Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

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

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

Bridget Jones Dries Out: Clare Pooley was amazed women were blogging about alcoholism, writes Jennifer Platt

Published in the Sunday Times

The wine witch is not someone that people want in their lives, writes Clare Pooley in her memoir, The Sober Diaries. Illustration: Keith Tamkei.

The Sober Diaries
Clare Pooley
Hodder & Stoughton, R315

The wine witch is not someone that people want in their lives. As Clare Pooley writes in her memoir: “The single most telling sign that you are no longer in control of alcohol, but it is in control of you, is when you instinctively understand the concept of the ‘wine witch’. Some people refer to her as the ‘inner addict’ or the ‘monkey on my back’ … But, for many of us women in the sober online world, ‘wine witch’ describes her perfectly.”
The Sober Diaries is the account of the year Pooley decided to quit the booze: her drink of note – more than a bottle of wine a day. The bottles of vino piled into her life: first partying like only a student can (obscene binge drinking) at Cambridge and then as managing partner of the world’s biggest advertising agencies in London where “drinking was part of the work culture as well as the play culture. In fact … we had a bar in the office.”

Then she quit the rat race when she had her third child to be the Perfect Mom. Wine became her “oasis of sanity, a release from the stress of toddler tantrums and the boredom of nappy changing”. Fast forward six years and Pooley realises: “The wine witch is not Mary Poppins”. Deciding that she couldn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous for a variety of reasons, Pooley googled how to stop drinking and became aware that women were blogging about alcohol addiction. She decided to write as well, and called her blog Mommy was a Secret Drinker. Pooley had no idea that her honesty would strike such a chord.

The Sober Diaries is not just a sober read. Pooley is hilarious and shows that being sober is not depressing. Fact is, alcohol is a depressant and when the brain is exposed to the drink, Pooley writes, “its natural systems of craving and reward are screwed up”. When we drink, our brain’s reward system is artificially activated and it produces dopamine – a feel-good chemical. The brain thinks it is producing far too much, so it compensates by decreasing the chemical. “Gradually drinkers feel more and more depressed, and start to believe that only alcohol will make us feel better.” This vicious cycle is then created.

Beating the addiction is not the only problem that Pooley has to grapple with. Several months into her year of sobriety she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Fact is, alcohol is linked to cancer. Alcohol is a carcinogen and causes at least seven types of cancer.

Pooley decides not to drink when she gets the news. She writes a list of reasons to be positive. No 3 is: “One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t get breast cancer (or in my case) don’t get it again, is to not drink alcohol. And I’ve ticked that one off already.”

At the end of the year she is cancer-free and booze-free. This has driven Pooley to help people: writing this book, and giving the inspiring TEDx talk: Making Sober Less Shameful. Now she has partnered with Janet Gourand – who founded the World Without Wine workshops in Cape Town and Joburg – to run a workshop in London. World Without Wine ( offers workshops, coaching and support to help those trying to cut down on or quit alcohol. It’s also an online support.

Pooley’s story is one of many about dealing with alcohol addiction but it is relatable, funny and honest. As the blurb says: “This is Bridget Jones Dries Out”. @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

» read article

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



Always Another Country


Stay With Me


On the Brink


Bitches' Brew


The Inside-Out Man


Rule of Law




The Burning Chambers


The President's Keeper




What We Lose


Reflecting Rogue




Brutal Legacy


New Times


Bare Ground


Killing Kebble

» read article

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

Book details

» read article

Sunday Times Literary Awards Longlist 2018 announced

Announcing the longlists for South Africa’s most prestigious annual literary awards, the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction and the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, in association with Porcupine Ridge. The shortlists will be announced in May.


This is the 18th year of the Sunday Times fiction prize, named for Barry Ronge, the arts commentator who was one of the founders of our literary awards. The criteria stipulate that the winning novel should be one of “rare imagination and style . . . a tale so compelling as to become an enduring landmark of contemporary fiction”.

“South African novelists have once again demonstrated their creative power. This year’s longlist invites the reader to tussle with uncomfortable questions of politics, loss, greed, mythology, heroism and trauma.

