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Ontgroei? Boeke? LOL!

lees

Susan Samuel Van Rooyen is ‘n joernalis en ‘n onderwyser. Sy’t drie kinders. Sy gaan gereeld vir Not Now, Darling. I’m Reading skryf oor kinderboeke en jeugliteratuur.

Hoe pas jy lees vir jou kinders in ‘n besige lewe?

I don’t really. Dit is ‘n stryd. Ons “binge-read” oor vakansies en naweke – wanneer ek ontspanne is en kan stilsit vir ‘n ruk en kan voorlees. Maar tydens die week in kwartaaltyd is dit moeilik, want dis buitemuurs en huiswerk en admin en chaos. Aangesien ek smiddae en saans by die kinders is, beteken ‘n ruskans vir my juis om sonder die kinders te wees! Om alleen te sit en lees, net stilte om my te hê. My kinders is gelukkig om twee oumas te hê wat graag vir hulle voorlees en wat ons gereeld sien. Hulle haal nogal die druk van my af. Dis die wonderlike ding van oumas en oupas. Ekself prober egter altyd ‘n voorbeeld stel deur lees as ‘n noodsaaklikheid vir myself te bedryf, en nie ‘n luukse nie. My kinders sien my gereeld lees – in die kar as ek vir hulle wag of langs die sportveld. Hulle moet sien dat ‘n mens nie hoef te wag tot vakansies om te lees nie.

Hoekom is lees vir jou kinders belangrik vir jou?

Dis vir my belangrik dat my kinders besef dat indien hul eie lewens vervelig is, hulle steeds fantastiese ervarings deur boeke kan hê. Op ‘n klein dorpie met beskermende ouers en ‘n rustige gemeenskap gaan lees en boeke eendag hul redding wees. Dit gaan hulle verlos van ‘n vervelige saai bestaan en dit gaan hulle hopelik laat uitsien na die lewe wat vir hulle voorlê.

Hulle moet dus leer om geduldig te wees, om boeke ‘n regverdige kans te gee en om die waarde en lekkerte van boeke te ervaar. Hierdie vermoë moet aangeleer word – dit kom nie vanself nie. Om vir kinders voor te lees is die enigste manier waarop jy hierdie wêreld vir hulle kan wys. Dis soveel moeiliker om ‘n onbekende plek op jou eie te ontdek. Jy mis dalk van die beste hoekies en gaatjies. As leser en inwoner van hierdie ‘lees’wêreld, voel ek dis my plig om my kinders ‘n klomp gunstelinge te ‘wys’ voordat ek hulle loslaat sodat hulle met selfvertroue verder kan ontdek.

Is die boeke wat in Suidafrika vir kinders en tieners gepubliseer word van ‘n goeie gehalte? 

Ek dink tog so. Ek sien gereeld tipies Suid-Afrikaanse boeke op die rak en dis van baie goeie kwaliteit. Ek dink daar word ongelukkig bittermin aandag aan die plaaslike Engelse boeke gegee, waarskynlik omdat die oorsese Engelse mark so geweldig produktief en interessant is. Ek het al wonderlike plaaslike Engelse boeke gelees waarvan ek nie ‘n enkele resensie kon opspoor nie.

Die mark vir Afrikaanse boeke vir kinders en tieners het ‘n eie persoonlikheid en hoewel die mark redelik klein is, is dit baie aktief. Daar is ‘n paar plaaslike skrywers wat oorheers wat soms nogal steurend is, maar dit gebeur maklik in ‘n klein poeletjie. Daar is lieflike boeke wat tans in Afrikaans vertaal word en ek waardeer die moeite wat uitgewers doen om oorsese skrywers ook in Afrikaans aan ons kinders bekend te stel, veral die klassieke boeke. Ek wens net hulle wil moeite doen om.goeie vertalers te kies. Dit mag dalk kinderboeke wees, maar ek het al gruwelike foute opgetel in onlangse vertalings.

Wanneer jou kinders boeke ontgroei het, hoe besluit jy watter boeke om te hou en watter om weg te gee?

Ontgroei? Boeke? LOL!

