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Archive for the ‘Pan Macmillan’ Category

A captivating biography about boxing’s underdog-turned-hero, Rocky Marciano: Anna Stroud reviews Unbeaten

Published in the Sunday Times 

Unbeaten: Rocky Marciano’s Fight for Perfection in a Crooked World *****
Mike Stanton
Pan Macmillan, R330

He was too old by boxing standards when he started, his arms were too short, his stance too wide, his feet too flat.

And yet, when he retired from boxing in 1956, Rocky Marciano became the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history with a record of 49-0. His title fight with Jersey Joe Walcott in 1952 was marred by controversy, but was also testament to his indefatigable will and endurance. The guy could pack – and take – a punch.

Rocky was always an unlikely hero; the son of an Italian shoemaker growing up during the Depression in Brockton, Massachusetts. His mother never once watched him fight, opting to pray for him instead.

At first, the press and boxing critics ridiculed his lack of technique and called him a brawler, not a boxer. But time after time his thunderous right – dubbed Suzie Q by his manager Charlie Goldman – punched its way into the history books and the hearts of Americans.

When he died in an aircraft accident on August 31 1969 – the day before his 46th birthday – sportswriter Jim Murray wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Start the count, he’ll get up. A lot of us today are wishing there were an honest referee in a cornfield in Iowa.”

These small details make Unbeaten a captivating read. Mike Stanton not only paints a compelling portrait of an underdog-turned-hero, he captures the spirit of the time – from the shady characters who pulled the strings behind the scenes of boxing to the exquisite art of sports writing.

Throughout his career, Rocky had to contend with corrupt boxing officials, Mafia bosses and his own demons at ringside.

Stanton lays bare Rocky’s triumphs as well as his tragedies with crisp writing and rigorous research. Mohammed Ali’s biographer Jonathan Eig calls it “an irresistible story”.

Agreed. @annawriter_

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Read a Q&A with bestselling author, Lucinda Riley

Published in the Sunday Times

Lucinda Riley, author of The Moon Sister. Author pic supplied.

 
One book our world leaders should read?

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It’s a slim volume which is perfect for someone who doesn’t have time to read anything cover to cover. It’s interfaith, exquisitely written and full of wisdom. It might help remind our world leaders of their humanity.

Do you keep a diary?

I kept a daily diary between the ages of 13 and 18; parts of it are hilarious, others tragic. No-one has read it but me, and I’d be horrified if it fell into the wrong hands.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?

Jay Gatsby. I’ve been in love with him since I was 17 and first read The Great Gatsby. It was the most romantic book I’d ever read – at that age, every young woman wants to be loved so completely the way Gatsby loves Daisy. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen it as the dark side of obsessive love.

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

F Scott Fitzgerald – he’s both an obsession and an inspiration. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the way an author’s life feeds into their writing, and Fitzgerald’s relationship with his wife, Zelda, formed the basis for The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. Charles Dickens, because he was a wonderful storyteller and a jobbing writer with a large family to feed, like me. He wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks because he needed the money. And JK Rowling because, despite her success and wealth, she continues to write.

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

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

What is the last thing you read that made you cry?

Rather sadly, it was the last book I wrote – The Butterfly Room. Given that I never plan books before I write them, I’m as shocked and horrified as the reader when something tragic happens.

Is there a type of book you never read?

Anything about serial killers and grim murders. I read before I go to sleep and the last thing I want is to have my head filled with those kind of pictures. For me, reading is all about escapism.

What is your most treasured book?

When I received my first big advance, I bought myself a first edition copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.

How do you select characters’ names?

I have a clutch of favourite names, so much so that when I got to the end of The Butterfly Room, I had to change the name of a major character because I’d used it so many times before.

A character you could be best friends with?

Ruth from Elly Griffiths’s Dr Ruth Galloway series. She’s a forensic archaeologist and a single mother who spends her life getting into scrapes, both personal and professional. She’s so real and warm and lives in an idyllic cottage just down the road from me. I’d love to pop round for a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day and talk old bones and kids.

