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Archive for the ‘Penguin’ Category

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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In an exclusive interview, Kate Atkinson talks to Michele Magwood about spying, Brexit, and World War II

Published in the Sunday Times

Transcription ****
Kate Atkinson, Doubleday, R290

Kate Atkinson was immersed in the National Archives in London when a set of documents caught her eye. Part of one of MI5’s periodic releases of historical records, they concerned a WW2 agent with the code name “Jack King” who infiltrated fascist circles. He posed as a Gestapo agent and would meet members of the so-called “fifth column” in an innocent-looking flat with hidden recording devices. Next door a junior agent transcribed the meetings.

On the telephone from the UK Atkinson describes how it sparked the idea for the new novel.

“I have to have a title before I can even think about a book, so as soon as I’d read those transcriptions I had it. And then I looked up the OED definition and found it is also a word for broadcasting so it fitted perfectly, because I wanted to write about the BBC in wartime.”

Atkinson’s last two books Life After Life and A God in Ruins – both winners of the Costa Prize – were set in World War 2 and she’s nowhere near done with it yet.

Transcription is a story about ambiguity and duplicity, about idealism, loyalty and the lifelong price of those.

Juliet Armstrong is just 18 and an orphan when she is recruited by the secret service in 1940.

Initially she is the typist who transcribes the interviews taking place in the flat next door. She’s a sharp young woman with a delightfully derisive interior voice: for example, her boss is describing the fifth columnists. “Our own home-grown evil … instead of rooting them out the plan is to let them flourish – but within a walled garden from which they cannot escape and spread their evil seed.” A girl could die of old age following a metaphor like this, Juliet thought. “Very nicely put, Sir,” she said.

“I never design a character,” says Atkinson. “I write very, very slowly at the beginning of a novel and that helps to get into that interior voice. I’m inside their heads. But I don’t construct them – they simply exist. I don’t understand the neurological process, the imaginative process that helps that to occur.”

Juliet is not particularly ambitious, she is more interested in romance and going to dance halls, but her boss promotes her to undercover agent. At first she thinks it is a bit of a lark but it quickly becomes deadly serious and she learns, appallingly, what the consequences of espionage can be. As the book moves forward to 1950 and even further to 1981, we wonder whether she can ever be free of the war.

“I’m really interested in the postwar period,” Atkinson explains, “the 10 years after the war. It was so dingy and hard, there was no sense of euphoria, no money, no food still.”

Romanian actress Nadia Gray in the BBC studios, London, England, December 14 1950. Picture: Underwood Archives/Getty Images.

 
Juliet goes to work for the BBC where she produces nostalgic history programmes for children. It’s a safe and uneventful life, until the intelligence services reel her in for one last job.

Atkinson is bemused by the prevailing Brexit jingoism, the idea of a brave Great Britain standing proudly alone in the war.

“I think the war makes us very nostalgic, and let’s not forget that our view of the war is filtered through the propaganda of the time: the Blitz spirit and so on. When in fact crime rates rocketed, illegitimacy rocketed, people complained a lot. Everything was destroyed. Also, we fought for Europe and now we want to let it go, that to me is slightly mystifying.”

Is there more to be revealed from archives?

“Yes, I think there is. The MI5 and secret service archives are sealed – it’s not like the public records where everything gets released after 40 or 50 years – they only release to the public what they choose to, so I imagine there’s a great deal more. But in a way it was an untried service in the war. They were still learning. When you think about what it must be like now, just the technological aspect of what they must be doing, we really don’t know.

“But we don’t know what we don’t know, do we?” @michelemagwood

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The shortlists for the 2017 UJ Prize have been announced!

Via the University of Johannesburg

The shortlists for the 2017 University of Johannesburg Prizes for South African writing have been announced.

The prizes are not linked to a specific literary genre. This may make the evaluation more challenging in the sense that 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.

Approximately 60 works were submitted this year, from which the following books were selected for the shortlist:

Main Prize:

Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo

Bird-Monk Seding by Lesego Rampolokeng

New Times by Rehana Rossouw

The Inside-Out Man by Fred Strydom

Debut Prize:

Grace by Barbara Boswell

Killing Karoline by Sara-Jayne King

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.

