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Scars that Shine brings Syd Kitchen’s voice to life, writes Derek Davey

Syd Kitchen - Scars That Shine

Derek Davey recently reviewed Donvé Lee’s biography of musician Syd Kitchen, Scars that Shine, for the Mail & Guardian.

Davey lauded Lee’s use of writing in the first person narrative, as he asks himself “Did Syd write this? If so, when and how? This book comes across as an autobiography.”

Davey adds that the employment of Lee’s present tense writing “really works” in capturing this legendary South African artist’s essence.

Follow the link for the full review.

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Book Bites: 16 April 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

History of Wolves
Emily Fridlund (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Fourteen-year-old Linda lives in an isolated ex-commune with her parents. Ostracised by her peers and suffering from a healthy bout of impending teen angst, she’s intrigued by the family that moves into a nearby cabin, ultimately forming a bond with their young son, Paul, who – spoiler alert! – dies. Fridlund’s decision to include foreshadowing falls flat as the climax of the novel is both disappointing and uninspired. What could have been a thought-provoking read on the relationship between science and religion is reduced to a mildly interesting story about a young girl trying to make sense of humanity and the mysteries of the physical world. There is some excellent trivia on wolves, though. – Mila de Villiers @mila_se_kind

A Dark So Deadly
Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins)
Stuart MacBride is best known for his police procedurals featuring Detective-Sergeant Logan McRae of Aberdeen – but A Dark So Deadly is one of his few standalone thrillers. And what a thriller it is! At over 600 pages this book is no lightweight: one senses both the writer – and his editor – are covering unknown territory and it might take a while for the reader to get caught up in the story. Detective-Constable Callum MacGregor takes the blame when his pregnant girlfriend screws up, and is assigned to the misfit mob. When a mummy is discovered in a rubbish tip which turns out to be of recent provenance, the game is on. Callum perseveres in the investigation through personal disaster and series of twists and turns that will leave the reader gasping for more. Excellent! – Aubrey Paton

Delilah Now Trending
Pamela Power (Penguin)
Pamela Power is back with this laugh-out-loud offering. Lilah, single mother to 12-year-old Daisy, is f-bombing her way through life with success. But things go sideways when her daughter is accused of intentionally injuring a classmate. Readers will snort and cheer as Lilah battles through this rough period: armed with champagne, espresso, and many merry friends, so loyal they’ll even help you wax in a pinch. – Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love
Per J Andersson (OneWorld)
The cover is deceptive. This is not just a feel-good book filled with love and sitars. It has quite an edge, giving an extensive history of a village in India and how awful life was there for those from the “untouchable” caste. It’s also the true story of how a man from this village named PK fell in love with Lotta, a Swedish tourist. Unfortunately she has to go back to Sweden, so PK, determined to be with her again, gets on his bike and makes sure he gets to Sweden. Heartwarming and filled with unexpected detail. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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A teeming, enthralling and storied city: Michele Magwood reviews Istanbul - A Tale of Three Cities by Bettany Hughes

Published in the Times

IstanbulIstanbul – A Tale of Three Cities
Bettany Hughes (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

As any visitor to Istanbul will tell you, the past lies very close to the surface of this storied city. There are the dreaming spires of the vast mosques and sites such as the Hippodrome, setting for frenzied chariot races from AD 200, city walls standing since the 5th century or simply a blazing gold frescoe in a church in a run-down suburb. It is nigh impossible, though, to imagine the myriad incarnations of the city, with its convoluted history of warfare and stunning architectural and engineering achievement, of sackings and sieges but of high art and exquisite culture too. Archaeologists have measured more than 40 human habitation layers in the settlement, including Phoenicians, Genoese, Venetians, Jews and Vikings.

The award-winning historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes has written a majestic biography of the first truly global city, where East meets West and North meets South. She has the exceptional skill of leavening meticulous research with vivid anecdote and atmosphere as she guides us through its three phases: Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul.

So, while the historical events are recorded, she also segues into such detail as the silk trade. A stinking business and the city smelled of sea snails boiling in urine and the faeces of silkworms. It took 12000 snails to colour the hem of a single purple robe. “Medieval Constantinople must have been rank,” she observes.

There was a zoo at the Kynegion, an amphitheatre that was at times used for public executions, but where battles with animals provided entertainment.

“When we think of Roman Byzantium, she notes, “we should conjure the cityscape punctured by the yowl of big cats and the screech of distressed elephants – animals imported to satisfy a gruesome Roman pleasure in live-action death.”

The pages are stuffed with memorable characters, such as the Athenian general, the wide boy Alcibiades of the 50th century BC, who she describes as “feckless, over-sexed, immoderate, dazzling, raffish, louche”. There’s the proto-feminist Empress Theodora, exotic dancer and daughter of a bear tamer, who caught the eye of the Emperor Justinian and who reformed women’s property rights, built safe houses for prostitutes and upped the punishment for rape – as well as helping to design the staggering Hagia Sophia.

It’s a teeming, enthralling book, written with verve and a reminder that the Queen of Cities has endured much worse in her history.

Follow @michelemagwood


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Scars that Shine "a bittersweet testimony to a singular singersongwriter"

Tymon Smith recently reviewed Donvé Lee’s biography of Syd Kitchen, Syd Kitchen – Scars That Shine, for the Sunday Times’ Lifestyle Supplement.

An extract from Smith’s review reads:

When he died five years ago few would have been familiar with the music of Syd Kitchen. For those who did know him he remained the embodiment of the guitar hero folk muso who spent 40 years doing things his way, mostly without any real financial reward and impervious to the warnings from his friends of what his chain smoking, hard zolling, hard drinking ways would do to him.

