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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

Soweto Story Hour with drag queen Shenay O’Brien: pics

Capturing the imagination of children and working towards a more just society that recognises and accepts gender fluidity during childhood, the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign recently hosted South Africa’s first drag queen story hour with Thiart Li, performing as Shenay O’Brien, and children from two Nal’ibali reading clubs at Ikageng Austrian Embassy Library in Soweto on Saturday 24 June.

Thiart Li, aka Shenay O’Brien, entertaining whilst educating. During these story hours, children get the opportunity to see adult reading role models defy rigid gender restrictions, and are invited to imagine a world in which all people are truly equal, and accepted for who they are.


A youngster sits on Shenay’s lap with a copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda in her hands. Li read from this beloved children’s book as means to address the locally identified issue of abuse in schools; in the novel Matilda escapes her unbearable environment by teaching herself to read and taking refuge in her school’s library.


The Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign works to spark the potential of all children through reading and storytelling in home languages as well English. Ja-nee, fun certainly was had by all!

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The illumination of truthfulness: Zakes Mda’s Sunday Times Literary Awards keynote address

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sunday Times editor, Mr Bongani Siqoko, tells me “illumination of truthfulness” is the main criterion of the Alan Paton Award, which was established in 1989 for non-fiction works. He believes it applies to fiction as well, and quotes Albert Camus, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

I thank him for inviting me to give this talk. I think the topic is quite apt in this age of truthiness (1), post-truth (2) and alternative facts (3).

I must begin by saluting the Sunday Times for establishing these awards and for maintaining them for so many years. I am honored that I was the first writer to win the inaugural Sunday Times Fiction Prize with my third novel, The Heart of Redness, some 16 years ago.

I must also salute the Sunday Times for its sterling work in journalism, particularly its investigative reporting. You, and your colleagues have added value to our young democracy by taking your watchdog role seriously. Democracy cannot function without freedom of expression in general and of the media in particular.

Some of you might know of Lorraine Adams, who first caused literary waves with her debut novel, Harbor. She wrote this work of fiction after spending years reporting on Afghanistan and Iran for the Washington Post and winning a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. In her journalism, she is reputed to have dug out hidden stories on crucial issues such as xenophobia, immigration and terrorism. It was therefore a major surprise when she decided to quit the profession. There was even greater astonishment when she revealed she was leaving journalism for fiction so that she could write the truth. She explained that it was only with fiction that she could address the truth behind the facts. Whereas the journalist views truth in terms of witnessable and observable scenes, she added, the novelist pierces into a privacy where the truth resides.

She is correct. Journalism answers the simple question: what happened? It is the same question that is answered by most forms of non-fiction, including history. What happened? Of course, there are attendant questions such as how and why it happened, but the key story lies in the event.

Fiction on the other hand goes much further, and answers the question: what was it really like to be in what happened?

Talking of the genesis of her fine book on a bitter rivalry of two women who are neighbors, The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso tells an NPR interviewer, “I was really looking at what is it like, particularly for the Marion character, to have been someone during the apartheid days who didn’t necessarily resist apartheid, disagree with it, but kind of went along. What is it like now, you know, post-apartheid.” [emphasis mine]

What is it like? I am sure it is the same question that Kopano Matlwa attempts to answer with her suspenseful prose as we follow the young doctor, Masechaba, trying to reclaim her life in Period Pain, or Bronwyn Law-Viljoen’s The Printmaker as we search for an answer to the enigma of the printmaker’s solitary life. What was it like to be Hennie, an Afrikaner teenager in the Orange Free State of the 1980s, who has to escape his abusive father, and embark on a remarkable journey in search of his sister? We experience Hennie’s life with him in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know.

What was it like to be in what happened? It is a question whose answer gives us a sensory experience of the event. Fiction is experiential because it is transportational and vice versa.

To address this transporting question the writers create fully-realized characters – protagonists and antagonists and their allies – struggling to achieve their objectives and overcome obstacles in a compelling narrative arc. These characters may be based on real-life people the writer has known, or may be composites of same. They may even claim to have emerged from imagination. But we remember that the line of demarcation between imagination and memory is very blurred. We imagine from what we know; in other words, what we remember. Memory itself is essentially fictive. And since we are what we remember, our work creates us as we create it.

