Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Penguin SA

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Umuzi’ Category

Flame in the Snow wins Sol Plaatje Translation Award 2019

Book details

» read article

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.

Book details

» read article

Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from John Hunt’s The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head

John Hunt, author of The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head. © Joanne Olivier.

While other boys daydream about racing cars and football, eleven-year-old stutterer Phen sits reading to his father. In number four Duchess Court, Phen’s dad looks like a Spitfire pilot behind his oxygen mask.

But real life is different from the daring adventures in the books Phen reads and he is forced to grow up faster than other boys his age.

This is until Heb Thirteen Two shows up: in his pinstriped suit pants and tie-dyed psychedelic top, the stranger could be any old bum, or a boy’s special angel come to live among men.

Poignant, witty and wise, John Hunt’s The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head is a meditation on being alive and shows us the power of books when we need them the most.
John Hunt is the author of the novel The Space Between the Space Between. His book The Art of the Idea, which celebrates the power of ideas to move the world forward, has been translated into several languages. He is currently Worldwide Creative Chair of advertising agency network TBWA, having previously co-founded TBWA\Hunt Lascaris. He grew up in Hillbrow and still lives and works in Johannesburg.

Read an excerpt from Hunt’s remarkable novel here:

Hillbrow, 1967. The New York of Africa. Apartheid kept the roads clean and the rubbish collected. There were buildings going up everywhere – “lickety-split”, according to Mr Trentbridge. Large chunks of tin-roof houses were found in skips almost every day as the boy walked home from school. These homes were recently surrounded by honest gardens and the occasional peach tree. Someone wrote in The Star newspaper that soon Hillbrow would have more people per square kilometre than Tokyo. Everyone quoted that article to everyone. Some even cut it out and kept it folded in their wallets.

The boy, who went by the name of Phen, lived in Duchess Court. You’ll find it at 20 O’Reilly Road, Berea. Technically it’s in Berea, but for all intents and purposes it’s Hillbrow. The heartland of Hillbrow, the parallel streets of Kotze and Pretorius, is barely a three-minute amble away. Duchess Court was built in the twenties, solid and grey with flirty bits of art deco. When first constructed it must have dominated the skyline. By the time Phen moved in, though, it had the look of an old, stout woman in a sombre overcoat that had been mended too often.

Not that the building was without its charm. At its core was the wood-panelled lift with its bevelled mirror, known to all simply as Mr Otis. He waited at the end of the foyer with three cast-iron ladies above his lintel. Joined together, they danced in a chorus line with their right legs held scandalously high. If you opened the heavy wooden door, then slid back the metal gate, the lift would take you a clanking six storeys high. The grill, when concertinaed closed, left big gaps you could peer through. As you faced forward the lift shaft was presented in vertical grey strips that drifted upwards in a slow-motion blur. This was punctuated by six square bursts of yellow if you went all the way to the top. The lift door at each floor had a small glass window allowing you to wave to people as you went past them.

Stopping was always a violent and inexact affair. Tenants would suggest to newcomers that they lean against the walls or, at the very least, hold on to the polished brass handle of the metal gate as the lift slammed to a halt anywhere between a foot and an inch away from the floor of your choice. The uninitiated would battle to see this as an arrival and presume something had gone wrong. It was only after the metal door had been brazenly slid open that they would sheepishly step up or down and then out.

Phen lived on the ground floor in number four. His trips with Mr Otis were therefore infrequent or for fun. And a fertile imagination grew more fecund when transport was on hand. There was a time when, based at military headquarters behind the washing line on the roof, he needed to find the V2 rocket base the Germans were using. London was taking a terrible pounding and it was all up to his commando unit. After days of relentless reconnaissance they found the cunning concrete shaft dug six storeys deep into the mountainside. Although they were vastly outnumbered, thanks to the element of surprise the mission was a total success.

If you sat on the bonnet of Mr Trentbridge’s Ford Cortina and looked at Duchess Court, number four was situated on the extreme right-hand corner. A palm tree, planted years ago, blocked out ninety per cent of the view from the balcony and stretched up to the fourth floor. Doves cooed high up in the fronds as if the tiny strip of green between the building and the pavement was an oasis. Phen often Lawrence-of-Arabiaed around that tree, offering dates and nuts in the form of Wilson’s toffees to the gathered Bedouin tribes. He would need their help if the Turks were to be driven out of the Middle East once and for all.

