Tag Archives: Picador Africa

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.

Book review: Three Plays – Dream of the Dog, The Girl in the Yellow Dress, The Imagined Land by Craig Higginson

three-plays-and-glinkaReading a play is like listening to an opera on CD. Many would argue that both are best experienced on stage. There is nothing like a live performance, I agree. Yet, no matter how much I love going to the theatre or opera house, reading a play or listening to opera in the comfort of my own home can also be special.

I have never seen any of Craig Higginson’s plays performed live, but I have read most of them, a few several times. As texts, they are deeply satisfying and engage the reader on intellectual and aesthetic levels while giving voice to intimate, troubled spaces of the soul as well as addressing profound socio-political issues. Earlier this year, Wits University Press published three of Higginson’s most acclaimed plays – Dream of the Dog, The Girl in the Yellow Dress, The Imagined Land – in one volume, with a foreword by Jeremy Herrin and an incisive introduction by Michael Titlestad. Herrin speaks of Higginson’s “delicate psychology” in the “theatrical landscape, a place where the contradictions and messiness of contemporary life hold themselves up for inspection.” Titlestad points out “the plays’ common concern with the possibilities and limits of representation… Collectively they refract what has been at stake in this country’s transition, and they do so with a subtlety and insight that will ensure their longevity.” Despite their complexity, the plays are readily accessible.

dream-houseDream of the Dog was first written and appeared as a local radio play in 2006, and was rewritten and staged the following year in South Africa before transferring overseas. Its action takes place in KwaZulu-Natal. An aging couple sell their farm to developers. The man in charge of the project turns out to be the son of one of their former workers. As he returns to the place, he brings with him long-supressed memories of violence and death on the farm. The play inspired Higginson’s latest novel, The Dream House (2015), which won the prestigious University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English this year.

In The Girl in the Yellow Dress, a British woman living in Paris gives English lessons to a Frenchman of African origin. As the young people discuss gramma constructions, their carefully constructed personal stories surface and collide. The play was first performed in Grahamstown in 2010 before conquering stages around the world.

The most recent play in the collection, The Imagined Land, premiered locally last year. It is a stunning work in which a young black scholar decides to write the biography of an elderly white literary icon and simultaneously begins a relationship with the woman’s daughter. The unreliability of memory and the archive, guilt and desire complicate the highly charged action, set in present-day Johannesburg: “Not that I believe a narrative can represent a life. Imagined lands – that is all we are, all we have access to.”

There are no easy resolutions, but grace and redemption seem possible. In Herrin’s words: Higginson’s “characters invariably turn towards the light. They have an inclination for the truth, even if reconciliation might still be beyond them.”

 

Three Plays: Dream of the Dog, The Girl in the Yellow Dress, The Imagined Land

by Craig Higginson

Wits University Press, 2016

Review first published in the Cape Times, 28 October 2016.

Book review: Pleasure by Nthikeng Mohlele

PleasureThe title of Nthikeng Mohlele’s fourth novel delivers on its promise. Pleasure is a mesmerising, unusual book. At times I was hesitant to call it a novel. The story of Milton Mohlele, his dreams and musings, which he attempts to distil into writing, reads like a meditation. As literary history echoes in his name, Milton could be an alter ego for most writers seeking to find not only meaning but pleasure in the written word – to capture that elusive something which makes us sigh deeply with content when, if ever, we truly encounter it.

Pleasure opens in a bathtub, with Milton reminiscing about the women in his life and his late father, who was a writer of note. One of Milton’s preoccupations is to figure out how to avoid having to tread in his footsteps: “What more is there to say other than that the man was brilliant and is deceased?”

Often, I found my mind drifting, with the book’s images and insights as my guide. Exquisitely written, Pleasure allows you to abandon yourself to language: “This made me happy; a feeling that fell like snowflakes, like confetti showered on couples at weddings, like raindrops illuminated by car headlights, fireworks exploding sky high in magnificent, temporary fiery arrangements, falling back to earth in languid, crystal, dazzling, smoky slow motion.” Milton assures us that he “notices things”, “even the smallest, most insignificant of them”.

