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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

A literary tap dance: Pearl Boshomane reviews Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses

Published in the Sunday Times

Black MosesBlack Moses
Alain Mabanckou (Serpent’s Tail)
****

The cliché that comes to mind after reading Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses is “better late than never”, because I had previously never heard of him or his works. And I’m glad that I’m tardy to the party rather than never having cracked an invite at all. The novel, which made the Man Booker longlist, is a delicious read – even if its premise is a tragic one.

The Black Moses of the title is a boy who was named by a priest, Papa Moupelo, when he was a child in an oppressive orphanage. His full name is actually a sentence: Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko, or “Thanks be to God, the black Moses is born on the earth of our ancestors.” While this name might seem almost ridiculous, Moses tries to live up to its meaning – as someone who will lead the lost out of the proverbial desert.

But after Papa Moupelo is plucked from his life and a Marxist-Leninist revolution erupts in 1970s Democratic Republic of Congo, Moses joins a street gang and reinvents himself as Little Pepper, before eventually appointing himself Robin Hood.

Black Moses shows a character at various stages of their life in what feels like a series of screen grabs. That’s not a criticism – it’s one of the things I love about it.

Mabanckou is a delightful writer whose long sentences (much like Moses’ name) are pretty rather than pretentious. Even when he writes about Moses’ descent into madness, it’s hard not to find pleasure in its description, as tragic as the subject matter is.

Example: “My memory problems affected my gait and I started to walk in zigzags because it completely slipped my mind that the shortest route from one point to another is a straight line, which is why, as they say around here, drunkards always come home late.”

If writing really is like dancing as Zadie Smith said, then Black Moses is a literary tap dance.

Follow Pearl Boshomane @pearloysias

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Twists and shouts: Anna Stroud talks to Fred Strydom about his latest novel The Inside-Out Man

Fred Strydom’s new novel explores identity through characters who are striving to find peace. By Anna Stroud for the Sunday Times

Photo © Joanne Olivier

 
The Inside-Out ManThe Inside-Out Man
Fred Strydom (Umuzi)
*****

Fred Strydom was a kid who always asked, “Why?” He started writing as soon as he could read, and in high school he wrote Pulp Fiction-style plays with his friend Sean Wilson that smashed the tedium of traditional school productions. It’s only natural then that his inquisitive mind and subversive streak should culminate in a book like The Inside-Out Man.

“Both The Raft and The Inside-Out Man are books about identity,” Strydom said about his debut and second novel. “[They’re] books about people being scared of who they are.”

The narrator is jazz genius Bently Croud – aka Bent, “the misshapen state” – who meets billionaire Leonard Fry. Leonard presents him with an unusual proposal: live in my house for a year while I lock myself in a room, and let’s see what happens.

Strydom’s characters are unnervingly honest. “Always write from the perspective of the person you trust the most,” he said. He spent the most time with Bent, but there’s also a part of him – a part that scares him – that identifies with Leonard. “Leonard does represent a twisted, idealistic version of how I wish I could sometimes be… to act on impulse, to say ‘to hell with it’, to make rash decisions, to be totally confident and to let the chips fall where they may.”

The setting is Krymeer, a countryside mansion – a three-dimensional character with a locked door at the centre of the narrative.

“Something can only be constricting if it’s alive,” Strydom said. Bent is trapped by the city, the countryside, and the deal he made with Leonard. “Each trap is presented to him as an option out… but it isn’t.”

Bent struggles to cope with the residues of an unhappy childhood – an absent father and an unhappy, alcoholic mother – and his own lack of self-awareness. The one thing he wants, Strydom said, is peace. “I think we’re more aware of how Bent’s past affects him than he’s aware of it.” Leonard, on the other hand, “represents somebody who’s trying to find peace with himself by keeping himself from a world that he can’t fit in with.”

The tension in The Inside-Out Man is maintained by the three characters in the house – Bent, Leonard, and Jolene (Bent’s girlfriend) – and their secrets. Strydom drew on influences like Edgar Allan Poe, the irrational horror of HP Lovecraft, Alfred Hitchcock’s film noir, and Raymond Chandler’s gritty dialogue. “There’s a femme fatale you can’t trust, there’s an anti-hero and there’s a mystery at the heart of it.”