Into whatever we create as artists we bring the baggage that is our own biographies, whether we are conscious of that or not. A lot of what we create in a character is drawn from us, the creators, and from our experiences. We are always writing ourselves in the same way that we are always writing the same book.

The important thing about conventional fictional characters is that they do not function in any credible manner until their actions are motivated. The few exceptions that defy this convention are such postmodern narrative modes as magical realism. In traditional fiction, there is a practical “why” behind a character’s objectives and behaviors. Her actions are not only motivated but justified as well. This means she is who she is because of her life-experience, of her history. Fiction is very big on causality. Her actions are therefore psychologically (not necessarily morally) justified. This tells you that every writer of fiction worth her salt is a psychologist, a keen observer of human behavior and mental processes.

It is small wonder, therefore, that Sigmund Freud drew most of his groundbreaking conclusions – resulting in psychotherapy, “the talking cure” – from studying characters in novels rather than from analyzing live subjects. A whole new branch of psychiatry known as psychoanalysis was founded by analyzing fiction.

In the academy these days fiction is used to teach many other subjects, not only in psychology, history and philosophy, because fiction pierces into the truth behind the facts. Sipho Noko, an LL.B. student, told me on Twitter the other day that he had never read an African novel before until my novel, Black Diamond, was prescribed at the University of Pretoria Law School for a topic titled “Law from Below”. When I wrote that novel – a layman in the field of law – I never imagined it could be a law school textbook. Another lawyer, Advocate Maru Moremogolo, wrote to me about Little Suns, “Your book brings context to judicial powers of traditional leaders, a perfect timing #Dalindyebo – how the King wanted some of his judicial powers returned from the magistrate.”

He thought I was being prophetic, I thought I was just telling a story.

I was once astounded when I learned that Ways of Dying was prescribed at an architecture school in the United Kingdom. When I wrote that novel I never imagined I was writing about architecture. Yewande Omotoso, who is an architect in another life, once tried to explain how the novel relates to architecture, a field I know nothing about. But I forget now what she said.

The ability of fiction to operate so comfortably across all these diverse disciplines lies not only in its descriptive powers or its capacity to delineate structural problems, but in its facility to examine interiorities. The interior experience is absent in journalism, as it is in most non-fiction. The search of the interior experience has resulted in the emergence of Narrative Journalism in recent times (and of New Journalism in the last century), where the practitioners try to apply the techniques of fiction such as point of view and plot and various other narrative devices to journalism. You have seen this practiced quite successfully in the New Yorker and to some extent in Granta.

One notable non-fiction genre that has mastered the intricacies of hybridity is memoir. Memoir, unlike biography/autobiography, uses the tools of fiction to capture the essence of an aspect of the author’s life. Like fiction it explores interiorities.

The publishing industry in the Western world has set distinguishing features between memoir and traditional autobiography to which it adheres faithfully. Of course, writers always experiment and transgress genres. An autobiography is about the writer. She is the subject in a historical chronicle of her life and the events that shaped it – from the time she was born to a determined period. A memoir, on the other hand, is not about the writer but about something else as experienced by the writer or those close to her. A memoir therefore must have a subject because the writer is not the subject. For instance, the subject may be Alzheimer. A memoir must have a central theme: for example, on the author’s struggles to cope with a husband who is gradually losing his memory. A true memoirist works from memory – hence the name of the genre – because she is not a chronicler of history. She mines her memory and tries to capture the feelings and emotions she had at the time of the event. Her account is enriched by the distortions of time, by obliviousness, by faulty recall, by amnesia. The fidelity is to the emotion rather than to historical accuracy. That is why you can conflate characters in a memoir and re-invent new contexts etc. to capture and represent to the reader the feeling and sometimes the philosophy. The emphasis is on emotional truth.

History, like journalism, answers the question: what happened? We write historical fiction to take history to the level of: what was it like to be in what happened? The story of Mhlontlo that I write in Little Suns was well-known to me from the time I was a toddler. It is part of family lore. Even after I had researched its historical aspects, it still remained a series of anecdotes – surface stories lacking subtlety. It was only when I was writing it as a work of fiction, exploring what it was really like to be Mhlontlo by recreating his exterior and interior worlds, and the worlds of those who surrounded him, protagonists and antagonists, their loves, their losses, their gains, victories and defeats, that the emotional import hit me. Anger swelled in my chest. To my embarrassment I was caught screaming one day, “Damn, this is what they did to my great grandfather.”

