Jonathan Franzen in conversation with Michele Magwood

Famed US novelist and birder Jonathan Franzen was recently in South Africa, where he shared literary insights, and a defence of the LBJ, with Michele Magwood.

Jonathan Franzen is, as is his wont, talking about birds. Specifically, South African birds, and, even more specifically, the Cape grassbird. This is a bird that is usually dismissed at a glance as an LBJ – a little brown job, one of those ubiquitous dun-coloured birds that fade into the landscape and live in the shadow of rarer, more colourful birds. But not by Franzen. “I like the little brown ones,” he exclaims. “The Cape grassbird is the epitome for me of what a great bird is – it’s small and unobtrusive and yet when you look at it carefully with binoculars it just explodes with detail and subtle colours.”

Looking carefully and finding subtlety in seemingly ordinary things that then explode with detail is precisely what Franzen does as a writer. He comes heavily garlanded and routinely described as one of the US’ s greatest living novelists, but in Cape Town last week there wasn’t a trace of ego or the testiness he is famous for.

He was in the country for a National Geographic story on seabirds. South Africa, he says, is doing “very good things” for seabirds. He’d added on a 19-day birding tour of the country, and was now planning on getting out into deep water to see what he called the incredibly diverse seabird life off the coast.

Franzen is tall and rangy, woodsy in a way in scuffed boots and a checked shirt. He has beautiful, expressive hands and a mind like a sheathed blade. He has been interviewed countless times but there is none of the well-oiled shtick that many authors inevitably slip into. There are Pinter-long pauses as he considers a question, sighs and glances out of the window as he carefully composes his thoughts. Every now and again a teasing, self-deprecating humour ripples out.

He says he is less angry than he used to be, and less depressed – although he does refer to himself as a “depressive pessimist” – but concedes that there is still simmering anger at “the stupidity of the world and the meanness of people”. What human beings are doing to the natural world, the “atrocious political times in the US”.

He’s dismayed at the Trumpian effect on reading and writing. “A lot of people who used to read books are no longer remembering why they did, because they are so focused now on the outrage of the day. I blame devices. It seems to be an excuse to be distracted by your phone. People claim they have to remain up to date with what’s going on in Washington, but really they’re dependent on the stimulation from that phone.

“To me it makes the role of the writer all the more urgent. People need a haven from this ultra politicised, ultra angry nonsense that is coming at them every waking minute through their phones.”

Since Trump won the nomination, he says, book sales have collapsed in the US.

Franzen has written five novels. The first two, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion, were well-received critically but not commercially. It was the third, The Corrections, that broke out, picking off literary prizes and selling more than three million copies. The infamous spat with Oprah helped, of course, but the two made up when she anointed his next novel, Freedom, for her book club and this time he appeared on the show. His latest novel, Purity, was published in 2015. In the lengthy gaps between books he writes astringent essays in such publications as the New Yorker and the Guardian.

Fiction, though, is clearly his first love, and he returns to it again and again during the course of the conversation, whether pointing out the historical correlation between liberalism and the rise of the novel, his belief that reading fiction is an opportunity to be somebody you aren’t – “very important if you’re living in any kind of diversity as a society” – or the value of escapism. “It’s good to be reminded that there’s a world in which meaning is possible – sophisticated, nuanced meaning, that doesn’t have to reduce to political simplicities. There are other more humane ways to make sense of the world.”

He calls writing “purposeful dreaming” and describes the intimacy of the relationship between writer and reader. “It’s the magical quality of the written word, that what you do as a writer, the process of investing imaginatively in a character or a story in order to put the words on the page, that that experience then gets replicated when you read that page, that the same investment springs up on the reader’s part. That is unique to the written word.”

One of the hallmarks of Franzen’s fiction is his intense characterisation. He leans in and drills down into his characters, excavating them with forensic skill. And when he’s done with excavating them he throws in a hand grenade. Life, he shows us, is messy. He is uncommonly perceptive about the human condition. What is the source, the spring of this perspicacity?

“I wish I could say something completely, brilliantly original,” he chuckles. “But I do go back again and again to my position in the family.” Franzen was a laatlammetjie, his two brothers much older than him. “So by the time I was 10 years old there were four adults in the house and me. They all had powerful, different personalities and although there was never any doubt they loved each other, they didn’t get along all that well. I grew up listening and trying to provide comic relief.”

