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’n Uiters tydige huldeblyk aan Milan Kundera - Joan Hambidge resenseer Leonhard Praeg se Imitation

Imitation is a strikingly original work of great subtlety, complexity, imagination, originality, and a clear homage to Milan Kundera’s Immortality. I have never read a novel quite like this.’ – JASON M. WIRTH, Commiserating with Devastated Things: Milan Kundera and the Entitlements of Thinking

‘Imitation is challenging, ambitious and intelligent. It is a fascinating and adventurous parallel to Immortality that is intriguingly and playfully managed; an impressive and carefully considered novel that takes some of Milan Kundera’s most enigmatic thoughts and modernises them.’ – ANDREW BROWN, 2006 recipient of the Sunday Times Fiction Prize for Coldsleep Lullaby

‘With stylistic virtuosity, Praeg successfully enacts the tempestuous relationship between philosophy and fiction while elegantly and eloquently exploring the relationship between coloniser and colonised subjects. It is a brilliant, sparkling novel that heralds a very thoughtful, new voice on the South African literary scene.’ – SAM NAIDU, Associate Professor of Literary Theory, World Literatures, and English Literature, Rhodes University

Imitation

 
Imitation happened when an unsuspecting philosopher one day found himself equally outraged by South African president Jacob Zuma’s Big Man building project in Nkandla; awed, all over again, by Milan Kundera’s Immortality; and numbed by the monument to hubris generally known as ‘the highest basilica in all of Christendom’, Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire.

Leonhard Praeg is head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pretoria. He has published a number of books on African philosophy, violence in the post-colony and African humanism. Imitation is his first novel.

Joan Hambidge het onlangs Praeg se roman gerenseer; hiér deel sy haar opinies:

Leonhard Praeg se roman Imitation beslaan 300 bladsye. Dit is ‘n roman wat gepubliseer is deur ‘n akademiese uitgewershuis en die skrywer is ‘n professor in filosofie. Boonop tree dit in gesprek met Milan Kundera se beroemde roman Immortality (1990), en word ook betekenisvol opgedra aan Kundera as ‘n geskenk.

Immortality vorm deel van ‘n trilogie, te wete The Book of Laugher and Forgetting en The Unbeararable Lightness of Being.

Soos Kundera se roman hou dit nie by die gewone plot-konvensies nie. Dit is veral ‘n roman van allusies en intertekste. Die leser word ‘n toehoorder en onderrig in die betekenis van lees. Wat is lewe? Wat is dood? In Kundera se roman is daar ‘n vriendskap tussen Goethe en Hemingway in die ander oord.

Praeg erken dat hy karakters en dialoog oorgeneem het – soos Professor Avenarius.

Hierdie roman begin traag, maar wanneer dit jou beetpak en jy die sleutel waarin dit geskryf is, snap, word dit ‘n besonderse leeservaring. Dit bevat selfs sketse van die St Peters basilika (p. 100 -103). Hier word daar kommentaar gelewer op Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire, ‘n nabootsing van die oorspronklike, maar groter as die eerste.

Lees Hambidge se volledige resensie hier.

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"An excellent novel about the issue of comfort women" - Margaret von Klemperer reviews Mary Lynn's Bracht's White Chrysanthemum

Published in the Witness: 12/04/2017

White Chrysanthemum
Mary Lynn Bracht, Chatto & Windus

THE issue of “comfort women”, kidnapped by Japanese forces from Korea and China and forced into prostitution for the use of their soldiers is one that has simmered shamefully along since the end of the Second World War.

Neither the Japanese nor the Korean governments have shown sufficient willingness to confront the issue, let alone insist on a genuine apology or reparations from the Japanese side. It has taken determination by the surviving women themselves – now very few – and other activists to drag this horrible episode into the light. They erected a bronze statue of a comfort woman, the Statue of Peace, in Seoul opposite the Japanese embassy: the Japanese demand its removal as the precursor to any kind of admission or apology.

Mary Lynn Bracht, a Korean-American, has taken the subject of comfort women for her very impressive debut novel.

The politics and history of Japan, Korea, China, Manchuria and Mongolia are little known in the West, and make a fascinating and elegantly illuminated backdrop for the stories of two sisters, Hana and Emi. They live on the island of Jeju off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula and are the daughters of a haenyeo, one of the women who dive for fish and crustaceans. Even under Japanese occupation, it was a powerful, matriarchal society, now sadly reduced to little more than a tourist attraction.

Bracht’s novel is told in alternating chapters by Hana and Emi. Hana’s are set in 1943, the year in which, as a young woman diver, she rushed out of the sea in an effort to save her little sister from a Japanese soldier she saw approaching. She did save Emi, but was herself taken captive and removed to a life of abuse and rape at a military brothel in Mongolia. Emi’s story is set in 2011 when she is an elderly woman, consumed by guilt that her sister vanished while protecting her and still desperately trying to find her, or at least discover where she went and what was her fate.