The injustices done to amaMpondomise by the British endure to this day under the ANC regime. The amaMpondomise continue to be punished for having stood against British colonialism.
Like most writers of historical novels, I write historical fiction to grapple with the present. Great historical fiction is more about the present than it is about the past. That is why the lawyer could relate the past I was re-imagining to present contestations. The past is always a strong presence in our present.

Traditional historians believe that history is objective reality. For me history does not have an objective existence. It exists only as an absence. We don’t have direct access to the past; we cannot scientifically and objectively observe its facts. We experience history through words, through storytelling and through chronicles of events and dates. Therefore, history is textual; our attempts at separating it from literature are tenuous.

History is as subjective as journalism. I know, you think you’re objective. Observe how The New Age on one hand and the Sunday Times on the other report on the same event. It is bound to read like two different events. The value-laden words, the incidents selected or left out, and the angles that the reporters take will surely reflect their subjectivities. If contemporary journalism cannot be objective about contemporary events, what more of history which is shaped by its necessary textuality?

History is the story of the victor. That is what I try to correct. In doing so I make it herstory as well. South Africa presents us with a good example of the creation and imposition of a narrative that legitimizes the ruling elite of the day. The colonizers wrote history from their own perspective, always to validate their privileged position. The subaltern groups were denied a voice. They were even erased from the landscape so that when the colonizer arrived in southern Africa the lands were vast and empty and the natives non-existent. The colonialist dismissed as fanciful oral traditions that located ancient kingdoms and empires in the region dating hundreds of years before colonization. When the colonizer’s own ethno-archeologists excavated towns and settlements dating more than a thousand years ago, the proponents of “vast empty lands” created alternative narratives attributing them to alien civilizations – sometimes even from outer space. They were the victors and could therefore re-create the past in their own image.

Now a new order exists in South Africa. Like all regimes before it the new dispensation is narrating the past from its own perspective, re-creating and reshaping it to palliate the very present it continues to mismanage, erasing the contribution of some from the annals of history, and lionizing the current crooks – the harvesters of matundu ya uhuru, the fruits of freedom.

The truth of fiction can give context to and shed new insights on the stories unearthed by your investigative reporting. It gives them longevity and digestibility. Fiction is even more essential in this age when shamelessness and impunity among the ruling elite, and corruption-fatigue in the populace, are leading South Africa to perdition.

1 – Truthiness: The quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.
2 – Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics): a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. (Wikipedia)
3 – Alternative facts: President Trump Counselor Kellyanne Conway’s phrase to describe demonstrable falsehoods that are touted as truth.

The Heart of Redness

Book details


The Woman Next Door


Period Pain


The Printmaker


The Safest Place You Know


Black Diamond


Little Suns


Ways of Dying

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Bron Sibree interviews Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead on his novel The Underground Railroad

Published in the Sunday Times

Colson Whitehead sees a continuity in US history from the brutal days of slavery depicted in his novel to the Donald Trump present, writes Bron Sibree

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead (Little Brown)

Long before he won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for his remarkable novel about a runaway slave, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead was renowned for his audacious, inventive novels that tackle subjects as diverse as elevator inspectors, zombies, or the Band-Aid industry.

They are often laugh aloud funny, sometimes darkly satirical. Yet the success of The Underground Railroad, which also won the National Book Award, has, it seems, surprised even himself.

“Generally I’m sort of walking around in a very morose, glum sort of mood, but I’ve been in a really good mood for the last six months,” says Whitehead, who is renowned for his quick, deadpan humour off the page as well as on it. “So, despite my best instincts, I’m trying to enjoy it.”

The Underground Railroad is a heart-stopping interrogation of history and the nature of the American nation wrapped inside the story of Cora, a teenage girl born into slavery on a plantation in Georgia. Prefaced with the stories of her mother, who has, it seems, escaped, and her grandmother, who “died in the cotton”, the novel depicts the living hell that Cora has been born into with economy and power. From the moment Cora decides to accompany Caesar, a fellow slave, on a well-planned escape, the novel hurtles headlong into a series of picaresque encounters that transport you into 19th-century America. Deep into the cogs of a system so brutal that your first instinct is to turn away, yet the magic of Whitehead’s prose keeps you glued to the page.

