Friday, February 12, 2010

Excerpt: "Ah, but your land is beautiful" - by Alan Paton

Excerpt taken from the brilliant "Ah, but your land is beautiful" by Alan Paton. The book is about real people and real events which occured in South Africa during the 1950s, just as Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was laying the foundations of his plan for total segregation of the races. This particular piece gives the reader a vivid and frightening look into the tactics of the Security Police during this time.

- I understand what you are doing, Robert, and I admire you for it, but I am desolated all the same. You know it is my weakness to lean on you, and whom shall I lean on now?

- I thought of you a great deal before I did it. I had to ask myself which was more important. You and I have tried to bring our schools and our children closer together, but now our attempts have been forbidden by both our departments. What was more important, for me to stay here to comfort you, or to go out and fight on a national platform for the things we believe in?

- You don't need to explain it to me, Robert. But Elizabeth and I are going to miss you and Naomi... sorely.

- But at least you haven't got Dlamini to contend with. Tell me, why did he resign?

- He didn't tell me, but I assume it was because he refused to teach under Bantu Education. The Security Police wanted to know, too.

- So they've been to see you.

- For two days running. They searched Dlamini's house from top to bottom. They asked me why he resigned. I said I had heard that he had been offered a job as an industrial chemist in Durban. But they didn't believe me. They asked me his views of Bantu Education, and what he thought of Dr. Hendrik. I told them that he didn't approve of Bantu Education, but that I had never heard him speak of Dr. Hendrik. Then they wanted to know why he disapproved of Bantu Education, and I said that it was his opinion that it was an inferior education, and furthermore that the insistence on home language as the medium of instruction up to Standard Six simply meant that no black child could ever become a scientist or a mathematician. Then they asked me if I agreed with him, and I said that this was the opinion of the majority of black teachers of Science and Mathematics, and that I agreed with them. Then the black man took over, Sergeant Magwaza was his name, and asked if I was ashamed of the Zulu language. Robert, I nearly laughed, but I decided not to. I said no, I was very proud of it, and I wanted all my pupils to speak it well and to write poems and stories in it, but it was not the language of Science and Mathematics, no more than English is the language of cattle and grass and herbs. Then this black fellow asked me what I thought of Dr. Hendrik and I told him that my opinion was my own, and that in any case I was not a great talker about other people.

- Good for you, Wilberforce. How did they take that?

- Not well at all. The white fellow said to me that where the security of the State was concerned, no-one's opinions belonged to himself, and that it was the duty of the Security Police to know everyone's opinions, and that it was the duty of everyone to let the S.P. know what his opinions were. I wanted to say that he was talking rubbish, but I thought I had better not. I just said I did not believe that. I believed that every man and woman had a right to privacy, just so long as they were not using their privacy to break the law. This white fellow said to me that a court of law might decide that my views were subversive, and that I had better be careful. I said the big trouble was that the court of law was no longer allowed to judge such matters. It was decided by the Minister of Justice acting on the advice of the S.P. The white fellow was now getting angry, and he asked me whether Dlamini and a number of staff members had celebrated the election of Luthuli as national president of the Congress. I said they had had a party, yes, but I was not invited so I did not know what they were celebrating. Then Sergeant Magwaza said they had proof that I knew perfectly well what they were celebrating. I thought to myself, only my wife and my vice-principal could have given them proof, and neither of them would. But then I thought of someone else. That's what happens, Robert, you begin to trust nobody. I remembered that on his way to report to me about the hostels, Koza had met Mbele coming the other way early from the party, and Mbele had told him that the staff was sending a deputation to me the next day to ask me to change the name of the school. Koza and I have always regarded Mbele as on our side, but then one begins to doubt. So I said to Magwaza, What is your proof? He said it was not their custom to bring proof, and that made me think again of Mbele. The white fellow asked me if I had announced to the school that Luthuli had been elected and I said yes. I had done it because the school was restless. He wanted to know if I had called him Chief Luthuli and I said yes. He asked if I knew that he was no longer a chief and I said yes. Why then did I call him a chief? Was I trying to belittle Dr. Hendrik in the eyes of the school? Had some of the boys and girls called out Mayibuye? Yes. Did I know what this meant? Yes. I was now almost at the end of my patience. You have never had this experience, Robert, of being interrogated by two hard and determined and limited men, who have sold themselves body and soul to this terrible machine that has no mercy. I regard these men as my inferiors, but I must sit for hours and be questioned by them. The white fellow I understand. He is defending his people and his language and his power and his children. The black one I do not understand at all. I want to say to him, Come and see me one day because I want to understand why you take a job like this. Then they get up to go, and the white man says to me, Nhlapo - not Mr. Nhlapo, not Headmaster, just Nhlapo - watch your step, we know everything that goes on here. Then they drive away and I think immediately of Dlamini, and I feel pity for him, because they'll get him one day, that's for sure.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Aspects of South African Literature

Below are two excerpts taken from Aspects of South African Literature by Herman Charles Bosman. It is food for thought on the effects of racism and colonialism on Africa. Bosman's use of irony is, as always, in fine form.