Perhaps Bracht is guilty of striving a little too hard for a sense of closure, if not exactly a happy ending to a story that ended badly for the estimated two hundred thousand women taken into slavery and for those left behind, but this is fiction and in White Chrysanthemum, she has created two powerful and unforgettable characters. And shone a spotlight not only onto an episode that should never be forgotten but onto the plight of women and girls in all theatres of war. An excellent novel.

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Read - Business Day reviews Linda Chisholm's Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa

The transition from apartheid to the post-apartheid era has highlighted questions about the past and the persistence of its influence in present-day South Africa. This is particularly so in education, where the past continues to play a decisive role in relation to inequality. Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa scrutinises the experience of a hitherto unexplored German mission society, probing the complexities and paradoxes of social change in education. It raises challenging questions about the nature of mission education legacies.

Linda Chisholm shows that the transition from mission to Bantu Education was far from seamless. Instead, past and present interpenetrated one another, with resistance and compliance cohabiting in a complex new social order. At the same time as missionaries complied with the new Bantu Education dictates, they sought to secure a role for themselves in the face of demands of local communities for secular statecontrolled education. When the latter was implemented in a perverted form from the mid-1950s, one of its tools was textbooks in local languages developed by mission societies as part of a transnational project, with African participation. Introduced under the guise of expunging European control, Bantu Education merely served to reinforce such control.

The response of local communities was an attempt to domesticate – and master – the ‘foreign’ body of the mission so as to create access to a larger world. This book focuses on the ensuing struggle, fought on many fronts, including medium of instruction and textbook content, with concomitant sub-texts relating to gender roles and sexuality.

South Africa’s educational history is to this day informed by networks of people and ideas crossing geographic and racial boundaries. The colonial legacy has inevitably involved cultural mixing and hybridisation – with, paradoxically, parallel pleas for purity. Chisholm explores how these ideas found expression in colliding and coalescing worlds, one African, the other European, caught between mission and apartheid education.

Yvonne Fontyn recently reviewed Chisholm’s remarkable book for Business Day. This is what she thought:

Mission schools have a mixed reputation in former colonies. They are lauded for offering a liberal and sound education when the state failed to do so, but they are also considered to have played a large role in colonial conquest.

Many well-known South African leaders attended mission schools, including Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and Ellen Kuzwayo.

However, in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela relates the mixed messages he received at mission schools in the Eastern Cape. At his primary school in Qunu, his teacher Miss Mdingane gave the young Rolihlahla his English name Nelson.

“The education I received was a British education, in which British ideas, British culture and British institutions were automatically assumed to be superior,” he writes.

“There was no such thing as African culture.”

Later, he attended the Clarkebury Institute, where, he writes: “For the first time, I was taught by teachers who had themselves been properly educated. Several of them held university degrees, which was extremely rare.”

The college was founded on land donated by the Thembu king Ngubengcuka, illustrating the close ties that existed before apartheid between missions and traditional leaders.

One of the aims of a new book by Prof Linda Chisholm of the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Education Rights and Transformation is to point out these binary perceptions of mission schooling.

Continue reading Fontyn’s review here.

Between Worlds

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  • Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education in South Africa by Linda Chisholm
    EAN: 978-1-77614-174-6
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Book Bites (8 April)

Published in the Sunday Times

Darwin Comes To Town *****
Menno Schilthuizen, Quercus, R315

This book started many conversations: with my children, husband, his co-workers and friends. It contains observations on how animals and plants are evolving and adapting to urban landscapes. There are crows that have alarm systems for approaching hunters, catfish that have figured out how to catch pigeons, mosquitoes that have evolved different varieties for different tunnels of London’s Underground, and Sendai crows who, in Japan, use slow-moving traffic as their nutcrackers. Fascinating. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

After the Fire ****
Henning Mankell, Harvill Secker, R280

Mankell is famous for his thrillers featuring the melancholy Wallander, but this is the last book he wrote before his death in 2015 – and it’s different. It is not about crime, nor is it thrilling. It is, however, vastly compelling. This is the elegiacally written story of Fredrik Welin, a doctor who retired in disgrace to the family home on an island in the Swedish archipelago. Old age is starting to bite and Welin has few friends. As in a Greek tragedy he loses everything when his home is destroyed in a fire the police suspect him of setting. He endures a grim winter of discontent, but does not give up. Others die, or leave, but he continues until spring brings warmth and new hope. It is a fitting epilogue to Mankell’s oeuvre. Aubrey Paton

Year One ****
Nora Roberts, Little Brown, R295

There’s romance but it’s a smidgen compared to how broad Roberts goes in her latest endeavour – a trilogy of post-apocalyptic fiction. An untreatable flu has spread. Originating as a curse in Scotland on a magical rock where a bird’s blood released it, two billion people were subsequently infected. Now survivors have to leave the cities where The Raiders — a group intent on looting, raping and murdering – rule. The good survivors have to find solace but it’s not just The Raiders out to get them. The government is taking them against their will, and the evil of the dark forces – witches and wizards – has been increased by the curse. It’s incredibly entertaining. Most horribly, book two is out only in December. Boo. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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Toll of madness, redemption of love - Michele Magwood reviews Zack McDermott's Gorilla and the Bird

Published in the Sunday Times

Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love
*****
Zack McDermott, Piatkus, R315

This book is one of the gems of the year, the true story of a young man who suffers a catastrophic psychotic break and his sliding, slipping climb to normality.