Whitehead first conceived of the novel some 17 years ago, along with the notion of subverting America’s real underground railroad – a secret network who helped fugitive slaves escape from the slaveholding states of America’s South – from a metaphor into a literal subterranean railway. But he kept putting off the writing of it.

“For many years I didn’t think I could pull it off; doing that full reckoning with history and slavery seemed very daunting and, definitely, when I first had the idea I didn’t realise what sort of darkness and brutality I would end up dealing with.”

He attributes the tone of the novel, and much of the detail and language, to his immersion in famous slave narratives by Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs, as well as the accounts of former slaves who’d been interviewed in the 1930s by the US government. “People who were by then in their 70s and 80s and had been children and teenagers at the time of the Civil War,” says Whitehead.

“My narrator has the matter-of-fact attitude toward violence, and I got that from the slaves themselves. If your everyday existence is defined by brutality, when you describe what happened you don’t have to adorn or dramatise it. I tweaked things, I changed details, but there’s not much that happens in the book that didn’t actually happen in real life, in an altered form.”

Not that anything the Harvard-educated New Yorker discovered during his trawl through the archives came to him as a revelation. “It’s not news to me that it’s a pretty racist country,” says Whitehead, who sees the novel as a comment on history. “Whether you’re talking about American imperialism, Dutch imperialism or British colonialism – all those forces that defined the last couple of centuries – they don’t go away very easily. And when we elect a white nationalist to the White House who is drawing from the same sorts of ideas that defined American political thinking in the 18th and 19th centuries, then obviously all those dark energies … are still now defining our culture,” adds Whitehead. “It’s almost like they have just been waiting beneath the surface.”- @BronSibree

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Fertility rights: Kate Sidley talks to Ayòbámi Adébáyò about her novel Stay With Me

Published in the Sunday Times

Stay With MeStay With Me *****
Ayòbámi Adébáyò (Canongate)

Ayòbámi Adébáyò has been writing as long as she can remember. While her classmates were copying down what the science teacher had put up on the chalkboard, she’d be writing poetry.

“One teacher caught me and sent me to the principal,” she recalls, and laughs: “It didn’t help.”

Fortunately, as it turned out, because her first novel, Stay With Me, was short-listed for The Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize. It didn’t win, but is reaping praise from readers and reviewers alike.

Set in Nigeria in the turbulent 1980s, the novel tells of Yejide and Akin, a young couple deeply in love. Their inability to have a child, plus interfering from Akin’s mother and their extended family, puts their marriage under strain.

Adébáyò grew up in a society where a married couple was expected to conceive a child within a year, and if there was no child after a couple of years the marriage would likely break down. “I wanted to take a closer look at the impact of this pressure. The people who are emotionally invested in the couple don’t mean them harm, they think they’re doing the best for them or one of them, but it doesn’t work out as they intend.”

Yejide is a modern woman with her own hairdressing business, but that’s insignificant in the face of her failure. She is deemed the culprit and told: “Yejide, have you ever seen God in the labour ward? Women manufacture children and if you can’t? You are just a man. Nobody should call you a woman.”

When Yejide finds that Akin has taken a second wife at his family’s insistence, in the hope that she’ll provide the longed-for grandchild, she knows the only way to save her marriage is to have a child herself. In a scene that is heart-wrenching and also funny she visits Prophet Josiah at the Mountain of Jaw-Dropping Miracles. Obeying his instruction, she drags a goat up to the summit and breastfeeds it. The goat — despite her scepticism — “appeared to be a newborn and I believed”.

“I felt that it was important to have a comic edge, because there were moments of such despair for Yejide. Even when things are terrible, people laugh, it’s one of the ways we cope,” says Adébáyò, who did a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia, and is now fiction editor of a literary magazine.

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Twelve Quick Questions with Patricia Scanlan

Published in The Sunday Times

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I went for brunch to Norma’s at the Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City. It’s the place to have brunch. They’re famous for their $1000 omelette, which I can assure you I didn’t order!

What do you snack on while you write?

Cups of tea and gingernut biscuits.
Where do you write best?

I have a holiday home in county Wicklow (known as the Garden of Ireland). My veranda overlooks a 32-acre field. The farmer thinks it’s his field but we call it “ours”. I watch the wheat ripen from green to gold and gaze in awe at the Red Kites flying overhead, and write for hours in this lovely paradise.

