Books

Selective memory keeps Carrim in the local loop

Verashni Pillay

Being SA's communications minister takes up a lot of Yunus Carrim's time. But this is what he reads when he can.

Not enough time: Yunus Carrim. (Trevor Samson, Gallo)

South Africa's Communications Minister Yunus Carrim likes to joke that his favourite book is Karl Marx's Das Kapital, which is aimed at those worried about his communist background. 

But, in reality, the former journalist and academic's reading tastes are far more varied – even with the heavy load of catching up on his new portfolio. 

He was appointed to head the troubled department during President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle in July last year. His predecessor, the scandal-plagued Dina Pule, got the boot and Carrim found himself transferred from deputy minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs to minister of communications. 

We quizzed him about his reading habits. 

What is your favourite novel?
No single novel really. But if I have to choose from relatively recent novels, then it's Julian Barnes's 2011 Booker Prize-winner, The Sense of an Ending, and Ian McEwan's earlier Saturday

Barnes's novel has such multiple meanings, especially given how short it is. For me, it's mainly about how selective we are in our memories about our past relationships, and how what we recall and understand is unconsciously influenced by our emotional and other needs at a particular time – how we unknowingly block things about the past and how they can resurface with changed needs or conditions. The novel is about the relationship between memory, recall and current needs. 

It is such an elegant, delicate, subtle, incisive work. And it has such a stunning, deftly handled ending. 

Saturday is set in London on a single day – the day of the massive march against the Iraq war, in which over a million people took part. 

I can't just now recall enough of why I took to it. I just remember that I liked it so much. 

The main character is a neurosurgeon and McEwan immerses us so effortlessly into him and the way he sees the world. 

I liked the sense of family in it; the way the immediate post-9/11 world and the anti-war protest march are portrayed; and its progressive feel on key social issues. I liked it because it's so enlightened and socially adroit.

What book really affected and influenced you?
Well, two books – one nonfiction, the other a novel – mainly because of the time that they came into my life. 

I was 17 and becoming socially aware, and a friend lent me Maurice Cornforth's three-volume introduction to dialectical materialism. I remember them to be such a simple, clear, almost commonsensical introduction to Marxism, to which I had already begun to turn … 

Somebody also lent me Richard Wright's classic novel Native Son about the same time. It deals with the African-American condition. It's basically about what it means to be black in a white-dominated world. 

It's not a great literary read and takes the form of a sort of crime thriller but it raises huge social issues. 

I was less taken by it when I read it about 10 or so years later but it still remains a very memorable novel.   

What are you currently reading?
Sadly, I'm reading about MTR [mobile termination rates], FTR [fixed termination rates], DTT [digital terrestrial television], STBs [set top boxes], LLU [local loop unbundling] … Get the drift? 

I'm soon going to get novel-less withdrawal symptoms. Know any therapist who can help?

What do you want to read next?
I was about half-way through Zakes Mda's Black Diamonds
earlier and got distracted and want to finish it. There's also Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah

I also have the biography of the Slovos and several other nonfiction works I want to read. But when will I get to read all this? 

Actually, visiting Exclusive Books can be quite dampening. You see all these new novels, these new writers, including all these young South Africans you want to read that you'll just not find the time to. 

I did though, just now, over December – just now? It seems like ages ago! –  get to read a novel,  Jhumpa Lahiri's 2013 Booker-nominated The Lowland. It was good, but not great, in my view, anyway. 

I really like her short stories. That I think she's significantly better at.

Have you ever tried your hand at fiction or poetry?
Some short stories when I was a student in the 1970s. I read them some years later. Man, they were bad! Mercifully, those handwritten blots got lost, saving me enormous embarrassment. What if my children came across them? 

Poetry? Nah! Too sensible to even try.

What do you read every day?
I like to read even just a few pages of a novel or nonfiction work before I go to bed. But these days, with my workload, that has rather faded. 

I read the newspapers, of course, though I like feature articles more than news stories. 


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