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Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Ons Klyntji launch (5 December)

Established as a title in 1896, Ons Klyntji has risen, died, been reborn, died off again and finally been reinvented somewhere in the murky 1990s to become what it is today: a 144 page, pocket-sized annual of the doen en late of South Africans at home and abroad.

Afrikaans and English sit side by side (plus bits and bobs of other languages) to create a kind of restless vernacular in poem-form, short story-shape, photographs, cartoons, funny things, rude things, sad things and just plain truths too.

The 2018/19 edition of Ons Klyntji Internasionaal will be launched at The Book Lounge on Wednesday 5 December at 5:30 PM for 6 PM.

Zines will be on sale. RSVP to

Oh yes, there will be free wine!

Ons Klyntji is sponsored by Oppikoppi music festival and Woordfees.

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Book Lounge 11th Birthday Bash (30 November)

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“Fame went to my balls.” Eric Idle’s ‘sortabiography’ is funny, clever and moving – but watch out for earworms, writes Michele Magwood

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life ****
Eric Idle, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, R330

“I honestly think there are more hours of documentary about Python than there are hours of Python,” writes Eric Idle. “So, to the mass of mangled memories do I now add my own muddled, prejudiced, and deeply cynical account of what I think might have happened? Of course.”

In what he calls a “sortabiography”, Idle looks back over his 75 years, beginning with his dreadful childhood and ending with his comfortable life in California now, with a great many mad antics in between.

The book should come with a warning sticker: beware earworms.

If one of the best ways to appreciate life is to have had an unhappy childhood, he says, then he was very fortunate.

He was just three when his father was killed. Having survived the war as a rear gunner on a bomber, Ernest Idle was killed in a road accident hitching home for Christmas after being demobbed.

Idle’s mother sank into a depression and he was looked after by his grandparents. Then, when he was seven, he was sent away to a Dickensian school for orphans.

Beaten and bullied for 12 years, he developed a sharp tongue and an ever sharper sense of the ridiculous.

“Humour is a good defence against bullying. It’s hard to hit a smaller boy when you are laughing.”

It was a scholarship to Cambridge that saved Idle’s life. It was there he started writing comedy sketches and joined the famed Footlights Club. It was a springboard to what would eventually become Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

“George Harrison once said to me, ‘If we’d known we were going to be the Beatles we would have tried harder.’ I think the same could be said of Monty Python. How on Earth could we possibly know we would become them?”

There is much about the early days of Python that will delight fans, such as the genesis of some of their best-loved sketches. Idle wrote the “Nudge nudge” routine when he was barely out of university and it is said that Elvis loved it so much he called everyone “squire”.

The character of Brian from The Life of Brian was originally going to be the 13th disciple.

“He was given the job of trying to book a table for the Last Supper: ‘No we can’t do a table for thirteen. I can give you one of six, and then another for seven over by the window.’”

The film would never have been made were it not for ex-Beatle Harrison footing the bill. Asked why he had mortgaged his baronial home to finance the film, he said: “Because I wanted to see the movie.”

Idle name-drops with a front-end loader in this memoir: partying with Paul Simon, Andy Warhol, Billy Connolly, Prince Charles, Keith Moon, but you forgive him for it because it’s always such a hoot. He had very close friendships with Harrison and Robin Williams, and his notes on their passing are deeply moving.

Idle might have scores to settle – he hints at a few of them – but he’s not doing it here. Instead this is an account of a life very well lived.

He fesses up to some pretty bad behaviour in the early years – “In my case, fame went to my balls” – and his chronic infidelity led to the collapse of his first marriage. He’s been married to his second wife, Tania, for 41 years now and is a devoted father.

What strikes the reader is how hard he has worked, and still does. Even now he is busy writing the film version of his hit musical Spamalot.

He comes across as a genial, still mischievous old cove, and this book is nothing like the “muddled, prejudiced, and deeply cynical account of what I think might have happened” he promises.