"Some years ago it was fashionable for a European tourist to explore some part of Africa, and after he had spent a week or two on the Dark Continent, to return to Europe and to write an authoritative work on the tribal customs, etc., of the savages who allowed him to pass peacefully through their territories. Because they didn't ask to see his visa, or offer to kill him - as would have happened to a foreigner trying to walk through any part of Europe that way - the tourist always knew that he was dealing with a lot of savages.

And the funny thing is that Africa has been uncivilised like this for a very long time. Look for how many years Livingstone walked about all over Africa as a spy. And whenever he came to a village, the savages, with studied brutality, would set before him food and drink. When he got fever, the benighted heathen even nursed him back to health without pay - just so that he could go and spy on them some more. That's this continent for you, sunk in absolute abomination."


"Another thing: if I were a Native, and I had acquired a certain amount of culture, I wouldn't want to call myself a Bantu or a Native or a negro or an African. No, I would demand to be recognised and accepted as a plain kaffir. I would receive from the hand of the white man nothing less. I would never allow them to take away from me a name so rich in legend, sorrow and heavy with the drama of Africa.

Incidentally, the etymologists' tame derivation of the word 'kaffir' from the Arabic for 'unbeliever' must be rejected by anybody with a feeling for the significance of words. It is a strong, florid word, broad as the African veld, and in its disyllabic vehemence is a depth of contumely [Def: Rudeness or contempt arising from arrogance - Ed] that I am sure no Arab would ever be able to think up."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Poetry Spot - Sara Teasdale

A Prayer
by Sara Teasdale

When I am dying, let me know
That I loved the blowing snow
Although it stung like whips;
That I loved all lovely things

And I tried to take their stings
With gay unembittered lips;
That I loved with all my strength,
To my soul's full depth and length,

Careless if my heart must break,
That I sang as children sing
Fitting tunes to everything,
Loving life for its own sake.

American poet Sara Teasdale (August 8, 1884 – January 29, 1933) was an extremely sickly child and only began to attend school at the age of 9. She fell in love with a fellow poet, Vachel Lindsay, and the two regularly sent one another love letters, but Teasdale married a rich businessman at the age of 30.

She won the 1918 Pulitzer Prize for poetry among other prestigious awards, but she committed suicide in 1933 by overdosing on sleeping pills, two years after Lindsay also took his life.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the youth to take up poetry - a happy career path to follow indeed.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My seven reasons not to buy a book

I like to think of myself as a bit of a snob when it comes to books. There are some things I just wouldn't touch with a ten-foot barge pole, and neither should you. Here are my criteria for book rejection in no particular order:

1. Chick-lit: a so-called “bestseller” that thinly veils the writer’s previous job working for Mills and Boon. Yes, we know that sex and romance sells. It sells to vacuous people who don’t have enough sex and romance in their real lives and try to compensate for it by living vicariously through a character in a book. They usually have some kind of depiction of a half-naked woman, alcohol or both on the cover. Usually leaves you feeling like Paris Hilton after you have read a few chapters.

2. Espionage novels / thrillers: this is stuff for guys who have little or no imagination. The novel will usually have a letter of the Greek alphabet and some hard-ass noun at the end, like The Delta Conspiracy, or the Gamma Project. Usually the title is the best part of the book. There may be a hammer and sickle on the front cover, too.

3. Pop fiction: These are books that small-minded people read because they are gullible enough to believe that these books hold some kind of key to enlightenment just because everyone else is reading them. Go and live in a Buddhist retreat if you’re looking for enlightenment, because you’re sure as hell not going to find it by reading the Da Vinci Code.

4. Celeb autobiographies:
there are way too many of these shitty excuses for books out there. Usually written by a ghostwriter, plastic celebrities and their plastic boobies have jumped onto the gravy train and are selling their pitiful life stories for a buck. For example, British glamour model Jordan, aka Katie Price, is releasing her FOURTH autobiography in just FIVE years. *Snore* If you haven’t won a Nobel Prize and are under the age of 70, just don’t write it. Nobody cares.

5. Self-help and diet books: I harbour a particular kind of loathing for these books, their authors and the people who read them. There should be a special section of Hell reserved for people who write things like this – people who chew up old ideas and theories, regurgitate them and pass them off as a new fad. Add to that a murky pool of idiotic people who think books like “The Secret” holds the keys to all life’s mysteries and we have a microcosm of stupidity churning away, infecting people I previously thought were intelligent.

6. Religious books: no matter what the religion, the authors of this kind of books have obviously never been to university or even heard the word “thesis”. But then, objective, unbiased and unopinionated writing is never high up there on their list of priorities.

7. Teen reads: anything geared towards the teen market is enough to make me vomit until my intestines come out. What the hell is the fascination with bloody vampires already? Grow up and cut your hair properly.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Poetry Spot - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Tho' veiled in spires of myrtle-wreath,
Love is a sword that cuts its sheath,
And thro' the clefts, itself has made,
We spy the flashes of the Blade !

