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Durban next literary capital of the world?

TimesLIVE recently reported that Durban is aspiring to hold the title of ‘literary capital of the world’.

This coastal city synonymous with beaches, bunny chow and kief barrels is preparing to bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature‚ the 21st in the world and the first in Africa.

International cities which hold this title include Edinburgh, Melbourne, Barcelona, Heidelberg and Krakow.

Darryl David, a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal asserted that the designation could make Durban “the literary capital of South Africa”.

As intrigued as we are? Click here for more.

Two books to remember Ahmed Kathrada by

Ahmed Kathrada, former political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist, sadly passed away this week on Tuesday 28 March after a brief illness. Kathrada dedicated himself to the struggle and remained politically active until his death. The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, which he founded, continues to work towards promoting ‘the values, rights and principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa’. He will be greatly missed.

Here are two books to remember him by:

A Free MindA Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada’s Notebook from Robben Island

During his 26 years in jail, Ahmed Kathrada refused to allow the apartheid regime to confine his mind. Despite draconian prison censorship practices and heavily restricted access to the written word, Kathrada discovered a wealth of inspiring writings. A Free Mind presents extracts from poetry, novels, songs, sayings and letters that Kathrada transcribed and treasured as he served his life sentence in South Africa’s notorious Robben Island Maximum Security Prison. It includes quotes from Bertold Brecht, Mahatma Gandhi, Emily Brontë, Karl Marx, Olive Schreiner, Shabbir Banoobhai, Voltaire and many others.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Dear Ahmedbhai, Dear Zuleikhabehn
Dear Ahmedbhai, Dear Zuleikhabehn: The letters of Zuleikha Mayat and Ahhmed Kathrada 1979–1989

Dear Ahmedbhai, Dear Zuleikhabehn is the compilation of the beautiful letters sent between Rivonia trialist and political prisoner Ahmed Kathrada and Zuleikha Mayat, a self-described housewife, during apartheid’s last decade. These letters tell the story – all the more powerful for its ephemeral character – of a developing epistolary friendship between two people to whom history has brought different gains and losses. The collection is rich, not merely in historical content and stylistic interest, but in the experience it offers to the reader of an unfolding conversation, reflecting both the immediate worlds of its authors and a tumultuous period of South African history.
 
 

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Tango and tears: Annetjie van Wynegaard reviews Zadie Smith's Swing Time

Swing Time is a dramatic dance, but it’s also about race, class, sexuality, and identity, writes Annetjie van Wynegaard for the Sunday Times

Swing TimeSwing Time
Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
*****

Win a signed copy of Swing Time here!

“It was the first day of my humiliation.” These are the opening lines to Zadie Smith’s exuberant new novel, Swing Time. The story starts just as it’s about to end, with exile and a scandal. In present-day London, the unnamed narrator finds herself in a hotel room with the curtains drawn and her phone switched off – shamed, shunned and shut off from the world.

Like the Sankofa bird with its neck eternally bent backwards, a recurring motif in the novel, the narrator looks to the beginning of her life, which she marks not as her birth but the day she met her best friend Tracey. The first thing she notes is the difference between their mothers – the narrator’s mother is a determined yet aloof autodidact from Jamaica; Tracey’s white mother’s only ambition is to “get on the disability”. Despite their differences – the narrator’s family is slightly better off than Tracey’s, yet the latter is the one with all the expensive toys – the two girls become closer than sisters. Their friendship is cemented in their shared passion for dance. The first part of the novel is a beautiful coming-of-age story of two very different girls who continue to have a lasting effect on each other’s lives into adulthood, even from a distance.

The adult narrator is, not unlike her mother, not a very likeable character. Neither is Tracey. Both girls grow up and away from each other, into roles they didn’t so much choose as submit to. Tracey, the ambitious one, makes it into dance school, while the more academically minded narrator sabotages her own chances of getting into a good school as an act of rebellion against her mother. Still driven by her love for music and dance, she becomes a personal assistant to a superstar celebrity named Aimee.

Her relationship with Aimee echoes the passive-aggressive patterns of her friendship with Tracey. Aimee is happy to have her around, as long as she’s at her beck and call and knows who the real star is. When Aimee decides to build a school in a rural West African village, the narrator starts to see her for who she really is – someone who takes and exploits and dominates. From here the story unravels fast, until the two ends meet once again.

Swing Time is a story about relationships – between two mixed-race girls, between mothers and daughters, between fathers and daughters, between friends and co-workers – and the power relations within these relationships and how they shift over time.

It’s also about race, class, sexuality, and identity. Early on in the novel little Tracey informs the unnamed narrator that having a white father is different from having a white mother.

“It turned out Tracey was as curious about my family as I was about hers, arguing, with a certain authority, that we had things ‘the wrong way round’. I listened to her theory one day during break, dipping a biscuit anxiously into my orange squash. ‘With everyone else it’s the dad,’ she said, and because I knew this to be more or less accurate I could think of nothing more to say. ‘When your dad’s white it means —’ she continued, but at that moment Lily Bingham came and stood next to us and I never did learn what it meant when your dad was white.”

In a recent essay in The Guardian, Smith writes: “I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do.” The inspiration of dance is evident between the pages of Swing Time. The novel moves effortlessly between the different timelines, pulsing and vibrating with its own rhythmic energy, flawless in its execution, demanding that you hold your breath until the very last beat.

Follow Annetjie van Wynegaard on Twitter @Annetjievw

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Nakhane Toure's Piggy Boy's Blues to be taught at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee

Nakhane Toure

 
Piggy Boy's BluesBlackBird Books has announced that Piggy Boy’s Blues by Nakhane Touré will be taught at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, United States.

