Home » 2013 » January

So many books, so few surfaces

The other day a friend walked into the kitchen and said: “It looks as though a huge family of readers was abducted by aliens in the middle of reading.” Every surface had a book splayed open it. I blinked a little disbelievingly.

too many books 002Just now, I walked into the living room to tidy up. This is what I found:

  • NW by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton) – my novel
  • Katalekte by Breyten Breytenbach (Human & Rousseau) – the poetry (there’s usually one on the go)
  • Flowers by Andrew Zuckerman (Quercus) – just arrived from publisher for review
  • JM Coetzee: ‘n Geskryfde Lewe by John Kannemeyer (Jonathan Ball) – really interesting, but super-heavy, can only be read on arm of armchair for support
  • Zuma Exposed by Adriaan Basson (Jonathan Ball) – just picked it idly off the to-be-read pile and got a bit hooked in
  • Life in Five Seconds – Matteo Civaschi and Gianmarco Milesi (Quercus) – very unusual “stories in simple drawings” book. Kids and I have picked it up intermittently since the weekend to puzzle together
  • The Viewer – Shaun Tan and Gary Crew (Lothian Children’s Books) – because I am an admirer of Tan and a collector of his books. Bought this one at the weekend with a gift voucher
  • Ideas Gifts (Human & Rousseau) – not sure why: I spotted the spine and paged through it. Ideas is currently my favourite South African magazine and these craft ideas always make me feel hopeful and happy like Pollyanna
  • What’s for dinner, Mr Gum? By Andy Stanton (Egmont) – my children love me reading this to them (even though they’re past the age of being read to) because I “do voices”. Mr Gum is so funny. Not just lift-one-side-of-your-mouth funny. The kind of funny where you have to put the book down sometimes to wait for someone to recover from laughing fit.
  • The History of the World by Frank Welsh (Quercus) – because my son started on The French Revolution at school today and, well, you know…these big books are so much nicer – and the information is so much more contained – than what you see the net.

I walked out of the living room. There was no tidying to be done after all. Just some more disbelieving blinking.

 

Ga-Zoom or Zike-Bike? Tripping into Dr Seuss

Possibly the most raggedy set of books in the house is the pile of Dr Seuss books on a shelf in the entrance hall. I like the scruffy aesthetic of the yellow and red spines. The other day, my daughter – who is ten and reads big, fat rather advanced novels for young adults – asked me to take them down for her to look at, because she can’t reach them where they are.

This reminded me of how, when the children were tots and other mothers came to the house with their own babes, they would get all tense and upset whenever their kidlets scooted over to the shelves on fat-nappied bottoms to pull out the books. This is inevitable. Books and babies are locked into a mysterious magnetic relationship. I just haven’t found any scientific study yet to confirm this. On more than one occasion the mothers would take the books out of the babies hands and I would reassure them that it wasn’t necessary.

“But aren’t you scared they get damaged?”

I’m more frightened by undamaged books. A pristine book is an unread book and frankly, that’s just a travesty.

I used to keep children’s books and adult paperbacks I wasn’t precious about on the lowest shelves. I still mostly do, even though we seldom have babies or toddlers around here anymore. I put them there so that they CAN be easily reached.

Pix of kids reading 002Anyhoo, back to the unreachable Dr Seuss books. I took the pile down and handed them to my daughter who settled them on her stomach on the couch and began to read. In between she told me that when she was little she used to fantasise and fervently wish that she could turn into a character in one of the books. Particularly, she’d always hoped to become, even just for a short while, Kitty O’Sullivan Krauss “in her big balloon swimming pool over her house”.Dr Seuss 002

We agreed frantically that actually it was hard to choose which Dr Seuss page you’d want to be on: take a drive in Bumble-boat with Marvin K. Mooney? Indulge in some Schlopp? Schlopp. Beautiful schlopp. Beautiful schlopp with a cherry on top? Be in one of the various Dr Seuss 001fantastical vehicles that go to the Right?

Tripping into, through and on Dr Seuss is one of those pleasures you can never outgrow.

REVIEW: The Land Within

The Land WithinThe Land Within

Alistair Morgan

Penguin

REVIEW BY: Aly Verbaan

FORGET about the protracted and meandering opening pages that are often territory of the South African farm novel. Alistair Morgan cuts to the chase with this first line from The Land Within: “He had always associated the farm with the smell of death.”

