Category Archives: What I’ve Written

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.

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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.

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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.”

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You Make Me Possible at the Woordfees

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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

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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.

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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

 

Review: Reflecting Rogue – Inside the Mind of a Feminist by Pumla Dineo Gqola

Reflecting Rogue

Pumla Dineo Gqola is a formidable writer who in her work discusses the most complex topics: slavery, stardom, rape, and feminism. She is the author of What is Slavery to Me? Postcolonial/Slave Memory in Post-apartheid South Africa, A Renegade Called Simphiwe, the 2016 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award winner Rape: A South African Nightmare, and the recently released Reflecting Rogue: Inside the Mind of a Feminist. A professor of African Literature at Wits University, Gqola has established herself as one of the leading intellectuals of the continent.

Reflecting Rogue comprises fourteen essays which range from academic to personal and often combine both approaches to tackle issues with socio-political implications and in the process gain a specific kind of authority because of their autobiographical touch: “I have revealed part of myself only known to my nearest and dearest: anxieties, joys, vulnerabilities.” As a way of introduction, Gqola recalls how as an eight-year-old she realised she was a writer when words offered her an escape into another language and thus freedom. She discovered the power of writing and writing’s relationship with power. It continues to be “at the centre of my life. It is where I love myself better.” She understands the risks involved, especially when you write from within the position of vulnerability that any intimate, personal writing entails. Unapologetically, she states: “There are reflections of and on living, loving and thinking as feminist. One feminist.”

The individual essays of the collection were written over a period of several years and offer insight into diverse subjects. In “Growing into my body”, Gqola traces the intricate relationship she has with her own “embodied memories”. Most readers will be able to relate to the perils implied: “I am not sure how much of myself I want to expose and render vulnerable, and so, instead, I play games with myself.” Racism, “notions of purity and contamination”, questions of approval and acceptance, are tough to consider and transcend. “It is crucial to begin to make new memories of embodiment”, Gqola writes, “forms that encourage pleasure and power.” She is heartened by seeing young Blackwomen “communicating comfort and love of themselves to themselves.”

“A Backwoman’s journey through three South African universities” is Gqola’s account of her experiences with “racist capitalist patriarchy” and her attempts to convert her “anti-racist and feminist politics into practice.” She advocates a thorough investigation of how “configurations of power mutate” and how we cope with the essential changes needed to avoid marginality of the majority of South African citizens. In another essay, Gqola quotes filmmaker Xoliswa Sithole who “argues repeatedly and convincingly about the manner in which Blackwomen are conned into embracing ‘modesty’ instead of owning our power, excellence and successes – and instead of openly celebrating each other’s.”

In two intensely introspective pieces on motherhood Gqola talks about how to be the best parent without compromising on a full life when the weight of entrenched women’s roles in partnerships and professional lives comes bearing down on your self-awareness and personal longings of fulfilment and independence. Gqola pays tribute to the people who helped her find a way “to belong to yourself and be committed to parenting well”.

She writes about the ideals and disappointments of freedom, of the “reminders of missed opportunities to create the country we dreamt of” and speaks about the dangers of ignoring differences when we negate the “need for accountability, atonement and justice” as well as not addressing the detrimental nature of heteropatriarchy. She argues for the necessity of “rage” in our dealing with the status quo, the speaking of truth to power instead of compliance and silence.

I had to dig deep into my academic past in order to follow Gqola’s discussion of the public’s conflicting responses to the exhibition Innovat1ve Women, curated by Bongi Bengu in 2009, but in general the book is incisive and accessible. Reflecting Rogue engages with underrepresentation of Black women in public spaces, whether political, creative or academic. Gqola recalls what it meant for her to encounter Alice Walker’s writing, how reading about black people’s lives in a black author’s work affirmed for her the possibility of becoming a writer. “A woman who does not want to apologise for valuing herself is a dangerous thing”, she states and gives reasons why she espouses womanism. Walker taught her “about letting go of the need for approval and external validation, which is so central to how women are raised all over the world.”

Discovering feminism was like a homecoming for Gqola, as it is for countless women independent of our backgrounds. We all believe in the same fundamental thing, but like any movement, feminism has developed different strands and allows for varied interpretations of which causes should take precedence and how they should be achieved. There were moments when I could relate to and at the same time felt alienated by passages in Reflecting Rogue. However, as Gqola claims, we are “rogues – unapologetically disrespectful of patriarchal law and order, determined to create a world in which choice is a concrete reality for all.” Part of that reality is Gqola’s choice to evoke Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, along with the Kenyan revolutionary Wambui Waiyaki Otieno and environmental political activist and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, as women who “offer freeing visions of unsubjugated femininities.” I belong to the group of people Gqola mentions who can see little beyond Madikizela-Mandela’s involvement in “gross violations of human rights”, as stated in the final TRC report of 1998, and found her inclusion in the argument uncomfortably problematic.

