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2017 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist

After months of evaluation and deliberation it is finally time to reveal the shortlist for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, in association with Porcupine Ridge. The winner, who will receive R100 000, will be announced on Saturday June 24.

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize
In the five shortlisted books the judges highlighted writing of rare style and imagination, stories that chose the personal over the political, and themes that are fresh and provocative. “The words”, says chairperson Rehana Rossouw, “strike at the reader’s heart”.

The Printmaker, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)
Law-Viljoen’s quiet, finely calibrated novel is set in Johannesburg and centres on a reclusive printmaker named March, who makes his art obsessively – and alone – for decades. When he inherits the thdies a friendousands of drawings and etchings crammed into the house and through his work sets out to understand her troubled friend. “There’s not a superfluous word in it,” said one judge. “March is still living in my head.”

Period Pain, Kopano Matlwa (Jacana Media)
The wunderkind young author shows she has a long career ahead with this acute, powerful book. Masechaba is a young woman trying to find meaning in contemporary South Africa, a country wracked by social problems. “Where are we going,” it asks, “and what have we become?” “It’s a searing, brilliant read,” said a judge.

Little Suns, Zakes Mda (Umuzi)
“Zakes Mda is on song with this book,” exclaimed a judge, “it brings people from our past gorgeously to life.” It is 1903. A frail Malangana searches for his beloved Mthwakazi, the woman he had loved 20 years earlier and who he was forced to leave. Based on true events in history, it is a poignant story of how love and perseverance can transcend exile and strife.

The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus)
In this story of two strong-willed women, Omotoso delicately traces the racial fault lines of the rainbow land. One of the women is black, the other white, and for decades the pair have lived next door to each other in an affluent estate in Cape Town. One day, an accident brings them together. “She doesn’t pretend to have the answers,” commented one judge, “but she forces us to examine our deeply embedded racism. It’s very clever and deeply human.”

The Safest Place You Know, Mark Winkler (Umuzi)
After his father’s violent death one day in the drought- stricken Free State, a young man leaves the derelict family farm with no plan. Two people he meets on his way to the Cape will change his life forever. The story is set in the 80s, before everything changes. “I was blown away by the magnificent writing,” said a judge, “the story went straight to my heart.”
 
View the 2017 longlist here.

The Printmaker

Book details

 

Period Pain

 
 

Little Suns

 
 

The Woman Next Door

 
 
 

The Safest Place You Know

2017 Caine Prize Shortlist announced

The five-writer shortlist for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing has been announced by Chair of judges, award winning author, poet and editor, Nii Ayikwei Parkes. The list includes a former Caine Prize shortistee and features a story translated form Arabic for the second time in the 18 year history of the Prize.

Nii Parkes said the shortlist ‘reveals the depth and strength of short story writing from Africa and its diaspora.’

‘This year’s submissions were a pleasure to read; we were all impressed by the quality and imaginative ambition of the work received. Indeed, there were a dozen stories that did not make the shortlist that would win other competitions.’

He continued, ‘there seemed to be a theme of transition in many of the stories. Whether it’s an ancient myth brought to life in a contemporary setting, a cyber attack-triggered wave of migration and colonisation, an insatiable quest for motherhood, an entertaining surreal ride that hints at unspeakable trauma, or the loss of a parent in the midst of a personal identity crisis, these writers juxtapose future, past and present to ask important questions about the world we live in.’

‘Although they range in tone from the satirical to the surreal, all five stories on this year’s shortlist are unrelentingly haunting. It has been a wonderful journey so far and we look forward to selecting a winner. It will be a hard job, but I’ve always believed that you can’t go wrong with a Ghanaian at the helm of an international panel.’

The 2017 shortlist comprises:

Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) for ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’ published in The New Yorker (USA. 2015)
Read ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’

Chikodili Emelumadu (Nigeria) for ‘Bush Baby’ published in African Monsters, eds. Margarét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas (Fox Spirit Books, USA. 2015)
Read ‘Bush Baby’

Bushra al-Fadil (Sudan) for ‘The Story of the Girl whose Birds Flew Away’, translated by Max Shmookler, published in The Book of Khartoum – A City in Short Fiction eds. Raph Cormack & Max Shmookler (Comma Press, UK. 2016)
Read ‘The Story of the Girl whose Birds Flew Away’

Arinze Ifeakandu (Nigeria) for ‘God’s Children Are Little Broken Things’ published in A Public Space 24 (A Public Space Literary Projects Inc., USA. 2016)
Read ‘God’s Children Are Little Broken Things’

Magogodi oaMphela Makhene (South Africa) for ‘The Virus’ published in The Harvard Review 49 (Houghton Library Harvard University, USA. 2016)
Read ‘The Virus’

The full panel of judges joining Nii Ayikwei Parkes includes the 2007 Caine Prize winner, Monica Arac de Nyeko; accomplished author and Chair of the English Department at Georgetown University, Professor Ricardo Ortiz; Libyan author and human rights campaigner, Ghazi Gheblawi; and distinguished African literary scholar, Dr Ranka Primorac, University of Southampton.

