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A punch to the gut: Pearl Boshomane reviews Niq Mhlongo's Affluenza

Niq Mhlongo’s tales are short and seldom sweet, writes Pearl Boshomane for the Sunday Times

AffluenzaAffluenza: Short Stories
Niq Mhlongo (Kwela)
****

Are readers spoilt? Perhaps we are, because after reading Affluenza, Niq Mhlongo’s collection of short stories, my biggest complaint is that some of the stories feel incomplete, that the characters or scenarios aren’t fleshed out enough for them to be impactful.

But just how much detail and in-depth exploration should – and can – a writer do when they’re writing a short story? Isn’t the joy of a short story that it teases the imagination without revealing every single thing about its characters?

To expect Mhlongo – or any writer – to hand the reader everything on a plate would be silly: this isn’t a 600-page novel, after all.

The tales in Affluenza are a look at post-democratic South Africa through various lenses: from an elderly, racist farmer caught up in land grabs in “The Warning Sign”, to a fake rich, whisky-swigging Joburger in the title story (which is a clichéd story of keeping up appearances, but with a pleasantly surprising twist).

One of the most powerful stories in the collection is also the shortest. “Dark End of the Street” is set in the aftermath of a student’s suicide and its ending is like a punch to the gut. Another highlight is a sombre and sobering portrait of two grieving families caught between culture and denial; a peek into what happens when age-old traditions clash with so-called modern ways of being.

In fact, there aren’t a lot of happy endings in the book. Mhlongo seems more interested in exploring what people are like and how they react during the darkest and most trying times in their lives, when the music has stopped and the flowers have wilted. There’s quite a bit of death in the book, as there is betrayal, deception, heartbreak and even murder.

That’s not to say it’s all melancholy and gloomy – Mhlongo writes in such a way that you’ll laugh out loud when you least expect it. “Four Blocks Away”, a story about a guy and some condoms, is ridiculously funny yet also reveals a lot about race relations in the US and US attitudes towards Africans through the protagonist’s interaction with cops outside a pharmacy.

“My Name is Peaches” (yes, a reference to a line in Nina Simone’s “Four Women”), while at its core a melancholy tale, also has humour sprinkled throughout (not to mention it’s difficult to read the story and come across the name “Peaches” without Ms Simone’s voice sounding in your head).

With Affluenza, Mhlongo has obeyed the classic writer commandment, “write what you know”: he clearly knows a lot about South Africa and the heart of its sociopolitical issues, but he also knows human beings quite well – although the female characters are somewhat flat and at times unpleasant. He knows us when we’re in love and when we’re acting out of fear. He knows the sides of ourselves we keep hidden.

If Affluenza is supposed to be any sort of representation of South Africa and its people, we’re a slightly twisted bunch – but at least we make for good stories.

Follow Pearl Boshomane on Twitter @Pearlulla

 
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Book details

Modjaji authors at the 2016 FLF

The 2016 Franschhoek Literary Festival is around the corner. And we’re delighted that a number of new and more established Modjaji authors are taking part. We have three writers who live abroad participating, they are Charlotte Otter (Karkloof Blue) coming from Heidelberg in Germany, Isobel Dixon (Bearings) from London and Eliza Kentridge (Signs for an Exhibition) from Wivenhoe in the UK.

BearingsKarkloof BlueCheck out the programme and book your tickets soon, you don’t want to be disappointed.

Karin Schimke, award-winning poet and books editor (Bare & Breaking) is chairing a number of sessions.
Sindiwe Magona is one of the celebrities of the festival, and will be specially honoured this year. We published her poetry collection, Please Take Photographs. Wendy Woodward, poet and English Literature academic (The Saving Bannister), will be there.

Poet and performer, Khadija Heeger (Beyond the Delivery Room) is also on the programme.

Beverly Rycroft, poet and novelist, is also on the programme (missing).

Jolyn PhillipsTjieng Tjang TjerriesAnd the last Modjaji writer on the programme is Jolyn Phillips, whose wonderful new book, a collection of short stories, which we have heard has made it onto the Exclusive Books’ Homebru promotion, Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories is on a panel on Sunday at 1.00 with Deon Meyer, Rahla Xenopolous, chaired by Darrel Bristow Bovey.

There are two award announcements on the weekend of the Franschhoek Lit Fest. They are both on Saturday evening. The first is the Ingrid Jonker, two of our Ingrid Jonker past winners are on the festival programme, Karin Schimke and Beverly Rycroft. We have a couple of poets who are contenders for this year’s award: Elisa Galgut (The Attribute of Poetry) and Christine Coates (Homegrown).

And for this year’s Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize long list, we have Fiona SnyckersNow Following You. The shortlist of five will be announced on Saturday night during the FLF.