Watter boeke van jou kinderdae onthou jy die helderste?

house by mouseEk onthou veral Bill Peet se boeke. Hy was ‘n illustreerder wat destyds by Disney gewerk het en sy boeke is taamlik in Afrikaans vertaal in die vroeë 80’er jare. Een van hierdie boeke, die Woempe, wat gaan oor besoedeling en selfsug, het ek opgespoor in ons plaaslike biblioteek en ek neem dit gereeld vir my kinders uit. Ek kon egter niks anders van hom weer opspoor in Afrikaans nie. Die ander boek is Mamma en die wilde baba, wat ook ‘n vertaalde boek is. Daar is ook ‘n boek oor Mirabella Muis wat huise ontwerp. Ek kon ure na die prentjies kyk.

Wat is die kenmerke van goeie kinderliteratuur?

Die illustrasies is baie belangrik. En nie alle illustrasies werk ewe goed nie. Om mooi te teken beteken nie noodwendig dieselfde as om interessant te teken nie. ‘n Kind word nie noodwendig deur ‘n mooi prentjie geboei nie, maar eerder ‘n interessante prentjie. Ek neig om boeke te koop wat vir my mooi is en waar die stories vir my werk. Nie alle boeke wat ek koop werk ewe goed vir my kinders nie. So dit bly ‘n uitdaging. Ek koop egter nie sommer enige boek net omdat dit byvoorbeeld Afrikaans is nie. Sommige uitgewers is slordig. Soms irriteer die illustrasies my. So ek staan laaaaank daar by die kinderboekrakke en kyk boeke deur voordat ek sommer net koop.

Ouer kinders word weer deur “trend-reading” beïnvloed. Hulle lees wat hul maters lees. Dis hier waar ‘n biblioteek – veral die skoolbiblioteek – van onskatbare waarde is, want ek wil nie noodwendig al 64 uitgawes van Geronimo Stilton of Reënboograndtieners gaan koop nie. Ek gooi selde boeke uit (sien Vraag 4) en kies dus baie mooi wat ek by my huis indra. Biblioteekboeke is egter altyd baie welkom en ons pas dit baie mooi op.

 

Remember when we used the Encyclopedia Brittanica?

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I recently visited my parents in city far from mine. That feeling of having turned into a giant in a doll’s house has never left me. The place you grow up in always seems ridiculously small through adult eyes. When you are small, the space feels full of endless nooks and crannies.

One of the nooks I spent a lot of time in, was this one. It’s in the living room.

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On the shelf below the Encyclopedia Brittanica are my father’s records. Both – encycolopedia and LP’s – now seem like such quaint artifacts.

For years I failed to “see” that shelf, but this time the Encyclopedia Brittanica hooked my eye. What a proud row of books – and how useful it was. It was the first and last source for every project from about the age of 11 onwards. Trips to the library provided the meat on the research sandwich.

I opened one up and was amused at how small the writing is. How was I not intimidated back then? But I wasn’t. Those books were (almost) all I needed for research and independent work at home.

I pulled down the book that promised to have an entry for “Encyclopedia” and found an eighteen page (!) entry.

 

The entry for "Encyclopedia" from the Encyclopedia Brittanica

The entry for “Encyclopedia” from the Encyclopedia Brittanica

An encyclopedia is: “a type of reference work or compendium holding a comprehensive summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particlar branch of knowledge”. 

Then I looked up “Encyclopedia Brittanica” on its modern incarnation, Wikipedia, and discovered the following:

  • In 2012 it was announced that the 2010 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica would be the last printed edition
  • It was first published between 1768 and 1771, in Edinburgh in Scotland and it ran to three volumes.
  • The final set was 32 volumes. It was the fifteenth edition and it ran to 32 640 pages.

I remember when my parents bought the Encyclopedia Brittanica that it was an enormous financial sacrifice. In retrospect, it seems like it was a good investment.

Francis Bacon's classification of knowledge

Francis Bacon’s classification of knowledge

  • (Watch Joey from Friends in the episode where he can afford only one volume of the Encyclopedia.)

