Author Archives: Karina

About Karina

Author living in Cape Town.

Richard III at Maynardville

btrmdn

Literature in motion; an art form difficult to resist. I could never imagine being on stage, but I love sitting in the audience, suspending my disbelief, living and breathing the action unfolding before my eyes.

Theatre.

I prefer sitting in the first row. Small venues are my favourite. Done well, it is pure magic. It transforms.

I go regularly, often twice or thrice to see the same performance – to relive the wonder. I study the texts at home. Not many enjoy reading plays; I delight in them.

A while back, I wrote one. It even won an award. The prize money bought me a gorgeous, wine-red quilt. Last night, I was tempted to take it with me to Maynardville to the opening of Richard III, with Alan Committie in the main role. But the action-packed play and a Shiraz in the interval kept me all cosy and warm.

‘Why, I can smile, and murder while I smile…’

And he does. Smile, murder, seduce. Vanquish. Fall. The vicious circles of power.

The open-air theatre is the perfect setting for the play, the southeaster a willing contributor with uncanny timing. Tall trees haunt the stage. The simple props and the understated elegance of the costume design enhance the superb performances of the entire cast.

Cassandra Mapanda as Queen Elizabeth stood out for me. A true royal presence on stage. But nobody and nothing disappointed.

Shakespeare has never been easy for me. And Richard III was new despite my education and love for the theatre. Yet I never felt lost. As one head after another is impaled and hearts are conquered and torn apart, we are transported into the distant past that has a lot to teach us about our own times, our greed and disenchantment.

I will see it again before the run is over.

Richard III is on until 9 March; Wednesday to Saturday, at 8.15pm. Don’t miss it!

 

Announcing: The Philida Literary Award

978-0-345-80503-4

Today is the fourth anniversary of André Brink’s death. As we – his readers and loved ones – remember André, I would like to share the news that from next year on there will be a literary award given in André’s honour. The award will be named after a historical figure, the slave woman Philida van de Caab who entered the archival records because of laying an official complaint against her masters, Francois and Cornelius Brink, distant relatives of André’s. She became the protagonist of André’s last published novel, Philida (2012). André’s rendition of her courage and resilience continues to inspire me – and many others – as a woman and a writer.

As I wrote in the Note on my latest publication, You Make Me Possible: The Love Letter of Karina M. Szczurek and André Brink (Protea Book House, 2018), with André’s encouragement and support I was able to acknowledge the fact that I was a writer and that this would be forever my way of being in the world. He was an inspiration to many other writers and he was always generous with his time and expertise in furthering the literary careers of others. It is therefore my wish to establish The Philida Literary Award with the royalties from You Make Me Possible.

The Philida Literary Award will be awarded to a writer mid-career for an oeuvre of between three to five books of any genre. The idea behind the recognition is to acknowledge an author with a consistent record of publishing works of excellence and to encourage them further in their pursuit of a literary career. The award ceremony will take place annually on the anniversary of André’s death, 6 February, starting with the fifth anniversary in 2020. Thus, locally, it will be the first literary award given every year.

Four other judges who are immersed in the local literary community will join me each year in choosing a worthy winner. Each winner will be given an award certificate and an amount of money that will be at first determined by the royalties, and in future on funding which is in the process of being secured.

Picture above: Fragment from the cover illustration of Philida by Joe McLaren.

Thank you to Rachel Zadok, the founder of Short Story Day Africa, for inspiring the ideas behind the criteria of the award.

Review: Somewhere in Between by Niki Malherbe

Somewhere in BetweenHow to be a feminist? What does it mean to be a good parent, especially a good mother? What is success? What is justice and how does it relate to ethics? How can reading and writing help with the answers to these, and other, vital questions? Somewhere in Between is Niki Malherbe’s attempt at resolving some of these conundrums in the context of her own life. She dedicates her book “To all women who try hard to get the balance right and all the men who do too”.

Malherbe is also the author of From Courtrooms to Cupcakes. In Somewhere in Between, she continues the themes of her debut, trying to reconcile her private and professional aspirations. Her background is in law. She is a wife and a mother of four. Writing is her enduring passion. She is an avid reader, and it is the writers who intrigue her, along with her family’s experiences, that fuel her literary pursuits. Somewhere in Between is part diary, part memoir, part essay; throughout, Malherbe comments on the authors she turns to when seeking guidance or comfort. Writing a book is like having a relative in jail, she says: “You don’t want to admit it but it’s very tricky to hide.”