But thro' the clefts, itself has made,
We likewise see Love's flashing blade,
By rust consumed or snapt in twain :
And only Hilt and Stump remain.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was one of the founders of the Romantic Movement in England.

It is also interesting to note that he, like all the great classical poets, suffered from crippling bouts of anxiety and depression. Coleridge chose to treat these episodes with opium, becoming an addict in the process.

Kindle e-book reader now available in South Africa

The latest American craze, Amazon's e-book reader, better known as the Kindle, is now being made available in most countries, including South Africa. From October 19th, the Kindle will be available in over 100 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, and will retail for around $279, which is equivalent to roughly R2100.

The Kindle uses 3G wireless technology utilised by most mobile phones, but unlike a phone, there are no data charges, no monthly fees, no software to install and no synching required.

Although the hardware is a bit of investment, the nice thing about it is that you can shop and download e-books from Amazon at any time directly from the Kindle itself. And the e-books are decidedly cheaper than the regular paper kind. The reader is 10mm thick and weighs just over 280g. It has a six-inch screen and with 2GB of memory, can hold over 1 500 books - a neat little thing to keep in your handbag!

Booker Prize winner announced for 2009

The winner of the 2009 Booker Prize has finally been announced after much anticipation - British-born Hilary Mantel with her intricate historical novel Wolf Hall. Fighting off stiff competition from two-time Booker Prize winner and my personal favourite to win, South African J. M. Coetzee, Mantel has picked up the prize and a lovely $80,000 cheque for her efforts.

Mantel's novel charts the chaos caused by Henry VIII's desire to marry Anne Boleyn, as seen through the eyes of the king's royal adviser, Thomas Cromwell.

The king's longing for a male heir led him to leave his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for Anne Boleyn, a woman widely regarded in court circles as a seductress and even rumoured to be a witch. The Vatican's refusal to annul the king's first marriage led the king to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

The book centers on the real-life figure of Cromwell, who was born a blacksmith's son, but rose to become one of the most powerful men in 16th-century England. He is portayed in the book as a ruthless but intelligent man straining against the restrictions placed upon him by society.

James Naughtie, chairman of the Booker prize judges, said the decision to give Wolf Hall the award was "based on the sheer bigness of the book. The boldness of its narrative, its scene setting ... The extraordinary way that Hilary Mantel has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th century."

Mantel is now working on a short non-fiction book called The Woman Who Died of Robespierre, about the Polish playwright Stanislawa Przybyszewska. She also writes reviews and essays, mainly for The Guardian, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books.

Although Mantel was a frontrunner for the prize, it is surprising in a sense as it is extremely unusual for a historical novel to win the coveted award. Congratulations to Hilary Mantel and we do hope that J.M. Coetzee will get that elusive Booker hat trick one of these days.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poetry Spot - Old Adam, the Carrion Crow

Old Adam, the Carrion Crow
by Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Old Adam, the carrion crow,
The old crow of Cairo;
He sat in the shower, and let it flow
Under his tail and over his crest;
And through every feather
Leak'd the wet weather;
And the bough swung under his nest;
For his beak it was heavy with marrow.
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It's only two devils, that blow,
Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts' moonshine.

Ho! Eve, my grey carrion wife,
When we have supped on king's marrow,
Where shall we drink and make merry our life?
Our nest it is queen Cleopatra's skull,
'Tis cloven and crack'd,
And batter'd and hack'd,
But with tears of blue eyes it is full:
Let us drink then, my raven of Cairo!
Is that the wind dying? O no;
It's only two devils, that blow
Through a murderer's bones, to and fro,
In the ghosts' moonshine.

Thomas Lovell Beddoes (b. July 20, 1803) was an English poet and dramatist. His work shows a constant preoccupation with death, and after being expelled from Bavaria due to his involvement in radical politics, he returned to England, where he became increasingly disturbed and later committed suicide by poision in 1849 at the age of 46. Nice.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My favourite children's books

In keeping with the theme of favourites, here are some of the best children’s books of all time. In no particular order. And just because you're an adult it doesn't mean you can't read kid's books. In fact, I recommend it.

The Harry Potter series (but of course) – J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's house, which he thinks is normal for someone like him whose parents have been killed in a 'car crash'. He is bullied by them and his fat, spoilt cousin Dudley, and lives a very unremarkable life with only the odd event here and there to cause him much to think about. That is until an owl turns up with a letter addressed to Harry and all hell breaks loose! He is literally rescued by a world where nothing is as it seems and magic lessons are the order of the day.

Adventure series – Enid Blyton
The Adventure Series is a collection of eight children's novels. These books feature the same child characters: Philip, Jack, Dinah, and Lucy-Ann, along with several adult characters. Jack's pet cockatoo, Kiki, is also a standard feature in each novel. The stories show the four children off on their own, discovering and solving mysteries without much adult assistance.