When he discovered literature in college “it was like someone had handed me a key to understanding why people were saying the things they did. I suddenly had a magic decoder for my mother’s utterances. When I learnt to understand what Kafka was doing, I could understand the subtext of what was happening in the room. What was really going on when my mother would talk about the cranberry sauce. She’s not just talking about the cranberry sauce!” he laughs. “And that’s it right there – as a writer you want to present the cranberry sauce in its full specificity and vividness but you also want to understand what it signifies.”

Just as Franzen excavates his characters, so he excavates his own self, and one gets the sense of how hard the work really is, how psychologically gruelling it is for him.

“The process of trying to find a new character who is vivid to me, who I instinctively love, is in part finding some part of my existence that I have not explored. That relentless question of ‘What does the character want?’ is the medium of self-investigation, really. It only gets harder because I have colonised more and more of my interior to look for live material.”

He has what he calls “shadow documents” for each novel, drawers of abandoned pages and jottings. “The shadow documents are much longer than the books – they consist of almost daily note-taking, relentless psychoanalysis done in the symbolic language of fiction. It’s tedious and repetitive.”

He’s started a shadow document for a new novel he’s working on. “I’ve got, like, two and a half characters and a few pages.

“Each time it feels like I can never do this again.”

The Twenty-seventh City

Book details

Strong Motion


The Corrections





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Jacket Notes: Jakkie Cilliers discusses the three scenarios for South Africa’s future, as featured in his Fate of the Nation

Published in the Sunday Times

Fate of the Nation
Fate of the Nation

Jakkie Cilliers
Jonathan Ball Publishers, R240

I’m not the first writer to try and anticipate the future of South Africa. But where Fate of the Nation differs is in its dependence on data and modelling using a comprehensive forecasting tool called International Futures.

I began to work on forecasting while I was a Fulbright scholar at the Frederick S Pardee eCenter for International Futures at the University of Denver. I used their forecasting system to model the scenarios in Fate of the Nation.

The book is based on a number of papers I have written since 2013. It includes forecasts relating to economic performance, governance and violence/crime with a time horizon to 2034. There is nothing we can do about the past. But we can change the future.

For the ANC to go into the 2019 elections with Zuma at the helm would be disastrous.

In my high-road scenario, Mandela Magic, a reformist coalition triumphs at the December elective conference, modernising the party and putting South Africa on a path to a prosperous future. Mandela Magic is the optimistic story of a country pursuing a clear economic and developmental vision, with a reinvigorated ANC retaining its majority at least until 2029. This does, however, imply the end of the tripartite alliance and a party that embraces growth-orientated policies. But I am no longer sure the ANC is capable of reform.

My most likely scenario, Bafana Bafana, is named after South Africa’s mediocre national soccer team, a perennial underachiever. In this scenario, a mix of ANC traditionalists and reformers are elected in December (or the divisions result in a compromise candidate), an outcome that might keep the party together, but South Africa will merely muddle along.

The worst case sees the ANC split following the election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in December. The result will inevitably be a full foreign investment downgrade, a split in the ANC early next year and the party losing Gauteng to a DA-led coalition in 2019.

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New books for green looks

Published in the Sunday Times

From food and architecture to décor and city living, you’ll find all the inspiration you need right here, writes Roberta Thatcher.

Jane's Delicious A-Z of VegetablesJane’s Delicious A-Z of Vegetables
By Jane Griffiths, Jonathan Ball, R280

Whether you have an established veggie garden or are thinking of testing out your green thumb, this book is an invaluable resource. Jane Griffiths has been growing herbs and vegetables in her Joburg garden for over two decades, and has written several books on the subject, all of which are relevant to our local climate. Her latest is a guide to the vegetables most commonly grown in SA gardens and to the many unusual heirloom varieties that are available. It provides a wealth of information on how to sow, plant, feed, water, protect, harvest and eat the plants, as well as advice on how to save seed for future generations. Written in her quirky, practical style and illustrated with full-colour photos for easy reference, this is a one-stop guide to growing organic vegetables.

HabitatHabitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet
Edited by Sandra Piesik, Thames & Hudson, R2700

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing our planet, and when it comes to architecture, we need to start understanding how to produce buildings that do not rely on stripping the environment or transporting materials across the globe. This beautiful large-format book is the perfect guide to doing so. The result of years of research, the book brought together an international team of more than 100 experts who reveal how people and cultures have adapted to their environment to make the best use of indigenous materials and construction techniques. Notably, it also stresses the importance of preserving craftsmanship and local knowledge.

The Green HomeThe Green Home
By Susanna Vento, Cozy Publishers, R400

With a tagline “inspiring book of plants”, this beautiful tome is just what it sets out to be – and more. Written and styled by Helsinki-based interior stylist Susanna Vento, it features more than 30 Finnish homes, which are not only beautiful in their signature Scandi simplicity, but are filled with stylish indoor plants. While the book is a drool-worthy guide on interiors and home décor solutions, it also focuses on plants and how to care for them. It’s only available online from the publishers, so if you can’t get your hands on a physical copy, you can get inspiration from their Instagram page @greenhomebook.

Garden CityGarden City: Supergreen Buildings, Urban Skyscapes and the New Planted Space
By Anna Yudina, Thames & Hudson, R1250

Urban gardens are transforming our cities, and this spectacular book captures the growing global movement. Showcasing more than 100 projects, the book shows how plants can be used to improve both city landscapes and our quality of life. It’s packed with ideas that can be applied to new buildings and old alike. Think office buildings that incorporate urban farms and exchange the CO² produced by humans for food and oxygen produced by plants, lightweight systems for growing vertical gardens or “tree houses“ the size of city blocks. This book proves that the future of our urban architecture can be self-sustaining and alive.

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Lee Berger’s Almost Human “rollicks along like an adventure story,” writes Margaret von Klemperer

Published in the Sunday Times

Almost HumanAlmost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo Naledi
Lee Berger and John Hawks (Jonathan Ball Publishers, R295)

Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger probably wouldn’t dispute his reputation as a controversial figure – there are those who consider him a publicity-seeker, prone to shoot from the hip when it comes to announcing his discoveries. Be that as it may, he is a born storyteller and populariser of his field.

Berger and John Hawks, who is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have collaborated on this book, which covers more than its subtitle suggests. It starts with Berger’s nine-year-old son, Matthew, out with his father and a colleague on a fossil hunt in 2008 at Malapa in the Cradle of Humankind, turning over a rock to discover an ancient, fossilised collarbone.

That turned out to be Australopithecus sediba, a previously unknown hominin (humans, their early ancestors and related primate species) who walked upright as we do, but displayed many of the characteristics of an ape.

Then, five years after the discovery of A. sediba, Berger decided to have another look at the area around Malapa, suspecting the existence of unmapped caves. So he recruited some skinny amateur cavers (underground passages can be claustrophobically narrow), and a search began. Then, having squeezed through an 18cm gap in the Rising Star cave system, 40m underground, they hit the jackpot – a cave with hominin fossils littering the floor. Homo naledi had been discovered.

Berger is too big to wriggle into the cave – but he’s always up for a challenge. Using Facebook, he advertised for archaeologists and palaeontologists who had caving experience and were small and thin. His assistant was soon alarmed by the messages that poured in for him from women giving their vital statistics. Skype interviews were set up, National Geographic agreed to take the expedition live on social media, and the time-honoured, slow and secretive methodology of the profession was turned on its head.

It makes for a riveting read. Berger’s “underground astronauts” did their job. Even for those of us who don’t know our Australopithecus from our Homo, it rollicks along like an adventure story. There is still debate, of course, about exactly who and what H. naledi was and how the fossils got into the cave, but Berger and Hawks bring these dry bones to exuberant life.

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Prince Albert Leesfees: 3 – 5 November

Book lovers it’s almost time to head for Prince Albert in the Karoo.

The town’s sixth Leesfees takes place over the first weekend of November, with a list of writers, books and performers in a programme that offers something for everyone.

The theme this year is ‘The Soul of the Karoo ~ In die Gees van die Karoo’, with writers, poets, artists, musicians, a comedian and films in the lineup. The talks, presentations and stage experiences include discussions with crime and suspense writers, Rudie van Rensburg (Kamikaze) and Mike Nicol (Agents of the State), debut writers Mohale Mashigo (The Yearning) and Sara-Jayne King (Killing Karoline), as well as academic and novelist, Cas Wepener (Johanna).