Oscar Pistorius is no relation to the author, but she is writing at the time of his trial. As she watches the proceedings, she approaches the case not only through the lens of her legal training and feminism, but also from the perspective of a mother.

Malherbe tries to narrow and unpick the ambiguities she encounters on her path. Like most of us, she has her blind spots: occasionally dismissing her own writing as “frivolous” and her thinking as “trivial” – whereas she wants to and should be taken seriously; or, probably unconsciously, using terminology that undermines her feminist perspective; and often leaving the women who, willingly or not, never become mothers out of her considerations. However, to her credit, she does not settle for any easy, sloppy answer. And, many of the conflicts she describes remain unresolved, despite her attempt to tackle them head-on. For some, only approximations are possible; there simply are no straightforward solutions.

There were moments in the book where I wished Malherbe had dared more, especially when the narrative becomes self-reflective, but what she already reveals – especially her doubts, anxiety and envy – is extremely courageous and her pursuit of truth and understanding deserves not only applause but close examination. Somewhere in Between opens up many conversations we could all profit from taking further. Along with Mary Pipher, Malherbe believes that: “Using words, writers have the opportunity to bring justice and make their own mark on the world.” That is the incalculable power of storytelling and we can do much worse than endeavour to make sense of the world and find what gives meaning to our existence.

Somewhere in Between

by Niki Malherbe

2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 1 February 2019.

Review: These Bones Will Rise Again by Panashe Chigumadzi

these bones will rise againIn November 2017, the “coup that was not a coup” in Zimbabwe held the world’s attention as the seemingly impossible became reality: after decades of rule, Robert Mugabe was ousted from power. These Bones Will Rise Again by Zimbabwean-born journalist and novelist, Panashe Chigumadzi, is an incisive exploration of these events and the author’s personal response to the historical moment as it unfolds as well as the past that shaped it: “The struggles over history are complex, because the present continuously slips into the past, marking history as always ambivalent, incomplete, a work in progress.”

Chigumadzi interrogates the way we remember. She is acutely aware of language and storytelling as a way of preserving memory and belonging. “In search of those answers, I must lower my eyes from the heights of Big Men who have created a history that does not know little people, let alone little women, except as cannon fodder”, she writes and decides to listen closely to what the bones of her female ancestors have to tell and teach her about her own life and that of an entire nation.

Reading other black women, she confronts “the unflinching stories of our mothers and grandmothers and aunts and sisters” and wonders for the first time “what did it mean for a black woman to be in my grandmother’s time?” She interviews the women in her family who are still alive and mourns the ones who had passed away too soon. Those who “refused their place in time” are returned to history.

Growing up between Zimbabwe and South Africa offers Chigumadzi a fascinating perspective. I am writing this review during the social media shutdown in Zimbabwe. It is voices like Chigumadzi’s that guide us through times of uncertainty. These Bones Will Rise Again is an inspiration.

These Bones Will Rise Again

by Panashe Chigumadzi

Jacana, 2018

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

Review: Vintage Love and Other Essays by Jolyon Nuttall

vintage loveA few years ago, after the death of his wife, Jolyon Nuttall joined his daughter and her family during a work visit at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. There, in a bookshop, he rediscovered the essay as a literary form and specifically fell under the spell of George Orwell’s essayistic endeavours. A newspaper man through and through, Nuttall has made a life out of words, as a journalist and a media manager. Retired now, he decided to turn to “episodes in my life that stand out in memory” and explore his past through the medium of the essay.

The resulting collection, Vintage Love and Other Essays, elegantly published in a hardcover edition by Jacana, tells a few key episodes in a rich life of growing up during the turbulent time in South Africa’s more recent history, of travel and intellectual exchange, of managing some of the most influential local media, and of trying to pick up the pieces after a great loss. As a literary scholar, I found Nuttall’s recollections of the two famous writers, Alan Paton and Lewis Nkosi, particularly intriguing.

“Writing these essays has helped enormously to reintegrate myself into my life as a whole from childhood through adulthood towards old age”, says Nuttall. The experience filled him “at times with a headiness that is light-hearted.” Vintage Love captures the essence of a life well lived and exude a calm that is rare in South African life writing.