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

Ciara Geraghty’s novel This is Now.

Who’d you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Graham Norton.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’d love to be a set designer in the theatre.

What was the first novel you read?

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?

Samwise Gamgee, Hobbit of the Shire, in The Lord of the Rings.

Which current book will you remember in 10 years?

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Which words do you most overuse?

It differs with every novel. In Orange Blossom Days it was “cascading” and “furious”.

What are you working on next?

My next novel is called The Four Winds and will be set in Ireland and France. I’m also collaborating with three other authors on a special non-fiction book called Death: The Next Great Adventure.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Most of the Booker Prize winners!

Patricia Scanlan’s latest novel is Orange Blossom Days, Simon & Schuster, R305

Orange Blossom Days

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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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An inconvenient woman: Michele Magwood interviews Arundhati Roy about her novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Published in the Sunday Times

The Ministry of Utmost HappinessThe Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

Two decades after her debut novel won the Man Booker prize, Arundhati Roy has finally published a second. But she certainly hasn’t been idle, as Michele Magwood discovered in this exclusive interview for Lifestyle
You need to stay with this book. It is dazzling, but puzzling, gutting but ultimately uplifting, farcical at times, unimaginably cruel at others. It is both real and hallucinatory. But then, this is Arundhati Roy after all, and what would we expect? It has been 20 years since Roy published The God of Small Things, her debut novel about a pair of twins born in the south-west city of Kerala in India. It was an immediate success, one of those storeyed books that break through from nowhere, a success that publishers are always trying – and failing – to replicate. It won the Man Booker prize and racked up impressive sales – Roy still lives on the royalties, although she gives much of the money to her favourite causes. On the one hand The God of Small Things is an intimate family saga; on the other it is an intensely political story, sharply critical of the caste system.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness jostles politics to the front of the stage: the occupation of the Kashmir Valley, Hindu nationalism, the massacre in Gujarat of Muslims in 2002.

On the telephone from London, Roy is softly spoken and quietly furious. “India manages to pass itself off as this cuddly democracy but if you really look at it… do you know there hasn’t been a day since 1947 when it became independent, that the army hasn’t been actively deployed within the borders of India against its so-called own people? Not a day! Whether it’s been in Assam, Punjab, Hyderabad, Kashmir, the number of people who have been killed or maimed or tortured, it’s just flown under the radar while this narrative has been confected.”

Just after The God of Small Things was published, politics in India took a sinister turn; what Roy calls a right-wing Hindu-chauvinist government came to power. Within months it conducted a series of nuclear tests and the author launched into years of activism (see podcast).

While the new novel lays bare the violence of the Indian system, Roy is too clever a writer to make it a manifesto. Her imagination and descriptive powers lift it far above the polemical.

It opens in a graveyard in the Old City of Delhi where a middle-aged woman has made her home. She is Anjum, a Muslim transgender person. “She lived in the graveyard like a tree. At dawn she saw the crows off and welcomed the bats home. At dusk she did the opposite.”

Anjum is a “hijra”, the South Asian third sex that refers to hermaphrodites, eunuchs and transgender people. As a young man she leaves her home and joins a community of hijras called a “khwabgah” and embraces her femaleness. “In Urdu it means a house of dreams,” explains Roy. “The city is divided into zones and each hijra community has a zone. The way they used to earn money was to go to weddings or births, and they would be given money because they’re considered lucky.”

Anjum is exuberantly happy until she travels to Gujarat where she is caught up in the massacre of Muslims in 2002, escaping the butchery only because the soldiers believed it would be unlucky to kill her. “Something breaks in her after that and she becomes silent.”

She moves to the cemetery and gradually builds rooms around the graves. It becomes known as the Jannat Guest House, drawing the liminal people of the city to it.

“She’s the hub of all kinds of other people who don’t fit into the cast-iron social grid, the social mesh that Indian society is forced into,” Roy says. “It’s a book about borders. Obviously the incendiary border of gender; there are dalits, or untouchables, who convert to Islam, a porous border between human beings and animals, and between the living and the dead in the graveyard. And Ü then there’s Tilo, with the border of caste running through her.”

Tilo is the other main character of the novel, around whom an intense love story swirls. Three men, friends from university days, are in love with her. “She gave the impression that she had somehow slipped off her leash,” observes a friend. “As though she was taking herself for a walk while the rest of us were being walked — like pets.”

Through one of the men Tilo gets caught up in the protracted, violent struggle for independence in Kashmir.

“You can only tell the truth about Kashmir in fiction,” says Roy. “The disappeared, the unmarked graves. How the air gets seeded with terror. You can’t tell it through human rights reports.”

Roy waited this long to write another novel because, “I wouldn’t write another one until I was sure there was something complex to say. I’m not in that thing of producing a book every year. If I hadn’t written another it would have been fine with me. But I had something that would not remain unwritten.”

Still, it was 10 years in the writing.

“Suddenly I started getting colonised by these people, and then obsessed. Your mind is always working and the layers are building up and then there was a period when it was almost like breaking stone. How do you go about building this city? In the last couple of years it’s just insanity because you’re up all day and all night, you’re worried about your house burning down. Writing is a combination of discipline and madness.”

The phrase “magical realism” is often attached to Roy’s work, but The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is more Indian surrealism.

She laughs softly. “Yes, you in South Africa would understand that better than Western readers. This kind of realism is probably magical for them, but it’s not magical, it’s just how it is.”

When her characters started talking to her, insisting that she write their story, “I thought how do you break out of this increasingly domesticated form, this easily catalogue-able, easily marketable form of fiction writing that is almost frightened of taking on the big themes?”

And so here it is: baggy, patched, phantasmagorical. A story that spreads out from a bloodied lake in Kashmir to a bloodied house in suburban California, from a gaudy boudoir in Old Delhi to a severe hospital in Kerala. A story of strange, watchful animals and abject souls, of foundling babies and spirits, revenge and redemption, bravery and venality.

“I know the book is complicated, it’s a bit like navigating a city,” she says. “But there’s no sort of easily digestible, neat little thematic way I wanted to write.”


Around her the city sprawled for miles. Thousand-year-old sorceress, dozing, but not asleep, even at this hour. Grey flyovers snaked out of her Medusa skull, tangling and untangling under the yellow sodium haze. Sleeping bodies of homeless people lined their high, narrow pavements, head to toe, head to toe, looping into the distance. Old secrets were folded into the furrows of her loose, parchment skin. Each wrinkle was a street, each street a carnival. Each arthritic joint a crumbling amphitheatre where stories of love and madness, stupidity, delight and unspeakable cruelty had been played out for centuries. But this was to be the dawn of her resurrection. Her new masters wanted to hide her knobby, varicose veins under imported fishnet stockings, cram her withered tits into saucy padded bras and jam her aching feet into pointed high-heel shoes. They wanted her to swing her stiff old hips and re-route the edges of her grimace upwards into a frozen, empty smile. It was the summer Grandma became a whore.

Listen to the podcast of their interview here.

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Wenners van Media24-boekpryse vir 2017 bekend

Die wenners van die Media24 Boeke Literêre Pryse vir 2017 is Donderdag, 22 Junie 2017 in Kaapstad bekend gemaak.

Nagenoeg 80 boeke wat in 2016 by uitgewerye in die Media24-stal verskyn het, is ingeskryf in vyf kategorieë met ’n gesamentlike prysgeld van meer as R175 000.

Die oorhandiging van die pryse het saamgeval met ’n groot mylpaal – die viering van 100 jaar van boekuitgewery binne die Naspersstal.

Die wenner van die W.A. Hofmeyr-prys vir Afrikaanse fiksie is Dan Sleigh met sy historiese roman 1795, uitgegee deur Tafelberg. Dit is die derde keer dat Sleigh hierdie belangrike prys ontvang. 1795 is deur die keurders beskryf as ’n “ambisieuse museale roman waarin Sleigh se uitsonderlike kennis van die VOC-geskiedenis indringend verhaal word. Sleigh laat oortuigend sien dat gebeure uit 1795 relevant en aktueel is, veral wanneer dit gaan om verset teen verraad en korrupsie en om opstand teen die verlies van kultuur en taal.”

Die ondersoekende joernalis en etnograaf Sean Christie het die Recht Malan-prys vir niefiksie verower met sy Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard: Life Among the Stowaways oor jong Tanzaniese skeepsverstekelinge wat onder ’n oorwegbrug op die Kaapstadse strandgebied woon. Dit is uitgegee deur Jonathan Ball Publishers. Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard is volgens die keurders ’n buitengewone prestasie en ’n verruimende leeservaring. “Met groot en uitdagende kwashale gee Sean Christie ’n verrassend vars en uitdagende blik op ’n stad wat iedereen gedink het hulle ken.”