The Faraway Tree Series – Enid Blyton
The stories take place in an enchanted forest in which a gigantic magical tree - the eponymous "Faraway Tree" - grows. The tree is so tall that its topmost branches reach into the clouds and it is wide enough to contain small houses carved into its trunk. The forest and the tree are discovered by three children named Jo, Bessie, and Fannie, who move into a house nearby.

What Katy Did – Susan Coolidge
Katy Carr is untidy, tall and gangling, planning for the day when she will be beautiful and beloved, and amiable as an angel . An accidental fall from a swing seems to threaten her hopes for the future, but Katy struggles to overcome her difficulties with pluck, vitality and good humour. TIP: don't bother to read this if archaic English makes you zone out.

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
One of the best-loved stories of all time, The Secret Garden is a classic tale reflecting on themes such as helping others and believing in people. Mary, a young orphaned girl, meets her bedridden cousin, Colin. She discovers an enchanting secret place, separate from the outside world. It is in this place that Colin and Mary learn lessons about overcoming obstacles. This story will captivate audiences of all ages. I read this recently for my daughter and enjoyed it just as much if not more as an adult.

Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables is a bestselling novel by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery published in 1908. It was written as fiction for readers of all ages, but in recent decades has been considered a children's book. A classic story of a young orphan who finds a family when she is adopted by a brother and sister living in the small Canadian town of Avonlea. Anne is willful, imaginative, temperamental, and loquacious. She falls in love with the town, but she will need all her charms to adjust to her new life. This is a timeless story of an impetuous girl who grows into a sensitive young woman.

Narnia series – C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia present the adventures of children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the fictional realm of Narnia, a place where animals talk, magic is common, and good battles evil. Each of the books (with the exception of The Horse and His Boy) features as its protagonists children from our world who are magically transported to Narnia, where they are called upon to help the Lion Aslan handle a crisis in the world of Narnia. Please don't just get your kids the movies - give them the books. Read them together, in fact. They are way, way better.

The William series – Richmal Crompton
The William stories are about an 11-year-old schoolboy and his band of friends, known as the Outlaws, feared and loathed by adults all over the village for their mischievous pranks which often have diastrous but hilarious consequences.

The Asterix comics – Goscinny & Uderzo
Yes, I know they are comics. But no childhood would be complete without them. The series follows the exploits of a village of ancient Gauls as they resist Roman occupation. They do so by means of a magic potion, brewed by their druid, which gives the recipient superhuman strength. Asterix, along with his friend Obelix, have various adventures. In many cases, this leads them to travel to various countries around the world, though other books are set in and around their village.

Heidi – Johanna Spyri
Heidi is an orphaned girl initially raised by her aunt Dete in Maienfeld, Switzerland. In order to get a job in Frankfurt, Dete brings 5-year-old Heidi to her grandfather, who has been at odds with the villagers for years and lives in seclusion on the alm (mountain). This has earned him the nickname "Alm-Uncle". He at first resents Heidi's arrival, but the girl manages to penetrate his harsh exterior and subsequently has a delightful stay with him and her best friend, young Peter the goat-herd. When she is taken away by Dete to live with a rich family in Frankfurt, Heidi's longing for the mountain life and her grandfather make her constantly misunderstood by her benefactors.

Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers
The books centre on a mysterious, vain and acerbic magical English nanny, Mary Poppins. She is blown by the East wind to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London and into the Banks' household to care for their children. Encounters with chimney sweeps, shopkeepers and various adventures follow until Mary Poppins abruptly leaves.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Charlie Bucket, an intelligent boy from a poor family, lives with his parents and both sets of elderly grandparents. From these four, especially Grandpa Joe, he hears stories about the candymaker Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory he built in Charlie's hometown. As time passed, rival chocolate makers sent in spies, posing as workers, to Wonka's factory to steal his recipes. Mr Wonka was frustrated by this and fired the workers so there would be no spies left. The factory has since resumed operations with workers whose identity is a mystery, for the gates remain locked, and nobody, including Wonka, is seen going in or out of the factory anymore. Then Wonka holds a worldwide contest, in which five Golden Tickets are hidden under the wrappers of his candy bars; the prize for those who find them is a day-long tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate, and it is Charlie Bucket's greatest wish to find one. But his only chance is in the solitary bar of chocolate his parents manage to buy him for his birthday.

Matilda – Roald Dahl
The parents of five-year-old Matilda Wormwood have no interest in their daughter. Although she exhibits strong signs of being a child prodigy, they pressure her to watch television instead of her preferred activity of reading. Matilda discovers her local library and thinks up some ingenious pranks to bring her father down a peg or two. After witnessing Matilda's great intellect in the classroom, her benevolent teacher, Miss Honey, appeals to have Matilda moved up, but the eccentric and brutal headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, refuses. Matilda develops some strange powers and devises a plan to get the dreaded Trunchbull out of the school for once and for all.