The winner of the £10,000 prize will be announced at an award ceremony and dinner at Senate House Library, London, in partnership with SOAS, on Monday 3 July. Each shortlisted writer will also receive £500.

Each of these stories will be published in New Internationalist’s 2017 Caine Prize anthology The Goddess of Mwtara and Other Stories in June and through co-publishers in 16 African countries, who receive a print-ready PDF free of charge.

Read the first chapter of Paige Nick’s Unpresidented

In the irreverent tradition of her best-selling Death by Carbs, Paige Nick rounds up a fresh herd of sacred cows in another hilarious local satire. But this time it’s Number One who gets the treatment…

It’s 2020, and ex-president Jeremiah Gejeyishwebisa Muza has just been released from prison on medical parole, with a dangerously infected ingrown toenail. Now he’s back home with his two remaining wives, a skinny dog, a rapidly dwindling entourage, and a fire pool to maintain. Plus the municipality is demanding he pay a vast outstanding rates bill.

But Muza has plans – big ones – that include a memoir of alternative facts being ghostwritten by disgraced journo Matthew Stone. Will Stone meet his deadline, as publisher, agent, and drug dealer all breathe down his neck? Will Muza pay the money in time and succeed in his plans to conquer the world? Will his long-suffering parole officer stay one jump ahead of him? And which side is he limping on today?

Enjoy the first chapter of Unpresidented: A Comedy of Errors:

30 DAYS TILL DEADLINE
THE WRITER

‘Writer, did you type up all those words I gave you yesterday?’ The ex-President asks as he lumbers into the room without apology. I shouldn’t complain, he’s only forty-five minutes late. Better than yesterday, when I stared at the four walls and a damp-stained ceiling for an hour and a half before he and his entourage deigned to grace me with their presence.

‘I did, sir, but I need to discuss this with you…’

‘Excellent. Read those words back to me now, comrade, so we can hear how it sounds before we proceed with Chapter Two. I think this is going to be a very, very great book, a bestseller definitely.’

His gang all nod and two of them high-five each other. I try again, forcing respect into my tone: ‘Yes sir, but the thing is…’

‘Ah, you are intimidated by me, Mr Stone. And I understand, I know it must be unnerving being so close to a living legend, but remember, I am still just a man who is made of flesh, bones and blood.’

‘No sir, actually, that’s not it…’ I begin again.

‘And you don’t have to call me sir. You can call me Mr President.’

‘Ex-President,’ I mumble.

‘You can begin reading now, Mr Stone. I’m an important man, with a sore toe, and I’m sure you don’t want to waste any more of my time.’

Trying to reason with him appears to be useless. I roll my eyes so far back in my head I can see the wall behind me. When they roll back around again, I tilt my laptop screen to offset the glare, clear my throat, and read as un-sarcastically as possible. Which isn’t easy.

‘Chapter One,’ I begin. ‘It was a beautiful day outside, but I had to be patient when I was released from prison, because it took forever for the gates to slide open so I could step into freedom, wearing my expensive suit. Even from behind my tinted glasses, I had to blink away the glare of the sun and cameras. It would take me a while to adjust back into the world after my time away.

‘With all eyes on me, I overcame great pain from the considerable injury that resulted in my medical parole, and limped to the podium. I am from the people of the sky – amaZulu. We are warriors, and a great man does not allow something as inconsequential as a life-threatening physical injury to hinder him. It takes more than a small axe to fell a great tree.

‘During my time away I had lost the padding I gained during my presidential years, and replaced it with this lean, agile physique I have now. When I finally got to the podium…’

‘I believe it was “of a boxer”,’ Muza interrupts me.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘The line you just read out, comrade writer: it’s supposed to say that I replaced my bulk with the lean, agile physique of a boxer. You said the words, “lean, agile physique”, but you must also include the boxer bit. It’s a very important detail.’

The ex-President’s men grunt. I type in his changes, bashing at the keyboard with two reluctant fingers, then reread the revised sentence in a monotone.

‘…During my time away I had lost the padding I gained during my presidential years, and replaced it with the lean, agile physique of a boxer.’ I look up to see if he’s satisfied. His double chins wobble as he nods, and his gang add their bobble-head-dog-on-the-dashboard nods, so I continue reading.

