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30 Nov 2018 00:00
Private eye Fish Pescado investigates the murder of a minister in a thriller that exposes the underbelly of South Africa
THIS MOURNABLE BODYby Tsitsi Dangamera (Greywolf)
Here, the protagonist of Tsitsi Dangamera’s earlier novels, Nervous Conditions and The Book of Not, reluctantly comes home. Now in her 30s, Tambudzai Sigauke takes the reader on a journey during which we watch the veiled and vibrant ambitions she had when she was younger slowly crumble into a matter of surviving the day-to-day.
Although it’s very much a story about one woman’s struggle to balance her mental health in the state of capitalism, it echoes the state of Zimbabwe today.
A LONG WAY FROM HOME by Peter Carey (Faber & Faber)
This is one of Carey’s best novels, and begins in Bacchus Marsh, Carey’s home town. Irene and Titch Bobs have a Ford Motor Agency, and drive the Redex Trial, which takes them right up into the outback where indigenous Australians still have territories. Their navigator is blond and Germanic Willie Hubbacher, through whom Carey addresses, for the first time in his fiction, the fate of indigenous people and the brutal colonial racism of the Australian past. But there is tenderness and love — for the landscape, for the people.
GREEN AS THE SKY IS BLUE by Eben Venter (Penguin)
Simon Avend, a boerseun living in Australia, is engaged in long-term discussions with his respectful and fond female therapist in that country. Through these we share his many casual sexual encounters with men, on travels to various places in the world, and recounted in powerful and elegant detail. He is encouraged to manage his sexual life by considering the writings of Michel Foucault and the ancient Greeks. He visits his home country, South Africa, to touch base and to see his aged mother, which contributes to achieving insight and a calm mind. It is beautifully written, a challenging read.
THE BROKEN RIVER TENT by Mphuthumi Ntabeni (Blackbird)
This rich and erudite novel is based on the life of Maqoma, chief of the amaRharhabe Xhosa and brilliant general who was the scourge of the British in the Eastern Cape in the 19th century. The other main character is Phila, a modern-day Xhosa, a Berlin-trained architect who becomes deeply interested in the history of the Frontier Wars and the impact of colonialism. It is written with great verve and is often an amusing read as Maqoma and Phila exchange opinions when Maqoma appears to Phila, as if in real life, in the present-day sections of the novel.
FRIDAY BLACKby Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Riverrun)
Friday Black is a thrilling debut that explores contemporary racism in the United States through a Black Mirror-style dystopian lens. In one of the stand-out stories, which are an indictment of the US justice system, a white man decapitates five black children outside a public library and is about to be acquitted because he did it “for America”. Adjei-Brenyah’s short-story collection captures the illogical injustices and hate of US society through a futuristic and gruesomely violent lens, with the right blend of reality to leave the reader cold and questioning.
LA BASTARDAby Trifonia Melibea Obono (Modjaji)
Set in an Equatorial Guinea village, La Bastarda tells the coming-out story of a 16-year-old orphan, Okomo. In 112 pages the author beautifully juxtaposes the often violent language of conservative elders against innocent coming-of-age curiosities. Because she feels unwanted in her late mother’s home, Okomo goes against her grandmother’s wishes to find her alleged scoundrel of a father. While on this journey she draws close to the village outcasts, including her uncle. Here Okomo is introduced to and begins to explore the world beyond heterosexual norms. See extract on Page 4.
RED DOGby Willem Anker (Kwela)
The power of Willem Anker’s writing hits the reader in the stomach from the first sentence onwards. Set in the late 1700 and early 1800, Red Dog is the story of Coenrad de Buys — “Call me King of the Bastards, Khula, Kadisha, Moro, Diphafa or Kgowe. I am all of them … I am a vagabond, a book-biber, a smuggler, lover and naturalist. I manifest as a hunter, bigamist, orator, pillager ... and the bane of governments.” Indeed, Buys, who preceded the Voortrekkers, wreaked havoc in the Graaff-Reinet area where he grew up and everywhere he went. His first wife was Maria, “a Hotnot” from his youth and who gave birth to Elizabeth, who had his flaming red hair. Buys, a giant of a man, moved to the Eastern Cape, where he raided and traded in cattle, ivory and guns — and took the wife of a Xhosa chief. He moved across the land, making his presence felt among those he encountered from the Zulus and Griqua to Sotho-Tswana and Tsongo and Portuguese. (The Soutpansberg is the home of numerous Buys descendants.) A pack of “ruddy-brown dogs” surrounded Buys in his youth. One, he calls the “red devil” attacks him. Silently, in the shadows, a red dog is always with him throughout the book. First published as Buy: ’n Grensroman (2014), Red Dog has been skillfully translated by Michiel Heyns, himself one of South Africa’s top writers.
