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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

Book details

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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Book details

'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

 

Related news:

 

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

 

Book details

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.
The winner will be contacted via email.
The winner may be required to participate in publicity.
Employees or agencies of TMG and Penguin Random House South Africa or their family members, or anyone else connected with the Prize Draw, may not enter the competition.
Books LIVE accepts no responsibility for any damage, loss, liabilities, injury or disappointment incurred or suffered by you as a result of entering the Prize Draw or accepting the prize. Books LIVE further disclaim liability for any injury or damage to your or any other person relating to or resulting from participation in connection with the Prize Draw.
Books LIVE shall not be liable for any failure to comply with its obligations where the failure is caused by something outside its reasonable control.

Writing in English is a waste of ink if we consider the shortage of books in African languages - Vonani Bila at the launch of A Ri Hlanhlekangi

By Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho

Writing in English is a waste of ink if we consider the shortage of books in African languages.

- Poet and publisher Vonani Bila during the launch of Samuel Malamulele Risenga’s Xitsonga autobiography, A Ri Hlanhlekangi

Launch of A Ri Hlanhlekangi
Moses Mtileni, Valerie Risenga (author’s wife), Prof. Samuel Malamulele Risenga and Vonani Bila

 

Professor Samuel Malamulele Risenga, who is head of the Department of Paediatric Pulmonology and Allergy at the University of Limpopo and at the Polokwane Provincial Hospital, has just launched his autobiography, A Ri Hlanhlekangi.

What makes his story unique is that he has written the book in his mother tongue, Xitsonga.

null

 

It took Risenga about five years to finish the book, and he says the writing experience was full of emotion because he was reliving things he went through in his life, both good and bad.

“I would at times feel sad and at times feel happy for having overcome obstacles on the way,” he said.

Risenga decided to write his autobiography in Xitsonga because he says he can express himself much better in the language.

“The other reason is that there is a need to promote our indigenous languages,” he said. “If we do not do that, these languages will slowly be forgotten. Our languages are actually very rich in expression and this needs to be maintained.”

He said that the book showed that poverty should not be a determining factor in terms of achievement. It is possible to make it against all odds. “I would like to recommend it to the youth as it is an inspirational work,” he said.

Samuel Malamulele Risenga

 

The book was launched a fortnight ago at a glittering evening at Oasis Hotel in Giyani. The launch was well attended by professionals across many fields and community members who all came to celebrate a life told on paper and told in the language of the people. A talented Afro-soul singer, Mphuzi Chauke (below), rendered some songs during the launch.

Mphuzi ChaukeAttendees who had read the book before the launch all praised Risenga for his amazing use of the Xitsonga language in telling his story. Some even quoted from the book, while others spoke fondly about certain parts or chapters that they had found entertaining or touching.

A prominent poet and publisher, Vonani Bila, said that the significance of writing an autobiography was that your adventures in life were preserved for posterity.

“Although not every life lived bears the same weight, it is nonetheless crucial to record each life using your own pen so that your life is not misrepresented by secondary observers,” Bila indicated. “Of greater importance is to write in our indigenous languages, which carry the richness of cultural expression. Writing in English is a waste of ink if we consider the shortage of books in African languages.”

The director of Nhlalala Books, Moses Mtileni (below), who published the autobiography, said that A Ri Hlanhlekangi was one of only a handful of books in the genre in the Xitsonga language, with the ones preceding it published largely pre-1994. “A Ri Hlanhlekangi is published as part of Nhlalala Books’s effort at pushing boundaries in the language, publishing genres neglected and experimental works in other genres,” he stated.

Nhlalala Books' publisher Moses Mtileni

 

The publisher’s statement on the book reads:

It was his N’wa-Khimbini, when asked to name the son of Ben and Rossy Makhanani Makhubele, who said: “We will call him Buwa, a particle of soil, it will crumble like the two before it. She referred here to his two late brothers who had died in infancy. But it is 66 years today, and Buwa (Samuel Malamulele Risenga) has not crumbled. Hence the title, A Ri Hlanhlekangi (It has not crumbled). He has wrestled poverty, having lost his father at around age 14, leaving school at some point to work as a builder to save for school fees and accommodation. He reflects on the forced migration following the adoption of the Group Areas Act, on the challenges of studying medicine in the Black Section of the University of Natal, the inspiration he drew from the Chris Barnard story. It is story of triumph and loss, of perseverance and patience and a deeper thirst for learning and service.

