Author Archives: Karina

About Karina

Author living in Cape Town.

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.

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“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.”

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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

 

Being a cat

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In the Acknowledgements of my novel, Invisible Others, I wrote: ‘My furry family, Glinka, Salieri and Mozart, true experts at life, keep trying to teach me how to make the most of it; I hope they will succeed one day.’ It is four years later, but no matter how desirable, being a cat is not an easy task. I might, however, be closer than ever. ‘Your immediate goal is to be a cat’, writes Jaron Lanier in the introduction to his Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), a book that is, despite its title, ‘about how to be a cat.’

‘Cats have done the seemingly impossible: They’ve integrated themselves into the modern high-tech world without giving themselves up. They are still in charge. There is no worry that some stealthy meme crafted by an algorithm and paid for by a creepy, hidden oligarch has taken over your cat. No one has taken over your cat; not you, not anyone… Cats on the internet are our hopes and dreams for the future of people on the internet’, says Lanier. And he should know, not only as a Silicon Valley insider, but as someone who shares his life with cats – Loof, Potato, Tuno and Starlight – who taught Lanier ‘how not to be domesticated’.

Books, like cats, have the ability to change lives. I read Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now over the festive season and it did exactly that: changed my life. I haven’t deleted the only social media account I have (yet?); that, too, is ‘part of your prerogative, being a cat’, as Lanier emphasises. But I did decide to change the way I interact with social media.

The problem with social media that Lanier identifies – ‘relentless, robotic, ultimately meaningless behaviour modification in the service of unseen manipulators and uncaring algorithms’ – is, of course, something that many of us have been aware of for quite a while. But it was ultimately his book that encouraged me to do something against it in my own private capacity. I am tired of the exploitative, manipulative, addictive, artificial, often toxic and aggressive, nature of social media. It seems that no matter how much you try to curate your experience, there is no way of avoiding all the negative side effects of engaging with the diverse platforms. There are just so many accounts that you can block without feeling that you are totally wasting your time and could invest it in something much more creative and positive, something that perhaps you yourself – and not some ruthless, greedy company – can profit from, if not exactly financially, then definitely intellectually and emotionally. It’s time to ‘detach from the behaviour-modification empires for a while’, as Lanier says.

‘Go to where you are kindest,’ he suggests, and it resonates with me deeply. Kindness is essential to my survival. It is kindness that has carried me to safety across the roughest storms of my life, and there have been way too many in recent years. I want kindness and calm in my life, and cats and books. That is what makes me happy, what makes life worthwhile for me.

What has changed? Nothing drastic. I stopped tweeting on 31 December. Mid-January, I am still missing it sometimes (it is addictive, after all), especially the interaction with friends and followers I truly care about but, mostly, I feel a lot of relief. I still look at notifications every now and then and acknowledge the ones which I would have in the past, and I use DMs to communicate with a few people, but I completely ignore my timeline. Many social media accounts are of interest to me, but I look at them directly when I feel like it. Basically, I shifted from an active participant to a passive observer. I want to give it a few months to see how I will feel about it all later in the year.

It is amazing how much time I save every day by not engaging with social media. And I decided to use that time for creativity. As Lanier says, the internet is not the problem, the problem is how we use it and how it is being used against us. Producing and sharing creative content about topics I am passionate about, that I or others can also profit from – directly or indirectly (from the exchange of ideas or book sales, for example) – feels right. It is crucial to consider, in Lanier’s words, ‘sustainable, dignified business models’ where a transaction between two parties does not have to go through a third one ‘who is paying to manipulate them.’ Lanier asks for social media that he can pay for, and where he can ‘unambiguously own and set the price for using my data, and it’s easy and normal to earn money if my data is valuable.’ I like that idea very much.

Lanier asks, ‘What if listening to an inner voice or heeding a passion for ethics or beauty were to lead to more important work in the long term, even if it measured as less successful in the moment? What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?’

What if? Indeed.

I upgraded my blog, so that it does not feature any ads I cannot control; I love the new, clean look which is focused on my – personally chosen – content. The costs involved were minimal in comparison to the benefits.

I decided to choose my online news and entertainment sources directly and to pay for content I find valuable. Well-researched, -considered, -written and -presented content costs money to produce and I want its creators to be well-paid for their intellectual and creative work. Quality, not quantity – that’s what I seek.

The word ‘content’ itself deserves more attention. I find it problematic, but that’s a thought that needs further consideration.

I love paper and never read e-books if I can help it. Reading print media of diverse nature during the festive season made me remember how good it feels to lie next to the pool and turn the pages of an informative, fun magazine. I want more of that in my life again, too.

There is a wonderful passage about writing in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. It turns a premise writers live by on its head: ‘You can’t read well until you can write at least a little’, claims the author, and continues, ‘The reason we teach writing to students is not in the hopes that they’ll become professional writers… Instead, we hope they’ll learn what it means to write, and to think, which will make them more thoughtful when they read.’ And he adds, challenging us: ‘You can’t use the internet well until you’ve confronted it on your own terms, at least for a while. This is for your integrity, not just for saving the world.’

