A portrait of grief

My wife, Eleanor, died at the end of last year. I decided to bury myself and my grief in Palestine solidarity activity, taking me from Spain to the Middle East and on to Ireland. Then I shut myself away to write a book about my wife. It is titled The Unlikely Secret Agent and is a re-collection of a particular period of her life, and my life, in the 1960s. I got inspired to write when I read Letter to D: A Love Story by [social philosopher and existentialist] Andre Gorz. It is a slim volume dedicated to his wife, who died of cancer.

During the time when I was writing my book—in six weeks—I spent a lot of time listening to music that we loved when we lived in Durban. It was jazz and blues: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee from the Deep South of America. Our favourite singer was the one and only Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde, who sings love ballads, her own compositions, in Portuguese. She has the most haunting, wonderful voice and melody.

My son Andrew’s music is very stimulating for me. It keeps me on my toes and is linked to the townships, the voice and the music of the young people of today. I really get into it. Called the Admiral, his music combines philosophic thought and rap, township music and all of those strains. I am very proud of him. In fact, his interest in the music scene stems from his mother. She was in London, with the two boys growing up. It was a period when the reggae scene was very strong. That is when he got into music.

The book I have just finished reading—and I was so engaged with it that I read it twice—is an old book that I have just discovered through an Irish friend. It’s called Guerrilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War by Tom Barry. It’s a most tremendous book. It struck me that if we had managed to get our hands on this during the guerrilla struggle we would have gained a lot. Otherwise I enjoy detective thrillers by Deon Meyer, our own crime writer. But the greatest contemporary writer for me, my favourite writer, is John le Carré.

My favourite restaurant is Fireflies in Amsterdam and, coincidentally, I love the Firefly restaurant in Cape Town. The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station in New York is great and there is this great Italian restaurant in Jo’burg I really enjoy called La Cucina Di Ciro in Parktown North.

I adore films. My sons and I are constantly swapping DVDs; we have a whole library of films. Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane is one of the greatest films ever made. My best movie, though, is Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. I also enjoy his work The Seven Samurai. These are Japanese classics and Kurosawa could be called the Japanese Eisenstein. But then there’s Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, and Great Expectations directed by David Lean. I also think that Jann Turner’s White Wedding is a lovely little contemporary film about South Africa.

My favourite short film is made by my son Andrew. It’s called Miss Sgodiphola and it is about a township beauty competition.

Ronnie Kasrils’s book, The Unlikely Secret Agent, has just been published by Jacana Media. He spoke to Christina Gossmann

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