Novel perspective

Describe your ideal reader.
Imaginative individuals who allow words to invade their minds, pene-trate their heart and soul and take them to the highest peaks of ecstasy.

What was the originating idea for translating your debut novel, When a Man Cries, into isiXhosa?
An old lady from my Grahamstown neighbourhood bought a copy of the book and, because she couldn’t read English, she asked her grandchildren to it read for her. And then I thought these are the people I write about and the story remains inaccessible to them because of a language barrier.  

For someone who wants to learn isiXhosa, how useful would your book be?
Trust me, this is not for beginners. Your tongue needs an intensive exercise of clicks and other plosive sounds before reading this book. However, it brings new perspectives to our literature as it deals with contemporary issues, something rare in most isiXhosa texts that I have read.

How long did it take?
It took about eight months. It could have been shorter but my spellcheck does not understand isiXhosa. I had to go word by word during the editorial process.

Name some writers in isiXhosa who have inspired you and tell us briefly why or how.
I immersed myself in the drama of DM Jongilanga, especially Apha Naphaya. I have a soft spot for short stories and Kwezo Mpindo Zetsitsa by Archibald Campbell Jordan and Amathol’ Endaba by Peter Tshobisa Mtuze stand out for me. My all-time favourite novel, Ubulumko Bezinja by Rustum Siyongwana, followed by Ncedile Saule’s Unyana Womntu, are books that I revisit from time to time. It was an honour to have Saule editing Yakhal’ Indoda.

Do you write by hand, or use a typewriter or computer?
I first scribble by hand most of the time, because the muse often catches me at the most awkward times and in the strangest of places. I had to learn to carry a notepad after bank slips, toilet paper and even funeral programmes proved inappropriate material to scribble on.  

Do you like a glass of wine occasionally? If you don’t, what’s your favourite drink?
I am a veteran teetotaller. I like cranberry juice, especially because it can be disguised as red wine.

Do you like sport? Which event are you looking forward to seeing at the Olympics?
I’m a long-distance runner, but I’m looking forward to the 100m sprint. I know a Jamaican will win, but I’m still figuring out which one between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.

Siphiwo Mahala’s novel Yakhal’ Indoda was published by Jacana this month.

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Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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