Monthly Archives: October 2018

Review: The History of Intimacy by Gabeba Baderoon

The History of IntimacyIt is heartening to see the proliferation of high quality poetry collections on the local literary scene, publishers like uHlanga Press, Modjaji Books, Protea Book House and Dryad Press leading the way. The history of intimacy by Gabeba Baderoon – “[a]n exquisite new collection from one of South Africa’s finest, most treasured poets”, according to Nadia Davids – is the only poetry volume published by Kwela Books this year, but one which is a most welcome addition to the plethora of distinguished South African poetic voices. It is Baderoon’s fourth after The dream in the next body (2005), The museum of ordinary life (2005) and A hundred silences (2006). She is also the author of the monograph Regarding Muslims: From slavery to post-apartheid (2014).

At the beginning of her literary career, Baderoon received the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry. The jury described her voice as being able to find “the poetic in the ordinary with a fine sense of locality and space”. They noted that Baderoon “weaves political and social issues into her poetry without sloganeering. Her work tackles a wide range of themes, astutely shifting the focus from the outside to the inside.” These remain her strengths as she takes us on a poetic journey of note in The history of intimacy.

The shift described above is beautifully captured in poems like “Axis and revolution” and “Stone skin”. In the former, we find the following lines: “In the door, I am a reflection/ on reflection, gleaming/ against the facing windows, seamless/ turning, turning// outside into inside, opening/ a dark glint of entry to your house./ Through glass skin,/ I am inside, invited in.” And in the latter: “In the castle the statues stiffen/ with perfection. Outside the stone walls/ the Senegalese immigrants hold out their hands/ full of roses and good fortune.” These “gestures”, we are told, “are not aesthetic, are not silent.” Only “the stone wall keeps in its place [at night]/ and outside, the silence, the growing silence”. Local history is encapsulated in the skin of stone, and the present moment of the foreign immigrants is alive in their skin and gestures of hope, commerce and exchange…

Continue reading: LitNet 

The History of Intimacy: Poems
by Gabeba Baderoon
Kwela, 2018

Review: The Death of Truth by Michiko Kakutani

mde“For journalists everywhere working to report the news”, says Michiko Kakutani’s dedication in her latest book, The Death of Truth, published only a few weeks ago. The Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic started her journalism career at The Washington Post, the newspaper that Jamal Khashoggi was writing for at the time of his brutal murder earlier this month.

Telling truth to power can be lethal. Murder is the most blatant tool in the constant onslaught on truth we witness around the world. “Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the twentieth century, and both were predicated upon the violation and despoiling of truth, upon the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power”, writes Kakutani in her introduction to The Death of Truth. She proceeds to “examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the very value of truth, and what that means for America and the world” in the present moment. It is essential reading.

Kakutani looks at the impact of postmodernism on our understanding of culture, history and science, and traces why “objectivity – or even the idea that people can aspire towards the best available truth – has been falling out of favour.” She turns to current events and literature to show why facts and integrity – and the courage to fight for both – are of utmost importance, why we must do everything we can to revive truth and rescue it from the jaws of decay.

The Death of Truth is simultaneously a chilling and inspiring read. Kakutani states: “I believe in being truthful, not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalizing the truth.”

The Death of Truth

by Michiko Kakutani

William Collins, 2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 26 October 2018.

Review: The House with the Stained-Glass Window by Żanna Słoniowska

The House with the Stained-Glass WindowThe city is Lviv. The house with the stained-glass window is an architectural treasure. The four generations of women living in it are steeped in the setting’s rich and deeply troubled history. And so begins Żanna Słoniowska’s magnetic debut novel. Ukrainian-born, Słoniowska has settled in Cracow, Poland, and published The House with the Stained-Glass Window in Polish. It won the esteemed Znak Publishers’ Literary Prize and the Conrad Prize for first novels. It was shortlisted for Poland’s most prestigious literary award, the Nike (not to be confused with the sports brand), a respected recognition. Translated seamlessly into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, the book is one of those historical novels that manages to encapsulate a century of socio-political hopes and upheavals in Ukraine’s most famous city by portraying the private and intimate lives of a single family, specifically the women who shaped its core.

“I remember that on that particular day Great-Granma was ‘having hysterics’, in other words lying in bed and loudly sobbing”, her great-granddaughter, our narrator tells us. “Days like this occurred since time began, and weren’t necessarily proceeded by any kind of nasty incident. ‘It’s to do with the past,’ Aba would explain… I imagined ‘the past’ as uncontrollable, intermittent blubbering.”

Aba remembers how Great-Granma’s husband, her father, was one of the “people who started to vanish from the flats in our house”. She was awake when they came for her Papa: “He kissed me goodbye, and said it was an error, he’d be back soon, while two men stood waiting for him in the doorway. I never saw him again,” Aba recalls and her granddaughter knows exactly what it means to lose a parent to historical forces. Her mother, Aba’s daughter, the renowned opera singer Marianna is assassinated.

The novel opens with her final moments: “On the day of her death, her voice rang out, drowning many other, raucous sounds. Yet death, her death, was not a sound, but a colour. They brought her body home wrapped in a large, blue-and-yellow flag – the flag of a country that did not yet exist on any map of the world.” But it soon would, the country that we know today as Ukraine, in which Marianna’s daughter tries to carve out a space for herself.

The young woman’s intuition tells her “to be beware of people who can change your memories.” One of them is Mykola, her mother’s married lover with whom she, too, begins an affair after Marianna’s death.

Słoniowska is a noteworthy storyteller with the remarkable ability to evoke an entire era with a few simple images. The Lviv of her narration – “this city, worn out by history” –becomes the fifth main character of the book, along with the women who make it their own despite the demanding circumstances they face. The English translator provides us with a short, useful introductory note on the history of the region to familiarise the reader with the broader context. The House with the Stained-Glass Window is beautiful and announces a great talent on the international literary scene.

The House with the Stained-Glass Window

by Żanna Słoniowska

Maclehose Press Editions, 2017

Review first published in the Cape Times on 19 October 2018.

A Conversation with Leila Henriques

Sarafina Magazine

Leila Henriques is an actor, writer, director and teacher. As an actress, she has starred in more than 30 productions. Some of her select stage credits include: Hedda GablerThe Something Prince, YermaRed Shoes and The List. She has taught acting at various academic institutions across South Africa including Wits, AFDA and The Market Theatre Lab. Together with Irene Stephanou, she wrote the book The World in an Orange –exploring the work of Barney Simon published by Jacana, which was shortlisted for the Alan Paton award. Following a successful run at Woordfees earlier this year, she is currently starring in Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class directed by Sylvaine Strike at the Baxter Theatre

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