Eighth Day: Love poetry

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Love and poetry go together like a bard and his red, red rose—and no better way to enjoy Valentine’s month than with a little lust, eroticism and reminder that neither are reserved for the young or heterosexual. MOIRA RICHARDS shares her thoughts.

Schmailo#specialcharacters

Larissa Schmailo

Unlikely Books

As the titian-haired faun on the cover suggests, Larissa Schmailo’s collection limns the life of a lover—a lover who is a lusty lover of life too. The opening piece catches the first 12 Fibonacci numbers and finesses them into giddy remembrances of an octogenarian’s most significant birthdays. Then, as Fibonacci sequences do, the pages of poetry spiral with the 89-year-old, ever outwards, or perhaps inwards, towards her infinity.

Stream-of-consciousness narrations, witty footnoted asides, plays with parentheses and fonts, prose poems, list poems— they all fill in on the special character(s), subject of the book. The last section introduces the once successful poet, Ritar (“Ritar had had her 15 minutes of fame, many times over”), bottomed out, no longer “wave… disturbance in space-time… Cambrian explosion of creativity.” But she is still in control of her own infinity. Schmailo’s poetry sucked me into/out of its golden spiral.

TwoWhiteBedsTwo White Beds: Millie and Sam

Laura Cherry

Minerva Rising

ISBN 0989574547

This discreet, pocket-sized chapbook, winner of the publisher’s “Daring to be the Woman I Am” contest, comprises eight poem letters sent to “Dearest Millie” by Samantha at intervals during the year running from June 1882 to June 1883. All but one, perhaps two, were ever posted. Interleaved between them, are seven first-person musings by the respectable Miss Millicent in which the poetry touches on the unexpectedness of their love, on their self-imposed separation and their eventual decision to live a life together.

A deliciously period piece, subtly erotic through its imagery of full-blown peonies, perfectly ripened fruit, and feastings on oysters by young women who, outwardly, will present themselves to the Victorian English world as merely two of those ubiquitous “harmless maiden aunts / arm in arm along the boardwalk.”

Cloves&HoneyCloves & Honey

love poems

Athena Kildegaard

Nodin Press

ISBN-13: 978-1935666363

Kildegaard set out to write a love poem every day for 365 days – I’m inspired now to try and do the same. Then she revised and selected a quarter of the untitled poems to craft an ode to a three decades long, happy, marriage. Divided into four sections, matching the seasons of a year and drawing often on the images of nature, each became my new favourite as I read on through this celebration.

Understated eroticism and long-ago new beginnings in the poetry of spring; a languid sense of repletion suffuses the summer; the poems of autumn marvel at good fortune, recognise its ephemerality; and at the last, poems in which winter’s freeze is held at bay as two fifty-year olds (children grown and flown) divide and share the small chores and routines of their domestic life.

LiesThese are the lies I told you

Kerry Hammerton

Modjaji Books, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-920397-22-7

I’m a sucker for a great cover and, happily, the insides of books usually deliver on their outside promises. This, with its hot pink letters lying flat on their backs, is no exception. The poems run page over page to create a lusty tale of seduction, sex and falling in love; and heartbreak and love again and … well, you didn’t think I’d give away the ending?

Hammerton’s poetry tells the stories poets have told since back when – stories we never tire of living and reliving especially when told new. Her light, sometimes witty, sometimes understated control of words, make this telling deliciously new.

 

I’M DROOLING OVER: Sarah Dall’s Salted Caramel

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Cover_ For The Love of Baking -Sarah Dall HRFor the Love of Baking

Sarah Dall

Struik Lifestyle

ISBN: 978 1 43230 256 6

Review: Lesley Byram

Recommended retail price: R250

Just one look at the cover of this book and I knew I was going to love it. A dark chocolate fondant, topped with pomegranate rubies and accompanied by raspberries, oozing salted caramel, with the first spoonful resting tantalizingly on the plate just waiting to be savoured. Now that’s how you catch someone’s attention.

For the sweet-toothed, it’s like Christmas on a plate 365 days of the year, starting with breakfast and ending with actual Christmas.