He may have written the immortal lines “Life’s a piece of shit/when you look at it”, but Eric Idle’s life has been anything but. @michelemagwood

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What keeps you awake at night? “A fear of losing our freedom” – a Q&A with Khusta Jack

Published in the Sunday Times

What book changed your life?

The Struggle is My Life by Nelson Mandela. I read it when I was at school before I became politically involved in the struggle.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?

I loved the animals in the African traditional stories, especially uMvundla, the Hare.

What phrase do you most overuse?

“That’s life.” I think what I am saying is accept your situation and work from there.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

Zakes Mda, the late Chris van Wyk and Peter Mtuze.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

What novel would you give children to introduce them to literature?

My kids enjoyed Holes by Louis Sachar when they were young teens.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

Xhosa Poets and Poetry by Jeff Opland, a collection of Xhosa literature. My children gave it to me as a Christmas present last year.

What is the last thing that you read that made you laugh out loud?

Parts of the book Shirley, Goodness and Mercy by Chris van Wyk – his life and how he portrayed it was poignant and funny.

What keeps you awake at night?

A fear of losing our freedom, and my children having to fight for emancipation all over again.

What books are on your bedside table?

The Broken River Tent by Mphuthumi Ntabeni and Still Grazing by Hugh Masekela.

If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?

There is no substitute for hard work. Being humble is always safe. It is cheaper to keep yourself out of trouble than to get out of trouble.

To Survive and Succeed: From Farm Boy to Businessman by Khusta Jack is published by Kwela, R280

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Liquid lunches, labouring over finding the right authors, and an objective to explore the lives of a remarkably varied set of people – Bill Nasson on co-editing Illuminating Lives

Published in the Sunday Times

Illuminating Lives
Edited by Bill Nasson and Vivian Bickford-Smith
Penguin Random House, R280

Now both ageing and growing grumpy, my fellow book editor Vivian Bickford-Smith and I had been feeling for some time that it would be a good idea to try something different in the field of South African biographical writing.

Avoiding the packed gallery of this country’s usual suspects – either worthy or dubious political figures – we decided to create a collection of fresh and attractively-written short biographies that would portray the rich and complicated South African lives of a dozen or so local men and women.

Having a go at a book which is a collection of pieces by a range of authors means that you have to start by taking a deep breath. Getting the whole thing done depends on the speed of the slowest tortoise.

Some contributors may write too much, while others may write too little. There is also the risk of writers changing their minds and handing you something you hadn’t been promised.

Pulling it all off needs a lot of planning.

We did this over numerous liquid lunches in a Cape Town bistro which has now closed down, possibly to save what was left of its wine stock.

We took our inspiration from the crusty old English historian GM Young, who suggested over 70 years ago that “the best record of a nation’s past that any civilisation can hope to produce is the biography or memoir of an individual’s life”.

In history, what mattered most is not what happened, but how people experienced it personally, and how they felt about the changing circumstances in which they found themselves.

With that settled, we had to choose whose stories we wanted to be told, and to find the right authors for interesting biographies. In the end, rather than try to act as an amateur dating agency, we decided to do it back-to-front.

We first hooked a distinguished group of writers to craft the collection of biographical essays which make up Illuminating Lives, and then asked each of them to select an individual whose story they would like to tell.

We had in mind an assortment of people as our subjects, some known, others virtually forgotten, and yet others unearthed and brought to life through brief biographies. Even the most ordinary among them would have some streak or other which was extraordinary. And in having their personal life stories illuminated, their often moving experiences would in turn illuminate the different South African worlds within which they moved.

What we wanted were memorable portraits to capture the imagination of readers, almost to visualise a vivid moment of a life captured on a potent page.

It might be the Xhosa Presbyterian missionary evangelist Tiyo Soga landing in Port Elizabeth in 1857 with his Scottish wife, Janet. Or the African landscape artist JK Mohl turning up with a painting for Princess Elizabeth during the 1947 Royal Tour. Or Jane Turner, mother of murdered anti-apartheid activist Rick Turner, running a tea garden on the Stellenbosch farm that she owned and managed in the ’50s.