‘In the glare of hundreds of thousands of camera flashes, the first thing I saw from the podium, with my tireless lawyer, comrade Zwelani, by my side, was the massive crowd. In their excitement to be near their idol, thousands of people surged forward, roaring my name, “Muza, Muza, Muza!” The men were dancing, the women ululating. Some of the people in the crowd were even crying – with happiness, of course!

Fans threw flowers at me as the press jostled to get the best shot for the world’s newspaper covers the next day. They had to be pushed back by the police! I waited for the crowd to settle, so I could be heard over the cheering. Then I spoke directly to my people for the first time in three years, eight months and twenty-seven days. It is a triumphant moment I will never forget. In prison, not a day went by that I didn’t visualise my great resurrection! My holy revival! Viva Muza, viva!

‘The crowd hung on my every word. History will report that I am a great orator. And so, in this historic speech that will be quoted until the end of time, I did not shy away from the truth! I recalled the contentious circumstances of my detainment, outlining how my opponents and adversaries colluded and abused the ends of justice to bring me down! The crowd roared! They saw before them a man who could not be kept low! A man who would soon lead them once again!

‘Then other VIPs came to the podium. A preacher spoke of how I made this country great while I was President. Then a community leader bore witness to my charity and intelligence. Of course the press will not report on these things, comrades, because they are out to get me, spreading hateful propaganda. But believe me, I heard and saw these events with my very own eyes and ears.’

I peer over my screen as I come to the end of the chapter. The ex-President’s eyes are closed, and he’s mouthing the words as I read. When I’m done, he starts clapping, and everyone else joins in.

‘Very good, Mr Stone. Very, very good. You are clearly a talented writer. This is rousing, powerful stuff, don’t you agree?’

‘I would agree, sir, except … except, I didn’t write a word of it, and none of it is really true, is it?’

Muza glares at me as the room goes quiet.

‘What are you saying, writer?’

‘I’m saying, sir, Mr ex-President, sir, that what you dictated to me and instructed me to type up, isn’t exactly how things really played out on the day.’

‘How do you know what happened on that day, Mr Stone? You weren’t there from what I understand.’

‘No, you’re right about that part at least, I wasn’t there on the day you were released from prison.’

‘And neither were the millions of people who will be buying and reading this book, were they, Mr Stone?’ says the ex-President as he sips from one of the Cokes his men have handed round. I note that nobody has offered me one.

‘No, sir, once again you’re right, the people who will buy this book probably weren’t there on that day, but you see, the press were there, and they had cameras. People tweeted and Facebooked and Instagrammed about it. And from everything I saw, the events on the day were vastly different to the ones you’ve had me write down here.

‘For example, there were no speakers, and the crowd had to be held back because the police were concerned for your safety. You say people were throwing flowers, but there are only reports of some rotting fruit and veg flying around. And the bit about how much weight you lost, well, I don’t know how to put this delicately, sir, but many have referred to your parliamentary pillow…’ I say, noting his massive bulk. He’s wearing a grubby leopard-print vest with a hole just under the armpit and a pair of faded black tracksuit bottoms. His boep stretches the fabric of the vest to its limits. Boxer’s physique, my foot. Maybe in the heavyweight category. Float like an elephant, sting like a buzzard.

‘Comrade Stone, clearly you have a lot to learn about politics,’ Muza booms. ‘Just because the press says something doesn’t mean it’s true. If we believed everything the press have accused me of in the last twenty years, where would I be today?’

‘Probably still in jail,’ I mutter.

‘Exactly!’ he shoots back. ‘And I’m not, am I? I am here, back in my majestic, magnificent Homestead, where I belong. Working on some very big business plans and preparing to lead this great country once again. So you see, you can’t always believe what the press prints.’

‘Weeeeeell…’ I say.

‘And whose memories are these anyway? They are mine, not yours, Mr Stone. Mine,’ he snaps.

Muza’s veneer of charm is thinning. Not that I care. What’s he going to do, call SARS and have me audited? Fire me, hire someone else to do the job, fire them, and then hire someone new all in one weekend? Complain to Cyril? Set The Hawks on me? Hardly. He’d be lucky to find the power or the airtime to set a budgie on me. Although I don’t like the looks I’m getting from his heavies.

‘First of all, it’s a memoir, not memories, sir. And secondly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that you’re under contract with my publisher. We have a month in which you’re contractually obliged to tell me your story: the truth as it really happened, not a bunch of alternative facts that you’ve whipped up.’

‘And let me remind you, comrade Stone, that you TOO are under contract with MY publisher. You are supposed to write down everything I tell you.’

‘Yes, but right now there’s a rather big difference between everything you tell me and the truth.’