Dall shares her love of baking with other enthusiastic bakers regardless of their level of experience and shares her hard-earned tips generously, so you don’t have to make frustrating and costly mistakes yourself.

At the launch of her book at the Cooks Playground, Dall demonstrated some recipes the average baker might find daunting, including Rose Delight Macaroons. Ooh, brave girl, I thought. We all love to eat them but I, for one, have yet been brave enough to tackle them, particularly after Queen of Tarts Tina Bester, who also made macaroons at one of her book launches said “I hope these turn out okay.” I thought, “Yikes, if she’s not confident after the many thousands she’s made, what are my chances?”

Sarah’s turned out perfectly – even though they had been piped by all the novices attending her launch: crunchy (not hard) on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.

Here, however, is the recipe for her Salted Caramel. It’s astonishingly quick and easy, absolutely delicious and uses affordable ingredients. Plus it makes a great gift. The results can vary from light in colour, thin and runny and perfect for drizzling over ice-cream, to thicker and darker, the colour of peanut butter, which you can spoon from the jar. It can keep up to three months and can be frozen in a jar or a sealable container.

Salted caramelcoffe_KS

(Fridge)

Makes 350 ml

100 ml golden syrup

75 g butter

75 g Demerara sugar

75 g castor sugar

125 ml double thick cream

15 ml Maldon salt

To make the sauce

Heat the syrup, butter and sugars in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and salt. Return to the heat and simmer for 
2–3 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and set aside to cool and thicken.

Author’s tip: The caramel will keep for up to three months. It can also be frozen in the jar or a sealable plastic container.

StruikLifestyle-logoWe have one copy of Sarah Dall’s For the Love of Baking to give away, courtesy of Struik Lifestyle.
To win a copy of Sarah Dall’s book, write a comment on our Facebook page or on the blog post and send us an email tonotnowdarlingct@gmail.com
You will be notified by email  if you have won and we will ask for your delivery address so that the publisher can send you your prize.
This competition closes at midnight (South African time) on Sunday 8 February 2014.
Penguin Random House logo_high res

 

INDISCRIMINATE DEVOTION: Our bedtime story

Picture credit: Naimane 
http://naimane.deviantart.com/art/Bedtime-story-189037239

I first saw the heart-stopping War Horse in London six years ago. I came home bursting with the news of this amazing show with its mind-boggling puppets. I also brought home Michael Morpurgo’s book to read to the children. This December, I was delighted to finally be able to take my children to see the production at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town. I was so happy that they were as swept away as I – and thousands and thousands of others – were by this profound production.

It reminded me of this column I wrote for Parent24 when I was reading the book to the children. My daughter has gone on to read several more Michael Morpurgo books, despite this scratchy start. michael morpurgo collection

Our bedtime story

When my husband goes away on business, the kids and I choose a book to read together. It’s one of those weird family rituals that springs up organically and happily ensnares you. “Oh look, I am duty bound to reading to my children every night whenever their father is away on business.” And by afternoon we’re already planning which must-dos we can dispense with in order to go to bed earlier and read.

My youngest child’s interest in our current story – Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse – is intermittent. She really wants to get it, but at six she’s struggling with the narrator, who, it turns out, is also the hero of the story: Joey, the horse.

Someone grooms Joey, brushing him from head to foot and she’s perplexed: “Why is someone brushing someone else? Oh, it’s the horse!”

My nine-year old sighs dramatically for the 50th time since we started the book, because his sister needs constant clarification.

We’re all being educated: trench warfare, World War 1, army lingo (“What’s a Jerry?”) and a whole regiment of new words like “outflank” and “cavalry”. Even I have learnt two new words: “bivouac” and “reveille”.

My son is engrossed, wide-eyed. My daughter is keen, but some of it’s a bit confusing and she gets restless from all the questions burning her up and which she knows her brother will get irritated by. Yet, the end of each chapter is met with a “nooo!” by both, and I – under very little duress indeed – continue until way past 8 o’clock. I say I’ll read another chapter if they promise – if they ‘promisepromisepromise’ – to go right to sleep afterwards. They promise passionately.