The BFG – Roald Dahl
The story is about a little girl named Sophie. One night when Sophie couldn't fall asleep during the "witching hour", she sees a giant blowing something into the bedroom windows down the street. The giant notices her; although she tries to hide in her bed, he reaches through the window and carries her away to his home in giant country. Fortunately for Sophie, she has been abducted by the world's only benevolent giant, the Big Friendly Giant or BFG.

Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren
Nine-year-old Pippi is unconventional, assertive and extraordinarily strong, being able to lift her horse one-handed without difficulty. She frequently mocks and dupes adults she encounters, an attitude likely to appeal to young readers; however, Pippi usually reserves her worst behavior for the most pompous and condescending of adults.

Poetry for the eternally depressed

I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.

John Clare

This poem was written by John Clare in late 1844 or 1845 and published in 1848. It was composed when Clare was in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum (commonly Northampton County Asylum, and later renamed St Andrew's Hospital), isolated by his mental affliction from his family and friends. And it suits my mood today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My favourite top ten essential “serious reads”

A friend of mine asked me last week to compile a list of must-read books. I gave it a bit of thought and decided to separate my favourites into various categories. So here is my list of books I have read that I felt have changed me in some way and the way I see the world.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseni
Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the approval of his father and resolves to win the local kite-fighting tournament, to prove that he has the makings of a man. His loyal friend Hassan promises to help him - for he always helps Amir - but this is 1970s Afghanistan and Hassan is merely a low-caste servant who is jeered at in the street, although Amir still feels jealous of his natural courage and the place he holds in his father's heart. But neither of the boys could foresee what would happen to Hassan on the afternoon of the tournament, which was to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return, to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.

Bookseller of Kabul - Åsne Seierstad
Two weeks after September 11th, award-winning journalist Asne Seierstad went to Afghanistan to report on the conflict. In the following spring she returned to live with a bookseller and his family for several months. The Bookseller of Kabul is the fascinating account of her time spent living with the family of thirteen in their four-roomed home. Bookseller Sultan Khan defied the authorities for twenty years to supply books to the people of Kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street. He even resorted to hiding most of his stock in attics all over Kabul. But while Khan is passionate in his love of books and hatred of censorship, he is also a committed Muslim with strict views on family life. As an outsider, Seierstad is able to move between the private world of the women - including Khan's two wives - and the more public lives of the men. The result is an intimate and fascinating portrait of a family which also offers a unique perspective on a troubled country.

Cold Stone Jug – Herman Charles Bosman
"'You'll get yourselves in serious trouble if the Governor finds out you keep the whole prison awake … romping about and laughing in the condemned cells.' I wondered vaguely what more serious trouble we could get into than we were already in."
Few people following his trial would have guessed that the young teacher sentenced to death in November 1926 for the murder of his stepbrother would live to become one of South Africa's most famous writers. Herman Charles Bosman spent nine days in the death cell, before the sentence was commuted to ten years imprisonment. When Bosman was released on parole some four years later, he began his astonishing writing career as journalist and unequalled storyteller.
A project to re-edit the texts of all his works in their original, unabridged and uncensored form by 2005, the centenary of his birth, came into being late in 1997. This book, hailed as Bosman's masterpiece of irony, forms part of that project. It is a gripping story that vividly stays with one like a personal experience.

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
'It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.' So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear. Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere. As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power. Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas - this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Newspeak, Doublethink, Big Brother, and the Thought Police - the language of 1984 has passed into the English Language as a symbol of the horrors of totalitarianism. George Orwell's story of Winston Smith's fight against the all-pervading party has become a classic, not the least because of its intellectual coherence.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China – Jung Chang
One of the best-selling and best-loved books of recent years, with a new introduction by the author. The publication of Wild Swans in 1991 was a worldwide phenomenon. Not only did it become the best-selling non-fiction book in British publishing history, with sales of well over two million, it was received with unanimous critical acclaim, and was named the winner of the 1992 NCR Book Award and the 1993 British Book of the Year Award. Few books have ever had such an impact on their readers. Through the story of three generations of women -- grandmother, mother and daughter -- Wild Swans tells nothing less than the whole tumultuous history of China's tragic twentieth century, from sword-bearing warlords to Chairman Mao, from the Manchu Empire to the Cultural Revolution. At times terrifying, at times astonishing, always deeply moving, Wild Swans is a book in a million, a true story with all the passion and grandeur of a great novel. For this new edition, Jung Chang has written a new introduction, bringing her own story up to date, and describing the effect Wild Swans' success has had on her life.

Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
A divorced, middle-aged English professor finds himself increasingly unable to resist affairs with his female students. When discovered by the college authorities, he is expected to apologise and repent in an effort to save his job, but he refuses to become a scapegoat in what he see as as a show trial designed to reinforce a stringent political correctness. He preempts the authorities and leaves his job, and the city, to spend time with his grown-up lesbian daughter on her remote farm. Things between them are strained - there is much from the past they need to reconcile - and the situation becomes critical when they are the victims of a brutal and horrifying attack. In spectacularly powerful and lucid prose, Coetzee uses all his formidable skills to engage with a post-apartheid culture in unexpected and revealing ways. This examination into the sexual and politcal lawlines of modern South Africa as it tries desperately to start a fresh page in its history is chilling, uncompromising and unforgettable.