Vintage Love and Other Essays

by Jolyon Nuttall

Jacana, 2018

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

Review: Intruders by Mohale Mashigo

intrudersMohale Mashigo is a well-known musician who debuted two years ago as an author with the best-selling and award-wining novel, The Yearning. Since then, she has adapted a movie for a young adult novel, Beyond the River, and co-written comic books for the Kwezi series. Intruders is her first short story collection.

In her author’s note, Mashigo dedicates the stories “for the weird, the wonderful … and us, who never see ourselves in the stars but die in seas searching for them.” Before we are allowed to jump into the extraordinary stories of this volume, Mashigo offers us a thought-provoking essay on Afrofuturism: “What I want for Africans living in Africa is to imagine a future in their storytelling that deals with issues that are unique to us”, she writes and encourages writers on the continent to engage in a “project that predicts (it is fiction after all) Africa’s future ‘post-colonialism’; this will be divergent for each country on the continent because colonialism (and apartheid) affected us in unique (but sometimes similar) ways.”

Mashigo’s own stories shine the light as she lets her imagination explore these future territories. A young woman has to deal with the consequences of her actions when she discovers her family’s legacy and their connection to the sea in Manoka. A mother disappears and leaves a long letter with instructions for her fifteen-year-old child to follow into safety and to find family members who will be able to assist with her own challenging inheritance in Nthatisi. When people’s hearts are extracted and those responsible are burned by vigilantes, Koketso tries to save his friend Steven against all odds in Ghost Strain N. Café Ferdi in The Palermo is a place where you agree to having your memories stolen when you enter: “The only way to access those memories was to come back and have them play out like a movie in front of you.” Two orphans hunt monsters in BnB in Bloem and a woman kills a man with her shoe and grows wings in The High Heel Killer. An unlikely couple set up a home in an abandoned zoo with guinea fowls and pigs in Once Upon a Town. The three stories Untitled I to III take more unexpected twists and turns.

Synonyms for ‘intruders’ are listed at the back of the collection’s cover: “trespassers, interlopers, invaders, prowlers, infiltrators, encroachers, violators” – the characters in Mashigo’s stories are all of these and more. They might be werewolves, mermaids, apocalypse survivors or vampires, but they also feel familiar as their author taps into emotional worlds which are common to most of us.

Intruders is story-telling at its most eclectic: Mashigo challenges us to be “fantastical” – as in “conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination; odd and remarkable; bizarre; grotesque” – and “to remain true to ourselves.” The resulting collection lives up to its remarkable promise.

Intruders

by Mohale Mashigo

Picador Africa, 2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 4 January 2019.

Review: The Lion’s Binding Oath and Other Stories by Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

btrhdrWritten over many years, the short stories included in Ahmed Ismail Yusuf’s debut collection have a mythical quality to them and tell a tale of a people searching to find peace in a time of turmoil. Yusuf grew up as a nomad in his native Somalia and relocated to the United States where he still lives and where he discovered his love for books and storytelling.

Set during the years preceding and spanning the civil war in Somalia, the individual stories in The Lion’s Binding Oath and Other Stories are deceptively simple in structure, but read together as a whole, they reveal a rich mosaic of voices and lives that are at once of a different time and place and yet strikingly familiar.

The opening story, A Slow Moving Night, explores the ties of a rural family through the eyes of a boy shepherd. The five stories of The Mayxaano Chronicles focus on the life and influence of a remarkable woman in the time of war and peace. Old legends allow a young man to survive hardship and find a way back to his people in the titular story.

Broad socio-political and religious themes form the background to Yusuf’s stories about ordinary people who would otherwise remain anonymous in official histories. It is exciting that, among a growing list of other intriguing title from across the continent, the American Catalyst Press is now making these stories available to our local reading public in The Lion’s Binding Oath and Other Stories.

The Lion’s Binding Oath and Other Stories

by Ahmed Ismail Yusuf

Catalyst Press, 2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 28 December 2018.

Literary dreaming: A visit on board of Queen Elizabeth II

btrhdrI have only done it once. On the Hurtigruten’s Trollfjord many, many years ago. It was spectacular – the fjords, the North Pole, the Northern Lights. A few hundred members of the Norwegian Book Club and many Norwegian and international writers were on board. A dream cruise for any literature lover.