SLEEPER by Mike Nicol (Umuzi)
Mike Nicol has become one (of two?) of South Africa’s top thriller writers, a genre in which he can explore all the skullduggery that lies not far beneath the surface of our society. Private eye Fish Pescado returns in this novel, in which the minister of energy is found dead — and then the police officer investigating the case commits suicide. In parallel with this, there’s a plot to do with Iranian agents, enriched uranium and a kidnapped scientist.
PLUS ONE by Vanessa Raphaely (Picador)
Former Cosmopolitan editor Vanessa Raphaely has written a riveting novel about the glamorous world in which the protagonist, Lisa, edits a magazine called Fille. She’s also best friends with Hollywood hopeful Claudia, and the two women grab the chance to spend a weekend on a luxury yacht in the Greek isles. Sounds like a great idea. Until things start to go horribly wrong …
THE GOLD DIGGERS by Sue Nyathi (Pan Macmillan)
Following the Zimbabwean economic collapse in 2008, a group of illegal migrants embark on a Toyota Quantum journey to Johannesburg with the hope of getting some “gold”. From characters hoping to be reunited with their families to characters haunted by their troubled pasts and hoping for new beginnings, the book takes the reader through different harrowing South African experiences. Sue Nyathi shines the light on a number of South Africa’s biggest problems including xenophobia, unemployment, corruption, porous borders, inequality, drugs and displacement. The Gold Diggers is an extraordinary contribution to the voices of thousands of voiceless immigrants in South Africa.
UNSHELTEREDby Barbara Kingsolver (Faber & Faber)
“Unlike the incompetent architect of the house in her latest book, Unsheltered,” wrote The Guardian, “American novelist Barbara Kingsolver has proved herself a supreme craftsperson over the past three decades. She possesses a knack for ingenious metaphors that encapsulate the social questions at the heart of her stories.” In this novel from the author of the worldwide bestseller The Poisonwood Bible, the difficulties and dilemmas of contemporary existence in the United States of Donald Trump are laid bare in two parallel narratives, set 150 years apart but located in the same house.
AN IMAGE IN A MIRRORby Ijangolet S Ogwang (Jacana)
In this beautiful debut novel, Ijangolet Ogwang introduces the reader to twin sisters Achen and Nyakale. Separated in childhood under difficult circumstances by their mother, Achen remains in a village in Uganda with her mother and Nyakale is sent to the urban South Africa to be raised by her fortunate aunt. Yet, when the two sisters meet each other in their young adult years, will the metaphorical mirror reflect each other’s past 20 years? This profound debut novel for young adults goes beyond what books such as Coconut managed to achieve politically and socially with an extraordinary portrayal of village life (not to be confused with romanticising).
WAR OF THE WEAVERSby Debrah Anne Nixon(CreateSpace)
This is a poignant coming-of-age tale set in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The novel centres on the everyday lives of members of the Weaver family — their joys and their tribulations, played out against the backdrop of the rumbling civil war in Rhodesia. The story hinges on the experiences of Deirdre, the first of three children born to Beverley, who has set up home for herself and her children in the house next door to her parents, Nana and Grandpa Weaver. Nixon writes with lyrical flair and dark humour and a real feel for time and place. She succeeds in portraying a convincing picture of the lives of a white family living in Zimbabwe at a crucial time of transition. An entertaining and thought-provoking read.
THE LABYRINTH OF THE SPIRITSby Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
The title echoes both Jorge Luis Borges and Isabel Allende — a good omen. In fact, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books that is at the centre of Zafon’s novels is a very Borgesian idea, with perhaps a touch of Umberto Eco. His first novel, The Shadow of the Wind, was a massive bestseller, and Zafón’s subsequent novels, including this one, are related but can be read in any order. A post-modern literary thriller, almost a librarian’s thriller — certainly for bibliophiles.
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