‘Are you calling me a liar, comrade Stone?’

We glare at each other, neither wanting to look away first. Until he starts his trademark chuckle, and everyone else in the room starts laughing too. I’m thrown; it’s not a reaction I was expecting.

All challenge leaves his eyes as he changes tack: ‘You must relax, comrade Stone. You worry too much. You will have your stories, and the publisher will get their book in time.’

‘Are you sure? Because we only have a month, and I’ve already been here for three days, and all you’ve done so far is keep me waiting, and then dictate a bunch of fake news, and make me write it down with a lot of exclamation marks. It’s unlikely we’ll be able to use any of it, unless the publisher decides to put this title on their fiction list instead.’

‘So, Mr Professional Writer, you don’t like the way I work. Why don’t you tell us all how you would like to do this instead?’

‘Well, for one, we’re going to need to spend a lot more time together if we’re going to get your story down in the time we have left. And you’re going to have to allow me to write it for you. What’s the point of having a professional writer if you don’t let me actually write anything? If your idea is to dictate your version of the story to me, then let’s rather just get a typist. But I think you’ll find I’m a damn good writer, if you give me half a chance.’

‘Perhaps you’re right, comrade.’

‘Really?’

‘Sure,’ he says.

‘So you’ll agree to meet with me every day for a few hours, and if you’re going anywhere or having any meetings, perhaps I can shadow you?’

Muza nods, and his entourage domino-nods.

I’m flooded with relief. I press record and place my dictaphone on the coffee table between us.

‘That would be brilliant. Why don’t we start with how it really felt to come back to the Homestead that day, after being away for so long? Did you know that three of your five wives had left you while you were in prison, and that you would be coming home to a much emptier Homestead than the one you left three years, eight months and twenty-seven days earlier?’

Muza stares at the dictaphone. He shifts in his seat and winces.

‘Those are interesting questions, comrade writer. You have given me a lot to think about and I need to consider my responses carefully. So I think that is enough work on the memories for today, don’t you?’

‘But it’s only eleven,’ I say as Muza makes a few false starts at getting to his feet, rocking backwards and forwards. Finally he clutches the armrest to heave himself out of the leather couch.

‘Can we talk again later?’ I ask.

‘I have a phone call with the Minister of Finance now, and then an important meeting with my campaign manager that I need to prepare for, so regrettably I will have to cut our work on the memories short today.’

‘Can I sit in on the calls?’

‘I would invite you, comrade, but it’s sensitive business. Top secret, in fact.’

‘Sir, Mr ex-President…’ I begin, my voice stern.

‘Alright, alright, I have a meeting with my parole officer in a few days. You can join us for that. One last thing before I go, comrade Stone.’

‘Yes?’ I say, hopefully.

‘You wouldn’t have a couple hundred I could borrow? A bottle of Johnnie Walker Black would definitely help me get my creative juices flowing, so we can write these memories together in time.’

‘That’s the point I was trying to make before, Mr ex-President. Please don’t flow with creative juices. I don’t want your juices. The creativity part is my job. I just need you to tell me the truth in your own words: how you feel and what you’re going through. People want to hear about the real man behind the legend.’

‘Precisely, comrade Stone, you are right of course. And I think a bottle of Johnnie Black would definitely help me find that man for you.’

‘Didn’t you just get a massive advance from the publisher?’ I ask.

His jaw sets. ‘Do you have any idea how much it costs to run a place like this?’ He indicates the mouldering ceiling and stained walls.

‘I think most of South Africa has some idea,’ I murmur. ‘Not to mention the legal fees from my early parole.’

Legal fees: that’s a euphemism if ever I’ve heard one, I think, as the ex-President puts his hand out, palm up. And he’s not waiting for a high five. I take cash out of my pocket and he grabs a corner of the wad. I grip my end of it tightly.

‘If I give you this, do you promise we can do some more work together later today, after your calls?’

‘Of course, comrade, you have my word,’ he says.

I let go of my side of the wad, and the cash is secreted in his tracksuit pants in under a second.

‘And if not today, comrade, we’re definitely on for tomorrow,’ he adds as he waddles out of the room, followed by his crew. He’s quick on his feet for a man with such a dangerously infected ingrown toenail that he’s been released from prison years early on medical parole.

I look around for something to punch, but everything in this room looks like it already had the life punched out of it ages ago.

Unpresidented

Book details

Nal’ibali #CatchMeReading: four Times editors on why children should be encouraged to read

Aimed at encouraging adults and children to act as reading role models for each other, the national Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign’s #CatchMeReading drive invites members of the public to submit photographs of themselves reading in public and in fun and creative ways.