Bibi Slippers is met die Elisabeth Eybers-prys vir poësie beloon vir haar debuutbundel Fotostaatmasjien (Tafelberg), wat deur die keurders geloof is vir die omvang en verskeidenheid van die materiaal wat tot samehang gebring word en vir sy “innovering-met-gehalte”.

Die M.E.R.-prys vir jeugromans is toegeken aan Edyth Bulbring vir Snitch, uitgegee deur Tafelberg, en die M.E.R.-prys vir geïllustreerde kinderboeke aan Ingrid Mennen en Irene Berg (illustreerder) vir Ink, ook uitgegee deur Tafelberg. Dit is die tweede keer dat Mennen en Berg hierdie prys wen.

Die keurders was: Vir die WA Hofmeyr-prys: Ena Jansen, Danie Marais en Francois Smith; vir die Recht Malan-prys: Jean Meiring, Elsa van Huyssteen en Max du Preez; vir die Elisabeth Eybers-prys: Henning Pieterse, Louise Viljoen en Marius Swart; vir die M.E.R.-prys vir jeugromans: Louise Steyn, Verushka Louw en Wendy Maartens; en vir die M.E.R.-prys vir geïllustreerde kinderboeke: Lona Gericke, Paddy Bouma en Magdel Vorster.

Die Herman Charles Bosman-prys vir Engelse fiksie is nie vanjaar toegeken nie en staan oor tot volgende jaar.


Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard - Life In Cape Town's Stowaway Underground






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Greg Marinovich and Zakes Mda win the 2017 Sunday Times Literary Awards

Little Suns
Murder at Small Koppie

Greg Marinovich and Zakes Mda have been announced as the winners of the prestigious Sunday Times Literary Awards.

The winners were announced at a black tie event at the Sunday Times’ office. Apart from receiving the celebrated Sunday Times Literary Awards accolade, each author is also awarded prize money of R100,000.

Novelist Zakes Mda was awarded the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize for his book Little Suns, published by Umuzi.

Greg Marinovich received the Alan Paton Award for his book Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre, published by Penguin Books.

2017 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist
2017 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award shortlist

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize was judged this year by Rehana Rossouw (chair), Africa Melane and Kate Rogan.

The Alan Paton Award judging panel was chaired by Pippa Green, supported by judges Tinyiko Maluleke and Johann Kriegler.

Book details

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Nal’ibali celebrates diversity with drag queen story hour in Soweto

Thiart Li/Shenay O’Brien

Capturing the imagination of children and working towards a more just society that recognises and accepts gender fluidity during childhood, the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign will be hosting South Africa’s first drag queen story hour with Thiart Li, performing as Shenay O’Brien, and children from two Nal’ibali reading club Ikageng Austrian Embassy Library in Soweto on Saturday 24 June.

The programme is just as it sounds like – an engaging drag queen reading stories to children in a library, and is a response to similar activations which have been taking place in the USA with great success. During these story hours, children get the opportunity to see adult reading role models defy rigid gender restrictions, and are invited to imagine a world in which all people are truly equal, and accepted for who they are.

The Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, which works to spark the potential of all children through reading and storytelling in home languages as well English, supports the initiative which is in line with the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Sustainable Development Goal number five highlights and promotes the need for gender equality, stating that is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.

Further addressing the locally identified issue of abuse in schools, Li will be reading for Roald Dahl’s Matilda which features a young girl who escapes her unbearable environment by teaching herself to read and taking refuge in her school’s library.

Says Righardt le Roux, the Nal’ibali Provincial Support Coordinator responsible for the event: “The story hour ties in with Youth Month and children’s basic rights: The right to play, to education and a safe environment. We hope that through this reading we’ll begin to foster an awareness and inclusive appreciation of all our children by creating safe places of acceptance within community spaces such as libraries and reading clubs.”

Event details:
Venue: Ikageng Library
Address: 8299 Corner of Mahalefele and Khumalo, Orlando West, Soweto
Date: 24 June 2017
Time: 10:30

For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access our growing collection of free children’s stories in a range of SA languages plus tips and ideas on how to read with children, visit: or or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter: @NalibaliSA.

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