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The Magwood on Books podcast with Arundathi Roy

It’s been 20 years since Arundathi Roy’s The God of Small Things. Here she discusses her new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, the themes of injustice in her work, and the power of fiction.

 
 

The God of Small Things

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Read an interview with Larry Swatuk, author of Water in Southern Africa

The University of Waterloo’s Water Institute conducted an interview with Larry Swatuk who recently published his ninth book, Water in Southern Africa.

Here, Swatuk discusses the book, how water professionals and policy makers can be better educated on matters related to water, and the socio-political and socio-economic limitations which challenge water preservation:

Water Institute member and professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, Larry Swatuk, is the author of a new book titled Water in Southern Africa.

Larry lived for 14 years in Africa, primarily in Botswana, where he was a lecturer at the University of Botswana and associate professor of Resource Governance at the Okavango Research Institute. He has published extensively on issues pertaining to the ‘wise use’ of the resources of the Okavango River basin.

Partly due to his training in political science and international relations, Larry specializes not only in decision-making around the use of water resources, but in the training of decision makers for dispute resolution and negotiation on these same resources.

His current research interests focus on the unintended negative consequences of climate change adaptation and mitigation interventions, a concept he labels ‘the boomerang effect.’

In his new book – the first volume in the Off-Centre series which focuses on the social, political and cultural life of South Africa and the southern African region – he argues that we must learn to see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.

We had the opportunity to ask Larry questions about his new book, challenges facing the world water resources, and why interdisciplinary collaboration is important when it comes to tackling complex water problems.

In your publication, “Seeing Invisible Water Challenges,” you talk about a ‘blue water bias’ that exists that makes a “majority of water professionals and policy makers blind to the significant amounts of green water available for human needs.” How can we better educate water professionals and policy makers on the concepts and applications of green water and virtual water?

There is a great deal of path dependence in science – and in life. We are all creatures of habit who grow comfortable trodding along the same path. Every once in a while there is a break from the routine, an idea or an insight emerges to shake us up. It is interesting to note that virtual water – a concept first articulated by Tony Allan for which he was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize some years back – has had greater purchase across the water world than has the idea of green water. Irrigation engineers, however, are well-versed in green water analysis, and rightly so, for most of the world’s food production depends on rainfall or, in Malin Falkenmark’s and Johan Rockstrom’s words: where the rain drop hits the soil. But policy makers and the private sector remain enamored of blue water perhaps because there is more immediate political and economic pay-off to damming, diverting and draining available blue water. Perhaps also, the systems in place have been designed by powerful actors interested in capturing the available resource which, historically, was the water we could see. Beyond the well-watered parts of the world, ‘developing’ states aimed to mimic their ‘developed’ counterparts by capturing water.

Water, in this context, is power: political, economic and social. In my view, powerful actors will continue to be blind to the benefits of green water, and to the potential hazards of living beyond their own water barriers because of current capabilities to import cheap food (i.e. virtual water). But their blindness need not lead us down the same dark path.It also reveals to us the fallacy of many claims pertaining to the state of the world’s water resources: that we are running out, that we are facing a water war, and so on.

In your new book, Water in Southern Africa, you do not shy away from the fact that the challenges for sustainable water management are immense. Drawing on the southern African experience, you argue that we must learn to “see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.” Can you expand on this thought?

It is fitting that a pool of water acts as a mirror. For, in my view, the state of the world’s water resources reflects very accurately the state of our societies. How water is accessed, used and managed clearly shows us the problems and possibilities not only for resource sustainability, but for social inclusion, social justice, and sustainable development broadly defined.