The reader is both warned and bewitched on page one. This technique also worked well in Morgan’s award-winning debut novel, Sleeper’s Wake (2009), which opened with the equally captivating “When I woke up they had to remind me that I’d been in an accident”.sleepers wake

Morgan circumvents lengthy descriptions by constructing the scene as we read rather than as a precursor to the action.

Farm novels are the dominion of many Southern African writers: Eve Palmer’s The Plains of Camdeboo, Alexandra Fuller’s Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight or, a personal favourite, Etienne van Heerden’s Leap Year. And let’s not forget Marlene van Niekerk’s epic, Agaat. At just 155 pages, The Land Within is perhaps more of a farm novella than a novel, but it is precisely this sparse and honed method that keeps the word count down while maximising the story’s impact.

Henry Knott and his heavily pregnant wife Marian have been visiting Henry’s cancer-riddled father in Graaff-Reinet — a Karoo village some 700km from Cape Town —  with its tiered mountains that seem  to touch the cerulean sky, but if there is serenity to be found there, it won’t be Henry who finds it.

Philip Knott has one last wish — he is “Wither[ing] against the cruel behest of cancer”— and would like nothing more than to be buried in the family farm’s cemetery. Except the land is no longer in the hands of his family. And Philip’s son Henry has no desire to revisit it, because, as a psychologist, he is fully aware that the land within his skull still has the horsepower to drag him across this harsh and untamed terrain, leaving him impaled on the ubiquitous and deceptively named Soetdoring (literally: sweet thorn).

But Henry and Marian do visit the old farm in the hope that the new owners will assent to such an arrangement. However, Henry’s mother Paula has pipped them to the post: the farm’s new owners have received a letter from her specifically asking them to turn down any such request by Philip. The reason, she says, is that Philip Knott is no longer linked to his ex-wife lineage of the Dunbar family, whose cemetery is on what is now Kabelo and Ayanda Mahlangu’s land.

Here Morgan has subtly and ingeniously introduced a universal question – but all the more germane to South Africa – of land ownership and the graves of ancestors. One could go as far as to say this is the crucible of combat.

At this juncture, the reader realises that Morgan is about to turn what has gone before on its head. The farm’s new owners are in the process of remodelling the farm as a hotel, although it is clear to all that it is foundering. Yet, he must come cap in hand to speak to the new man of the house. Kabelo is not prepared to go against Henry’s mother’s wishes, and the two spend some time deliberating on what is to be done.

Meanwhile, Kabelo’s wife Ayanda insists the couple stay the night, and here is the nexus between the child Henry and the grown psychologist of twenty years later.

We know from the opening sentence that there are dark secrets the farm has held hostage, and Henry has no wish to release them. As he examines himself it becomes apparent to him that it isn’t the farm that needs exploring: it’s the recesses of his mind, where he now discovers these secrets were merely repressed, not exorcised. Neither the young Henry nor the adult Henry has ever felt quite grounded, or not enough to face his fears. The young boy he thought he was and the man he is now are doomed to always fall short of their own credos, but just how badly, we wonder. We sympathise with Henry: he is as ensnared between the impending death of his father and the envisaged birth of his son.

Muted red herrings abound and when the final “red herring” makes its appearance, you will feel like slapping yourself with it.

By now we are waiting with bated breath for anything from an ancestor to a basilisk to appear in order to break the mounting tension.

There are small creases in an otherwise taut mural: no light relief, a few incidents where we are required to suspend disbelief slightly, an overly visceral rendition of Henry’s pregnant wife’s vulva. But Morgan is a master raconteur; a writer who knows what is needed where to hold our attention. It’s all in the timing.

This review first appeared in the Cape Times in January 2013

 

COLUMN: Time to read – but only because I don’t watch TV

BY: Karin Schimke

I am often asked when I get time to read so much. Do I have more leisure time than other people? I don’t think so. It took me a while to figure out the answer to this question, but I have now: I think I get through more books than other people because I don’t have a television. Or rather, I do have one, but it’s not hooked up and is only used for watching DVDs. Watching a television screen is an event for me.

The ancient, buzzy and seldom used television.

The ancient, buzzy and seldom-used television.

How humans use their free time is not a new area of thought though: important people have been thinking about it for centuries: Aristotle; the influential British economist John Maynard Keynes; the “idling” philosopher Bertrand Russell and, more recently, adherents of the thoroughly modern Slow Movement which advocates slowness in everything, from work to food to urban design.