Finally we must put the book down, only because my mouth is as dry as the dust bunnies under the bed.

“Stay and cuddle?” asks my son. I lie with my head half up the wall, the down duvet mountainous over the three of us, a head on each of my shoulders.

“Mom?”

“No talking. Sleep.”

“Just one joke. What goes black white black white black white black white BLUE?”

“What?”

“A penguin rolling into the sea.”

I find this inordinately funny and my son and I rock the bed with mirth. My daughter is beaming up at the ceiling. Getting her hero brother to laugh at a joke is the lottery.

“Ssshhh. Sleep now.” I’m thinking of the work I must still do. We cuddle. Someone’s stomach grumbles and the kids begin to giggle quietly. I muster all my strength not to join in – everything’s funny when you’re not allowed to laugh.

They settle. The stomach grumbles again. They giggle. Then I’m laughing too. Quietly, but with their arms wrapped around my stomach they can feel it. So we just have a big explosion and finally, really, start settling.

My son is a perpetual motion machine, even lifting his eyebrows up and down, up and down, which I can feel because my hand is rested on his head and his scalp is moving. So are his toes, his knees, each individual finger, his eyeballs. This is how he is: he thinks, therefore he moves. He lies in bed, therefore he thinks.

My daughter moves once, to turn her back to me, quickly and efficiently falling asleep.

I struggle to keep my eyes open. This is not a battle I have ever won. I wake suddenly from a dream that’s made me laugh to find that my son has finally succumbed. It feels like the deepest part of the night. It is only 9pm. The duvet releases me reluctantly.

I won’t work after all because I am so bed-ready now.

I can’t wait for Chapter 10 tomorrow night.

When the language is music

IMG_20150125_085153 copy

IMG_20150125_085153 copyEvery now and again you open a book and the language sings. It rockets off into unimagined word galaxies. Images pump through the pages into your veins like a transfusion of hot syntactic blood.

Like this stuff, found now in Richard Powers’ Orfeo – a scene early on when the protagonist, Peter Els, hears Mozart’s Jupiter for the first time when he is a child. Listen to this:

“Three movements of Symphony 41 pass by: destiny and noble sacrifice, nostalgia for a vanished innocence, and a minuet so elegant it bores the bejeezus out of him. And then the finale, its four modest notes. Do, re, fa, mi: half a jumbled scale…

Young Peter props up on his elbows, ambushed by a memory from the future. The shuffled half scale gathers mass; it sucks up other melodies in its gravity … At two minutes, a trapdoor opens underneath the boy…

Five viral strands propagate, infecting the air with runaway joy. At three and a half minutes, a hand scoops Peter up and lifts him high above the blocked vantage of his days. He rises in the shifting column of light and looks back down on the room where he listens. Wordless peace fills him at the sight of his own crumpled, listening body. And pity for anyone who mistakes this blinkered life for the real deal…

When silence sets him down once more, he no longer believes in this place.”

 

REVIEW: Inspired

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Inspired_300dpi_Final1Inspired

Jennifer Lindsey-Renton

Macmillan

ISBN: 9781770103801

REVIEW: Sue Townsend

South Africa is blessed with the number of people who care deeply about their country and its fate, particularly since 1994.  The Gordon Institute of Business Science (under the auspices of the University of Pretoria) has commissioned this collection of conversations between Jennifer Lindsey-Renton and a variety of successful South Africans.  The aim is to inspire others to emulate these successful people and in so doing achieve their own potential while uplifting the nation as a whole.  As Professor Nick Benedell (the founder of GIBS) says in his introduction: ‘[T]he key differentiator of successful countries in transition comes down to a potent mix of institutions and leadership.’

