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The White Review features an excerpt from The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga

The ReactiveThe Reactive

The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga has received a lot of well-deserved attention since it was published by Umuzi in October 2014.

United States publisher Two Dollar Radio acquired the rights to publish The Reactive in North America – including film rights – while Verlag das Wunderhorn will publish the novel in Germany.

The latest spotlight on this gripping and truly South African debut novel comes from quarterly European arts journal The White Review.

The exclusive excerpt forms part of their February edition and gives readers another taste of this unforgettable story of hope and redemption.

Read the excerpt:

My back cramps on the toilet bowl. I stretch it. Then I take two more painkillers and look down at the space between my legs. In the dim light, my phone blinks blue before going off again, indicating the arrival of a new message.

I hear my colleague Dean stumble into the next stall. His knees drop on the floor and he starts to heave, the room filling up with the smell of vomit. Without fail, Dean brings a hangover to work with him every Sunday. Saturday nights, he plays drums for the house band at The Purple Turtle, a popular punk bar on Long Street. The owner, a Rastafarian named Levi, keeps half the earnings the bands bring him at the door. He compensates for this by keeping a bar tab open for the performers when they finish a set. I stand on the toilet seat and give Dean the rest of my painkillers. Then I sit back down and press a button to take my phone off standby.

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In a city that has lost its shimmer, Lindanathi and his two friends Ruan and Cecelia sell illegal pharmaceuticals while chasing their next high.

Lindanathi, deeply troubled by his hand in his brother’s death, has turned his back on his family, until a message from home reminds him of a promise he made years before.

When a puzzling masked man enters their lives, Lindanathi is faced with a decision: continue his life in Cape Town, or return to his family and to all he has left behind.

Rendered in lyrical, bright prose and set in a not-so-new South Africa, The Reactive is a poignant, life-affirming story about secrets, memory, chemical abuse and family, and the redemption that comes from facing what haunts us most.

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Join Zakes Mda and Morakabe Raks Seakhoa for the launch of Little Suns at African Flavour Books

Invitation to the launch of Little Suns

Little SunsAfrican Flavour Books and Umuzi invite you to the launch of Little Suns, the latest novel from the legendary Zakes Mda.

The event will take place on Friday, 12 February, at African Flavour Books in Vanderbijlpark. It’s an amazing bookshop, and well worth a visit if you haven’t made it there yet.

Mda will be in conversation with Morakabe Raks Seakhoa.

See you there!

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Antjie Krog and Fiona Moodie pay homage to one of the natural wonders of the world with Fynbos Fairies

Fynbos FairiesFynbosfeetjiesUmuzi is delighted to present Fynbos Fairies, with poems by Antjie Krog and illustrations by Fiona Moodie:

It is for its fynbos – fine-leaved, shrub-like vegetation – that the southwestern and southern Cape has been named one of the world’s six plant kingdoms: the Cape Floral Kingdom. At less than 90 000 square kilometres, it is the smallest floral kingdom on earth. Yet it is home to 8 600 plant species, some 5 000 of which occur nowhere else in the world.

Fynbos is a mixture of four plant types: protea shrubs, heath-like ericas, reed-like restios and different bulbous plants. The Cape Floral Kingdom contains 69 of the world’s 112 proteas, 526 of its 740 ericas and, among bulbous plants, 96 of the world’s 160 gladiolus species. Table Mountain alone boasts almost 1 500 fynbos species.

With Fynbos Fairies Krog and Moodie, both of whom regularly walk on the slopes of Table Mountain, pay homage to one of the natural wonders of the world. Inspired by Cicely Mary Barker’s A World of Flower Fairies, Krog began the process by writing poems that each featured a plant and at least one imaginary little being.

Moodie meticulously researched the features of each plant, insect and little animal depicted in these pages. The fairies and other imaginary beings in these pages are her own creations, but the flowers and creatures she copied from nature.

Also available in Afrikaans as Fynbosfeetjies

About the authors

Antjie Krog, one of the country’s most prominent poets, made her debut while still in high school. Since then, she has published 11 volumes of poetry, two of them collections of children’s verse: Mankepank en ander monsters and Voëls van anderste vere.

She is the author of the acclaimed Country of My Skull, as well as A Change of Tongue, which appeared in Afrikaans as ’n Ander tongval, and Begging to Be Black. She has also published a novela, a play and three poetry collections in English.