My favourite book on questions around time, work and leisure remains How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, but I’ve also recently read In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, factual and well-researched but not as dotty and entertaining as the Hodgkinson.

I’ve been thinking about leisure these past few days as I tallied up that I have “engaged with” (to say “read” would be disingenuous) thirteen books in seven weeks.

Of them,  eight are novels, of which four are unfinished but haven’t been shelved. They are  Zadie Smith’s NW (just started it) and the audio-book version of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which requires solitude. One novel – The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – got drenched by a leaky water bottle and fell apart, but the movie’s on at the moment and it did a brilliant job of telling the story I already half knew.

Pix of kids reading 011

This is the very ragged copy of Class A – second book in the much-loved Cherub series by Robert Muchamore – from which my daughter reads to me while we’re driving.

My daughter, who reads obsessively has discovered that when she reads aloud in the car she doesn’t get car sick, so I’m also halfway through Robert Muchamore’s Class A, the second in his Cherub series, because she reads while I’m driving.

I seldom read poetry collections once, or beginning to end. One evening in the bath I read only about eight poems, slowly and more than once, from Loftus Marais’ second collection Kry My By Die Gewone Plek Aguur. Last week I read several of Adrienne Rich’s early poems in The Fact Of A Doorframe, a selection from her entire, enormous  ouevre.

One non-fiction has been dipped in and out of, a marvellous Afrikaans book called God: Die oorsprong en uiteinde van alles, in which prominent Afrikaners are interviewed by Fritz Gaum, a religious man, and George Claasen, an atheist. The interviewees, who are both robust and sensitive at once, share wonderful personal anecdotes about the course of their spiritual lives have taken. It’s an intelligent, sane and tolerant approach to a thorny subject.

That leaves the The Art Book,  a thing which weighs so much it works best on the floor, where I’ve paged through it a number of times. It’s a social book: whoever is around can’t seem to help but be drawn in by the famous art works displayed on each page, and debate often ensues.

My home leisure time is currently – since my brainwave to buy myself the audio book of Anna Karenina – utterly delightful. I put on the book, put my feet up and take up my knitting. In a few weeks’ time I will have finally “read” a book I’ve always wanted to, and I will have a new knee blanket.Photos of knitting 005

I wonder whether multi-tasking your leisure time in this way would win the approval of proponents of the Slow Movement, or whether they would argue that I am still in the high-productivity trap that so afflicts modern life.

At any rate: I can’t say I regret the time that not having a TV gives me. – Schimke is an independent writer, a poet and the editor of the Cape Times books pages.

COLUMN: Recent books to movies

BY: Karin Schimke

I have a confession to make: I have not read Anna Karenina.

I have no explanation. I haven’t avoided it, but it has somehow never crossed my path either. Every now and again someone does that sigh and dreamy-eyed look that seems to accompany or precede mention of the great Leo Tolstoy novel and I think again “I must get around to that book”. But I never have.

Finding time to read Anna Karenina has now turned into a small emergency: the film is being released in 2013 and I must see it on the big screen as I fear my small, fat third-hand television – the one I practically have to start with a hand crank and intermittently thump on the head when its anxious buzzing threatens to drown out dialogue from a DVD – will destroy the experience for me.

I am simply not prepared to go and see that particular movie without having read the book first. Judging from the various people over the years who have spoken of Anna Karenina in a way that made it clear that the book is a peak reading experience – I would be committing several kinds of wrong by opting for the shortcut movie version above the story presented in its intended and original form of a novel.

There are quite a number of a very exciting literary works that have been or will be turned into movies in the new year. Already The Life of Pi – that truly brilliant, unusual story by Yann Martel which was published eleven years ago – is on the screen and having read it and listened to the audio book I’m chomping at the bit to experience it in one more medium.

I’ll skip The Hobbit, being (flay me for this sin) not a fan of Tolkien in any form, but I’m definitely going to see Cloud Atlas. The original book – written in 2004 – felt uninviting, positively inhospitable, to me. I know from experience that when this happens with a book that comes highly recommended by many people, it has more to do with my own emotional or intellectual development, than with the novel, but I’ve had no great urge to get back to Cloud Atlas, so the movie shortcut in this case is indicated.

