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Jacket Notes: Pamela Power chats about writing her book Things Unseen and what she's working on next

Published in the Sunday Times

Things UnseenThings Unseen
Pamela Power (Clockwork Books)

I started writing Things Unseen in 2010 during the Soccer World Cup, when I was in a dark place in my life. My mother-in-law had died of cancer in December 2008, my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and died a year later. Six weeks after my mother died, my nephew contracted cerebral malaria. He spent nine days in a coma with multi-organ failure and recovered, but only after having nine of his toes amputated.

I remember sitting in the carpark of Milpark Hospital and weeping uncontrollably about his toes. It was stressful and there wasn’t time to mourn my mother properly. So I did what I always do in times of crisis, I wrote about it. About how losing your mother – no matter how difficult your relationship was – is always profound.

After everything we had been through, I didn’t feel like writing something light. But I had a panic attack because my first novel, Ms Conception, published in 2012, was such a different genre – light, racy, funny and about suburban life. I kept dilly-dallying over whether I should be writing something in the same style. I whined about it to anyone who would listen until my bossy eldest brother said, “For Pete’s sake, just write both novels!”

So I did. I started writing another novel in 2013 which was grip lit (what author Marian Keyes calls thrillers so engrossing that you can’t put them down) and I wrote the psychological thriller Things Unseen.

Just as well, as my publisher, Penguin Random House South Africa, did not like Things Unseen, which was devastating at the time. Luckily, my husband loved it (probably because he was ecstatic I had stopped writing about our lives) and my independent publisher, Sarah McGregor, loved it as well. Well, obviously not that much, as she made me rewrite about 50 per cent of it.

It was such a labour of love – I had doctor and lawyer friends reading it, Karina Brink gave me notes and a wonderful shout for the front cover, and my husband did a final proofread (my knowledge of golf clubs is sadly lacking). The book’s also been getting great reviews, which came as a complete surprise. I always think everything I write is rubbish and I’m amazed that people might want to read it.

In terms of what’s next for me, the grip lit is called Delilah Now Trending and will be published by Penguin Random House South Africa in April 2017.

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Intense, witty and sharp: Pearl Boshomane reviews Ekow Duker's The God Who Made Mistakes

Published in the Sunday Times

Intense, witty and sharp: Pearl Boshomane reviews Ekow Duker’s The God Who Made Mistakes

 
The God Who Made MistakesThe God Who Made Mistakes
Ekow Duker (Picador Africa)
****

I don’t know how I feel about it. That was my initial thought after reading Ekow Duker’s The God Who Made Mistakes, a novel about a black man living what might be the South African dream (corporate job, German car, house in the suburbs, pretty wife), but stands to lose it all because of a secret that’s threatening to disturb the performed perfection of his life. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what Themba’s life-altering secret is, but Duker writes about it with such delicateness and simultaneously in such a raw manner that its reveal doesn’t feel cheap or fake.

Ayanda, the pretty wife, feels trapped in a marriage with a husband like Themba who doesn’t love her and doesn’t even pretend to. Unappreciated at home and at work, she takes to dancing as a refuge from her otherwise unpleasant life.

Themba is his mother’s favourite son: he’s an attorney, has his own home in the suburbs, he’s married (although it’s to a woman she detests). He made it out of the streets of Alex, to the pride of his mother and the dismay of his older brother, Bongani.

Bongani’s resentment for Themba is amplified by the thought that Themba might be the one who inherits their mother’s house when she dies, even though Bongani is the one who has never moved out of home.

Duker is not an emotional writer. So if you’re looking to clutch your chest in despair over a lethal combination of adjectives and adverbs, please read something else or turn on a soppy Lifetime channel movie.

The God Who Made Mistakes is intense. It’s interesting that the author can deliver a book this potent while using simple, to-the-point language. Duker has no time to explain the intricacies and complexities of human beings: he just rips off the skin to show us the bare bones of the worst in people.

There is no “good guy” in this book. The closest to a decent person we get is Ayanda. His mother is an overbearing, controlling woman (the proverbial mother-in-law from hell) and his brother is a loser who blames everyone but himself for the way his life has turned out.

