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"Meer se verhaal van moed, ontbering en vasberadenheid is inspirerend," skryf Theunis Engelbrecht

Theunis Engelbrecht het onlangs Fatima Meer se lewensverhaal, Memories of Love and Struggle, vir verskeie plaaslike boekeblaaie geresenseer.

Dié boek is aanvanklik as ‘n outobiografie geskryf, maar Meer het gesterf voor dit gepubliseer is; haar dogter, Shamim, het dit voltooi.

Engelbrecht beskryf Memories of Love and Struggle as ‘n “pragtige” boek, wat boonop mens ‘n groter insig gee in die rol wat Indiërs in Suid-Afrika gespeel het.

Hy voeg ook by dat Meer se verhaal van moed, ontbering en vasberadenheid inspirerend is, en ‘n “eg menslike verhaal van ‘n persoonlike lewe vol hoogte- en laagtepunte” is.

Lees Engelbrecht se volledige resensie hier: Fatima Meer – Rapport Weekliks – 30 April 2017 (1)


"Semi-forgotten '70s musician expertly biographed" - Karina Szczurek reviews Scars That Shine

Karina M. Szczurek recently reviewed Donvé Lee’s biography of South African singer Syd Kitchen, Scars that Shine, for the Cape Times.

Skollie, saint, scholar, hippest of hippies, imperfect musician with a perfect imagination, Syd Kitchen was, like all great artists, born to enrich his art and not himself.

Plagued by drugs, alcohol and depression, too much of an outlaw to be embraced by record companies, he frequently sold his furniture to cover production costs of his albums, seduced fans at concerts and music festivals worldwide with his dazzling ‘Afro-Saxon’ mix of folk, jazz, blues and rock interspersed with marvellously irreverent banter, and finally became the subject of several compelling documentaries, one of which – Fool in a Bubble – premiered in New York in 2010.

Lee’s Scars That Shine is an intimate look at one of South Africa’s most remarkable artists.

Read Szczurek’s review here.

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Carving beauty in adversity and betrayal: Hamilton Wende reviews Simon Bruinders's A Handful of Earth

Published in the Sunday Times

A Handful of EarthA Handful of Earth
Simon Bruinders (Penguin Random House)

October 1939. The world is at war but Abraham de Bruyn is picking tea high in the Outeniqua mountains. Originally published as Die Sideboard, A Handful of Earth tells the story of Abraham and his wife Stella and their struggle to raise a family during these turbulent years. Abraham is an illiterate carpenter who lives on a rented piece of land near George. He loves the soil and the fruit and vegetables he produces on it. “The soil is like us humans,” he tells Stella when he is still courting her. “Everything begins there and everything ends there.”

This sets the tone for Simon Bruinders’s book. Its central theme is hope and the yearning that Abraham and those around him have for a good life. He longs for nothing more but to live on his own plot of land with Stella, grow his own produce and give his children a better life. The forces of white supremacy, though, callously betray him time and again.

The first betrayal is when he and his family, along with their neighbours, are forced to leave the plots they have been renting for generations and move to a new place called The Island. Abraham cannot believe that it is happening and he lashes out in a fit of violent anger at the men who bring the magistrate’s order to their home.

He is powerless to prevent it happening, and Bruinders’s simple, clear prose hauntingly draws the contrast between Abraham’s naivety and the rage he finds within himself. He never gives up his belief that someone can have his own piece of land, and he volunteers to fight against Germany because the army recruiters tell him that coloured soldiers will be given plots as a reward for serving their country.

When he is fighting the Italians in Abyssinia he sees a beautiful sideboard that becomes a symbol of the beauty and love that he feels for Stella, and for the life he wants them to build together. He is wounded at El Alamein and returns to South Africa to find that there is no land for coloured soldiers after all.

He is betrayed by white cruelty yet again. He refuses to give up, though, and he carves a sideboard himself that echoes the one he saw during the war.

He and Stella and their family live in the new home they have created with the stately sideboard taking pride of place as the children grow up and begin studying, something Abraham never had the chance to do. But then the National Party takes power and the full malice of apartheid descends. The family are moved yet again, their church is destroyed and the new house they are forced to live in is too small for the sideboard.