What I’m really looking forward to seeing on the big screen next year are books I read a long time ago: The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, On The Road by Jack Kerouac and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

I find that now, thinking of them, I can remember only the scrappiest general summary of each book, but have retained a happy sense that they were wonderful stories, each of them.  So they bear repetition – because no-one gets sick of a good story.

  • I’d be keen to know what movies from books others have recently seen and what they thought of them. I managed to see The Life Of Pi and The Silver Linings Playbook.

 

QUICK REVIEW: Cape Town

Cover_Noakes_printCape Town

Kate Noakes

Eyewear Publishing

REVIEW BY: Sarah Rowland-Jones

Anyone who has looked beyond Cape Town’s tourist traps will smile in recognition at these closely observed poems about the city and wider environs.

A five-month work stint in early 2011 proved a fruitful time for the Welsh poet, Kate Noakes, whose third collection this is.  Her sometimes subversive eye found rich resources in the place, its past and present politics, and life, whether human, animal or avian.

Poems range from ‘a yard of silver’ snoek to the ‘Green and yellow blanket man’ begging aggressively in Long Street, from hadedas ‘plagued with smoker’s cough’ to quagga and zebra ‘bar-coded for its foals to find home’, from forced removals and dislocated homing pigeons, to fracking and HIV transmission.  Noakes employs a deft touch, vivid imagery, and frequent humour.

This elegantly printed hardback is an empathetic, thought-provoking invitation to view our city with fresh eyes. – Sarah Rowland-Jones

This review first appeared in the Cape Times in December 2012.

Here’s what others had to say about Kate Noakes’ poems (from the Eyewear website).

Kate Noakes’ Cape Town poems command our imaginative attention with all the power that the crossroads and lawns, wastelands and landscapes of “fateful convergence” commanded hers, a visitor from a hemisphere away. Like the stargazers in her ‘Kruger Nocturne’, “scanning until our retinas gave away”, Noakes writes with an acute sense of atmosphere reminiscent of the photographs of David Goldblatt, capturing sharply the urgency of the present in tandem always with the long echoes of history.
— Jane Draycott

Kate Noakes’ Cape Town takes us on her journey through a landscape that is both engaging and alien, a population at times aggressive, at times welcoming and an intriguing bestiary that includes the almost extinct Quagga zebra – “Each animal uniquely patterned,/bar-coded
for its foals to find home”. This is a collection which engages the Rainbow Nation and its radiantly colourful country with a purposeful eye.
— Tony Curtis

 

QUICK REVIEW: Swimming Home

swimming-homeSwimming Home

Deborah Levy

Faber & Faber

REVIEW BY: Aly Verbaan

PLUNGING right in, Deborah Levy presents a small ensemble of holiday-makers convened around a pool in the south of France — world-famous poet Joe and his frosty wife, Isabel, fellow guests Mitchell and Laura, hippie houseboy Jurgen, and the alluring extra, Kitty Finch — and then she deconstructs them, skinning back layers and exposing one intramural after another. Kitty is mentally volatile (and regularly naked in public). She’s off her meds, and is possibly stalking Joe, in the hope that he will cast his eye over a poem she’s written, but he invents convenient schemes not to, even as he finds himself seduced by her. Their sexual fender-bender is inexorable, and just how they intersect each other and what repercussions their irresponsible navigations bring generates disconcerting traction.

Levy’s Booker-shortlisted story of tedious Brits-in-Biarritz is rescued from the pedestrian by its succinctness — at just 150 pages it could be a novella. But it is no less cogent for its brevity — it hovers like a bee, and stings like one too.

This review appeared in the Cape Times in 2012

REVIEW: Endings & Beginnings

beginings_and_endingsEndings & Beginnings – A Story of Healing

Redi Thlabi

Jacana

REVIEW BY: Jennifer Crocker

Endings & Beginnings is a joy of journalistic and personal discovery, written by popular radio talk show host Redi Thlabi, and it takes the reader on a remarkable journey into her past – a past that includes her troubled young childhood friend Mabegzo.

For those hesitant about well-known people’s stories about their lives there is no need to be in this case. Keep in mind that Thlabi has a sound journalistic background which she puts to excellent use as she excavates the “truth” behind the story of Mabegzo.