Too much water use research commences from an ahistorical, asocial largely technical and economic perspective. Put differently, whoever has the money and the power gets the water. So, ‘shortages’ are not biophysical, but socio-economic and socio-political. Let me give you an example from Southern Africa, though it is hardly unique in this regard: the region is often portrayed as a ‘success story’ of inter-state cooperation on transboundary waters. At the same time, all countries in the region ‘struggle’ to provide adequate water for the needs of all of their citizens. Are these two separate phenomena? No, they are not, though they are often presented as such. In the case of the former, there is said to be ‘progress’ deriving from human resource capability, adequate finance and so on. In the case of the latter, there is said to be ‘limited or uneven progress’ deriving from the absence of the same. But, in my view, if we see where the water flows, how, to whom and for what purpose, we can clearly see that these conditions are two sides of the same coin. As the saying goes, the first law of hydrology is that water flows toward money. Without doubt, many water challenges may be met with the application of good science supported by adequate finance and appropriate forms of governance and management. But, as a cursory view of the water world shows us, too few people are served by our current approaches and practices.

Continue reading the interview here.
 
About the book:

When it comes to water, we are fed a daily diet of doom and gloom, of a looming crisis: wars of the future will be over water; nearly one-billion people lack access to clean water; river basins are closed so there is no more water to be allocated despite ever-growing demand; aquifers are overdrawn to such an extent that a global food crisis is just around the corner and major cities, such as Bangkok and Mexico, are sinking. And let us not forget about pollution or vector-borne diseases.

The challenges for sustainable water management are massive. Yet, as shown in this book, there are many positives to be drawn from the southern African experience. Despite abiding conditions of economic underdevelopment and social inequality, people rise to the challenge, oftentimes out of necessity and through self-help, but sometimes through creative coalitions operating at different scales – from the local to the global – and across issue areas – from transboundary governance to urban water supply. This first volume in the Off-Centre series argues that we must learn to see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.

Water in Southern Africa

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Listen: AmaBookaBooka interview Christa Kuljian

In 1871, Darwin predicted that humans evolved in Africa. European scientists thought his claim astonishing and it took the better part of a century for Darwin to be proven correct. From Raymond Dart’s description of the Taung Child Skull in 1925 to Lee Berger’s announcement of Homo Naledi in 2015, South Africa has been the site of fossil discoveries that have led us to explore our understanding of human evolution.

Darwin’s Hunch reviews how the search for human origins has been shaped by a changing social and political context. The book engages with the concept of race, from the race typology of the 1920s and ’30s to the post-World War II concern with race, to the impact of apartheid and its demise. The book explores the scientific racism that often placed people in a hierarchy of race and treated them as objects to be measured.

In 1987, the publication of “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution” suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to an African woman 200,000 years ago. Again, many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim.

Listen to author Christa Kuljian discuss her Alan Paton award shortlisted book, sharing her thoughts on revisiting science, and repeating Australopithecus Africanus 10 times in this recent AmaBookaBooka interview:

 

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Book Bites: 18 June 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

Right Behind You
Lisa Gardner (Hodder & Stoughton)
Book thrill
***
Profilers Pierce Quincy and Rainie Conner have fostered a troubled youngster, Sharlah, who is traumatised by a childhood in which her drunken father murdered her mother, only to be killed himself by Sharlah’s older brother Telly, aged 9. Telly, now 17, has gone on a killing spree, starting with his foster parents: it seems he is after Sharlah, but she has little memory of the night her parents died, and no clue as to what would trigger this murderous rage. A manhunt ensues, with all the usual drama. This is the seventh book featuring Quincy and Conner and, while it works well as a standalone, is sadly forgettable. – Aubrey Paton

This Is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel (Headline)
Book buff
****
The Walsh-Adams family already had four sons by the time Claude arrived. He was a bright boy, like his brothers, but different. By five Claude had renamed herself Poppy, grew out her hair, insisted on only wearing dresses and carried her lunch to school in a purse. Frankel, who wrote this novel as a tribute to her trans-daughter, gives an honest portrayal of the difficulties faced when raising a transgender child. For while the family may love and accept their child, society will have varying opinions, some of which can be deadly. Frankel’s true gift is capturing the essence of family dynamics, from the chaos to the hilarious smart remarks. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie
 
