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Book Bites: 24 July 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

Little WarriorLittle Warrior
Giuseppe Catozzella (Faber & Faber)
Book buff
This fictionalised version of the life of Samia Omar, who dreams of being a champion runner while growing up in Somalia, is a heartrending account of her triumphs and challenges. Despite the surrounding violence, Samia’s childhood in bomb-gutted Mogadishu is almost normal. She trains hard with her best friend Ali, wins several races and makes the national team. But as the encroaching conflict forces her to train under cover, and constrain her growth as an athlete, she decides to leave her homeland and make the perilous journey along the refugee route to Europe, in the hands of heartless traffickers. A sobering novel, sensitively rendered. – Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee

A Tapping at my DoorA Tapping at my Door
David Jackson (Bonnier)
Book thrill
David Jackson is not in the big league yet but he soon will be: original, thrilling, and just slightly literary, he may do for Liverpool what Stuart MacBride did for Aberdeen — providing he continues to enthral readers with DS Nathan Cody. Cody is working as a regular policeman after his undercover career crashed to a horrifying end, leaving him with nightmares: what seems at first like a sick but routine torture/murder reveals itself to be an attack on the Liverpool police force. Literature, birds and the Hillsborough disaster all play a part in an unnerving tale. Despite the satisfactory conclusion, it ends on a question which, one hopes, indicates this is just the first of a series. – Aubrey Paton

Work Like Any OtherWork Like Any Other
Virginia Reeves (Scribner)
Book buff
Roscoe T Martin believes he can save his wife’s Alabama farm if he siphons off electricity to run the thresher. The plan works, until a young man electrocutes himself on the illegal lines. Roscoe and his farm labourer Wilson are sentenced to prison. Set in the 1920s, Work Like Any Other is an exploration of class, race, accountability and marriage. The prose is as dry as coal dust, revealing the stark everyday pains of survival. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

All Their Minds in TandemAll Their Minds in Tandem
David Sanger (Quercus)
Book buff
Set in 1870s West Virginia, in the shadow of the Civil War, Sanger’s debut novel is a pacy, character-driven exploration of how memory can be both a comfort and a burden to a wounded society. A stranger appears in a small town and takes lodgings in the house of three young sisters, charming them with his good looks and newfangled motion picture contraption. He has a familiar face and a mysterious past, and describes himself as a professional storyteller. He has a secret gift, however: the power to alter or erase memories. Both Western and supernatural thriller, as if a young Clint Eastwood was starring in a Murakami novel. – Jennifer Malec @projectjennifer

Book details

Secrets of identity: Michele Magwood interviews Susan Faludi about her book Into the Darkroom

Published in the Sunday Times

Susan Faludi interviewing her father after he became a woman, 2008


In the DarkroomIn the Darkroom
Susan Faludi (HarperCollins R360)
***** (5 stars)

Susan Faludi had not seen her father for a quarter of a century when, in 2004, she flew from America to see him in Budapest. The person who greeted her was wearing “a red cabled sweater, grey flannel skirt, white heels and a pair of pearl stud earrings … Her breasts – 48C she would later inform me – poked into mine.” At the age of 76 her father had undergone sex reassignment surgery. Steven Faludi, born István Friedman, was now known as Stefánie.

Susan Faludi is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, an authority on feminism and gender whose books Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man and Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women assay the increasingly fluid notions of gender. Now all of her academic understanding would be tested by bearing witness to her father’s life.

SF_driving car picSusan Faludi with her father Istvan

In The Darkroom is an astounding story of family, memory, guilt, nationality; of the lacunae that gape in our lives, and the secrets that get sealed over. Of how we perceive, and are perceived, how we create and how we erase. It is, essentially, a study of identity: personal, national and ethnic.

IstvanSteven Faludi might have been a Hungarian immigrant but to his family he was the all-American dad. He was a photographer specialising in pre-Photoshop retouching, a man who caught the commuter train every morning from their house in the New York suburbs, who spent his weekends in his workshop and who insisted their secular Jewish family celebrated Christmas and Easter to fit in with the Catholic neighbourhood. He was also a despot, forbidding his wife to work, dragging his daughter on mountaineering trips and cycling marathons.

Susan Faludi with her fatherOver the years his machismo turned violent, and his wife divorced him when Susan was in her teens. One night he broke into the family home and set about his ex-wife’s new boyfriend with a baseball bat and stabbed him with a Swiss army knife. He then convinced a judge he was the wronged party and had his child support payments reduced. This sparked not only the decades-long rift between daughter and father, but Faludi’s deep-rooted feminism, too.

