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QUICK REVIEW: Tokoloshe Song

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Karina Szczurek reviews two recent books with alternate realities.

TokolosheTokoloshe Song

Andrew Salomon

Umuzi

ISBN: 9781415207017

REVIEWER: Karina Szczurek

Just when he thought that his life is going to be all peace and quiet after giving up a career as a lawyer to restore old boats, Richard is called in for an emergency at the shelter for mistreated tokoloshes where he volunteers. There he meets Lun. After a false start, they become friends and embark on a roller-coaster adventure which takes them across the country to Nieu Bethesda and back in search of the grain of truth at the heart of an ancient myth. They receive assistance from Emily and Sindiwe, midwives of a secret order. Hot on their heels are a ruthless drug lord and a world-class assassin.

I’m not a fantasy fan, but I have enjoyed some of Salomon’s award-winning short fiction. Tokoloshe Song is his debut novel for adults and is as delightful and entertaining as his stories.

StationElevenHCUS2Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

Picador

ISBN: 9780385353304

REVIEWER: Karina Szczurek

Within a short period of time a lethal flu wipes out 99% of the world’s population. Civilisation as we know it grinds to an abrupt halt. Station Eleven tells the story of a handful of survivors of the mayhem which ensues. At its centre is the resourceful Kirsten of the Travelling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians performing Shakespeare.

Spanning a few decades before and after the collapse, Mandel draws a bleak picture of humanity, but the darkness is penetrated by flashes of light and goodwill. Creativity, art, self-expression pave the way to society’s precarious rebirth as the individual characters realise how strongly the drive to be remembered is anchored within them. A thrilling page-turner which is simultaneously though-provoking and entertaining, Station Eleven is being deservedly compared to the likes of Margaret Atwood. This is speculative fiction at its best.

QUICK REVIEW: Playing House

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playing_house72Playing House

Katherine Stansfield

Seren

ISBN-13: 978-1781721933

Karina Szczurek

Playing House is the debut poetry collection by the author of The Visitor (2013), a remarkable novel about loss and longing in Cornwall at the turn of the last century. As in her rich prose, in her poetry Katherine Stansfield has an eye for everyday detail. Her poems make us pause and consider. Whether describing a cat trying to get to an interesting-smelling morsel under the fridge, the auction of one of John Lennon’s teeth, the recipe for a crisp sandwich, or “raspberries lured to ripeness by the rain”, she moves from the familiar to the surprising and enchants in the process. Her images are clearly defined.The voice is authentic, subtle but strong. The title of the volume comes from First Place, a poem about a couple’s attempts at adult life.Full of thought, fun and beauty, Playing House is the real deal.

  • This review first appeared in the Cape Times in November 2014.

QUICK REVIEW: Unexpected Lessons in Love

unexpectUnexpected Lessons in Love

Bernardine Bishop

John Murray

ISBN-13: 978-1848547827

Karina Szczurek

The retired psychotherapist Cecilia and her novelist friend Helen are courageously battling cancer. The experience of undergoing a colostomy and living with a stoma binds them. Both are confronted with motherhood in the autumn of their lives: Cecilia, when her son Ian dumps a baby she had no idea existed on her doorstep, and Helen, when she receives a message from the daughter she’d given up for adoption in her twenties.They and their families discover that love has a way of finding you when you least expect it.

The same applies to Unexpected Lessons in Love. The book is that strange creature: a novel which is not exactly well written, clumsy and implausible at times, but one which has such irresistible charm that it is impossible not to love. Sadly, the author died of cancer around the time of publication.

  • This review first appeared in the Cape Times in November 2014.