Tag Archives: friendship

Blue light at Temenos

light

How often can you shatter and remain whole?

Death. Loss. Grief.

House break-in.

Cancer scare.

Institutions breaking you down by sheer incompetence and lack of understanding.

Death, again. And again.

Car accident.

And then…         . A void, a negation of time and space, of reality. How do you describe something or someone whom you tell, repeatedly: ‘I can’t breathe. I am in unbearable pain. I feel small. I am fragile. Vulnerable. Skinless. Please do not hurt me…’ And they violate your body and soul regardless? I do not know. Perhaps some things cannot be described. Sometimes words are too good to contain this, this…          ? blue-light-too

I care about words.

Another shattering.

Another loss.

What remains are the pieces. And a life-long illness. Deal with it, Karina.

turn-withinIn a corner, with no way out, when everything seems lost, broken, incomprehensible, a tiny light might save you. Holding on to that light is not an act of bravery. It is an act of compassion. I survive because I have kind people in my life. Perhaps recognising and reaching out for that kindness is courage? I do not know. I know that the sharing, the true care of friendship, have saved me from utter despair. The women in my life. I repeat: The women in my life. I do not know what I would have done without You. I salute and cherish you!

blue-lightThe first time I travelled to Temenos in McGregor, the retreat was recommended to me by my friend Margie. She knew what I was going through and said that the beauty and silence would be good for me. I fell in love with the place. One-and-a-half years later I went back, for the beauty and the silence. It is a silence punctuated by the outrageous screams of peacocks and the reluctant striking of the church tower clock. People smile, from the distance.

breakfast-at-temenos  sirloin  bemind

You can do things, or just be. Read. Sleep. Eat well. There is a bric-a-brac shop in the middle of McGregor which sells the best olives in the country. Tebaldi’s, the restaurant at Temenos, serves delicious meals. There are donkeys. Wine estates. Dusty heat. Tarot card readers and aroma therapists. Kindness, in the place and its people. The veld. And lazy sunsets which make you believe in tomorrow. It is all right to go to bed before 8pm. To read next to the pool for hours. To start brewing coffee at 5am and drink it on the stoep of your cottage while watching the light yawn and rise in the magical garden around you. Meditate, or just sit doing nothing at Temore, The Inner Temple of the Heart, with its soothing blue light.

reading-next-to-the-pool  falling

Wherever I go, I find coins. I call them my lucky coins. In South Africa, usually, 5c or 20c; 50c if I am really lucky. When I arrived in the gardens of Temenos, I found a R2-coin next to my car. Then, a few hours later, another R2-coin next to the pool. And the next day, while I was telling this story to my friend Helen (our stays at Temenos overlapped for one day and one night) during our sunset walk in the veld – in that very moment – I found another one next to our path. I want to believe that good things are coming. That despite the insanity of reality surrounding us in these troubled times, the kindness of people will prevail.

helen-in-the-veld-at-sunset

questions-from-the-seaDuring the last McGregor Poetry Festival a poem was inscribed on the walls of Temenos, my favourite one from Stephen Symon’s stunning debut collection Questions for the Sea. What synchronicity to find it there when I was returning home last night for the Q&A at Stephen’s reading/launch at Wordsworth Books in Gardens. On the way to the Gardens Centre, I stopped at The Book Lounge to pick up a book I’d ordered earlier, only to find out about the violence in the streets outside the bookshop just hours before. Louanne and Werner spoke about lost children and fear. They cancelled the event scheduled at the bookshop for that evening. The book I was buying was a gift for my friend Louisa who recently shared the remarkable Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard with me. I started reading it at Temenos. Uncanny is not the word… There is a collective wisdom of women out there, to tap into it, to allow it to nourish and heal you, that is what I am reaching out to.

with-resident-catI arrived at Wordsworth Books rattled, but there were good friends, cheese and wine, and poetry – subtle, soul-restoring poetry. Beauty, like light, can save you. How precious that it can be contained in words. Thank you, Stephen and Nick, for caring about words.

My words are safe. I find strength in the beauty of peahens. I love my Friends. I can’t wait to share my McGregor olives with them.

peahens

And I am very curious what R6 of luck will gift me.

coffee-in-bed

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Review: The Visitor by Katherine Stansfield

The VisitorThere are these magical moments in life when your call of longing is answered by the ideal book. Katherine Stansfield’s debut novel, The Visitor, was such a book for me. Despite having grown up in a picturesque mountain landscape, for most of my life I have felt that I belonged to the sea. In the last few weeks I have been thinking about the influence that sense of affinity with the sea has had on me as a person and a writer. Stansfield spent her childhood in Cornwall and lectures at the University of Wales which overlooks Cardigan Bay. The sea is in her blood and it is one of the main protagonists of her stunning novel.

Meticulously crafted, submerged in wisdom and yearning, The Visitor opens with a gem epigraph, a line by Ruth Bidgood: “When I have pictured a calm sea, there is your boat, waiting.” Set in a fictional fishing village in Cornwall towards the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, the novel tells the story of Pearl, Jack and Nicholas: “The three of them live on the same street, three houses all in line and Pearl’s house in the middle. The three fathers go out in the lifeboat when the flare goes up, and everyone goes to chapel. Each family works together in pilchard season.”

Playing together as children, Pearl, Jack and Nicholas test the boundaries of the friendship that binds them. As young adults they begin to form new allegiances with one another and the community around them. When the pilchards stop coming, the lives of those dependent on the fish for their livelihood change irreversibly. Nicholas is a dreamer ready for adventure and distant shores. The steadfast Jack believes in the continuation of traditions. Pearl knows to whom her heart belongs, but some choices are not hers to make.

Years later, Pearl is forced to abandon her home. Once again everything around her transforms as her small village is flooded by tourists and modernity. At the same time she grapples with an infinitely more tragic loss as she tries to hold on to the precious memories of the love of her life: “What was remembered was true.” Haunted by a past which seems more real than anything else around her, Pearl waits for him to return and sneaks away to revisit the places where they’d experienced flashes of happiness together. On her wanderings she encounters cairns which remind her of all that is lost. She carries a cairn inside her, “weighed down by its stones”. Because of her precarious health, she is not allowed to swim, but the sea is the only thing which restores her to herself: “They were old friends. They had an understanding.”

A constant companion to the human drama unfolding at its shores, the sea continues with its own rhythms. Stansfield is also a poet. Her debut collection Playing House will be published in October. No wonder The Visitor’s prose shimmers with breath-taking beauty.

The Visitor
by Katherine Stansfield
Parthian, 2013

First published in the Cape Times, 29 August 2014, p. 32.

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

The ThreeIt’s hard to believe that Sarah Lotz’s debut novel Pompidou Posse was published only six years ago. At the time, it captured my attention because of its striking portrayal of friendship forged in the streets of Paris’s underbelly. Published a year later, Lotz’s Exhibit A was a rollicking read despite its grim topic. It explored the complexity of the taboos, misunderstandings, and legal horrors surrounding rape. It’s quite a feat when a book manages to entertain while giving so much food for thought on a truly difficult issue. Lotz’s third novel, Tooth and Nailed, followed in a similar vein in 2010.

In the meantime, Lotz has also teamed up with her daughter and three other fellow writers to publish a few horror, zombie, and erotica novels under the pen names S.L. Grey, Lily Herne, and Helena S. Paige.

Lotz refers to herself as a writer of pulp fiction, but there is much more to her pithy storytelling. A wise soul, she knows all about meaty prose and how to make you feel strongly about her characters.

The Three, Lotz’s first independent international success, is the culmination of her savvy talent and hard-won experience in which she’s honed her craft. Set around the globe, The Three tells the story of four planes which crash on the same day (not recommended for in-flight reading). There are three survivors, perhaps four; all are children. There is also an ominous message from a passenger who lived long enough to record it on her cell phone. A world-wide media frenzy erupts around the aviation tragedies. The families and friends of victims have to come to terms with the reality of unbearable loss. Those connected to the surviving children have to deal with traumas of an entirely different kind.

The narrative unfolds through a collection of reports of various formats (eyewitness accounts, letters, articles, recording transcripts, interviews, among others) as collected by or conveyed to Elspeth Martins whose life is irrevocably changed by her pursuit of the story behind the story. Paging through the book at first, I thought this might be a tad off-putting, but it is anything but. The technique creates an eerie impression of our everyday reality. This is how most news items reach us: as a confusing mix of snippets from sources such as social media, serious in-depth journalism, conspiracy theories, and simple observations. Facts and truth have a tendency of being hidden behind the smoke-screens of fear and fundamentalism. Gossip adds further spice to the setup.

The reader becomes a voyeur who has access to all the available accounts. Perhaps therein lies the novel’s harshest criticism of our daily practices. As in real life, it is impossible to resist the pull of the incredible mystery at the centre of that fatal day which defies all logic and odds as it unfolds. The mind-blowing ending will leave you reeling. May it not be long before the sequel to The Three lands safely on our bookshelves.

The Three
by Sarah Lotz
Hodder & Stoughton, 2014

Review first published in the Cape Times, 25 July 2014, p. 11.