Her work has been translated into Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Serbian, Spanish and Swedish. She holds four honorary doctorates and has been awarded the Eugène Marais Prize, the Rapport Prize, the Hertzog Prize, the rau Prize, the Elisabeth Eybers Prize, an ATKV prize and an award for excellence in translation from the South African Translators’ Institute.

She and her husband, John Samuel, live in Cape Town, where she is Extraordinary Professor at the University of the Western Cape.

Fiona Moodie has traveled widely and lived in various European countries before returning with her husband and twin daughters to settle in Cape Town in 1992. Fynbos Fairies is one of 15 children’s books she has illustrated since 1979, when Bohem Press in Zurich published Benjamin Rocking Horse. She has also written the text for all but six of these books.

Her children’s books have apeared in numerous countries, among them China, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, France, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and, of course, South Africa – and in many languages. In 1996, Nabulela, her eighth book, was published locally in seven languages.

Her illustrations have been shown at major venues, including: Galerie MAAG – Zurich; International Youth Library – Munich; Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art – New York; Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativos – Madrid; Habashi Museum of Art – Tokyo; Centro Culturale di Esposizione – Venice; Bibliothéque Mèjanes – Aix-en-Provence; and Centre Georges Pompidou – Paris.

In 2000 she received the SAPPI Prize for Atlantis Rises and in 2010 the MER Prize for best illustrated book. She was awarded the UNICEF South African Early Childhood Development Award for Best Author in 2015, and in the same year received the Media24 prize for best illustrated children’s book of 2014.

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Read an exclusive extract from The Peculiars, Jen Thorpe’s debut novel set in contrary Cape Town


The PeculiarsPenguin is proud to present The Peculiars, the debut novel by Jen Thorpe:

Phobias abound at the Centre for Improved Living, where Nazma goes for help. She’s crazy about baking and desperately wants to become a pastry chef, but her fear of driving keeps her stuck working in a train-station kiosk, where she sells stale food to commuters while dreaming of butter croissants and fresh strudel.

The Centre is also a lifeline for Sam, who is scared to death of being robbed and spends his days in his pyjamas in front of his computer, his house alarm always armed.

Like the rest of the patients, Nazma and Sam want to face their fears, but will four weeks at the Centre be enough to change their lives? And will the two allow their budding romance to bloom without letting their phobias get in the way?

Meanwhile, the Centre risks losing its funding, a fear that Ruby, the Centre’s eccentric director, must face while she tries to manage the patients’ fears.

Set in a Cape Town as peculiar as its characters, The Peculiars is Jen Thorpe’s heart-warming and humorous debut.

Introduction by the author:

I began The Peculiars in 2011, inspired by the NGOs I had worked with in the past and their incredible resilience and usefulness in South Africa.

At the time I was experiencing a driving phobia, and was interested to examine this type of fear could be dealt with on an individual and group level. I did a lot of research into the psychological and physical aspects of phobias, and also drew on my own experience.

I find Cape Town to be such a bipolar city at times – extreme wealth and poverty live alongside one another, and people are afraid of so much. At the same time, it’s possible to draw hope and healing from ordinary people, and I think that is what I wanted to explore with my book.

About the author:

Jen Thorpe is writer and researcher with an interest in women’s rights. She writes for a number of online and print publications. She founded the My First Time women’s writing project and the first collection of stories from the project was published in 2012.

Read an exclusive extract from The Peculiars:

* * * * * * *


Nazma was in denial about several things, one of which was that working at the kiosk was going to become her full-time job. It was supposed to be a temporary job until she found a real one, but she had worked there almost every day for the past three months. She wanted to be a pastry chef, and spending her days in the kiosk with its stale food was like being an artist and having to do colouring by numbers. But she had scared herself out of possibly ever being able to get a proper job. In this city – in any city in South Africa – you had to be able to drive. Transport fascism had doomed her to a life of working for her parents.

   To keep herself busy Nazma conducted daily kiosk experiments. This morning it was an exercise in measurement. She was balanced on tiptoe, on her left foot, with the smell of curry spices and cigarettes drifting into her nostrils, tickling the hairs and reminding her brain where she was – in a tiny train-station kiosk waiting for her world to change.