“My father’s insistence on controlling his wife and children played a big part in my attraction to the burgeoning women’s movement of the time,” she writes in an email.

Cut to 2004 when Faludi receives a message from her father: “Dear Susan, I’ve got some interesting news for you. I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.” Attached to the email were photographs of her, after surgery in Thailand, in wigs and ruffles, skirts and heels. It was signed “Love from your parent, Stefánie.”

And then he asked – and Faludi from here on refers to her father as “she” – her to write her story. So began a decade of investigation, as Faludi visited her father in Budapest and exchanged letters with her, painstakingly tracking her history. She was a maddening subject: elusive and obscuring. “I think in many ways her holding back was part of a ploy to keep me coming back for more.” What was particularly galling for Faludi was her parent’s overt, girly femininity, a coquettish, simpering version of womanhood. She flounced about in frilly aprons and negligees, asked her daughter to help her with her zip, delighted in men holding open doors for her.

“We argued a good deal about that,” she writes, “but my father’s fascination with Doris Day girliness faded over time … it may be that she initially felt that she could only break out of extreme masculinity with the cudgel of extreme femininity.”

Gradually she learned how her father, a master manipulator of images in the laboratory, had manipulated his own identity all his life. And gradually she – and we – learn what a truly damaged person he was.

Istvan on stairsIt emerged that István Friedman had been born into a wealthy Jewish family in Budapest. His parents were cultured and glamorous and travelled a great deal, but they cared little for their only child, who was raised by nannies. He was a teenager when the Nazis overran Hungary and he hid on the streets, half starving, tearing off chunks of frozen horse carcasses to survive. His parents were taken away to await transport to the death camps – some 565 000 Hungarian Jews perished in the war – but he managed to rescue them by impersonating a Fascist soldier. They escaped to Israel but he cut ties with them – one of the myriad anomalies of his life. He eventually made his way to New York, changed his name to the “pure” Hungarian Faludi and enjoyed a respected career. He then inexplicably returned to Hungary after his divorce to live in sight of everything his family had lost: the apartments, the villa, the museums and opera houses they had frequented.

As much as this is a personal story, In the Darkroom is also an absorbing history of a deeply troubled and brutalised nation, and Faludi warns against the current political situation there. “A desperate desire to assert a national identity in Hungary has unleashed a resurgent and virulent anti-Semitism, xenophobia and authoritarianism.”

She says it is a mystery why her father returned to Hungary after a life and successful career in the US. “I think she was searching for a place where she felt she belonged, that felt like “home” to her.”

And as to why she chose to become a woman: “Part of it, I suspect, was a desire to be absolved from past sins. Another part was a yearning to be taken care of, treated as special – and maybe even to be loved.”

Stefánie died in 2014 but she chose not to read the book. “I don’t know that she would have loved every word of it – it’s hard for anyone to see themselves through the eyes of others. But I do think, ultimately, my father would have appreciated my portrayal. She wanted, more than anything, to be perceived.”

Read the extended interview with Susan Faludi, in which she discusses Donald Trump and the rise of the political strongman, the problems of the trans-rights movement and the complex notion of identity, below

Susan and Stefi on Siklo in Budapest
* * * * *

Faludi’s faves

As a very young woman, I was led to feminism by two famous works: Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

Becoming a journalist meant imagining myself in that role when the archetype was a swaggering male reporter. Like a lot of female journalists of my generation, I early on turned to Joan Didion’s essays, and her collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was a touchstone.

Later, I became a devotee of Janet Malcolm’s work, especially The Silent Woman (about Sylvia Plath and the genre of biography).

Most recently, the world of Hungarian literature has opened up to me and changed my view of the world—and helped me to understand my father. I’m a great admirer of journalist/novelist Gyula Krudy, and love especially his very last collection of short stories, Life Is a Dream (although I have to say his depictions of women are not particularly feminist …).

I was deeply affected by Janos Nyiri’s Battlefields and Playgrounds, a coming of age story of a young Hungarian Jewish boy during the Holocaust, which has not got 1/10th of the acclaim it deserves.

* * * * *

The extended interview, in which Faludi discusses Donald Trump, the trans-rights movement and notions of identity

Michele Magwood: One of the most significant aspects of the story is that your father was a master at manipulating photographic images, which extended to him manipulating his own identity. Do you feel you ultimately came to know the “true” person?

