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Kingsmead Book Fair line-up announced!

Authors, editors, poets and publishers will congregate at Kingsmead College on Saturday 13 May from 9:30 AM to 6 PM for the sixth annual Kingsmead Book Fair.

Bibliophiles can expect an assortment of literary discussions including deliberations on political unrest in South Africa, culinary conversations with some of South Africa’s most prolific food-writers, and the nitty-gritty behind the art of short story writing.

Fans of mega-selling author Lesley Pearse, pay heed: the illustrious writer will share the secrets of her success with the Sunday Times’ very own Michele Magwood in Kingsmead’s Music Centre at 09:30 AM. Pearse has authored 21 books, including Dead to Me, Without a Trace, and Survivor.

On the local front the likes of Jonno Proudfoot, author of the Real Meal Revolution: Banting 2.0, award-winning journalist and author Zubeida Jaffer (On Trial with Mandela), the acclaimed novelist and short story writer Yewande Omotoso (The Woman Next Door), and renowned poet Phillippa de Villiers Yaa (The Everyday Wife) will participate in discussions, debates and – in Proudfoot’s case – a culinary demonstration.

Kingsmead Book Fair supports numerous literary projects across the country, encouraging and instilling a love of reading and contributing to South African literacy rates across the board. The Link Reading Programme, Alexandra Education Committee, Sparrow Schools, Read to Rise, and St Vincent’s School for the Deaf are all supported by this singular book fair.

The full programme for this year’s fair – aptly themed ‘Worlds Within Words’ – is available here.

Tickets can be purchased online via Webtickets.

‘Til May 13th!

Dead to Me

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Without a Trace




Real Meal Revolution


On Trial with Mandela


The Woman Next Door


The Everyday Wife

Mother can't be trusted: Pamela Power reviews Gail Schimmel's The Park

Published in the Sunday Times

The ParkThe Park
Gail Schimmel (Pan Macmillan)

I feel lucky to have known about this book right from the get-go. I was in #writersgym with Gail Schimmel. #Writersgym was not complicated, we would simply check in with each other on Twitter on Sunday night to see how many words we had written.

I recently chatted to Schimmel and we were discussing genres and whether her book should be classified as a psychological thriller. “It’s only a tiny bit thrilling,” was her response. Now that I have read The Park I would have to disagree, as I found it very thrilling indeed, and a fine example of domestic suspense. Schimmel says that it’s “griplit”. Some authors are not OK with this term but Schimmel says she has no pretensions to writing great literature. What she’s after is a compelling story, which this book certainly is.

It’s not so much a whodunnit as a why-did-she-do-it? “Don’t trust her!” I kept yelling at the protagonist, Rebecca (mostly in my head) as she made friends with other moms, Lilith and Rose, in the park. Rebecca is a new mom to little Amy whom she adopted after enduring gruelling infertility treatment. Single-mom Lilith leans on Rebecca for support (I wanted to sit Rebecca down with a bottle of wine and give her a talk about boundaries) and this makes the flamboyant Rose feel left out and she reacts accordingly. Both Lilith and Rose have secrets and as the book unfolds, we find out what they are.

Schimmel’s wry sense of humour shines through in Rose’s dialogue. Bits of it had me laughing out loud and thinking, “I know this woman!”

I loved this bit about choosing schools: “She spent the next 15 minutes telling us why the school she’d chosen was better, but that we’d never get in at such a late date, but that she was sure our school would be very nice. Rose, I was starting to realise, paid a lot of lip service to non-competitive mothering, but had areas where she was as bad as the next person. I gave an internal shrug, supposing that we all have our issues.

“Rose ended her monologue with the statement, ‘Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine for your girls,’ with just the slightest emphasis on the word ‘your’.”

Her characters feel so wonderfully familiar, as do the settings. As I got deeper into the book I kept visualising the park down the road from my house and remembering the times I took my children there when they were small; it also reminded me of the awful anxiety one experiences as a first-time mother. It’s the sense of unease that Schimmel creates during the book that makes it such a compulsive read. Thank you for a great book and hurry up with the next.

