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Archive for the ‘Penguin’ Category

(Non) fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming


 

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era.

As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.

With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.

Read an excerpt from the chapter ‘Wife & Independence’:

IT SOUNDS A little like a bad joke, doesn’t it? What happens when a solitude-loving individualist marries an outgoing family woman who does not love solitude one bit?

The answer, I’m guessing, is probably the best and most sustaining answer to nearly every question arising inside a marriage, no matter who you are or what the issue is: You find ways to adapt. If you’re in it forever, there’s really no choice.

Which is to say that at the start of 1993, Barack flew to Bali and spent about five weeks living alone with his thoughts while working on a draft of his book Dreams from My Father, filling yellow legal pads with his fastidious handwriting, distilling his ideas during languid daily walks amid the coconut palms and lapping tide.

I, meanwhile, stayed home on Euclid Avenue, living upstairs from my mother as another leaden Chicago winter descended, shellacking the trees and sidewalks with ice.

I kept myself busy, seeing friends and hitting workout classes in the evenings. In my regular interactions at work or around town, I’d find myself casually uttering this strange new term – “my husband.”

My husband and I are hoping to buy a home. My husband is a writer finishing a book.

It was foreign and delightful and conjured memories of a man who simply wasn’t there. I missed Barack terribly, but I rationalized our situation as I could, understanding that even if we were newlyweds, this interlude was probably for the best.

He had taken the chaos of his unfinished book and shipped himself out to do battle with it. Possibly this was out of kindness to me, a bid to keep the chaos out of my view. I’d married an outside- the- box thinker, I had to remind myself. He was handling his business in what struck him as the most sensible and efficient manner, even if outwardly it appeared to be a beach vacation – a honeymoon with himself (I couldn’t help but think in my lonelier moments) to follow his honeymoon with me.

You and I, you and I, you and I. We were learning to adapt, to knit ourselves into a solid and forever form of us. Even if we were the same two people we’d always been, the same couple we’d been for years, we now had new labels, a second set of identities to wrangle. He was my husband. I was his wife. We’d stood up at church and said it out loud, to each other and to the world. It did feel as if we owed each other new things.

For many women, including myself, “wife” can feel like a loaded word. It carries a history.

If you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s as I did, wives seemed to be a genus of white women who lived inside television sitcoms – cheery, coiffed, corseted. They stayed at home, fussed over the children, and had dinner ready on the stove. They sometimes got into the sherry or flirted with the vacuum-cleaner salesman, but the excitement seemed to end there.

The irony, of course, was that I used to watch those shows in our living room on Euclid Avenue while my own stay-at-home mom fixed dinner without complaint and my own clean-cut dad recovered from a day at work. My parents’ arrangement was as traditional as anything we saw on TV.

Barack sometimes jokes, in fact, that my upbringing was like a black version of Leave It to Beaver, with the South Shore Robinsons as steady and freshfaced as the Cleaver family of Mayfield, U.S.A., though of course we were a poorer version of the Cleavers, with my dad’s blue city worker’s uniform subbing for Mr. Cleaver’s suit.

Barack makes this comparison with a touch of envy, because his own childhood was so different, but also as a way to push back on the entrenched stereotype that African Americans primarily live in broken homes, that our families are somehow incapable of living out the same stable, middle-class dream as our white neighbors.

Personally, as a kid, I preferred The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which I absorbed with fascination.

Mary had a job, a snappy wardrobe, and really great hair. She was independent and funny, and unlike those of the other ladies on TV, her problems were interesting. She had conversations that weren’t about children or homemaking. She didn’t let Lou Grant boss her around, and she wasn’t fixated on finding a husband. She was youthful and at the same time grown- up.

In the pre- pre- pre- internet landscape, when the world came packaged almost exclusively through three channels of network TV, this stuff mattered. If you were a girl with a brain and a dawning sense that you wanted to grow into something more than a wife, Mary Tyler Moore was your goddess.

And here I was now, twenty-nine years old, sitting in the very same apartment where I’d watched all that TV and consumed all those meals dished up by the patient and selfless Marian Robinson. I had so much – an education, a healthy sense of self, a deep arsenal of ambition – and I was wise enough to credit my mother, in particular, with instilling it in me.