Vivid storytelling and unflinching characterization help us to explore vulnerabilities in our quest for love, justice, kindness and compassion. What particularly stands out this year is the inspiration drawn from the complicated relationship between fact and fiction. Some of the authors deftly draw us in to grapple with contemporary South African issues of rampant corruption, devastating greed, and gender disparity. Others bravely take us on a tour of an unkind history and give us a new lens through which to examine our reflections.

Many of the stories are deeply personal, allowing the reader to resonate, on a human level, with the characters’ innermost fears, secret fantasies and their darkest sins. The novels will compel you to examine your humanity, question your unease and define your aspirations. The longlist lays bare the complex and confused time we live in. What an incredible joy and honour to have delighted in these stories that pierce at our hearts. It is going to be very difficult to choose one winner.” - Africa Melane


Selling LipService, Tammy Baikie (Jacana Media)

Grace, Barbara Boswell (Modjaji Books)

A Handful of Earth, Simon Bruinders (Penguin Books)

Softness of the Lime, Maxine Case (Umuzi)

Dikeledi, Achmat Dangor (Picador Africa)

Accident, Dawn Garisch (Modjaji Books)

Bare Ground, Peter Harris, (Picador Africa)

I am Pandarus, Michiel Heyns (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg, Harry Kalmer (Penguin)

Dancing the Death Drill, Fred Khumalo (Umuzi)

Asylum, Marcus Low (Picador Africa)

The Blessed Girl, Angela Makholwa (Pan Macmillan)

Johannesburg, Fiona Melrose (Little, Brown)

If I Stay Right Here, Chwayita Ngamlana (Blackbird Books)

The Last Stop, Thabiso Mofokeng (Blackbird Books)

The Third Reel, SJ Naudé (Umuzi)

Unpresidented, Paige Nick (B&N)

Imitation, Leonhard Praeg (UKZN Press)

Bird-Monk Seding, Lesego Rampolokeng (Deep South)

New Times, Rehana Rossouw (Jacana Media)

The Camp Whore, Francois Smith – translated by Dominique Botha (Tafelberg)

Spire, Fiona Snyckers (Clockwork Books)

Son/Seun, Neil Sonnekus (MF Books Joburg)

A Gap in the Hedge, Johan Vlok Louw (Umuzi)

The Shallows, Ingrid Winterbach – translated by Michiel Heyns (Human & Rousseau)


Africa Melane – Chair

Melane is the host of the Weekend Breakfast Show on CapeTalk. He is also an ambassador for LeadSA, an initiative of Primedia Broadcasting and Independent Newspapers. Melane studied accounting at the University of Cape Town and did articles at PwC. He then went on to teach a professional development course to first-year students in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Cape Town. Melane is the chairman of MODILA, a trust that offers educational programmes to raise awareness and provides training in design, innovation, entrepreneurship and art studies. He also serves on the board of Cape Town Opera, Africa’s premier opera company.
Kate Rogan

Rogan is the owner of Love Books, an independent book shop in Johannesburg. Rogan has a degree in English from the University of Cape Town and a post-graduate degree English (Hons) from Stellenbosch University, where she studied under Michiel Heyns. She started her working life as a copywriter at 702, then moved into publishing where she was a commissioning editor at Zebra Press in its early days. She moved back to radio as a producer and for many years produced The Book Show for Jenny Crwys-Williams. In 2009 she started Love Books.

Ken Barris

Barris is a writer, book critic, NRF-rated academic, poet and keen photographer. His work has been translated into Turkish, Danish, French, German and Slovenian, and has appeared in about 30 anthologies. He has won various literary awards, including the Ingrid Jonker Prize, the M-Net Book Prize, and most recently, the University of Johannesburg Prize, for his novel Life Underwater. He has published five novels, two collections of poetry, and two collections of short stories. The most recent, The Life of Worm & Other Misconceptions, was released last year.

This is the 29th year the Alan Paton Award will be bestowed on a book that presents “the illumination of truthfulness, especially those forms of it that are new, delicate, unfashionable and fly in the face of power”, and that demonstrates “compassion, elegance of writing, and intellectual and moral integrity”.

