Tag Archives: Kwela

Review: Talk of the Town by Fred Khumalo

Talk-of-the-Town“Now, there are storytellers, and there are Storytellers”, the narrator of Water No Get Enemy, one of Fred Khumalo’s stories collected in Talk of the Town, tells us about Guz-Magesh, a larger than life character who features in two of the pieces: “His well of tales is bottomless.” He has that in common with his creator. Khumalo is the author of four novels. His short stories have been considered for prestigious awards and featured in several magazines and anthologies. Talk of the Town is his debut collection.

The titular story of the volume is told from the perspective of a child who witnesses how his enterprising and hard-working mother sets their family apart by not having the furniture she buys repossessed by creditors. When her luck changes, the mother relies on her unsuspecting children to protect her from the fate of most of their neighbours.

Khumalo’s range of settings and characters is versatile. He moves between the apartheid past to the present, and between several countries. Water Get No Enemy and The Invisibles are set in present-day Yeoville, but the former moves back in time to the Liberation Army camps in Angola.

The stories of This Bus Is Not Full! and Learning to Love take place in the US, where two South African men end up living, but not entirely fitting in. The longest story in the collection is set in neighbouring Zimbabwe and has the feel of an abandoned novel in the making.

Reading Khumalo’s stories, one’s imagination and sense of political correctness can be both challenged to their limits, and it is to his credit that he can make us curious and care about even the least likable characters. At the same time, his stories can be poignant and excruciatingly funny. That is what keeps one returning for more.

Talk of the Town

by Fred Khumalo

Kwela, 2019

Review first published in the Cape Times on 19 July 2019.

Review: Affluenza by Niq Mhlongo

AffluenzaEvery new book by Niq Mhlongo is literature to my ears. His three novels, Dog Eat Dog (2004), After Tears (2007) and Way Back Home (2013), were fresh, gritty and not to be ignored. Reading them in sequence you witness a writer coming into his own, developing an unmistakably individual voice that captures a historical moment like no other. That moment for Mhlongo is now. If you want to take the pulse of present-day South Africa, you can turn to his work for insight.

Dog Eat Dog encapsulates the lives of a group of Wits students at the time of the first democratic elections. After Tears describes the challenges and disillusionments of their generation after graduation. In Way Back Home the characters have seemingly made it, but their lives are haunted by greed, corruption and ghosts from their past. Never afraid to tell it like it is, Mhlongo offers a brutally honest glance into contemporary South Africa.

In his first short-story collection, Affluenza, he continues in this vein, but at the same time the writing is even grittier. Four of the eleven stories were published before. The topics range from farm murder, suicide, and paternity to animal attacks in a game park. Mhlongo does not shy away from difficult discussions surrounding the issues of race, gender, sexuality or class, pointing to the horrendous levels of miscommunication arising when people approach one another with bigotry…

Continue reading: LitNet

In/sanity: Mark Winkler’s Wasted

WastedWhere does sanity end and insanity begin?

Can anyone who intentionally kills or violates another person be thought of as sane?

Earlier today while driving, I saw a man, probably homeless, standing next to a garbage bin and talking to himself. It might have been the same man who a few months ago passed me in the street and out of the blue started screaming at me, forcing me off the pavement into heavy traffic. I was fortunate that cars avoided hitting me just in time. I wasn’t hurt, but petrified. I haven’t walked that route since.

I still like walking in our neighbourhood though, and do it nearly daily (it helps to keep me sane).

There were times this year when I did not feel sane myself. Grief is not a mental illness, but it is a state of vulnerability that makes you often act insane. I have experienced some really mad stuff since February. There were days when I thought of Valkenberg, and the idea seemed strangely serene. There are times in one’s life where all you want to do is lie down and let others take care of you. Just some peace and quiet, punctuated by kindness. We all have moments when we long for such spaces.

Water coverI finished reading Mark Winkler’s second novel, Wasted (Kwela, 2015), this morning, hence all these thoughts about in/sanity. I picked up the book because of the excellent story Winkler contributed to Water: New Fiction from Africa (forthcoming from Short Story Day Africa). I felt this was an author I wanted to get to know better. I have not been disappointed. Wasted is one of the best novels I have read this year. Well written (with an opening that is impossible to resist, and a middle and end that are even better), tense, darkly humorous, unpredictable and thought-provoking throughout, Wasted is one of those novels that creep under your skin. It strikes an admirable balance between seriousness and entertainment. Winkler manages to pull off that tough task of making you care for quite an unsavoury protagonist: Nathan Lucius is an enigma for most of the book and one approaches the unfolding of his story with trepidation, but you simply need to know what makes him tick.

We know he sleeps with the light on, has a dubious approach towards personal hygiene, does not allow anyone into the sanctuary of his flat where he collects old photographs of strangers he imagines as members of his family, and his relationships with his work colleagues, his widowed neighbour, a friend suffering from cancer, and his real family are unusual (if that is the right word), to say the least. The why behind his behaviour comes as quite a shock around two-thirds into the novel. But even earlier, around one-third into it, we come to the first unsettling revelation. The ending blows your mind.