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley is published by Macmillan, R290.

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The 2018 South African Literary Awards winners announced

Via SALA

 
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
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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
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As in die Mond

As in die Mond by Nicole Jaekel Strauss
EAN: 9780795801358
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The Way I See It

The Way I See It: A Memoir by Jürgen Schadenberg
EAN: 9781770105294
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“I always feared that if I were to write a book, it would not come up to the standards I demand of the books I read” – Vanessa Raphaely on writing Plus One

Published in the Sunday Times

From the “Unfinished Book Club” to a fun and compelling debut novel – Vanessa Raphaely’s Plus One is a hit! Photo: supplied.

 
Plus One
Vanessa Raphaely, Pan Macmillan, R265

I still can’t believe I have written a complete novel. Or that a publisher as reputable as Pan MacMillan chose to publish it. I’ve never been overly confident in my ability as a writer, let alone a fiction writer. For years my friend Suzy and I were the only members of our own, exclusive “Unfinished Book Club”. We would meet over sushi and Chenin Blanc and brainstorm … and then later commiserate as we launched ourselves, filled with enthusiasm and ideas, only to run out of steam and confidence soon afterwards.

For working women it’s hard not to meander off target, waylaid by the urgency of raising families, earning incomes or just by the fact that completing a novel is really very difficult.

Before I finally wrote “The End” of the 16th draft of Plus One, I had at least five unfinished books languishing in various draft stages, including one boasting the unforgiveably kitsch ’80s working title of “Fire and Ice” that was set in the world of competitive ice skating. It involved a terrible and bloody accident and an illegally sharpened pair of female ice-skating blades. I suspect it was a blessing, both for me and the reading public, that that one never did get past Chapter 5.

It was really touch and go that Plus One got started, let alone finished. I always feared that if I were to write a book, it would not come up to the standards I demand of the books I read. Getting over yourself, your fears, your dignity … and just writing is an essential tip for anyone who dreams of having a book published.

One of the first people I sent the first draft to for an opinion was a magazine editor – the woman who taught me to write when I was just a lowly assistant features editor on Cosmopolitan in the UK way back when. She read the manuscript quickly, and e-mailed me: “Vanessa, this book is just so incredibly bad I could not get past the first chapters. I didn’t care to spend any time at all in the company of your characters, I just couldn’t bring myself to give a toss what happened to them. It reads like a breathless column dashed off over your lunch hour for illiterate, coke-addled imbeciles.”

That, I’ve got to admit, was briefly crushing. But writers, I have discovered, have thick skins and no pride. And I am definitely a writer.

At that point I had sold my shares in my business and no new business or employment opportunity had presented itself, so I took a deep breath and kept writing. And rewriting. And rewriting. It took encouragement, cheerleading and honest advice from friends, my agent Nadine Rubin Nathan, my publisher Andrea Nattrass and the wonderful, professional, surgical interventions of my editor Alison Lowry to get it over the line.

My mother, when she was finally allowed to read it, e-mailed me: “Darling, you can stop worrying. I am on page 70 and it’s very good.” But unfortunately, in this case, mums’ opinions don’t count for much. Objective readers say it’s fun, thought-provoking, a bit dark (but written with a light touch), compelling, a page turner, unputdownable and that they just did not see the ending coming.

And I’m proud of it. As Andrea said: “Why would I publish anything I wouldn’t be proud of?” She’s the real deal.

So it turned out OK. I never hoped for more. And it’s a fabulous feeling ticking “write a novel” off your bucket list..

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“This pacy account, featuring a mix of memoir and analysis, hits the mark” – Carlos Amato reviews Judith February’s judicious new book

Published in the Sunday Times

Turning and Turning: Exploring the Complexities of SA’s Democracy ****
Judith February, Picador Africa, R280

With SA’s political economy feeling as stuck as a 24-year-old lump of chewing gum, the moment is right for grounded perspective on the country’s democratic journey. This pacy account, featuring a mix of memoir and analysis, hits the mark.