Gqola’s tribute to the remarkable work of FEMRITE, the Uganda Women Writers Association, is free of such hauntings – a legacy entirely worthy of being celebrated. Reflecting Rogue also includes a public lecture Gqola gave during which she said: “Africa has to mean a present and a future home again for those who strive for a freedom linked to the freedom of those like – and unlike – us.” What I found most inspiring about Reflecting Rogue is the author’s unequivocal belief that “another world is possible.”

Reflecting Rogue: Inside the mind of a feminist

by Pumla Dineo Gqola

MF Books, 2017

An edited version of this review first appeared in the Cape Times on 20 October 2017.

Book review: The Bitter Taste of Victory – Life, Love and Art in the Ruins of the Reich by Lara Feigel

bitter-tasteLara Feigel is a cultural historian and a literary critic, combining her interests to write about the meeting point between life, literature and history. In her last two books, she looks at how people whose quintessential purpose in life is the search for beauty and meaning survived their antithesis: war. In her The Love-charms of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War (2013), Feigel wrote about five authors who were based in wartime London, driving ambulances, fighting fires, being creative, and loving passionately while desperately trying to remain alive.

In her latest offering, The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love and Art in the Ruins of the Reich, Feigel picks up where she left off in her previous book, at the end of the war, and introduces a new, larger cast of characters – writers, intellectuals and artists – who were sent by the Allies to defeated and occupied Germany to assist in denazification and rebuilding the nation they had been trying systematically to annihilate over the past few years.

Their idealistic mission is an opportunity like no other, placing cultural activities at the centre of the plans to reconstruct the country. For a brief moment in history “a new united Europe, underpinned by shared heritage that would allow nationalism to be replaced by a common consciousness of collective humanity” seems like a viable option for the continent’s future.

Germany is a wasteland. Poverty, hunger and despair rule. Survivors grapple with guilt. Exiled German writer Peter de Mendelssohn arrives to establish newspapers in the British zone. He notes that “new eyes” and “totally new words” are needed to describe the devastation.

The horrors perpetrated in the concentration camps come to the surface of the world’s consciousness, and with them questions of complicity, responsibility and justice. In the light of the revelations and the Germans’ lack of immediate repentance, the Allied artists and reporters sent to the country find it nearly impossible to “make sense of the postwar world” or to emphasise with the people they encounter.

Among them is the photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller. After a visit to Dachau, she photographs herself in Hitler’s bathtub. Like others, she is “troubled by the ordinariness of Nazi leaders.” German-born Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich, “in army uniform, low-voiced, funny and adoring” has to face the fact that her family members collaborated with the Nazis.

Eerily echoing our own, this is the time of the Nurnberg trials, the nuclear bomb, migration, displacement and rising tensions between the other ideologies taking hold of post-war Europe, resulting in the division which will most strikingly manifest in the Berlin Wall. A sense of failure and helplessness sets in. But Feigel ends her brilliant portrayal of this turbulent period with Austrian-born Jewish American filmmaker Billy Wilder who “was able to laugh off the bureaucratic absurdity of communism, the megalomaniac blindness of American imperialism, and the fascist conformity of the Germans by satirising them all in equal measure” and standing “defiantly on the side of life.”

The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love and Art in the Ruins of the Reich

by Lara Feigel

Bloomsbury, 2016

Review first published in the Cape Times, 24 February 2017.

Review: Patriots and Parasites – South Africa and the Struggle to Evade History by Dene Smuts

denesmutsDene Smuts once said that “there are two approaches to opposition lawmaking work: making a noise and making a difference.” Throughout her courageous life she chose to make a difference. Smuts completed the manuscript of Patriots and Parasites: South Africa and the Struggle to Evade History shortly before her unexpected death in April last year. Her daughter Julia midwifed the project to completion.

In the Festschrift included at the end of the book, Jeremy Gauntlett notes Smuts’s “portable spine” which she lent out “often to many weaker people.” Before entering politics, she took a stance against censorship as a journalist and editor of Fair Lady. She resigned from the magazine in protest when her editorial independence was threatened over a story she ran about Winnie Mandela. She insisted on “readers’ right to know”. The longest-serving female parliamentarian, the first female chief whip, a lawmaker renowned for her work on the Constitution, Smuts was central to the birth of the new South Africa. She understood the importance of “cultivating the garden” that is our country.

The memoir is not a blow by blow account of Smuts’s private life. But when you read closely, the person who emerges from between the lines is a remarkable, inspiring human being who led by example. The book is testimony to her brilliant mind and fierce integrity. You might not always agree with what she has to say, but you never doubt that her heart is in the right place. She is unflinching in her analysis of contemporary socio-political developments and does not hesitate to call a spade a spade, or to mention when she is “incandescent with anger”.