As these examples show, our objective is to explore the lives of a remarkably varied set of people, coping with existence and livelihoods in both a distant and a more recent past. As we put a premium on variety, the individuals upon whom light would be thrown include a colonial administrator, a pilot, a teacher, a cricketer and a poet. Our authors also reflect variety – historians, journalists and novelists. South Africa needs the freedom of flowers. If not a thousand, may 11 bloom here as chapters of Illuminating Lives.

Book details

  • Illuminating Lives: Biographies of Fascinating People from South African History edited by Vivian Bickford-Smith, Bill Nasson
    EAN: 9781776092642
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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The 2018 South African Literary Awards winners announced


The 2018 winners of the prestigious South African Literary Awards were announced at a gleaming awards ceremony on the 6th November at UNISA.

Twenty-three South African authors were shortlisted for 2018 South African Literary Awards (SALA). The winners, which include authors, poets, writers and literary practitioners whose works are continuously contributing to the enrichment of South Africa’s literary landscape, were celebrated in an auspicious ceremony.

The SALA Awards have honoured over a hundred individuals in the past 13 years. 2018 marked the highest milestone of the awards, as the shortlist included, for the first time, two additional categories: Novel Award and Children’s Literature Award.

Following the passing on of the second National Poet Laureate, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile, the prestigious South African Literary Awards announced liberation struggle poet and novelist Mongane Wally Serote as the successor.

Kelwyn Sole received the Poetry Award for his anthology Walking, Falling, whilst South African journalist, writer and publisher Sam Mathe got the Literary Journalism Award.

The Lifetime Achievement Literary Award was jointly awarded to author of historical and political Hermann Giliomee and award winning author Ronnie Kasrils.

The Chairperson Award was given to South Africa’s most distinguished award-winning photo journalist, Peter Magubane.

The Novel Award was awarded to Dan Sleigh for his book 1795, with Malebo Sephodi receiving the First-Time Published Author Award for her memoir, Miss Behave.

Nick Mulgrew and Nicole Jaekel Strauss were announced as joint winners for the Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award for The First Law of Sadness and As in die mond, respectively.

Jürgen Schadenberg was the recipient of the Creative Non-Fiction Award for his monograph, The Way I See It.

The Conference also took place at UNISA over two days, i.e. 6th and 7th November 2018 under the theme “Unifying Africa: Writing and Reading in African languages”, with keynote speaker Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah, the renowned, highly respected scholar, prolific author and public speaker who is also the founder of the Center for Advanced Studies of African Societies in South Africa.

“Indeed, as it’s main aim, SALA continues to strive to become the most prestigious and respected literary accolades in South African literature,” said Morakabe Seakhoa, Project Director of the South African Literary Awards.

Founded by the wRite associates, in partnership with the national Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in 2005, the main aim of the South African Literary Awards is to pay tribute to South African writers who have distinguished themselves as groundbreaking producers and creators of literature, while it celebrates literary excellence in the depiction and sharing of South Africa’s histories, value systems and philosophies and art as inscribed and preserved in all the languages of South Africa, particularly the official languages.

“We congratulate the 2018 winners for their sterling work and keeping South Africa’s literary heritage alive,” says Morakabe Seakhoa.

Book details

1795 by Dan Sleigh
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624073307
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
Miss Behave

Miss Behave by Malebo Sephodi
EAN: 9781928337416
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The First Law of Sadness

The First Law of Sadness by Nick Mulgrew
EAN: 9781485625780
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
As in die Mond

As in die Mond by Nicole Jaekel Strauss
EAN: 9780795801358
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
The Way I See It

The Way I See It: A Memoir by Jürgen Schadenberg
EAN: 9781770105294
Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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Michelle Obama, DJ Sbu and Jamie Oliver headline the 2018 Exclusive Books Festive Catalogue

Via Exclusive Books

Exclusive Books has made gifting easy for South Africans this year, with more than 100 titles to pick from in its annual festive catalogue – including Becoming, Michelle Obama’s personal account of her upbringing, her life in the White House and what it’s like to raise two daughters under the media’s glare.