Live by Night
Dennis Lehane (Abacus)
Book thrill
****
Written, produced, directed by and starring Academy Award winner Ben Affleck, Live by Night was released last year as a major movie. A major movie disappointment, that is – comprehensively panned by the critics. Perhaps Affleck should have left the script to the original author, Lehane, one of the great American fiction writers. The tale starts in 1920s Boston, during the Prohibition years and sweeps majestically through to the eve of WW2. Joe Coughlin, a 19-year-old small-time stick-up crook, foolishly robs the casino of a big-time gangster. During the heist he becomes intrigued by one of the workers, the sassy, fearless Emma Gould. He tracks her down afterwards and falls desperately in love. But Emma is also the moll of the gangster whose casino Coughlin robbed, setting off a blood-splattered train of events that culminate in Coughlin becoming one of America’s most feared gangsters. – William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

The Mermaid’s Daughter
Ann Claycomb (HarperCollins)
Book fling
****
This is the modernised version of The Little Mermaid – not the happy singing Disney version but the edgy Hans Christian Andersen telling. Kathleen is a young student and soprano opera singer. Her feet hurt like hell – like she is walking on broken glass all time – and her mouth pains with her tongue feeling like an alien part of her body. The fates decree that her life is a tragedy of murder. It’s an easy read and seems to be suited for younger readers but the story has a great hook and one learns quite a bit of the workings of an opera. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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David Grossman wins Man Booker International Prize

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman was announced as the winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize on Wednesday 14 June. The novel was translated by Jessica Cohen and is published in Britain by Jonathan Cape. Celebrating the finest global fiction in translation, the Man Booker International Prize awards both the winning author and translator £25,000. They have also received a further £1,000 each for being shortlisted.

Grossman is a bestselling Israeli writer of fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature, whose works have been translated into 36 languages. He has been the recipient of numerous global awards, including the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, Rome’s Premio per la Pace e l’Azione Umanitaria, the Frankfurt Peace Prize, and Israel’s Emet Prize.

Cohen, who was born in Colchester, England, but raised in Jerusalem, previously translated Grossman’s critically acclaimed To the End of the Land as well as work by other major Israeli writers including Etgar Keret, Rutu Modan, Dorit Rabinyan, Ronit Matalon, Amir Gutfreund, Tom Segev, and Golden Globe-winning director Ari Folman.

A Horse Walks Into a Bar unfolds over the course of one final show by stand-up comedian, Dovaleh Gee. Charming, erratic and repellent – Dovaleh exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him. With themes that encompass betrayal between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt and redress, A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read.

Of the book, The Guardian commented: ‘This isn’t just a book about Israel: it’s about people and societies horribly malfunctioning. Sometimes we can only apprehend these truths through story – and Grossman, like Dovaleh, has become a master of the truth-telling tale.’

The novel is announced as the 2017 winner by Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival at an exclusive dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

It was selected from 126 books by a panel of five judges, chaired by Nick Barley and consisting of: Daniel Hahn, an award-winning writer, editor and translator; Elif Shafak, a prize-winning novelist and one of the most widely read writers in Turkey; Chika Unigwe, author of four novels including On Black Sisters’ Street; and Helen Mort, a poet who has been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Costa Prize, and has won a Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award five times.

Nick Barley, chair of the 2017 judging panel, comments:

David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly. A Horse Walks into a Bar shines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.

Luke Ellis, CEO of Man Group, comments:

I and my colleagues at Man Group would like to congratulate David Grossman and Jessica Cohen, along with each of the shortlisted authors and translators. The Man Booker International Prize plays a vital role in celebrating the extraordinary depth of global writing talent, opening up avenues for authors that were previously closed and recognising the unique contribution of translation. We are very proud to sponsor the Prize, and equally proud to support the grassroots of literature and literacy through the Booker Prize Foundation’s charitable activities, helping young writers and readers, and those for whom access to books is a daily challenge.