Since the late ’90s Judith February has undertaken critical research and advocacy on governance issues in SA. While at the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa (Idasa), she fought tirelessly for a full accounting of the graft involved in the late-’90s arms deal, and later for transparency in political party funding. Neither battle has yet been won, but the war is long, as her book makes clear.

February provides a particularly clear-eyed account of the continuities and causal links between the Zuma era and the Mbeki era, and even the Mandela era before it.

The public discourse – particularly the ad hominem language of Mbeki’s faction against its critics to the left and right alike – became coarser and more inflammatory. This, she notes, sowed the seeds of the Polokwane revolt and all the rhetorical, ethical and institutional decay that followed.

There is a similar long view in her analysis of state capture. Its origins, she argues, stretch way back to what might be described as the original sin of the democratic era – the signing of the arms deal. February co-authored a seminal report by Idasa on the volley of hideously wasteful arms transactions and their poisonous effect on the integrity of the state in 2001.

Among the casualties of the arms deal, she says, was the vigour of the standing committee on public accounts, which became a partisan battleground instead of the relatively non-partisan watchdog that it should be.

But all is not lost: the epic scale of the Zuma-era corruption, February notes, has reawakened the public’s concern about the strength and protection of public institutions – from parliament to the Chapter 9 institutions to the media to the judiciary – that monitor and curb executive power.

When damaged, these institutions can be repaired. But having seen the slow progress of the decay in meticulous detail, February warns that recovery is not a quick or easy process.

She also explores the increasingly fractious and racialised tenor of our national dialogue in recent years – at least as it is enacted and reflected in the media and social media.

SA is undergoing an autopsy of the fantasy of the “Rainbow Nation”, she argues.

But the reactionary nature of the debate – not least in the populist theatrics and violent rhetoric of the EFF – about what sort of reality should replace the fantasy is taking us nowhere.

The true, simmering potential of our society, she suggests, lies in the emerging worldview of Mokoni Chaka and Evert du Preez, the two Kroonstad boys who rescued injured passengers from the wreckage of a train in January this year.

Evert du Preez and Mokoni Chaka, two friends who rescued injured passengers from a train wreck in Kroonstad this year. Picture: YouTube.

 
The 12-year-old heroes have been best friends since preschool, and they are both bilingual in Sotho and Afrikaans. “Hulle is baie erg oor mekaar,” said Du Preez’s mother. (“They are very serious about each other.”)

“This should not be unusual in SA but it is,” writes February. “It is in the innocence of two 12-year-old boys that we understand that [Mandela’s] vision is worth fighting for every day and every inch of the way.” Even in this jaded moment, February refuses to give up on the slow transformative power of democracy itself – an ideal that she separates from its rainbowist rhetoric. @CarlosCartoons

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The 2018 SALA shortlist has been announced!

Via The South African Literary Awards

Celebrating 13th anniversary of their existence, the South African Literary Awards (SALA) have shortlisted twenty three (23) authors from a total of just under two hundred (200) submissions received for 2018. The winners will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony on the 6th November at UNISA.

Following the passing on of the 2nd National Poet Laureate, Prof Keorapetse Kgositsile, the prestigious South African Literary Awards will announce his successor as well as introducing two additional categories: Novel Award and Children’s Literature Award.

The Awards will be followed by the 6th Africa Century International African Writers Conference whose International African Writers Day Lecture will be delivered by 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.

The Conference is also taking place at UNISA over two days, i.e. 6th and 7th November 2018.

“We are excited that South African literature continues to flourish, with many young writers coming into the scene, sharing platforms with their more established and experienced counterparts,” said Morakabe Seakhoa, Project Director of the South African Literary Awards.

Seakhoa, however, expressed sadness and concern that “we still see less and less of works written in African languages”.

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.

