Best of 2013: Books


CRITIC'S CHOICE: Darryl Accone

For me, every year sees as much re-reading as reading. This was even more marked in 2013, perhaps because of the imminent 20th anniversary of 1994, that year of miracles and wonders in South African history.

I enjoyed hauling off the shelves Albert Luthuli's Let My People Go (Collins, 1962), Stephen Clingman's Bram Fischer (David Philip/Mayibuye Books/University of Massachussets Press, 1998), Slovo – The Unfinished Autobiography (Ravan/Hodder and Stoughton, 1995) and Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom (Macdonald Purnell, 1994). The fourth edition of Armed and Dangerous: From Undercover Struggle to Freedom by Ronnie Kasrils (Jacana, 2013) saved me from trying to find where I'd shelved the previous three.

It's true that there are many stodgy bits in Long Walk, and the often-present question of where and how Mandela's collaborator Richard Stengel (now the honcho of Time magazine) contributed. 

That aside, there is wonderful prose, maybe none so poignant as on the second-last page, where Mandela writes: "I was not born with a hunger to be free, I was born free – in every way that I could know … It was only when I began to learn that my boyhood freedom was an illusion, when I discovered as a young man that my freedom had already been taken from me, that I began to hunger for it." 

The rest is history as detailed in Long Walk, which is my reread of the South African political memoirs, biographies and autobiographies listed above, just edging out Clingman's work on Fischer.

I took another approach to Fischer in rereading Nadine Gordimer's Burger's Daughter (Jonathan Cape, 1979), in which Lionel Burger and his daughter Rosa can be read as analogues of Fischer and his daughters Ruth and Ilse. Lionel and Rosa led, irresistibly, to reading once more Gordimer's The Conservationist (Jonathan Cape, 1974), which speaks to South Africa today every bit as much as it did in the year of its initial publication. In the early 1970s The Conservationist was remarkably prescient, which it remains, because its portrait of the disintegration of a man who wishes everything to remain the same illuminates a particular psyche.

Of books published this year, my picks are:

1. LEVELS OF LIFE by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape, 2013)

Barnes writes movingly about life and love – specifically, his life with and love for Pat Kavanagh, the South African-born genius of a literary agent.

2. THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown, 2013)

Tartt is so good that she sent me back to her debut, The Secret History (Knopf, 1992), a final reread in a year of grand encores.

3. Clive James's translation of Dante's THE DIVINE COMEDY (Picador Poetry, 2013)

James's rendering is a poet's, daringly using quatrains rather than terza rima.

4. CAT SENSE: THE FELINE ENIGMA REVEALED by John Bradshaw (Allen Lane, 2013)

Bradshaw, the anthro-zoologist whose In Defence of Dogs (Allen Lane, 2011) illuminates the intertwined lives of dogs and humans, examines cats and what they need from us.

Top-selling adult fiction books

1. Command Authority, Tom Clancy (Putnam Adult)
2. Cross My Heart
, James Patterson (Little, Brown)
3. Sycamore Row
, John Grisham (Doubleday Books)
4. The Gods of Guilt, Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
5. Takedown Twenty, Janet Evanovich (Bantam)

Source: Nielsen Ratings

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone has been in journalism for the best part of four decades. He is also a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar and the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University and the author of ‘All Under Heaven: The Story of a Chinese Family in South Africa’ and ‘Euripides Must Die’.

The recovered remain cautious

People who have survived Covid-19 are not going through life carefree. They are still taking all the preventative measures

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations

Senwes launches Agri Value Chain Food Umbrella

South African farmers can now help to feed the needy by donating part of their bumper maize crop to delivery number 418668

Ethics and internal financial controls add value to the public sector

National treasury is rolling out accounting technician training programmes to upskill those who work in its finance units in public sector accounting principles

Lessons from South Korea for Africa’s development

'Leaders can push people through, through their vision and inspiration, based on their exemplary actions'

Old Mutual announces digital AGM

An ambitious plan to create Africa’s biggest digital classroom is intended to address one of the continent’s biggest challenges — access to education

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday