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Archive for the ‘Pan Macmillan’ Category

Under a harrowing spell: Hannah Kent’s new book tells a dark Irish fairy tale, writes Michele Magwood

Published in the Sunday Times

It is as well that young Australian writer Hannah Kent ignored the old canard to “write what you know”. Her first book Burial Rites was set on a farm in remote northwest Iceland in 1829. It tells the tale of the life and death of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Relentlessly but exquisitely bleak, it was a rare imaginative debut.

Her second novel The Good People is also set in the 19th century and, like the first, is based on a true story. In a valley in Ireland in 1825, a farmer, Martin Leahy, drops dead. His wife Nóra is undone by his death.

The villagers are uneasy that he died so unexpectedly at the crossroads where they bury their suicides. They are poor, uneducated folk, half-starved on a diet of potatoes, milk and poitín (the Irish equivalent of witblitz), trying to control the unknowable with rituals and spells, navigating their destinies by signs and signals from the natural – and supernatural – world.

“I avoid the word ‘superstition’, as I think it implies stupidity and ignorance,” says Kent in an e-mail from her home in Adelaide. “A lot of folklore is filled with wisdom, as much as it might operate on a system of logic or rationality that can seem bizarre or nonsensical to outsiders. I have great respect for Irish folklore and folk beliefs.”

Sure enough, misfortune begins to pile up in the village. The cows’ milk virtually dries up, a baby is stillborn and a woman accidentally sets herself on fire. And then there is Nóra’s small grandson Micheál, who she is raising, and who she tries to keep hidden from the community. He is “a scragged boy, with a loose, mute jaw”. His skin has “a thinness to it, like the pages in a priest’s holy book”. He drools and screeches and gurns incessantly, and because he was a normal baby, Nóra begins to believe he is a changeling, that the Good People have stolen the real Micheál away and left this “poor cratur” behind. The villagers believe he has cursed the valley.

The “Good People” are, of course, the fairies, and are hardly good. Forget any idea of twinkling, benign little folk. The fairies of Irish folklore are darkly capricious, even evil.

“The fairies were (and, in some places, still are) thought to be the cause of both inexplicable luck and misfortune,” explains Kent. “They were capable of bestowing great gifts and favours on people, and just as quickly ‘striking’ or inflicting harm on others. It’s understandable that people therefore spent a lot of time trying to stay on the right side of the fairies, to protect themselves from their malice as much as possible. They might pour out beestings (new milk) for the fairies, warn them before throwing out dirty water (so as not to catch them in the downpour), or refer to them as ‘the good people’ or ‘the gentry’ out of respect and deference.”

Nóra turns to Nance Roach, a healer and “handywoman”, a midwife. Some call her “the herb hag”. She’s a scrawny, decrepit old woman, steeped in the old ways and loathed by the village priest.

“I didn’t want to portray Nance as the oversimplified all-knowing mystic,” says Kent, “the imperturbable mother-earth, I-am-one-with-nature healer, so I tried to focus on her flaws, on her doubt, on her mistakes. Yes, she lives in a semi-wild state, but her isolation isn’t romantic, she is poor and vulnerable.”

Together Nóra and Nance will try to “put the fairy out” of Micheál. It is a fascinating but harrowing process that will culminate in a court case. It was the report of this court case in a centuries-old newspaper that inspired Kent to reimagine the story.

The Good People is an enthralling book, queer in the original sense of the word, densely atmospheric. It sings with the cadences of the people, and pulses with the natural world. .@michelemagwood

Book details


Burial Rites

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Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award shortlist announced

The Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award is bestowed upon a local author for a South African published book that booksellers most enjoyed selling or that sold so well that it made a difference to the bottom line of booksellers across the country.

The books are voted for by members of the South African Booksellers Association all of whom are booksellers. It is the Booksellers Choice award, thus the booksellers vote for the book they most enjoyed selling during the year.

The shortlist this year includes previous winner, Deon Meyer, who makes it with his book Koors, a son’s story of his father’s murder. The much-loved comedian Trevor Noah joins him with Born a crime and other stories. Other shortlisted authors include Elsabé Brits who traces the fascinating life of Emily Hobhouse, from her tireless campaigning for women’s rights to her outspoken opposition to injustice, in Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde verraaier. My own liberator by former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke plays homage to the many people and places that have helped define and shape him. Meanwhile JAN: A breath of French Air by Jan Hendrick van der Westhuizen is a memoir and celebration of the renowned eatery JAN, a South African restaurant in the South of France. Kook saam Kaaps by Koelsoem Kamalie and Flori Schrikker continues the culinary theme with an easy-going home cookbook with ‘food from the heart’ recipes.

