A literary weekend in Prince Albert

By the time we arrived in Prince Albert, Helen Moffett and I knew we would be publishing a book together. Put two writers in a car, let them travel for four hours through an inspiring landscape, and that is what happens. We drove into the town as the sky burst into crimson flames of sunset. I have never visited before, but when the Leesfees offered us slots on their beautifully curated programme, I jumped at the opportunity to experience the festival that I had been hearing wonderful things about for years.

I have said it before and I will repeat it many times: for readers literary festivals are fantastic opportunities for discovering new authors and interacting with the ones they love; for writers these events offer the possibility of engaging with their fans and introducing their work to new audiences, of course – it is a two-way process after all (a shout out to Ingrid Wolfaardt, Henry Welman and Azille Coetzee – it was lovely to meet you in person!). But for authors festivals are also great for socialising with colleagues: one feels less alone, more inspired, and often such events are the beginning of extraordinary literary projects and journeys. As a publisher now, every time I travel with Karavan Press authors, I get to know them and their craft a little bit more and my gratitude towards them deepens along the way.

Dawn Garisch, Melissa A. Volker and her husband Rick (no doubt Melissa’s greatest fan – he spoke about seeing someone read A Fractured Land at the Lazy Lizard festival café with the same enthusiasm as about the Springbok win!) booked us a table at The Olive Branch that first evening. The food was so delicious and the entire staff so friendly that Helen was ready to propose marriage to the talented chef.

The next day for breakfast, we ended up at the Lazy Lizard headquarters and accidentally bumped into Sally Andrew of Tannie Maria fame. She promptly offered to read us a passage from her latest novel, which features the Lazy Lizard and its famous Full Monty Breakfast as well as the even more famous Apple Pie. Helen and I tucked in while Sally read to us: a surreal literary experience if there ever was one.

Our blood was green and gold that day, but Sally and Fred Khumalo dutifully went off to entertain their Leesfees audiences while I marched off to find the nearest gin bar and cheered and cried with the rest of the crowd gathered there. Oh Captain, our Captain!

High on emotions, I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Dawn and Melissa about “seeing things differently” next. This was the theme of the festival and these two incredibly talented authors allowed us a glimpse into their imaginations and their literary lives as they aim to entertain their readers while remaining true to their principles of caring about others and the planet we all share.

The next day, I also had the opportunity to talk about environmental themes and the reality of our extremely wasteful and destructive ways with Helen. What I love about her approach to these highly topical concerns is her can-do attitude. Helen does not make her readers despair, she empowers us and encourages to do things differently, with more care and compassion. A true inspiration. And she is so funny, too!

No wonder all her books were sold out within minutes after the talk. The booksellers at the festival, Rosemary and Carmen of Bargain Books George, did a stellar job at getting our books to Prince Albert, but even they could not predict how popular Helen’s little books of environmental wisdom would turn out to be.

Whenever I present at a festival myself or interview authors, I always try to attend other events as a reader. In the morning of the first day, Dawn and I went to listen to Joanne Jowell and Miché Solomon speak to Vanessa Botha about Miché’s remarkable story as told to Joanne in Zephany: Two Mothers, One Daughter. And in the evening, we listened to Helen, Annette Snyckers and Archie Swanson read their poetry. It was the perfect way to end the day. Beauty and calm descended as the poets treated us to a literary feast.

I also attended Jan van Tonder’s talk at the festival. He was interviewed by Pieter Hugo. I love listening to Afrikaans and this was my way of indulging in the language a little bit again. What made the occasion truly special were the accompanying memories. When I first visited André in Cape Town in May 2005, on the day after my arrival he drove me to Oudtshoorn to introduce me to his dear friends, Marina and Gerrit. I met Jan during the visit, too. Two years later, in 2007, we all gathered in Stilbaai and watched the Rugby World Cup final together. Jan reminded me of the occasion when we spoke after the talk and said: “When I saw you in André’s Springbok shirt earlier in the day, I thought it a good omen for the final.” Indeed, both times Jan and I were in the same place for the final, the Boks won. I think we should plan something for 2023 together!