With thirteen successful years of existence, thirteen categories and over 161 authors honoured, the SA Literary Awards have become the most prestigious and respected literary accolades in the South African literary landscape. SALA prides itself in not only acknowledging established authors but as a platform to budding writers through the First-time Published Author Award category.

We congratulate the 2018 nominees for their sterling work and keeping South Africa’s literary heritage alive.

First-time Published Author Award

Celesté Fritze: Verlorenkop (Afrikaans)

Malebo Sephodi:Miss Behave (English)

Creative Non- Fiction Award

Deon Maas: Melk die heilige koeie: Van baarde en banting tot Zupta and zol (Afrikaans)

Jurgen Schadeberg: The Way I See It (English)

Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award

NO SHORTLIST

Poetry Award

Johan Myburg: Uittogboek (Afrikaans)

Kelwyn Sole: Walking, Falling (English)

Literary Translators Award

Jeff Opland and Peter Mtuze: Umoya Wembongi: Collected Poems (1922 – 1935) by John Solilo (isiXhosa to English)

Jeff Opland and Peter Mtuze: Iziganeko Zesizwe: Occasional Poems (1900-1943) by S.E.K. Mqhayi (isiXhosa to English)

Nadine Gordimer Short Story Award

Nick Mulgrew: The First Law of Sadness (English)

Nicole Jaekel Strauss: As in die mond (Afrikaans)

Novel Award

Dan Sleigh: 1795 (Afrikaans)

Rehana Rossouw: New Times (English)

Children’s Literature Award

Marilyn J Honikman: There should have been five (English)

Jaco Jacobs: Daar’s nie ʼn krokodil in hierdie boek nie (Afrikaans)

Jaco Jacobs: Moenie hierdie boek eet nie (Afrikaans)

Marita van der Vyver: Al wat ek weet (Afrikaans)

Posthumous Literary Award

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Literary Journalism Award

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Lifetime Achievement Literary Award

Hermann Giliomee: Body of work (Afrikaans)

Ronnie Kasrils: Body of work (English)

Chairperson’s

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

National Poet Laureate

To be announced at the award ceremony: Body of work

Verlorenkop

Book details
Verlorenkop by Celesté Fritze
Book homepage
EAN: 9780795801068
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Miss Behave

Miss Behave by Malebo Sephodi
EAN: 9781928337416
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Melk die heilige koeie

Melk die heilige koeie by Deon Maas
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624081166
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The Way I See It

The Way I See It: A Memoir by Jürgen Schadenberg
EAN: 9781770105294
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Uittogboek

Uittogboek by Johan Myburg
EAN: 9781485307761
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Walking, Falling

Walking, Falling by Kelwyn Sole
EAN: 9780987028280
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John Solilo: Umoya wembongi

John Solilo: Umoya wembongi: Collected poems (1922–1935) edited by Jeff Opland, Peter Mtuze
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EAN: 9781869143121
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S.E.K. Mqhayi

S.E.K. Mqhayi: Iziganeko zesizwe: Occasional poems (1900–1943) edited by Jeff Opland, Peter T Mtuze
EAN: 9781869143343
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The First Law of Sadness

The First Law of Sadness by Nick Mulgrew
EAN: 9781485625780
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As in die Mond

As in die Mond by Nicole Jaekel Strauss
EAN: 9780795801358
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1795

1795 by Dan Sleigh
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624073307
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New Times

New Times by Rehana Rossouw
EAN: 9781431425808
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There Should Have Been Five

There Should Have Been Five by Marilyn Honikman
Book homepage
EAN: 9780624076568
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Daar's nie 'n krokodil in hierdie boek nie

Daar’s nie ‘n krokodil in hierdie boek nie by Jaco Jacobs, illustrated by Chris Venter
EAN: 9780799383836
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Moenie hierdie boek eet nie!