Q&A – Vikas Swarup
The Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionare may have been based on this novel, but there are remarkable differences. The novel reflects the true brutality and corruption that is rife in India, but the book is also remarkably quirky despite the stark undertones. Former tiffinboy Ram Mohammad Thomas has just got twelve questions correct on a TV quiz-show to win a cool one billion rupees. But he is brutally slung in prison on suspicion of cheating. Because how can a kid from the slums know who Shakespeare was, unless he is pulling a fast one. In the order of the questions on the show, Ram tells us which amazing adventures in his street-kid life gave him the answers. From orphanages to brothels, gangsters to beggar-masters, and into the homes of Bollywood's rich and famous, Ram's story is brimming with the chaotic comedy, heart-stopping tragedy and tear-inducing joyousness of modern India.

Schindler's Ark – Thomas Keneally
In the shadow of Auschwitz, a flamboyant German industrialist grew into a living legend to the Jews of Cracow. He was a womaniser, a heavy drinker and a bon viveur, but to them he became a saviour. This is the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to protect Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland and who was transformed by the war into a man with a mission, a compassionate angel of mercy.

Atonement - Ian McEwan
On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

If you have any favourites you would like added to this list, please feel free to add them to the comments box.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quote of the day

"Over the centuries, mankind has tried many ways of combating the forces of evil... prayer, fasting, good works and so on. Up until Doom, no one seemed to have thought about the double-barrel shotgun. Eat leaden death, demon."
Terry Prachett

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Last Contintent

An extended quote from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel, The Last Continent. It is a parody about all things Australian.

Rincewind had attracted the attention of at least one other watcher apart from whatever it was that dwelt in the waterhole.

Death had taken to keeping Rincewind's lifetimer on a special shelf in his study, in much the way that a zoologist would want to keep an eye on a particularly intriguing specimen.

The lifetimers of most people were the classic shape that Death thought was right and proper for the task. They appeared to be large eggtimers, although, since the sands they measured were the living seconds of someone's life, all the eggs were in one basket.

Rincewind's hourglass looked like something created by a glassblower who'd had the hiccups in a time machine. According to the amount of actual sand it contained - and Death was pretty good at making this kind of estimate - he should have died long ago. But strange curves and bends and extrusions of glass had developed over the years, and quite often the sand was flowing backwards, or diagonally. Clearly, Rincewind had been hit with so much magic, had been thrust reluctantly through time and space so often that he'd nearly bumped into himself coming the other way, that the precise end of his life was now as hard to find as the starting point on a roll of really sticky transparent tape.


The leader looked down at him. 'Name your price for that little battler, mate!' said Remorse.

'Er... three.. er... squids?'said Rincewind muzzily.

'What? For a wiry little devil like that?He's got to be worth a coupla hundred at least!'

'Three squids is all I've got...'

'I reckon a few of them rocks hit him on the head,' said one of the stockmen who were holding Rincewind up.

'I mean I'll buy him off'f you, mister,' said Remorse, patiently. 'Tell you what - two hundred squids, a bag of tucker and we'll set you right on the road to... Where was it he wanted to go, Clancy?'

'Bugarup,' murmured Rincewind.

'Oh, you don't wanna go to Bugarup,' said Remorse. 'Nothing in Bugarup but a bunch of wowsers and pooftahs.'

''s okay, I like parrots,' mumbled Rincewind, who was just hoping that they would let him go so that he could hold on to the ground again. 'Er... what's Ecksian for going mad with terrified fatigue and collapsing in a boneless heap?'

The men looked at one another.

'Isn't that "snagged as a wombat's tonker"?'

'No, no, no, that's when you chuck a twister, isn't it?' said Clancy.

'What? Strewth, no. Chucking a twister's when... when you... yeah, it's when you... Yeah, it's when your nose... hang on, that's "bend a smartie"...'

'Er-' said Rincewind, clutching his head.

'What? "Bend a smartie" is when your ears get blocked under water.' Clancy looked uncertain, and then seemed to reach a decision. 'Yeah, that's right!'

'Nah, that's "gonging like a possum's armpit", mate.'

'Excuse me --' said Rincewind.

'That ain't right. "Gonging like a possum's armpit" is when you crack a crusty. When your ears are stuffed like a Mudjee's kettle after a week of Fridays, that's "stuck up like Morgan's mule".'

'No, you're referrin' to "happier than Morgan's mule in a choccy patch" --'

'You mean "as fast as Morgan's mule after it ate Ma's crow pie".'

'How fast was that? Exactly?' said Rincewind.

They all stared at him.

'Faster'n an eel in a snakepit, mate!' said Clancy.'Don't you understand plain language?'

(Taken from The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Terry Pratchett – the legend lives on!

