Monthly Archives: June 2015

Book review: The Death’s Head Chess Club by John Donoghue

Deaths Head Chess ClubA friend has recently suggested that my reluctance to read Second World War novels might be similar to many South Africans’ reluctance to read apartheid fiction, and that saturation might be at the heart of it. True, having grown up in Poland and Austria, I have heard, seen and read plenty about the war – the stories as related by both sides. It is not that I shy away from the horror, even though after having visited the Mauthausen concentration camp as a teenager I was unable to accompany my husband when he wanted to see the concentration camp in Auschwitz (throughout, I sat very still in a coffee shop just outside and wept without going in). Imagination and empathy can be deadly for a soul. But I understand that these (hi)stories must be told and listened to. Today, in the midst of xenophobia, racism and violence, we need to grasp, perhaps even more than ever, what is at stake when we declare others as subhuman…

Continue reading: LitNet

The Death’s Head Chess Club
by John Donoghue
Atlantic Books, 2015

1 July: Talking love and loss with Réney Warrington at Love Books, Johannesburg

invite vir love books
Next week at Love Books in Johannesburg, I will have the pleasure of talking to the author and photographer Réney Warrington whose debut novel October (also published in Afrikaans as Oktober) was one of my favourite reads of last year. At the moment, Réney is also exhibiting at the Circa Gallery in Johannesburg. From the few glimpses I have had of it online, I can’t wait to see the entire exhibition.
Apart from sharing a publisher (Protea Book House), being debut novelists, and writing about sexuality and the trials and tribulations of relationships, Renéy and I have something in common which has resulted in a meaningful exchange of letters and messages in recent months: grief. We have both lost Loved Ones at the beginning of the year and are trying to find our feet in a reality completely changed by the experience.

A poem for my Vatko

Vatko i ja

Long, not long ago
the little piggy went to the market
with the help of your fingers;
through touch
you recited poetry to me for the first time.

Back then, I walked up the stairs by lift
woven from your strong arms,
on the staircase, step by step
the neighbours heard the echoes of my happiness.

When I would not behave
I stood in corners, getting wiser;
you counted obedience on your fingers,
taught me to reach out my hand in peace,
tighten it to a fist when necessary.

Childish miniature of an adult one:
yours big, mine small;
despite gender and generation difference
almost identical.

Yours marked by work, full of responsibility.
In hardened fingertips
the rhythm of life chiselled with grease.
Mine innocent, pink-soft,
An eina underneath the plaster on the middle finger.

You taught me to use a screwdriver,
to put nipples on spokes with skilled fingers.
You strongly held the seat of my yellow bike
before I rode away

Alone, all grown-up, into the big world;
in search of the piggy and my happiness.
When I want to be nearer to you
I cut my nails short and lay
my hand on invisible shadows.

Today my fingers, born of you, write poetry.

(Written for my Vatko’s 50th birthday a few years ago. Translated from Polish.)


cardiganTrying to describe it is like the task itself. Elusive, not part of your everyday vocabulary. You don’t really know how to begin until you hold the tools in your hands and rely on intuition and muscle memory to take over. I was thinking this while sewing the belt loop of my grey cardigan back on to its side. You take a needle and a thread, the cardigan and the loop. The scissors are on standby. You actually don’t know how it will work out until you proceed to pierce the wool with the needle. The loop is not only to be reattached. You do want it to look pretty.
Writing is like that. And my life right now. I have no clue what I am doing, but the stiches are pulling something together. I am darning holes, picking up loose ends. The needle in my heart hurts. I hate needles, but I am brave that way.