Susan Faludi: I don’t believe that we can ever get to the core of someone else – or ourselves – and I’m not sure there even is such a thing as a “true” self. Who we are is multiple and layered and varies by the day and the situation. But I do feel that I came closer to understanding my father better by understanding her history and context-familial, religious, national, sexual-all of which helped me to understand her attitudes and behaviors and desires.

When discussing his WW2 novel Where My Heart Used To Beat I asked Sebastian Faulks why there are ever more fiction and non-fiction books about the war and the Holocaust. He said that it is only this next generation, the children, who are able to process the historical facts and the personal stories. Those who lived it could not express it or have the distance to analyse it. Would you agree?

I think it’s very difficult to describe a storm when you’re in the middle of it. The children of Holocaust survivors are more motivated to dig up the past and we have the safety of distance. We want to understand our parents-and need to, to understand ourselves. For so many victims of the Holocaust, it’s just too excruciating to open that door again-understandably they prefer to seal off the horrors; they are valiantly trying not to allow that unimaginable suffering to afflict the rest of what remains of their lives.

Why do you think your father wanted to become a woman? He had “passed” as so many other personae – as a Christian, as an all-American dad for example – do you think he wanted to cleanse or obliterate himself in some essential way? Or was he simply searching for kindness?

My father’s desire to become a woman was undeniable and persistent, and it went way back to earliest childhood. But at the same time, I think there were many submerged dynamics and motivations that went into my father’s decision to act on that desire when she did. Part of it, I suspect, was a desire to be absolved from past sins. Another part was a yearning to be taken care of, treated as special-and maybe even to be loved. My father wasn’t always conscious of her reasons, though she did repeatedly say to me that she had felt rendered almost mute as a man. “Now I can communicate with anyone!” she told me. I think the release from the isolation and loneliness she felt within the carapace of hyper-masculinity was a major draw of becoming a woman.

As an authority on feminism and gender did it gall you that your father chose a passive, “weaker sex” personality as a woman? Do you believe he understood what it was to be a woman and was he glad to be rid of that other person?

I was, indeed, often galled by my father’s preference for a 1950s frilly femininity. Playing the housewife and no-nothing “dumb broad” – as my father liked to call it – was just the kind of “womanliness” I’d rebelled against when I embraced feminism as a teenager. And we argued a good deal about that. But my father’s fascination with Doris Day girliness faded over time. She gave up the caricatures and settled into a presentation that was more ambiguous – and reflected more her character than a stereotype of a gender. It may be that she initially felt that she could only break out of extreme masculinity with the cudgel of extreme femininity. By the end of her life, though, she began to refer herself often as simply “trans”.

Would you say it was your father’s overt machismo while you were growing up that shaped your feminism?

SF: My father’s insistence on controlling his wife and children played a big part in my attraction to the burgeoning women’s movement of the time. But it was also the surrounding culture and institutions. The fact that the police and courts regarded my father’s domestic violence as a trivial infraction was another moment of feminist awakening for me. As was my witnessing what so many women in my neighborhood went through as they challenged their husbands, broke out of the domestic circle, returned to work.

Your father was, frankly, maddening. She asked you to tell her story and then held back, saying everything was “old history”. How did you break through?

Sheer bullheaded persistence! But also, she wanted me to perceive her. I think in many ways her holding back was part of a ploy to keep me coming back for more. I wondered sometimes if she feared that if I got all the information I wanted, I might go away. Which is heartbreaking, because actually if she had been more forthcoming, I’d have wanted to spend more time together, not less.

The more her personal history is revealed, the more sympathy we feel for your father and the person he became. Do you wish your mother had known more, would it have helped to deal with him when you were younger to know how truly damaged he was?

When my father was a young husband, he was so closed down that I don’t think anyone could have gotten inside his head.

How was your father’s transition viewed by your mother and brother?

My father asked me to write her story; my mother and brother did not. I showed both of them the manuscript and incorporated their suggestions and insights. But they are both private people, and I want to honor their privacy. Their stories are theirs to tell.

The core of the story is around issues of identity. Could you briefly share your thoughts on whether identity is inherited or constructed, or both?

Well, that’s one of those big chicken-or-the-egg questions, like nature vs. nurture. It is, of course, both, and impossible to unravel. We construct our identity from what we’ve inherited, even as we are reconstructing what we’ve inherited. I don’t believe identity is stand-alone; who we are is very much who we are in connection with other people, with the collective history and circumstances and conditions we share. I don’t see identity as singular – or stable.