Moenie hierdie boek eet nie! : ’n Rympie vir elke dag van die jaar by Jaco Jacobs, illustrated by Zinelda McDonald
EAN: 9780799379211
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Al wat ek weet

Al wat ek weet by Marita Van der Vyver
EAN: 9780799378993
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Book Bites: 16 September

Published in the Sunday Times

PontiPonti ***
Sharlene Teo, Picador, R285

In 2003, Szu Min lives shyly in the shadow of her beautiful mother Amisa Tan, a former B-movie actress and her Aunt Yunxi, who works as a medium. In 2020 Szu’s childhood friend Circe is put in charge of the media blitz for the remake of the 1970s horror film Ponti, in which Amisa plays the leading role. This drives Circe to reconsider her friendship with Szu Min and its bitter end. Split between several decades as well as Circe, Szu and Amisa’s perspectives, Ponti is a quietly tragic and slow-moving read exploring grief, abandonment and broken loyalties in Singapore. Though Teo’s debut is atmospheric in language and setting, it fails to satisfy in its resolution. Efemia Chela @efemiachela

A Double LifeA Double Life *****
Flynn Berry, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, R285

Lord Lucan’s disappearance in 1974 still fascinates true-crime aficionados. Berry’s story is told from the point of view of Claire, a London GP who has lived under a new name since her father vanished. Names and dates have been changed in this fictionalised tale but the crime in the novel mirrors the real case: in his absence a court found Lord Lucan guilty of murdering a servant. In this version eight-year-old Claire finds the body of her au pair and still bears the emotional scars. Berry flips between past and present as Claire pursues the only course of action that will free her from her father’s shadow. Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

The Chalk ManThe Chalk Man ****
CJ Tudor, Penguin, R175

If Stephen King and the Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things) had a British love child, her name would be CJ Tudor. The Chalk Man is spine-tingling and deliciously macabre; Tudor spins a tight yarn with remarkable constraint. A gang of pre-teens ride their bikes around town causing mischief when one day they stumble upon a body in the woods. There’s a strange new teacher who coaxes them into playing with chalk, and every time someone dies, creepy chalk men appear near the murder scene. Nothing is as it seems, and everyone seems to be nursing a secret. Right up to the very last page, The Chalk Man thrills and simultaneously terrifies. Anna Stroud @annawriter_

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“A collection of stories about nobodies who discover that they matter” – Mohale Mashigo discusses Intruders with Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi

Published in the Sunday Times

By Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi

The acclaimed author of Intruders, Mohale Mashigo. Picture: Sydelle Willow Smith.

 

Intruders ****
Mohale Mashigo, Picador Africa, R180

“A collection of stories about nobodies who discover that they matter.” That is how Mohale Mashigo describes her latest, Intruders. And while the short stories are set in the future (yet deeply rooted in the past) SA, and they feature familiar characters, the author requests that we don’t label the tales in Intruders “Afrofuturism”.

She says Afrofuturism (the genre du jour in literature, film and – as Nando’s points out in their latest cheeky ad – marketing) doesn’t “feel like the right coat to dress my stories in”.

And once you’ve devoured all 12 stories in the book, you understand why Mashigo feels the need for that disclaimer in the first place. To refer to Intruders as Afrofuturism is lazy and inaccurate. The stories aren’t as performative as that label would suggest and while they have a strong sense of familiarity, it’s not in a “seen this all before”, unoriginal way.

The familiarity in Intruders is both comforting and disconcerting. The people in the stories could be our friends, our families, our neighbours – they could be us. The settings are familiar to anyone who knows any corner of this land. That makes it harder to dismiss these tales of werewolves, mutants, monster slayers, shapeshifters and magicians as just tales of fiction.

It’s difficult to do so when you get sucked into them quickly because you recognise the world they are set in. Some of the stories themselves are inspired by or make reference to tales that many of us grew up on.

About this, Mashigo says: “Some of our stories are so magical, scary and downright beautiful. I wanted to show people that there is value in what we have … Our things are nice too!”

For instance, “BnB in Bloem”, a story about two sisters who hunt monsters, brings up the legendary story of Vera the Ghost.

