Monthly Archives: December 2014

Book mark: The Dig by Cynan Jones

The Dig_book markCynan Jones is a name to remember. The Dig is his fourth novel. It is an astounding piece of writing. Reading Jones one is reminded of the greats of English-language literature – Hemingway, Steinbeck or Virginia Woolf come to mind, each for different reasons. But Jones has a voice all his own. His prose is pure muscle and yet it conveys the most delicate of impressions and emotions. The Dig encompasses the best and worst of humanity. It tells the story of two men: a grieving Welsh sheep farmer and a brutal hunter involved in the illegal blood sport of badger baiting. The novel does not shy away from the horror of cruelty against animals, nor those moments which are unknowable, just before a life is extinguished. Yet it is most haunting when capturing what remains unsaid, as nature and life continue in the landscape of the human heart.

The Dig
by Cynan Jones
Granta, 2014

An edited version of this book mark was first published in the Cape Times on 5 December 2014.

Book mark: Unexpected Lessons in Love by Bernardine Bishop

Unexpected Lessons in Love_book markThe retired psychotherapist Cecilia and her novelist friend Helen are courageously battling cancer. The experience of undergoing a colostomy and living with a stoma binds them. Both are confronted with motherhood in the autumn of their lives: Cecilia, when her son Ian dumps a baby she had no idea existed on her doorstep, and Helen, when she receives a message from the daughter she’d given up for adoption in her twenties. They and their families discover that love has a way of finding you when you least expect it.

The same applies to Unexpected Lessons in Love. The book is that strange creature: a novel which is not exactly well written, clumsy and implausible at times, but one which has such irresistible charm that it is impossible not to love. Sadly, the author died of cancer around the time of publication.

Unexpected Lessons in Love
by Bernardine Bishop
John Murray, 2013

An edited version of this book mark appeared in the Cape Times on 5 December 2014.

5 December

The 5th of December has been very dear to my heart since 2004 when I went to the airport in Vienna to pick up an author invited to the “1st Joint Symposium: South Africa in Perspective” at the University of Salzburg which I’d helped organise. The encounter changed my life. The author was André Brink. We were married one-and-a-half years later in Cape Town, my home for the past nine years.

In 2007, on 9 October, André and I went to see Nelson Mandela at his home in Cape Town.
Madiba1
It was another defining moment of my life. Jakes Gerwel and Zelda la Grange were also present. In my notes after the meeting I wrote “very caring and supportive” of Ms La Grange. It was touching to see her interacting with Madiba. We brought books with us, both Madiba and Ms La Grange being avid readers. The talk evolved around Buckingham Palace, rugby, Lech Wałęsa, literature, and the past. Before we left, I held Madiba’s right hand in both of mine and said thank you with tears in my eyes (again now pressing for release years later, just remembering the moment). The stories people tell about being inspired, wanting to be a better person, of glowing for days after meeting Madiba are all true: that was the magic of his presence, a charisma like no other.

At the time, Madiba was in town to support his wife, Graça Machel. Their relationship testifies to the fact that it is never too late for love and one should never be afraid to reach out for it.
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Because Madiba died on the 5th of December a year ago, the personal joy of this particular day will forever be infused with a deep sadness for us. His inscription in our copy of Mandela: The Authorized Portrait (2006) will, however, always feel like a blessing.
Mandela the Authorized Portrait