The catalogue is available free from Exclusive Books stores from 1 November.

“There’s a book for every age and taste,” said Ben Williams, GM: Marketing at Exclusive Books, “and plenty of local flavour mixed in with the international blockbusters.”

Alongside Becoming, other such blockbusters will include Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and Out of the Maze: A Story About the Power of Belief, the final book by Dr. Spencer Johnson, of Who Moved My Cheese? fame.

DJ Sbu’s The Art of Hustling: Sell or Surrender headlines the business category with Johnson. “It’s the book that will launch a thousand SA entrepreneurs,” said Williams.

For cookery enthusiasts, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Cooks Italy will transport home chefs to the Bel Paese, while Simply Zola by Zola Nene serves up a South African taste sensation.

John Grisham’s Reckoning stands tall in the fiction section, along with George RR Martin’s Fire and Blood and Deon Meyer’s Prooi. “Take them all to the beach!” said Williams.

For younger readers, the Harry Potter Pop-Up Guide to Hogwarts is set to provide hours of fun, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid box set – all twelve books in one place, at a special price – is a sure-fire future heirloom for every reading family.

On the sports scene, Shane Warne’s autobiography, No Spin, has already set tongues wagging – with sledging to follow, no doubt.

“We’re promoting several books at very special prices,” said Williams, “including Jeffrey Archer’s Heads You Win, an epic tale of fame and fortune that begins in Leningrad, Russia, and will be sure to please his legions of fans. We understand that customers are under ever more pressure and have worked hard to ensure they can find something for every family member at the right price.”

Fanatics members will earn double points on all the books featured in the catalogue.

Spread the magic – give a book this season, with Exclusive Books.

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Book Bites: 28 October

Published in the Sunday Times

Melusi’s Everyday Zulu ****
Melusi Tshabalala, Jonathan Ball Publishers, R220

Peals of laughter shook me. The cat ran off without looking back. “Doctor” Tshabalala takes politics head-on, wades through current affairs, family, being a “grown-up” (so many aren’t!) and muses on 21st-century life as a Zulu man with the same wild abandon and unexpected humour. You can learn a Zulu word a day (actually about three), on his site or his Facebook page and blog, as this comedian/social guerrilla infiltrates White Monopoly Culture. But it’s the light touch that does it, the gentle prodding that makes you wish you were learning the entire depth of the Zulu culture and language. A really, really fun read. Ngiyabonga kakhulu Melusi! Ungaphumalela na! David Forbes

The Last GirlThe Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and my Fight Against the Islamic State ****
Nadia Murad and Jenna Krajeski, Virago, R225

Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad’s childhood in the Yazidi community was a happy existence in a village of peasant farmers in an area of Iraq that was a curious melting pot of religions – Muslims, Christians and the ancient Yazidi sect – who in the main tolerated each other. But in 2014 that all changed when Islamic State fighters destroyed her village, killed almost all the men, including six of her brothers, and many of the women and took Nadia and other young women to be sex slaves; to be abused, raped and dehumanised. She eventually escaped, and a Sunni Muslim family risked their lives to get her to safety. Resettled in Germany, Nadia is now an advocate for the Yazidi cause and has spoken all over the world, including at the UN. Her story is a stark and compelling reminder that victims of war include more than the corpses you see on the evening news. Margaret von Klemperer

An Unquiet PlaceAn Unquiet Place *****
Clare Houston, Penguin, R260

Neglected, lost and fragile, Hannah Harrison leaves everything she knows in Cape Town for a bookshop in the Free State. There, she discovers a diary dating back to concentration camps from the South African War. Hannah is intrigued by the idea that she could unravel the mystery of the diary and what happened to the person who wrote it, but she encounters many obstacles: new love, an ex-lover and a deranged woman living on a farm nearby. Houston manages to weave together a complicated tapestry of events in an unexpected and rich way. So masterful is Houston’s writing that at the end readers will likely be inspired to research our history. Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

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“Just stick to cricket, Shane.” Good ol’ Warney has been indulged once more in this tedious biography, writes Archie Henderson

Published in the Sunday Times

No Spin: My Autobiography **
Shane Warne with Mark Nicholas, Penguin Random House, R320

Shane Warne deserves a good biography.