Stopping to show their support for the initiative, editors of different Times Media titles submitted their own #CatchMeReading photographs along with words of encouragement to the children in the Nal’ibali network.

Times Media has been as partner of the Nal’ibali campaign since its inception in 2012 – carrying its bilingual reading-for-enjoyment supplement (the only resource of its kind in South Africa) in select newspapers titles as well as donating and delivering over 44 000 copies directly to more than 300 reading clubs, schools, libraries and literacy organisations that form part of Nal’ibali’s network, every other week during school term time.

Each supplement edition contains one to two new stories, related reading activities as well as information and tips for adults on sharing books and stories with children or starting or participating in reading clubs.
 
It is also published in five different language combinations (English-isiXhosa, English-isiZulu, English-Sesotho, English-Afrikaans and English-Sepedi) to promote the development of multilingualism in SA.

Says Patti Mcdonald, Times Media Education Consultant: “Exposing children to reading materials in their mother tongue is an essential tool to foster a love of reading from a young age. From printing Nal’ibali’s first supplement in just three languages in 2012 to the six languages that we are printing in today, as well as growing the reach of our distribution to include the rural school’s that make up Nal’ibali’s Story Powered Schools initiative in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, we are making phenomenal in roads in establishing a culture of reading in South Africa together and are only too happy to be ‘caught reading!’”

Editors participating in the drive include Abdul Milazi of Sunday World; Brett Horner of the Herald and Weekend Post; Sunday Times Book Editor, Jennifer Platt and BooksLive Editor, Mila de Villiers. The editors’ pictures and messages will be shared on the campaign’s social media platforms to inspire others to do the same.

Members of the public can post their own #CatchMeReading on the Nal’ibali Facebook page between Monday 15 May and Friday 19 May using the hashtag. The three photographs with the most ‘likes’ will win a hamper of books from the campaign in the language/s of the winner’s choice.
 
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: www.nalibali.org or www.nalibali.mobi or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter: @NalibaliSA.

“Read to learn. Read to understand. Read to think. Read to grow. But, whatever your motivation for picking up a book, never forget to read for pleasure. You’ll discover the infinite power of your own imagination”. – Brett Horner, Editor of The Herald/Weekend Post

 

“Since I learnt to read, it has always been my go to place. It’s where I could find characters who were like me, and new characters that I would get to know. It helped to cope, to learn, to grow, to understand. Like CS Lewis said: ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ ” – Jennifer Platt, Book Editor of the Sunday Times

“I was raised by bibliophile parents who introduced me to books at a very young age, took me to the library every Saturday and encouraged me to read as widely as possible. I still remember the first ‘proper’ book I ever read by myself – the beautifully illustrated Ek sien die maan. At age six I tackled my first English book – Burger Cillié’s Mammal Guide of Southern Africa. (‘Ungulate’ was my favourite word for a loooong time after reading it.) I cannot stress the importance and necessity of instilling a love of books and reading in children enough; reading is the apex of educational escapism; reading is fun and informative; reading creates thinkers and dreamers. A book a day keeps the boredom away, ek sê.” – Mila de Villiers, Editor of BooksLive

“I grew up in the villages of Umzimkhulane and Bhobhoyi in Ugu, KwaZulu-Natal. Storybooks and reading gave me the wings to fly!” – Abdul Milazi, Sunday World Editor

Book Bites: 14 May 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine
Alexandra Kleeman (HarperCollins)
Book buff
****
Alexandra Kleeman’s debut novel is an uncomfortable read. Her exploration and critique of modern-day society’s obsession with consumerism is unerring. Within the first few pages Kleeman, via the narrator, comments on the warped contemporary ideals of female beauty; the dangerous allure of advertising; and our innate need and insatiable desire to consume. It’s told in the first person narrative, simply by someone known as “A” who lives with “B”. They are 20-something women living in small-town America who are basically your girls next door. But “A” becomes part of a cult and their lives begin to unravel. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is unsettling as it hits so close to home. The characters in the novel are people you know, people you’ve met, you. Kleeman has written an existential, accessible novel reminiscent of Requiem For a Dream and Fight Club which will make you think twice before buying into any trend of any sort. – Mila de Villiers @mila_se_kind