   Her left hand was outstretched, its painted nails pressed up against the wall in front of her. Beneath this hand were jars of brightly coloured sweets. Their labels described multiple ingredients in Chinese, and their logos announced names like ‘Healthy Love Vitamins’ and ‘True Fruit Colours’. Next to them was the stack of cigarette cartons from which loose cigarettes were handed through the bars to those in the throes of nicotine addiction.

   In the right corner, beneath her outstretched right arm and directly beneath her right hand, was the old-fashioned cash register. Its numbers had long since worn away from vigorous pressing in countless sales. Nobody needed receipts from here, and when they did they didn’t get them.

   Above her right arm and hand was the shelf where the newspapers stood. The shelf itself was not much to look at. It was painted white but the paint was peeling, and every now and then she would have to dust curls of paint off the pies and other baked goods before she heated them. It was so poorly lit inside the room that nobody noticed any of this, so she and her parents hadn’t bothered to repaint the shelf. The peeling paint was perhaps a chemical aversion to the news in the papers. Die Son, Daily Voice, and other sources of shock journalism screamed headlines such as ‘Baby eats poisoned cat and survives’, ‘Father says mother drove him to the brothel’, and ‘Strange sex a growing market’.

   She found the size of the newspapers appealing. They weren’t too big to unfold comfortably, and she thought that this simple design was perhaps why they sold so well. They were easy to hold on public transport or in a crowded space. A while back she’d picked one up to read. The headline that day had been about a soccer star who had hired a tokoloshe to help him defeat his opponents. Nazma had wondered if the tokoloshe was like voodoo, where you have to believe in it for it to work, or if he could work on you whether or not you believed in him. Thinking about this had made her feel quite nervous, and she’d had to sit with the door open and her feet up on the stool for the rest of the afternoon. She didn’t read the papers any more; she didn’t need the extra stress.

   Another source of dismay inside the kiosk was the food. Abigail, Nazma’s mother, told those outside the bars that the baked goods, normally pies or samoosas or sausage rolls, were made fresh every day. Abigail’s earnest voice, bovine eyes and the low prices of the pies allowed customers to convince themselves that she was telling the truth. Technically, on Mondays and Thursdays, she was. On the other five days of the week they were freshly reheated, paint curls dusted away. Nazma always worried that someone would complain about the paint or get food poisoning or something from the pies. She made sure to dust them extra well each time before putting them in the microwave.

   The microwave was near-prehistoric. It had weathered the move from Tongaat and was now underneath Nazma’s right foot. The distance from corner to corner in the kiosk was only a little more than a metre: she probably could have taken the chance and put her left foot up to become fully suspended above the floor, but didn’t want to descend into complete lunacy. After all, the microwave’s clock told her it was only ten in the morning.

   So there she was, part spreadeagled, in the four corners of her tiny train-station kiosk. The yellowish glow from the uncovered bulb cast a strange light on all the items in the store. This was lucky for Nazma because if it hadn’t made everything look so unappealing she suspected she might have become obese from eating all of the pies herself, one at a time, day in and day out. Obesity from comfort eating was one of her more realistic fears.

   Julius, the station guard, was standing on the platform trying to see her movements through the security bars. He had seen her attempt to put her foot over her head before, as well as various other acrobatic feats, but this was new. She seemed to have truly lost it this time. He radioed his colleague at Newlands to tell him she was at it again, and then continued to watch with interest. He wondered how long before she flung the door open in a panic this time.

Her experiment to touch four shop corners while standing in the middle of it had proved less time-consuming than she had hoped. Thinking she was unobserved, Nazma took down her hands and foot after one last consideration of moving her left foot to join them, wondering if she could balance up there like Spiderman. She brushed down her hair, sat back down on the stool, and waited. It was too much. She opened the door and stepped out, despondently breathing in the fresh air. Julius felt sad too, as his show was over sooner than expected. He got up and walked towards the subway.

   As she stood in the doorway, Nazma began to daydream about baking. Her favourite recipes were for simple things. Apple crumble, vegetable soup, butter chicken curry, muffins, crunchies, vetkoek and biscuits. She missed spending days in the kitchen preparing food for her family, as she had done to practise while she was studying. Now, because she wasn’t bringing in any income, she was relegated to working here, serving warmed-up food and stale chocolates. She contemplated suffocating herself with a pie, but instead returned inside and slumped a little deeper into her stool. She noted a possible next experiment: slouching as far as she could without falling off. The thought of living with her parents and working in the kiosk forever made her feel light-headed, and she put her head between her knees.

