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Jacket Notes: Nthikeng Mohlele on the inspiration for his new novel Pleasure - and why he almost abandoned it

Published in the Sunday Times

Nthikeng MohlelePleasurePleasure
Nthikeng Mohlele (Picador)

The genesis of Pleasure was an inability to comprehend disturbing and morally reprehensible acts of brutality. The inspiration was in many ways also a form of paralysis, a personal quest to try to understand and articulate stories that fall between the cracks during historical events and transitions.

The narrative is shaped by both historical and fictional characters, as I found the interplay fascinating. The manuscript presented opportunities to examine universal themes (war, love, desire, dispossession, pleasure co-existing with strife) and how these echo in the personal space.

I also wanted to bring to light that the Holocaust is perhaps the most recorded and analysed of historical mass killings – but it is by no means the only one. There were, in fact, equally tragic conditions of enslavement and mass murder in the Congo Free State and German South-West Africa, for instance.

Seeds of Goebbels’s propaganda during Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich developed in part from racist “science” about the Herero in what is now Namibia. These sentiments would find their way into Mein Kampf and later Hitler’s murderous policies.

But that is hardly inspiration. It’s perhaps more apt to say it was inspiration via belated moral outrage and the contradictions that define historical time.

What went into the writing of the novel? A plethora of emotions: short-lived moments of blissful artistic creation; insight into slippery themes of life and living; and streaks of profound sadness and despair at the capacity of human beings to be brutes. Then there were the in-between moments, those that hovered between bliss and the horrors unearthed by my research – anecdotes, Third Reich letters, ledgers, images and general paraphernalia.

The surprising thing, bordering on shocking, was the realisation of how much pleasures associated with the Original Sin seem to trump other pleasures, and how, despite centuries of scholarship and human evolution, little is understood about why carnal preoccupations seem to dwarf other pleasures. It was also concerning, alarming, but amusing that this writer, 100-odd pages into the manuscript, despite mountains of research and careful planning, threw in the towel (thrice) because the imagined artistic work could not be tamed.

The greatest eye-opener was that although the theme of pleasure inadvertently lends itself to human anatomies and copulation, these were but midway beacons pointing to more profound insights and interpretations of the theme – only worth tackling if explored in their contradictions and varied manifestations.

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William Kentridge calls out Europe's 'incredible greed and selfishness' towards its former colonies


Accounts and Drawings from UndergroundThe Soho Chronicles : 10 Films by William KentridgeSix Drawing LessonsNo, It Is
A Universal ArchiveWilliam Kentridge: The Refusal of TimeWilliam KentridgeThe Swan Whisperer


William Kentridge has spoken out against Europe’s hypocrisy in relation to its colonial legacy and the current immigration debate.

Kentridge was speaking to German publication Art Das Kunstmagazin ahead of the opening of his interdisciplinary exhibition NO, IT IS at Martin Gropius Bau.

NO, IT IS, which ran in South Africa at the Goodman Gallery and Fourthwall Books in 2013, runs until 21 August in Berlin, and will include a series of lecture-performances by the 61-year-old artist in July, as part of the Foreign Affairs Festival at Berliner Festspiele in West Berlin.

The interview in question deals with Kentridge’s work, his artistic process and his familial relationship with Germany, before he is asked finally, and rather abruptly, whether South Africans read about refugees in Europe.

He replies:

From the outside it looks absurd. For 300 years Europe took everything it could get from its colonies and is directly responsible for the structures of these countries. And now that these people knock on Europe’s door, it shuts down and behaves as if it would generous to let in a tiny, tiny part of this population on whom it inflicted such damage. It is not as if the population of Europe would suddenly grow by 20 or 30 percent, it is about a fraction of a percent. From the outside it looks like incredible greed and selfishness.

Kentridge’s career began in the late 1970s and gained international acclaim for his palimpsest-style short film series 9 Drawings for Projection. He often deals with the nature of colonial power in his artworks, which are among the most sought-after and valuable by a South African artist.

His The Refusal of Time installation toured Cape Town and Johannesburg last year, and he was named Artist of the Year at the 2015 Apollo Awards.

He also illustrated The Swan Whisperer, a genre-bending cahier by Marlene van Niekerk, published last year as part of The Cahiers Series.

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  • Accounts and Drawings from Underground: The East Rand Proprietary Mines Cash Book, 1906 by William Kentridge, Rosalind C Morris
    EAN: 9780857422057
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Image courtesy of The Telegraph

Winners of the 2016 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Awards announced

Wilbur Smith Prize


Alert! The Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation has announced the winners of the inaugural Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Awards.

The winners are:

  • Author of Tomorrow Award: Alice Sargent for Cherokee Rose
  • Best Unpublished Adventure Manuscript: Kirsten Miller for The Hum of the Sun
  • Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize: Corban Addison: The Tears of Dark Water (Quercus)


Kirsten MillerSouth African Kirsten Miller is the author of All is Fish – which was shortlisted for the 2005 European Union Literary Award – and Sister Moon.