Since that bookish adventure on the Trollfjord, however, I have never really considered going on another ship cruise. After reading Sarah Lotz’s Day Four, I gave up on the idea altogether. For a while, I was intrigued by the possibility of travelling as a passenger on a cargo ship, but then I watched the silver screen version of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and decided to abandon that idea, too. Yet, somewhere, somehow, a vague dream persisted of a week or two of uninterrupted plain sailing across the globe’s oceans, of sipping piña coladas next to a pool, of writing and reading the days away on deck, and of watching spectacular sunsets before retiring for a night of midnight blue solitude that a ship cabin with a view can offer.

btr

And then, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II sailed into Cape Town’s arms and reawakened these subliminal longings. I had the opportunity to go on board with CapeTalk’s broadcasting team and was enchanted.

If you have never sailed on one of these ships before, it is difficult to imagine what to expect. During CapeTalk’s special outdoor broadcast, John Maytham interviewed Nikki van Biljon, the events manager of the luxurious ship, about her job and its joys and challenges. Listening, I remembered J.M. Coetzee’s descriptions of an author’s life on board of such a cruise in his Elizabeth Costello. A series of lectures or readings with captivated and appreciative passenger audiences would appeal to me as a writer, I think.

btr

I was definitely thrilled to discover Susan Fletcher, one of my favourite authors, in the Library on board of Queen Elizabeth II. Her latest, House of Glass, is also already on my bookshelf and I look forward to reading it in the near future.

the last hurrahI recently read Graham Viney’s marvellous book, The Last Hurrah: The 1947 Royal Tour of Southern Africa and the End of Empire, and while boarding the ship named after one of the 1947 tour’s main royal guests, I recalled the evocative way Viney had described the approach of the ship that carried the royal family into Cape Town’s harbour in 1947.

Viney also records Princess Elizabeth’s reaction on first seeing the Mother City: ‘It was a wonderful day as we approached Cape Town and when I caught my first glimpse of Table Mountain I could hardly believe that anything could be so beautiful.’

fbtThe ship named after now Queen Elizabeth impresses with its elegant interiors, an old-world charm that is irresistible to hopeless romantics like myself. You enter the main hall and cannot help thinking of similar scenes from the movie Titanic – the opulence and the beauty, the promise of an adventure (before the encounter with The Iceberg, of course). The live harp music started playing just after six pm, in time for dinner. Luckily, nobody was sinking. I did not count the restaurants and bars on board, but there seemed to be many, something for every taste.

I painted my nails pale blue, wore my dark blue princess dress and perfume, and felt unusually glamorous.

fbtA selfie with the Queen seemed compulsory. She celebrated her twenty-first birthday during that famous tour of 1947. In a few days, I will be twice her age of the time. The average on board of the QEII is probably thrice as much or even more, so maybe a sea voyage like this should wait for a while yet. But ever since visiting the ship, I have been fantasising about sailing for two or three weeks, a stranger among strangers, and writing, writing, writing. With no everyday distractions, and only the sea as my companion, I could probably have a rough draft of a novel at the end of such an expedition. The mere possibility is incredibly tempting…

So while I dream on, here is my review (first published in the Sunday Times on 23 December 2018) of Graham Viney’s book:

The monarchy is not my cup of tea, thus I was rather surprised how thoroughly Graham Viney’s The Last Hurrah had charmed me. Talking about the book to other readers, it has also been intriguing to discover how firmly this particular historical moment is lodged in the psyche of the country, no matter where you or your family stood on the broad spectrum of local politics of the era. Viney’s portrayal of the complex time before the infamous elections of 1948, and the role the royal visit played in it, brings the bygone days with all their vibrant possibilities and uncertainties to life. There is a strong sense that it all could have turned out differently. It is a dizzying thought which should not be underestimated, especially at present, when South Africa is once again transitioning before a potentially monumental election and so much could be at stake.

Viney writes with flair. His is a strikingly literary tour of the British royal family’s grand visit to South Africa as he puts his readers in the front seat, or rather in the main carriages, of the White Train that transported the distinguished guests over vast distances around the country from February to April 1947. Viney asks us “to conjure up the pervading smells of heat and dust, of acrid railway-engine smoke and cinders, of eucalyptus and pepper trees, of Yardley’s Lavender and the friendly tang of the Indian Ocean on a summer’s morning”, among a list of other sensations that his evocative descriptions capture for us to enjoy. They allow a total immersion into the past, akin to time travel.