Terry Pratchett is one of those people whom you could say was born to be a writer. Born in Buckinghamshire in 1948, he began his career as a journalist in 1965 at the tender age of 17. When interviewing a publisher in 1968, he mentioned that he had written a book, The Carpet People. In 1971 it was published and the reviews were good, if few. The Dark Side of the Sun and Strata followed in 1978 and 1981 respectively.

After taking a job as Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board, he published the first of his now famous Discworld novels, The Colour of Magic. After the fourth Discworld novel, Mort, was published, Pratchett gave up trying to earn an honest living and became a full-time writer. Since then he has steadily produced an average of two books a year. He is Britain’s second most successful writer, behind only J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter juggernaut, and his sales in the U.K. alone stand at more than 2.5 million copies per year.

The Discworld novels are set on a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin. Popular characters in the series include Granny Weatherwax and the witches of Lancre, Captain Vimes of the Night Watch in Ankh-Morpork, Rincewind the (failed) wizard, Death and the History Monks.

On 11th December 2007, Pratchett announced that he had been diagnosed with a very rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, called posterior cortical atrophy. In a matter of hours, over 60 000 messages had been left on his website by concerned fans. However, Pratchett is still alive and as well as can be expected. He has said that the disease has impaired his ability to type and he now dictates his books and is also experimenting with speech-recognition software.

Amazingly, he has managed to write yet another book, bringing the number of Discworld novels to an astonishing 37. Unseen Academicals is about a football team being established at Unseen University, an academic establishment known for its magic, meals and wine, but not, alas for their sporting abilities. The highly anticipated book is due for release in the UK on 6th October 2009, although it may be a little longer before it is launched on South African shores.

Can you wait?

J.M. Coetzee makes the Booker shortlist

Good news for South Africans - we may be plagued by troubles in the sporting department, but at least we have one South African doing us proud. J.M. Cotzee has made it through to the shortlist of this year's Booker Prize for his book, Summertime. Coetzee won the Booker for Disgrace in 1999 and The Life and Times of Michael K in 1983 as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003.

With two Bookers already under his belt, if Coetzee manages to beat the competition again he will be the only person ever to have won three Booker Prizes.

Summertime is a fictionalised memoir that focuses on John Coetzee as a young writer in his thirties. His book faces stiff comptetition from the bookmaker's favourite - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, a historical novel about Henry VIII's advisor, Thomas Cromwell.

The winner will be announced on 6th October this year, and will receive a £50 000 cheque as well as a predictable jump in sales. Last year's winner, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, sold a cool half million copies and has been translated into 30 languages.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Terry Pratchett interview - on his book "Nation"

Terry Pratchett - Science Fiction or Fantasy? BBC interview

Quote of the day

"Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Quote of the day

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis

South African-Indian literary festival - Words on Water

Next week an exciting literary event will be taking place for all book lovers, especially those who, like me, have a passion for Indian and African authors. The South Africa-India literary festival “Words on Water: South Africa and India in conversation” will be held at the Origins Centre at Wits on Friday 12th September and at the Wanderers’ Club on Saturday 13th September.

Indian best-selling non-fiction writer Ramachandra Guha and acclaimed novelist Amit Chaudhuri will be on hand to sign books and interact with the public. Other Indian authors present will include Shobhaa De, a top Indian best-selling author and Arshia Sattar, whose translations of old Sanskrit tales have been published by Penguin.

South African “chick lit” writers, Angela Makholwa and Zukhisa Wanner and Glamour magazine editor Pnina Fenster will be part of a panel discussing popular fiction.

There will also be discussions on literary depictions of Johannesburg and Calcutta, postcolonial politics and poetry sessions, with a mix of both South African and Indian writers and artists on each panel.

The literature festival is part of the “Shared Histories” festival which puts the spotlight on Indian dance, music, film, performance, craft and fashion, running from 23rd August to 31st October.

Consul General of India, Mr. Navdeep Suri commented: “In the context of intensifying relations between South Africa and India, this festival aims to bring a kaleidoscope of contemporary Indian culture to mainstream South African audiences. In recent years, India has produced a number of award-winning writers in English. The literature component of the festival showcases leading Indian writers for South African readers.”

Entrance to the festival is free. For further details visit the website or contact Isabel Hofmeyr, 011-717-4142 or Zaheda Mohammed

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Poll: What is your favourite genre in novels?

Quote of the day

"You can understand and relate to most people better if you look at them - no matter how old or impressive they may be - as if they are children. For most of us never really grow up or mature all that much - we simply grow taller. O, to be sure, we laugh less and play less and wear uncomfortable disguises like adults, but beneath the costume is the child we always are, whose needs are simple, whose daily life is still best described by fairy tales."

Leo Rosten

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

So many books, so little time...