The adjudication panel comprised the following judges:

Sikhumbuzo Mngadi (UJ)

Ronit Frenkel (UJ)

Danyela Demir (UJ)

Rebecca Fasselt (UP)

Bridget Grogan (UJ)

Nyasha Mboti (UJ)

Thabo Tsehloane (UJ)

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“Who’s going to get lucky tonight?” Kate Sidley on her three current literary love interests (and not to worry, Steven – they’re only books!)

Published in the Sunday Times

I arrive home from the book launch with a new love interest. Maybe it was the wine. I shouldn’t have had that second glass, we all know how it lowers the defences. Not that that’s any excuse. I know it was entirely my doing. Be that as it may, here I am with not one, but two … shall we say … prospects.

The one was a given, I knew I was going to purchase the launch book, The Season of Glass, the new novel by Rahla Xenopolous. But then the bookstore owner, who knows me and my weakness so well, said, “That book you were asking about just came in.”

It is Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, and it’s fresh and new, all decked out with the gold stamp of the Pulitzer Prize 2018. The very many cover shouts are glowing and there’s the word “hilarious” – nothing does it for me like hilarious – and then “bedazzling” and “endearing”.

I take both books.

I get home and clamber over the mountain of unread and partially read books that I believe was, some time in the early 2000s, a small bedside table. On top is my avowed current partner – Ken Barris’s award-winning The Life of Worm & Other Misconceptions.
 
Ooh, I love it. Properly, deeply love it. Wouldn’t leave it for anything. But this wouldn’t be leaving. It is a short story collection, and short story collections are by definition polyamorous. They don’t mind if you go off and frolic in other pastures for a bit. In fact, they expect it. After a dalliance, I find that I return to the relationship with renewed interest and delight.

Having made peace with a small break from Worm (it’s not you, it’s me, I tell him) I read the first few pages of The Season of Glass. You have to read the first pages on the night of the book launch. It’s the done thing. Well, it’s my done thing. The book’s a beauty, really a knock-out, but I’m not shallow, I don’t want to objectify my new love interest. It’s marvellous on the inside, too and though it’s early days, it feels like we’ve got something going.

This morning, when honest to God I should be working and not mucking around in bed with strange new books, I spot Less. In the spirit of research and professionalism (I am after all a book reviewer, and we have responsibilities), I open it up. Just a page or two. To see what all the fuss is about. I won’t lie. I’m intrigued.

Help me, then, with the eternal question of the reader – who’s going to get lucky tonight? @KateSidley

Kate Sidley is the author of 100 Mandela Moments (Jonathan Ball, R190)

The Season of Glass

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The Season of Glass by Rahla Xenopoulos
EAN: 9781415209578
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Less

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
EAN: 9780349143590
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The Life of Worm

The Life of Worm & Other Misconceptiosn by Ken Barris
EAN: 9780795707957
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As gripping as it gets: Michele Magwood reviews Belinda Bauer’s Man Booker Prize-longlisted thriller, Snap

Published in the Sunday Times


Snap
****
Belinda Bauer, Penguin Random House, R290

Belinda Bauer is an exceptional thriller writer. Her books are low on gore and high on psychology and what sets her apart from other suspense or domestic noir writers is that in each book she introduces a fascinating syndrome or set of beliefs. In Rubbernecker, for instance,she explores the condition of autism and in The Shut Eye she tackles the subject of psychics.

In her latest, eagerly awaited novel Snap she takes the reader into the world of hoarding. As always, it adds another dimension to a typically enthralling storyline.

In the opening chapter three children are waiting in a broken-down car on the edge of a busy road in Somerset. Their mother has gone to find a telephone and has not come back. Hungry and thirsty, they decide to go looking for her, only to find a receiver hanging off the hook in a phone box. She will never return.

The story jumps ahead three years and we meet Catherine While, who is expecting her first child. Her husband is away and she is convinced she hears someone in the house. When she wakes up she finds a knife next to her bed and a note saying, “I could have killed you.”