“It is inspiring to note that out of the 25 books on a very prestigious long list, eight have been written by women, and as two of the books have been co-authored, it means we have 10 female authors in the running.

Dominant trends this year include corruption and state capture which are probed mercilessly. The Gupta family’s wheeling and dealing as well as the former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged malfeasance come under intense scrutiny from several quarters. There are journeys into the criminal underworld and insights into past and present spy networks that read like thrillers, and a selection of moving biographies and memoirs of courageous struggles by contemporary and historic figures. These intensely personal accounts help us understand the bigger picture. There are also specialist offerings that delve into topics as diverse as regional history, social activism, sport, anthropology and feminism.

Each of the books on the 2018 long list is like a pointer on a road map, illuminating the place in which we now find ourselves. A common thread running through the longlisted books is the question of how on earth did we get here? At the TRC hearings a sentiment repeated like a litany over many months, was that of people just wanting to know what happened. Revenge, compensation or retribution seemed to take a backseat for many testifying. We need to know what happened if we want to shape a solid, healthier future and together these books answer myriad questions about the road we have travelled as a nation.” - Sylvia Vollenhoven


Spy: Uncovering Craig Williamson, Jonathan Ancer (Jacana Media)

Almost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo Naledi, Lee Berger (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

65 Years of Friendship, George Bizos (Umuzi)

Rule of Law: A Memoir, Glynnis Breytenbach with Nechama Brodie (Pan Macmillan)

Reflecting Rogue: Inside the Mind of a Feminist, Pumla Dineo Gqola (MF Books Joburg)

Kingdom, Power, Glory: Mugabe, Zanu and the Quest for Supremacy 1960-87, Stuart Doran (Bookstorm)

Skollie: One Man’s Struggle to Survive by Telling Stories, John W Fredericks (Zebra Press)

No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela, Thandeka Gqubule (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Being Chris Hani’s Daughter, Lindiwe Hani and Melinda Ferguson (MF Books Joburg)

Get Up! Stand Up! Personal Journeys Towards Social Justice, Mark Heywood (Tafelberg)

A Simple Man: Kasrils and the Zuma Enigma, Ronnie Kasrils (Jacana Media)

Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years, Nelson Mandela and Mandla Langa (Pan Macmillan)

Unmasked: Why The ANC Failed to Govern, Khulu Mbatha (KMMR)

Being a Black Springbok: The Thando Manana Story, Sibusiso Mjikeliso (Pan Macmillan)

Democracy & Delusion: 10 Myths in South African Politics, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh (Tafelberg)

Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, Sisonke Msimang (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

The Republic of Gupta: A Story of State Capture, Pieter-Louis Myburgh (Penguin Books)

The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, Bongani Ngqulunga (Penguin Books)

Colour Me Yellow: Searching for my family truth, Thuli Nhlapo (Kwela)

How to Steal a City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay, Crispian Olver (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and Out of Prison, Jacques Pauw (Tafelberg)

Miss Behave, Malebo Sephodi (Blackbird Books)

Hitmen for Hire: Exposing South Africa’s Underworld, Mark Shaw (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Khwezi: The Remarkable Story Of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, Redi Tlhabi (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, Hennie van Vuuren (Jacana Media)


Sylvia Vollenhoven – Chair

Vollenhoven is a writer, journalist and filmmaker whose work has won many awards including the 2016 Mbokodo Award for Literature and the Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights in the Arts. Vollenhoven was the South African producer for the BBC mini-series Mandela the Living Legend, and is also a Knight Fellow, which is funded by the John S. and James L Knight Foundation with additional support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Edwin Cameron

Cameron has been a Justice of South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, since 2009. Previously a human rights lawyer, President Mandela appointed him a Judge of the High Court in 1994 and he went on to be a Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal. He was a fierce critic of President Mbeki’s AIDS-denialist policies. Cameron’s memoir Witness to AIDS was joint winner of the Alan Paton Prize in 2005 and his second memoir Justice: A Personal Account won a South African Literary Award in 2014. He has received many honours for his legal and human rights work.
Paddi Clay

Clay has more than 40 years of experience in the media, covering radio, print, and online journalism. She has a BA Degree in English and Drama from UCT and an MA in Journalism Leadership from the University of Central Lancashire, UK. She has reported for the Rand Daily Mail and Capital Radio, and wrote for the FT and US News and World Report. A life-long campaigner for freedom of expression and a free, independent, media, she spent 15 years as head of the Graduate Journalism Training Programme at what is now Tiso Blackstar and retired in January 2017. She continues to coach and lecture.