“I could hardly believe that anything could be so beautiful”, wrote Princess Elizabeth after her first sighting of Table Mountain. Up close, we witness the royals arriving in Cape Town by ship, trekking across this part of the continent as far as Victoria Falls and Durban, and stopping along the way wherever people gathered to welcome them. It was a spectacle like no other. “‘We have to be seen to be believed’ is an oft-repeated adage of the Royal Family,” as Viney reminds us. Anyone who’d followed the most recent royal wedding in Britain might understand how everywhere the royal family appeared at the time (long before television and the internet), people of all races and creeds flocked to see them. The visit provided rare opportunities “in the context of the segregated society” when all people could still come together to participate in some of the events scheduled.

Viney records the triumphs and tribulations of the journey, including the King’s Opening of Parliament and, “to the astonishment of everyone”, his few lines in Afrikaans; the slight caused by the royal itinerary which allocated only two days of their time to Johannesburg; the Ngoma Nkosi at Eshowe; the tea the royal family had with Mrs Smuts and other guests who were secretly in attendance; as well as “the climax of the tour” – Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday celebrations and her moving speech which was broadcast worldwide to around 200 million people.

The book is richly illustrated and includes never before published photographs. Viney’s meticulous research and fluent prose result in a full-bodied portrait of the royal tour, its charged politics and all the major players involved, each with his or her own agenda. However, his narration is never bogged down by unnecessary details as he sweeps us along on this remarkable trip, when “for one brief shining moment much of South Africa had put their best foot forward and pulled together.”

btr

You Make Me Possible at the Woordfees

wf_2019-4

One of my favourite events of the year opens the literary festival season and I am really looking forward to speaking about You Make Me Possible at the Woordfees with Kerneels Breytenbach on 6 March 2019, at 12:00, in the ATKV Boektent.

OUR LOVE LETTER

YMMP_cover

Karina Szczurek, in gesprek met Kerneels Breytenbach

 Aangebied deur Protea Boekhuis

Haar man het haar met briewe die hof gemaak, vertel Karina Szczurek van die skrywer André P. Brink, met wie sy ’n dekade getroud was. Nou is dié briefwisseling sedert hulle ontmoeting in Desember 2004 in Oostenryk deur Karina gebundel as laaste liefdestaak teenoor André. You Make Me Possible begin in die roes van die ontdekking van ’n geesgenoot, dokumenteer die brose begin van ’n byna onmoontlike verhouding, en daarna die verdieping daarvan tot ’n volwasse verhouding in ’n nuwe wereld van saamwees en erkenning. Kerneels Breytenbach vra haar uit.

6 Maart 12:00

60 min | ATKV Boektent

R55 | R70 by die deur

You Make Me Possible at the KKNK

The KKNK is turning 25 this year and it is my great pleasure to be part of the writers’ programme at the festival.

kknk2019

“Die KKNK bied hope geleenthede om die room van die Suid-Afrikaanse kunste in verskeie genres, dissiplines en vorms te beleef. Vermaak vir oud en jonk word met ’n program propvol drama, humor, musiek, diskoers en vermaak aangebied. Die fees gee aanleiding tot die skep van nuwe materiaal soos toneelstukke wat spesiaal vir die KKNK geskryf word en jaarliks word die topkunstenaars en-produksies by die Fees vereer met Kanna-toekennings.”

YMMP_cover

YOU MAKE ME POSSIBLE: THE LOVE LETTERS OF KARINA M. SZCZUREK & ANDRÉ BRINK

MET Karina Szczurek en Erns Grundling (gespreksleier)

Novelist André Brink married Karina Szczurek when he was 71 and she was 29. They were together for ten years before he died on a plane, beside her, high above Africa in February 2015.

Selected and edited by Karina M. Szczurek, the love letters between herself and André included in You Make Me Possible tell in detail the story of how they met in Austria in December 2004, fell in love, and decided to forge a future together. The intense correspondence which followed in the weeks after their fateful encounter recounts their courtship in words, revealing their initially unacknowledged attraction, their fears and longings, and writing a new world of recognition and togetherness into being. The letters chronicle the time between their first meeting and Karina’s decision to relocate to South Africa to be with André in 2005 – a relationship which lasted until his death in 2015.

Engels | Gesin | 60 min

22 Maart 15:30