Light and dark in mixture of memoir and novel
by Anton Krueger (Deep South)
Sunnyside Sal is an apt title for this book, especially for those who know that Sunnyside is the Hillbrow of Tshwane.
Thus we know that Salvatore Malan, at the centre of this book, is not all light and laughter, his attempts to take the mickey out of every possible societal institution nowithstanding. Every institution, that is, besides the South African Defence Force parabats and the subculture of hard drugs, which he took fatally seriously, suffering psychic damage from both, according to Krueger.
The author and Sal were friends since boyhood, growing up in Pretoria, white boys entering adult life just on the cusp of South Africa’s national transition, surviving Pretoria Boys’ High, veld school and studying “the humanities” at Tuks. Somewhat apolitical in the local sense, but radical more broadly speaking, they read widely (Karl Marx, Arthur Rimbaud, James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut) and were happy to “try out these new freedoms of youth, of liberty” that the change of government brought.
From the outset Sal shows himself to be a true original, ever testing societal pressures and his place in the world. When Sal goes to London many years later (and is jailed for six months for a drug-related offence) Krueger misses him and his “sprained sense of humour”. This phrase encapsulates exactly Sal’s take on things; an element of pain permeates his life and actions, his determination to push the boundaries of experience, and his intransigent insistence on his right to do so.
Krueger implicates himself in much of this and, though it reads swiftly, much of the book is a difficult examination of how they finally differed. Both the dark and the funny stories are mediated by literary, film and musical references. The stories are often grimly grotesque, such as the boys’ attendance, aged 15, at an Afrikaaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) rally, wearing hippie garb and bearing a placard that read Die AWB maak die Afrikaner se naam gat. [The AWB debases the Afrikaner name.]
Krueger pays tribute to his loved friend, to friendship itself and leaves the reader wondering whether this is a memoir or a novel.