Last year’s winner was Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew. On accepting the award Sally commented: “I am so honoured to win the Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award 2016; booksellers are heroes – up there with librarians in my estimation. Reading can entertain, challenge and educate. It takes us to places and ideas we don’t normally visit. It can even open our hearts and uplift our souls. Thank you, booksellers for this gift you give to us all”.

Stephen Long, Global Managing Director, Book Discovery and Commerce at Nielsen said, “With the help of members of the South African Booksellers Association, the number of submissions for this year’s event has been incredible. We wish all this year’s shortlisted authors the very best of luck.

The short-listed books for 2016 are:

· Born a crime and other stories by Trevor Noah (Published by Pan Macmillan)
· Emily Hobhouse: Geliefde verraaier by Elsabe Brits (Published by Tafelberg)
· JAN A breath of French Air by Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen (Published by Struik)
· Kook saam Kaaps by Koelsoem Kamalie and Flori Schrikker (Published by Lapa Uitgewers)
· Koors by Deon Meyer (Published by Human & Rousseau)
· My own liberator by Dikgang Moseneke (Published by Picador Africa)

The winning author will be announced on the 22nd of August at the Sefika Awards Dinner in Durban and will receive a cheque from Nielsen for R 20 000.


Book details

Born A Crime


Emily Hobhouse


My Own Liberator


JAN - A Breath of French Air


Kook Saam Kaaps

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“Hamba kahle, Emma!” Doyenne of South Africa’s trade union movement passes away

Prominent trade union veteran, women’s and human rights activist, and former Restitution of Land Rights Commissioner Emma Mashinini has passed away in her home in Pretoria at midnight last night at the age 87.

Mrs Mashinini is regarded as the doyenne of the trade union movement in South Africa, serving as a shop steward on the National Union of Clothing Workers (NUCW) and a founder of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) in 1975. She was integrally involved in the establishment of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in 1985.

Mrs Mashinini played several prominent roles in the transition to democracy in the 1980s and 1990s.

Funeral arrangements are being finalised and details will be communicated in due course.

Terry Morris, MD of Picador and Pan Macmillan, paid homage to this remarkable woman:

The feisty and inspirational Emma Mashinini has passed away at age 87. Emma’s memoir, Strikes Have Followed me All my Life was originally published by The Women’s Press UK in 1989 and republished by Picador Africa in South Africa in 2012 with a new foreword by Jay Naidoo.

It was a privilege to publish her book and to have her as an author on our list.

Hamba kahle Emma!

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Custody and consultation: Karin Schimke talks to Marcus Low about his debut novel Asylum

Published in the Sunday Times

Marcus Low’s bleak debut novel is set in the near future, but describes the world as we already know it, writes Karin Schimke

Marcus Low (Picador Africa)

In Asylum, Marcus Low’s unsettling debut novel, the narrator Barry James writes in his notebook about the endless coughing caused by the imagined – but not unimaginable – disease around which the book is built: “…you cough up the past, cough up everything you’ve done … until one day when it is all out, you have nothing left to do but turn into one of those serene corpses the staff are so determined to clear out as soon as possible.”

The story takes place in South Africa in 2022 in a high-security sanatorium for the doomed: people with “pulmonary nodulosis” for whom there is no cure and who are kept separated from the rest of South Africa by fences and security guards to contain the risk of pandemic.

When I first read the story, I thought it was the most credible – and therefore the most disturbing – dystopian novel I had ever read: a landscape withering under the onslaught of climatic change, the spread of an uncontrollable superbug, the posturing limpness of politicians and the vague helplessness of well-intentioned but under-supported medical staff.

In an interview with Low, I am set right: the novel may be set in the not-too-far future, but it takes its energy from what has already happened. He refers me to a feature article from 2008 in the New York Times, which quotes Siyasanga Lukas, an inmate of the Jose Pearson TB Hospital in Port Elizabeth, where patients with multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis were kept behind high security fences which they often tried, and sometimes succeeded in, breaching in order to be with their families for Christmas and other special occasions.

“I’ve seen people die and die and die,” Lukas is quoted as saying. “The only discharge you get from this place is to the mortuary.”

So much for dystopia.

Low’s novel is mostly written in the first person by an inmate of the Pearson quarantine facility in the Great Karoo who is recording his uneventful wait to become a serene corpse. When other inmates become involved in a plan to escape, he goes along in a spirit of what seems to be more curiosity and boredom than hope. Between the journal entries are notes by an unnamed commentator looking back on James’s record of the experience of incarceration with the cold distance of an academic or researcher.