Bauer switches back and forth between the abandoned children as they try to survive, hiding from social services staff, whom they know will split them up, and Catherine as she lives in increasing fear. Add in a splendidly splenetic cop in the form of DI Marvel and two comic sidekicks, and all the elements are in place for an original, utterly gripping story. @michelemagwood

Snap has been nominated for the Man Booker prize.

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“This book comes out of [my feelings about the fallist movement] but also out of the desire to escape from it.” Imraan Coovadia on his new novel, A Spy in Time

Published in the Sunday Times


For Imraan Coovadia, the science-fiction genre provides an opportunity to think about race differently. Picture: Alon Skuy.

A Spy in Time
****
Imraan Coovadia, Umuzi, R260

Over the last four years since the publication of his previous novel, Tales of the Metric System, Imraan Coovadia has been watching, with scepticism and dismay, the events playing out on the campus of the University of Cape Town, where he heads the creative writing programme.

In Johannesburg last week he admitted that perhaps the disruptions and racial anger that spilt from the Rhodes Must Fall protests into the Fees Must Fall protests provided the impetus for his new novel, a time-travelling, spy-thriller science fiction tale with an Afrofuturist infusion.

He says the book – a departure for a novelist whose previous work employed a more social realist approach to issues of history, race and identity over the course of South Africa’s journey from the indignities of apartheid to the tensions of the democratic era – “comes out of [my feelings about the fallist movement] but also out of the desire to escape from it. Most things South Africans do are simultaneously super-South African and also part of a desire to escape from South Africa and its narrow problems completely.”

In Coovadia’s version of the future the world has been destroyed by a supernova, leaving only Johannesburg, with its deep mining tunnels as the sole surviving city where an agency run by robots sends members of the predominantly black surviving human race back in time to ensure that the end of the world will never be repeated.

The hero is novice agent Enver Eleven, whose journey takes him backwards and forwards in time from Marrakesh in 1955 to Brazil in 1967 and the surface of Jupiter many thousands of years in the future. In this world white people, while not part of the present, are firmly part of the past and so agents such as Enver must learn how to interact with and protect himself in a world once predominantly controlled by whites.

Coovadia sees the science-fiction genre as a useful means to “maybe think about race differently or take other more imaginative angles towards it”.

Enver’s journey provides him with an opportunity to explore the idea that, as Coovadia puts it, “beneath race we’re controlled by quite elemental qualities of who’s familiar, who’s strange to us, who’s a friend, who’s an enemy, who’s superior, who’s subordinate. I think part of this [book] is an attempt to look at those feelings and say irrespective of where you stand in the system, how do those feelings work on you and how do they propel you to do certain things?”

Unlike many time-travelling tales which focus on how small changes to the past can have drastic consequences for the future, here even the smallest of changes to the narrative of the past are frowned upon because, as Coovadia says, “the agency in this book hates the idea that there could be multiple universes because that would create extra human suffering … and so their entire philosophy and culture is devoted to suppressing butterfly effects”.

Acknowledging the influence of the classic adventure stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, Coovadia sees this book, ironically in the light of its time-travel narrative, as his best attempt at telling a “story that unfolded naturally without being overladen with sense impressions and the things I’m usually interested in. It’s a book written almost entirely without flashbacks, in which the story goes from A to B to C to D.”

Enver Eleven’s adventure is a solid, well-told science-fiction story that, like the best examples of the genre, offers imaginative and intelligent contemplation of where we might end up, while also providing a space for the contemplation of where we are now and how we got here. It’s perhaps best understood as Coovadia’s response to the idea of eternal recurrence posited by Friedrich Nietzsche, which asks if you could imagine reliving your life, would you do so in exactly the same way.

For Coovadia: “That’s one thing when you say it for an individual person but what about for history and for African history, which is full of disasters and catastrophes?”

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Christopher Hope gives readers an absorbing, trenchant portrait of the nation and its people, writes Michele Magwood of The Café de Move-on Blues

Published in the Sunday Times

The Café de Move-on Blues
The Café de Move-on Blues by Christopher Hope (author pic supplied) is an elegy to a living nation.
 