Matters legal and political are the subject of Glynnis Breytenbach’s memoir, Rule of Law; she will be in conversation with Tim Cohen.

Our visiting author from Europe this year is Bart de Graaff whose book on the KhoiKhoin: Ik Yzerbek/Ware Mense (translated by Daniel Hugo) traces the experience of the earliest peoples of our land.

Artist Elza Miles has made a major contribution to the art scene of SA, with her historical works on various visual artists, she will be in conversation with writer and journalist Johan Myburg who will also speak about his new poetry anthology Uittogboek.

Rapper, Hemelbesem, Simon Witbooi will discuss his autobiography, God praat Afrikaans with Anzil Kulsen.

Joyce Kotzè and her translator, Daniel Hugo speak about her Anglo-Boer War novel: The Runaway Horses/Wintersrust, fiction based upon fact. Joyce relates how her forebears fought on different sides during the War. They will be in conversation with Carel van der Merwe, author of Donker stroom.

Local ornithologist Dr Richard Dean will launch his book, Warriors, dilettantes and businessmen – Bird Collectors during the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries in South Africa.

Karel Schoeman’s contributions to South African literature will be the focus of a panel discussion with Nicol Stassen and Cas Wepener (author of van Die reis gaan inwaarts- die kuns van sterwe in die werke van Karel Schoeman) co-ordinated by Prof Bernard Odendaal.

New food celebrity Nick Charlie Key will reveal banting tips and how to enjoy a healthy lifestyle whilst indulging in decadent desserts, from his book Jump on the Bant Wagon with food-lover Russell Wasserfall.

Poets Gaireyah Fredericks, Daniel Hugo, Johan Myburg and local raconteur Hugh Forsyth will read some of their favourite poems in English and Afrikaans literature.

Two music and word highlights will be Tribal Echo with Huldeblyk aan Adam Small/Tribute to Adam Small and Afrika my verlange/Afrique mon désir: Laurinda Hofmeyr, Schalk Joubert, with six West African singers, in collaboration with the Cape Town Music Academy.

Our programme includes two films. Director and producer, Roberta Durrant, will attend the Karoo premiere of her award-winning film Krotoa. Eerstewater is a documentary film set in and around Prince Albert based on Hélène Smit’s book, Beneath.

We’ll look at the state of children’s book publishing in South Africa, enjoy an evening in the company of comedian Nik Rabinowitz, enjoy delicious meals at the on-site restaurant and generally savour the Soul of the Karoo.

The 2017 Leesfees is a festival you cannot miss. The full programme can be found on the festival website - – and the Facebook page – offers daily updates on the people, books, poetry and experiences which make up this great cultural event.

Tickets can be bought online at and at the Prince Albert Library, Church Street, Prince Albert. Tel: 023 5411 014. For information and enquiries: and WhatsApp: 073 213 3797.

Agents of the State

Book details


The Yearning


Killing Karoline


Rule of Law


Ware Mense




God praat Afrikaans




Die reis gaan inwaarts


Jump on the Bant Wagon

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Changing History: Jan-Jan Joubert talks to Charles van Onselen about his latest book The Cowboy Capitalist

When Charles van Onselen finds new information about history, he doesn’t allow conventional wisdom to get in his way, writes Jan-Jan Joubert for the Sunday Times

The Cowboy CapitalistThe Cowboy Capitalist
Charles van Onselen, Jonathan Ball Publishers

The Jameson Raid took place in 1896, a British imperialist adventure in which Cecil John Rhodes, Leander Starr Jameson and Joseph Chamberlain failed to overthrow the government of Paul Kruger. They were after gold, right? Not so fast, says South Africa’s most adventurous historian, Charles van Onselen, in his new book, The Cowboy Capitalist. It’s a galloping read which adds further dimensions to the story and turns our understanding of the Jameson Raid on its head.

The book came about by chance when Van Onselen stumbled upon information on the American link to the raid. Through rigorous research, Van Onselen unearthed the role of the American imperialist capitalist John Hays Hammond in the raid, a point proved by Hammond’s being one of the main accused after the raid – which has often been overlooked.