Book details

Almost Human

65 Years of Friendship

Rule of Law

Reflecting Rogue

Kingdom, power, glory


No Longer Whispering to Power

Being Chris Hani's Daughter

Get Up! Stand Up!

A Simple Man

Dare Not Linger


Being a Black Springbok

Democracy and Delusion

Always Another Country

The Republic of Gupta

The Man Who Founded the ANC

Colour Me Yellow

How To Steal A City

The President's Keeper

Miss Behave

Hitmen for Hire


Apartheid Guns and Money

Selling Lip Service


A Handful of Earth

Softness of the Lime



Bare Ground

I am Pandarus

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg

Dancing the Death Drill


The Blessed Girl


If I Stay Right Here

The Last Stop

The Third Reel



Bird-Monk Seding

New Times

The Camp Whore



A Gap in the Hedge

The Shallows

» read article

Bron Sibree reviews Amy Chua’s new book which traces tribalism in America

Published in the Sunday Times

Nuestra Senora de la Santa Muerta (Our Lady of the Holy Death) is a female deity personifying death. Her prominent cult holds many poor Hispanic Americans in its grip Picture: Getty Images

Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations
Amy Chua, Bloomsbury, R295

Amy Chua is no stranger to controversy or bestseller lists. In the wake of her 2011 bestselling memoir about her attempt to raise her daughters the strict “Chinese” way, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the Yale law professor garnered death threats and accolades. Then came the outcry triggered by her 2015 book, The Triple Package, which examined why some ethnic and religious groups outperform others in America. Co-written with her Yale professor husband Jed Rubenfeld, it was accused of new racism but it, too, became a New York Times bestseller.

“I never think my books are going to be controversial,” says Chua, “but somehow I keep getting into trouble. I just wonder what’s going to happen with this one,” she says of her fifth book, Political Tribes. “I’m sure I’ll get into trouble again.”

There’s no denying that Political Tribes – which delivers new, uncomfortable insights into tribalism in America and the human instinct to form tribes – is a biting criticism of conventional American thought on everything from foreign policy through to identity politics and the rise of Trump. In examining why America, a land of immigrants, is so uniquely, dangerously, blinkered to tribal politics at home and abroad, Political Tribes also delivers stinging home-truths – any one of which can ignite controversy.

Yet it is American exceptionalism, argues Chua, that blinds it to tribal identities abroad. For America is exceptional, maintains this American-born daughter of ethnic Chinese immigrants from the Philippines. Its ethnicity-transcending national identity, and its unusual success in assimilating people from diverse origins, qualifies it as a super-group, the only one among the world’s great powers. “This has shaped how we see the rest of the world, and deeply influenced our foreign policy,” says Chua. “This is not to say we haven’t got terrible racism, but unlike France, or even England, this is a country with a very strong national identity. So American people just think ‘Oh Sunnis and Shias, why can’t they just be Iraqis?’ It’s a naive view, and it’s pretty ignorant.”

Tribalism propelled Trump to the White House, argues Chua. Race has been traditionally at the core of American tribalism, but Chua notes that America is “on the verge of an unprecedented demographic transformation”. Yet even the growing “whitelash” to the “browning of America” which many consider a factor in Trump’s rise to power, is as complex and divided as the identity politics of both left and right – which are fracturing so rapidly thanks to bigotry and racism on one side and political correctness and a kind of “oppression Olympics” (when two or more groups compete to prove themselves more oppressed than the other) on the other. She believes it is tearing the country apart. Her insights into the sports of Nascar and World Wrestling, powerful tribal identities that see themselves as the “true America”, are illuminating.