Zack McDermott was a promising public defender in New York, an idealistic man raised working class in Wichita, Kansas, “a baloney sandwich throw from the trailer park”. His mother nicknamed him Gorilla as he was barrel-chested and hirsute. He calls her The Bird because of the small, avian movements she makes with her head. The Bird taught high-school English to the roughest students, gathering “any thug, gang-banger, ex-con or other members of the discard pile” around their dining-room table every afternoon for extra lessons.

It was understandable that he would want to become a lawyer defending “the dregs, the cast-offs, the addicts and the Uncle Eddies”. Uncle Eddie, it turns out, was institutionalised for schizophrenia.

So mental illness is in the family gene pool, but in Zack’s case it has manifested as Bipolar 1 disease.

Pitched straight into the gutting system in New York, he soon feels overwhelmed by the responsibility of his job and the hopelessness of his abject clients.

At the same time he is doing some fairly crazed stand-up comedy at night. He’s smoking dope, not sleeping, not eating. And one morning he steps out into the city believing he is being filmed, Truman-style for a real-life documentary. We want to avert our eyes as he careens through the day, until he ends up shirtless and shoeless on a subway platform, sobbing. From there he is transported by police to the pysch ward, deep in psychosis. Only the Bird can rescue him.

Seeing it from the inside, bipolar is utterly terrifying, and Zack’s struggle – he has more breakdowns – is deeply affecting. But the story belongs to the big-hearted Bird, too, for her determination to not let go of him. @michelemagwood

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"Deeply disturbing, but necessary" - Independent Online reviews Redi Tlhabi's Khwezi

In August 2016, following the announcement of the results of South Africa’s heated municipal election, four courageous young women interrupted Jacob Zuma’s victory address, bearing placards asking us to ‘Remember Khwezi’.

Before being dragged away by security guards, their powerful message had hit home and the public was reminded of the tragic events of 2006, when Zuma was on trial for the rape of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, better known as Khwezi. In the aftermath of the trial, which saw Zuma acquitted, Khwezi was vilified by his many supporters and forced to take refuge outside of South Africa.

Ten years later, just two months after this protest had put Khwezi’s struggle back into the minds and hearts of South Africans, Khwezi passed away … But not before she had slipped back into South Africa and started work with Redi Tlhabi on a book about her life.

How as a young girl living in ANC camps in exile she was raped by the very men who were supposed to protect her; how as an adult she was driven once again into exile, suffering not only at the hands of Zuma’s devotees but under the harsh eye of the media.
 
 
In sensitive and considered prose, journalist Redi Tlhabi breathes life into a woman for so long forced to live in the shadows. In giving agency back to Khwezi, Tlhabi is able to focus a broader lens on the sexual abuse that abounded during the ‘struggle’ years, abuse which continues to plague women and children in South Africa today.

Redi Tlhabi is a Johannesburg talk show radio host, broadcast journalist, and author. Tlhabi was born in 1978. She graduated from college with degrees in Political Economy and English Literature. When she’s not studying, presenting radio or TV shows, she reads extensively and runs marathons. Tlhabi won the prestigious Sunday Times Alan Paton Award in 2013.

Orielle Berry reviewed Tlhabi’s powerful book for IOL shortly after it was published. A must-read:

It’s small wonder that copies of Khwezi sold out just days after its simultaneous launch in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Aside from being long overdue, the book about Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser raises uncomfortable questions not only about attitudes towards sexual consent but points a finger at how the law system won but how justice was failed.

Khwezi is a long-overdue book because, for more than a decade, many did not know much about Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, the woman who laid rape charges against Zuma. Following the much-publicised trial, Zuma, then deputy president, was acquitted.

For more than a decade, Khwezi disappeared off the radar, hounded out of the country in the trial’s aftermath, living in Amsterdam and Dar es Salaam before returning to the land of her birth.

Author Redi Tlhabi met Khwezi, who used the name to protect her identity during the court case, when she started working with her on a book about her; and, as she writes, given the type of person Khwezi was, it was difficult not to be drawn in personally to her story.

Sadly, after living with HIV for years, she died last year, succumbing not only to the illness but to depression and a lack of direction following her rape and the acquittal.

The book thus, by default, has become not only a memoir but also a tribute to a woman marked by her bravery and also “otherness” in the life she lived. The book is many things. It is emotionally rendered; it is incisive and causes a great deal of discomfort. It also creates a sense of shock and deep anger and even doubt. Possibly this is all for the good – because it creates a much-needed conversation.

Continue reading Berry’s review here.

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