As winner of Best Unpublished Adventure Manuscript Miller will be offered the opportunity of a creative writing residency at the University of Cape Town and career guidance from Wilbur Smith’s literary agent Kevin Conroy Scott.

Alice Sargent, winner of the Author of Tomorrow Award (for the best adventure short story under 5,000 words, written by someone between the ages of 12 and 21) will receive £1,000 (about R22,700).

The Tears of Dark WaterThe winner of the main prize, Corban Addison, receives £10,000 (about R227,000).

The judging panel for the main prize includes MNEK, Grammy-nominated British singer, songwriter and record producer; Levison Wood, adventurer and author; Steve Winter, acclaimed wildlife photographer; and Kevin Conroy Scott, Creative Director at Tibor Jones & Associates.

Niso Smith, Founder of the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation, says: “The Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation was created to allow us to share our love of adventure writing with the world. Over the years, we have travelled together through Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and in every country and culture we have found storytellers weaving tales of adventure. The foundation’s aim is to introduce true talent from across the globe to the reading world.

“The first stage of our mission will be to award an annual prize for adventure writing – the Wilbur Smith Adventure Award. The next stage will be to reach out to writers and readers across the world, bringing the spirit of adventure into their lives and inspiring them to undertake their own journeys of discovery. More than anything we want the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation to be an organisation that uplifts, inspires and educates.”

Click here for more information on the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation

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Bellagio Center Residency Award winners include Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehikhamenor

Bellagio Center Residency Award winners include Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor

Alert! The Africa Centre has announced the five artists selected by The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center as part of its 2015 Artists In Residency Programme.

Books LIVE congratulates the three writers on the list: Lauren Beukes, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor.

Dangarembga is the author of the critically acclaimed novels and The Book of Not and Nervous Conditions, but is also a filmmaker. Late last year Umuzi announced that she will be producing a film adaptation of Imran Garda’s novel The Thunder That Roars.

Victor Ehikhamenor is an award winning visual artist, writer and photographer based in Nigeria and the United States. He was the cover designer for Stranger, a recently released debut poetry collection by Sihle Ntuli.

Excuse Me!Nervous ConditionsBroken Monsters


The Africa Centre received a record 423 complete applications from 40 countries for its Artists In Residency programme in 2015, from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda and Sudan. 68 artists were shortlisted in December.

The Africa Centre announced the winners of its Artists In Residency Programme in February, including writers Masande Ntshanga from South Africa and Nana Oforiatta Ayim from Ghana.

But after receiving a large number of applications, across artistic disciplines, The Africa Centre also shortlisted 24 artists on behalf of the Bellagio Center.

Based on their specific interests, the following artists have been selected:

  • Lauren Beukes (author, South Africa)
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga (author and filmmaker, Zimbabwe)
  • Victor Ehighale Ehikhamenor (author and visual artist, Nigeria)
  • Yared Zeleke (filmmaker, Ethiopia)
  • Fathy Adly Salama (performing artist, Egypt)


The addition of these five artists mean a total to 14 have been accepted into nine different residencies around the world as part of the 2015 Artists In Residency programme.

The Africa Centre will release more information about the artists over the next couple of weeks. The call for 2016 applications will go out in the second half of the year.

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South Korean author Han Kang's 'uncanny blend of beauty and horror' The Vegetarian wins 2016 Man Booker International Prize



The VegetarianAlert! The Vegetarian by South Korean author Han Kang has been announced as the winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

The announcement was made by critic and editor Boyd Tonkin at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, United Kingdom. The Vegetarian was selected from 155 books by a panel of five judges.

“I’m so honoured” Han told AFP. “The work features a protagonist who wants to become a plant, and to leave the human race to save herself from the dark side human nature.

“Through this extreme narrative I felt I could question … the difficult question of being human.”

The novel was translated by Deborah Smith and both she and Han receive £25,000 (about R565,000) in prize money, as well as a further £1,000 each (about R23,000) for being shortlisted.

Han teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts and is well known writer in South Korea. She has been awarded the Yi Sang Literary Prize, the Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. The Vegetarian is her first novel to be translated into English.

28-year-old Smith, who only started learning Korean at the age of 21, is the founder of a non-profit publishing house, Tilted Axis Press, which specialises in translating literature from Asia and Africa.

The Vegetarian tells the story of Ya dutiful Korean wife who decides to become a vegetarian, an act of subversion that fractures her family life in increasingly bizarre and frightening ways.

