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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Beautifully written and thoroughly enjoyable – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Maya Fowler’s Patagonia

Published in the Witness: 10/09/2018

On the title page of Patagonia the novel is subtitled “A Fugue”, a piece of music introduced by one voice or instrument and taken up by others, and that is exactly how Maya Fowler’s excellent tale is structured.

Tertius de Klerk is an incompetent university lecturer whose career has stalled, and whose marriage to the feisty Alta seems to be zooming towards the rocks. Whatever he tries to do is doomed as, hapless and inarticulate, he totters from one minor disaster to another – until the day he gets drunk and falls into bed with a student.

The ensuing catastrophe is bigger than anything he could have imagined.

Tertius is not the quickest thinker you will ever meet in fiction, but in a panic he decides to head for Patagonia, the remote South American region where various Boers headed after the Anglo-Boer war, hankering for wide open spaces and no British bullies. He has some remote, unknown relatives there, and maybe they will help him – or at least shelter him.

The next character we meet, back in the early 19th Century, is Basjan, Tertius’s great-grandfather, also escaping to Patagonia, though not for quite the same reasons as the other travellers he is with: he has plenty to hide.

And then we encounter the other two voices in this fugue -– Tertius’s wife Alta who has no intention of letting her errant husband off lightly and is in hot pursuit of him and Salome, tough, desperate and pregnant who is hunting down Basjan. The men are running away while the women are on a quest. Perhaps Patagonia stands as a metaphor, for an escape on the one hand, a hunt on the other.

But that makes the novel sound altogether too serious.

Fowler writes beautifully – her descriptions of the four journeys and the empty aridity of the southern tip of South America are riveting, while Tertius’s encounter with his cousin Alejo who lives on a remote dilapidated farm and speaks a deliciously fractured language is hilarious.

There are serious themes in Patagonia that will stay with the reader, leaving things to ponder after the book is closed, but the rake’s progress of the four main characters on their disparate journeys is hugely entertaining. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Humour, history and tragedy intertwine in Karin Brynard’s complex and captivating Homeland, writes Margaret von Klemperer

Published in the Witness: 27/08/2018

Homeland
Karin Brynard (translated by Linde Dietrich)
Penguin Books

ORIGINALLY published in Afrikaans as Tuisland, Homeland comes with a weight of expectation. Karin Brynard’s previous crime novels (Weeping Waters and Our Fathers) were superb and her main character, Captain Albertus Beeslaar, is an endearing if grumpy hero.

At the opening of Homeland, Beeslaar has made the momentous decision to quit the police, move back to Johannesburg to be with Gerda and his infant daughter and take a better paid job with a security company. But his boss General Mogale, who is even grumpier than Beeslaar, has one final job for him in the Kalahari: allegations of police brutality are being made after an elder in the San community was found dead shortly after his release from custody, and there is about to be a big political rally in the area. Things are sensitive and need speedy handling, not least to silence the whispers of witchcraft that are spreading.

As always with Brynard, there are other strands to the story. In a smart lodge, one of the staff sees a German tourist interfering with a small, silent local child, and does the only thing she can think of to stop him – she hits him, hard. Afraid he is dead, she takes the child and goes on the run. And then the German’s body goes missing. Mogale dispatches Colonel Koeskoes Mentoor to deal with that case.

Next, the policeman Beeslaar is investigating for brutality gets himself killed. Mentoor, who had what she hoped was a secret affair with the dead man, is convinced she knows the identity of the killer, but Beeslaar is less sure. Theirs is not going to be a relationship made in heaven and Mentoor has no inhibitions about pulling rank and doesn’t take well to criticism.

Brynard is skilled at putting her finger on issues of importance. Here she plunges the reader into matters of race, land, history, crooked policemen and the curious anomaly that is the town of Orania. She highlights the divisions within the San community over land – which groups want it for what reasons – and their culture and its appropriation by both locals and foreigners for profit which seems unlikely to filter back to the community.

There is humour, tragedy and action in this complex and lengthy novel. Characters are properly fleshed out, and engage the readers’ sympathies, even when we can see their flaws. Brynard once again proves that her contribution to South African writing is the thinking person’s crime novel. Long may she continue to provide it.

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Listen: Pippa Hudson in conversation with Arundhati Roy

Acclaimed Indian author Arundhati Roy was a recent guest on Pippa Hudson’s CapeTalk lunchtime show during her current tour of South Africa.