She’d taught me how to read before I started kindergarten, helping me sound out words as I sat curled like a kitten in her lap, studying a library copy of Dick and Jane. She’d cooked for us with care, putting broccoli and Brussels sprouts on our plates and requiring that we eat them. She’d hand sewn my prom dress, for God’s sake. The point was, she’d given diligently and she’d given everything. She’d let our family define her. I was old enough now to realize that all the hours she gave to me and Craig were hours she didn’t spend on herself.

My considerable blessings in life were now causing a kind of psychic whiplash.

I’d been raised to be confident and see no limits, to believe I could go after and get absolutely anything I wanted. And I wanted everything. Because, as Suzanne would say, why not? I wanted to live with the hat-tossing, independent-career-woman zest of Mary Tyler Moore, and at the same time I gravitated toward the stabilizing, self-sacrificing, seemingly bland normalcy of being a wife and mother.

I wanted to have a work life and a home life, but with some promise that one would never fully squelch the other. I hoped to be exactly like my own mother and at the same time nothing like her at all. It was an odd and confounding thing to ponder.

Could I have everything? Would I have everything? I had no idea.

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Trappings of science-fiction aside, Imraan Coovadia’s A Spy in Time remains a compelling and relevant book, writes Margaret von Klemperer

Published in the Witness: 24/09/2018

IMRAAN Coovadia is a writer who can never be pigeonholed – each new book whizzes off in a different direction. We’ve had everything from laugh-out-loud funny to poignant, with all stops in-between. Here we’re in the realms of time-travelling.

But one thing doesn’t change: Coovadia never wants his reader to get too comfortable or to be able to second guess the writer. Here we have to manoeuvre mentally on the slippery footing of a different world, where the hero can shift from the past – 1955 in Marrakech or 1967 in Rio – to the distant future on Jupiter or the year 2271 in Johannesburg or, finally, to the Day of the Dead in 2472.

That was (or is going to be) when a supernova strikes earth. Enver Eleven, the central figure of A Spy in Time, is member of the Historical Agency whose task is to ensure that catastrophe never happens again. When the supernova struck, a small part of the population made it into the mines deep under Johannesburg where they created their own, not entirely brave, new world of spies, robots and fear. But in the past, present and future, there may be those plotting against the Agency, and Enver’s job is to find them, if they exist.

Enver’s world is one where a white skin is reviled and distrusted, where freedom of expression is curtailed and where questions of whether it should be possible, or permissible, to alter the past and thus change the future are important.

Coovadia is on record as having said that the seed for this novel was sown by the Fallist movement at the University of Cape Town, and his post-apocalyptic vision here, with its lack of trust and bubbling undercurrents of anger and lack of pity is a disturbing one. Of course, Coovadia’s writing always contains elements of humour and they are here too, though perhaps less prominent than in some of his earlier novels.

There are moments when the reader will wonder what on earth, or out of it, is going on in this tale. But the telling of it is compelling and the issues it raises, although cloaked in the trappings of science fiction, are pertinent.

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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

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The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
EAN: 9780679457312
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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundathi Roy
EAN: 9780241303986
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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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Listen: Haji Mohamed Dawjee discusses Sorry, Not Sorry with Sara-Jayne King

Why don’t white people understand that Converse tekkies are not just cool but a political statement to people of colour? Why is it that South Africans of colour don’t really ‘write what we like’? What’s the deal with people pretending to be ‘woke’? Is Islam really as anti-feminist as is claimed? What does it feel like to be a brown woman in a white media corporation? And what life lessons can we learn from Bollywood movies?

In Sorry, Not Sorry, Haji Mohamed Dawjee explores the often maddening experience of moving through post-Apartheid South Africa as a woman of colour. In characteristically candid style, Dawjee pulls no punches when examining the social landscape: from arguing why she’d rather deal with an open racist than some liberal white people, to drawing on her own experience to convince readers that joining a cult is never a good idea.

In the provocative voice that has made Dawjee one of our country’s most talked-about columnists, she offers observations laced throughout with an acerbic wit. Sorry, Not Sorry will make readers laugh, wince, nod, introspect and argue.

Haji recently discussed Sorry, Not Sorry with Sara-Jayne King on Sara-Jayne’s 702 Book Club programme. Gooi an ear!

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The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy goes beyond being a narrative of forbidden love, writes Fred Khumalo

‘The book goes beyond being a narrative of forbidden love. It’s a potent alchemy, a swirling together of matters that are the hallmark of serious literature: good and evil, sex, love, friendship, morality, happiness and suffering, heroes and villains… and, of course, the old South African chestnuts – race and identity.’ – Fred Khumalo

The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy is by turns erotic, romantic, tragic and comic. Inspired by the real-life drama of a romance between a Zulu boy and an Englishwoman, the book consists of various interrelated short stories on interracial relationships in modern-day South Africa.

As the author reflects on love across the colour line, it triggers memories of failed affairs and bizarre experiences: love spells, toxic masculinity, infidelity, sexually transmitted diseases, a phantom pregnancy, sexless relationships, threesomes and prostitution, to name but a few.

A unique book for the South African market, The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy is written with an honesty rarely encountered in autobiographical writing.
 
 

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“Be loyal to your car, but don’t give a sh*t about it.” Haji Mohamed Dawjee celebrates her anti-establishment hero, her grandfather, in this extract from Sorry, Not Sorry

Published in the Sunday Times

Haji Mohamed Dawjee celebrates her anti-establishment hero, her grandfather, in this extract from her new book Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa.

He was an honest guy, my grandfather. A bit left-field with his thoughts, but always honest. His support of my creativity started when I was really young. I spent a lot of time with him at our old house in Laudium. Before I realised I liked writing, I sketched. All the time. He supplied pencils and paper, and I replicated Secret Seven book covers. SABC News was always on in the background and compliments for the Indian news presenters spilt out of him. They were all Hindu and he never failed to voice his disappointment and, well, disgust for the Muslim community, who he said never did anything with their lives. “Baby-making machines,” he called them. “Will never amount to anything,” he said. He admired women journalists and was frustrated that none of those he saw were Muslim. Subconsciously, I think this played a massive role in my becoming a journalist.

He was a writer too. He wrote poems. Lots and lots of poems. When he wasn’t reading them, he was writing them. They were really short, but he took ages to type them because he wasn’t used to a computer. He punched each letter in with two fingers and sometimes got the upper- and lower-case letters wrong, resulting in an ee cummings aesthetic. I assisted with formatting when asked.

The poems’ themes varied from religion to memories of his mother and his childhood. He was never published. Such opportunities did not exist for his generation, class and race. He bought a DIY manual on self-publishing and read it studiously, but nothing came of it. To satisfy his byline needs he got a printer and compiled the poems in files so that they looked like real books. The poetry anthologies of Cassim Mohamed Dawjee are still lying around somewhere in Pretoria.

Reading, writing and watching the news are just about the only conventional things about my grandfather when considered in the light of cultural and religious norms. With every decision, thought and opinion, he proudly lifted his middle finger to the world he found himself in and carved his own path. He didn’t care what anyone thought. In that way, he is my hero. He made me laugh without knowing he did. But he also made me think.

Once, when Muslim evangelists pitched up at the gate, he asked that the dogs be released from the back yard to scare them off. He went outside with a whip to do the same. I love that story.

What follows are a few things my grandfather did in his life, and the lessons I learnt from them.

Be loyal to your car, but don’t give a shit about it.

My granddad drove an ancient, massive, olive-green Mercedes-Benz. I don’t even know what model it was. It was always falling apart. It was an automatic and it’s the car he used to teach me to drive. He was always doing things to the engine that I am pretty sure didn’t need doing and only contributed to its demise.

At one stage, the window on the driver’s side gave in. It would stay wide open because it just slid right down into the door panel. Instead of having it fixed, Pappie, as we called him, used a butcher’s knife to hold it in place. This. Was. A. Terrible. Idea.

He drove me and my sister to school in that car every day. It was a long drive because we lived in Laudium and our school was out of town in Valhalla. He didn’t drive well because he always handled the steering wheel with one hand and had his other hand out the window, fingers tapping the roof of the car. In the summer when the whole window thing happened, he’d try to roll the window up and down while driving, constantly dissatisfied with the temperature.

Removing and replacing the knife required him to use both hands. The car went everywhere and so did the massive knife. It was quite a spectacle and quite a chore. The knife needed to be properly rammed into the side of the little window slit, which took some force. He endeavoured to keep his eyes on the road while trying his best not to miss his target and stab himself in the leg. He never missed, and I’m glad about that, but I often find myself laughing to stop from crying with fear of just thinking about it.

Lesson one: Sometimes in life, all you need is a huge knife to cut through the bullshit. If you believe in yourself, you can always make it work, no matter the risk. And screw the rest.

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