Donvé Lee first met Kitchen in a cloud of marijuana smoke at a gig in Cape Town in 2001 – bonding over a mutual love of The Incredible String Band. Later he asked her if she’d write his biography one day and now she has, telling the story through his own words of the many different sides of a man who was “a saint, a scholar and a skollie”.

Lee presents her subject as a man with a giant ego, who had little interest in taking the road well travelled and never cared too much for what anyone else thought of him – his life firmly directed by the only thing he had any talent for, playing the guitar and writing songs.

From his working-class childhood in Durban through to his first stabs at writing songs and his performances with his brother Pete as The Kitchen Brothers, Lee traces Kitchen’s journey through the late 1960s folk scene to his brief tenure as the owner of a guitar shop before the release of Syd Kitchen and the Utensils’ album Waiting for the Heave in 1987 and his subsequent recordings – often self-funded and self-distributed. Along the way he leaves behind many broken hearts, a child and whatever trappings of domestic suburban life he may have briefly established in his 20s.

Click here to continue reading.

Syd Kitchen - Scars That Shine

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Margaret von Klemperer reviews Dancing the Death Drill

This review was originally published in the Witness.

IN a Paris restaurant in 1958, an about-to-retire waiter, polite and unobtrusive and apparently from Algeria, serves a meal to a pair of irritating customers. Then, one speaks to the other in Afrikaans, the waiter looks at him properly for the first time and what has been an ordinary event turns into chaos and bloodshed.

This is the shocking opening scene of Fred Khumalo’s novel, which centres on the sinking of the SS Mendi in the English Channel in 1917, a wartime catastrophe that led to the deaths of almost 650 men, the majority of them members of the South African Native Labour Corps, who, although not allowed to carry guns, were on their way to France to assist in the allied war effort. In Khumalo’s story, among the survivors who continue their journey to France and the hell of the First World War is Pitso Motaung, who under the alias of Jean-Jacques Henri is the waiter of the opening chapter.

Khumalo elegantly builds Pitso’s story from his birth as the son of a deserter from Boer forces in the Anglo-Boer war and the Sotho woman who takes care of him. We follow him through his upbringing and education in a Bloemfontein orphanage; his first love affair, which ends badly; his decision to volunteer for the Labour Corps; his journey to France; the tragic fate of the SS Mendi; his wartime experiences and his eventual life in France in the first half of the 20th Century.

It is a fast-moving and compelling narrative, and if the arm of coincidence stretches very long in places, that’s fair enough. Khumalo has used his sources cleverly, particularly in the scenes of the sinking where the reported words of the Reverend Isaac Dyobha to the doomed men on the Mendi, and which give Khumalo his title, have echoed down the century since the tragedy, even when little was said or remembered of the fate of the ship and its passengers – something that has fortunately been corrected.

Khumalo also highlights the racial politics of South Africa and Britain at the time, giving his story a substance that goes beyond the tale of one man. He also gives the telling a nuance – not all blacks are all good, nor all whites all bad – which is important, particularly in these racially charged times. I have set myself a project for the four years of the centenary of World War 1 to read or re-read some of the writing, both fiction and non-fiction, that has emerged from that extraordinary conflict.

Now I can add a fine South African novel to the list. – Margaret von Klemperer

Dancing the Death Drill

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Verwerking van Leon van Nierop se Sielsmokkelaar "verfrissend en nie-resepmatig"

Hierdie resensie het oorspronklik in Die Burger verskyn.


Sielsmokkelaar is ’n verwerking van die oorspronklike Van Nierop-roman wat in 1996 verskyn het.

“Die enigste ding om te vrees, is vrees” – die woorde op die omslag – is ’n goeie aanduiding van wat op die leser wag.

Die sentrale karakter, die 16-jarige Ramón Fraser, is die seun van ’n sigeuner wat onwillig van plek tot plek verhuis, elke keer om oënskynlik van ’n onbekende bedreiging te vlug. Sy ma – oorspronklik Turks maar ook Afrikaanssprekend – vlug met hom vandat hy kan onthou. Hoewel sy hulle aan die lewe hou deur ander mense se toekoms te voorspel, weier sy om Ramón se toekoms te lees, tot op ’n verskriklike dag toe die “mantelman” sy opwagting maak.

Ramón en sy ma moet wéér vlug, iets waarteen die opstandige 16-jarige tevergeefs protesteer. Boonop word hy geteister deur onverklaarbare drome, hoofpyne en angsaanvalle.

Dié keer beland hulle op ’n plaas in die Chrissiesmeer-distrik – ’n plek vol poue “met angsgille wat die dood nader roep’’, en met sterte “wat bestaan uit duisende oë wat tot in sy siel kyk”.

Ramón ontmoet en leer ken uiteindelik sy pa, Marnus, wat hy altyd as “oorlede” op skoolvorms aangedui het. Dis nie ’n maklike tyd vir die tienerseun nie en hy word geboelie en opgefoeter.
Ramón se grootste uitdaging is egter die mantelman wat “die niemandsland tussen hemel en hel oppas en verlore siele vir ewig daar opsluit”. Hy nooi Ramón om deel te word van sy 1 000-jarige “ryk van donkerte, moord en waansin”.

Sielsmokkelaar is ’n komplekse verhaal waarin die uitdagings van grootword en die soeke na identiteit verweef word met donker, magiese elemente. Dit is verfrissende en nie resepmatige leesstof deur ’n ervare skrywershand. – Riaan Grobler, @BraGrobbies

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