Sue Grant-Marshall has written an article for Business Day about her recent interview with Christopher Hope, author of Jimfish.
Grant-Marshall says Hope’s latest book “is as much a travelogue as it is a fierce commentary on politics and abuse of power across Africa, Europe and Russia”.
In the article Grant-Marshall outlines the plot and the issues dealt with in this novel. Hope says he wanted to satirise South Africa’s obsession with race and deal with his anger at being exiled by the apartheid government.
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“South Africans are as obsessed with skin colour as ever they were,” he remarks. It is a topic he sends up as effectively as he does the searing violence he believes is embedded in our cellular structure.
Skin colours the opening lines of his novel. A young man is hauled from the Indian Ocean at fictitious Port Pallid in 1984 and is taken to a police sergeant whose job it is to sort the locals by their hue. He sticks a pencil into the youth’s hair, “as one did in those days, waiting to see if it stays there or falls out before he gives his verdict”, writes Hope.
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Tom Eaton recently wrote a post on his blog about his Twitter war with the Minister of Sport and Recreation, Fikile Mbalula.
The columnist and author of Texas and The De Villiers Code relays the events that lead to Mbalula blocking Eaton from his Twitter account.
Eaton writes that he’d been heckling the minister on social media for a while, until he called Mbalula out for his attempts at humour.
The Twitter interaction that got Eaton blocked by the Minister of Sports:
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But of course this wasn’t government or the ANC or even politics in general. This was just Mbaks being Mbaks. This is how he rolls. Scrambling up onto his moth-eaten high horse, wagging his little cyber-finger at me, he declared that Twitter was a way of engaging with people. And yet his reputation as someone who blocks first and asks questions later suggests that when it comes to Twitter, the only engagement he’s interested in involves a ring and Beyoncé.
Oh well. That was that. It was all over. Or was it?
Seconds after being cast into the outer darkness my Twitter mentions started lighting up.
Could Fikile have said something about me after blocking me? No. No adult, let alone an adult public servant, could be that petulant or juvenile.
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Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi is at once a portrait of a family and an exploration of the importance of where we come from and our obligations to one another. In a sweeping narrative that takes us from West Africa to New England to London, Ghana Must Go teaches us that the stories we share with one another can build a new future.
Selasi joined Mariella Frostrup in the BBC4 studios to discuss her novel and writing in general. Mentored by Toni Morrison, she wrote a book about her own complicated family life, shooing Morrison’s advice that she should expand on the short story that lanced her career, “The Sex Lives of African Girls”. She told Frostrup about the spark for Ghana Must Go – which appeared to her in a shower at a yoga retreat – and how she “shamelessly” stole details of her family members’ lives to write the story.
“On the face of things, they look like my family. But even my family members, who have read the book, can attest that they are not,” Selasi says. She approached the novel in sections, writing the way the story came to her – like a symphony. She notes however that her characters reflect reality as best she could. “My task as a novelist is to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth as beautifully as I can,” the author says.
Selasi has termed herself an Afropolitan – “a roaming, highly educated, culturally literate, diaspora whose parents may have been doctors and lawyers who produced children with the capacity to rule the world”. During the interview she expands on the idea of Afropolitanism and explains how her novel relates to this, and how she views the elusive American dream.
The conversation starts at 11:17. Listen to the podcast:
Image courtesy of Claude Petitjean
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Penguin Random House South Africa has shared an excerpt from Hunger Eats a Man, the debut novel by Nkosinathi Sithole.
The story takes place in the village of Ndlalidlindoda – “Hunder-Eats-a-Man” – where, as Father Gumede believes, “it has been winter for many years”.
In the excerpt, Gumede’s son Sandile comes to ask for R15 for school, prompting his father to visit the principal, “not as a priest but as a dissatisfied citizen”.
* * * * * * * *
“The only thing that moves here in Ndlalidlindoda is time. Everything else is stagnant,” Priest says to himself as he contemplates the land that has been his home for more than twenty years. It is now winter, and Priest hates winter. Gxumani, of which Ndlalidlindoda (Hunger-Eats-a-Man) is part, is situated near the Drakensberg mountains, so it gets very cold in winter. He has heard many people say that the City of Gold is cold, but he knows that no place can be colder than Gxumani, not in winter.
Yet Priest is now inured to the discomforts of cold. His only concern regarding winter is that the land loses its beauty. To him, the only thing that thrives in winter is the wind, and the wind makes him feel uncomfortable. Everything else is ugly and hungry. He focuses his gaze far away on the land owned by Wild Life and notices that the grass is dry and reddish white. Even the grass in his homestead seems to be crying for food. This prompts a thought in him that interests him so much that he wishes to share it with his wife. He goes inside and seats himself on the sofa.
MaDuma is fixated on the beadwork she is crafting to sell to the tourists at Zenzele (Do-It-Yourself). Priest spends a full minute studying the features of his wife. She is not really beautiful, but she is also far from ugly. MaDuma has lost almost all her back teeth and her cheeks are now sunken. However, this does not interfere with the fairness of her features. Priest thinks her eye-glasses make her look more beautiful than she actually is, then decides that this is unfair. But what is fair in this world any more?
Priest clears his throat and says, “I think here in Ndlalidlindoda it has been winter for many years now.” He sounds excited by his observation.
MaDuma does not honour his introspection by raising her head as she answers, “You are hungry.”
“Exactly! We all have been hungry for many years and that is winter.”