Bare and BreakingBeyond the Delivery RoomMissingBearingsPlease, Take PhotographsSigns for an Exhibition
Karkloof BlueTjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesA Saving BannisterThe Attribute of PoetryHomegrownNow Following You

Book details

'He murdered all his brain cells with the papsak' - Read a story from Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips

‘He murdered all his brain cells with the papsak’ – Read a story from Tjieng Tjang Tjerries by Jolyn Phillips

 

Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesThis Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Jolyn Phillips’s new collection of short stories Tjieng Tjang Tjerries.

Phillips hails from Blompark, Gansbaai on the Western Cape coast, and is currently working on a PhD in Language Education at the University of the Western Cape. She was a 2014 Mandela Rhodes Scholar and completed a Masters in Creative Writing at UWC in 2013. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries is her first book.

Modjaji Books founder and publisher Colleen Higgs says of the book: “As you will see by the things that the writers who have read and love her work have said, I’m not the only one who feels thrilled by the voice of this young woman.”

And Higgs is right. Tjieng Tjang Tjerries has collected high praise from literary luminaries such as Antjie Krog, Meg Vandermerwe and Shaun Johnson.

The book is being launched next week Tuesday, 19 April, at The Book Lounge in Cape Town – an event not to be missed!

Meanwhile, read a story from the collection to whet your appetite:

* * * * *
Lelik

 
The dog just came here one day. No one knew where he came from and I don’t think anyone was looking for him. The dog looked brandsiek like a pavement special, a mix between a poodle and a husky. Shame, the poor thing was ugly and that was the end of it. I felt so sorry for him, so I let him sleep in my yard. I gave bones and leftovers for the dog to eat, but he stayed thin. Later on, we got used to each other. He never listened to my commands, but he would walk all the way to the stop sign at the end of our street and wait there for me until I returned from the Andries Café in Skool Street. One day I thought, Ag, give the poor thing a name. I started calling him Snuffles then Fluffy, then Ore, but he never responded when I called him those names. Until old Hennie came over one day, for coffee and a few ginger cookies. He actually lived here, in my house, but sometimes he forgot. He didn’t remember who he was or where he came from – it’s the wine that made him like that, so I treated him like he was a long-lost cousin, or someone visiting from a faraway country. Hennie liked that. He changed his role every day.

That day the dog comes up to Hennie and starts sniffing his ankles. Hennie says, ‘Shu, but that is a bloody ugly dog!’

Suddenly the dog sits up, waving his tail excitedly.

‘That’s it!’ I cried, ‘The blerrie dog’s name is Lelik! You know, Hennie, I have been looking for a name for the thing for quite some time now. I think he likes the name Lelik.’

But enough about the dog. Let me tell you more about Old Hennie. He is maar a strange oomie, a wanderer. He has nine fingers and he has an Afrikaans accent that sounds like the skop, skiet and donner American movies we watch every Friday on Etv. Heaven knows where he got it, and I never cared to ask, now that I think about it. Years ago Hennie worked in a butchery, next to Susan’s in town. One evening he had to close the shop and he wanted to steal some meat before he went home, but he was too drunk and ended up cutting off his index finger, shame. I am not even his child, but I look after him because he murdered all his brain cells with the papsak. It was very bad. One evening he came home, I was hanging over the gate watching him come down the road, just like an ouroeke. He stood there with a businessman smile and asked me very politely, ‘Do you know where Josephine Fielies lives?’

I burst out laughing. You see, of course, I am Josephine Fielies and he didn’t even remember it, so soft has his brain got from all the drinking. I laughed until it felt like my stomach muscles were pulling apart. Until I found myself crying. I couldn’t believe that Hennie had just asked me where I, Josephine Fielies, lived. I took him by the arm and invited him in for a cup of coffee, still hot. He drank it like it was cool drink, in one go. It’s as if his body forgot to react to the pain. He had forgotten how to be human. That is what I told myself. Afterwards, he went into the bedroom to rest after his third cup of ‘boeretroos’, as he calls it when he is the rich boer from Baardskeerdersbos. He seemed a bit weak. I knew that soon it would be my responsibility to change his nappies also. His body was getting weaker by the day. That is what I told myself. Sometimes he just sat there like he was dead, his entire body unable to move. He mumbled nonsense things like, ‘Spider webs, spider webs, spider webs’ and went back to looking like a statue.

Once, it was a Monday morning and I was busy making cabbage stew, I didn’t hear him come to the kitchen and he screamed, ‘Spinnerakke!’ The Lord must forgive me for my French, maar ek het my binne in my moer geskrik. All you saw was a wooden spoon and cabbage flying in the air. ‘Hygend! The focking jong.’

Old Hennie and Lelik became best friends. Wherever Hennie was, so was Lelik. Old Hennie couldn’t walk so fast anymore, that is why Lelik walked behind him, and if you dared to touch Hennie, Lelik would vreet your ankles. It was like the dog was protecting the old man. So at least I didn’t worry too much, Lelik was there to look after Hennie if he got himself into any trouble. So it was strange when one day Lelik came home by himself without Hennie. But I just thought to myself, maybe it is because old Hennie is walking slower, or visiting a neighbour. After a few hours and still no Hennie, I went to check whether Hennie was sitting at the edge of the street sign, the one made from concrete. It was his usual spot to smoke his pipe. But Hennie was nowhere to be seen. I became worried when the street lights began to lighten up the street. Darkness was coming and still no Hennie. I then walked over to his son’s house, and we drove to the police because that son of Hennie’s has a car now. That house used to be Hennie’s. But the son had made it his and didn’t worry about his father who was too sick to know home from the street. The police officer stood behind the counter and told us to come back in 72 hours, only then can they declare him as missing. I swear it was the longest 72 hours of my life. After 72 hours we went back. Still no Hennie. The policeman made us fill in a form. He asked if we had any photos. I only had one, of when we were younger, before Hennie’s brain went deurmekaar. When he still worked at the factory. It doesn’t look much like him now, but I still gave it to the policeman.

People started looking, the dogs and the inspectors were looking, and the local newspaper asked the community to be on the lookout. Months later his face was even on the TV. Everyone searched, except for Lelik.

Meanwhile, Hennie’s eldest son took over the house and shamelessly put his two brothers out. Maybe it served them right for not taking care of their father properly. The eldest couldn’t wait to turn the house into a hotel, for him and his family. Ticket, his younger brother, lives with me in the old caravan in the back yard. Skerul, the second eldest, sleeps with his meide; he has one in almost every part of Gansbaai. How the eldest got the house is a mystery. When I asked the brothers how they got put out, they just say, ‘We don’t want to talk about it now.’ I didn’t ask further because I take pride in keeping my nose out of other people’s business. To think the eldest brother didn’t give me a blue cent, not a blooming tiekie for looking after his father. But the Lord will provide, it is no use complaining, He will provide. And Lelik, he is still living here with me, barely leaving the yard.

I cannot believe it has been eight years since Hennie went missing. I for one still believe to this day that Hennie is alive. One of these good days he will return from his long trip and visit. I wonder what he will be this time. Probably a Frenchman or an Ingels Jintelmin. I will invite him in for coffee like before and we will eat lamingtons and oliebolle – those are his favourite. At the moment, Lelik is my only hope. I know Lelik knows where his friend is. The only problem is I talk and Lelik barks.

* * * * *

Book details

New $50,000 literary prize rewards 'real female characters'

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A new literary award celebrating original work with a central woman protagonist has been announced.

The Half the World Global Literati Award, which is worth $50,000 (about R740,000), will be awarded to a short story, novel or screenplay written in English, judged to “have portrayed one or more well-rounded female protagonists as the central character”.

A distinguished panel of academics, writers and media professionals who are “each committed to advancing women’s voices within their field” – including our very own Margie Orford – will judge the award.

The panel of judges includes Orford, internationally acclaimed writer, award-winning journalist, and President of PEN South Africa; Anne Harrison, producer for the Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated film The Danish Girl; Dr Lisa Tomlinson, scholar, cultural critic and lecturer of English literature at the University of West Indies; Gina Otto, bestselling author of Cassandra’s Angel and founder of children’s social activation platform Change My World Now; Kenneth Goh, editor-in-chief of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore; KF Breene, international bestseller of the Darkness and Warrior Chronicles series; Michael Marckx, lecturer, writer, environmental activist and former CEO of Spy; and Debra Langley, executive director of Half the World Holdings.

Caroline Bowler, representative for Half the World Holdings, says: “According to 2015 research from author Nicola Griffith, the majority of the significant literary prizes are awarded to works written from a male perspective. The Half the World Global Literati Award is specifically designed to put the spotlight on real female characters and positively impact how women are represented in contemporary writing.

“This award is a natural fit for us, to support the voices and stories of women as well as play a leading role in developing an ecosystem created by, and for, half the world.”

Half the World Holdings is an investment platform that supports businesses for whom women are the end-consumer.

Half the World Global Literati Award guidelines

  • The work may be a short story, novel or screenplay, from any genre, written in the English language
  • All submissions meeting this criteria are welcome
  • The closing date for entries is 8 June, 2016
  • Please submit works for consideration via http://halftheworld.media
  • The shortlist will be announced on 22 June, 2016

The winner of the Half the World Global Literati Award will be announced on 15 July, 2016.