What fascinates me about the novel is the portrayal of this character who is so recognisable and yet so foreign. You read along, and, if you’re honest, you allow yourself to realise that, yeah, I have done some similarly crazy shit, and, yeah, I have had similarly dark thoughts. The lights, the solitude, the blackouts, longing for forgetting, incapability of dealing with the frustrations of the everyday – been there, done that (perhaps not exactly to such extremes, but the point is that one can associate with it). Not wanting to spoil the surprise, let me just say that fortunately most of us don’t end up like Nathan. But it is a fine line that we all tread. That is what makes him such a great character. It’s easy to feel him.

Winkler is also the author of An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Absolutely Everything (Kwela, 2013) that I hope to get my hands on tomorrow at the celebration of The Book Lounge’s 8th birthday party. Wow, time does fly! Allow me to hope that it heals, too.

Book mark: Love Tastes Like Strawberries by Rosamund Haden

Book mark_Loves Tastes Like StrawberriesLove Tastes Like Strawberries opens with an obituary of the painter Ivor Woodall. After his death, his partner Tony organises an exhibition of Ivor’s most recent portraits. All members of Ivor’s Friday life drawing classes receive special invitations to the opening. In all the addressees the invitations trigger uncomfortable memories of events from a distant and more recent past. Haden reveals their stories through the perspectives of several of the class participants. The web of intrigue tightens, forcing the characters to confront what haunts them. Alternating between present-day Cape Town, Rwanda of the time of the genocide, and timeless Greece, the novel portrays the precarious ties which bind people to one another across decades. Haden’s prose is smooth and lyrical, carrying the reader along. She explores seemingly insignificant incidents and gestures that can have far-reaching consequences for those involved, and conveys startling insights about loss, grief, and longing.

Love Tastes Like Strawberries
by Rosamund Haden
Kwela, 2014

An edited version of this book mark appeared in the Cape Times on 22 August 2014, p. 10.

Review
After her highly acclaimed debut The Tin Church a decade ago, Rosamund Haden returns with her second novel for adult audiences, Love Tastes Like Strawberries, which opens with an obituary. When the painter Ivor Woodall dies, his partner Tony Fox organises an exhibition of Woodall’s most recent portraits and extends a special invitation to the opening to all members of Woodall’s Friday life drawing classes.

As the invitations reach the individual artists whom Woodall had taught, each triggers uncomfortable memories of events from the distant or more recent past. The sisters Françoise and Dudu, Rwandan refugees, return to Cape Town to find their feet again after Dudu’s reckless act of stealing a car. It is Françoise’s portrait that features on the exhibition invites. Françoise is hoping to reunite with Timothy, a book seller and writer of obituaries. But Timothy seems to be missing. His friend Stella is also searching for him. She needs to reconcile with the events of a Greek summer holiday long past and the tragic death of her mother. When her mother drives over the edge of an abyss, Stella inherits her house and with it many haunting reminders of the holiday when they both fell under the spell of a promising young artist. Now in her early thirties Stella falls again, for Luke: “there’s something about him that’s so magnetic, so addictive. He should have a warning attached to him,” Jude, one of Luke’s many lovers, warns Stella. But Stella’s reasons for wanting to seduce Luke are complicated: she desires not only him, but also revenge. And Jude, perhaps the most talented of them all, has her own plan how to steal everyone’s show.

All of them have different reasons for attending Ivor Woodall’s classes. The meetings and ensuing parties gradually reveal the undercurrents of all the relationships Ivor’s students spin around their small circle until the web of intrigue and hidden agendas becomes too suffocating for some to bear and comes to a startling conclusion.

Alternating between present-day Cape Town, Rwanda of the time of the genocide, and timeless beaches of Greece, Love Tastes Like Strawberries explores the ties which bind people to one another across decades.

Haden’s prose is smooth and lyrical, it carries you along. Her characters are believable, even if theirs are very different to one’s own experiences. She explores the small, seemingly insignificant, incidents and gestures in life that can have far-reaching consequences for those implicated. There were times where I felt the narrative did not explore those moments deeply enough, and yet Haden manages to convey many unsettling insights about the way we deal with loss, grief, longing, and “foolishness that is painful”.

ITCH e.12 – Taboos

Taboos by Francois Smit

Taboos by Francois Smit

The latest issue of ITCH e.12 is out. The theme: TABOOS.

I acted as coordinating editor for e.12 and contributed the following:

Review of Way Back Home by Niq Mhlongo
“…And it seems that what Mhlongo is telling us is that we need to confront that past again, not in the ways we have been doing in the last decades of our flawed transition, but in a more holistic, accepting way that combines the best of all our problem-solving tools, whether indigenous or Western, modern or traditional, black or white.” Continue reading…

Review of Untitled by Kgebetli Moele
“…But this is no story of a teenage romance which will end for the heroine with an unforgettable First Time with the Boy of Her Dreams. Instead, Untitled is a devastating chronicle of other unforgettables: the abuse and violence – emotional, psychological and physical – that girls face in South Africa.” Continue reading…

Q&A with Helena S. Paige
“…Finding new words for vagina, penis, groan, thrust and pant. At one point Helen suggested that after this we write a sex thesaurus. As in sex, so in writing sex, variety is the spice of life. We tried very hard to keep things original and not use cheesy terms like lady garden, or throbbing manhood. And we banned all lip-biting, by way of homage to Fifty Shades.” Continue reading…

Q&A with S.A. Partridge
“…All these broken lives would have been so different if they had just communicated properly with each other from the start. James and V’s promised love story, which held so much potential, was sabotaged by their inability to say how they really felt about each other.” Continue reading…