Integrity, like kindness, deserves to be cultivated with the utmost care.

Finally, I find Lanier’s description of certain questions as ‘tender’ beautiful. Let’s ask more of those ‘tender questions’ together.

Empathy is the fuel that runs a decent society.’

— Jaron Lanier

(PS I tweeted the link to this post and pinned it to my timeline as a way of explaining my disappearance from Twitter; my friends have been asking whether everything was all right. It is. Thank you for caring!)

Stephen Johnson – a tribute

Stephen Johnson was one of the first people my late husband André Brink introduced me to when I made Cape Town my permanent home. He was André’s publisher, advisor and, along with Kerneels Breytenbach, a trustee of The André P. Brink Literary Trust from the time it was established in 2003. Above all, Stephen was a friend André cherished and trusted.

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In the past four years since André’s death in February 2015, I had the exceptional privilege of working along Stephen, Kerneels and André’s son Gustav Brink as one of the trustees of André’s Literary Trust. Stephen’s input has been essential to all our decisions and he will be greatly missed in this capacity.

Stephen and I were never personally close, but in my dealings with him, I admired his erudition, his impeccable taste, his love for the written word and the objects which contain it, and his integrity. Seeing Stephen handle a beautiful book and hearing him talk about the writing he admired was pure pleasure. He was an extraordinary, perceptive reader. I remember his eloquence and his voice, both magnificent. He was an old-school publisher – he knew and cared about his writers and befriended many. To him, publishing was an art form as described by another illustrious contributor to this field, the Italian publisher Roberto Calasso. Stephen recognised and revered true talent and treated his authors like royalty. He saw us primarily as creative beings, not only as potential goldmines to be exploited. Expertise, imagination, loyalty and empathy were the cornerstones of his achievements.

It was Stephen who gave me my publishing break when he took on the project which resulted in Touch: Stories of Contact, my first major publication as an editor ten years ago. And more recently, he was one of the people who had helped me navigate the rough waters of a storm I had feared might end my publishing career for good. It is now two published books later and I feel that I have arrived in a safe harbour. I owe a lot of that safety to his wisdom and guidance.

Professionally and personally, we lost a fine man. Whenever we corresponded, he signed his letters with ‘fond regards’ and I associate the phrase with him. His last communications came through on 29 December, one of them also signed thus. I will remember him with the fondest of regards and would like to offer my condolences to all his loved ones as well as the people who were substantially enriched by his presence in their lives. May he rest in peace.

What is Up Lit?

Kate Mallinder - a writer's blog...

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about Up Lit at the Society of Young Publishers’ annual conference. With me on the panel were Lisa Highton from Two Roads, publisher of The Keeper of Lost Things and Martha Ashby, editorial director of Harper Fiction, but specifically in this case, editor of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It was a fascinating session, so here is what was said about this relatively new genre of ‘Up Lit’.

 

What is Up Lit?

Highton commented that the term Up Lit was first coined about 18 months ago in a Guardian article talking about books with kindness at their centre. Ashby added that these books aren’t saccharine however – they deal with some big life issues; mental illness, loss, grief. But this is where it differs from other stories tackling similar themes; these books have a strong sense of community…

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Review: Call Them by Their True Names – American Crises (and Essays) by Rebecca Solnit

Call Them by Their True NamesThe importance of truth and the careful use of language cannot be underestimated. “Precision, accuracy, and clarity matter, as gestures of respect toward those to whom you speak; toward the subject, whether it’s an individual or the earth itself; toward the historical record. It’s also a kind of self-respect”, writes the award-winning author and intellectual Rebecca Solnit in her latest collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names. The individual pieces draw our attention to the roots of the present crises facing America and beyond: the infamous election of 2016, inequality, and climate change.

“Sometimes the state of our union seems like an absurdist thriller film that we would not have believed was possible, let alone likely, let alone real, had we been told about it a couple of years ago.” Unfortunately, current reality cannot be simply switched off. Creative effort is required to stop the rot.

Solnit considers “the act of naming as diagnosis”. She is very much aware that by diagnosing a “grim” situation, you will not necessarily be able to change or solve it, but “you’re far better equipped to know what to do about it.” Also, any “revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.”

In her usual fashion, Solnit’s astute analysis galvanises readers into action and supplies us with hope. We need to return to that state of affairs “in which you are, as the saying goes, as good as your word.” Addressing such diverse topics as isolation, cynicism, rage, activism, gentrification, violence, homelessness, revisionism, journalism, and the justice system, Solnit shows how not to remain passive, but to fight for what we believe in and are passionate about. With its integrity and clarity, Solnit’s writing is, as always, exhilarating.