There are a few different versions of Vera’s story, but the basic premise is that she is a beautiful hitchhiker ghost picked up by men who would sleep with her and then later wake up at her gravesite. In “BnB” Vera isn’t just one apparition, but many, who are terrorising men. All of the Veras have died at the hands of the opposite sex, and are out for revenge.

“We would never have to deal with a Vera if men would stop killing women,” one of the sisters says. Imagine if every woman in SA murdered by a man returned for retribution.

That’s part of the beauty of Intruders: it is also a commentary on gender, violence, race, addiction and class in SA done masterfully and in such unexpected ways that stumbling across bits of commentary in the stories feels like discovering sweets you didn’t know were hidden in your pockets.

Take “Once Upon a Town”, for instance. It’s the tale of two brilliant children who were both the hope of their families and communities, who end up hiding in the shadows because of afflictions they have no control over.

Streetlights reflect off the Orange River in Upington. Picture: 123rf.com/Demerzel21

 
While it’s a charming love story, “Once Upon” is also incredibly sad because – while it deals with the supernatural – it’s such a familiar South African tale.

The tale of brilliance that flourished in the sun for a while before being snuffed out by circumstances beyond the control of the gifted; the gifted kids who grew up in a place that wasn’t made to nourish their kind; the gifted kids who were the hopes of their families and communities for a better life; the gifted kids who, in the end, couldn’t escape the world they lived in.

One of the best stories in the Book is “Little Vultures”, a sci-fi fantasy set in a Jurassic Park-esque world, minus the horror (well, at least in the beginning). Basically, a sci-fi Garden of Eden. A widowed scientist, who is a pariah because of an experiment, lives on a farm with the animals she has created or resurrected. She is joined by two women, both coping with their own pain in different ways (one through cosmetic surgery, the other through isolation).

While the story is a literary Venn diagram about science and magic, at its heart is a stunning tale of loss, grief, loneliness and the value of life. The story ends on a suspenseful note, which is both fantastic and frustrating. Frustrating because you want to know more.

And that is the only disappointment with the tales in Intruders: how incomplete they feel. It’s as though Mashigo sucks the reader into her supernatural world as quickly as she spits you out from it. A lot of the stories leave you feeling like an addict who needs a fix. More please. @Pearloysias

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Book Bites: 2 September

Published in the Sunday Times

Presumed Dead ***
Mason Cross, Orion, R315

The rugged northeast of rural Georgia near the Appalachian Trail is perfect murder country. Between August 2002 and October 2003 nine bodies found in the dense forest were thought to be the work of the Devil Mountain Killer. Adeline Connor, then a teenage, was one of the victims, but her body was never found. And now, 15 years later, her brother is convinced he saw her alive and well in Atlanta. Carter Blake, a man who finds missing people, is hired to come to the small town of Bethany to investigate David’s claim that his sister is not dead. Someone has something to hide and the body count mounts. Who is out there with a .38 – re-emerging from the woods to kill? A gripping read that keeps you guessing till the end. Gabrielle Bekes @gabrikwa

The Gold Diggers ****
Sue Nyathi, Macmillan, R265

Disenchanted with life in a failing Zimbabwe, a miscellany of individuals make the treacherous crossing into SA, driven by a wily dealer in human cargo. Buoyed up by their hopes of being reunited with relatives or finding lucrative employment, they head for Johannesburg, the City of Gold. They are quickly disillusioned. The city is tough and sleazy; living conditions are squalid; xenophobia is rife; and it is difficult to secure employment without the necessary documents. Tenacity and sometimes duplicity are required and some fall prey to unscrupulous beguilers. Even those who achieve success pay a high price. Nyathi’s narrative has considerable pathos and provides insight into the plight of individuals forced by circumstances to take desperate actions. Moira Lovell