   Breathing deeply, she had to admit to herself that, on an ordinary day, there were some highlights in the kiosk. At seven-fifteen, give or take a few minutes depending on Metrorail’s daily delays, a train would pass through her station. Before its screeching brakes, the gentle tinkle of a tambourine and the steady throbbing of a drum would fill the air. The drumming came from the people in that particular carriage all stomping their feet in tune to the singing of the crowd. She had never left the shop to see what was happening in the carriage, nervous that the illusion she had of the magical musical train would be shattered by the revelation that it was just a group of ordinary people, singing an ordinary, comprehensible song. Or worse, that it was religious.

   Nevertheless, she strained her ears each morning, waiting for the train to arrive. When she heard the music she would close her eyes and the light behind her lids would pulse red, warm yellow and soft orange. It was a daily dose of Zen before breakfast. While the warmth lingered she used it to psych herself up for the day ahead. When the train left the station she always felt lighter.

   Now, she thought about the night before, and how strange it had all been. She remembered the long queue, the old man with his gilded stick and that strange woman who had watched them with the binoculars, the smell of the smoker’s shirt against her face. Not being able to go out alone at night meant she hadn’t really spent much time around men since she’d finished studying six months before. Public transport really limited a woman’s ability to get some.

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Image courtesy of Women24

Marita van der Vyver’s new novel – ‘full of pitch-black humour’ – to be published by Penguin Random House

A Fountain in FrancePenguin Random House will be publishing Marita van der Vyver’s next novel in Afrikaans and English. Titled Misverstand in Afrikaans, the story is set over a few days in Paris, where a failed South African writer finds himself in the company of a young au pair during the terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015.

Van der Vyver caused a literary sensation in 1992 with her bestselling debut novel Griet skryf ’n sprokie (published in English as Entertaining Angels). The book won the M-Net, ATKV and Eugène Marais prizes, and has since been translated into more than 10 languages, including Icelandic and Chinese – firsts for an Afrikaans novel.

To date Van der Vyver has published 22 books in Afrikaans, including youth and children’s books, collections of short stories, columns and sketches, as well as two cookbooks. Much of her work has been translated into other languages and she has produced numerous bestsellers, among them her most recent novel, Die blou van onthou (translated as Forget-Me-Not Blues), which was awarded Huisgenoot’s Tempo Award for Book of the Year in 2013. Van der Vyver also wrote the prize-winning youth novel Die ongelooflike avonture van Hanna Hoekom, which was turned into a film in 2010.

Van der Vyver on her new novel: “It’s a story full of pitch-black humour and irony about a man who writes erotica under pseudonyms and who can’t deal with his own mediocrity anymore. He’s trying to find an original way to end his life in Paris, but then he almost becomes a victim of a terrorist attack – which sends his weekend in Paris in a completely unexpected direction.”

Fourie Botha, publisher of local fiction at Penguin Random House, says: “Marita van der Vyver has over many years made thousands of readers laugh and cry, and few writers in South Africa and abroad can boast such a successful writing career. It is an honour for us to be involved in her next book.”

Also read:


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Presenting Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of The Marikana Massacre by Greg Marinovich

Murder at Small KoppieZebra Press is proud to present Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of The Marikana Massacre, the definitive account of a seminal event in recent South African history, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Greg Marinovich:

On 16 August 2012, a contingent of the South African Police Service opened fire with R5 assault rifles on a group of striking miners on and around Wonderkop near the Marikana platinum mine in South Africa’s North West province. By the time the dust settled, 34 miners were dead and 78 more were wounded. Footage of the massacre travelled around the globe, causing public outrage.

The news footage, however, captured only a dozen or so of the dead. A number of those who died were killed beyond the view of cameras at a nondescript collection of boulders known as Small Koppie, some 300 metres behind Wonderkop. Many of these men had been shot in cold blood at close range.

In Murder at Small Koppie, renowned photojournalist Marinovich explores the truth behind the Marikana massacre, looking specifically at the largely untold slaughter at Small Koppie. Drawing on his own meticulous investigations, eyewitness accounts and the findings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry set up by President Jacob Zuma following the massacre, Marinovich accurately reconstructs that fateful day as well as the events leading up to the strike,and looks at the subsequent denials, obfuscation and buck-passing that characterised Lonmin’s, the SAPS’ and the government’s response.