More information from Half the World Holdings:

We are looking for short stories, novels and screenplays, written in English, that give a voice to the inner lives of women. Your work can be romantic; a tale of science fiction; a sensual or erotic exploration; a comic caper; a thrilling mystery or a biographical memoir. We ask only that gives fresh insight into the lives of women.

  • Generous cash prize and global exposure
  • Collaboration opportunities in multiple areas of entertainment
  • Open to works across a range of genres

If you are an author with a script slumbering in a drawer, we want to hear from you.

Take the next step and submit your creativity here.

The Award is an initiative of Half the World Holdings, a women-focused investment platform.

Book Launch: Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories by Jolyn Phillips

Tjieng Tjang Tjerries
Modjaji Books and The Book Lounge are delighted to invite you to the launch of Tjieng Tjang Tjerries & Other Stories by Jolyn Phillips.

Last year at the Franschoek Literary Festival, I heard Shado Twala talking to Jolyn Phillips, a session was over, they were sitting next to each other, and I overheard them. I think Jolyn had just been reading or was part of something that Shado had seen her do. I got the electrical current intuitive feeling I had when I read Whiplash by Tracey Farren. I asked Jolyn if she was a writer and she said yes, she had a collection of short stories. I asked for her email and wrote to her. There is quite a bit more to this story, but in the end Modjaji got to publish the collection and I’m really excited about it. As you will see by the things that the writers who have read and love her work have said, I’m not the only one who feels thrilled by the voice of this young woman.

“An impressive debut that brings across voices never heard before in South African English – not only in rhythm and timbre, but plumbing the unspoken. With such a remarkable ear, Jolyn Philips is a young writer to watch.”
Antjie Krog

“It is rare that one encounters a debut as good as this one. Humane, humorous and completely original, these sparkling stories gives a voice to a South African community too long ignored by the literary canon. Jolyn Phillips is a gifted young writer to watch.”
Meg Vandermerwe (Zebra Crossing and This Place I Call Home)

“A most original new voice in South African literature”
Shaun Johnson (The Native Commissioner)

Jolyn Phillips

Jolyn Phillips was born and grew up in Blompark, Gansbaai on the western Cape coast. She is currently working on her PhD in Language Education at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and is a 2014 Mandela Rhodes Scholar. In 2013 she completed a Masters in Creative Writing at UWC. Since 2012, she has participated in the Open Book and the Franschoek Literary Festivals. Her writing has also been published in Aerodrome, an online literary website, an anthology This Land I Call Home (UWC CREATES) and Ghost Eater and Other Stories (Umuzi). Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories is her first book.

Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other stories

Event Details

  • Date: Tuesday, 19 April 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge, corner of Roeland and Buitenkant streets, CBD, Cape Town
  • Guest Speaker: Meg Vandermerwe
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine compliments of Leopard’s Leap and snacks
  • RSVP: The Book Lounge, booklounge@gmail.com, +27 21 462 2425
    www.modjajibooks.co.za

Book Details

2016 Short Sharp Stories Awards longlist announced

Adults OnlyBloody SatisfiedIncredible Journey

 
Alert! The 2016 Short Sharp Stories Awards longlist has been announced!

The Short Sharp Stories Awards is an annual short story competition made possible by the National Arts Festival. Previous anthologies of winning stories include crime fiction (Bloody Satisfied), sexy stories (Adults Only), and incredible journeys (Incredible Journey).

The Short Sharp Stories Awards recently won a National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Book, Creative and Digital Award for Best Edited Fiction Volume.

 
This year’s theme is “Die Laughing”.

“Thank you to all writers who entered stories for Die Laughing,” series curator Joanne Hichens says. “The following names comprise the longlist from which the final selection of stories will be made over the next few weeks.”

Congratulations to all 28 authors on the list.

2016 Short Sharp Stories Awards longlist

Anton Krueger
Andile Cele
Andrea Chothia
Barbara Erasmus
Bobby Jordan
Catriona Ross
Charles Kusner
Christopher McMichael
Diane Awerbuck
Fred Khumalo
Frieda-Marie De Jager
Gail Schimmel
Glen Thompson
Greg Lazarus
Janine Milne
Jumani Clarke
Koobus Moolman
Kristien Potgieter
Lester San
Megan Voysey
Mia Arderne
Michael Yee
Nosiswa Ngwata
Nchavelelo Bright Shilgwambana
Ntsika Gogwana
Pravasan Pillay
Raphael D’Adbon
Sally Ann Murray
Sibongile Shabangu
Stephen Buabeng-Baidoo
Stephen Symons
Werner Pretorius

This year’s judges are Ken Barris, Karina Szczurek and Karabo Kgoleng.

A foreword to the collection will be written by Evita Bezuidenhout.

Book details