With a dishcloth on his head he blew up countless enemy trains as they moved through the desert and up O’Reilly Road. His plunger was a pencil he’d wedged into a hole he’d made in the top of an empty condensed-milk tin. As he rammed it down hard, the dynamite hurled the huge locomotives into the air. Volkswagens, Morris Minors, Fiats and the occasional Peugeot would launch helplessly off the ground and land on their sides and roofs.

“Tell your men not to waste ammunition, Sharif Nassir. There are still many battles to come for the Harith tribe.”

It was an easy yet pitiless business finishing them off. Hidden behind the garden wall, his sawn-off broomstick picked them off one by one. It wasn’t pretty but then war never was. He had to remind himself, “Mankind has had ten thousand years of experience at fighting and if we must fight, we have no excuse for not fighting well.”

The flat itself was bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. He lived in a flat while all the new buildings around him contained apartments. That was typical of words; they changed without rhyme or reason. And when you asked why, no one could give you an answer. His flat wasn’t flatter. In fact, the older buildings had much higher ceilings. And those new apartments were built so tightly together they should be called closements. His father said flats came from Britain and apartments from America. He said those damn Yanks were getting in everywhere.

If you opened the front door to number four you could turn sharp left into the kitchen or proceed straight into the dining room. The kitchen floor was covered in one flat sheet of green linoleum that bubbled depending on where you stood. You could get the bubble to move but you could never get it to disappear. Much like trying to get the dent out of a ping-pong ball. Trapped air is happy to be transported, but, it will take its ballooned vacuum with it. Concerned visitors even suggested there may be a mouse problem in the kitchen. This, in turn, created such embarrassment for Phen’s mother that his routine job became to force the bubble behind the fridge before anyone came to visit.

Not that walking in the dining room was without its challenges. Like the rest of the flat, it was all parquet flooring in what used to be a very close-fit herringbone design. Over the years, the perpetual pounding of feet in the high-traffic zones had begun to take their toll. Like a piano with a number of loose keys, the initial appearance of a smooth surface was deceptive. If you stood on the tail of the wrong wooden slat, its head would pop up like a snake ready to strike.

The most dangerous square lay, innocuously, directly on the path to the lounge. All three hardwood planks were loose and sat next to each other at slightly different heights. If you were carrying a tray you never stood a chance. And if you were a brisk or heavy walker one of the three would often flip out completely and smack you on the shin.

When Phen had caught his mother crying, even though she’d said everything was alright, he decided to fix the floor in an attempt to cheer her up. He was a bit of a hoarder and went straight to the top shelf of his cupboard. Under his two neatly folded school shirts he fished out the OK Bazaars plastic bag. Beside the egg from two Easters ago and the strips of liquorice, now a deep emerald green, he found his stash of chewing gum. He wasn’t sure exactly how long to chew for. After the taste had left, was the stickiness gone too? He decided merely to make the gum moist then pull it out. Each piece was given a minute in his mouth. No more, no less.

He’d seen pictures of master craftsmen at work and tried to adopt their demeanour. He held the edge of the slats up to the light and frowned at their unseemly roughness. He traced his finger across the ancient lumps of bitumen, then took his mother’s metal nail file and made them smooth. He’d put a newspaper on the dining-room table to catch their falling flakes, but most fell gently into the fruit bowl. Once finished, each six-inch plank was lined up vertically on the sideboard like a row of dominoes. He was uncertain about how to apply the chewing gum. One long stretch? Or a series of blobs?

After experimenting with both, he decided on the blobs. The measured distance between each mound of gum seemed aesthetically more pleasing and carried a greater sense of purpose. It reminded him of his Meccano set where a series of aligned holes solved everything. This choice demanded more material and depleted his entire reserve. By the time he was finished, a three-year collection of gum lay beneath the dining-room floor. Most were Chappies so he kept the wrappers to read the jokes and Did You Knows printed inside. However, there was also the faint whiff of peppermint and spearmint from other gums. Phen felt proud and exhilarated when he was finished. There is a kind of satisfaction that seeps in when a job requiring physical labour is well done. It’s the sort of feeling that sustains you for quite a while even when no one else notices your handiwork.