I can’t wait until Jan’s latest novel is translated into English. It sounded like something I would love to read. I will never forget his Roepman / Stargazer.

There was time to relax and to celebrate. Prince Albert welcomed us all with open arms. The organisers of the festival deserve medals for all their fantastic work. Thank you to Linda Jaquet and the Leesfees team! Our hosts were kind in providing us with the most beautiful places to stay. The audiences were attentive and generous. I already promised myself that I will be there for the next Leesfees in whatever capacity: as publisher, writer, interviewer or reader. And next time, on the way there or back, Helen and I are planning a longer visit at Matjiesfontein. There was only time for lunch and the celebratory springbok burger on this trip.

When we visit again, Helen promised to play the piano in the bar of the Lord Milner Hotel! And we might have a book to launch…

 

Review: The Unfamous Five by Nedine Moonsamy

The-Unfamous-Five-310x480Friends Neha, Devon, Shejal, Janine and Kumari live in the Indian suburb of Lenasia and spend a lot of time together. It is the early 90s, just before the first democratic election in South Africa. The country is preparing for change when the teenagers witness a terrible crime on one of their outings in the township. Their sense of belonging and identity is shaken as they embark on the rough path to adulthood after this lethal incident. Alongside them, South Africa is also trying to come into its own. This is the premise of Nedine Moonsamy’s beautifully crafted debut novel, The Unfamous Five. Although clearly echoing Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five novel series, Moonsamy makes this story completely local and her own.

The Unfamous Five is narrated from the perspective of all five friends at different stages of their lives from June 1993 to April 2003. The individual stories are told in affecting vignettes that reveal the multi-facetted connections between the friends, their families and other people who come to share their lives with them as time progresses.

“As she lives through the moment she already knows that she will remember it for the rest of her life”, it is revealed about Janine at one point in the book, as the account continues: “She records it in her mind as one of those moments. Those moments when reality bursts open like a volcano and spits hot lava across one’s front lawn.” It is the perfect description of how the novel records the essential stages of the group’s journey as individual young adults and as a whole.

It took me a few pages to get into the intense rhythms of the narration, but once I did, I could not put The Unfamous Five down, curious of how these lives would develop and whether the relationships depicted would survive their many permutations and challenges. All five stories are compelling, but I was particularly moved by Janine’s.

Through these characters, Moonsamy brings the transition alive in a way that is truly tangible, never shying away from the most difficult aspect of the period, exposing the devastating consequences of racism, homophobia and intolerance of any kind: “This is how they choose to spend their time, undressing each other until they stand there, naked and raw, clinging together as they desperately search in one another for a new truth about themselves.” The observation is made during an argument about the past and the New South Africa. It is the private and the personal that becomes political here as in the best of fiction addressing these concerns through this specific place and time in history.

This is the adventure of life, he [Devon] thinks, travelling through each other’s lives, each other’s weeks.” Moonsamy offers us a generous insight into what the adventure of life entailed for the unfamous – but fascinating – five of her novel.

The Unfamous Five

Nedine Moonsamy

Modjaji Books, 2019

Review first published in the Cape Times on 15 November 2019.

Review: Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah

Out of Darkness, Shining Light“Whoever heard of a group of people marching from place to place with a dead body?” It is precisely such a journey that is at the centre of Petina Gappah’s latest novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light. Two decades in the making, the book tells the story of the sixty-nine men and women who decided to carry the body of Bwana Daudi – the Scottish physician and explorer David Livingstone – across the African continent after his death, so that his remains could be interred in his own country.

“In the grave we dug for him under the shade of a mvula tree, his heart, and all the essential parts of him, are at one with the soil of his travels. The grave of his bones proclaims that he was brought over land and sea by our faithful hands.”

The novel has two primary narrators: the expedition’s cook, the slave woman from Zanzibar called Halima, who is freed by Livingstone’s death, and the aspiring missionary from the Nassick school in India, also a former slave, Jacob Wainwright. Their voices complement each other perfectly in this richly textured chronicle of loyalty and betrayal, ambition and resilience, placing the emphasis on the lives of people neglected by history, the true protagonists of this particular tale.

Gappah’s approach is stunningly encapsulated in the retelling of the famous encounter between Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, one of numerous highlights of this sumptuously imagined historical novel. It has been a long time since I have delighted in a book so much. Out of Darkness, Shining Light is Gappah’s third novel since the publication of her exquisite debut collection of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly, ten years ago. It takes you to the heart of the continent, illuminating it with the bright torch of African storytelling.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light

Petina Gappah

Faber & Faber, 2019

Review first published in the Cape Times on 25 October 2019.

Review: Wise About Waste – 150+ Ways to Help the Planet by Helen Moffett

WiseAboutWasteThere is nothing to be done. We are coming too late to the party, allowing doom and gloom to persist. It’s easier to remain in a state of stupor than to take up the torch of an eco-warrior. Looking around, you will be forgiven for thinking that the war is already lost anyway. And there is no doubt about it: we are the bad guys on the wrong side of history. We are destroying our environments with ignorant dedication at a mind-boggling speed. The results are undeniable and crushing.

After her book on water conservation, 101 Water Wise Ways, published at the height of the water crisis when Day Zero was looming large in Cape Town, Helen Moffett turned to tackling the most pressing issues involved in waste reduction. She does not deny that the situation globally is precarious, to say the least, but once again Moffett approaches the challenge with a can-do attitude and a dose of healthy humour, no matter what the odds.

Wise About Waste: 150+ Ways to Help the Planet will make you feel empowered and arm you with numerous practical tips that don’t necessarily take a fortune and around-the-clock dedication to implement. Moffett shows how to make a significant difference – to the planet and, more selfishly, to us humans – with relative ease. It’s a no-brainer: “the healthier the environment, the healthier we are.” She also urges us to think bigger and strive for change on a large scale, but it is what she proposes we do in our everyday family lives that gave me most hope.

“Resistance is NOT futile”, Moffett writes and encourages us to embrace our “inner fish” and to “swim upstream”. Becoming “wise about waste” is not always easy, but it certainly feels more attainable since I have read this book.

Wise About Waste: 150+ Ways to Help the Planet

by Helen Moffett

Bookstorm, 2019

Review first published in the Cape Times on 13 September 2019.

Review: Upturned Earth by Karen Jennings

Upturned Earth“You learn to like the taste of sand out here … It gets to a point where you don’t feel quite right without a grain or two in your mouth. After all, it’s what the miners eat, isn’t it?” With these words the new magistrate of a mining town in Namaqualand is welcomed by his predecessor. It is winter of 1886, and after an arduous journey, William Hull arrives in Springbokfontein to guard the rule of law in the desolate place. Hull is well-meaning but obtuse and naïve; it takes him a while to grasp that there is only one real authority in town, the Cape Copper Mining Company, and that his attempts at justice are also being treacherously undermined in his own home, under his very nose. The battle of wills that ensues has tragic consequences.

At the same time, Molefi Noki returns to the copper mines from his village in the Idutywa Reserve in the Transkei Territory, where he and his wife had just lost a baby after yet another difficult pregnancy and birth. Grieving and desperate, the Xhosa miner embarks on a search for his missing brother who had been sent to the notorious local jail for drunkenness and seems to have disappeared since then.

Tensions between the miners and the Company arise over working conditions and pay. After a tragedy claims many lives, the conflict escalates into outright horror. “It’s the way of the mines; you should know that well enough. How many old miners do you see walking around? … None. No miner sits by the fire in his old age with his grandchildren bouncing on his knees. It’s the same for all of us”, one of the mine workers reminds Noki.

Shattered by the Marikana Massacre of 16 August 2012, and inspired by historical sources about the Cape Copper Mining Company, Karen Jennings wrote Upturned Earth “as a comment on the history of commercial mining in South Africa – the exploitation, conditions and corruption that began in the 1850s and continue to the present,” as she states in her author’s notes. The novel is a sobering reminder of the roots of everything that has been going wrong in the mining industry for decades. Written from the perspectives of Hull and Noki, Upturned Earth throws a light into the darkest places of this history and shows that not much has changed, and there is so much to fight for.