Interested in receiving a free copy of The Three? Please take part in my BOOK GIVEAWAY this month and stand a chance of having it (among others) sent to you. Good luck!

So far so good: Best of 2014 book giveaway

Best of 2014_1
For me, one of the best tests for a good read is whether I find myself wanting to share it with others. The bookshops I visit will testify to the fact that I often return to the same title over and over again when searching for presents. I don’t know how many copies of the original versions and their translations into other languages I have bought in the last few years of, among others, Mark Rowlands’ The Philosopher and the Wolf, or Carsten Jensen’s We, the Drowned, or Alastair Bruce’s Wall of Days, or Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved. The authors of these books must have enjoyed at least a bottle of really nice wine or bought a book or two by other authors from the royalties my book-shopping sprees have generated for them. And it makes me happy to think that this might have been the case. Cheers!

The last six months have been particularly plentiful in good reads. I’ve been lucky. There is nothing worse than finishing a great book and encountering a dozen duds before discovering the next good one (especially if you are like me and finish most of the books you’ve started). But 2014 is turning out to be a really satisfying reading year. Of the books I’ve read until now there are twelve that I have either already bought for or at least wholeheartedly recommended to others.

The twelve titles in no particular order:

Ash WednesdayAsh Wednesday by Ethan Hawke (2002)
My dear friend Isabella and I have been fans of Ethan Hawke, the actor, since high school. I will never forget how we saw Great Expectations with him and Gwyneth Paltrow at a student cinema in Łódź – the screen was made out of three bed sheets and we sat on ordinary kitchen chairs in the audience… When we found out that Hawke was a novelist, too, I bought Isabella his debut novel as a present, and ever since then I have been meaning to read one of his books myself, but somehow never got around to it. But then earlier this year, I accidently saw Reality Bites again and thought of Isabella and decided to make up for lost time. Ash Wednesday was a real treat: Jimmy and Christy are in love, pregnant, and want to get married, but nothing is simple when you are young and life with all its choices looms large around the corner. On a road trip across America they confront their secret dreams and hidden fears, risking everything for what they believe in. Ash Wednesday is written in a crisp prose that carries you across the page like a good old Chevy Nova across an alluring landscape. It has turned me into a fan of Ethan Hawke, the novelist.

The Last Man in Russia by Oliver Bullough (2013)
I was asked to write a short review of this book for the Cape Times. The book broke my heart because it resonated so much with my memories of my native Poland. It saddens me that the one characteristic that Russians and Poles are (in)famous for in the world is their heavy drinking. Alcoholism is a plague which has taken a heavy toll on both countries. I believe that things are changing in Poland, at least that is what my family and friends assure me of, but it will take at least a generation or two for the new ways of life to have real impact on society and to begin to heal the wounds. Bullough explores the historic trauma at the root of the pandemic with incisive insight. Anybody interested in understanding that part of the world will be wise to read The Last Man in Russia. It not only throws light on the past of the region but also its current situation.

A Sportful MaliceA Sportful Malice by Michiel Heyns (2014)
I brought this book back from the FLF. It is the funniest novel I have read in the last few years. I take books with me wherever I go and I found myself reading this one in a few public places where I got a lot of curious stares from strangers because I couldn’t stop laughing while reading. Every page brings a smile to one’s face, and some of the humour is truly and deliciously dark. A Sportful Malice takes the reader to Tuscany via London Stansted on a nightmare Ryanair flight which turns out to be the least worrisome aspect of Michael Marccuci’s trip. Micheal is a gay South African literary scholar. One of his many Facebook contacts offers him a house for rent in a small Tuscan village where Michael plans to finish the book he is currently working on. On his trip, Michael encounters the obnoxious Cedric, a clumsily inexperienced but not unwilling Wouter, his eccentric (to say the least!) landlord and his wife, and the irresistible Paolo. But nobody and nothing is as it seems. Full of himself, Michael is too blind to realise that he is not entirely in charge of his fate. The novel is told in a series of Michael’s letters to his lover back home. As always, Heyns’ prose is pure pleasure, and the humour of A Sportful Malice is sheer delight.

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut (2014)
I had the honour of reviewing Galgut’s latest for the Cape Times. I read an advance proofs copy but have bought the strikingly pink hardcover edition for a young friend who is discovering and exploring his sexuality. A lot has changed in our society since the days of E.M. Foster, but despite our amazing constitution, there is still so much hatred and bigotry around that it makes one desperate. It is such a precious gift to find that other person who shares your dreams and longings. What sex or gender that person is shouldn’t concern anybody else but the people doing the searching and the finding.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009)
While reading up on the touching and wise film The First Time, I accidently stumbled upon the trailer for The Maze Runner. It intrigued me and when I realised that it was based on a novel I decided to read the book before the movie came out later this year. It didn’t disappoint. Fast-paced, the novel itself is like a maze. You have no clue where you are going to end up turning the next corner. And the ending just makes you want to read more. I was relieved to discover it’s the first in a series. I’m a sucker for stories about friendship (one of those got me hooked on the writer whose book is next on my list here!) and I liked the portrayal of the dynamics between the characters in The Maze Runner. The thrilling action all around was a bonus.