On the south side of the dining-room wall was a door which opened into a cupboard that was so deep it was referred to as the storeroom. The three shelves at the back were packed with the finality of knowing no one was ever going to reach them. On the middle of the top shelf, bristling like a series of broken vertebrae, lay the deformed wire hoops of the record rack. Somehow on its journey in the delivery van from Shotley Residential Hotel, not even half a mile away, the leg of the sofa had been placed on its delicate spine. The wire channels were now splayed embarrassingly wide in the middle and impossibly tight on the opposite edges. South Pacific, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Gigi and all their contemporaries were therefore forced to lie on top of one other, flat and square. They, in turn, rested upon a hatbox from another age. Now empty, its circular velvet-covered lid captured the memory, if not the contents, of its beauty.

One shelf below, and slightly to the left, lay the likewise empty hamster cage that had once housed Philby. Phen had been allowed to buy the white hamster provided his father could name him. “That rodent should’ve been behind bars years ago.” Only much later he learned that Philby was a British double agent who’d defected to the USSR. Teeth marks could still be seen where the hamster had gnawed through the pale blue powder coating of his steel feeding tray. Phen had placed the cage there himself, in a solemn ceremony shortly after Philby’s demise. He hadn’t been sure where you put the homes of the dead, let alone the dead themselves. He had wanted to ask, but couldn’t find the courage. He sensed a plastic bag and the dustbin might have been the answer. When he’d returned from school, his mother had given him a hug, said she was sorry and now the subject was closed.

Which is why, two weeks later, when the hamster wheel began to run wildly deep in the darkness of the cupboard, Phen was at first confused and then elated. He’d read the stories and seen the pictures of the resurrection. He’d pored over those yellow rays that burst from behind dark clouds as white doves, caught in a whirlwind, spun up to heaven. He ran to the door and smote the darkness asunder. The huge black rat was clearly startled by the light suddenly flicking on. However, with size comes a certain confidence. He allowed himself a few extra whirls before darting out the cage door and through a pile of London Illustrated News.

The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head

Book details

» read article

Poignant, witty and wise, John Hunt’s The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head is a mediation on being alive and shows us the power of books when we need them the most

“Hillbrow, 1967. The New York of Africa. Someone wrote that the place would soon have more people per square kilometre than Tokyo. Everyone quoted that article to everyone. Some even cut it out and kept it folded in their wallets.”


While other boys daydream about racing cars and football, eleven-year-old stutterer Phen sits reading to his father. In number four Duchess Court, Phen’s dad looks like a Spitfire pilot behind his oxygen mask.

But real life is different from the daring adventures in the books Phen reads and he is forced to grow up faster than other boys his age.

This is until Heb Thirteen Two shows up: in his pinstriped suit pants and tie-dyed psychedelic top, the stranger could be any old bum, or a boy’s special angel come to live among men.

Poignant, witty and wise, John Hunt’s The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head is a meditation on being alive and shows us the power of books when we need them the most.

John Hunt is the author of the novel The Space Between the Space Between. His book The Art of the Idea, which celebrates the power of ideas to move the world forward, has been translated into several languages. He is currently Worldwide Creative Chair of advertising agency network TBWA, having previously co-founded TBWA\Hunt Lascaris. He grew up in Hillbrow and still lives and works in Johannesburg.

Book details

» read article

Another international book deal signed for The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga

Read ‘Space II’ – a new story by Masande Ntshanga
The ReactiveThe Reactive

After much interest in the United Kingdom, publisher Jacaranda Books have acquired the rights to publish Masande Ntshanga’s acclaimed literary novel The Reactive in the UK and across the Commonwealth.

An American edition of the novel was published earlier this year, and German translation rights have also been sold.

The Caine Prize-shortlisted author’s debut novel is a poignant, life-affirming story about secrets, memory, chemical abuse and family, and the redemption that comes from facing what haunts us most.

Contracts were negotiated by Aoife Lennon-Ritchie of the Lennon-Ritchie Agency.

The Reactive was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and longlisted for the Etisalat Prize for literature.

A recipient of a Fulbright Award, a Mellon Mays Foundation fellowship, and a Civitella Ranieri fellowship, Ntshanga also won the 2013 PEN International New Voices Award.

Related stories:

Book details

» read article

The man behind the character: True-life inspiration in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know

The man behind the character: True-life inspiration in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know


The Safest Place You KnowMark Winkler’s new novel, The Safest Place You Know, features a character named Victor Pereira, whose life is altered irrevocably after an encounter with the police in apartheid South Africa.

Victor’s astounding story is based on that of an actual person.

Here the author shares the real-life inspiration behind the character:

Twelve or thirteen years ago, I began a conversation with Victor Jansen, a security guard at the advertising agency where I worked at the time. He told me how a vindictive neighbour had years before set the police on him, and how he had been racially reclassified on the spot, going from white to coloured in a matter of minutes, an event that forced him out of his home and his neighbourhood, while his wife and daughter remained “white”. The character of Victor Pereira in this book is an acknowledgement of the cheerfully eccentric Victor Jansen.

Probably the most humiliating, and frankly insane, tool of the apartheid eugenics machine was the “pencil test”. It enabled even the most minor official to reclassify someone by shoving a pencil into the person’s hair. The person would then be required to shake his or her head: if the pencil fell out, they were deemed to be white, and if it remained in the hair, they could, depending on the mood of the examiner, be classified as coloured or black. An added humiliation could take the form of the examination of the victim’s pubic hair.

Rendered in meticulously crafted, lyrical prose, The Safest Place You Know is a powerful story about redemption and recovery, and what it means to carry the past with you. Set in South Africa against the backdrop of a country in flux, this evocative novel showcases Winkler’s stylistic flair.

About the book

After his father’s violent death on a hot November day in the droughtstricken Free State, a young man leaves the derelict family farm with no plan, and with no way of knowing that his life will soon be changed for ever by two strangers he encounters on his journey south: a mute little girl who bears a striking resemblance to his late niece, and a troubled lawyer who detests the Cape wine estate she’s inherited from a father she despised.

The Safest Place You Know is a powerful story, rendered in meticulously crafted, lyrical prose.

About the author

An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything)WastedMark Winkler is the author of the critically acclaimed novels An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything) and Wasted, which was longlisted for the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. His short story “When I Came Home” was shortlisted for the 2016 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and “Ink” was awarded third place in the 2016 Short Story Africa competition.

Related stories:

Book details

» read article

Join Karin Brynard and Mike Nicol for the launch of their new novels at The Book Lounge

Join Karin Brynard and Mike Nicol for the launch of their new novels at The Book Lounge
Agents of the StateOur Fathers

Join Penguin Random House for a night of thrilling crime fiction at The Book Lounge, as Agents of the State by Mike Nicol and Our Fathers by Karin Brynard are launched.

The event is happening on Wednesday, 26 October at 5:30 for 6:00 PM.

Brynard and Nicol will be in conversation with Irna van Zyl.

See you there!

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 26 October 2016
  • Time: 5:30 for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge
    71 Roeland St
    Cape Town | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Irna van Zyl
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP: The Book Lounge,, 021 462 2425

Book Details

» read article

Recommended listening: The soundtrack to Mike Nicol’s Agents Of The State, with notes by the author

Agents Of The StateMusic is central to Mike Nicol’s new crime thriller, Agents Of The State, which features references to a variety of songs and artists. The author shares the sounds that made their way into Agents of the State, with notes to explain their context and significance. Fittingly for this cosmopolitan novel, artists included in the soundtrack hail from all over the world, and include Aretha Franklin, Melissa Etheridge, Petula Clark, Wendy Oldfield, and Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, among many others.

Listen to the songs and sounds that shaped Agents of the State and read the stories behind them:

One January, a few years back, I had a flight cancelled which resulted in a six-hour wait at Schiphol airport. It seemed to be as good a time as any to start writing a novel and I decided, what the heck, why not set the scene right where I was in one of the many departure lounges. So I popped one of the main characters, Vicki Kahn (she first appeared in my novel Of Cops & Robbers), down on the sofa and began writing.