Those interested in A Ri Hlanhlekangi can contact the publisher at nhlalalabooks@gmail.com or 0725943448.

nullThe Violent Gestures of LifeA Traumatic RevengeTshifhiwa Given Mukwevho is the author of A Traumatic Revenge and The Violent Gestures of Life, and a Tshivenda novel, A Thi Nga Tendi, which he serialised on Facebook.
 
 
 

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'A kaleidoscope of contemporary African literature' - Read Thando Mgqolozana's introduction to the Abantu Book Festival

Image: Abantu Book Festival on Facebook
Black Widow SocietySigh The Beloved CountryPowers of the KnifeNight DancerThe Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story!Memory is the WeaponWalter and Albertina Sisulu
Run Racist Run#ZuptasMustFall and Other RantsHave You Seen Zandile?The ScoreTo Quote MyselfThese handsIn a Ribbon of RhythmA Half Century Thing

 
The inaugural Abantu Book Festival is taking place this week at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto.

The festival is the brainchild of Thando Mgqolozana, who imagined it on Facebook. After a year of planning it has become a reality.
 


 
This year’s event is curated by Panashe Chigumadzi, who recently won the K Sello Duiker Award for her debut novel Sweet Medicine, and the inspirational African Flavour Books is the official bookseller.

In his introduction to the programme, Mgqolozana says it is the organisers’ wish that “when the festival ends, the bookseller has no books to take back – they’ll all have been adopted by readers”.

 

 

Read Mgqolozana’s introduction:

Dear Reader

It gives us great pleasure to bring you the inaugural Abantu Book Festival. We can hardly believe that this dream, longheld by writers and readers alike, is finally coming true.

Through the lens of literature and the arts, the festival creates a platform to celebrate Our Stories, and amplify brave voices that grapple with social phenomena – this being the end of 2016, the year of rebellion and hard questions, marking with certainty the end of an era, there’s no shortage of said social phenomena to grapple with.

This first edition is ably curated by Panashe Chigumadzi, author of Sweet Medicine, a Fallist as well as a vociferous campaigner for a Global Black Literary Network.

We’re hosting over 50 superbly accomplished poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, literary scholars, screenwriters, performing artists, and children’s writers from Soweto, South Africa, Africa and the diaspora. The line-up is a kaleidoscope of contemporary African literature, illustrating a sense of continuity in our narrative.

The traveling writers arrive on the 6-7 December 2016. In these two days the authors will visit schools and cultural centres in and around Soweto, as well take part in the media launch.

From 8-10 December 2016, the Abantu Book Festival programme spans 32 unmissable panel discussions, in-conversations, hands-on masterclasses, poetry slams and film screenings, many of which are free.

The day events are held at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Mofolo, 09:30-16:00, and the evening sessions at the Soweto Theatre at 18:00-21:30.

The people’s bookseller, African Flavour Books, which specialises in African Literature, has all your favourite titles on sale at both venues throughout the festival. It is our wish that when the festival ends, the bookseller has no books to take back – they’ll all have been adopted by readers.

We hope to create a festival that truly speaks to our pan-Africanist ideals wherein we have more writers from the continent represented, not just within Anglophone Africa, but to include Francophone and Lusophone Africans. The black experience is global, so we need to be hosts to Black British, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino and African-American writers.

Even as we use the languages of our (former) colonial masters to reach each other across regions, we must work to ensure indigenous languages are prominently featured.

We also need to have a greater contingency of young writers. We’re learning that many of our writers are self-published, so we will work to include more of them.

We invite you to peruse the schedule of events, take note of where you need to be, at what time. Some of the events will be running concurrently, so you’re bound to have several dilemmas to solve.

Welcome to Abantu Book Festival. We wish you a fine week of bibliotherapy.

My best regards,
Thando Mgqolozana
Festival Director

 
Have a look at the programme:

2016 Abantu Book Festival programme by Books LIVE on Scribd

 

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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Book details