Caligula *****
Simon Turney, Orion, R295

Apparently insane Roman emperors continue to enjoy exposure in contemporary fiction, and readers can have their pick of perspectives. This look at Caligula differs from most considerations of the infamous tyrant in that author Simon Turney attempts, for as long as possible, to maintain a sympathetic view of his subject. Using Caligula’s loving, loyal sister Livilla as the first-person narrator goes a long way to making this a possibility, as she’s the last person in the world willing to wish him ill. Turney’s research paints a detailed picture of the perils of life at court under Caligula’s volatile predecessor Tiberius and of most of the major incidents in Caligula’s rule, confirming that Rome, for all the glamour its historical profile suggests, was a profoundly treacherous place. Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

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“Fierce, sad, inspired” – Anna Stroud reviews Craig Higginson’s soul-stirring The White Room

Published in the Sunday Times

A man and a woman give each other fictionalised stories about themselves, revealing much more than they ever hoped to in Craig Higginson’s The White Room. Author picture: Christof van der Walt.

 

The White Room
*****
Craig Higginson, Picador Africa, R265

In Craig Higginson’s fourth novel, The White Room, he reimagines and expands the story he started to tell in his 2010 play The Girl in the Yellow Dress. The novel opens when playwright Hannah Meade arrives in London for the opening night of her play about a brief period in Paris when she taught English to a young French-Congolese man named Pierre.

To complicate matters, she’s invited him to the premiere; but when she spots him with his gorgeous wife, she retreats into the wings and frets over how he will receive it.

“This book is so much about fiction and representation,” Higginson says in an interview.

“In the first half of the play before the interval, Pierre is pissed off with her because of the way she represented him, and stuck quite closely to the facts. But then in the second half of the play, he comes away feeling that something in him has been reached, even though the second half of the play wasn’t literally true.”

The play within the novel is structured around five grammar lessons. It opens when Pierre spots Hannah at the Sorbonne and, seeing her as a quintessential English girl, stalks her and convinces her to teach him. But the stories they tell each other about themselves are steeped in fiction, and beg the question whether we can ever truly know each other – or ourselves.

Yet sometimes the lies we tell are most revealing. Hannah’s self-representation leaves Pierre perplexed.

Higginson’s impressive use of language is demonstrated. On the surface it is spare but beneath the simplicity it cajoles the reader into playing a game of words. He writes: “There is an anarchic spirit in her, a kind of reckless impulsiveness that he will ponder over the weeks afterwards. Though she comes across as so perfect, so in control, a shadow seems to lie under everything she says and does.”

Hannah is a complex and moody character who hides from the world in books. The only time she’s truly alive is inside the grammar lessons, while outside everything is drab and dreary. Meanwhile Pierre (like Echo in the myth of Echo and Narcissus) loses himself in her and becomes a rock that reflects her voice.

Unlike the original female character in The Girl in the Yellow Dress, Hannah is not wealthy, or from the UK.

“By making her South African I was able to tap into my own memories of growing up in SA,” Higginson says. “There’s quite a lot of my own life in there … there’s a lot of me in there and yet the characters are very different from me.”

Like Hannah, Higginson was born in Zimbabwe and moved to SA at the height of the Soweto uprising. He also went to boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal, worked in the theatre, lived in England, did a TEFL course in Stoke, and taught English in Paris.

“A recurring theme in my work is the past and traumatic events or secrets from the past,” Higginson says. Hannah and Pierre attempt a relationship, but secrets and baggage from their past seep into the white room, causing them to hurt one another.

“Growing up in SA, one felt a kind of shame all the time. I mean, it’s that thing in The White Room where you’re in this abusive relationship but you don’t know if you’re the abuser or abused.”

The white room represents the room on stage where the action unfolds but it’s also the blank page, a clean slate. On another level, it’s about whiteness and the centrality it demands for itself.

Higginson explains that the novel touches on “the space that whiteness takes up in the world, the room that whiteness asks for itself, and how characters like Pierre have to negotiate that space”.

Yet, it’s a story that affirms the power of poetry, literature and theatre to reimagine and transform ourselves.

“I think we need to absorb fictions in order to heal and find a better vision.”

Fierce, sad, inspired The White Room stirs the soul. @annawriter_

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