I had been thinking quite a lot about Vicki Kahn on the flight north and kept coming back to a CD by Melissa Etheridge that had been on the KLM playlist. The music seemed to fit the character’s mood. Especially this song, “Falling Up”:

and for a long while the book had a working title of “Falling Up”. That trip also included a stop in Berlin, where I managed to buy the CD.

As with my other crime novels there are a number of songs that worked their way into this story. Here are some of them:
Aretha Franklin’s “Say A Little Prayer”:

Petula Clark’s “Downtown”:

Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”:

Melissa Etheridge’s “4th Street Feeling”:

Melissa Etheridge’s “Shadow of a Black Crow”:

Then there are some singers referred to (Adele being one of them) and, although no songs were mentioned, these were what I had in mind:

Shawn Colvin’s “These Four Walls”:

Alison Krauss, with Robert Plant: “Through the Morning, Through the Night”:

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter’s “The Air Is Thin”:

Just as local songwriter/singer, Jim Neversink, was on my Of Cops & Robbers playlist, so during the writing of Agents of the State two other locals pitched up at nearby venues, Laurie Levine and Wendy Oldfield. So they found their way into the playlist as well. Here’s Laurie Levine’s lovely “Oh Brother”:

And Wendy Oldfield singing (what else but) “Acid Rain” (which really needs to be watched live):

Sound effects

You can find all kinds of weird stuff on YouTube and at one point I searched for battle sound effects to aid my description of a firefight. Apparently there are people who like listening to the sound of gunfire:

Book details

» read article

Read an exclusive excerpt from Sally Andrew’s new mystery: Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic

Read an exclusive excerpt from Sally Andrew’s new Tannie Maria mystery: Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic

Tannie Maria and the Satanic MechanicUmuzi has shared an exclusive excerpt from their much anticipated new release Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew.

Andrew’s bestselling debut, Recipes for Love and Murder, won the coveted Booksellers’ Choice Award and Kirkus Best Book of 2015, and was given the thumbs up by the Wall Street Journal and the Oprah Book Club.

The book was published in 17 countries (and counting) and is being translated into 11 languages.

The follow-up, Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic, is being released locally this month. Scroll down for an excerpt!

About the book

Everybody’s favourite agony aunt and crime fighter Tannie Maria needs some counselling advice of her own. Lingering troubles from a previous marriage still sit heavy on her, while fresh worries about Slimkat, a local man whose fighting for his people’s land threatens his life, keep her up at night.

Tannie Maria seeks out counsellor, jokily known to all as “the satanic mechanic”. Straight out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and from hot-as-hell Hotazel, Ricus fixes both cars and people.

But Maria’s counselling tune-up switches gears when a murder flings her straight into Detective Henk Kannemeyer’s investigation. Not only is she dating the dashing Henk, she now has to work beside him: a potential recipe for disaster.

Blending an intriguing mystery with characters as lovable as the setting of the rural Klein Karoo, this book is Sally Andrew’s delightful, warmhearted sequel to Recipes for Love and Murder.

About the author

Sally Andrew lives in a mud-brick house on a nature reserve in the Klein Karoo with her artist partner, a giant eland, and a secretive leopard. She also spends time in the wilderness of southern Africa and the seaside suburb of Muizenberg. She has a master’s in Adult Education from the University of Cape Town. Before settling down to write full time, she was a social and environmental activist.

Read an excerpt:

We heard a car backfiring as it parked in Eland Street.

‘That’s probably them now.’ She got up and stood at the door, and I put on the kettle.

I heard Slimkat before I saw him, his voice quiet but strong as he spoke to Jessie. She led him into the office, and he intro¬duced his cousin, Ystervark. Then he shook my hand.

‘This is my colleague, Tannie Maria,’ said Jessie. ‘She does the “Love Advice and Recipe Column”.’

His hand was warm and dry, but I hardly felt it, because it was his eyes that filled me with feeling. They were big and black, like a kudu’s, and they looked right into me. It was very strange … I felt like he could see me. Really see me. Not only my body but all of me. It was as if my eyes were windows without curtains, and he could just look inside. He saw everything. Including the things I kept hidden, even from myself.

I looked away.