This is not to say Themba is a saint; far from it. He’s quite unlikeable – a mentally weak man who thinks the only way to prove his masculinity is by treating his wife terribly. But once Themba admits his secret to himself and eventually those around him, it humanises him, softens him.

For all its intensity, The God Who Made Mistakes is surprisingly witty and sharp, with acerbic asides like this one on the current state of menswear: “All the men wore blue suits these days, even the president. They thought it expressed their individuality when in fact it did the opposite.”

(He also writes great analogies and figures of speech.)

The book makes for great – and at times difficult – reading. One of its strengths is that Duker presents his characters, their lives, their thoughts, emotions and actions (and sometimes the disconnect between the last two) to the reader and leaves them there. It’s not Duker’s job to tell you how to feel; he’s not pushing the reader’s thoughts in any particular direction.

That doesn’t mean it feels as though he does not care about the subject matter and topics raised: quite the opposite.

No one could write so fiercely about something unless they cared about it deeply. But refraining from forcing your views down the reader’s throat is a skill to be admired, and The God Who Made Mistakes does this so well.

Follow Pearl Boshomane on Twitter @Pearloysias

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Book bites: 4 December 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the CrownThe Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown
Vaseem Khan (Hodder & Stoughton)
Book mystery
****
Readers will rejoice at this reunion with venerable Inspector Chopra, his wife Poppy and chocolate-guzzling elephant Ganesha! Chopra visits a heavily guarded exhibition on the very day when the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond is stolen. He leads us on a helter-skelter hunt for the gem, now part of the British crown jewels, but historically a source of legendary covetousness. Unsavoury characters from Mumbai’s dark underbelly join in the chase, as do more endearing ones. Laced with raucous humour, pathos and occasionally disturbing realism, this caper has serious undertones in its examinations of Indian politics, corruption and post-Raj Anglo-Indian diplomacy. – Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee

The Comet SeekersThe Comet Seekers
Helen Sedgwick (Harvill Secker)
Book buff
****
The Comet Seekers is an epic ballad. The lyrical story follows the comets visible from Earth over a 1000-year span. At its core are two lives, destined to meet in Antarctica: Róisín, a scientist who studies the sky, and François, a chef whose ancestors are linked to the scenes on the Bayeux Tapestry. The story gently weaves in and out of generations, littered with ghosts, depicting lives that are stuck and people who cannot stop wandering. A tale of magical realism that encourages dreaming, with a caveat to not dismiss the ground beneath our feet. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The NixThe Nix
Nathan Hill (Picador)
Book buff
*****
In the opening scene of The Nix, an elderly woman throws stones at a right-wing politician, causing a media frenzy that brandishes her as a terrorist. It’s a scenario that plants this novel firmly in the here and now, and captures the rift between left and right in the US. Would-be novelist/college professor Samuel Andresen-Anderson sees this and it’s not how he pictured being re-united with his estranged mother. Samuel is forced to make a difficult choice: continue hiding in his office, or write a tell-all book portraying his mother as a monster. It’s brilliantly executed political satire, anchored by the powerful drama unfolding between mother and son. The hefty 600-plus page novel is well worth taking your time absorbing. If John Irving compared The Nix to Dickens, you know it’s a classic in the making. – Sally Partridge @Sapartridge

The Hummingbird's CageThe Hummingbird’s Cage
Tamara Dietrich (Orion)
Book fling
****
This debut novel is a believable exercise in magic realism, a gentle observation of a woman conditioned to accept anything, until she realises she needs to escape. Joanna is violently abused by her husband Jim, a popular and protected cop in a small town. She has given up, but is rescued by Jim’s ex, a wild biker, and ends up in the idyllic and unmapped village of Morro. The only problem is that all the good folk of Morro are dead: Joanna can remain in limbo, but knows she should go back and confront her demons. – Aubrey Paton

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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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'Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine these things' - Abantu Book Festival launched in Soweto

Thando Mgqolozana

 
The Abantu Book Festival was officially launched at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto this afternoon.

The festival is the brainchild of Thando Mgqolozana, who explained how and why it came about.

Why Abantu?

I named the festival Abantu because I could not think of any other festival that was focusing on black people – that was created for and by black people – and I wanted to create that.