Die DreiThe Three by Sarah Lotz (2014)
I’m supposed to review this novel so the proper review is pending. For now, I would just like to confess that I am a Stephen King virgin. I remember Isabella devouring King novels but I’ve never really felt that they were something for me. I have seen some of the films based on the novels, enjoyed Carrie and Misery very much, and my favourite TV series at the moment, Haven, is based on one of King’s short stories, “The Colorado Kid”, and yet I haven’t felt tempted to turn to the books. I did buy a King novel for my brother on his 30th birthday (the novel was published the same year as he was born). But still, no King for me. Until now that is. After reading Lotz’s The Three – brilliant, riveting – and seeing King’s endorsement on the back cover, I have decided to give the man a chance since he has shown some really good taste there. I bought The Shining yesterday. Incidentally, it was published in the month and year of my birth. And JohaN from Protea Bookshop informed me that the sequel is out. Fortunately, unlike other readers, I won’t have to wait 37 years for it!

Bare and BreakingBare & Breaking by Karin Schimke (2012)
Schimke’s collection also came back home with me from Franschhoek. I haven’t felt so excited about a volume of poetry since Tracey K. Smith’s Pulitzer-winning Life on Mars (2011). I read Smith’s collection a few weeks before the prize announcement (which made me jump up and down with joy) and was simply bowled over by the power and wisdom of her words. Schimke’s volume has similar qualities, but it exhibits an intimacy and eroticism that I haven’t encountered in contemporary poetry for a long time. She writes skin and desire, allowing the reader to get lost in both. In simple images she captures the miracles of a couple’s everyday life, how those little wonders remain hidden from others but never cease to amaze those who experience them. The violence of desire explodes on the page and splits you open. Bare & Breaking echoes those moments when you face the inevitable, when loss threatens your sanity, when you can’t help longing for all the wrong reasons. And when you get to the last poem in the volume you will be struck by the quiet after the storm. Poetry can be so satisfying!

And speaking about ‘quiet’, next on the list is:

Quiet by Susan Cain (2012)
The book made me properly understand something about myself that I have always known only intuitively. It probably is such a bestseller because it resonates with a lot of people. Life has become somehow simpler for me since reading Quiet. It helped me crystallise certain ideas on how to stay in tune with my inner qualities. In the words of Ruben, the protagonist of André’s The Rights of Desire, “I don’t like shouting.”

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (2014)
Hustvedt is one of only a handful of writers who have never disappointed me. A friend introduced me to her work and I have read every single title she has published. Every time I open one of them, I know I will be challenged, enriched and entertained. I bought a copy of The Blazing World for a friend even before I read my own, because I knew that one couldn’t go wrong with a novel by Hustvedt. I am waiting for the translations into German and Polish so that I can share the book with friends and family abroad. I reviewed The Blazing World for the Cape Times.

Road of ExcessThe Road of Excess by Ingrid Winterbach (2014)
Translated from Afrikaans, The Road of Excess was a wonderful companion read to The Blazing World. They are both set in the art world and deal with the insecurities of creativity and fame. Aaron Adendorff is a renowned painter recovering from cancer. After more than two decades of prosperous collaboration, it seems that the owner of the gallery where Aaron usually exhibits is threatening to drop him. Inexplicably though, he sends two new darlings of the art world Aaron’s way and asks him to assist them. All this time, Aaron is getting the weirdest messages from his brother, a recovering alcoholic, intent on confronting some uncomfortable truths about their family past. To make matters even more disturbing, Aaron’s home is invaded by the unforgettable Bubbles Bothma, a neighbour from hell, who is threatening to save Aaron from all his demons, if she doesn’t accidently get him killed first. A profound and funny read which lingers in one’s mind long after the last page is turned. I have now read all of Winterbach’s novels available in English and am hoping that my Afrikaans will be good enough one day to enjoy the ones which remain untranslated. Her work is extremely versatile, engaging, and her supple prose shines through even in translation.

Breyten Breytenbach, A Monologue in Two Voices by Sandra Saayman (2014)
My short review of this title is being processed for publication, but I can say here that this book simply as an object offers the reader a gratifying aesthetic experience. It is beautifully and carefully produced, includes a variety of reproductions of Breytenbach’s artworks, and encourages the reader/viewer to perceive them in context.