This is not it, even with Mark Nicholas as his amanuensis.

Nicholas, an accomplished broadcaster and writer, played a marathon innings, listening to his subject, recording him, transcribing their conversations and bringing some coherence to the garrulous Warne’s ramblings.

He fails to rein in Warne and a book of almost 400 pages (including seven of fascinating statistics) could have been half the length, enough to accommodate the best part of the book, the cricket.

Warne was a great cricketer – many aficionados believe he was one of the greatest – but he can also be a great bore.

His peccadillos with a variety of women and his affair with film star Liz Hurley are tedious.

His obsequiousness toward the rich (Kerry Packer et al) is embarrassing, especially his blatant pleading to be invited to Johann Rupert’s next golf outing at St Andrews.

And his participation during a TV reality show in the “jungle” near the Kruger Park is ludicrous and irrelevant.

Stick to cricket, a strong captain – Steve Waugh, perhaps, whom Warne loathes – might have advised.

But good ol’ Warney has been indulged once more.

When he does stick to cricket, he redeems himself and his book.

He is a deep thinker on the game, was a brilliant exponent of the difficult art of leg-spin bowling and would have made a very good Australian captain.

Sadly, part of his behaviour cost him that job. Now it’s cost him a good book.

One day, when time has created some distance for dispassion, Warne will get his deserved biography. It might even be by Gideon Haigh, the Australian who is as good a writer as Warne is a bowler and who has already compiled a series of essays on the player. In them Haigh describes Warne’s bowling action as being “both dainty and menacing, like Ernst Blofeld stroking his white cat”.

Now that’s a book that would be worth reading.

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“If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would probably never have begun.” Simone Haysom on writing The Last Words of Rowan du Preez

Published in the Sunday Times

The Last Words of Rowan du Preez: Murder and Conspiracy on the Cape Flats
Simone Haysom, Jonathan Ball Publishers

Towards the end of 2013 a friend came to me and said: “I’ve just returned from Cape Town and the craziest things have been happening to a friend of mine.” I had recently moved back to SA after several years studying and working abroad and I was looking for a story, something that could help me understand the baffling, violent country I loved.

This turned out to be it.

The woman he was talking about was Angy Peter, and she was accused of necklacing a young man, Rowan du Preez, who she had been trying to rehabilitate from a life of crime. Angy, a criminal justice activist involved in a campaign to fix the dire state of policing in Khayelitsha, claimed she was innocent. She had been set up, she said, by a policeman she had accused of corruption, and a police force that considered her an enemy had gone along with it.

But the state had, on the face of things, a strong case: eyewitnesses to the assault, and a declaration supposedly made by Rowan himself – to three policemen – as he lay dying.

I spent the next five years researching and writing the story: attending the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, Angy Peter’s trial, and asking questions in Mfuleni, where the murder took place, poring over transcripts and chasing leads that often didn’t work out.

The story turned out to be as much about the toll that impunity – at high levels and low – has taken on our society, as it was about these specific events.

Sometimes the degree to which the truth refused to be pinned down was so extreme it became absurd. At one point in the trial, during a cross-examination of a witness who was being infuriatingly evasive, the defence advocate asked him: “What do you think the motive for the murder was?”

So intent on dodging questions was he, he replied: “Which murder?”

“This one!” bellowed the advocate, and I thought for a second he might be about to commit another.

If I had known what I was getting myself into, I would probably never have begun. In a story like this, your head can get done in, both by what you don’t find out and what you do.

Working through hundreds of pages of eyewitness and medical testimony on a necklacing begins to take a toll. You tell yourself it’ll be worth it when you find the truth, but that’s elusive. Though I was able to find out far more than the official story, my limitations to getting to the heart of what happened caused me angst.

You can’t get all the access you need: the story is shaped by the gaps you get through. @simonehaysom

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