This is the definitive account of the Marikana massacre from the journalist whose award-winning investigation into the tragedy was called the most important piece of South African journalism post-apartheid.

About the author

Greg Marinovich is a Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist and filmmaker. He was a member of the Bang-Bang Club, and co-author of The Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots of a Hidden War, a non-fiction book on South Africa’s transition to democracy that has been translated into six languages. He has spent 25 years covering conflict around the globe, his writing and photographs appearing in magazines and newspapers worldwide. Marinovich was editor-in-chief of the Twenty Ten project, tutoring and managing over 100 African journalists’ work in all forms of media. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2013/14 and teaches visual journalism at Boston University’s journalism school and the Harvard summer school. He gives lectures and workshops on human rights, justice photography and storytelling.

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‘South Africa put me on the map, discovered me’: Listen to an interview with Rodriguez

Sugar ManSixto Rodriguez, the American musician better known as Sugar Man, is currently in South Africa to perform his sixth tour.

Africa Melane spoke to Rodriguez on Talk Radio 702 to talk about his remarkable story, the documentary that led to his “resurrection” and the subsequent book by Craig Bartholomew Strydom and Stephen Segerman, Sugar Man: The Life, Death and Resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez.

When asked why he loves South Africa so much that he keeps coming back, Rodriguez says: “The thing is, South Africa put me on the map. South Africa discovered me and now I’ve become a global product in the the music business.”

The legendary musician specifically ascribes his current success to Strydom and Segerman’s dedication to his music which led to the Academy Award-winning documentary.

Listen to the podcast to hear Sugar Man’s story, as told by himself:


Related links:


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Idiosyncratic, witty, potent – presenting Mongrel: Essays by William Dicey

Mongrel: EssaysUmuzi is proud to present Mongrel, a collection of essays by William Dicey:

From a carcass competition in the Karoo to a shambolic murder trial in Cape Town, William Dicey’s essays freewheel across an open terrain of interests. Dicey is curious and inventive, weaving strands of essay, journalism, fiction and self-reportage into something uniquely his own.

Mongrel investigates a range of topics – radical environmentalism, the faultlines between farmer and farm worker, the joys and sorrows of reading – yet drifts of concern and sensibility draw the collection together. Several essays touch on how books can move, and sometimes maul, their readers.

Mongrel is idiosyncratic, witty, potent.

Dicey is what I look for in a writer: he has something to say and he puts it across with skill, intelligence and wit. – Ivan Vladislavić

About the author

William Dicey is author of the critically acclaimed Borderline (2004). He has worked as a mathematics lecturer, a book designer and a farmer. He divides his time between Ceres and Cape Town.

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Don’t miss the Johannesburg launch of Little Suns, the new novel by Zakes Mda

Invitation to the launch of Little Suns

Little SunsUmuzi and Love Books invite you to the launch Little Suns, the highly anticipated new novel from award-winning author Zakes Mda.

Little Suns is a touching story of love and perseverance that can transcend exile and strife.

Mda will be in conversation with award-winning South African poet, performer and radio host Mbali Vilakazi.

Not to be missed!

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 11 February 2016
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Love Books
    The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre
    53 Rustenburg Road
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Interviewer: Mbali Vilakazi
  • Refreshments: Refreshments will be served
  • RSVP: Love Books,, 011 726 7408

Related stories:

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Don’t miss the Johannesburg launch of Letters of Stone by Steven Robins at WiSER

Letters of StoneWiSER and Penguin Random House would like to invite you to the launch of Letters of Stone by Steven Robins.

Part memoir, and part history of the Holocaust and the long shadow it still casts, Robins’s new book asks important questions about guilt, belonging, and our complicated relationship with the past.

Read: “Exceptional and unforgettable” – Antjie Krog on Letters of Stone, the new book by Steven Robins

Robins will be at the WiSER Seminar Room on Wednesday, 24 February to launch this “exceptional and unforgettable” book. He will be in conversation with Terry Kurgan, Catherine Burns and Victoria J Collis-Buthelezi.

The event starts at 6 PM and refreshments will be served.

See you there!

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 24 February 2016
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: WiSER Seminar Room
    6th Floor Richard Ward Building
    East Campus
    Wits University
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Panel: Steven Robins, Terry Kurgan, Catherine Burns and Victoria J Collis-Buthelezi
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP:


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