There are strange parallels between Bent and his mother and Jolene and her son. He gets sucked into her world, and soon he can no longer recognise himself in the mirror.

Strydom writes his stories in his head, and finds the act of putting words to paper the “least interesting” part of writing. He wrote a third of The Raft during a road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg. “If it’s good it will stick and if it’s not good it will go,” he said. “It’s just a case of getting a hold of your story.”

Strydom wants his work to inspire people to pursue their own talents. “We should have the courage to be pure storytellers,” he said. “I don’t mind if my book isn’t the best book of the year, but it’s really great if it invites people to take a stab at it.”

If one book can inspire others, it’s The Inside-Out Man. Multilayered, honest and, as promised, a hell of a trip. Don’t try to label it, but if you must, forget about it being speculative fiction. That raft has sailed.

Follow Anna Stroud @annawriter_

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Book Bites: 23 July 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

Kill The FatherKill the Father
Sandrone Dazieri (Simon & Schuster)
****
Book thrill
Dante Torre always thought his life could be divided into before and after. During his 11 years as the abused hostage of a faceless man known only as the Father, every day was caged. After his escape, he seeks to help others and live as normal a life as possible. However, when detective Deputy Captain Colomba Caselli knocks on his door and asks for his help in a case involving the abduction of a child, Dante realises that perhaps there was no “after”. Italian crime writer Sandrone Dazieri is a master of the macabre, weaving a satisfying adventure and creating a sense of lingering paranoia. – Samantha Gibb @samantha_gibb

The Boy on the BridgeThe Boy on the Bridge
M.R. Carey (Little, Brown)
****
Book fiend
This is sort of a sidelong prequel to The Girl With All the Gifts. Not a sequel. But read Girl first and don’t panic when none of the characters is familiar. They become so quickly. Once again Carey writes with a light touch when it comes to the gore and the zombie/“hungries”. Once again there is a humane feeling of empathy with the lead character – this time an autistic boy, Stephen Greaves, who is supposed to save the world with the help of a bunch of scientists. Once again, Carey writes something that will become an important part of apocalyptic references. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

The Fire ChildThe Fire Child
SK Tremayne (HarperCollins)
***
Book fling
SK Tremayne follows in the grand tradition of the Gothic romance in which an isolated woman, an iffy love interest, and the welfare of a child make for compelling reading. In a whirlwind romance, Rachel from the “sarf of London” marries rich, handsome widower David and moves to his historic family mansion in Cornwall, where she lives with her delightful stepson Jamie. David is home only for weekends though, and Jamie changes, becoming remote and claiming his late mother Nina is going to return. Is Jamie hallucinating? Eerie, scary and compulsive reading. – Aubrey Paton

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Curmudgeon dressed as Lamb: Sue de Groot speaks to crime novelist Mick Herron about his irascible antihero in Spook Street

Published in the Sunday Times

Spook StreetSpook Street
Mick Herron (John Murray)
*****

When Mick Herron wrote Spook Street – the fourth in his series of spy novels about a cluster of misfits in Britain’s intelligence service – the Westminster terrorist attack had not yet happened. Nor had the attacks on London Bridge, in Manchester and at Finsbury Park.

All these subsequent events make Herron’s plot even more eerily relevant. Spook Street begins with the bombing of a shopping centre in the UK. (“It lasted seconds, but never stopped, and those it left behind – parents and families, lovers and friends – would ever after mark the date as one of unanswered phone calls and uncollected cars.”)

There is a grim echo, in the deadly flash mob at Westacres “pleasure dome”, of JG Ballard’s dystopian Kingdom Come – but where Ballard’s work is queasily alienating, Herron’s is warmly human.

His characters are flawed and vivid, particularly Jackson Lamb, head of a team of MI5 oddballs nicknamed “slow horses” (their office is in Slough House) and one of the most irresistibly unpleasant men ever to let loose a loud fart.

Herron, who on the phone is thoughtful and polite and about as far from Lamb as it is possible to get, says he has a lot of fun writing Lamb’s political incorrect dialogue.

“It’s kind of a safety valve,” he muses. “Lamb says all the things that you know you can’t say in public – you wouldn’t WANT to say them, you would never want to address other people in the way that he does – but there’s a great deal of fun and mischief to be had in doing it in fiction and knowing that for all the nasty things he comes up with, he’s saying them for effect, to annoy people. If he was behaving like that without being aware of how offensive he was, and actually believed the things he was saying, then he would be a different kind of person entirely.”

Lamb, like all the best characters in fiction, has slipped the bonds of his creator’s keys and taken on a life of his own. Herron says he often wonders what lies beneath the irascible old spy’s obnoxiousness.

“I know that there are things in his past that I haven’t fully uncovered. A key line to his character, from a previous book, is ‘when the Berlin wall came down he built another one around himself’. And there’s a line in what I was writing just this morning [the fifth book in the series will be published in 2018] where one of the other characters says Jackson ‘spent half a lifetime going to battle for what he believed in, and the second half of his life revenging himself on a world that seemed to have screwed things up anyway’.

“I think there’s a great deal of disappointment and bitterness there, and being obnoxious is his way of coping with it all, but I’m not sure I want to uncover the exact reasons behind the bitterness. I think one can destroy a character by probing too deeply into the reasons why they are how they are. I think it’s more fun just to let them get on with it. I’m very much enjoying winding him up and watching him go.”

Herron has the same attitude towards the universe in which his plots play out. He can be prescient about the real world but does not set out to write social commentary. In Spook Street he writes that the mall attack became “a made-in-Britain version of all those headlines, which had shrunk over the years to a page-7 sidebar, about events in distant marketplaces. Nothing brought the meaning of ‘suicide bomber’ home quite so hard as familiar logos glimpsed through the rubble.”

Having previously written successful crime novels, Herron turned to the world of spying because he “wanted to look at a broader canvas. One of the things that drove me to that was the bombings in London, the 7/7 bombings, that brought home to me how these huge events impinge on the lives of all of us, and that you don’t have to be a particular expert to have an opinion and to write about that sort of thing.

“These things are now happening … it’s not unusual to pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio and find that something very like that has happened – it’s chilling, and it now seems to be an ever-present danger, so that’s what I wanted to write about, the fact that we have those dangers there among us all the time.”

His focus, however, is always on the story. “I’m a novelist, and I do want to entertain, and the fact that I’m drawing the source of my entertainment from the real world is obviously a very important part of it, but I don’t feel that I have anything especially to warn people about or to tell them about, I’m just writing about how I perceive things to be. I don’t think anybody’s going to learn very much from my books, I do hope they will be entertained, thrilled, maybe shocked occasionally.”

Who should play Jackson Lamb?
Given the growing popularity of Herron’s novels, there will undoubtedly be several screen versions of the world’s rudest spy. When it comes to the actor who would best portray Lamb, Herron says: “If we went right through anyone who ever lived, it would be Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958). Physically, I think he looks like Lamb in that film; and his voice tone would also be about right.”

Not so silent: Lamb quotes
“The next sound you hear will be me, expressing confidence.” He farted, and reached for the cigarette behind his ear.

“So you’re the boss of the famous Slough House,” Flyte said. “Isn’t that where they keep the rejects?”

“They don’t like to be called that.”

“So what do you call them?”

“Rejects.”

“That is quite possibly the worst cup of tea I’ve had anywhere. And I’m including France in that.” – All said by Jackson Lamb in Spook Street

Follow Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

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“Now is the time for SA to take up the pen and not the sword”: AVBOB launches poetry campaign

Today, Mandela Day – AVBOB are launching their much anticipated Poetry Campaign.

Now is the time for us, as a nation, to take up the pen and not the sword. This is when we should focus on what unites, rather than divides us. And the AVBOB poetry project strives to do exactly that.