Tonkin, chair of the 2016 judging panel, says:

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, is an unforgettably powerful and original novel that richly deserves to win the Man Booker International Prize 2016. After our selection of a diverse and distinguished longlist, and a shortlist of six truly outstanding novels in first-rate translations, the judges unanimously chose The Vegetarian as our winner. Told in three voices, from three different perspectives, this concise, unsettling and beautifully composed story traces an ordinary woman’s rejection of all the conventions and assumptions that bind her to her home, family and society. In a style both lyrical and lacerating, it reveals the impact of this great refusal both on the heroine herself and on those around her. This compact, exquisite and disturbing book will linger long in the minds, and maybe the dreams, of its readers. Deborah Smith’s perfectly judged translation matches its uncanny blend of beauty and horror at every turn.

After eight out of 10 finalists for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize were books originally published in a language other than English, the Booker Prize Foundation announced last year that the Man Booker International would in future be awarded to fiction in translation. Previously the prize honoured a body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in the English language, having been 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.

South African Marlene van Niekerk was a 2015 finalist for the award.

The shortlisted books for this year’s Man Booker International Award included A General Theory of Oblivion by Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa. The longlist had included Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83.

A General Theory of OblivionThe Story of the Lost ChildThe Vegetarian
A Strangeness in My MindA Whole LifeThe Four Books


See the full shortlist.

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Not welcome: Thabiso Mahlape and Lauren Beukes on Eugene de Kock's presence at the Sunday Times Literary Awards shortlist event

Anemari Jansen, Eugene de Kock, Annie Olivier
Anemari Jansen, Eugene de Kock, Annie Olivier at the Franchhoek Literary Festival


Eugene de KockEugene de Kock


Lauren Beukes and Thabiso Mahlape spoke to Books LIVE about Eugene de Kock’s presence at the Franschhoek Literary Festival this weekend.

Eugene de Kock: Assassin for the State, a biography by Anemari Jansen written with the full co-operation and consent of the former Vlakplaas commander, was longlisted for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award in April, and De Kock was in attendance at the shortlist announcement on Saturday night.

More about the book.

De Kock, who was known as “Prime Evil” for his apartheid-era crimes, was spotted by Books LIVE at the French Connection restaurant on Saturday afternoon and also attended a panel discussion on Friday, as tweeted by Cover2Cover Books managing director Palesa Morudu:

According to Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko, De Kock was at the Sunday Times Literary Award event as a guest of the publisher of Anemari Jansen’s biography, not as a guest of the Sunday Times. “De Kock was not acknowledged in any way,” Siqoko says. “We only acknowledge the sponsors, authors and publishers at the Sunday Times Literary Awards events.”

Author and journalist Jacques Steenkamp tweeted from the festival:

Internationally acclaimed author and former journalist Beukes, who asked De Kock to leave the shortlist event, says: “There were black writers and publishers who were visibly upset that he was there, some of whom were victims of his operation, who had lost family members. There was talk of staging a walk-out in protest and maybe we should have done that.

“But I was angry that the writers should have to leave an event celebrating them. I walked over to him standing by the stairs and asked if he was Eugene de Kock. I said, ‘It’s inappropriate that you are here. People are in tears that you are here and I think you should leave.’

“He said ‘Thank you for telling me’, and left.

“But this story is not about me. It’s about the black writers and publishers who were traumatised by having him there.

“Yes, we need forgiveness and yes, he’s served his time. We also need compassion and sensitivity about inviting him to a private party where there are people who have suffered terrible loss directly because of him.”

Beukes tweeted:

Mahlape, a publisher at Jacana Media and the head of its new division BlackBird Books, says she was shaken when she realised De Kock was present at the announcement.

“I stayed away from the news of Eugene asking to be let out and eventually being let out,” she says. “I never imagined I would ever run into the man. In my head he would go find a farm and live as far as possible from people.

“When I heard he was at the festival and had even cried at a session I was quite detached. My one question is, why does he think he can just socialise? And then I saw him. I was standing with [Modjaji Books publisher] Colleen Higgs and [author] Rehana Rossouw. I saw Rehana’s jaw drop, I turned around and there he was.”

Mahlape says seeing De Kock brought to mind a number of other racially charged events, specifically Pretoria High Court judge Mabel Jansen’s recent remarks on rape and black culture, published on Facebook to widespread condemnation.

“My immediate response was to get away, so I went upstairs. But when the energy in the room changed everything last week came back. The judge had called my people culturally rapists or sadists and when he came up the stairs that hit me. There, right in front of me, was the man who was responsible for the breaking of so many black men and as a result black families. I wept, I never expected that to happen; my own feelings overwhelmed me.

“I had also been in altercation during the day with another man, a festival goer, so I may have been tired. But I cried, and that’s when Lauren went over to him and asked him to leave. And he said ‘thank you’ and left.”

Mahlape’s BlackBird Books recently published the debut novels of Panashe Chigumadzi and Nakhane Touré. She is also the publisher of Thando Mgqolozana, who was responsible for the Franschhoek Literary Festival making international news last year, when he publicly condemned South Africa’s “white literary system” and announced that he would be boycotting such festivals in future.

In the Sunday Times it was erroneously stated that De Kock left before his exchange with Beukes.

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Main image: Esa Alexander