How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016
PJ O’Rourke (Penguin Random House)
Book real
***
Veteran journalist/humorist PJ O’Rourke’s latest work, on the US election, asks the question in its title. Unfortunately, much of the first part of the book is unfunny, college-style humour that will fail to find traction among readers outside the US. But he later gets into his stride, commenting on the two candidates: “Yet to call Hillary robotic is an insult to androids. She’s more like someone trapped inside a Hillary costume, one of those dressed-up characters pestering tourists in Times Square.” As for Trump: “Trump was the guy from the mailroom who somehow wound up with a job interview for the position of national sales manager. If you promote him it will be a disaster. But if you leave him in the mailroom he’ll take his pants down, sit on the Xerox machine, and fax the result to all your customers.” The closing chapters of the book offer an insight into the populist wave sweeping world politics, not least here in South Africa where “radical economic transformation” has become a catch-all slogan and supposed popular remedy for our economic problems. Being a libertarian and believer in small government, O’Rourke cogently expresses his disappointment with the revolt against ruling elites in the US and around the world. Instead of pursuing a new, libertarian option, however, voters find populism more appealing. He writes: “We should be learning the value of individual dignity, individual freedom, and individual responsibility from the failure of the elites and the fiasco of their vast political power. Good things are made by free individuals in free association with other individuals. Notice that’s how we make babies.” He continues: “But we aren’t learning lessons in individual freedom, because we’re too scared. We’re daunted at the pace of material change, unnerved over social configurations, fretful about economic instability, and terrified by terrorism.” Yes, the elites have messed up around the world, O’Rourke says, but the answer is not populism and a narrowing of individual liberty and responsibility. And certainly not Trump. – Patrick Bulger

A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles (Penguin Viking)
Book thrill
****
This is a splendid tale of a man making the most of the cards life has dealt him. The story begins in the 1920s, when a Bolshevik tribunal finds Count Alexander Rostov guilty of being an aristocrat. His punishment: permanent house arrest in the attic of the luxurious Hotel Metropol. Here the count embarks on the biggest adventure of his life. It’s as much a tale of unlikely friendships and magnificent encounters as it is a fictionalised, wry account of Russian history. Towles is guilty of a well-wrought plot and vivid three-dimensional characters: the precocious nine-year-old, the volatile chef, the omniscient concierge, the nimble maître d’ and the conniving bishop make A Gentleman in Moscow a stylish, charming novel that informs and delights. – Anna Stroud @annawriter_

The Golden Son
Shilpi Somaya Gowda (HarperCollins)
Book fling
***
Anil and Leena grow up together in the same Indian village. But the lives of the two friends diverge: Anil finds himself in the US training to become a doctor, while Leena is married to a man she doesn’t know and is brought to an unfamiliar village. The reality of their lives is at odds with their dreams: encountering racism, sexism, domestic violence, the culture of privilege and inequality. The Golden Son is a coming-to-America tale, illustrating the cost of travelling to new places: “He was a dweller of two lands, accepted by none.” – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie
 
Book details

 

 

 

Runaway train: Michele Magwood chats to Paula Hawkins about her latest novel Into The Water

Published in the Sunday Times

For Paula Hawkins, moving from Harare to the UK was a watershed, writes Michele Magwood

I first met Paula Hawkins in Cape Town, after the publication of The Girl on the Train. She was visiting with friends and family but had agreed to some interviews about the book, which had entered the charts with a bullet, as they used to say.

“It’s a little overwhelming, I didn’t expect the reception it’s had,” she said then. She was diffident and a little guarded, seemingly puzzled that anyone would want to know more about her. She was broke when she sat down to write the book. She’d borrowed money to stay afloat and was living in a flat in a run-down semi near the Brixton men’s prison with her ex-boyfriend.

She was no neophyte: she has a degree from Oxford and had worked as a financial journalist on The Times. She’d written four chicklit novels under the pen name Amy Silver but the last two had bombed and she knew if she couldn’t pull off the next one she’d have to throw it all in and change careers. “It was the last roll of the dice.”

Jump ahead two years. The Girl On The Train has sold a staggering 20 million copies and been made into a Hollywood movie starring Emily Blunt. Hawkins has been catapulted into the Forbes list of highest-earning authors, alongside such writers as JK Rowling and James Patterson.

She is, I discover, still a little perplexed at her success. “I’m still stunned,” she laughs, on the phone from London. “That book’s a phenomenon. They come around every now and again and nobody really understands why. It won’t happen again. That was a one-off.”

We are talking about her new book Into The Water, which was released worldwide this month by Penguin Random House. Rarely has a book been so anticipated, rarely has there been such pressure on an author to perform. I wondered if the weight of expectations was too much to bear.

“You have to develop as thick a skin as you can and shut out the noise. It was a difficult process mostly because it was so interrupted. I wanted to shut myself away and immerse myself in it but I couldn’t — I was constantly touring or having to do interviews But I met some really interesting writers, and I have more confidence now. It’s swings and roundabouts really.”