The Café de Move-on Blues: In Search of the New South Africa
*****
Christopher Hope, Atlantic Books, R290

On the cover of Christopher Hope’s surpassing new book is a David Goldblatt photograph dating from 1964. The battered caravan selling food and drink is familiar to any South African, a ubiquitous feature of our urban landscape known as a “café de move-on” because the police were always moving them on. Hope takes this as both title and metaphor for a journey into the soul of South Africa now, a bookend to his acclaimed memoir from 30 years ago, White Boy Running.

It is both a physical and a philosophical journey, as he writes in the preface: “This is an account of a journey around South Africa. It is a search for understanding of who ‘we’ are and what we thought we were doing there.”

Hope takes as his atlas a trail of defaced and contested monuments, starting off with the statue of Rhodes on the UCT campus and looping up as far as Vuwani in Limpopo and back down through Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape to Cape Town and the head of Rhodes on Devil’s Peak, where he finds the nose lopped clean off.

At each stop Hope captures a leaf of history: pointing out, for instance, that the vandalised statue of Jan van Riebeeck on the Cape Town foreshore is a fake, that this man and the portrait on the banknotes was another, better-looking person than the dumpy original. “The story spun around him as the founding father of the nation … was the founding fraud at the heart of our history.” Hendrik Verwoerd, he informs us, was not an Afrikaner but Dutch, with German as his home language, and that he was schooled in Rhodesia at a very English college under the name Harold Ferwood.

He contemplates the paint-daubed statue of Gandhi, and remembers that the Indian activist may have been pro-Indian, but he was certainly not pro-black, once stating that “native prisoners are only one degree removed from the animal”. There are other less political monuments, too, such as the grave of Happy Sindane in Tweefontein, the young man who claimed he had been kidnapped from his white family and raised in a township. “What Happy did was to remind the country of how deeply, perhaps permanently, the abiding obsession with race and skin colour has damaged so many lives.”

As Hope gathers up the leaves and examines them in the light of South Africa today, an absorbing, trenchant portrait of the nation and its people emerges.

Hope’s hallmark in all his writing is his shrewd eye for the telling detail. In Fraserburg in the Karoo he points the reader to an odd kink in a street which had in the ’30s been a thriving Jewish trading area. The Afrikaner shopkeepers were jealous of their success and simply redirected traffic to their own street in what Hope calls a “municipal pogrom”. The Jews moved on.

This being Christopher Hope, the text is darted with a piquant wit. Writing about the waitress in Cape Town who was reduced to what became known as “white tears”, he dubs the restaurant “The Café Lachrymosa”.

Duane, an earnest white Wits Fallist, “had been checking his privilege so often, in his moral rear-view mirror, that he could no longer see anything ahead of him”.

Hope is uniquely placed to write about the evolution of South Africa in the last half century. With his writing repeatedly banned, he was hounded into exile in the ’70s but continued to bait the authorities from afar. He now visits the country regularly, clocking the subtle changes that we, who live here, do not see. He writes prolifically for publications such as The Guardian as well as books of fiction and non-fiction.

The Café de Move-on Blues is his apogee, an immensely wise distillation of his thinking and observations over decades and, as has been described, “an elegy to a living nation, which is still mad and absurd”.

Once, in London in the ’80s, Hope visited Oliver Tambo. They talked about the café de move-on and how sad it was, always being forced to pick up and go. Tambo told him, he said: “He wanted a country where no one was pushed out. Where no one ever felt ‘the move-on blues’.”

“Never? I asked.

“Never,” said Tambo.

Decades on, Hope finds a country as riven by race as it ever was. “Whichever way you play it, I hear the music Tambo once told me that no one in his country wanted, or needed, to hear – the café de move-on blues”. @michelemagwood

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And our sunshine noir author for July is … Karin Brynard!

A new month calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Karin Brynard for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Karin Brynard, author of Our Fathers. ©Penguin Random House.

 
 
 
Here’s what the two thriller aficionados chatted about:

Karin Brynard grew up in the Northern Cape and many of her books are set in that dramatic, semi-arid landscape. She was a journalist and editor for several of South Africa’s major newspapers before she became freelance to concentrate on her writing.