This collection focuses on the leadership aspect, and, in particular, interrogates the leadership traits of the various people interviewed.  Binedell goes on to say the ‘…all leaders essentially learn to lead in two different and equally important ways.  The first is the have to find their own rhythm and come to terms with their own values; they have to understand their own style and the contribution they can make.   At the same time, that style and approach have to find fertile ground at the right place and at the right time.’  As I read, I was reminded of Michael Young’s satirical take on modern society (written in 1958!) which suggested that you need intelligence rating, qualification, experience, application, and a certain calibre to achieve status. In a word, one must show merit to advance in the new society of tomorrow.  His notion is now often taken to be in praise of ‘meritocracy’ when, in fact, he was deploring meritocracy – favouring as it did the people who are luckiest in their genes and health; family support; education and career opportunities so that these people reap the largest reward.

A common thread running through these stories shows that this is seldom the case.  Carol Boyes explains that being ‘…in the right place at the right time, and … how important of word-of-mouth is for any business to grow’.  Robbie Brozin (he of Nando’s fame) tells young entrepreneurs that they think they are working for themselves but they are always going to have partners like the bank, an investor, your wife or your clients.  However, if they have a product, they can be master of their products destiny.  Bobby Godsell’s father was a boilermaker and his was a working class upbringing but he was an intelligent, curious child and encouraged by his parents to have an open, tolerant outlook on life, with values that he could subscribe to.  Wendy Luhabe’s family were forcibly removed to Daveyton when she was eight; her parents encouraged her to be the best she could be.  Other influences were her schooling at Healdtown in the Eastern Cape and leaving South Africa in the 1970s to study at the University of Lesotho.   Then there is Herman (named Highman because his grandfather decided he was going to be special!) Mashaba – the boy with holes in his shoes.  Brought up by his extended family in the rural areas after the death of his father, he comments that ‘I was fortunate to have teachers who liked me and made time for me.’ This is the man who eventually used his intelligence and street smarts to found and develop the Black Like Me brand and built the Phatsima Group and Lephatsi Investments ‘…a leading non-racial entrepreneurial and socially responsible company … at the forefront of the economic empowerment of previously disadvantaged groups in South Africa.’

Another thread that runs through all the conversations is the determination of these remarkable South Africans to empower and uplift others.  Herman Mashaba has vowed to spend the rest of his life fighting discrimination; Yogavelli Nabiar was brought up to value being liberal, generous and open-minded. These values have stood her in good stead as the creator of the Enterprise and Development Academy at GIBS where she has focused on her mission to assist those from disadvantaged (why do we still write ‘previously disadvantaged?) communities to improve their lives and those around them through entrepreneurship.

Most of those profiled have also led fairly active political lives, but not all.  Sport stars like Francois Pienaar have set up charitable trusts (his is Make a Difference – MAD) which raise funds for bursaries and academic mentorship for academically gifted young South Africans. All of those who remember that World Cup final in 1995 will be amused to learn that he would simply like ‘6’ to be on his tombstone.

Now we come to the ‘unfortunately’ part of this review.  Having given a taste of the conversations recorded here it must be noted that each conversation follows the same formula (clearly the identical questions were asked).  The writing is pedestrian and, at no point, is there any analysis nor are any conclusions reached.  I expected more from an institute such as GIBS.

REVIEW: Congo – The Epic History of a People

congo-map

CCongo – The Epic History of a People

David van Reybrouck

Fourth Estate

ISBN: 9780062200112

REVIEW: Sue Townsend

A potted history of the largest country in Africa would read thus: the 15th century Kingdom of the Kongo at the mouth of the great Congo River is “discovered” in the 1870s and proclaimed as the personal possession of King Leopold 11 of Belgium. It is “set free” when it becomes a colony in 1908. In 1960, under Patrice Lumumba and Joseph Kasavubu, it gains sudden independence. The two factions start fighting and murder and mayhem ensures. In 1971, Mobutu Sese Seko africanised the Republic of Congo to Zaire, and in May 1997, Laurent Kabila renamed it the Democractic Republic of Congo.

But there is so much more to the history of this fascinating, complex country which straddles the middle of the continent from the west coast to the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania to the east; Angola and Zambia to the south and ‘French’ equatorial countries (Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, and Central African Republic) to the north. And Van Reborouck has done this story proud.