‘Coffee?’ I offered, fiddling with the cups.

‘Rooibos tea?’ he asked.

I nodded.

‘Black,’ he said, ‘but with lots of sugar for Yster.’

Ystervark was looking at all the pouches on Jessie’s belt and frowning. Like Slimkat, he was a small man, but while Slimkat was relaxed, Yster’s whole body was tense. His hands were tight fists, and I recognised him from the newspaper photograph. Ready to fight. Ready to kill, maybe. He looked at Slimkat, then at Jessie’s belt and at Slimkat again.

‘Sorry,’ said Slimkat. ‘We don’t mean to be rude. But could you show us what you are carrying on your belt? We’ve had some … incidents, and Ystervark likes to be careful.’

‘Sure,’ said Jessie, and emptied all the things from her pouches onto her desk. They made quite a pile and included her camera, notebook, pen, phone, torch, string, knife and pepper spray.

Ystervark grabbed the spray and the knife and looked at Slimkat as if to say, ‘I told you so.’

‘Sorry,’ Slimkat said again. ‘He’ll give them back when we go. We can’t stay long.’

Jessie set up two chairs for the visitors, but Ystervark stood at the office door. Then he walked towards the street and back again, with the knife and the pepper spray in his hands. He put them in his pockets when I handed him his tea and rusk. I gave the others their hot drinks and beskuit too.

‘Would you like me to go?’ I asked Jessie.

‘No,’ said Slimkat. ‘Stay,’ and he fixed me with those eyes again.

I spilt my coffee on my desk. I rescued the letters, but the coffee got all over last week’s Gazette.
Jessie picked up her notebook. ‘I know you don’t like to sing your own praises,’ she said, ‘but you must be feeling good about the victory over big business. Diamond miners and agribusiness are used to getting their way. Yet you won the fight.’

‘I am sad,’ said Slimkat. ‘It was not right to fight.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Jessie. ‘It belongs to you, that land. Your ancestors have lived there for tens of thousands of years. You could not just let the companies steal it from you.’

‘No,’ said Slimkat. ‘You are wrong. The land does not belong to us. We belong to the land.’

Jessie blinked, and her mouth opened and closed. It was not often that I saw Jessie without words.
She found them again. ‘But surely,’ she said, ‘if you do not fight, then injustice will be done. Again and again.’

‘That is true,’ he said. ‘Some people like to fight.’ He took a sip of his tea and glanced at his cousin, who stood at the door with his back to us. ‘I do not. Fighting can make you bitter. But sometimes it must be done. If you have to fight, then you must do so with soft hands and a heart full of forgiveness.’

He dipped his rusk into his tea and took a bite. Then he smiled and looked at me.

I mopped at the Gazette with a napkin. There was a brown stain over the pink advert offering relationship help.

‘I hear there have been death threats?’ Jessie said.

Related stories:

Book details

» read article

The enigma of a solitary life: The Printmaker, the debut novel by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen

The PrintmakerUmuzi is proud to present The Printmaker, the debut novel from Bronwyn Law-Viljoen:

When a reclusive printmaker dies, his friend inherits the thousands of etchings and drawings he has stored in his house over the years. Overwhelmed by the task of sorting and exhibiting this work, she seeks the advice of a curator.

What compulsion drove the printmaker to make art for four decades, and why did he so seldom show his prints?

When the curator discovers a single, sealed box addressed to a man in Zimbabwe, she feels compelled to go in search of him to present him with the package, hoping to find an answer to the enigma of the printmaker’s solitary life.

Law-Viljoen’s subtle and sophisticated novel reflects on one man’s obsessive need to make meaning through images and to find, in art, the traces of love and friendship.

About the author

Bronwyn Law-Viljoen is a senior lecturer and head of Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand, the editor and co-founder of Fourthwall Books, and a former editor of Art South Africa magazine. She received her doctorate in literature at New York University as a Fulbright scholar in 2003. She taught writing and literature at New York University, and completed an extended internship at the Aperture Foundation in New York before returning to South Africa to take up the post of Managing Editor at David Krut Publishing. She has contributed to and edited many books on art, design, and architecture in South Africa.

The Printmaker is her debut novel.

Book details

» read article