One of the pleasures of the book is the sense the reader gets of your own discovery of family, a deepening of your Jewish roots. Are you greatly changed by the experience?

One of the greatest and unexpected gifts from this project was the revelation of this whole extended family I never knew I had. They so warmly took me into their homes and hearts, and I’m so grateful for their generosity and affection. I feel very lucky to know them. The other way it changed me, I think, is that it released me from the caricature I was carrying around about my father. As children, we so often see only our parents’ power over us, not their frailties and vulnerabilities. Through working on this project, I came to see my father not as a symbol but as fully human.

It’s difficult to comprehend why your father moved back to Hungary after a successful career and living in the US for so long, and to live in Budapest amongst what the family had lost. Do you think he was trying to heal his trauma in some way?

It’s an abiding mystery why my father returned to Hungary – and one my father’s fellow Jewish expats bemoaned endlessly. I think she was searching for a place where she felt she belonged, that felt like “home” to her, even though that home had been so brutal to my father as a child and so devastating to our family. Often, though, I wonder: Did my father return to Hungary to fit in, to “pass” at last as a “100% Hungarian,” or to finally thumb her nose at Hungarianism by flaunting her new trans identity in a country that was extremely hostile to LGBT people? It’s one of many questions about my father that I’ll probably never settle.

I found the history of Hungary – and its place in WW2 – fascinating, its place in Europe now even more so. Are you concerned with the current politics of the country and the dread rise of nationalism?

I’m deeply troubled by the current political scene in Hungary. And it’s a real cautionary tale about what happens when the identity quest goes awry. A desperate desire to assert a national identity in Hungary has unleashed a resurgent and virulent anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism. Instead of dealing with the real and difficult problems the country faces – and reckoning with its dark past – the Hungarian government has played shamefully on the electorate’s craving for a fantasized national identity and for a strongman to take care of them, a strongman who supposedly embodies that identity. But then, that’s a phenomenon we’re seeing all over the world, most notably right now in the US, where Donald Trump has entranced his followers with the same stew of anti-immigrant hatred, scapegoating, and hollow promises to “Make America Great Again.”

When you began researching the book in 2004 the subject of transsexuality was more marginal than it is now, post-Caitlyn Jenner. What are your thoughts on the prominence of the subject in the national discourse now?

Yes, when I started on this book, transsexuality was not on anyone’s agenda – it was seen as fringe at best. It’s remarkable, and heartening, how quickly a trans-rights movement have moved to the mainstream and to increasing acceptance. That said, we have a long way to go – witness the mass shootings at the gay nightclub in Orlando. And around the world, LGBT rights are facing attack in the name of national identity. This is what happens when two concepts of identity collide, one liberating, one oppressive, the first about self-discovery, the other about establishing your worth by attacking the “other.”

Your father wasn’t able to read the book before she died. Do you think she would have been pleased with it?

I don’t know that my father would have loved every word of it. It’s hard for anyone to see themselves through the eyes of others. But I do think, ultimately, my father would have appreciated my portrayal. She wanted, more than anything, to be perceived. And I think she chose me to do that because she knew I wouldn’t sanitize her story. She often bragged to others that “my daughter doesn’t pull any punches in her reporting!” When I had finished the manuscript, I called and told her it was ready, and she chose not to read it. She just said she was very excited that it was going to be published. In a funny way, she may have decided to let me present her as honestly as I could, without her interference, a remarkable and brave present she gave me, and, I hope, herself.

Follow Michele Magwood @michelemagwood

Book details

2016 Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award and Anthology - entries open



Entries for the sixth annual Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award and Anthology are now open! The project is made possible thanks to the ongoing support of the European Union. The Jacana Literary Foundation is also thrilled to welcome on board the Mail & Guardian this year, who will join in on the sixth Award, as we celebrate the anniversary of Sol Plaatje’s 140th birthday.

Up to three poems in any of South Africa’s official languages can be submitted via the online entry form. Entrants are encouraged to submit poems written in their mother tongue. Entries will close at 8 AM on Friday, 29 July.

The work submitted is judged blind, by a panel of four esteemed poets. As in previous years, a longlist of the best entries received will be published in Volume 6 of the anthology. A shortlist of three poets is selected from the longlist, and those finalists will be invited to attend an event at the seventh annual Mail & Guardian Literary Festival in early October, where the winner will be announced and cash prizes awarded.

