The Mail & Guardian is running a series of interviews with South African authors. We posed difficult questions; we also asked some easy ones. Mandla Langa obliges.
Describe yourself in a sentence.
I’m a man who wants to understand all that I should know to sustain me during this lifetime.
Describe your ideal reader.
My ideal reader is someone open to the unexpected.
What are you working on?
I’m writing a detective novel that has its origin in the MK camps in Angola.
Tell us about your everyday writing routine.
Given the uncertainty of our lives, I seize any opportunity to write, having negotiated with my wife.
What book(s) are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished and am rereading Roberto Bolano’s 2666 and Slavenka Draculic’s S (A novel about the Balkans), and Ayi Kwei Armah’s Why Are We So Blest? (Don’t know which of the three depresses me most …)
Do you remember the first novel you read?
The first novel I remember reading is James Hadley Chase’s What’s Better Than Money?
Which book, if any, changed your life?
James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone probably changed my life in that it reaffirmed a nagging suspicion, when I was still disastrously young, that I wanted to become a writer.
Do you write by hand, typewriter or computer?
Alas, I use a computer to write now, and take notes by hand.
Why should people buy your book as a gift this holiday?
People should buy my book as a gift this holiday because it tries to say the things that most of them are thinking about but are too immersed in their everyday affairs to process, and so the book will probably help them get in touch with certain important aspects of their own lives.
What CD are you listening to?
Ray Charles singing Ol’ Man River.
In a multi/polymedia world, why is book publishing still important?
There is a visceral connection between a reader and a book, the texture of paper in the hand, the smell of ink that characterises a book, even a textbook at school when I was a kid; I say bravo to those who are into Kindle or Sony wireless reader aids, but I’ll take the book on a journey with me as it takes me on many journeys.
What subject is now passé in South Africa?
Interracial love affairs are now passé as subjects/themes for the simple reason that all the myths have been blown and the forbidden fruits could be just as tasteless …
Mandla Langa, born in Durban, 1950, went into exile in Botswana in 1976. He has lived in Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
In 1980 he won the Drum Magazine story contest for The Dead Men Who Lost Their Bones, and in 1991 he was awarded the Arts Council of Great Britain Bursary for creative writing. Four of his works have been published, Tenderness of Blood (Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1987), A Rainbow on a Paper Sky (Kliptown Books, London, 1989), The Naked Song and Other Stories (David Philip Publishers, Cape Town, 1997), and The Memory of Stones (DPP, 2000). He also won the prestigious Commonwealth Prize for Africa his last allegorical novel, The Lost Colours of the Chameleon which came out early in 2009