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Fiction Friday: An Excerpt from Tom Learmont's "Scientific Romance" War Across Time, Spanning Millions of Years

Light Across TimeFor Fiction Friday, dip into Tom Learmont’s War Across Time, the sequel to Light Across Time.

Learmont tells Books LIVE that Volume III, Bridge Across Time, is “in gestation”. “The sequence is perhaps best pigeonholed as scientific romance or ‘time opera’,” he says.

The excerpt, taken from Chapter 1, begins with the death of an “old white man” in a village in Malawi, and spans millions of years until the creation of a “new heaven and a new earth”.

Read the extract:

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The old white man’s body was still warm when the little boy came up the hill to bring him a fish for his breakfast. He had died in his pyjamas, sitting in a wicker armchair, on the narrow terrace in front of his tin-roofed, rock-walled shelter. Mr Archer seemed to be looking east across the lake into the sunrise out of Mozambique, for his eyes were open – as if he were already one of the watchful dead.

          Chilembwe scampered back down to the village and gave the fish to his mother. She sent him to tell the pastor and the headman that Archer had passed away, and the two elders set about undertaking the burial of a man who had been generous to the village during his ten-year stay. The fishermen who went to carry the body down to the graveyard were uneasy, for there had been gossip about spook lights near Archer’s house at night.

          He was buried the same day without a coffin, shrouded in a sheet from his own bed. The pastor read from the English Bible about a new heaven and a new earth. Then the villagers sang a hymn and the pastor said a prayer. Two fishermen covered him with soft earth. One planted a small makeshift cross of bamboo and twine at the head of the grave, and that was that.

          Next day, the villagers went to share out the old man’s belongings at his home. They had built it for him, of rough freestone walls that curved around two rock outcrops. The passage between these central boulders led to a kitchen at the back of the house. In front were two more rooms and the stone-paved terrace overlooking the lake. The pastor was peeved to discover that Archer’s cupboard had been rifled in the night. Only two bottles of red wine were left for him and the headman. And there was no money to be found.

          The people took food, crockery and cutlery as well as the furniture – even a wooden seat and spade from the nearby latrine. Men staggered downhill bearing steel window frames and zinc roofing. But they ignored the dozens of books. Chilembwe took one in English, which he found lying on the terrace next to the wicker chair. His older brother told him that it was by a man called Andrew Marvell. When the boy asked what wisdom was in the book, his brother riffled the pages and read out in English: my vegetable love.

          This he paraphrased in his own language, Chichewa, as: I love eating vegetables. He said, “Stupid! I’ll keep this book. The paper’s good for rolling a smoke.”

          Chilembwe became a fisherman. He grew old and died; his sons and daughters buried him in the graveyard near Archer. Nobody remembered him after the people left the lake shore. The sun still rose out of Mozambique and fish eagles swooped on their prey and screamed into the wind for another million generations. Then they vanished too.

          The tilted earth kept spinning, circling the sun through days and nights, seasons and years, until the opposite shore dropped below the far edge of the lake. Lightning crackled along the eastern skyline in monsoon storms, and earthquakes racked the beach. After a million years a small whale surfaced near the place where Archer’s fossil lay compressed under strata one hundred metres down. A salty breeze came off the water, for what had been a great lake was now a sea.

          Far offshore, the sea began to steam, then to boil. A volcano took half a million years to to build a snow-capped island out of magma and ash. Over the next two million years it aged into a burned-out cone, then weathered away and sank. On clear nights, the eastern horizon glowed with volcanic fire from a large island. Once part of Mozambique, it was drifting eastward on the Somali tectonic plate.

          The young Nubian Sea spread wider still as it filled the African Rift Valley, which was torn open at the southern end. The forked continent shifted northward and began to pivot clockwise, crushing the Mediterranean basin under rising Alps that threatened to overtop the Himalayas. Up above, the stars also drifted; Orion’s belt and his dismembered limbs were scattered into space. Strange new constellations began to form, with no one to see or to give them names. As the pastor had said, nearly three and a half million years before, it was a new heaven and a new earth.

          In that heaven, a man and a woman lay in bed, talking in the dark.