Named after Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1876-1932), the Award recognises the life and vision of this highly respected political and social activist. We always hope that it reveals the political and social attitudes of our time, and reflects the complex, nuanced and uncomfortable truths of life in South Africa, and thus poems which reflect our current realities are warmly welcomed.

For more information, contact the Jacana Literary Foundation on

The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology 2011The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IVThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology


  • A shortlist of three poets will be selected by the judging panel. They will be invited to attend an awards ceremony and book launch at the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival on 9 October, 2016 in Johannesburg.
  • prizes are awarded to the shortlist:

    1st place: R6,000
    2nd place: R4,000
    3rd place: R2,000

  • A longlist of the best poems entered will be selected by the judging panel, and published in Volume 6 of the anthology, which will be launched at the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival.


  • Entries open at 5 PM on Friday, 15 July and close at 8 AM on Friday, 29 July.
  • Poems in the 11 official languages of South Africa are accepted.
  • Poets may enter in more than one language.
  • Entrants must be South African citizens residing in South Africa.
  • Poems submitted may not have appeared in any publication, online (including blogs and social media) or in print. Only unpublished poetry is accepted.
  • Intertextuality and references must be appropriately attributed.
  • A maximum of three poems may be entered, although one or two poems per author is also acceptable.
  • If you are entering more than one poem, please ensure that they are each saved and uploaded as separate Word documents.
  • Poems must not exceed 100 lines.
  • Poems must be submitted as a Word document – doc or docx files. No other file formats are accepted.
  • Please ensure that the poet’s name does not appear on the Word document. It should only include the title and poem.
  • The file name should be the title of the poem.
  • Ariel size 11 or Times New Roman size 12 fonts are preferred. No “fancy” fonts, borders or images should be included on the Word document.
  • Handwritten entries are not eligible.

Declaration and permissions:

By entering, the poet declares that the entry is their original work and neither whole nor part of their poem has been published previously. They give permission for the publication of their poem in the anthology, without payment, if longlisted. Poets agree to have their work translated into English for adjudication and publication purposes.

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Book details

2016 Bloody Book Week crime fiction festival - programme revealed

2016 Bloody Book Week crime fiction festival - programme revealed
The Sunday Times Big Pub Quiz BookDark ForcesA Time Of Torment
DominionRecipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria MysteryCold Case ConfessionThe Griekwastad MurdersA Citizen's Guide To Crime Trends In South Africa

Alert! The programme for the 2016 Bloody Book Week has been released, including international authors Stephen Leather, John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard as well as local luminaries Sally Andrew, Alex Eliseev, Jacques Steenkamp, Anine Kriegler and Larry Benjamin.

The festival, which focuses on crime fiction and is organised by Jenny Crwys-Williams’s company Jenny & Co, will take place from Thursday, 28 July to Sunday, 31 July in venues around Johannesburg.

Check out the programme:


The Bloody Crime Quiz with Quiz Master Larry Benjamin

We test your knowledge of all things criminal. Crime cases, crime books, crime writers and of course, Jack Reacher! And Sally Andrews, author of Recipes for Love and Murder. Come have some fun.

Where: Stanley Beer Yard, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 6:30 for 7 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 long: 28.001041
Cost: R250 pp (price includes a prego roll and a glass of wine)

* * * * *


The Boys’ Own Breakfast with Stephen Leather chatting to Ben Williams

Be among the first in South Africa to read Stephen Leather’s latest book, Dark Forces.

Where: The Social Kitchen, Exclusive Books, Hyde Park
Time: 7 – 9 AM
Bookings: For Fanatics members only. To get a free seat, check correspondence from Fanatics and click to enter the draw ASAP.

* * * * *

The Girls’ Own Roedean Breakfast with John Connolly

Where: Roedean Senior School Library, Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown
Time: 7:15 for 7:30 AM
GPS: lat: -26.1779935 long: 28.0476069
Cost: R120 pp
Bookings: For old girls only. 011 647 3203 or

* * * * *

The Teenagers’ Own Adventure Time with John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard

Where: The Auditorium, Roedean Senior School, Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown
Time: 10:45 – 11:50 AM
Bookings: For senior school pupils only

* * * * *

Veldskoene, Tannie Maria & Death on Route 62 with Sally Andrew

A first novel that wormed its way instantaneously into all our hearts – plus one of Tannie Maria’s best cakes!