Piggy Boy’s Blues has been adopted for the spring 2017 course “The Contemporary African Novel”.

The news comes just a week after Touré was longlisted for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Known for his music, Sama award-winning musician Touré has changed tune with the release of his debut novel, Piggy Boy’s Blues. The novel, which has been described as reading fragments of a recurring dream, centres on the disastrous consequences of a man’s return to his Eastern Cape home town of Alice. Touré’s work is poetic with sensuous prose.

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Out of the mouths of unborn babies: Sue de Groot reviews Ian McEwan's Nutshell

Ian McEwan’s new novel has an unexpected narrator. By Sue de Groot for the Sunday Times

NutshellNutshell
Ian McEwan(Penguin Random House)
****

You don’t have to be familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet to enjoy Ian McEwan’s latest novel, but it helps. Allusions and inferences and in-jokes abound, from the title (“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams,” said Hamlet) to the names (the narrator’s mother is Trudy and his wicked uncle is Claude – Gertrude and Claudius, geddit?) to the baked meats ordered from a delicatessen after a murder.

Unlike Hamlet, the protagonist of Nutshell has a good excuse for his dithering passivity – he cannot take up arms against an amniotic sea of troubles because he is still trapped within his mother’s womb, waiting to be born.

Most people give a shiver of distaste at the thought of a story told from a foetus’s point of view, but this book is not visceral or gross – it is engaging and thoughtful, a thriller that sometimes veers into comedy.

Readers of a sceptical bent will have to suspend rational objections to the advanced intellect of an organism yet to enter the world. McEwan solves the problem of how an unborn child has such an extensive vocabulary thus: “How is it that I, not even young, not even born yesterday, could know so much, or know enough to be wrong about so much? I have my sources. I listen.”

From his mother’s ears “sound waves travel through jawbone and clavicle, down through her skeletal structure, swiftly through the nourishing amniotic”. He listens closely to news broadcasts, source of bad dreams, and absorbs knowledge through his mother’s addiction to podcasts (no doubt the pun is intentional) on all manner of subjects: “self-improving audio books … biographies of 17th-century playwrights, and various world classics”.

There is dark humour in his appreciation of the wine that reaches him via his mother’s bloodstream – and perhaps a subtle warning to pregnant imbibers of alcohol – but it is the live conversations, permeating porous skin, that provide the meat of the plot: “Lodged where I am, nothing to do but grow my body and mind, I take in everything.”

This is a strangely effective place from which to examine and dissect human flaws and foolishness, desires and discoveries. Like Hamlet, this narrator is not a fully formed human but a sounding board, a tabula rasa, a reflective surface for the unravelling of those around him. And the ending, when it comes, it not nearly as predictable as one might expect.

Follow @deGrootS1

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Andy Martin describes the unusual process of writing Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me

Published in the Sunday Times

Reacher Said NothingReacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me
Andy Martin (Penguin Random House)

“I’ve just written this great four-word sentence,” said Lee Child. “Come and have a look.” He ushered me into his apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. He works in an office in the back, adorned with framed pages of the New York Times bestseller lists featuring his own novels sitting squarely at no. 1. I perched on the couch and he hit me with his four words. They were good words. High quality, high value. Each word emerging from his keyboard was worth $100. Each of his books is at least 100 000 words long. Make Me, the book he was working on, was his 20th Jack Reacher novel. You do the math.

Child, numero uno thriller writer, a giant in airport bookstores around the world, is half-poet, half-pirate, both ruthless materialist and dreamy head-in-the-clouds fantasist. The real mystery was: what the hell was I doing there? Which is a question a lot of his friends were asking. “Lee, hold on a second. You’ve got a Cambridge academic sitting behind you watching you write? You cannot be serious, man! He’s going to put you off your stroke. He is a literary voyeur!”

It was a crazy idea, I admit. Bear witness to the moment of creation, be there while a writer is writing and write about him writing in real time. Follow the composition of an entire novel from the first word (“Moving”) all the way through to the last word (“needle”). Capture the process at close quarters, try to climb inside the writer’s head, spectate while the words are spun into a book, like watching an alchemist transform lead into gold. Complete madness, obviously.

But Child said, “Yes, cool idea. You’d better get over here. I’m starting next Monday.” He always starts a new book on September 1, it’s a religion with him. It could have been any writer, in theory. But Donna Tartt takes 10 years, so I crossed her off. And Albert Camus was dead. I saw Child as not just a bestselling phenomenon, but as a serious writer whose first book, Killing Floor, reads like a sequel to Camus’s The Outsider.

Child has this theory that anyone in the world might want to kill quite a few people, given the opportunity. Jack Reacher kills people on our behalf. He enacts the revenge we so rarely get the chance to carry out ourselves. He is a Messiah and avenging angel all rolled into one. And he is like a kid, just a very big one (1.95m and 113kg).

Those four words? Reacher is surveying the street before breaking into a house. It’s empty. “No eyes, no interest,” Child writes. A characteristic structure: “No x, no y.” No hell, no heaven. A double negation. Notice that, in those four words, Reacher is an inaction hero. And this for me is what makes Reacher work, as a protagonist. Of course he beats people to death with his elbows. But he is also a philosopher who thinks his way through his fights.

Child is the same when it comes to writing. I didn’t really have to ask him questions. He was like Lionel Messi running rings around the opposition and at the same time commentating on what he is doing and exactly how he is going to score.

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