Listen to them discuss the use of the term ‘activist’, structures of novels, challenging the sacred and the profane, the patriarchy and much, much more:

The God of Small Things

Book details
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
EAN: 9780679457312
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
 
 
 

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundathi Roy
EAN: 9780241303986
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Launch: A Spy in Time by Imraan Coovadia (18 July)

Making sure the end of the world never happens again – that is Enver Eleven’s task. A spy for the Historical Agency, Enver is based in Johannesburg, the only city to survive – thanks to its mining tunnels – when a supernova hit.

In Enver’s Joburg time-travelling agents jump between the past and future, searching for an elusive enemy plotting against the Agency. Enver’s mission starts off on shaky ground: when his mentor Shanumi Six disappears, Enver must prove that he is no double agent, an allegation as frightening as a white skin in a world where it has become vanishingly rare.

But if you could go back and change the past, would the future turn out the way you want it to? Imraan Coovadia’s dazzlingly original A Spy in Time is an extraordinary tale for extraordinary times.

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Launch: A Spy in Time by Imraan Coovadia (11 July)

Making sure the end of the world never happens again – that is Enver Eleven’s task. A spy for the Historical Agency, Enver is based in Johannesburg, the only city to survive – thanks to its mining tunnels – when a supernova hit.

In Enver’s Joburg time-travelling agents jump between the past and future, searching for an elusive enemy plotting against the Agency. Enver’s mission starts off on shaky ground: when his mentor Shanumi Six disappears, Enver must prove that he is no double agent, an allegation as frightening as a white skin in a world where it has become vanishingly rare.

But if you could go back and change the past, would the future turn out the way you want it to? Imraan Coovadia’s dazzlingly original A Spy in Time is an extraordinary tale for extraordinary times.

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There is a sadness in the story, but also humour – Margaret von Klemperer reviews The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head

Published in the Witness (25/06/2018)

Set in the then all-white suburb of Hillbrow in 1967, John Hunt’s novel is a moving evocation of a difficult and different childhood. While the setting might seem strange to those who know Hillbrow in its current manifestation, Hunt’s fine descriptive writing makes it an important and evocative backdrop to the story. But centre stage is occupied by 11 year old Phen.

His real name is Stephen, but he is a stutterer who has more trouble with the letter “S” than any other, so Phen at least offers him a chance to articulate his name. Teased at school by peers and teachers alike, his life is tough. And to compound his problems, his father is dying, slowly and painfully.

His one solace is to get Phen to read to him after school, taking the child into the worlds of Hemingway, Truman Capote and John le Carré, adding colour to the Cold War fantasy games Phen plays in the park while walking his dog. But eventually even his father deserts him in favour of a new-fangled reel to reel tape-deck and non-stuttering audio books.

Feeling sad and supplanted, he befriends a hobo in the park, who tells Phen his name is Heb Thirteen Two, something Phen will eventually decode with surprising consequences which at one point take the reader into what feels like fantasy. But that’s not what it is.

Writing from the standpoint of a child is extraordinarily difficult to do successfully. Hunt makes Phen completely believable, neither too cute nor improbably knowing, as he deals with the tragedy of his father’s impending death and observes with the clear eye of pre-adolescence the behaviour of the adults who surround him. There is sadness in the story, but also humour – Phen’s turn as a tree in the class production of A Midsummer-Night’s Dream is hilarious.

But despite his problems with speech, Phen’s reading has taught him the power of words and given him a love of books. And once he has worked out what Heb Thirteen Two’s name might mean, a new dimension of comfort is added to his life, though Hunt avoids the obvious and the cliched. The ending of the book is deeply moving but the reader can be filled with hope for Phen’s future.

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Launch: Homeland by Karin Brynard (21 June)

Captain Albertus Beeslaar has had enough of the Kalahari. He is about to hand in his resignation, but before doing so he is sent into the heart of an ancient San community: an elder has died after being released from police custody and the San blame the police. The small town of Witdraai borders on the world-famous Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where the last of the Kalahari San eke out a living. A violent attack on a German tourist has unsettled the whole town – a case that is rubbing up Beeslaar’s new colleague, Colonel Koekoes Mentoor, the wrong way. She wants to turn her back on Witdraai and the bad memories the place holds for her.

As the heat rises, all hell breaks loose: a policeman is murdered; deep-seated corruption is threatening a major land-restitution plan for the San; and a mysterious killer is prowling the red dunes. Amid all the controversy, Kytie Rooi, a cleaner at a luxury guesthouse in Upington and self-appointed protector of a strange street child, is fleeing into the deadly heat of the desert with her charge. In this world, places of safety are dangerously elusive.