Follow Pamela Power @pampower

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Karina Szczurek reviews Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

Easy Motion TouristVerdict: carrot

From luxurious hotel rooms to the gutters of Lagos, Easy Motion Tourist presents an uneasy, brutal metropolis where only the toughest survive: “a city of armed robbers, assassinations and now, it seemed, ‘ritualists’ had to be added to the list.” But among the ruthless violence and corruption there are rays of light, and Easy Motion Tourist offers an intriguing ending which might mean a promising sequel.

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Check out the programme for this year's Franschhoek Literary Festival!

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

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

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

And that’s just day one!

Find the full programme here.

Tickets are available from


Best White and Other Anxious Delusions

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Lady Anne


An Empty Plate


The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories

  • The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2016 by Caine Prize
    EAN: 9781566560160
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!


Consistent or Confused

Book bites: 19 March 2017

The BrotherThe Brother
Joakim Zander (Head of Zeus)
Book buff
This novel takes us into a world we read about but never really get to know – the world of Islamic extremists. We get to know Yasmine, a sister determined to find and protect her little brother Fadi; and Klara, a woman determined to find the truth after the death of her colleague. Through his simple yet captivating narration, Zander delivers a story that is intense but never preachy. Each chapter reveals the different layers of the characters’ lives. It’s brilliant. – Thato Rossouw @Thato_Rossouw

A Closed and Common OrbitA Closed and Common Orbit
Becky Chambers
Book fiend
Although this is the second book in a series, it can be enjoyed entirely as a stand-alone story. Sidra is a spacecraft’s artificial intelligence hiding (illegally) in an artificial human body. Pepper is a former child slave helping Sidra find a new life on a multicultural planet, and protecting Sidra the way that the ship’s AI once protected her. The story injects some welcome kindness into its sci-fi tropes and it makes the Wayfarer universe an enjoyable place to spend time. Charming, intelligent, empathetic, and a great deal of fun. – Sam Wilson @wombatsam

The Empathy ProblemThe Empathy Problem
Gavin Extence (Hodder & Stoughton)
Book hug
The Empathy Problem is compelling, particularly because it’s by Extence, author of the delightful debut The Universe versus Alex Woods. While I was hooked midway through, the book took some time to catch up to its promise thanks to a strange dependence on short chapters (many of them only a page or two) which stopped me connecting with Gabriel, whose terminal brain tumour takes over his personality. Once he’d wormed his way into my heart, though, I found myself thinking about him throughout the day. Light and lovely, it’s another charming read from Extence. – Bridget McNulty @bridgetmcnulty

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes
Sarah Pinborough (Harper Collins)
Book thrill
This is addictive. As soon as you get to know who the players are in this cat-and-mouse thriller you want to know more about them. There’s Louise, who meets David in a bar. After they kiss, she discovers that he is her new boss who is married. Then she meets his wife Adele and becomes obsessed with this married couple. Louise learns that they don’t have a happy marriage and that Adele is afraid of David. One of the thrillers you have to read this year, the ending is so unexpected it even has its own twitter hashtag: #wtfthatending. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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When Irish eyes are crying: Michele Magwood reviews John Boyne's latest novel The Heart's Invisible Furies

John Boyne’s new novel explores the darker side of Irish culture, writes Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

The Heart's Invisible Furies The Heart’s Invisible Furies
John Boyne (Doubleday)

When John Boyne wrote his previous novel A History of Loneliness, it was the first he had set in his native Ireland. Until then, with a dozen or so books already under his belt, he had never found the right story to tell and the right time to tell it. But with more and more evidence of child abuse at the hands of Catholic priests coming to light, he zeroed in on this disgrace, and on the diabolical power of the church.

In interviews about the book he explained that his own youth had been blighted by priests: “They preached love and practised hatred.”

It was a searing book, fuelled by his ire. But if readers thought his anger and subject matter were spent, they were wrong. He was just getting started, and his new novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies is also underpinned by a barely concealed rage, this time against hypocrisy and Ireland’s attitude to homosexuality and towards women.

On the phone from his home in Dublin, Boyne talks about the new book, a chronicle of the life of one Cyril Avery told in segments of seven years. “They say that every seven years our entire bodies regenerate. I thought it would be interesting, rather than following him constantly through his life, every event of his life, to just pick up every seven years and see where he is.”

The story begins in the rural village of Goleen in County Cork in 1945. The parish priest has discovered that Catherine Goggin, 16, is pregnant, and he blasts her from the pulpit. When she refuses to name the father he literally, appallingly, kicks her down the aisle, banishing her from the parish. Her shamed family will have nothing to do with her, so she climbs on a bus to Dublin.

“Women in Ireland have always had a rough go,” says Boyne, “so I’ve been trying in recent books to write strong female characters to comment on the role of women. I didn’t want Catherine to be a victim at all, I wanted her to be a strong woman who gets on with her life and does well for herself.”

She gives the baby up for adoption, and he is taken in by a well-to-do couple, the Averys, who name him Cyril. From the beginning they remind him that he’s “not a real Avery” and he grows up in a state of benign, distracted neglect.

“They aren’t mean to him in any way, but they’re not exactly loving either. They treat him as an adult when he’s really only a child.”

The lonely boy falls in love with one of his friends, and begins to realise he might be gay. “He’s terrified, he knows this is going to have a difficult effect on his life. Homosexuality was illegal in Ireland and was only decriminalised in the early ’90s.”

Boyne digs deep into his own experiences of growing up gay in that society. Master storyteller that he is, he spins it out for close on 600 pages as we accompany Cyril through the decades. There is discovery and disappointment, pain and elation, Aids and the IRA, a brief marriage and homophobic beatings.

He lives in Amsterdam and New York; he makes good choices and disastrous ones, and comes, finally, to know and accept himself. It is, of course, about the redemptive power of the human spirit. The priest sentenced Catherine and her baby to a life of shame; instead they would live fully and flourish.

One of the novel’s great pleasures is its comedy. To counter its seriousness, Boyne discharges scenes and asides ranging from ribald to deadpan. Maude, Cyril’s adoptive mother, is an eccentric, chain-smoking novelist whose books had “positive reviews but minuscule sales, something that pleased her enormously, for she considered popularity in the bookshops to be vulgar”.

A man is arrested for exposing himself to a young woman “but the charges were dropped when they learned she was a Protestant”.

“I enjoyed writing the comic sections,” he says. “It kind of opened up a part of my brain that I haven’t used much in the past. A lot of my books are quite bleak.”

If you’d encountered Boyne when he was in South Africa in 2015, appearing at the Franschhoek and Kingsmead book festivals, you would have noticed him checking his phone frequently. That’s because he was awaiting news of the referendum at home on same-sex marriage. When Ireland voted “yes” he was elated.

Two years on, though, he is more circumspect.

“Sixty percent wasn’t really a landslide, it meant 40% said no. There are still a lot of people out there who are really offended by how a person is born.”

Still, the country has changed for the better and the stranglehold of the church has diminished greatly.

“They’ve lost all moral authority,” he says. He envies the younger generation. “They don’t have the prejudices and phobias as older people do.”

Boyne is satisfied that he’s laid some ghosts to rest in the last two novels. “I feel I’ve tackled the two big subjects and I feel a weight off my shoulders, so I feel pretty good about that. I’m ready to try something else again.”

Boyne’s best books

The Go-BetweenThe Go-Between by LP Hartley. Probably my favourite novel and one of the great explorations of how a broken heart can shatter a life.
David CopperfieldDavid Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I read this when I was about 13 years old and it was my introduction to adult literature and epic storytelling.
The Cider House RulesThe Cider House Rules by John Irving. My favourite contemporary author, a novel that is political and feminist in nature, it opened my mind to how literature can speak on important subjects while never sacrificing story.
Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. This taught me how the hero of a novel does not have to be likable, he or she just has to be interesting.
A Boy's Own StoryA Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White. A novel I read when I was a teenager coming to terms with my sexuality. White’s fiction and non-fiction has always been both provocative and deeply felt.
The SlapThe Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. My favourite 21st-century novel. As well as being an incisive study of modern Australia and its attitude to race and gender, it’s a brilliant piece of storytelling with eight distinctive voices.
Follow Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

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