The story begins with the murder of Thlabi’s father when she was a little girl in Soweto. It’s a scene written with savage intensity. The horror of a young child seeing her dad’s body on the street is one that makes one gasp. And, yet the gift of Thlabi’s writing doesn’t allow this introduction to slip into sentimentality or gratuitous self-pity. It’s written in the taut style that raises this book into not just a compelling story, but a really good piece of writing.

We meet the young Thlabi as an 11-year-old girl living in Soweto. She has the benefits of a stable home, even though her dad is dead, and a mother who cares about her. Through the eyes of the author we come to see the Soweto of her childhood.

Obviously we know from the beginning of Endings & Beginnings that this is not going to be an easy read. Mabegzo is not exactly the ideal friend for a young girl. He is older than her, and has a reputation as a gangster, a rapist, and even a killer. Thlabi’s journey in this book is to look back through the shattered glass reflection of what happened when she was growing up and to try to make sense of what turned Mabegzo into the young man he became. In the process of returning to her childhood home Thlabi gives real insight into township life, insight that comes from one who lived there, and who still knows Soweto well. It’s a time where jackrolling (the raping of a young woman by a number of gangsters is common), where blood is spilled, but also where a young uncertain and teased young girl waits for a damaged young man to meet her at the corner outside her school and see her home safely.

Things end for Mabegzo, as one expects they will, in a bloody fashion on the street. His death is haunting and as a grown woman with a successful career the author returns to find out the truth about his life and death, with the caveat that we can never really know the other. Journeying back into the story of how Mabegzo became the young man he was is a convoluted trip, and Tlhabi imposes on her narrative a strict sense of making sure that she is not compromising her beliefs and worldview while uncovering the layers of the life an imperfect person. Which could not have been an easy task; it’s easy to write about good people, much harder to sift through the complexities of a life that has a dark and dangerous side. Without ever preaching she manages to share with the reader a voyage that is breathtakingly beautiful. Without setting herself up as a moral judge she succeeds in explaining her stance on life. In many ways the reader discovers as much about Thlabi as she wants us to, and while it is a book about her life, it is her life set within a particular context and she succeeds in never making herself the central character in the book: that role belongs to the truth or the version of the truth that she will settle on.

Her decision to go back into her past to try to find out about her friend and to make sense of what he became probes complex issues, how our names affect us and can influence the way we are seen. It’s a discovery of the hurtful power of thwarted love, and how in the name of shame terrible things can be done to children. It’s also the story of how Tlhabi finds out the truth about her friend through intense research and going out on a personal limb in order to understand how a human being can become dehumanised to some and yet be fully human to others.

Endings & Beginnings is a book anyone interested in the quest for truth should read. It is never preachy and is brutally honest. One is left with the feeling that Tlhabi embarked on her journey with only a shattered mirror of memory and half-truth to guide her and emerged on the other side with a full looking-glass. She remains true to her own beliefs while finding forgiveness and closure for a little boy who once had another name a name that encompassed love and who died with a name that embodied fear.

This review appeared in the Cape Times in January 2013.

THREE QUICK REVIEWS

The-Sound-of-Things-Falling-Book-Cover1The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Bloomsbury)

I was moved by something in this book that I have not read quite in this way before: the relationship of the individual to their country when that country is a place of violence and uncertaintly, even though it is not at war.

Colombia, in recent history, was the world’s drug central with druglords practically making the rules and ruling the country. The people of Bogota, the main city, lived perilously and in fear. What effect does this have on the individual? How does the constant threat of harm insert itself between strangers and wedge itself between lovers?

The narrator, prickled by a media story in 2009 about an escaped hippopotamus recalls a fatal meeting, decades earlier, with a pilot.

Informative, resonant for South Africans, stimulating, effortlessly themed, engrossing and sensitive, this story- in which many of the events actually happened – will make you want to know a lot more about Colombia.

ancient-lightAncient Light by John Banville (Viking)

Banville’s books are a weave of overlapping characters and Ancient Light provides yet another thread. However, the book stands wholly on its own and, while I appreciated its density and almost exaggerated poetic language, I don’t imagine it’s everyone’s cup of tea.

Alex Cleave is an ageing actor recalling – at the same time that he is asked to star in a movie about a sinister man named Axel Vander – an affair he had as a teenager with his best friend’s mother.

The anagrammatic names are an indication that nothing can be taken at face value in Alex’s recollection, and the narrator teases himself constantly with the veracity of memory.