He also focuses on a Boer fifth column centred on Kruger’s political opponent General Piet Joubert, lawyer Ewald Esselen and the poet-journalist Eugene Marais, and their ambivalent role during the raid.

Van Onselen has written about anti-heroes and downright scoundrels on the cusp of the previous century. Why that time frame, and why choose such miscreants as his focus?

“History is about change, and change was on steroids in the Industrial Revolution,” comments the historian, lounging on a sofa in Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel.

“Everything was sped up; structures, processes and people played themselves out. And I’ve always been interested in the overlaps of crime as politics and politics as crime,” he says.

“If a society’s moral and ethical foundations, and its institutions, are weak the powerful will enrich themselves at the expense of the weak.

“As for the main characters, with the exception of Joseph Silver in The Fox and the Flies, who is psychotic, they have virtuous aspects and human weaknesses, but are socially undesirable.

“The figures I focus on are often eccentric and strange, but thematically they illustrate how politics and crime become interlinked. Their behaviour is outside of the norm, and therefore acts as litmus to the norm – which exposes the true norms of their societies. Where they connect, truth emerges. Does man shape society, or does society shape man? Where people are off-centre, like many of the people about whom I write, it tells you much about their society.

“Imagine, for instance, if a thief, a liar and a cheat runs a country, what does it tell you about the country?” he says, and for a moment the divide between past and present becomes unclear.

Van Onselen’s books straddle continents rather than being contained to countries. “The figures I prefer to write about function on a global scale; I don’t regard myself as being confined to writing South African history.

“I am allergic to nationalism. If you confine yourself to the history of the nation state, it becomes a nationalist narrative. The world is much more interesting than that. The world of knowledge has no passports or borders.”

Regarding the Jameson Raid, Van Onselen believes in following the money, and the American expansionist Hammond made a lot of it – he was the highest paid mining engineer in the world at the time.

Racial policy and social justice aside, Van Onselen believes Paul Kruger was an excellent president. “Kruger was the best president this country has ever known. He had to steer an agrarian society into a capitalist, industrialising one within a matter of 10 years and had to deal with the full-scale coup d’etat which the Jameson Raid was. No other president had to adapt so completely,” he argues.

And that is the story he tells in The Cowboy Capitalist – how the Jameson Raid had its roots in the American West and the Confederacy; how Jameson’s personality played a part, and how Rhodes became something of an unwilling accomplice.

In so doing, he asks new questions, sets new paradigms, uncovers new facts and proposes new visions of the past – the very reason no one who loves history and wants to understand this beloved country can afford not to read The Cowboy Capitalist.

It is the way history is supposed to be written.

Book details

Also available as an eBook.

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“I was never ready” – record turnout for the launch of Redi Tlhabi’s Khwezi

The launch of Redi Tlhabi’s long-expected Khwezi: The Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo was launched at Exclusive Books, Hyde Park last night. A rough estimate of 600 (!) people attended. Eusebius McKaiser discussed Redi’s book on what happened to Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo (Khwezi); of what she had to endure from a man she knew and grew up with, and the abuse she had endured from both the public and the state. With this remarkable and considered book, Redi gives agency to Khwezi, and the many women and children plagued by sexual abuse in South Africa.

The second launch of Khwezi is taking place tonight at Love Books, but is fully booked. Keep an eye on Twitter for live updates (@mila_se_kind), and if you’re attending we recommend you include the hashtags #Khwezi and #RediTlhabi to reach a broader audience.

Take a look at last night’s turnout:

Here Redi responds to Eusebius’ question about Zuma’s abuse of power and reaction towards the case:


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More than a memoir, it is a study of grief: Michele Magwood talks to Karina Szczurek about her book The Fifth Mrs Brink

The age gap raised eyebrows, but as Karina Szczurek eloquently writes, her love for Brink was pure. By Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

The Fifth Mrs BrinkThe Fifth Mrs Brink
Karina M Szczurek, Jonathan Ball Publishers

When André Brink died unexpectedly on a flight from Europe in 2015, the literary world mourned the passing of one of its great writers. A flood of tributes and remembrances poured out, obituaries detailed his outstanding career, people lauded his books and awards, his life story was revisited, anecdotes were told, quotes were quoted. But for those who knew André there was a question being asked again and again: “How is Karina?”