Jennings is a novelist, short-story writer and a poet. Upturned Earth is her fifth book, showcasing her striking talent that is maturing with every new publication. Born in Cape Town in 1982, she currently lives in Brazil, but her creative consciousness is steeped in the African imaginary. Her latest novel is an incisive contribution to our understanding of what it means to endure a system that “no individual could ever hope to alter or redeem.”

Upturned Earth

by Karen Jennings

Holland Park Press, 2019

Review first published in the Cape Times on 13 September 2019.

Review: Wilder Lives – Humans and Our Environment by Duncan Brown

WilderLivesNot all is well with the world. In moments of dark disillusionment, it is easy to give in to despair and just do nothing. But it is worthwhile to remember that if all of us, or at least most of us, institute even the tiniest of changes in our lives, we can make these lives better and we can make the world a better place, for ourselves and others.

Duncan Brown will be known to readers as the author of Are Trout South African?, which partly informs his latest book Wilder Lives: Humans and Our Environments. It is difficult for me to pinpoint why this book made me feel happy, but it did. Perhaps it was because Brown does not preach. He is a generous writer who shares his observations and research in a way that is empowering. The fact that his book made me feel better about my completely wild (or “neglected”, as many visitors seem to think) garden might be another reason.

Divided into ten highly accessible chapters, Wilder Lives focuses on ways we can “re-wild” our lives, whether through conservation, language, or in re-examining ethics. The concept of “rewilding” looks for definitions of “wild” that have “positive value (self-propagating, growing sustainably, self-reliant, independent, and so on)”. In this sense, rewilding champions a nourishing of the self-sustaining ecological process.

Brown also examines our misconceptions about “wildness” and what we often think are its opposites: culture, civilisation, or simply us, humans. The belief that wildness can only exist “where humans are absent” is still prevalent but, as Brown explains, it is rendered “questionable as a concept in which human influence is omnipresent”. What is definitely of essence is that we realise we are not as important as we want to believe. Humility might be the trait that could perhaps save us from ourselves. Brown makes it clear that rewilding is, in the words of George Monbiot, “not about abandoning civilization but enhancing it.”

Deeply aware of the “contradiction, ambiguity and paradox, especially in their entanglement in South Africa with colonial and apartheid histories”, Brown presents us with ideas about wildness and our role in it that are balanced and not intimidating. In the chapter on wildness and language, he shows what a difference just paying attention and being able to name and describe the environments we engage with – “a place literacy”, in Robert Macfarlane’s words – can help us live more rewarding lives. It reminded me of the joy I experience when watching and naming the birds visiting my ecologically uncontrolled garden.

We can all profit in the end, and in ways that we don’t necessarily immediately recognise as profitable. What is it that makes our modern lives so rough to process? Maybe a more conscious, re-evaluated way of existing within our environments can lead to simpler and much more fulfilling journeys. Wilder Lives assuredly offers one of “possibility, affirmation and excitement.”

Wilder Lives: Humans and Our Environments

by Duncan Brown

UKZN Press, 2019

Review first published in the Cape Times on 30 August 2019.

Review: Pretend You Don’t Know Me by Finuala Dowling

Pretend You Dont Know MeIf you are a reader of poetry, the last thing you should do is heed the instructions of the title of Finuala Dowling’s latest collection. Pretend You Don’t Know Me: New and Selected Poems brings together a selection of some of her best poetry from four previous volumes (three of them out of print now) and twenty-two new poems, each of which will make you want to know her work – not only the poetry, but the prose as well. Dowling is also the author of four novels, with a fifth to be published later this year. She is the recipient of the Ingrid Jonker, Sanlam and Olive Schreiner Prizes and is rated as one of the most significant South African poets writing in English today.