The observations are precise, beautiful, also in the face of evil (“a word stripped of all pretensions”). A dream sequence in the book adds a profound dimension to Milton’s considerations. In the dream, an American soldier’s life is spared and he is taken prisoner by a SS commandant. He meets an alluring woman at Wolfschanze, Hitler’s headquarters, where he finds himself among men “who could will anything into being”, including a reality in which the ash of their victims rains into coffee cups across Europe.

Once awake and contemplating the meaning of his vision, Milton is not oblivious to the fact that similar horrors happen right next to him, in present day Cape Town. He insists that Africans “should dream, or imagine themselves outside of only being black and colonised and enslaved”, that we are all part of a wider world. Towards the end, he also realises that depending on context, killing can be an act of kindness.

Pleasure never lulls us into easy answers, not everything can be “scrutinised, fully known, owned.” But it is a book full of wisdom which invites the reader to ponder the intricacies of existence. Its proclamations on love and the preciousness of the opportunities life offers are stunning: “Pleasure, I have learned, is a solitary phenomenon; it does not mix well with remorse and regrets and mistakes…at its most elementary pleasure survives on selfishness, on discreet contracts, undemocratic arrangements.” After all, most of us “want to die being able to say, I have loved in my life – truly loved, been molten and cooled and hammered by love, cast and polished.” Some of us, transformed, write.

Pleasure

by Nthikeng Mohlele

Picador Africa, 2016

Review first published in the Cape Times on 20 May 2016, p. 10.

Review: Entanglement by Steven Boykey Sidley

EntanglementProfessor Jared Borowitz, a renowned, well-liked American physicist in his mid-forties, has one pet hate: belief of any kind, whether it is spiritual, dietary or homoeopathic – as long as it is not founded on sound logic and scientific proof it won’t make it past his personal bullshit detector: “Aside from fundamentalists, creationists, UFO nuts and astrologists, health foodies are next in the pantheon of idiocy,” he attests. He used to be able to laugh off what he perceives as ignorance, but now it awakes a sense of rage in him.

A recovered philanderer, Jared is divorced from his first long-suffering wife, Gwen, and living in a relationship with Katherine, a no-nonsense psychologist with a strict moral core despite her damaged past. Having learned from bitter experience, Jared decides to be faithful to Katherine and sees a clear future with her at his side…

Continue reading on LitNet: Review of Entanglement by Steven Boykey Sidley

Entanglement
by Steven Boykey Sidley
Picador Africa, 2012

Book marks: White Wahala and Dying in New York by Ekow Duker

White WahalaA finalist in the 2011/12 European Literary Awards, White Wahala is a modern tall tale with a dark South Africa twist. When Alasdair Nicholson, a spoilt young banker from a wealthy family, heads towards Soweto with his little sister to buy drugs, he sets in motion a chain of disastrous events which will put his entire family in grave danger, expose a long-buried secret, and end up in the headlines amidst an intrigue of national proportions.

White Wahala is populated by exaggerated characters whose outrageous actions and the dubious reasoning behind them take us to the heart of the misunderstandings and fears we encounter in everyday life as South Africans of all backgrounds. Ekow Duker’s take on the present state of the country has the potential to generate a lot of debate. It is impossible to remain neutral towards the story. My own personal response was a mix of incredulity and anger.

White Wahala
by Ekow Duker
Picador Africa, 2014

First published in the Cape Times on 26 September 2014.

Dying in NYIt is difficult to write about Ekow Duker’s second novel, Dying in New York, without giving away the ending, an unexpected twist on which the entire narrative hinges. The book’s pre-teenage protagonist, Lerato Malema, suffers horrendous abuse at the hands of her father. Her mother, also a victim, unable to protect her daughter, stands by hopelessly. One day, the dynamics of the setup change with fatal consequences.

The only thing that keeps Lerato going is a vague fantasy about the city of New York which she shares with her mother. Propelled by her vivid imagination, she embarks on a roller-coaster ride through contemporary South Africa where she encounters the worst of what the country has to offer, with very little to relieve the alienation, horror and pain of her dark adventures. Reality and fantasy blur uncomfortably, revealing a highly unsettling picture of violence and insanity.

Dying in New York
by Ekow Duker
Picador Africa, 2014

First published in the Cape Times on 3 October 2014.