This is only the second year that the Man Booker International Prize has been awarded to a single book, with the £50,000 prize divided equally between the author and the translator. Its prior form honoured a body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in the English language, and was awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005, Chinua Achebe in 2007, Alice Munro in 2009, Philip Roth in 2011, Lydia Davis in 2013, and László Krasznahorkai in 2015.

The 2016 winner was The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith. According to statistics from Nielsen Book, translated fiction from Korea has grown 400% since 2016. This highlights the remarkable impact the newly evolved Man Booker International Prize has had.

The prize is sponsored by Man Group, an active investment management firm that also sponsors the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Both prizes strive to recognise and reward the finest in contemporary literature.

A Horse Walks Into a Bar

Book details

Four must reads for this week: Book Bites, 11 June 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

UnpresidentedUnpresidented
Paige Nick (N&B Books)
****
Book fun
Novelist, columnist and advertising copywriter, Paige Nick demonstrates her unique talent for taking the pulse of present-day state captured and junk status South Africa with her hilarious and subversive new novel, Unpresidented.
Matthew Stone is a disgraced journalist and the only work he can get is as memoir ghostwriter for ex-President Jeremiah Gejeyishwebisa Muza. Muza is a character perfectly suited to Nick’s witty and sometimes scathing satire; masterful with alternative truths and able to get himself out of prison on medical parole for an infected toenail. But post-incarcerated life is not all smooth sailing: Muza is either disrespected or ignored by the only two of his numerous wives who have stuck around, his Homestead is falling apart and he faces eviction for unpaid rates and taxes.
Readers will find many familiar and notorious characters popping up as Muza tries to trick his old acquaintances with a lottery scheme, but the sole person willing to invest seems to be Muza’s old pal Robert, using Zim-dollars. To add to his woes, Muza has been abandoned by the Guppi brothers who have now moved the hub of their business to Dubai and are not taking his calls. In Unpresidented the madcap state of South African political affairs makes satirical, hilarious and terrifying sense. – Andrew Salomon

You Said ForeverYou Said Forever
Susan Lewis (Century)
****
Book fling
Susan Lewis is a master storyteller and her latest novel will keep you up just to finish it. Five years ago, Charlotte Goodman kidnapped Chloe, an abused child, and smuggled her to New Zealand. Charlotte was caught and later found innocent in a trial that saw her win the hearts of Brits as chilling details of Chloe’s circumstances were revealed. Now, things have changed. Chloe is a “problem child” and throws tantrums, is involved in creepy chatroom conversations and physically abuses her siblings. Will Charlotte keep her promise and look after Chloe forever? It’s a thought-provoking tale that will make you question your own morals. – Jessica Levitt @JessLevitt

The Returning TideThe Returning Tide
Liz Fenwick (Orion Books)
***
Book hug
World War II novels are flooding the market. Fenwick’s inspiration, however, did not come from history books, but from her mother-in-law. She was a telegraphist who endured the horror of listening to men’s last words, all through Morse code. It’s a tale of twin sisters, one assigned to be a telegraphist, the other a driver. A sisterly bond, full of love and support, is demonstrated through a series of letters. That is, until the day of betrayal. The harm from that one mistake infects generation after generation, on two separate continents, despite closed mouths and buried secrets. But love has a way of burrowing through the smallest of cracks. Set in Cornwall, the story charms while twisting heartstrings. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Edith Edith & Oliver
Michele Forbes (W&N)
***
Book fling
One has to be in the mood for a somewhat overly written doomed romance, and Forbes doesn’t make this easier to swallow with this being set in a dank place – early 1900s in Belfast. Oliver is a magician – an illusionist. His miserable childhood fosters a foolishly driven ambition to become world famous. Edith, whose story is, sadly, secondary to Oliver’s, is a pianist – playing in the music halls and theatres. Then they meet, fall in love, have children and live the most miserable lives ever. Dark and nightmarish – it makes you feel good about living in the world today. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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