But it is her analysis of lesser-known tribal identities like the Sovereign Citizens, a bizarre anti-government group that law-enforcement agencies have identified as a greater threat to their communities than Islamic extremists, and the Prosperity Gospel – a Christian sect that preaches that being rich is divine and is especially popular with disadvantaged minorities – that are as disturbing as they are revelatory. Not to mention the potent tribal identities of America’s 27000 street gangs. Or the lure of Narco-saints like Nuestra Senora de la Santa Muerta (Our Lady of the Holy Death), a cult which holds many poor Hispanic Americans in its grip as well as many members of the LGBTQIA community.

“America’s identity as this single, unified country that still allows for a lot of diversity is really under threat today, and from both sides. It’s why I wrote the book, so that we can get back to seeing that this super-group status we have is extremely unique,” says Chua. “It’s about saving America, the country that my parents love, and that I love.” @BronSibree

Political Tribes

Book details

» read article

Book Bites: 25 March

Published in the Sunday Times

A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa
Alexis Okeowo, Corsair, R315

Okeowo, an American-Nigerian New Yorker staffer, set off to better know the vastness of the continent of Africa and the people who are bravely fighting fundamentalism. She believed, “If I wanted readers to understand that the people I interviewed were not that different from them, I needed to practise empathy while writing.” This led to her pursuing four in-depth stories: a Ugandan couple who were kidnapping victims of Joseph Kony’s LRA; a Mauritanian who devoted his life to fighting slavery; two people who were affected by Boko Haram in Nigeria; and the brave girls and women who risk their lives by continuing to play basketball in Somalia. An emotionally tough read, yet beautifully done. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Blind *****
AF Brady, HarperCollins, R295

Sam James is a well-known psychologist at a psychiatric institution in New York. Richard is a difficult patient who nobody wants to treat but Sam is unfortunately assigned to him. Through Richard and his sordid history, Sam confronts her own demons, something she has always avoided. At the same time, Richard is moving from patient to counsellor, but only one person will walk away healed. Its clever plot and constant thrills will throw any reader off balance, but that is what makes this book a must-read. Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle *****
Stuart Turton, Bloomsbury, R295

Tweeds, dinner jackets, valets and butlers, crystal stemware and a murder mystery with a small cast of characters in a once magnificent 1920s country house in England. It’s a few years after WW1, and the Hardcastle family have a masquerade ball to celebrate their children Evelyn and Michael. But Evelyn is murdered and the mysterious protagonist Aiden Bishop has to find the killer. He is in a time loop and lives the day over and over by inhabiting different guests to solve the murder. It’s a wacko plot, but Turton delivers a well-constructed concept and a refreshing read. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

» read article

2018 HSS Awards winners announced

Via the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences

The third Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Awards: Book, Creative Collection and Digital Contribution 2018, hosted by the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), were held at the iconic John Kani, Market Theatre on 15 March 2018.

The awards laud the preeminent creative contributions of academics, curators and artists based at participating South African universities, who are working to advance HSS. The call for submissions opened in October 2017 and covered works completed between January and December 2016. Submissions comprised 39 non-fiction books, nine fiction books, 10 creative collections and seven digital contributions, and represented 23 publishers. Over 30 esteemed academics were selected as judges and reviewers.

The 2018 Winners…

Best Non-Fiction Book: Edited Volume
Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa: Past and Present
Brian Willan, Janet Remmington and Bhekisizwe Peterson (Wits University Press)

“This collection of essays focuses on Sol Plaatje’s native land through a multimodal approach thereby allowing readers from multiple disciplines to access and find relevant pieces of the puzzle. This is done in manner which gives the original text a contemporary feel thereby touching on very critical current themes such as identity, discrimination, media censorship, and gender just to mention a few. The essays are well presented and present a balanced critique of the original text. The book comprises of photographs, maps, copies of old newspapers, poems in different languages. This is innovation at its best. This collection couldn’t have come at the right time and touching on issues of student protests, decolonisation of the curriculum, the radical economic transformation, to mention a few.” – Judging panel comment
Best Non-Fiction Book: Edited Volume

Hanging on a Wire
Rick Rohde and Siona O’Connell (Fourthwall Books)

“The visual language of the photographs presented in this book is a powerful account of what it means to be young, rural and poor in South Africa. The photographs cover a range of social interactions from weddings, 21st birthday parties to funerals. But, more importantly the photographer captures people as they wish to be captured by the camera – irreverent, jubilant, mourning and wrapped up in the insignia of popular and global cultures.” – Judging panel comment