Her novels – originally written in Afrikaans – have been translated into several languages, and she has won a variety of literary and crime fiction prizes. Her next book, Tuisland (the Afrikaans version of Homeland), shot up to number one on the South African best seller list when it was released in 2016.

We chatted about Our Fathers, her latest book available outside South Africa.

Our Fathers is a book that tackles big themes in South Africa – the decay of family units, alienation by place as well as race, and different views from different groups as to the relationship between races in the country. Did you set out to address these, or are they the issues that will almost inevitably arise in contemporary South African crime fiction?

If you try and shadow one ordinary cop in the South African Police Service for a day, you will most likely stumble across every one of the “big themes” of this country.

Cops stand at the coal face of all the realities of life here, ranging from racism to the rape of babies and beyond. And that’s where my stories happen too, so addressing the “issues” becomes sort of inevitable.

The question everybody keeps asking is why. Why do we see so much violence, so much brutality accompanying crime? We realize that this is a deeply complex society and that we’re continuously grappling with major challenges, ranging from poverty to greed, massive urbanization and the accompanying disintegration of cultures and belief systems. It is a society constantly under pressure, exposing all the cracks.

It would be almost impossible to ignore these issues. But: in the midst of all this, there is always redemption: relief in the beauty of the place and of the unexpected warmth of the diverse people who live here, their creativity and vibrant cultures.

What better background for storytelling, especially crime? The bad, the ugly, and the good all in one go.

You ask about “alienation by place as well as race.” Placing Sergeant Johannes Ghaap, a man of Griqua origin, in a predominantly black city like Soweto gave me the opportunity to showcase some of the diversity of our society and how challenging it can be on the personal level. It was such a rewarding exercise doing so, and allowed for wonderful suspense through Ghaap’s stumbling about.

The idea for Our Fathers arose from an interview I did with a man whose son had been accused of murder – bludgeoning his gorgeous girlfriend to death with a hammer.

She was a promising student at the University of Stellenbosch and he a handsome postgraduate with an open, youthful face. It became a sensational case and the family of both the victim and the accused refused to talk to the press.

I tried very hard to get an interview. And then got lucky.

The father of the young man agreed cautiously to talk. We met on a cold winter night and talked for hours. I will never forget the man’s despairing tears as he told me how he was torn from his bed in the middle of the night with the terrible news, and of his feelings of powerlessness as the investigation became a nightmare, his growing frustration with not being able to protect his son from this horror.

After the interview, driving back through the dark, wet streets of this beautiful student town, I thought how lucky this young boy was to have a father such as this.

Which set me to thinking about the role of fathers in the life of a family – and for that matter in the bigger family of a society. In psychological terms, the father is the constant guard at the gate, often sacrificing himself to protect his family and to provide for them. He keeps things stable, provides reason, reflection, order and wisdom, according to the myths of old.

What happens in a household where the fathers are absent? Research shows that more than half of SA children grow up without fathers. It also shows the detrimental effects on the psychological health of those kids, how it impacts on male violence, on suicide, promiscuity, even academic performance.

As the writing of this story progressed, this theme in particular, grew in importance.

Continue reading their conversation here.
 

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Tiah Beautement interviews Rahla Xenopoulous on her new novel

Published in the Sunday Times

Season of Glass is Rahla Xenopoulus’s third book. Picture: Joanne Olivier.

 
The Season of Glass *****
Rahla Xenopoulos (Umuzi, R250)

It is difficult to believe that we have Chanel lipstick and the TV series American Horror Story to thank for the epic novel, The Season of Glass, but life works in mysterious ways. Xenopoulos first refused to watch the series, but her best friend bribed her to do so – with lipsticks.

As Xenopoulos white-knuckled her way through, she was fascinated by the way the series recycles settings, themes, and unfinished business, which returns until properly resolved. This re-emergence left her pondering reincarnation. She explains: “The first rule of physics is that nothing can completely disappear. Everything becomes something else, so then what happens to a person, who lives and loves and learns and walks this earth interacting with other souls?”