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

by Rebecca Solnit

Granta, 2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 2 November 2018.

Review: Packing My Library – An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manguel

Manguel.indd“Loss helps you remember, and loss of a library helps you remember who you truly are”, writes the remarkable Argentine-Canadian wordsmith, Alberto Manguel. Nine years ago, I had the great fortune of spending an afternoon in his company. It was just after a visit to the special collection of a library in the French province of Champagne where I had seen manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The librarian responsible for them handled the treasures in white cotton gloves and, for understandable reasons, would not allow anyone else to touch them. Still spellbound, I told Mr Manguel of the encounter with the precious books and how much I had longed to touch their pages. That is when I found out about his own famous library, located in the home he shared with his partner near Paris, and containing thousands of books, some as ancient and unique as the ones I had seen. And in his kindness, he said that if I ever came to visit, he would allow me to hold these books in my hands.

Sadly, I never had the opportunity to take him up on this generous offer, but the dream remained with me until I read Packing My Library, Alberto Manguel’s farewell to the library he told me about, an extraordinary collection of thirty-five thousand books “housed in an old stone presbytery south of the Loire Valley, in a quiet village of fewer than ten houses.” He doesn’t go into details why the home – and the library – had to be packed up in 2015, but the experience had been clearly traumatic. To adapt an African proverb: When an old library dies, a man burns to the ground.

“I’ve often felt that my library explained who I was, gave me a shifting self that transformed itself constantly throughout the years.” With the help of friends, the books are catalogued and put into boxes before being shipped to Canada. Packing My Library is, as the subtitle suggest, a lament for the absent books and the lost space where they had come to rest for many years, where the author “never felt alone”. Manguel recalls how the library took shape throughout his nomadic life, how individual titles became part of the collection and how they influenced the author’s reflections. The digressions of the subtitle are short pieces on topics as diverse as literary creation, revenge and Jorge Luis Borges, the writer who at one stage of his life became the director of the National Library of Argentina, a post now occupied by Manguel.

Most known for his outstanding A History of Reading, Manguel has been sharing his love of language and reading with us for decades. Packing My Library is a touching tribute, an obituary to a self formed and informed by a library now dormant until – hopefully – its next “unpacking”.

Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

by Alberto Manguel

Yale University Press, 2018

Review first published in the Cape Times on 2 November 2018.

Review: Postcolonial Poetics – 21st-century Critical Readings by Elleke Boehmer

Postcolonial PoeticsIt is nearly impossible to know where to start when writing about postcolonial studies. This vast field of inquiry has influenced diverse schools of thought and disciplines all over the world. One of its leading scholars in the literature corner is Elleke Boehmer, the author of such seminal works as Colonial and postcolonial literature: Migrant metaphors (1995; expanded edition, 2005), Empire, the national, and the postcolonial, 1890–1920: Resistance in interaction (2002) and Stories of women: Gender and narrative in the postcolonial nation (2005). What sets Boehmer’s work apart from many other academic writers’ is its readability. She is also an acclaimed novelist and short story writer. These two facts are most likely related. They also allow the author to view the topic of her latest book, Postcolonial poetics: 21st-century critical readings, from a rare perspective, as a theorist and practitioner of the art of creative writing.

The central question Boehmer addresses in Postcolonial poetics is “whether there was a kind of reading that postcolonial texts in particular solicited” and, if yes, what its main characteristics were. In eight concise chapters, the book offers an intriguing approach to understanding our relationship to postcolonial literature as readers. Boehmer examines how the structures of postcolonial writing in English – with focus on southern and West Africa, black and Asian Britain, as well as India – “shape our reading”, and how this literature “interacts with our imaginative understanding of the world”. The emphasis moves from the text and its author, to the recipient in front of the page: Boehmer believes that literature “has the capacity to keep re-imagining and refreshing how we understand ourselves in relation to the world and to some of the most pressing questions of our time, including cultural reconciliation, survival after terror, and migration”, and shows “that literary writing itself lays down structures and protocols to shape and guide our reading”.

Continue reading: LitNet

Postcolonial Poetics: 21st-century Critical Readings
by Elleke Boehmer
Palgrave Macmillan, 2018

“An act of inspiration”: Review of La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

AiW Guest: Karina M. Szczurek 

Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda was first published two years ago in its original Spanish by Feminist Press and has now become the first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman writer to be translated into English. The book was banned in the author’s home country. More a novella than a novel, in seven short chapters, it tells the story of Okomo, the “motherless orphan”. Okomo’s mother died giving birth to her and she “was declared a bastarda – a bastard daughter.” Her father is absent for reasons no one is willing to explain to the teenage girl. Okomo is desperate to find her only remaining parent, but the Fang community she is part of closes ranks and is unwilling to lift the veil on the mystery of her father’s disappearance from her life.

Okomo grows up in the polygamous family of her late mother…

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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.