At times, perhaps, the narrative skips the years a little too swiftly, but the historical research adds a deeper dimension to this tale of suffering leavened by courage, compassion and beauty. Bruinders tells of Abraham’s pain in language that simmers with rage but never descends into bitterness, and never loses hope.

Follow Hamilton Wende @HamiltonWende

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9 books to read in May

Compiled by Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

Free AssociationFree Association, Steven Boykey Sidley (Picador Africa)
Sidley goes from strength to strength and here he applies his biting humour to the world of podcasts. Max Lurie’s delirious podcast about his own life is a runaway success, but as he begins to sex it up with embellishments and inventions, things get unhinged.
No Longer Whispering to PowerNo Longer Whispering to Power, Thandeka Gqubule (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
A portrait of one of the most courageous women to hold public office in South Africa. In her seven years as public protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela fought relentlessly against the abuses of public office, corruption, mismanagement and negligence. A true hero of our times.
AsylumAsylum, Marcus Low (Picador Africa)
There’s a buzz building around this dystopian debut novel, about a man locked up in a quarantine facility in the sweltering Karoo. He drifts through the days, his health failing but his mind alive with dreams and memories. Then there is an opportunity to escape, but what awaits him in the bare world beyond the fence?
Miss BehaveMiss Behave, Malebo Sephodi (Blackbird Books)
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” When Sephodi came across the old adage something clicked, and she realised she wasn’t going to let anyone else have a say in who and what she should be. She boldly renounces societal expectations placed on her as a black woman and here she shares her journey towards “misbehaviour”.
The Third ReelThe Third Reel, SJ Naudé (Umuzi)
The much-anticipated first novel from the author of the outstanding short story collection The Alphabet of Birds. In 1986 a young South African film student in London finds the first of three reels of a film made by a group of Jewish filmmakers in Germany in the 1930s. He sets off for Berlin to find the two missing reels.
Into the WaterInto The Water, Paula Hawkins (Penguin Random House)
It must have been a daunting task to follow The Girl on the Train, but Hawkins doesn’t miss a step in her second outing. When the bodies of a single mother and a teenage girl are found at the bottom of a river, just weeks apart, the ensuing investigation dredges up a complicated history. Hawkins proves herself again as a master of the clever reveal.
Black MosesBlack Moses, Alain Mabanckou (Serpent’s Tail)
A new novel from the superb Congolese author, a titan of contemporary French literature. In vivid, colloquial style, he tells the comic tale of a hapless man determined to help the helpless in an unjust world. Could he really be the Robin Hood of the Congo?
The Roanoke GirlsThe Roanoke Girls, Amy Engel (Hodder & Stoughton)
This is a dark, unsettling tale. Beautiful, rich, mysterious, the Roanoke girls seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them which is never spoken. Every girl either runs away, or dies. Can Lane Roanoke escape the curse?
The Inside-Out ManThe Inside-Out Man, Fred Strydom (Umuzi)
Billed as a “mind-bender” of a book, Strydom imagines a brilliant, troubled musician living from gig to gig in a city of dead ends. Then he meets a wealthy jazz lover who has an unusual proposition for him. A Faustian tale set in a hall of shifting mirrors.
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Presidential karma: Rosa Lyster reviews George Saunders's debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo

Things get strange when we die, but George Saunders is a very good guide, writes Rosa Lyster for the Sunday Times

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo
George Saunders (Bloomsbury)

Everyone who loves George Saunders felt the same thing when they heard he was publishing a novel: please let this be good. It will not be as good as Tenth of December, because nothing is as good as Tenth of December, but please let this be good.

He inspires this kind of goodwill in people because he is so good and generous himself. It isn’t just that he is brilliant; it’s that he is kind. Saunders’s gift is his ability to imagine himself into the minds of others. He is constantly asking his readers to think about the lives of people they wouldn’t normally think about. He can make the inner life of an obscure teenage nerd seem not only riveting but morally important. A lot of the stories in Tenth of December take as their subject the lives of apparently ordinary people, but Lincoln in the Bardo, his first novel, focuses on someone so well-known you wouldn’t think there’d be anything left to say.

It’s Saunders, though, so of course he has found something new.