What emerged from the television experience is Xenopoulos’s finest novel yet. Two souls are sent to Earth in the form of Jewish twins with the potential to change the world. The boy and girl appear in the cruellest of times, and it is humanity’s actions that dictate whether they will succeed. While the twins are drastically different people in each new life, their souls remain the same: the boy a grounded protector, the girl possessing every story ever told in the past, present and future.

Declared a “modern Scheherazade’s tale”, the story spans the ages from ancient Ethiopia to the Spanish Inquisition, to the brink of Austria on the eve of World War II, to times we have yet to live. There are pirates, warrior princesses, rabbis, artists, and monstrous giant mantises. Each section is a new story.

Every section displays humanity at its worst, while still filled with hope. “Perhaps the greatest goal a writer can have is that their work brings hope and love,” Xenopoulos says.

She explains: “All ages are cruel. What’s different about this age is that things are happening exponentially faster, and there are no filters, it’s all thrown in our faces. That’s why I think faith and spirituality are so important, and why we have to take breaks from the screens to smell the roses, listen to music, read a book, hold someone’s hand. We need to detach ourselves from the chaos and take stock. What’s important is kindness, and laughter, and how we treat our neighbour.”

Unsurprisingly, The Season of Glass required an enormous amount of research to write. What some may not realise, however, is that this was necessary even for the section that is set in the future. “Science fiction can seem so outlandish,” Xenopoulos says, “the reality is that these things have and are coming to pass.”

Throughout the story, love and physical human connections are shown to be vital to our humanity. Not an easy balance to achieve at the same time as existing on social media, Xenopoulos admits, as she herself used Facebook to help guide her through the research. But she is adamant we must continue to seek out the good in each other and in ourselves, and that cannot be accomplished if we don’t step away from screens. This theme is what ties the story together, at the end.

She explains: “If we’d been alive during the 14th century the headline of every newspaper, if they had had newspapers, would have been about war and a tyrant. But the important thing happening was in a small town in Germany where a man called Johannes Gutenberg was developing the printing press. People create war, we use religion the way we use money and other resources as an excuse to fight, but that isn’t all we are doing. There are crazy, exciting and beautiful things going on out there.”

Winter can be hard on many. The Season of Glass is a wonderful way to return warmth to your soul. @ms_tiahmarie

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2018 Sunday Times Literary Awards winners announced

Johannesburg, 24 June 2018: The winners of the prestigious Sunday Times Literary Awards were announced at a gala dinner held at The Venue, Melrose Arch, on Saturday 23 June.

Bongani Ngqulunga received the Alan Paton award for non-fiction for his book, The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, while Harry Kalmer was named the recipient of the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize for his book, A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg. Both titles are published by Penguin Books.

The Sunday Times Literary Awards are considered the most prestigious literary accolade in South Africa.

“This year’s judging was tough but what was evident was the recognition of the art of writing. South Africa’s rich history and diverse stories are being rigorously explored, examined and celebrated,” says Jennifer Platt, Sunday Times Books Editor.

Now in its 29th year, the Alan Paton Award recognises exceptional non-fiction writing as displayed by Bongani Ngqulunga’s story The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme.

The Alan Paton judging panel consisted of Constitutional Court judge Edwin Cameron; journalist Paddi Clay; and award-winning writer, journalist and filmmaker, Sylvia Vollenhoven.

They said Ngqulunga’s book was “a revelatory, inspiring study of a man and a movement that reverberates right up to today. It is a scholarly, well-researched book that illuminates our flawed roots and our flawed nationhood, presented through the complex and mercurial character of Seme.”

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize panel was chaired by popular radio personality, Africa Melane, alongside Love Books owner Kate Rogan and award-winning writer Ken Barris.

“Johannesburg emerges as a fascinating beast of a city, and this is a novel way of celebrating it. The outstanding writing and innovative structure – along with memorable characters – make this an instant classic,” said the fiction prize panel of Harry Kalmer’s A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg.

Kalmer is the 18th recipient of the Sunday Times fiction prize, named for Barry Ronge, arts commentator and one of the founders of the Sunday Times Literary Awards.

Recipients of the 2018 Alan Paton Award and Barry Ronge Fiction Prize each receive R100 000.

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