Best Non-Fiction Monograph

My Own Liberator
Dikgang Moseneke (Pan Macmillan South Africa)

“Dikgang Moseneke’s book contributes to the diversification of the history of South Africa’s complex liberation struggle. His memoirs go a great deal in filling a critical gap by telling the story of the PAC particularly on the question of negotiations. His memoir advances a new angle on existing knowledge.” – Judging panel comment
Best Fiction Book: Single Authored

Tjieng Tjang Tjerries & other stories
Jolyn Phillips (Modjaji Books)

“The book’s quality and style of writing is of high standard. Its content is South African. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries & other stories is a long-awaited body of knowledge about the lives of the very ordinary, the poor and marginalised. It is a strikingly original work of narrative fiction based on the mimetics of life. The texture of the writing is finely laced and covers a wide range of emotional modalities from the tragic to comical.” – Judging panel comment

Book details

» read article

Doomsday in her own lifetime: a woman turns her back on her paranoid, survivalist family one book at a time, writes Jennifer Platt

Published in the Sunday Times

Educated: A Memoir
Tara Westover, Hutchinson, R320

The cover looks like it’s set somewhere in South Africa. A derelict classroom table and chair are the only signs of life in the middle of golden veld overlooked by a blue-tipped mountain. But this is Idaho – a state in the good ol’ USA whose governor CL “Butch” Otter looks like he may have walked straight out of a Dallas episode with a cowboy hat and an aw shucks ma’am smarm. This is also the state that recently rejected a bill to confiscate guns from convicted domestic felons. So your husband, who has been found guilty of abusing you, still has the means to shoot you.

This is the state where, remarkably, Tara Westover, the last child of seven kids, grew up – in a small, mountainous part of it called Buck Peak. Her dad is a full-on anti-government survivalist, her mom a midwife so that they would “be completely off-grid … and she would be able to deliver the grandchildren”.

In the intro, this is what Westover writes: “On the highway below, the school bus rolls past without stopping. I am only seven, but I understand that it is this fact, more than any other, that makes my family different: we don’t go to school.”

Nor do they go to the doctor or the hospital, even when seriously injured, even when her mother is so badly concussed after a car accident that she has to stay in the darkness of their basement for years, even after her brother Luke suffers third-degree burns so horrific that his flesh melts off. “Papery ropes of skin wrapped delicately around his thigh and down his calf, like wax dripping from cheap candles,” writes Westover.

Westover dedicates this book to another brother, Tyler. “Tyler influenced me,” says Westover in a phone interview from what is now her home in Cambridge, England, near the university where she received her PhD. “If it wasn’t for him, I would be still living that life. I can’t even contemplate it.”

Tyler got out. He taught himself and got a high-school diploma. Then he went to college. This was not celebrated in the family. His father says: “A son of mine, standing in line to get brainwashed by socialists and Illuminati spies.” Their father preaches about the big bad world out there and how the government is waiting to come get them. “I think my father is bipolar and this feeds his paranoia,” says Westover. They each have a go bag – in case the police or FBI comes for them, and they can escape to the mountains. Her father invests in silver coins and keeps them in the basement with his cache of guns.

Now that Tyler has gone off to college, Westover at the age of seven has to step into his place as one of her father’s crew, hauling scrap metal in a junkyard.

Like Tyler, she wants something different for herself. “I wanted to learn. I don’t know when it became something I needed to do, but I just felt it.” Her gateway into the world started with her singing – surprisingly something that her father was proud of and supported.

Then another of her elder brothers comes back into her life after having disappeared for six years. She gives him the pseudonym Shawn in the book. At first he seems like her saviour: he helps her with a neck injury, saves her from falling off a horse, and drives her to her theatre rehearsals in Worm Creek as she prepares to sing in musicals.

But one night, at the age of 15, Westover refuses to fetch a glass of water for Shawn – he loves to give orders, a power play he revels in. He drags her by her hair to the bathroom, forces her head into the toilet and twists her arm until she nearly faints. This is the beginning of many years of abuse.