The story might very well have been a kind of medical or escape thriller, a high-tension, hopeful adventure in which the double victims of disease and imprisonment become victors of both. Instead, Low has chosen the quiet, literary route, one that is nothing if not bleak.

Low says he is drawn to “the undercurrents of madness and a certain perspective on human dignity that you find in old Russian writing”. Indeed, the seeds for Asylum lie not only with the recent reality of quarantined TB sufferers, but also in a particular literary tradition. The story, with its textural hopelessness, references Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, in which three characters are locked in a room together, and Albert Camus’ The Plague in which an entire town is sealed off to prevent the spread of the bubonic plague.

The author’s interest in “disease as metaphor” also has roots in his own life. Low is currently the editor of Spotlight, a print and online publication about TB and HIV, and worked for many years with the Treatment Action Campaign, arguably the most powerful lobby group ever to have worked in South Africa and whose tireless activism lead to tectonic shifts in government policy regarding the treatment of HIV/Aids.

And, in the most intimate realm of understanding his own subject matter in Asylum, is the fact that Low has a degenerative, genetic eye condition known as Stargardt’s disease.

“I can’t read print anymore. I can’t drive. And I sometimes walk into things,” says Low. “I do sometimes have the odd feeling that, in terms of my vision loss at least, I am living a metaphor for some undefined thing or other.”

In an article entitled “The False Hope Industry” on the website Quackdown, Low wrote in 2011: “When it comes to finding cures, hope is irrelevant.”

Reading up about Kafka after our interview, I find a Kafka quote for which I cannot find the source: “A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.” James, the protagonist of Asylum watches the not particularly enticing world beyond the fence of his prison and writes in his journal, “I look at it and it calms something inside me. I think it’s the harshness that does it.”

This connects what, for me, is the source of Asylum’s (admittedly understated) consolations. And Low confirms that the novel’s tone of desolation is an aperture into something a little more sanguine than is obvious.

“It’s a kind of ‘staring into the abyss’”, says Low. “It’s painful and it’s sad, but if you do it, the natural response is to take better care of others.”

He speaks about his admiration for Camus’ world view, which he describes as “an honesty about the bleakness in the world offset by a deep humanity”.

There is always, he says, a tension between hope and denial, and confronting that dilemma in a hopeless situation can lead to greater self-awareness and, hopefully, one is more open to compassion for others.

“Though, of course,” he adds, “many people just prefer denial.”

What then are the consolations? Whether Asylum is read as an allegory for the current state of the world, or whether it is a meditation on a loss of liberty due to the inescapable prison of disease, it does have its comforts. What, for Low, are they?

“The main consolation,” he says, “is finding our common humanity, not just with humans, but also with animals.

“The other consolation, but it is secondary, is that there are things that are beautiful in the world. Like nature. Like music. Like books.”

Follow Karin Schimke @karinschimke

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Book Bites: 25 June 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The Fall of the House of WildeThe Fall of the House of Wilde
Emer O’Sullivan (Bloomsbury)
Book real
This biography on one of the 19th century’s most prolific playwright’s family history is an engaging account of a generation’s demise. O’Sullivan covers the Wilde genealogy from 1758 – the year in which Oscar Wilde’s physician father, William, was commemorated with a plaque for his contribution to medicine, archaeology and folkore. We’re also introduced to his brother Willie, and his mother, Jane. O’Sullivan’s account of William’s sexual assault charges, Jane’s anguish following the charges, and the family’s fall into ill-repute is an engrossing, empathetic and eloquent read. The book brims with dates, names, letters and photos, and a comprehensive introduction to Irish history, yet O’Sullivan’s prose never reads as a dull textbook. – Mila de Villiers @mila_se_kind


Julie Buntin (Picador)
Book buff
“Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are” – so begins a tale of teenage friendship and addiction. Cat looks back on her year in Michigan, where as a girl of 15 she meets glamorous and wild Marlena. The story contains echoes of Carolyn Forche’s poem As Children Together and Beatrice Sparks’ Go Ask Alice. But Buntin brings a fresh take on rural America, land of isolation and Trump supporters. This is where prescription drugs and meth have infiltrated the crumbling remains of the white working class. Lonely and floundering, the teens hold each other up and drag each other down. Some, like Cat, do grow up and escape, but the scars and memories will follow them wherever they go. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Roanoke Girl
The Roanoke Girls
Amy Engel, Hodder & Stoughton
Book fling
After her mother committed suicide when she was 15 years old, Lane Roanoke went to live with her grandparents and cousin Allegra. More than a decade later, and somewhat lost in Los Angeles, Lane gets a call from her grandfather to say Allegra has gone missing. Lane returns to her grandparents but now must face the dark secret that made her leave so many years ago. This novel will have you read until the very end in just one sitting. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt
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UJ Prize for South African Writing shortlist announced