Van Reybrouck is a Belgian cultural historianarchaeologist and writer, holding a doctorate from Leiden University. His father spent five years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a railway engineer immediately after independence and the Congo inveigled itself into Van Reybrouck’s blood as a child and suffused his dreams, just as it did with millions of his fellow countrymen. His love for the country runs through the book, breaking through the horror and regret in passages about music or forgotten heroism or simple humanity.

Van Reybrouck chooses to tell this story in his own phrase,  from “the bottom up”.

The majority of the book comprises the testimony of ordinary Congolese, dramatically brought to life by his masterful prose. Opening with 128-year old Nkasi who was alive when the first white traders and missionaries trudged into that immense forest, through Jamais Kolonga the man who dared to ask a white woman for a dance, Zizi Kabongo the cameraman who captured Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, Ruffin the child soldier, Masika Katsua the rape-victim and many more tell their country’s story. A few “good” Belgians also contribute, most memorably the personal tailor of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko talking of his former employer as “a nice person”(!). Van Reybrouck weaves his way through the dark comedy with poetic agility. Personal stories, memory and philosophy are intercut with breathless factual narrative – lyrical and at the same time authoritative.

The previously recorded history is short, dramatic and one-sided. In 1874, The New York Herald and The Daily Telegraph of London financed Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh explorer and journalist, to travel the length of the Congo River from the source to the coast. Stanley finally arrived at the river’s mouth on the Atlantic coast in 1877. He was subsequently financed by King Leopold II of Belgium who wanted a large slice of Africa and got it the Belgian way: Congo would be a free trade buffer between other colonial interests. Some villagers rose against the whites because they were white as bones therefore they must have come from the land of the dead. Suspicion of Europeans persists to this day. Traders and missionaries followed in Stanley’s footsteps. A third of the early Baptist missionaries died in the field and it was the Catholics who mostly won out. Catholic schools, Scout troops and sports clubs provided the basis of the Congolese elite and French became the operating language.

Leopold got it right – Congo was a treasure trove of raw ingredients for the rapidly industrialising world. For example: Dunlop’s invention of the inflatable rubber tire created a demand for Congolese rubber. The profits went to build Belgium at the cost of Congolese lives. Murder was casual. Since bullets were in short supply, there was a habit of cutting off the hands of those who had been shot as proof that a bullet had been used to shoot a person and not been wasted on an animal. It was worse than slavery: not quite genocide or a holocaust Van Reybrouck says, “but it was definitely a hecatomb.” And then there were the horrors of the first and second Congolese wars, and, more recently, the entry of China into Congo.

Along the way, we learn that “Belgian colonialism contributed to the spiritual dimension of reggae” by helping to return Ethiopia to Haile Selassie in 1941, and that Mobutu’s pathetic attempt to launch Africa’s first ever space rocket in 1978 produced only a “parabola of soot”.

The depth of research; the passion; and the inventiveness in Van Reybrouck’s writing are a perfect delight to all who care about Africa. Seamlessly translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett this is a masterful work.

 

 

REVIEW: Memory Against Forgetting

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memoryMemory Against Forgetting

Ranjith Kally

Quivertree

REVIEW: KARIN SCHIMKE

If you know your journalism history – or just any South African history – there are certain names that conjure (perhaps a little too romantically considering the social political circumstances) the golden era of the journalist. The era correlates with the the magazine Drum’s heyday.

Todd Matshikiza. Jürgen Schadeberg. Nat Nakasa. Henry Nxumalo. Can Themba. Richard Rive. Bessie Head. Arthur Maimane.

They were Drum. Drum was them. Photographer Peter Magubane is quoted as saying that the Drum newsroom was “a different home; it did not have apartheid. There was no discrimination…it was only when you left DRUM and entered the world outside of the main door that you knew you were in apartheid land. But while you were inside DRUM magazine, everyone there was a family.”

Drum was the “other” South Africa back in the fifties, when it was mostly only the lives of whites mainstream media reported on. Drum presented black people not as downtrodden, shackled, the white man’s burden. Nor did it condescend.

What it did was tell stories.

One of its storytellers, until now, was unknown to me. Quivertree publications and Kalim Rajab have plucked the name of Ranjith Kally from the brink of obscurity to reproduce his photographs in a book rich with narrative.