Karina Szczurek met Brink when she was 27 and he was 69. There were sneers from those who could not understand the relationship but anyone who spent time with the couple realised that it was a great love. “People who knew us said that it didn’t make sense until they were together with us and then it did make sense,” she says.

An elderly neighbour thought she was an escort that Brink had picked up; another friend that she was an Eastern European mail-order bride. They soon learned that she has a doctorate, speaks four languages and is an esteemed writer and critic.

Szczurek is a graceful, composed woman, who carries herself with a quiet dignity. In this frank and tender memoir she charts their 10-year marriage and the near breakdown she experienced after his death. In doing so the book is more than a memoir, it is a study of grief and loss, describing the splintering pain of bereavement, yawning loneliness and finally the inching climb to wholeness.

In the process she hollows herself out, holding nothing back, charting her disintegration.

“It moves in with you. A creature you did not invite, cannot control or tame. Grief is wild and unpredictable, at first completely inscrutable. It speaks an unknown language and renders yours inadequate. But in the beginning there is silence. After the shattering, all languages become inadequate. You have to learn everything anew. It is impossible to speak if you cannot breathe. ‘Weduwee’, the first word torn out of death’s ribs. Widow.”

She cannot wash Brink’s handkerchiefs, can’t talk about him in the past tense. She stands, catatonic, in the aisles of the supermarket, and cannot read or write. She mislays things, hurts herself doing chores around the house, leaves notes to herself that get lost. She causes a serious accident and writes off their car. Her house – always so safe when Brink was alive – is robbed.

When Szczurek was 10 her family fled communist Poland, crossing the border illegally into Austria where they lived in refugee camps for two years. They were granted asylum in the US and it was there that she was introduced to reading. She had had little interest in books but a librarian in their small town pressed one into her hand and suggested she start to read.

She tells the story now of how, in 2011, she and Brink returned to the town and found the librarian. “Twenty years later I was able to give her one of my books and say ‘thank you, you did this’.”

The family lasted just four years in the US, her parents barely making a living, so they moved to Austria. Szczurek, now set on an academic career, studied in Wales and then in Salzburg, which is where she discovered South African literature. When she fetched Brink from a train station for a conference, it was, she insists, “love at first sight”.

Her memories of their time together glow on the page: of meals in Paris and baths at 3am; of watching Fawlty Towers for the 100th time, of Brink hoarding light bulbs and hotel soaps, of their writing routine. But she writes, too, of his failing health. Shingles, small strokes, a painful knee operation. They have financial worries, he loses confidence in his writing. She is honest when she says his growing frailty terrified her – and him.

She is grateful that when he was dying she was with him, could tell him he was not alone, that she loved him.

“Experiencing the death of another human being has made me slightly less afraid of the future,” she says. “And it does feel as if two-and-a-half years later there is something like peace, some kind of healing is happening.”

This is a beautiful book. Searing, sad, but ultimately hopeful, it is an eloquent testimony to love and to life.

Follow @michelemagwood

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Launch: Khwezi by Redi Tlhabi (27 September)

In August 2016, following the announcement of the results of South Africa’s heated municipal election, four courageous young women interrupted Jacob Zuma’s victory address, bearing placards asking us to ‘Remember Khwezi’. Before being dragged away by security guards, their powerful message had hit home and the public was reminded of the tragic events of 2006, when Zuma was on trial for the rape of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, better known as Khwezi. In the aftermath of the trial, which saw Zuma acquitted, Khwezi was vilified by his many supporters and forced to take refuge outside of South Africa.

Ten years later, just two months after this protest had put Khwezi’s struggle back into the minds and hearts of South Africans, Khwezi passed away … But not before she had slipped back into South Africa and started work with Redi Tlhabi on a book about her life.

How as a young girl living in ANC camps in exile she was raped by the very men who were supposed to protect her; how as an adult she was driven once again into exile, suffering not only at the hands of Zuma’s devotees but under the harsh eye of the media.

In sensitive and considered prose, journalist Redi Tlhabi breathes life into a woman for so long forced to live in the shadows. In giving agency back to Khwezi, Tlhabi is able to focus a broader lens on the sexual abuse that abounded during the ‘struggle’ years, abuse which continues to plague women and children in South Africa today.

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