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Must Read: New Non-fiction From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "The Feminine Mistake"

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahWe Should All Be FeministsThe Thing Around Your NeckHalf of a Yellow Sun Purple Hibiscus

In a new piece titled “The Feminine Mistake”, written for More magazine, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes her childhood admiration for her Aunty Chinwe, and how her feelings towards her aunt changed over the years, along with her changing understanding of what it means to be a feminist in a patriarchal society.

Adichie says her aunt had “an air of endless tolerance, of magnanimous grace”; she was an elegant, confident woman, a perfect wife and an excellent nurse.

When Adichie is 15, however, her aunt casually tells her to “Sit like a woman, my dear”, and she begins to realise that even her aunt is subject to the “rituals for which you received mainstream approval”.

When, at a large party held for her husband’s birthday, a woman “drunk from many bottles of Guinness stout” tells Aunty Chinwe about a secret son her husband has had with another woman, she remains outwardly calm, and only cries in secret. Adichie overhears family members praising her aunt for her restraint: “Why fight about it and raise more dust?”

“Why did her response have to be tidy to be admired?” Adichie wonders. “Why had she not raged at the world in her humiliation, and if she had, why would that not be admirable? It seemed to me more human, more honest. She asked nothing of the man she loved, and this was seen as praiseworthy. To love was to give, but surely to love was also to take. Why did she not take? Why dared she not take? Why did her perfection depend on her not taking?”

Adichie concludes:

My feelings toward Aunty Chinwe then began to curdle. The attributes I had once so admired now irked me. What I thought her ethereal niceness became merely an addiction to the shallow rewards that the world reserved for females who hid certain parts of themselves. Most of all, her experience frightened me, confused me, because she was not easy to explain.

I was 15 and naive, full of the uncompromising certainties of youth. I would come later to admire her again and seek her wisdom at different times in my life. I would come to realize that Aunty Chinwe was not the problem; our society was. It was not about individual women but about the forces in the world that made those women shrink themselves. Aunty Chinwe taught me that wealth did not shield a woman from those forces. Nor did education or beauty. She helped shape my resolve to live my femaleness as the glorious and complex thing that it is. To reject “because you are a woman” as a valid reason for anything. To strive to be my truest, most humane self, but never twist myself into shapes to court the approval of the world.

Related stories:

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Photo courtesy PEN American Center

Great Review|Gilan Gork's book Persuasion Games

Persuasion Games in the Citizen,City Pg 19

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Persuasion Games Review - Citizen Pg 19

South Africa has an Unhealthy Dependency on China and its Demand for Minerals - Moeletsi Mbeki

Advocates for ChangeArchitects of PovertyMoeletsi Mbeki, political commentator and author of Advocates for Change: How to Overcome Africa’s Challenges and Architects of Poverty: Why Africa’s Capitalism needs Changing, was recently called on by Iman Rappetti to speak about China’s “Black Monday” on her Power FM show.

In the podcast, Mbeki speaks about the links between the Chinese economy and the South African economy, and why the dip in the Chinese currency affected this country.

Mbeki says there is a problem in the economic relations between the two countries. Because South Africa sells a large amount of minerals to China, a shrinkage in that country’s demand has a dramatic effect on employment and development here. South Africa should have focused on diversifying its economic product in the past 21 years to avoid a situation of dependency.

Listen to the podcast:


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"We Need to Sustain Local Content in the Market" - Nathi Mthethwa on Reduced Screening of Tell Me Sweet Something

Minister Nathi Mthethwa recently expressed his disappointment at the reduced viewings of the local romantic comedy film, Tell Me Sweet Something.

In a statement issued by the Department of Arts and Culture, Mthethwa says: “The film has done well in its first three weeks and reached R1 million in its first five days of release. Yet in the third week the screens were reduced from 47 to 27.”

Tell Me Sweet Something is directed by Nigerian-born Akin Omotoso – Bom Boy author Yewande Omotoso’s brother – and tells the story of an aspiring novelist who falls in love with celebrity model Nat Masilo.