Where: Delta Cafe, 20 Marlborough Road, Craighall Park
Time: 10 for 10:30 AM
Cost: R205 pp

* * * * *

Cold Case Justice with Alex Eliseev

Cocktails, canapes and readings from an extraordinary case.

Where: The Lobby, 54 on Bath, Rosebank
Time: 6 for 6:30 PM
Cost: R150 pp

* * * * *

Music & Murder with John Connolly & music man Charles Leonard

A unique evening of murderous music and tales.

Where: Stanley Beer Yard, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 5:30 – 7:30 PM, after which the public can join in!
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R195 pp (includes welcome drink)

* * * * *


In Their Own Words with Alex Eliseev

The cold case of the century through the words of the protagonists.

Where: JoziHub, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 10 – 11 AM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R90 pp (does not include drinks)

* * * * *

Konfyt and Murder with Sally Andrew & Andre Croucamp

In which author Sally Andrew is quizzed by delicious dress designer Andre Croucamp on veldskoene, dressing down and much, much more!

Where: Bean There Coffee Company, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 10 – 11 AM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R115 pp (does not include drinks)

* * * * *

Fresh Blood: Past, Present and Future with John Connolly

Raconteur and writer John Connolly talks crime fiction across the decades with Jenny Crwys-Williams.

Where: Antiques & Heritage of Europe, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 10 – 11 AM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R115 pp (does not include drinks)

* * * * *

Mind Over Murder with police forensic psychologist Gerard Labuschagne, Jacques Steenkamp and joint author of A Citizen’s Guide to Crime Trends in South Africa Anine Kriegler

Three experts in their field discuss crime SA-style.

Where: JoziHub, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R90 pp

* * * * *

In Conversation: Jenny Crwys-Williams engages with Stephen Leather: his life, his adventures, his books, and all …

Will Stephen Leather tell all to Jenny Crwys-Williams?

Where: Antiques & Heritage of Europe, 44 Stanley Precinct, Milpark
Time: 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R115 pp

* * * * *

A Winter’s Tale … Dinner with John Connolly and Writers Write

Where: The Bowery, 3 Sandown Valley Crescent, Sandton
Time: 6 for 6:30 PM
Cost: R320 pp

* * * * *


The Killer Lunch: A Murderous Mix

Fancy having one of SA’s hottest crime writers at your table? Join Jenny Crwys-Williams and forensic psychologist Gerard Labuschagne plus eight authors in celebrating the world’s most popular literary genre: crime writing.

Where: Il Giardino, Stanley precinct, Milpark
Time: 12:30 for 1 PM
GPS: lat: -26.202209 – long: 28.001041
Cost: R480 pp

* * * * *

Book details

Jacket Notes: Martin Plaut on Promise and Despair: The First Struggle for a Non-Racial South Africa

Published in the Sunday Times

Promise and DespairPromise and Despair: The First Struggle for a Non-Racial South Africa
Martin Plaut (Jacana)

This is a book that began from ignorance: my own and that of almost all South Africans I met.

Four years ago I came across an obscure reference which suggested that there had been a non-racial vote years before the end of apartheid. I was astonished. When I mentioned it to my friends they all thought I must have been mistaken.

But gradually it became clear that as early as 1853 – at least in the Cape – any male person could vote, as long as he had sufficient income or property. Race was not an issue.

An extraordinary group of political leaders came together to fight to extend the Cape’s non-racial franchise when the Union of South Africa was being debated in 1909. Men like John Dube, Walter Rubusana and John Tengo Jabavu joined “coloured” leaders like Dr Abdurahman and Daniel Lenders.

Led by William Schreiner (brother of Olive Schreiner and a former Cape prime minister), they took the fight to London, appealing to the British parliament not to entrench racism in South Africa’s constitution.

Gandhi was also in London at the time and gave encouragement and advice. Early leaders of the British Labour Party fought for a non-racial constitution.

In the end the delegation’s efforts were in vain, but the members returned to South Africa changed by what they had learned.

Discussions in London with men like Pixley ka Isaka Seme shaped the foundation on which the ANC was founded in 1912. Links were forged between the ANC and the party led by Dr Abdurhaman.

In his cabin on the journey back to Cape Town, Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj – the book that would destroy British India.

