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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ 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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Launch: Rainbow Nation My Zulu Arse by Sihle Khumalo (14 November)

 
After exploring more than twenty other African nations using only public transport, Sihle Khumalo this time roams within the borders of his own country.

The familiarity of his own car is a luxury, but what he finds on his journey through South Africa ranges from the puzzling to the downright bizarre.

Voyaging from the northernmost part of South Africa right to the south, the author noses his car down freeways and back roads into small towns, townships, and villages, some of which you’ll have trouble finding on a map.

But this is no clichéd description of beautiful landscapes and blue skies. Khumalo is out to investigate the state of the nation, from its highest successes to its most depressing failures.

Whether or not he’s baffled, surprised, or sometimes plain angry, Sihle Khumalo will always find warmth in his fellow South Africans: security guards, religious visionaries, drunks, political activists and the many other colourful personalities that come alive in his riveting account.

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Launch – And Then Mama Said… by Tumi Morake (15 November)

Tumi Morake modelled her public persona on her mother, a charming and contentious woman who used her big, bold voice to say what others were afraid to utter. It’s the personality that Tumi took on stage in the mostly male space of stand-up comedy, and the one that gave her the courage to join a white, Afrikaans radio station and comment about apartheid on air.

But there’s only so much you can find out about Tumi from the stage, the screen and the internet. And Then Mama Said… is the voice of Tumi in private, as well as a behind-thescenes perspective of a pioneering South African star who has been both deeply loved and viciously hated by her audiences.

Tumi gets frank about the race row at Jacaranda FM; the Jaguar car accident that cyber bullies said she deserved; the body-shaming she endured on the set of Our Perfect Wedding; and her tumultuous relationship with her beloved husband. Throughout her story, she carries the voice of her mother, and with it the indispensable life lessons that made her who she is today.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tumi Morake is an award-winning South African stand-up comedienne, television host and actress. She also wears the hats of TV producer and writer. Morake cut her teeth as a writer on SABC’s flagship sitcoms and broke into television acting through those channels. She is dubbed as one of South Africa’s queens of comedy, headlining on local and international stages. She is a mother of three and wife of one. Morake has dabbled in radio and remains one of South Africa’s most sought-after acts. She also sits on the board of directors at Summat Training Institute and St. Aquinas College.

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Shady nuclear deals with Russians, sinister ISIS operatives, the CIA and SA’s devious spies – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Mike Nicol’s plausible and fast-moving Sleeper

Published in the Witness: 5 November 2018

Sleeper, Mike Nicol
Umuzi

Mike Nicol’s fictional world can be brutal, disturbing and, at times, downright scary because it is all too plausible with the wild mix of corruption, mayhem and good and bad people that make up South Africa, both in reality and in fiction.

But because many of his characters are familiar from other outings, there is, paradoxically, something comforting about it.

Fish Pescado and Vicki Kahn might have their flaws, but the reader will root for them – they are an appealing duo, and we like them.

The plot here is complicated, but Nicol is a skilled operator, and manages to twist and re-weave all the strands into a credible whole.

When Sleeper opens, the Minister of Energy has been murdered, and Fish is hired by the murdered man’s lover, Caitlyn Suarez, an international businesswoman, to find out who is the culprit because the cops are determined to pin it on to her. She has also got a minder, Krista Bishop – whose roots run deep in Nicol’s fiction. Then the policeman investigating the minister’s murder, and who is also Fish’s neighbour, commits suicide. More trouble for Fish.

Meanwhile, Vicki, who is having a problem with her gambling addiction, is called in by her former boss at the South African spy agency to track down a pair of Iranians who are trying to steal highly enriched uranium, still held by South Africa at a remote location in the Northern Cape.

And just how are the director of the Department of Energy – now without a minister – and a top nuclear scientist involved in all this?

Nicol creates a world of shady nuclear deals with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and threats of dirty bombs. In it sinister ISIS operatives, the CIA, South Africa’s own devious spies, crooked politicians and a sleeper deeply embedded in local society all ply their increasingly dirty trades.

It makes for a plausible, fast-moving novel – and leaves you wondering how much of this sort of thing is actually going on under our noses. Just one example: has South Africa really got rid of all the nuclear material that was stockpiled in the bad old days?

And if not, where is it and who has their hands on it?

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Launch: Rainbow Nation My Zulu Arse by Sihle Khumalo (6 November)

After exploring more than twenty other African nations using only public transport, Sihle Khumalo this time roams within the borders of his own country.

The familiarity of his own car is a luxury, but what he finds on his journey through South Africa ranges from the puzzling to the downright bizarre.

Voyaging from the northernmost part of South Africa right to the south, the author noses his car down freeways and back roads into small towns, townships, and villages, some of which you’ll have trouble finding on a map.

But this is no clichéd description of beautiful landscapes and blue skies. Khumalo is out to investigate the state of the nation, from its highest successes to its most depressing failures.

Whether or not he’s baffled, surprised, or sometimes plain angry, Sihle Khumalo will always find warmth in his fellow South Africans: security guards, religious visionaries, drunks, political activists and the many other colourful personalities that come alive in his riveting account.

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Launch: Theo & Flora by Mark Winkler (1 November)

When stalled novelist Charlie Wasserman’s investment-banker wife divorces him, he finds among her belongings a box of letters. Written between 1940 and 1944, the letters reveal a love affair between her grandfather, Theo, a forty-something lawyer at the time, and Flora, a much younger journalist.

Even though Wasserman’s ex-wife has her lawyers instruct him to destroy the letters, an idea for a new book – a novel that could rekindle his career – is sparked.

As Wasserman’s preoccupation with the story of Theo and Flora grows, their lives unfurl in a symphony of brilliant detail against the backdrop of 1940s Cape Town and the war in Europe. In finely crafted prose full of wit and poignancy,

Theo & Flora showcases the skill of one of South Africa’s great contemporary novelists.

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Launch: Green as the Sky is Blue by Eben Venter (18 October)

Simon Avend, a South African living in Australia, can be unruly. He often sets out to exotic destinations, indulging his desires in places like Bali, Istanbul, Tokyo, and the Wild Coast.

But along the way unsettling memories arise, of people and also places, especially the cattle farm in the Eastern Cape where he grew up. He approaches a therapist to help him make sense of his past, a process that leads them both on a journey of discovery.

When circumstances bring Simon back to South Africa, he must confront the beauty and bitterness of his country of birth, and of the people to whom he is bound.

Green as the Sky is Blue is a bold, unflinching exploration of sexuality, intimacy, and the paradox that lies at the heart of our humanity.

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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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Launch: Sorry, Not Sorry by Haji Mohamed Dawjee (20 September)

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.

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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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