Facts about the campaign:
• To bring this poetry project to life, AVBOB are launching a website – www.avbobpoetry.co.za – on 18 July 2017, on Mandela Day
• Open to all South Africans in 11 official languages
• As a token of our appreciation, an incentive of R300 will be paid to each person who’s poem is selected for our library on the website
• The winners in each language category will be awarded at a prestigious event in March 2018 and will receive a cash prize

When grief has rendered us mute, poetry enables us to capture the legacy of our loved ones for all eternity, and to express our loss in a meaningful way.

From left – Johann de Lange, editor-in-chief for the AVBOB poetry project, Mr Frik Rademan, CEO of AVBOB, Dr Mantoa Motinyane-Masoko, senior lecturer and head of African Languages and Literatures at UCT and Dr Stanley Madonsela, Directorate: African Languages, University of South Africa and Daniel Hugo, Afrikaans editor for the AVBOB poetry project.

 

A letter from CEO at AVBOB, Frik Rademan:

AVBOB has decided to sponsor a poetry platform, but that would be a gross over-simplification. The truth is, neither AVBOB nor any other business can actually ‘sponsor’ poetry. All we can claim is that we wish to be associated with the power of poetry – and with the beauty of the human spirit.

To suggest that AVBOB can do anything meaningful for poetry would therefore be completely erroneous. Rather, it is the other way around: poetry can mean so much to AVBOB and its people.

Ever since its inception in 1918, AVBOB has belonged to ordinary people. Indeed, it was originally established for humanitarian reasons to help families in times of need during the difficult years after World War I, when people suffered bitterly.

Today, 99 years later, people still suffer, and despondency is becoming an ever-increasing threat to our self-preservation. People are generally divided and riven with uncertainty. Work is scarce, and meaningful work even scarcer.

Loss makes people vulnerable, whether it is the loss of income or the loss of a dream at the death of a loved one – a mother, a father, a child – and, consequently, we are at a loss for words to say goodbye. And if we do not have the words to send off our loved ones, the ritual of parting is muted.

AVBOB’s invitation to poets to write poems with an elegiac feel in all our official languages is thus, of itself, a strategic decision, aimed at building a bridge between those who have the words (established and aspiring poets) and those who so desperately need to hear those words (the bereaved). The sponsorship is thus aimed at providing a platform for poets, both unknown and lauded, to offer words of comfort through their craft.

To bring this poetry project to life, AVBOB are launching a website – www.avbobpoetry.co.za – on Mandela Day, 18 July 2017 at 1pm, that will be completely devoted to South African poetry. The main features of the website are twofold. First, we want to publish as many quality new poems as possible, in all 11 of the official South African languages. These poems will be freely available to all lovers of this enchanting and everlasting literary form, and to all those searching for a verse to give expression to the complex and unique emotions they are experiencing.

Secondly, the website will form the platform from which we will launch a nationwide poetry competition. Again, just as AVBOB belongs to the people, so too does poetry – it knows no boundaries, and transcends all differences. For this reason, we have made a massive effort to make the competition as inclusive as possible. The competition will thus be open to all South Africans, in all 11 official languages, to celebrate the richness and diversity of all the voices of our land.

Should a poem be accepted by one of our editors, it will open up a world of exciting new opportunities for the entrant of the poem. First, every poem which is approved by the relevant editor will feature alongside other poems on the AVBOB poetry website, where it will become part of a library of content to provide words of beauty and comfort to the people of South Africa. As a token of our appreciation, an incentive of R300 will be paid for each poem selected.

In addition, all entrants of approved poems will be in line for the AVBOB Poetry Prize, in the specific language categories (there will be a winner in each language). The respective prizes will bring cash rewards.

This initiative is by no means accidental. I am extremely grateful to say that, over the years, AVBOB has been a proud supporter of the arts in our country. We have always believed that the arts provide emotional and intellectual upliftment for our people, and that it is a way to liberate them from the difficulties of daily life.

Every person who enters the Poetry project will stand an equal chance for their work to feature alongside that of some of our most accoladed poets in a 100-poem print anthology, entitled “I wish I’d said”. The anthology will be published in August 2018. The title of the anthology will also be the theme for the poetry competition. This theme resonated deeply with us because all of us, at some point in our lives, have felt regret for the things we’ve left unsaid. Perhaps we wish we’d said, “I love you”, “forgive me” or “I will never forget you”.