The memoir takes on a frenzied thriller-like tone. You want nothing more than for Westover to get away. She gratefully does escape for bits of time. Like Tyler, she teaches herself, gets her high-school diploma and for the first time steps into a classroom, at Brigham Young University. In one instance she asks the lecturer for the definition of a word she has never heard before. Surly, the teacher answers, “Thanks for that.” The word is “holocaust”.

She goes back home in the holidays, changed. “I don’t think that education is so much about making a living, it’s about making a person,” she says.

She asks her parents to intervene to get Shawn to stop abusing her, but they deny it ever took place and tell her that she has “false memories of what happened”.

“I had a mental breakdown but with therapy I finally accepted that I was telling the truth,” she writes. And she had her journals, proof that her memories were real. These are largely what she bases her memoir on. Westover and her parents are now estranged.

Asked if she would give her own 15-year-old any advice, Westover is firm that she wouldn’t change anything. “You have to come to a point where you ask yourself tough questions … My book is about how to remain loyal to yourself when you fundamentally change. I hope that it can help other people. That there is no shame of where you come from.” @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

» read article

Book Bites: 18 March

Published in the Sunday Times

White Bodies
Jane Robins, HarperCollins, R285

Callie and Tilda are sisters but their relationship has always been strained. Tilda is the famous actress and has found love with the gorgeous Felix. But she keeps hinting that things between them are not great and Callie takes it upon herself to protect her sister. What she finds is sinister and leads to a web of abuse, online blogs and multiple deaths. You think you know how it’s going to end, but you don’t. With each page there is a new twist and all is not as it seems. Even Callie is surprised at the way things turn out. Who killed who and just how far will these sisters go to help each other? Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

James-Brent Styan, Jonathan Ball Publishers, R240

What makes this biography of Christiaan Barnard so interesting is that it demonstrates how Barnard’s work fits into the worldwide scientific community, then and now. This includes interesting trivia; such as Barnard was not the first to attempt a heart transplant. It was Tom Hardy, an American, who put a chimpanzee’s heart into a 68-year-old man (he died 90 minutes later). But the most alarming take away is Styan’s insight to how access to heart operations for South Africa’s underprivileged is rapidly declining. This is despite the fact that, “in South Africa, heart disease is the leading cause of death among children under the age of 5”. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Now We are Dead
Stuart MacBride, HarperCollins, R285

MacBride is one of the most acclaimed of the “Tartan Noir” writers, as no one does grim, grizzly and gruesome like him. But his most popular character is neither the noble Logan McRae nor the tough Ash Henderson, but sloppy, demanding, foul-mouthed Roberta Steel. From being the comic relief in some of the tales, Steel now has a book of her own – and long overdue. Demoted from chief inspector to sergeant for framing a rapist, she is partnered with long-suffering detective constable “Tufty” Quirrel. Loan sharks, rapists, paedophiles, graffiti artists and shit-throwing protesters, all are grist to their mill. Not as violent as MacBride’s other books, but what it lacks in thrills it makes up for in laughs. Aubrey Paton

Book details

» read article

Programme for the 2018 Franschhoek Literary Festival announced!

The quaint Western Cape town of Franschhoek will be accommodating South Africa’s literary greats from Friday 18 May to Sunday 20 May.

This annual literary festival’s 2018 line-up includes discussions ranging from the André P Brink memorial wherein Elinor Sisulu will focus on the life and times of Ahmed Kathrada, with an introduction by Karina Szczurek (The Fifth Mrs Brink); a panel discussion on what feminism looks like in 2018, featuring discussants Mohale Mashigo (The Yearning), Jen Thorpe (Feminism Is), Helen Moffett (Feminism Is) and social commentator and public speaker Tshegofatso Senne; and Jacques Pauw (The President’s Keepers) and Jan-Jan Joubert (Who Will Rule in 2019?) deliberating whether there’s a ‘recipe’ for an ideal South African president with international relations scholar Oscar van Heerden.

And that’s just day one!

Find the full programme here.

The Fifth Mrs Brink

Book details

The Yearning

Feminism Is

The President's Keeper

Who Will Rule in 2019?

» read article