Into The Water is set in a village in Northumberland, on the banks of a river. A part of the river is known as The Drowning Pool, where witches were drowned in the 17th century and where a number of women have plunged to their deaths since. As the story opens, a 15-year-old girl, Katie Whittaker, has drowned there, followed weeks later by the middle-aged Nel Abbott. Both seem to be suicides.

Nel’s younger sister, Jules, from whom she was estranged, is obliged to return to the village she fled to look after Nel’s daughter Lena, who was Katie’s best friend. Gradually — Hawkins is adept at the slow reveal — she begins to plumb the depths of this picture-postcard village, dredging up hideous events that reach back to her own childhood. Jules comes to realise that she has tragically misunderstood — and misremembered — events from her past.

Like The Girl On The Train, this has as its main theme the fallibility of memory, although Jules is no alcoholic.

“I wanted to write about siblings and about how our recollections of childhood events can be very different from each other’s. Often those things are quite trivial, but what if that incident that you differently interpret is fundamental to the people you become?”

Hawkins’s own childhood was a happy and settled one in Harare, where she was born in 1972. Her father was an economics professor at the university. “It was your typical white southern African childhood, with a nice house and a swimming pool, riding bicycles – that sort of thing. Obviously, as I got older I became conscious of the inequality, the fact that your comfortable lifestyle comes at a high cost. It was a good time for me to leave when I did. ”

It was this leaving, at the age of 17, that formed her as a writer, she says, not so much the experience of growing up in Zimbabwe. “Coming to London, feeling like a complete outsider, like I didn’t belong. I think it’s that ‘outsider-ness’ that a lot of writers experience, you sit on the sidelines and you observe.”

After getting a politics, philosophy and economics degree at Oxford, she began working as a financial journalist. When work started drying up after the crash in 2008, she turned to writing novels.

“It’s the ordinary, everyday, rather sad domestic lives gone wrong that interest me, rather than spies and serial killers. These are people you recognise. They’re struggling, they’re not rich or famous, they’re just trying to get through things.”

Hawkins is richer now than she could ever have imagined, though she’s hardly splashing it around.

“I didn’t go out and buy diamonds,” she laughs. “I do have a new apartment in the centre of London now. I’ve done a bit of travelling and I stay in nicer places than I used to, but that’s it, really. The first thing I did when I signed the deal for The Girl On The Train was pay off my credit card debt — there was a lot of it. It was such a relief, I wasn’t in trouble any more.”

Her parents still live in Harare and she returned last year to share a stage with Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah, who she adores. “She’s a force of nature and an amazing writer.”

Dreamworks has once again bought the rights to Into The Water, and this time Hawkins will be an executive producer. Hopefully they won’t set it in the US as they did with The Girl On The Train to the outrage of many fans.

As for a new novel, “I’ve got some ideas for characters but I haven’t actually been able to put pen to paper, I’m just thinking about it.”

Follow at Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

Listen to the podcast of the interview here.
 

Into the Water

Book details

 
 

The Girl on the Train

WiSER discussion: Christa Kuljian on the case of human origins

Christa Kuljian, the author of the acclaimed Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins will be in discussion with Hlonipha Mokoena on Wednesday 17 May, at Wits University’s WiSER Seminar Room. The discussion will be chaired by Sarah Nutall.

Scientists and their research are often shaped by the prevailing social and political context. Darwin’s Hunch, recently shortlisted for the prestigious 2017 Alan Paton Award for Non-Fiction, explores this trend, and provides fresh insight on the search for human origins in South Africa over the past century.

Kuljian asks “What impact did colonialism have on the views of scientists studying human evolution in the early twentieth century? What influence did apartheid have on the search? How have the changing scientific views about race, and racism, affected efforts to understand human evolution?”

Darwin’s Hunch was published in November 2016. We will take a close and sustained look at the arguments Kuljian makes, the pressures that her book puts on the scientific community in South Africa, the implications of publishing this book at this time, and the outcomes and challenges, political and social, of what we now know, through this detailed and meticulous research.

Professor Mokoena will engage Christa Kuljian in bold, outspoken and forthright discussion on this complicated and contested topic.

Event Details

Writing oral histories workshop with Michael Nest

2017 Alan Paton shortlist

 
 
It is finally time to reveal the shortlist for South Africa’s most prestigious book award, the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction, in association with Porcupine Ridge. The winner, who will receive R100 000, will be announced on Saturday June 24.
 
 

The Alan Paton Award
The shortlist for the 2017 Alan Paton Award reflects a diverse range of subjects and historical eras: from human origins to the Marikana of just three years ago, from Cape Town today to wartime Berlin. “These are books that raise critical questions about our past, present and future,” says chairperson Pippa Green. “The big question being asked is who are we?”