MaDuma is greatly annoyed by her husband’s asinine talk. She removes her eye-glasses and confronts him. “Get out!” she roars. “Don’t bring your hunger to me. I’ve got my own problems!”
But later she calls him from where he is sitting outside and leavesma tray with his food on the coffee table. The food is served on a green and white plate and another identical one is used to cover it. Next to the covered plate his wife has placed a glass of water. Priest does not have to lift the covering plate to know that his food is pap and potatoes. For a long time now he has eaten pap and potatoes with his family. The taste of the food, or the absence of it, does not matter. It is better to have pap and potatoes than to have nothing.
As Priest is chewing his disagreeable food, he hears a soft voice speaking to him: “Father, the principal said we should bring R50 to school.”
The voice is Sandile’s, Priest’s son of fifteen. He is, according to his father, a cute young boy who takes after him in being smart. Priest loves his son very much. But right now, just when he is hungry but cannot eat what is supposed to be his food, just when he is depressed, this boy tells him that he should miraculously have R50 to send to school. No! This is not his son!
He glances at the boy and sees a ghost or devil who has come to tempt him. Priest is angered by this devil in front of him. But his anger is contained when he recalls a day when, as a young boy, he was crying for food and his mother asked him if he thought that by giving birth to him, she could give birth to the food as well.
“He said they need the money to pay the privately paid teachers and the security guards,” Sandile continues.
This makes Priest even angrier. The principal is now at the receiving end of his anger. The idiot! He will go to him right now! Priest looks at the ticking clock on the wall and decides that it is late, the principal will have gone home already. He seems ready to spit or swear, but then changes his mind when he sees the picture of Jesus hanging next to the clock, looking directly at him. For a moment he closes his eyes and says a short prayer. But his rage is too much for him, so he explodes, “This principal of yours is crazy! Where does he expect us to get the money from? Doesn’t he know that there is no work? Even if we did have work, does he think we could give our money away to be wasted?”
Sandile looks at his father and thanks God that he does not have his black complexion. “But, Father —”
“No, my son. They will not eat my money. Let them do that to the fools.”
As Priest finishes speaking, Sandile waits, confused. He is hoping that despite what his father has just said, he will tell him something meaningful to say to the teachers at school tomorrow.
Realising his son is not satisfied, Priest can only pledge to go himself to the school first thing in the morning. This will be a chance for him to spit out his anger. “Don’t worry, son. I will tell the truth as I know it. They have to know that we know the truth.”
Sandile becomes frightened.
“It took a brave man, son, to confront Shaka the king when he ruined his kingdom just because his mother had died. Sometimes the truth heals.”
“Yes, Father, I understand.” Sandile sounds as if he is going to cry.
The following day Priest awaits his children’s departure for school before he prepares himself for his own errand. He looks content and pleased with himself as he puts on his priest’s garb, which colours him all in black. The journey to school is a fifteen-minute walk from Priest’s home. This is nothing to a man like Priest, who is used to walking. In no time he arrives at the school and heads for the principal’s office, which is in the middle row of the three buildings that constitute Bambanani High School.
He knocks violently at the door and makes his grand entrance after he is invited in by a voice that disapproves of the way he has knocked.
Seeing that it is Priest, the principal feels remorse for the way he has shouted at the representative of God and begins to apologise.
“I came here not as a priest but as a dissatisfied citizen. I came here as an unhappy taxpayer,” Priest says in a voice the principal does not recognise.
The principal directs a surreptitious glance at the man in front of him and sees a priest all over. He sees an embodiment of the colour black. He sees Father Gumede. But who has just spoken to him? The principal looks again and realises there is nobody else. Whoever has spoken to him has used the respectable voice of Father Gumede. He tries to figure out what the matter is, but to no avail. So he decides to start from the beginning, as he knows it. “Good morning, Father Gumede.”
“Yes, a good morning indeed, Mr Hadebe,” Priest responds in a grim tone and the principal realises that, one way or the other, he has displeased the gods. It pains the principal to consider what wrong he may have done.
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Penguin Books South Africa is proud to present Jimfish, the latest novel from acclaimed author Christopher Hope:
In the 1980s, a small man is pulled up out of the Indian Ocean in Port Pallid, SA, claiming to have been kidnapped as a baby. The Sergeant, whose job it is to sort the local people by colour, and thereby determine their fate, peers at the boy, then sticks a pencil into his hair, as one did in those days, waiting to see if it stays there, or falls out before he gives his verdict:
“He’s very odd, this Jimfish you’ve hauled in. If he’s white he is not the right sort of white. But if he’s black, who can say? We’ll wait before we classify him. I’ll give his age as 18, and call him Jimfish. Because he’s a real fish out of water, this one is.”
So begins the odyssey of Jimfish, a South African Everyman, who defies the usual classification of race that defines the rainbow nation. His journey through the last years of Apartheid will extend beyond the borders of South Africa to the wider world, where he will be an unlikely witness to the defining moments of the dying days of the twentieth century.
Part fable, part fierce commentary on the politics of power, this work is the culmination of a lifetime’s writing and thinking, on both the Apartheid regime and the history of the twentieth century, by a writer of enormous originality and range.
About the author
Christopher Hope was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1944 and moved to London in 1975. He is the author of 12 novels including Kruger’s Alp, winner of the Whitbread Novel Award, and the Booker short-listed Serenity House. Hope’s non-fiction includes a highly praised volume of autobiography, White Boy Running (1988) and a travel book, Moscow! Moscow! (1990), which won a PEN Award.
Author photo: Victor Dlamini
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