Regardless of what this phrase means to each individual, it is our wish that the AVBOB poetry project will become a vehicle for people to finally express those unspoken whispers of the heart.

When grief has rendered us mute, poetry enables us to capture the legacy of our loved ones for all eternity, and to express our loss in a meaningful way.

Now is the time for us, as a nation, to take up the pen and not the sword. This is when we should focus on what unites, rather than divides us. And the AVBOB poetry project strives to do exactly that.


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Book Bites: 16 July 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The CowsThe Cows
Dawn O’Porter (HarperCollins)
****
Book fling
It’s OK not to follow the herd. That’s the premise of The Cows, a powerful novel about three women judging each other, but also judging themselves and their ideas of children – wanting one, having one, and not wanting them. Tara, Cam and Stella are living their lives as best they can, but being constantly pressured to conform, they find it hard to like what they see in the mirror. When an extraordinary event brings them together, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all. This is a surprisingly funny novel. – Nondumiso Tshabangu @MsNondumiso

Here Comes TroubleHere Comes Trouble
Simon Wroe (Orion)
***
Book buff
Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian flair is reborn in Simon Wroe’s Here Comes Trouble. Kyrzbekistan, a fictitious Eastern Bloc country, is caught in the thrall of political turmoil that may sound all too familiar to many South Africans and Americans. As load-shedding seems to become permanent, troubled teen Ellis Dau attempts to rise to the occasion by restarting The Chronicle, his father’s independent press. Ellis’s humour (both intentionally and otherwise) is snort worthy. An excellent read for YA and new adult readers. Those over 30, however, may feel that they’ve heard this tale before, despite the fact we are living it today. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Last StopThe Last Stop
Thabiso Mofokeng (BlackBird Books)
*****
Book buff
Macko just managed to escape with his life after a bullet that was meant for him killed a child instead. His body may have survived but his mind is lost. He keeps seeing “things” and his stress is made worse by his dodgy taxi-owner boss and his money-grabbing girlfriend. Thabiso Mofokeng has done a sterling job of bringing to life the very real struggles of a taxi driver. It’s a poignant read and if you, like many, choose to forget the serious issues engulfing our country, this book will force them upon you. Thabiso, sir, never stop telling these very important truths. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

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Goethe Institute to launch Library Gamebox Hub on July 29th

Join the Goethe Institute for the launch of their Library Gamebox Hub and discover Joburg’s brand new space for gamers, creative professionals and book lovers.

WHEN?
29 July 2017
Open Day 3.30 – 7.00pm

WHERE?
Goethe-Institut Johannesburg
119 Jan Smuts Avenue
2193 Parkwood

WHAT?
Come to their Open Day and:

· Enter the brand new Gamebox and discover the latest from the world of video games, including Virtual Reality
· Explore the space in a playful way through an Actionbound Rallye
· Try out a range of analogue games or jump into one of the Cosplay costumes
· Apply for a space in their new hub, which offers working spaces for individuals and collectives from the creative world
· Sign up for their library membership and select from an extended offer of books, magazines, films, music and children’s literature – from Germany, South Africa and other countries
· Enjoy the fully refurbished interior and use the space to study or research
· Come through with your kids and show them the children’s corner

Check out the Facebook event page for more!


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Jacket Note: Rafique Gangat on his book Bending the Rules

Published in the Sunday Times

Bending the RulesBending The Rules: From De Klerk to Mandela – Stories of a Pioneering Diplomat
Rafique Gangat (Kwela)
 
 
Bending the rules, challenging the system, finding common ground, making a difference – and sometimes paying the price for it – has been the story of my life. I have many stories to tell, and always wanted to share them, but I had no idea where to begin.

A few years back, it started as a selection of short stories that could have only happened in South Africa. I was South Africa’s first diplomat of colour – I worked for Foreign Affairs under the National Party and then for the ANC government, straddling the transition.