Homeland is the translation of the number one bestseller Tuisland, Karin Brynard’s critically acclaimed and most ambitious novel to date.

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Win a copy of Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s The President is Missing!

There are things only a president can know.
There are things only a president can do.
And there are times when the only option is unthinkable…

 
Amid an international crisis, the impossible has happened. A sitting U.S. President has disappeared.

What follows is the most dramatic three days any president has ever faced – and maybe the most dramatic three days in American history.

And it could all really happen.

Full of details only a president could know, Bill Clinton and James Patterson have written the most authentic – and gripping – presidential thriller ever.

Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States in 1992, and he served until 2001. After leaving the White House, he established the Clinton Foundation, which helps improve global health, increase opportunity for girls and women, reduce childhood obesity and preventable diseases, creates economic opportunity and growth, and addresses the effects of climate change. He is the author of a number of nonfiction works, including My Life, which was an international bestseller. This is his first novel.

James Patterson received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community from the National Book Foundation. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers, and his books have sold more than 375 million copies worldwide. A tireless champion of the power of books and reading, Patterson created a new children’s book imprint, JIMMY Patterson, whose mission is simple: “We want every kid who finishes a JIMMY Book to say, ‘PLEASE GIVE ME ANOTHER BOOK.’”

Two copies of the book (valued at R290) PLUS two t-shirts (medium) are up for grabs! To stand a chance of winning, simply answer the following question: Who are the local publishers of this thrilling novel? Send your answer to our editor, Mila de Villiers: mila@book.co.za. The cut-off date for entries is 30 June 2018.

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Not always a comfortable read, but a fascinating exploration of two people – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Ceridwen Dovey’s In the Garden of the Fugitives

Published in the Witness: 23 May 2018

In the Garden of the Fugitives
Ceridwen Dovey

CERIDWEN Dovey was born in South Africa, raised in South Africa and Australia, studied in America and now lives in Australia. The relevance of all this is that one of the main characters in this fascinating and complex novel follows the same path. So the author, as she traces Vita’s emotional difficulties with this inheritance, knows of what she writes.

Dovey has chosen to hark back to one of the earliest novel forms in the Western canon – an epistolary story, one written in the form of letters, which are now updated to emails.

The two correspondents are Vita, who lives in the Australian town of Mudgee, and Royce, who during Vita’s years studying in America was a Svengali-like figure who gave her a scholarship from his wealthy foundation but expected favours in return. He is now dying and, in opening the correspondence, proclaims a “craven need for absolution” both from Vita and from his dead love, Kitty Lushington, in whose name he set up the foundation.
 

One of the questions in any first-person novel – and this one has two first persons – is how far can you trust the narrator? As Royce and Vita set out their lives both before and after their estrangement, they often seem to be writing past each other rather than to each other. It is a clever way of building up their history, allowing the observer (the reader) to guess at hidden things, referred to obliquely.

Royce’s first love, long before he met Vita, was Kitty, an archaeologist working in the ruins of Pompeii. She was in love with her older Italian mentor, and tolerated and used the dog-like devotion of Royce. But we know from an early stage in the book that Kitty died young, though only at the end do we almost discover how.
Vita studied anthropology and film making in America. After graduating, she returned to the South Africa of her childhood, where she faced the rootlessness of the perpetual exile along with the white liberal guilt and angst that stifled her creativity to a crippling extent. Dovey cleverly juxtaposes these anxieties with those of the archaeologists who are trying to recreate not just a long vanished civilisation but the agony of its death throes.

In the Garden of the Fugitives is not always a comfortable read, but it is a fascinating exploration of two people, neither wholly likeable but both deserving of some of our sympathy, as they reveal themselves not just to each other but to themselves. Dovey deserves the plaudits she has received as an up and coming force in fiction.

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Launch: Death Cup by Irna van Zyl (24 May)

Murder is on the menu.

Detective Storm van der Merwe and Andreas Moerdyk are back in this brand-new thriller by Irna van Zyl, author of Dead in the Water.

Storm now works in Hermanus and during a lunch with her friend at Zebardines, a much-hated food blogger keels over and dies. It turns out that there were deadly mushrooms, death cups, in her food.

Finding out who killed the blogger is Storm’s first priority, but not the only matter requiring her attention: her old colleague, Andreas Moerdyk, quit his job unexpectedly and expects Storm to put him up while he makes a new start in Hermanus.

Amid frantic preparations for Fooddotcom’s prize-giving ceremony that will honour the country’s best chefs, the murderer strikes again, and again.

Storm’s time is running out.

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