The film is set in Johannesburg and features cameos by some of our favourite authors, including Omotoso, Niq Mhlongo, Angela Makholwa and William Gumede.


Black Widow SocietyBom BoyRestless NationAfrican Delights

Mthethwa is calling all stakeholders in the film industry to a meeting to discuss how to sustain local content in the market for longer.

Read the press release:

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Minister Nathi Mthethwa calls for a meeting with stakeholders in the film industry

Minister Nathi Mthethwa has noted the decision of exhibitors to reduce the number of screens and performing sites at which the local romantic comedy film Tell Me Sweet Something directed by Akin Omotoso is being shown.

The film Tell Me Sweet Something narrates the story of a female bookshop owner and aspiring writer who falls in love with a male model who wants to be acknowledged for his mind and not his body.

“The film has done well in its first three weeks and reached R1 million in its first five days of release. Yet in the third week the screens were reduced from 47 to 27.”

“Exhibitors need to come to the party and play their part in sustaining the promotion of South African films to South African audiences. It is not enough to simply hold the profit motive aloft while the South African story is not allowed to sustain its presence and capture the imagination of our audiences,” Minister Mthethwa said.

“We need to sustain local content in the market. Exhibitors have a role to play in forming part of a value chain that increases local content. Exhibiting and distribution are key to attaining this national mandate.

“Therefore I am calling a meeting of film stakeholders where we can thrash out issues of distribution, representation, marketing support and other pressing issues affecting filmmakers. All stakeholders must contribute to the strengthening of the industry. This is crucial as part of the transformation agenda of the industry and at a time when we are seized with the review of the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage.

“The National Development Plan acknowledges the importance of the contribution of cultural and creative industries to economic growth. In the film industry when films do well, these enable the producers to become sustainable and economic viable and create more jobs in the sector.

“Together we need to devise innovative distribution strategies and interventions that will take films to the people and also create an enabling environment where film entrepreneurs can flourish as they tell the South African story,” Minister Mthethwa said.


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If you haven’t seen Tell Me Sweet Something yet, make sure to catch it at one of the following cinemas:

Gauteng: Centurion Mall, Menlyn Park, Eastgate, Festival Mall, Maponya Mall, Newtown Junction, Rosebank Zone, Southgate, Sterland
Western Cape: Parow Centre
Eastern Cape: The Bridge
KwaZulu-Natal: Boardwalk, Musgrave, The Pavilion
Limpopo: Mall of the North
ZIimbabwe: SK 105


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Don't Miss Fanon Fest and the Launch of What Fanon Said by Lewis Gordon at Wits

Invitation to the Fanon Fest

What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to his Life and ThoughtOn the PostcolonyWits University Press is pleased to invite you to Fanon Fest – a series of seminars on the revolutionary psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon in celebration of the launch of What Fanon Said: A Philosophical Introduction to his Life and Thought by Lewis Gordon.

The festival will run from Friday, 2 October, to Tuesday, 6 October, in the Graduate Seminar Room at the University of the Witwatersrand.

On Monday, Gordon will launch What Fanon Said in conversation with Abdul JanMohamed, Lwazi Lushaba and Shibu Motimele. The panel discussion starts at 5:30 for 6 PM and will be chaired by Zimitri Erasmus. RSVP by Friday, 2 October, to ensure a seat.

On Friday, Gordon will kick off the seminar programme with a discussion on “What is the role of the ‘native intellectual’ in the post-colonial African order?”.

Achille Mbembe, author of On the Postcolony, will lead the seminar on “Concerning Violence – Reading Beyond Sartre” on Monday and Nigel Gibson will talk about “Fanon in Tunis: Politics and Psychiatry” on Tuesday.

The seminars will take place each day at 1 PM.

Don’t miss it!

Fanon Fest Details

  • Date: Friday, 2 October, to Tuesday, 6 October, 2015
  • Time of seminars: 1 PM
  • Time of book launch: Monday at 5:30 for 6 PM
  • Venue: Graduate Seminar Room
    South West Engineering Building
    East Campus
    Wits University | Map
  • Speakers: Lewis Gordon, Achille Mbembe, Nigel Gibson and many more
  • RSVP:


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