Under Nelson Mandela Boulevard: Life Among the Stowaways, Sean Christie (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
This is the fascinating account of journalist Sean Christie’s time spent amongst the Tanzanian stowaways who live rough under the Nelson Mandela Boulevard flyover in Cape Town. The judges commented on his “brilliant eye” and sympathetic treatment of this subculture. “He’s something of an anti-hero, not the usual macho observer. It is heartbreaking.”

Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race, and the Search for Human Origins, Christa Kuljian (Jacana Media)
Wits academic Christa Kuljian studied the History of Science at Harvard some years ago, and has turned her eye to the search for human origins in SA, and the contemporary context that sullied it. She examines how the thinking on race blighted science for centuries, setting up stereotypes that survive today, “This is the best science and sociology book I’ve read in a long time,” commented one judge. “This book should be taught in high schools.”

Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre by Greg Marinovich
The judging panel was united in its admiration of Greg Marinovich’s account of the Marikana massacre. Drawing on his own exhaustive investigations, eyewitness accounts and the findings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry set up by President Jacob Zuma, he reconstructs that fateful day as well as the events leading up to it. It is damning, gripping reportage, the best book by far, said the judges, on this most diabolical event in our recent history.

My Own Liberator: A Memoir, Dikgang Moseneke (Picador Africa)
The autobiography of South Africa’s retired Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Dikgang Moseneke is an impressive book, explaining how his life was shaped. He recounts the history of his forebears and pays homage to the many communities that played a role in his development. “He is a great figure,” said one judge, “this is a very moving story.”

Letters of Stone: From Nazi Germany to South Africa, Steven Robins (Penguin Books)
In this gutting, deeply personal book, sociologist Steven Robins chronicles his search for the members of his family who died in Germany during the war. His father had fled the Nazis and found shelter in Port Elizabeth, but never spoke a word about the family he left there. When Robins stumbles upon a hidden collection of letters he is able to “hear” those people for the first time. “What is also fascinating is that Robins writes of the Basters in Nambia and the eugenic experiments on indigenous people there which was the starting point for Nazi horrors.”
 

View the 2017 longlist here.

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

Book details

 

Darwin's Hunch

 
 
 
 

Murder at Small Koppie

 
 

My Own Liberator

 
 

Letters of Stone

2017 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize Shortlist

After months of evaluation and deliberation it is finally time to reveal the shortlist for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize, in association with Porcupine Ridge. The winner, who will receive R100 000, will be announced on Saturday June 24.

The Barry Ronge Fiction Prize
In the five shortlisted books the judges highlighted writing of rare style and imagination, stories that chose the personal over the political, and themes that are fresh and provocative. “The words”, says chairperson Rehana Rossouw, “strike at the reader’s heart”.

The Printmaker, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Umuzi)
Law-Viljoen’s quiet, finely calibrated novel is set in Johannesburg and centres on a reclusive printmaker named March, who makes his art obsessively – and alone – for decades. When he inherits the thdies a friendousands of drawings and etchings crammed into the house and through his work sets out to understand her troubled friend. “There’s not a superfluous word in it,” said one judge. “March is still living in my head.”

Period Pain, Kopano Matlwa (Jacana Media)
The wunderkind young author shows she has a long career ahead with this acute, powerful book. Masechaba is a young woman trying to find meaning in contemporary South Africa, a country wracked by social problems. “Where are we going,” it asks, “and what have we become?” “It’s a searing, brilliant read,” said a judge.

Little Suns, Zakes Mda (Umuzi)
“Zakes Mda is on song with this book,” exclaimed a judge, “it brings people from our past gorgeously to life.” It is 1903. A frail Malangana searches for his beloved Mthwakazi, the woman he had loved 20 years earlier and who he was forced to leave. Based on true events in history, it is a poignant story of how love and perseverance can transcend exile and strife.

The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus)
In this story of two strong-willed women, Omotoso delicately traces the racial fault lines of the rainbow land. One of the women is black, the other white, and for decades the pair have lived next door to each other in an affluent estate in Cape Town. One day, an accident brings them together. “She doesn’t pretend to have the answers,” commented one judge, “but she forces us to examine our deeply embedded racism. It’s very clever and deeply human.”

The Safest Place You Know, Mark Winkler (Umuzi)
After his father’s violent death one day in the drought- stricken Free State, a young man leaves the derelict family farm with no plan. Two people he meets on his way to the Cape will change his life forever. The story is set in the 80s, before everything changes. “I was blown away by the magnificent writing,” said a judge, “the story went straight to my heart.”
 
View the 2017 longlist here.

The Printmaker

Book details

 

Period Pain

 
 

Little Suns

 
 

The Woman Next Door

 
 
 

The Safest Place You Know