Dowling is like the lighthouse on the cover of Pretend You Don’t Know Me. Her words shine a light for souls lost at sea. She has the ability to hold vast expanses of human experience in a few lines, and to make it look effortless. That is what made me fall in love with her work a long time ago, and I was delighted to encounter many of my favourite poems from her older collections here. Her new poems – full of loneliness and sadness, but also warmth, courage and fragile hope – continue to satisfy like no others. Let me quote just one example. In Q&A for an Unfair World, not only the individual sense of helplessness is captured, but our global anguish: “Will this meeting ever end? / No. / What are we saying goodbye to? / Everything. / Is the wrong person in charge? / Yes.”

Through her keen insights and rare sensitivity, Dowling allows us to smile despite all that, and it’s no coincidence that Pretend You Don’t Know Me ends with the word “welcome”.

Pretend You Don’t Know Me: New and Selected Poems

by Finuala Dowling

Kwela, 2019

Review first published in the Cape Times on 30 August 2019.

At the Open Book Festival 2019

It’s Open Book Festival time! Another amazing programme beckons. I am super-excited because this time, apart from launching a book as co-editor and chairing a session, I will be participating for the first time as a publisher.

1) KARINA, the PUBLISHER, at #OBF2019:

Karavan Press at OBF2019

2) KARINA, the EDITOR, at #OBF2019:

The anthology we, Joanne Hichens and I, are launching at the festival as co-editor is HAIR: Weaving and Unpicking Stories of Identity.

Hair invite FB

3) KARINA, the CHAIR, at #OBF2019:

  • SUN | 08/09 | 10-11 | HCC Workshop

FUTURE-THINKING: Duncan Brown, Helen Moffett and Aaniyah Omardien speak to me about what environmental responsibility looks like.

4) KARINA, the PUBLISHER in the audience at #OBF2019:

And these are the events at which Karavan Press author, Dawn Garisch, will be speaking about her latest novel Breaking Milk:

  • THUR | 05/09 | 16-17 | HCC Workshop

DISTRUSTING THE PRESENT: Tracey Farren, Dawn Garisch and Masande Ntshanga speak to Alex Dodd about how the dystopian present informs their work.

  • SAT | 07/09 | 16-17 | HCC Workshop

THERE IS NO TEXTBOOK: Patrick Flanery, Dawn Garisch and Julia Martin speak to Pippa Hudson about the impossibility of preparing for some events.

  • SUN | 08/09 | 12-13 | A4 Ground

GENE THERAPY: Oyinkan Braithwaite, Nicole Dennis-Benn and Dawn Garisch speak to Bonnie Mbuli about dealing with family challenges.

 

 

Review: All the Places by Musawenkosi Khanyile

musawenkosi-khanyile_all-the-places_coverIt was by chance that I read Musawenkosi Khanyile’s debut poetry collection on a rainy morning, still tucked up in my bed. But it was no coincidence that the juxtaposition of the comfort of my bedroom and the realities described in the volume repeatedly moved me to tears. Unapologetically autobiographical, the poems included in the book trace the author’s journey from childhood to adulthood, from his rural family home, through the township, to the city. A journey undertaken by many, but not often evoked in poetry with such distinct tenderness that it takes your breath away.

All the Places offers you a glimpse into the heart of what it means to grow up with the odds staked against you, but does so without an ounce of self-pity and, perhaps more strikingly, without gratuitous exposure. The subtlety and restraint with which Khanyile approaches his subject matter is remarkable. He captures lifetimes into a few lines and makes you feel, acutely – not so much the difference between the stories he tells and those of privilege, but the common humanity of all our dreams: “In the class without a door, I took the exercise book of a little girl / who smelled of paraffin and looked at the tree she had drawn – / a leafless tree with no bird in it” (A School Visit). When asked what she wanted to be one day, the girl tells him: doctor.

Khanyile himself is a clinical psychologist with another degree in creative writing. But coming from Nseleni, he recalls the gaps in his family home’s walls, the constantly leaking roof, the demeaning trips to the outside toilet, and that in order “to survive the streets that gush out blood / and open into graves” you had to know how to “outrun the rain”. All the Places is dedicated to Khanyile’s brother Zamo: “I left you the dining room floor / and graduated to a bed / after our sister left for varsity” (Find the Truth).