This book documents my battles against bigotry and prejudice, but also includes stories from my travels – which then gave it an entirely different complexion. Finally, they assumed a life of their own as they threaded themselves into a memoir of short stories.

The manuscript went into hibernation until a meeting with Professor Brian Polkinghorn of Salisbury University. He was teaching a course on conflict resolution and mitigation at Tel Aviv University and was accompanied by a group of his Israeli and Palestinian students. I met them to discuss the role I had played as a talkshow host on a radio station, facilitating dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. A project that was untimely curtailed.

I mentioned to Brian that I had written a collection of short stories. He expressed an interest and I e-mailed them. He responded: “What an interesting set of stories! I can’t help but think you are a ‘character’ that has made it through some incredibly tough and historic times due to the sheer intellectual prowess and guts one needs to pull off some of the things you have accomplished. I think these short stories act as bursts of insight on all matters social. Love, drugs, music, morals, immorality, oppression, racism, sports, pulling fast ones, working with historical figures, and, in all of that, seeing the irony, innocence and contradiction.” That encouraged me to seek a publisher.

Later, he even honoured me by inviting me to Salisbury to be their keynote speaker on their annual theme – ‘One person can make made a difference’. To the theme, I added, ‘By Bending the Rules’. That’s where the title of the book came from.

And then I met JM Coetzee at PALFEST, a festival of literature in Palestine, and I was bowled over by a note he sent: “This is just a note to thank you for Bending the Rules, which I read during the flight back to Australia and enjoyed very much.” – Rafique Gangat

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Applications for ANFASA Grant Scheme for Authors now open

ANFASA, the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa, announces the next round of the grant scheme to benefit authors of academic and general non-fiction works

What is a “general non-fiction work”? Just as an example, it could be a biography or an autobiography; a history of a town or a region or a religion; a book about music or sport or theatre; a political or social analysis; an account of everyday life in a township; a book about nursing, or cooking, or fashion, or fishes, or traditional medicines, or cars – those are just a few of the many topics supported by the ANFASA grant scheme in the past.

If you are currently working on a scholarly or a general non-fiction work, you are eligible to apply. However, although we accept applications from authors whether or not they are ANFASA members, only ANFASA members may actually receive an award. The grants are intended to provide a sum of around R20 000 to R25 000 to be used for an author to “buy time” – to take leave, for instance, and devote herself or himself to writing; or to travel in order to conduct research. The grants are for research and writing and do not cover the cost of publishing the manuscript.

An independent committee will assess the applications and select the most deserving. The selection committee aims to offer awards to a wide-ranging group of authors and subjects, and the selection process will respect the need to treat new and experienced authors equally; to bear in mind authors writing in rural as well as urban locations; and to consider authors at all levels of education from the untutored to the degreed. The ANFASA grant scheme especially encourages writing by new authors. Applications for books written in all the official languages will be equally considered.

Go to http://www.bursaries2017.co.za/general-bursaries-south-africa/anfasa-bursary-grant-scheme/ to apply online or send an e-mail to info@anfasa.org.za. The closing date for applications is 30 September, and the successful applications will be announced in December.


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Jozi’s Books & Blogs Fest 2017

Jozi’s Books and Blogs Festival is a gathering of Jozi’s Best-selling authors, award winning journalists, acclaimed bloggers and future literary artists.

Showcasing the literary greats so as to inspire and challenge the young and old in our communities to become more involved in reading and writing.

When: Sunday, 30th July 2017
Where: SBSM INDEPENDENT SCHOOL, Gate 3, 24 Salvia Street, Extension 3, Lenasia
Time: 9h30 to 16h00
Please note: The programme is subject to change without prior notice.
General Admission Ticket: R10 for adults and R5 for children

There will be stalls selling educational books, educational toys and children’s books in the school hall.

Parking will be available in the neighbouring school grounds.

The Bookseller will have a pop-up-stall where readers will be able to buy copies of the participating authors’ books, as well as have their books signed. Credit card facilities are available.

For the full programme and a list of literary personnel please see: https://jozisbbf.com


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