Books

2012: By the book

M&G Reporter

We speak to some of the country's hottest literary talents about the books and authors which inspired them in 2012.

Imraan Coovadia.

Siphiwo Mahala: Author of African Delights and When a Man Cries

What are you reading now?
I’m reading Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph, a novel set in Bombay. The setting, plot and characters are as dynamic as South Africa. It’s a captivating tale of hope and regret and you find it difficult to distance yourself from the joys and frustrations of the characters.  

What were your favourite reads this year?
The most outstanding were Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso and My Father, My Monster by McIntosh Polela. They were both published last year, but I got the opportunity to read them only this year. I also loved Bonnie Henna’s Eyebags and Dimples and A Bantu in My Bathroom by Eusebius McKaiser.

What will you be reading over the holidays?
I have a long list, which includes revisiting some old classics in English and isiXhosa, Nights of the Creaking Bed by Nigerian author Toni Kan, Blackbird by Nigerian author Jude Dibia, Lonely Beyond Any Singing by South African author Helen Moffett and Sarah House by Nigerian author Ifeanyi Ajaebo.

Who is your favourite emerging writer?
I am not sure at what stage writers stop emerging and start being counted as fully fledged beings, but I think South African author Sifiso Mzobe and South African-based author Yewande Omotoso were the greatest discoveries over the past three years. They both emerged with remarkable debut novels. In the case of Mzobe, his novel Young Blood won four major awards and Omotoso was shortlisted for three awards and won one so far.

What should everyone read at least once?
The year 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of Can Themba’s classic short story The Suit. The story has been reproduced, adapted for performances and inspired several other texts. I don’t know of any other short story by a South African writer that can boast success of equal measure.

Lauretta Ngcobo: Author of Cross of Gold and editor of Prodigal Daughters: Stories of South African Women in Exile

What are you reading now?
I have been reading People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa by the late Dr Anthea Jeffery. It answers a lot of historical puzzles in the recent history of South Africa.

What were your favourite reads this year?
Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, as well as small portions of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, written by William Mervin Gumede.

What will you be reading this holiday season?
I will read very little because I save holidays for my family.

What should everyone read at least once?
A difficult question to answer considering that people have varied interests. Somebody suggested that one should read the whole Bible at least once in a lifetime. But then someone else might say one should read the Qur’an. Someone else might suggest William Shakespeare, or Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. What about the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Mazisi Kunene?

Who is your favourite emerging writer?
The Lost Boy: The True Story of a Young Boy’s Flight from Sudan to South Africa by Aher Arop Bol is one story that Africans, with their propensity to resort to fighting to resolve their issues, should read.

Niq Mhlongo: Author of Dog Eat Dog and After Tears

What are you reading now?
Only The Dead by Hamilton Wende. I love the way Wende tackles the difficult yet modern theme of the child soldier and war in Africa (Uganda) with humour. I’m also struggling to finish Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, which I started in 2003. My New Year’s resolution is to finish it.

What were your favourite reads this year?
Young Blood by Sifiso Mzobe, The Honour to Serve by James Ngculu, Hear Me Alone by Thando Mgqolozana, African Delights by Siphiwo Mahala, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Many Rivers by Christopher Mlalazi and Heading South, Looking North by Ariel Dorfman. These books are about spiritual journeys and social impoverishment. The main characters in each of these books are facing a difficult problem leading to the collapse of the meaning of life, the eclipse of hope and the absence of love from their different communities. I guess that it is a mirror reflection of where I come from, which is Soweto.

What will you be reading  next year?
There Was a Country by Chinua Achebe, not only because I have always loved Achebe’s work, but also because the theme of the Biafra civil war in Nigeria always fascinated me.

Who is your favourite emerging writer?
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Tshifhiwa Given Mukwevho. These writers talk about things that are facing the youth around the world today, including juvenile delinquency, identity, cross-border relations and living in modern-day Zimbabwe and South Africa.

What should everyone read at least once?
My own Dog Eat Dog and After Tears. Everyone I know internationally who has read these two books confesses that the experience is like returning to a school yard of their own childhood. Both books are set in post-apartheid South Africa and both main characters are young hustlers — reckless, streetwise — with hope. They are go-getters and will remind you of who you are.

Imraan Coovadia: Author of The Institute of Taxi Poetry and Green-Eyed Thieves

What are you reading now?
A book with an unpromising title: The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by a political scientist, John Mearsheimer. And Portrait of a Novel by Michael Gorra, which is about Henry James writing Portrait of a Lady.

What were your favourite reads this year?
The Dog Stars by American author Peter Heller, My Struggle by Norwegian author Karl Knausgaard, The Last Policeman by American author Ben Winters, Leaving the Atocha Station by American author Ben Lerner and Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by German author Alina ­Bronsky.

What will you be reading this holiday season?
I feel that I am running out of books.

Who is your favourite emerging writer?
Any of the above, maybe Alina Bronsky or Ben Lerner. But movies are just as useful. I’ve been really interested in the Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne brothers. Everybody should see The Kid with a Bike, directed by the Dardenne brothers and, in fact, the classic Italian bicycle movie, The Bicycle Thief. Any movie with bicycles is bound to be good.

What should everyone read at least once?
Anything you read just once is disposable. King Lear is worth reading once a year, and you slowly become closer in age and sympathy to Goneril and after that to Lear. I just saw Korol Lir, the great Russian film version, in which Lear, played by the Estonian actor Jüri Järvet, doesn’t seem to know any Russian. And he’s the best Lear I’ve seen, which proves that there’s something much more important right under the skin of language.

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