The book’s greatest joy is the earthy sensuousness with which the physical relationship is recounted.While the self-awareness of the author’s approach is at times intrusive, the sum is entrancing.

toby's roomToby’s Room by Pat Barker (Hamish Hamilton)

Elinor Brooke, who studies at the Slade in London in the early part of the last century, rigidly refuses to get involved in the abominable war that descends on Europe.

But as it drags awfully towards its end she is drawn in and begins work with Henry Tonks – a forbidding, exacting surgeon and artist, and a previous tutor of hers – working at a hospital concerned with facial reconstruction for wounded soldiers.

While Barker examines on one level the role of the artist in war, she also pits herself against war’s ability to fundamentally change the landscapes of lives, of inner worlds, and of relationships. And she does this without compromising the plot. It is harrowing stuff, but told with powerful restraint, engaging the reader intellectually, emotionally and viscerally. Do not skip the author’s note at the end.

TOP TEN 2011

Because of the popularity of my post on the top ten South African books of 2012 – as published by The Star newspaper – I’ve decided to also post my other lists. The list for 2010 can be found here:

lost_groundLost Ground

Michiel Heyns

Jonathan Ball

In spite of dealing with the clash between personal and political history – and how the two are inextricable, no matter how determinedly individuals might deny that – Lost Ground grows lush out of the simplest elements of outstanding story making. Believable story facts, entertaining dialogue, gentle tension that builds gradually, an acute sense of time, place and character and – most delightfully – humour, enliven this South African dorp story. Deceptively packaged as a crime novel, but landing explosively in the heart as only literature can, Heyns’ wonderful book has a reach wide enough to hold even the fussiest and most easily bored of readers.

Double Negativedouble negative

Ivan Vladislavic

Umuzi

Vladislavic’s extended meditation on the alienation in your own country offers ways of seeing by running his themes through first one photographer, then another’s, camera lens. Searing, short passages of truth sting in a focused narrative from this award-winning Joburg writer.

bad sexBad Sex

Leon de Kock

Umuzi

The narrator’s failed relationships lead him to therapy where uncomfortable memories  from his rough and ready sixties Mayfair childhood are exhumed to provide hard to swallow truths about the present. Unashamedly butch, brave and  authentic.

Sometimes there is a voidsometimes there is a void_image_lowres

Zakes Mda

Penguin

An engaging memoir by this writer of commercially and critically successful books. Mda tells how he was shaped by his father, about the women in his life, about politics and art, and about post-democracy disappointments.

30 Nights in Amsterdam-Etienne Van Heerden_image_lowres30 Nights in Amsterdam

Etienne Van Heerden

Penguin

Van Heerden’s idiosyncratic voice and his ability to elasticise language remain intact in this outstanding translation from Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns. Utterly engaging characters make this story of self-discovery, history, psychology and politics a thumping read.

Revelationsrevelations

Mongane Wally Serote

Jacana

A poignant post-democracy view of the entanglement of past, present and future. Chile and Zimbabwe –with their traumatised psyches, like South Africa – make up the trio of countries in which the individual’s life is set against a complex background.

killing kebbleKilling Kebble: An Underworld Exposed

Mandy Wiener

Pan Macmillan

Thorough journalism gives us the inside track on a fascinating South African saga of crime and corruption, power and policing. The gritty, bizarre and tragic details are lifted into the light for our appalled benefit.

Read here about the killers that are going to star as themselves in the movie based on this book.

Piet-Pyleveld-Dossier1Byleveld

Hanlie Retief

Umuzi

Retired super sleuth Piet Byleveld’s story is told to a seasoned journalist. Any news follower will recognise the names of some of the cases he’s helped solve in murder-rife South Africa. As compelling as road-kill.

Henrietta-Rose-Innes-ninevehNineveh

Henrietta Rose-Innes

Umuzi

With musical fluency Rose-Innes tells a story about a female pest remover, sucking great opposites into her narrator’s unusual  scope. Returning to her favoured themes of the city and the creatures that inhabit it, Rose-Innes writes charmingly.

little-liberia-jb_webLittle Liberia: An African Odyssey in New York

Jonny Steinberg

Jonathan Ball

Venturing out of South Africa, this enormously talented writer reminds us of both our cruelty and our resilience in a story about ex-pat Liberians in New York. Steinberg has the gift of turning thorough research into captivating, lucid prose.