Rajab’s family was friends with Kally. Kally and Rajab’s grand-uncle Kumroo were “on particularly intimate terms” developing photographs together in “our family darkroom, housed within our cinema, the Shah Jehan”. In later years, Rajab’s mother co-authored a book with Kally.  In his introductory essay, Rajab expresses the hope that this book will stand as a “fitting testament to the contribution this fine photographer made to the struggle of ‘memory against forgetting'”.

The title of this coffee table book works well on three levels: it is an act of resisting a great photographer’s threatening obscurity, it is a reminder of what a strange country South Africa’s past is and – particularly poignantly for journalists – a memory of a time when photojournalism rode high.

Now that anyone with a smartphone camera’s filter setting can “be a photographer”, this reminder of the noble, difficult and dangerous art of photojournalism struck me in my nostalgic core.

Photojournalism – as opposed to street or documentary photography – distinguishes itself by being entirely of the moment and connected to current events. It uses journalistic standards of objectivity and contextualisation. But there is a further aspect of it: good photojournalism has, at its invisible heart – the one beyond the image – a narrative.

That this story is captured so quickly, usually under trying circumstances (crowds, violence, threats, carrying clunky and valuable equipment) makes good photojournalism unique and its practioners admirable beyond their often butch and beefy mythology and self-image.

The cover image of Memory Against Forgetting was well chosen. It shows a makeshift court in Mtubatuba where a magistrate of the then Department of Bantu Administration presides over a dispute between chiefs about cattle theft.

The photograph’s composition – with the most powerful person dead centre displayed against a white backdrop so that his black jacket creates a close frame around his supercilious facial expression – is wonderful. The turned-wood legs of the table contrast with both the bare feet of onlookers and the gritty floor of the room. The angle suggests that the photographer is on the floor, looking up at the magistrate, implying to the informed viewer that the photographer too, is “beneath” the magistrate. The expression on the face of the policeman to the left of the magistrate is a study of conflicted, tenuous power. This is the power and magic of good photojournalism – that a single click of a shutter can capture so powerfully and artistically a real moment in time.

There are many other photographs in the book that capture stiller, more solitary moments. Some single-figure portraits are luminescent beyond what could be captured by ambient light, like that of Albert Luthuli standing at a window in his spaza shop in 1960, just after he’d received news that he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Or that of Alan Paton leaning on a garden gate, or of the photographer’s father reading ancient Vedic scripts – an exceptional picture that succeeds in capturing quiet religiosity.

The shot of Sonny Pillay and Miriam Makeba working together at a piano, and the shot of Jann Turner leaning on the shoulder of Fawzia, Rick Turner’s widow, are both saturated with emotion.

Most memorable for me – and a photograph to which I returned several times – is the picture of a woman in tribal dress waiting in the corridor of the Durban magistrate’s court in order to give evidence. She is sitting on the floor. In her lap is a chubby, scrubby haired baby. While the mother’s attention is on the surrounding hubbub, her face taught with expectation, the baby peers directly at the camera.

And this is where photojournalism intersects with art: where it draws the viewer to return again and again to a singular image which, for inexplicable reasons, lead to inexplicable emotional responses.

 

 

QUICK REVIEW: The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

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sol plaatjeThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

Volume IV

(SUBS: NO EDITOR IS NAMED ON THE BOOK)

ISBN: 978-1-4314-0985-3

Jacana Media

REVIEW: Karin Schimke

The thorough selection process that results in this annual anthology means it has come to represent a “best of” collection showcasing some of South Africa’s most dedicated poets.

What I always admire about it is that it is so democratic. Well-known names and completely new names in poetry all live alphabetically alongside one another. This is because the winning poems are selected blind. The judges – Ingrid de Kock, Johann de Lange and Goodenough Mashego – do not see the names on the poems entered into the competition.

As always, the poetry is uneven: clichéd in theme and phrase in many places, but in other places rising like cut and polished precious stones on a rocky plain. In this issue, the poems by Thabo Jijana stood out for me because of their brevity, clarity and humour.