As the collection’s title suggests, many of the poems focus on specific geographical spaces. In Nseleni, Khanyile states “that the goal is to make it out alive.” But even if you do escape and beat the odds, negotiating hard-earned privileges comes with its own challenges. In The World Opens Up, he asks: “What are the side effects of surviving the township?” The titular poem opens with the lines: “All the places he goes to / remind him of where he comes from.” And in Bantry Bay, a man at a guesthouse cries at the sight of the sea: “Why all this sentimentality about what’s not his? / The sea is not his. This balcony is not his. / All that he has is himself – / when does he cry about that?”

A great gift to its readers, All the Places allows you to look at the world with fresh eyes, with compassion.

All the Places

by Musawenkosi Khanyile

uHlanga, 2019

Review first appeared in the Cape Times on 16 August 2019.

HAIR: Weaving & Unpicking Stories of Identity

Joanne Hichens and I are thrilled to announce that the anthology we co-edited ⁠— HAIR: Weaving & Unpicking Stories of Identity ⁠— is going to be launched at the Open Book Festival this year!HAIRcover_10cmHigh_rgb

HAIR: Weaving & Unpicking Stories of Identity is a collection of short stories inspired by hair. Like skin, hair is a body feature with a complex and controversial history, and is constantly under scrutiny in the media, specifically with regard to identity. HAIR: Weaving and Unpicking Stories of Identity features short stories by contemporary established and emerging South African writers of diverse backgrounds writing about hair and its intimate, personal as well as socio-political meaning. The book includes illustrative photographs by local visual artists. We hope that the stories will entertain, delight and challenge the reader.

“Dreadlocks, perms, afros, wigs and braids; hair is an extension of our ever-changing selves. In this startling new collection of masterful African stories juxtaposed with vivid modern photography, we see hair woven firmly into lives like generational pain in families. Or watch it blossoming into grand filaments of pride and reservoirs of power. Ranging from the fantastical to the mundane, the surly and mysterious to the jovial and witty, reading the stories in Hair will make yours stand on end.”

– Efemia Chela

Stories by Diane Awerbuck, Tumelo Buthelezi, Craig Higginson, Mishka Hoosen, Bobby Jordan, Shubnum Khan, Fred Khumalo, Bongani Kona, Alex Latimer, Kholofelo Maenetsha, Songeziwe Mahlangu, Mapule Mohulatsi, Palesa Morudu, Tiffany Kagure Mugo, Sally-Ann Murray, Sue Nyathi, Alex Smith, Melissa A. Volker, Lester Walbrugh, Mary Watson, Michael Yee

The title is appropriately deceptive. The reader goes into the stories expecting, and hoping, to engage with the politics and the business of hair. And the anthology brings all that successfully to the fore, but offers much more. Although the common narrative is about the politics of hair, what you will mostly find in these pages are stories about life and/or death, with hair in all its physical manifestations as a recurring motif.

– Palesa Morudu

Photographs by Kirsten Arendse, Saaleha Idrees Bamjee, Nina Bekink, Noncedo Charmaine, Keran Elah, Retha Ferguson, Sue Greeff, Liesl Jobson, Simangele Kalisa, Andy Mkosi, Manyatsa Monyamane, Nick Mulgrew, Aniek Nieuwenhuis, Chris Snelling, Karina M. Szczurek, Lebogang Tlhako, Karina Turok, Michael Tymbios, Jasmin Valcarcel, Megan Voysey

“Enthralling. Excellent idea given rich life by sharp writing and exquisite images.”

– John Maytham

EDITORS: Joanne Hichens and Karina M. Szczurek

FOREWORD: Palesa Morudu

ISBN: 978-0-9946805-4-9

PUBLICATION DATE: September 2019

PUBLISHER: Tattoo Press

HAIR will be launched at the Open Book Festival on 7 September at the Fugard Studio, 20.00-21.00. Please join the editors and a few of the contributors for the occasion!

Hair invite FB

Our CapeTalk interview with Refilwe Moloto: HAIR