Bloody LiesBloody Lies: Citizens Reopen the Inge Lotz Murder Case by Thomas and Calvin Mollett (2014)
My review of this bold book should be published in the near future, so I won’t repeat myself here. I can just urge anybody interested in the history of the case to read Bloody Lies and to look at the Molletts’ website: Truth 4 Inge. If you are following the Oscar Pistorius trail, this book might also be for you. Bloody Lies is a highly informative, page-turning read.

I would like to invite other readers here to tell me which books have made such an impact on you in the first half of this year that you wanted to share them with others. At the same time, please let me know which of the titles I’ve mentioned above you would be interested in reading yourself. From your comments, I’ll draw one name at the end of July 2014 and send you the book you have chosen from my list of twelve titles. I will include my own Invisible Others in the parcel.

Happy reading & sharing everyone!

Of Treks, Wars and Stars

HeirToTheEmpireI still don’t really understand how it happened, but when I was about seven or eight years old and still living in the then Communist Poland, our school went to see Star Wars: Return of the Jedi in the cinema. The film made an enormous impression on me, at that stage not necessarily a good one. I was too young to digest the violence, especially when perpetrated against the cuddly, cute Ewoks. The scene where one of the Ewoks realises that their friend is not moving and will not get up again haunted my childhood dreams for many months to come. Despite this heartache and trauma, there was something about the Star Wars Universe that captured my imagination. When a few years later, I had the opportunity to see the entire original Star Wars trilogy, I was hooked for life. I cannot count how many times I have watched these movies, and how many more times I still will. I don’t seem to ever tire of them. I have also read some of the accompanying books, of which Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy is my absolute favourite.

I am not a huge fan of the recent Star Wars film trilogy, although I love the way it portrays Anakin’s path to the Dark Side. And, obviously, I am counting the days until the first film in the latest Disney trilogy is released next year. I hope I can go and see it with Krystian, my brother, who is just as much a fan as I am. The fact that the original actor trio: Carrie Fisher (whom I also adore as an author), Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill are going to be starring in the trilogy is fantastic. I have followed their careers with great interest for many years (I saw another all-time favourite for the first time – The ‘Burbs – just because Carrie Fisher starred in it).

Fisher Ford HamillTo see them reunited on a film project makes my heart sing. When I was thirteen and had a terrible crush on Luke Skywalker, I promised myself that one day when I am old enough, I am going to travel to Hollywood, declare my love to him, and we will live happily ever after, travelling through the Universe and defending it from all Evil (at that stage, I didn’t differentiate much between an actor and his role…). Then I grew up (and found out that Mark Hamill was one of the few people in Hollywood who actually seemed happily married and not looking to go on quests to rescue the Universe with some crazy Jedi wannabe).

imagesR77R8SAFAt some stage, while I was still at high school, my friend Thomas suggested that as a Star Wars fan I might enjoy watching Star Trek which he did religiously. I had accidently seen a few scenes from the series when zapping through TV channels but hadn’t found anything appealing in them. But then, Thomas asked me to just watch one full episode before passing final judgement. To humour him, I agreed, and that very afternoon settled down after to school to watch. I am not sure that I recall that first episode I saw correctly, but I know it blew my mind. That is how I became a Trekkie. Since them, I have also seen everything that there was to watch connected with the franchise, including the first seasons of Star Trek from the 60s. I was amazed how watchable they still were. A year or so ago, one of our channels available in South Africa repeated all the Star Trek feature films. I’ve always enjoy seeing those, too. What I like about them most is their subtle or not so subtle commentary on contemporary socio-political developments. J.J. Abrams’ latest Star Trek: Into Darkness’s take on ‘the hunt for a dangerous war criminal’ is not exactly subtle but brilliant nevertheless. It just shows you that real baddies are not always easy to identify.

Whether trekking or warring, these movies/series make one think beyond their special effects (no matter how spectacular), and that is what I treasure about them most. That, and the humour, the values, and the friendships they portray (Spock and Kirk, or Data and Geordie, or Luke and Han).

wishfuldrinkingI like the fact that the first Star Wars movie was born the same year I was.

My brother and I greet each other like Vulcans.

Once I tried wearing my hair like Princess Leia but my friend Jeremy pointed out that it rather looked like Chewie’s.

I drink Earl Grey tea when I write, a habit inspired by Jean-Luc Picard. Too bad I can’t order it from a replicator. Well, at least not yet…

I like reaching for the stars.

\\//_

May the Force be with you!

And a belated happy birthday to George Lucas!