In the cauldron of events between the end of the Anglo-Boer War and World War I most of the major movements that would shape South Africa during the 20th century were formed. It was a moment of extraordinary flux.

Material for this book was found in some of the most unlikely places. The National Archive in Washington threw fascinating light on US involvement in the Anglo-Boer War. The Anglican archbishop’s letters revealed the depth of ignorance and racism in the church in this era.

Book details

Peeling away stereotypes amid peals of laughter: Ayesha Kajee talks to Paige Nick about her new book Dutch Courage

By Ayesha Kajee for the Sunday Times

Dutch CourageDutch Courage
Paige Nick (Penguin)

When you’re invited to a book launch at Beefcakes in Illovo, rated as a bachelorette party venue for its shirtless waiters, you know this ain’t no ordinary book. When the author in question is the prolific and inimitable Paige Nick, you can be certain this will be a rollicking read with several laugh-out-loud moments.

Dutch Courage delivers on all these fronts, living up to the promise of its hilarious, raunchy launch, but also offering a humane, empathetic insight into the world of strip clubs and sex work.

Set in an Amsterdam club that features celebrity impersonators, it details the adventures of Grace, a sheltered young teacher from Cape Town, who arrives in Holland full of trepidation, having agreed to fulfil her sister’s contract to perform as a Rihanna lookalike for a few weeks. But her sister omitted to mention that this is a club where the entertainers take their clothes off …

Nick says part of her intention was to demystify the sex industry, given common misconceptions regarding strip clubs and associated ventures. She conducted extensive research in Cape Town, New York and Amsterdam, with special assistance from Amsterdam’s Prostitute Information Centre.

“It’s not all downmarket nor all glamorous,” Nick notes, a point that hits sharply home in the novel when Grace first enters the club’s dressing room. On the one hand it’s as though she’s backstage at the Grammys, with Madonna, J-Lo, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. On the other, there’s the surreal but sobering juxtaposition of smells – sweat, perfume, make-up and the acrid sting of Deep Heat (for the muscle pain that inevitably accompanies repeated strenuous pole-dancing).

Nick was also fascinated by the living arrangements of the strippers. Originating from all over the world, they share accommodation, so bitchiness and culture clashes over issues such as food are unavoidable; but the proximity also catalyses friendships that offer support and advice to bewildered newbies like Grace. Indeed, the book expanded my mental glossary to encompass “roasties”, and unprecedented uses for mundane items like baby oil and antibacterial wipes. Nick does a great job of transferring people’s quirks to the page, bringing to life the anomaly of a Paris Hilton lookalike who’s really a brunette with an Eastern European accent and a kind heart.

“It’s kind of amazing when you meet them, how real and normal their lives are,” Nick muses. “They could be the mothers you see dropping off their kids at school or in the queue at the pharmacy.”

Nick discovered that many women who choose this industry (as opposed to being forced or trafficked into it) find it very empowering, given that they can earn oodles of money in a relatively short time, while working hours that allow them to actively parent school-age children.

The novel tracks Grace’s evolution from a hesitant girl who allows her manipulative sister and controlling fiancé to make most decisions for her, to a woman who claims her power and revels in it, albeit in unexpected ways.

However, Nick also demonstrates that “this industry, even when legal, is not all roses, and a certain level of exploitation does occur”, especially in the form of demanding bosses and inebriated clients. The prevalence of alcohol and drugs as part of the night scene means that many performers become dependent on them, either as relaxants or stimulants at different times. Luckily Grace’s innate survival instinct helps her avoid the worst consequences of this type of Dutch courage and she wins through to her happy ending (pun intended).

With Nick’s trademark light touch, Dutch Courage compels the reader to reconsider ingrained stereotypes, provoking serious reflection on the world’s oldest profession.

Nick believes that the legalisation of sex work, done properly, can “dramatically improves the quality of life for people on both sides of the equation, but a country must be completely committed to it”. Problems such as trafficking and the spread of STDs would probably decrease exponentially with properly managed legalisation.

While she didn’t consciously set out to make most of the men in the book unsympathetic, Nick was determined to avoid a love triangle, as she wanted Grace to free herself rather than depending on a man to save the day. The novel’s brilliant resolution, with a totally unexpected twist, achieves this in style. It would make a great comedy flick, and if film rights are ever optioned, perhaps Rihanna could be persuaded to play Grace.

Dutch Courage is a fun, feel-good read that I laughed my way through one lazy Sunday, then found myself thinking about throughout the following week. – Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee

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