The University of Johannesburg has announced the shortlist of its annual literary award. Approximately 60 works were submitted, from which the following books were selected for the shortlist:

Main Prize:
Pleasure by Nthikeng Mohlele
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Sigh, the Beloved Country by Bongani Madondo

Debut Prize:
The Yearning by Mohale Mashigo
Loud and Yellow Laughter by Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese
Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and Other Stories by Jolyn Philips
The Keeper of the Kumm by Sylvia Vollenhoven

The prizes are not linked to a specific genre. This may make the evaluation more challenging in the sense that, for example, a volume of poetry, a novel and a biographical work must be measured against one another, but the idea is to open the prize to as many forms of creative writing as possible.

The main prize is R75 000.

The debut prize is R35 000.

A formal prize-giving ceremony will be held at a function later in the year.


Book details

The Woman Next Door


Sigh The Beloved Country


The Yearning


Loud and Yellow Laughter


Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories


Keeper of the Kumm

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Exclusive Books Homebru 2017 selection announced

Exclusive Books has announced their selection of fiction, non-fiction, cookery and children’s books for their annual Homebru campaign.

This year’s slogan was ‘books by us, written for you’. According to Ben Williams, general manager of Exclusive Books, the nearly fifty titles on the list “represent a highly engaging slice of current South African writing and life.”

With titles as diverse as Fred Strydom’s work of speculative fiction, The Inside-Out Man, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s political analysis, The Republic of Gupta, and the colourful array of cookery and children’s books, including Khanyisa Malabi’s Legacy of Living and Sparkles of Taste and Carol-Ann Davids’ The Hair Fair, this year’s list certainly is representative of contemporary South African writing.

The titles which appear on the list are:



Confluence: Beyond the River with Siseko Ntondini

by Piers Cruickshanks
Bending the RulesBending the Rules: Memoir of a Pioneering Diplomat
by Rafique Gangat
Making Africa WorkMaking Africa Work: A handbook for economic success
by Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, Olusegun Obasanjo & Dickie Davis
The Republic of GuptaThe Republic of Gupta: A Story of State Capture
by Pieter-Louis Myburgh
Dreams, Betrayal and Hope Dreams, Betrayal and Hope
by Mamphela Ramphele
Apartheid Guns and MoneyApartheid, Guns and Money: A tale of profit
by Hennie Van Vuuren
Traces and Tracks: A Thirty-Year Journey with the SanTraces and Tracks: A thirty year journey with the San
by Paul Weinberg

Selling Lip ServiceSelling Lip Service
by Tammy Baikie
Hlomu The Wife
Zandile The Resolute
Naledi His Love

by Dudu Busani-Dube
Dancing the Death DrillDancing the Death Drill
by Fred Khumalo
Emperor Shaka the GreatEmperor Shaka The Great (English Edition)
Unodumehlezi Kamenzi (isiZulu Edition)
by Masizi Kunene
Being KariBeing Kari
by Qarnita Loxton
Recognition: An Anthology of South African Short Stories

edited by David Medalie

by Naomi Meyer
The Last StopThe Last Stop
by Thabiso Mofokeng
The Third Reel
The Third Reel

Die Derde Spoel
by S J Naudé
If I Stay Right Here
If I Stay Right Here
by Chwayita Ngamlana
Ayixoxeki NakuxoxekaAyixoxeki Nakuxoxeka
by Mbongeni Cyprian Nzimande
Akulahlwa Mbeleko NgakufelwaAkulahlwa Mbeleko Ngakufelwa
by Zukiswa Pakama
Delilah Now TrendingDelilah Now Trending
by Pamela Power
Die BergengelDie Bergengel
by Carina Stander
As in die Mond
As in die mond

by Nicole Jaekel Strauss
The Inside-Out Man
The Inside-Out Man

by Fred Strydom
Alles het niet kom wod

Alles het niet kom wôd

by Nathan Trantraal

Last Night at the BasslineLast Night at the Bassline
by David Coplan and Oscar Gutierrez
Equal, but Different
Equal But Different
by Judy Dlamini
No Longer Whispering to Power
No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela
by Thandeka Gqubule
Being Chris Hani's Daughter Being Chris Hani’s Daughter
by Lindiwe Hani
God praat Afrikaans
God praat Afrikaans

by HemelBesem
Lied vir SarahSong for Sarah: Lessons from my Mother
Lied vir Sarah: Lesse van My Moeder

by Jonathan Jansen
Fatima MeerFatima Meer: Memories of Love & Struggle
by Fatima Meer
The Man Who Founded the ANCThe Man Who Founded The ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme
by Bongani Ngqulunga
Billionaires Under Construction