There is no pussyfooting around burning issues of racism, polarisation, affirmative action, corruption, or reconciliation: “Just as apartheid was triggered by fanning the embers of cultural resentment of colonialism into the fire of Afrikaner nationalism, Thabo Mbeki brought out the bellows to reignite black resentment against white rule, both colonial and Afrikaner nationalist, when both had become history.” It is just another example of the ancient adage that we do not learn from history. And if anything, South Africa is one of the best embodiments of the effectiveness of the well-known policy: divide and rule (or conquer).

This is not the time to look for differences when common causes have to be addressed in order for the country to thrive as a whole, and Smuts’s incisive scrutiny of Mbeki’s legacy and the present government’s “misrule” points to the pitfalls we are facing. Only if we can all feel that we are “contributing to a new country”, will we be able to feel “at home”. Smuts recalls Jakes Gerwel’s words: “we had created the institutional mechanisms to deal with” the “remnants of the racist past”; “we should build on the positive foundations of transition and the Constitutional order to develop the non-racial reality already emerging.”

Patriots and Parasites is a passionate account of the importance of free speech, which Smuts championed in all her incarnations, whether as journalist or legislator. She points out the dangers of political correctness if allowed to stultify vigorous and necessary debate. Dialogue is pertinent to a healthy democracy. Communication consists as much of voicing concerns as listening. Smuts reminds of the occasion when in 1985 Ellen Kuzwayo was asked by white fellow women writers what they could do to help the cause: “All you can do is listen, listen.” Smuts herself kept her ear close to the ground as she knew the power of informed decision-making.

She gives compelling insight into the nitty-gritty of law-making, taking us back in time to the transition and recalling the turning points in history that made political change possible. The forces at play in the writing and implementing of the 1994 Interim Constitution and the 1996 Constitution are recorded in fascinating detail. Smuts remembers Kader Asmal acknowledging that “probably never before in history has such a high proportion of women been involved in writing a constitution.”

At the core of Patriots and Parasites is the knowledge that this is just one account of the palimpsest that is history. Other stories have to be told: “If the question is whether South Africa can evade history, then we need, at least, to hold up as true a record as possible of that history. The best way of doing so where records are not available, or are as contested … is to give as many accounts of what occurred as possible. This memoir is one such contribution to our recent history.” We owe it to ourselves to nurture and study these testimonies; not to allow recorded history to fall “into disarray, or decay”. Looking back, Smuts warns against apathy towards diverse manifestations of evil. Otherwise, as the reality around us shows over and over again, we will be “doomed to inhabit a world of false narratives”.

Smuts writes that “all we have to defeat this time, however hopeless it may sometimes look, is misrule and the erosion of everything we have already achieved”, and ends on an optimistic note: “It will be easier, this time.”

Patriots and Parasites: South Africa and the Struggle to Evade History

by Dene Smuts

Quivertree, 2016

Review first published in the Cape Times, 17 February 2017.

Bookmark: Bookshops by Jorge Carrión

bookshops-jorge-carrionThere are times when people proclaim either the death of reading, or the death of the book as a physical object, or the death of bookshops, and no matter how much sceptics try to kill off one of the most engaging and enriching human experiences, it prevails and with it does the book and its private and public homes: bookshops and libraries. As any passionate reader will verify, bookshops can be oases of literary bliss. Jorge Carrión travelled around the world to visit many of them and wrote a fervent reminder of why they matter: “Every bookshop is a condensed version of the world.” South African readers will delight in the mention of local authors and favourites places such as the Book Lounge: according to Carrión “the best bookshop in Cape Town”. Originally written in Spanish, Bookshops pays homage to literature and its practitioners, both writers and readers alike.

First published in the Cape Times, 17 February 2017.

Bookshops

by Jorge Carrión

Maclehose Press, 2016

Bookmark: How to Open the Door by Marike Beyers

cover-marike-beyers_how-to-open-the-door“Who would want to read them?” we are asked at the back of Marike Beyers’s poetry collection, How to Open the Door. The answer is as easy as it is true: “Anyone interested in the recent inflection of various Englishes and … inflections of the ‘soul’.” In deceptively simple words Beyers captures complex memories of family scenes and relationship dynamics, stretching across time and space. There is loss, tenderness and pain: “here I am all razor blades / and concrete rubble / all corners sharp”. She is just as aware of language as of silence: “but there you stood / your mouth of broken birds”. There are people who live “outside of words”, but not the poet; “is it all too simple / is home then / this standing // in an open door”, she asks, and invites us to follow into the space of her poetic vision.

How to Open the Door

by Marike Beyers

Modjaji, 2016

Bookmark first published in the Cape Time, 17 February 2017.