I was absolutely tired of always begging to be integrated more comfortably into coloniality. I realised that I was ashamed, actually, that we had been begging to be integrated into coloniality. It’s like asking to be put nicely into a fire. It’s not going to end well. You are going to burn.

So I wanted to walk away from the fire. I wanted to create a different kind of fire, for abantu and by abantu.

Thando Mgqolozana

 

Mgqolozana first conceptualised the Abantu Book Festival on Facebook, creating it as a purely imaginary event. One year later, it is a reality.

“I’m a fiction writer, so I know what it means to imagine something into existence, I’ve done it many times,” he said.

“I have written books that were just fleeting ideas, and you write it and you publish it and it affects real people in their real lives.”

Images: Abantu Book Festival on Facebook

 

Mgqolozana also thanked Rhodes Must Fall and the young people of South Africa for creating an environment in which a festival like Abantu can feel possible.

“If we had tried to do something like this five years ago, it would probably not have happened. But Rhodes Must Fall created the context for us, made it possible for us, to imagine these things. Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine things that are not framed by coloniality.

“So I want to thank the young people for affording us the opportunity to dream and hope, and be able to deal with our pain in a different way from before.”

Mgqolozana is the author of three novels, A Man Who is Not a Man, Hear Me Alone and Unimportance. He said he finds it unacceptable that the people he has written for and about do not have access to his work.

“I write about the people I was born with, I was raised with, the people in my street. It makes me so angry that these people cannot access this literature. And it is not by accident, it is by design. I cannot accept that. I cannot keep on writing about these people and for these people and not do anything about the fact that they cannot access this literature.

“I would really love to just be a writer and just be in my imagination the whole time. But I think I was born in a time that requires me to do more than just that.

“We have libraries in all black communities now, and if you go to any of them you will find that there is an African fiction section. We shouldn’t have an African fiction section in Africa: that should be the standard. It reminds me of the Homelands Act; the rest of the space belongs to other people.

“So it is my mission to change this thing. I am not going to do it alone. I am going to require all of your support.”

Panashe Chigumadzi

 

Panashe Chigumadzi, the festival curator, explained the thinking behind this year’s theme: Our Stories.

“A key part of our thinking around Abantu Book Festival and how we can remove the alienation that many of us as black people have around literature and books is to try and destabilise the centrality of the book,” she said.

“Yes, it is Abantu Book Festival, but we want to remind ourselves that storytelling is very much a part of what it is to be black people and it’s always been part of our cultures.”

Chigumadzi stressed that Abantu Book Festival should be a safe space for difficult conversations, and emphasised its zero tolerance policy to sexual harrassment and other kinds of prejudice.

“When we are creating these spaces for black people and new visions of futures, it is important that all black people are recognised, all of our humanity is recognised, and it is not only for a particular kind of blackness.

“We are really interested in having important, necessary, uncomfortable, robust but loving conversations amongst us as black people, that really is the important part about this. This is for us. All those things that we haven’t been able to say, we’d like this to be the kind of space that we can talk about them, and be able to challenge each other in the ways that we often can’t.”

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Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer) tweeted live from the launch:

Follow @projectjennifer on Twitter for more

 

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The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesMemoirs of a Born FreeRumoursEat, Drink and Blame the AncestorsAffluenzaWe Need New NamesHappiness is a Four-Letter Word
The Everyday WifeRapeEndings and BeginningsWhat Will People SayGa ke ModisaAlmost Sleeping My Way to TimbuktuWhen a Man Cries
Ukuba MtshaThe Woman Next DoorLondon – Cape Town – JoburgSweet MedicineNwelezelanga

 

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Win a signed copy of Zadie Smith's Swing Time

On noses you could call it a draw. On hair she won comprehensively. – Read an excerpt from Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

 

We have five signed copies of Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time to give away, courtesy of Penguin Random House South Africa!

Swing Time is Smith’s fifth novel, after White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty and NW.
 

 
To stand a chance of winning, fill in the following form:


 

 
 
Swing TimeBook details

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Terms and conditions
The competition closes 8 AM Monday, 12 December, 2016.
The prize can only be delivered within South Africa.
By entering this competition the participant agrees to the terms and conditions. The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
The prize may not be exchanged for cash.
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