Billionaires Under Construction

by DJ Sbu

The Elders at the DoorThe Elders at the Door (Afrikaans, English, isiZhosa, isiZulu)
by Maryanne Bester, illustrated by Shayla Bester
The Hair FairThe Hair Fair
by Carol-Ann Davids
#LoveReading: short stories, poems, blogs and more
compiled by Rosamund Haden & Dorothy Dyer
Beyond the River
Beyond the River

by Mohale Mashigo
How Many Ways Can You Say Hello? How Many Ways Can You Say Hello
by Refiloe Moahloli, illustrated by Anja Stoeckigt

by Fanie Viljoen



by Bertus Basson
Legacy of Living and Sparkles of TasteLegacy of Living & Sparkles of Taste
by Khanyisa Malabi
Johanne 14
Johanne 14: Real South African Food

by Hope Malau

Book details

  • Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success by Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, Olusegun Obasanjo, Dickie Davis
    EAN: 9780624080275
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Steven Boykey Sidley on his latest novel, Free Association

“The structure, which involves intermittent podcast transcripts and third-person perspectives, was a joy to write. I could burrow into Max’s imagination and build up a cornucopia of small stories that would coalesce around him as the character developed,” author Steven Boykey Sidley said of his recent novel novel, Free Association, during an interview with the Sunday Times’ Bruce Dennill.

Read Dennill’s feature on Sidley here.

Free Association

Book details

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The Hate U Give speaks up loudly for an ignored, ill-treated and maligned community, writes Tammy February

Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is a powerful and brave YA novel about what prejudice looks like in the 21st century.

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

Tammy February recently reviewed the novel for Women24. Read an extract here:

There are going to be a lot of people who will use the following words when recommending this book to you: “If you only read one book this year, make sure it’s this one.”

My advice to you? Listen to them (because I’m echoing their sentiment right now, and as a reader and reviewer who generally eschews reading a book because of hype, that’s definitely saying something).

We may only be three months into 2017, but I’m pretty convinced that this book will be on every bookseller and reader’s best of 2017 list, and for a very good reason.

The Hate U Give is simply brilliant. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this novel is not just a profoundly important novel providing social commentary on race, but it’s also one that raises the black community’s voice loud and proud by providing a marginalised community with an authentically black, vocal and strong female voice – one that we don’t see nearly enough of in fiction …

It’s a novel that sums up what it’s like for black communities to constantly deal with the systematic, insidious and hate-fuelled oppression they’ve been dealing with since the dawn of civilisation, and it’s one that I’m fairly sure will be eye-opening to many, even those who consider themselves the staunchest Black Lives Matter allies.

Continue reading February’s review here.
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Check out the programme for this year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival!

The quaint Western Cape town of Franschhoek will be accommodating South Africa’s literary greats from Friday 19 May to Sunday 21 May.

This annual literary festival’s 2017 line-up can only be described as one which skrik’s vir niks.

Festival-goers can expect discussions and debates featuring Rebecca Davis, author of Best White and Other Delusions, in conversation with agricultural economist Tracy Ledger (An Empty Plate) and African diplomacy scholar Oscar van Heerden (Consistent or Confused) on the ever-dividing rift between South Africans; the Sunday Times‘ contributing books editor Michele Magwood asks publishers Phehello Mofokeng (Geko Publishing), Thabiso Mahlape (BlackBird Books) and short story writer Lidudumalingani Mqombothi (recipient of the 2016 Caine Prize Winner for Memories We Lost, published in The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things) whether there’s a shortage of black fiction authors; and poet Rustum Kozain (Groundwork) will discuss Antjie Krog, Lady Anne: A Chronicle in Verse with the acclaimed poet herself.

And that’s just day one!

Find the full programme here.

Tickets are available from


Best White and Other Anxious Delusions

Book details





Lady Anne


An Empty Plate


The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories

  • The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2016 by Caine Prize
    EAN: 9781566560160
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Consistent or Confused

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