These are the facts: Abraham Lincoln and his wife had four boys, Robert, Eddie, Willie and Tad. The only one who lived past the age of 18 was Robert, the eldest. The Lincolns were deeply affected by the deaths of all their children, but Willie’s death in 1862 (a year into the Civil War) seems to have been the one that broke his father’s heart. Historical accounts depict Willie as an especially loved and lovable child, very close to his father, whom he resembled in many respects. He died at age 11 of typhoid fever, and was interred in a Georgetown cemetery. The first night after the funeral, his father came to visit the grave twice.

I can think of a lot of novelists who would take this information and make a good book out of it. I can’t think of anyone who would do what Saunders did. In The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a bardo is an intermediate state of existence between death and rebirth, a transitional phase of consciousness. During the bardo of the time of death, souls either ascend toward nirvana or descend gradually and violently into a new body, doomed to start all over again. Saunders, a practising Buddhist, has incorporated aspects of that belief system and fused it with American history.

Lincoln in the Bardo takes place over one night in the cemetery where Willie Lincoln lies. The story is told, mostly, from the perspective of the spirits in the cemetery with him, souls who are trapped in the bardo for one reason or another. Some of them can’t leave, but most of them don’t want to. Moving on means accepting the fact of their deaths, and they can’t do that. They don’t call it a coffin, they call it a sick-box. They don’t call it dead, they call it being less well.

The forms that the spirits take on are informed by their personalities and preoccupations while living, which means that parts of the story are told by things with 1000 eyes, women enclosed by orbs, people without hands or feet. Willie, being a child, has no reason to linger in such a strange and scary place, but he is held back by his father’s love and devastation at his passing. Everyone knows he shouldn’t be there, but he is.

The above makes the book sound stranger and more difficult than it is. It is a strange book, no getting around it, but it’s also lovely and beautiful and so, so sad.

Saunders is never weird simply for the sake of being weird. He is experimental, but never for show. A clever writer who doesn’t care about seeming clever is a rare thing. Saunders is trying, always, to imagine what it’s like to be someone else, and he uses every creative tool at his disposal to do that. His inventiveness is linked to his humanity — he is weird because he is trying to make us see something we haven’t seen before.

Follow Rosa Lyster @rosalyster

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Tenth of December

Roger Southall reviews The Rise of Africa’s Middle Classes: Myths, Realities and Critical Engagements

Roger Southall, based at the Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, and a Research Associate in Political Studies at the University of Cape Town, recently reviewed The Rise of Africa’s Middle Classes: Myths, Realities and Critical Engagements edited by Henning Melber, for Pambazuka News.

An extract from Southall’s review reads:

Institutions such as the World Bank and African Development Bank regularly propagandise that as a product of ‘Africa Rising’, the African middle class is also rising. Albeit spread unevenly across different countries, this new version African middle class is said to be becoming more prominent, more visible and more influential with the spread of market capitalism. In turn, Africanist scholarship has built upon this narrative, placing heavy emphasis upon such key issues as definition, consumption and the fragility of the ‘new’ middle classes across the continent. This book, the latest such offering amidst a burgeoning literature, confirms this trend, and is set to become a standard work of reference.

It would seem from the title of the book that the African middle class is unambiguously ‘rising’, yet that assertion is questioned by at least three of the authors. Henning Melber, in both his introduction and conclusion, takes strong issue with the rather curious income or expenditure definitions of middle class-ness adopted by the global institutions, some of which label Africans living just above the poverty line as ‘middle class’. He queries whether it is growing as fast as is usually implied, suggests that it may have declined in size since the global crisis in 2008, and wonders whether it is meaningful to refer to it as ‘middle class’. Even so, he concludes that the current engagements with ‘the phenomenon called the African middle classes(es) is anything but obsolete’ as ‘they signify modified social relations in African societies which deserve attention’ (p9). That rather lukewarm endorsement must be taken as the justification for the collection, even if the editor might usefully have impressed upon the publishers the need for a question mark in the book’s title.

The outstanding chapter in the book is offered by Carola Lentz (Ch. 1) who provides a superb overview of the literature, historical and contemporary, dealing with those groups in African societies today customarily referred to as ‘middle class’. She too bewails the poverty of definitions provided by the global institutions. However, she moves beyond that to explore the rich troves of literature dealing with the African middle classes while urging the necessity of relating this to the vast body of work dealing with middle class formation in Europe, America and the global South.

Continue reading the review here.

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