As you may have noticed, I have not selected an author to feature for this week, due in part to the physical demands of Ramadan, lack of sleep and general malaise. I have also resolved to spend a little more time writing on a couple of projects I started on a while ago and put on hold when I started the blog. But that doesn't mean the Storytellers Web is going to come to a standstill. Next week we will be featuring one of Britain's best-selling authors, Terry Pratchett. He has been such a dedicated writer that he has habitually churned out a book every year since he left his regular job (too many moons ago to mention politely). Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease two years ago, and although he is doing as well as can be expected, our thoughts are with him and his family.

Terry Pratchett has millions of fans around the world, many of whom simply cannot imagine a world where there are no new Pratchett books coming into the bookshops. If you are a Pratchett fan, drop me a line - tell me which books and characters are your favourite and when you were introduced to the Discworld - I look forward to hearing from you!

Quote of the day

"I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him."
Mark Twain

Quiz: Storytellers Book Quiz

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Featured author quote

"This was the war of Bronkhorstspruit and General Colley and Laing's Nek. You have no doubt heard many accounts of this war, some of them truthful, perhaps. For it is a singular thing that, as a man grows older, and looks back on fights that he has been in, he keeps on remembering, each year, more and more of the enemy that he has shot.

Klaas Uys was a man like that. Each year, on his birthday, he remembered one or two more redcoats that he had shot, whereupon he got up straight away and put another few notches in the wood part of his rifle, along the barrel. And he said his memory was getting better every year."

Herman Charles Bosman, Yellow Moepels

Featured author quote

"Stoffel Oosthuizen added that, no matter what the difference in the colour of their skin had been, it was impossible to say that the kaffir's bones were less white than Hans Welman's. Nor was it possible to say that the kaffir's sun-dried flesh was any blacker than the white. Alive, you couldn't go wrong in distinguishing between a white man and a kaffir. Dead, you had great difficulty in telling them apart."

Herman Charles Bosman, Unto Dust

Quote of the day

"So as a prelude, whites must be made to realise that they are only human, not superior. Same with Blacks. They must be made to realise that they are also human, not inferior."

Steven Biko

Featured author quote

"Of course, I know about history - Oom Schalk Lourens said - it's the stuff children learn in school. Only the other day, at Thys Lemmer's post office, Thys's little son Stoffel started reading out of his history book about a man called Vasco da Gama, who visited the Cape. At once Dirk Snyman started telling young Stoffel about the time when he himself visited the Cape, but young Stoffel didn't take much notice of him. So Dirk Snyman said that that showed you."

Herman Charles Bosman, The Music Maker

Featured Author - Excerpt

An excerpt from “Bechuana Interlude” by Herman Charles Bosman

“When he had filled the whole sheet of blotting paper with small circles, Johnny de Clerk stopped talking and put the printed documents in order.

‘I have proved to you why you should be insured for a thousand pounds, Oom Piet,’ he said. ‘So just sign your name here.’

Piet Venter shook his head.

‘Oh no,’ he replied. ‘I don’t want to.’

‘But you must,’ Johnny de Klerk went on, waving his hand towards Lenie, without looking up. ‘For the sake of your wife, here, you must.’

‘That is not my wife,’ Piet Venter replied. ‘That’s my daughter, Lenie. My wife has gone to Zeerust to visit her sister.’

‘Well then, for the sake of you wife and your daughter Lenie,’ Johnny de Klerk said. ‘and what’s more, I’ve already spent an hour talking to you. If I spend another hour I shall have to insure you for two thousand pounds.’

Piet Venter got frightened then, and took off his jacket and signed the application form without any more fuss. By the way he passed his hand over his forehead, I could see he was pleased to have got out of it so easily. I thought it was very considerate of Johnny de Klerk to have warned him in time. A more dishonest insurance agent, I felt, would just have gone on sitting there for the full two hours, and would then have filled in the documents, very coolly, for two thousand pounds. It was a pleasure for me to see an honest insurance agent at work, after I had come across so many of you might call the dishonest kind.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Did you know?

* Herman Charles Bosman’s collection of short stories, Mafeking Road, has never been out of print since it was first published in 1947.

*He sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Herman Malan, which was his mother’s maiden name.

*He wrote a number of Afrikaans short stories and poems that were published in numerous Afrikaans magazines. In 2001 a collection of his Afrikaans short stories with the title Verborge skatte was published.

*He is especially renowned for his “Oom Schalk Lourens” and “Voorkamer” stories. The actor Patrick Mynhardt won acclaim for his interpretation of Oom Schalk Lourens. He died in 2007 and was buried next to Herman Charles Bosman in the Westpark cemetary in Johannesburg.

Featured Author - Herman Charles Bosman

Our featured author for this week takes us on an incredible journey into the past – to the days of the Boer War, the rule of the British in South Africa and the dusty roads of the Groot Marico. To say that Herman Charles Bosman was an extraordinary writer would be an understatement in the extreme. The mark he has left on South African literature, I would hope, is impossible to erase.

Born in the Cape at Kuils River in 1905, Bosman’s family moved up to the Transvaal a few years thereafter. He spent his formative years with his mother’s family in Potchefstroom, where he was encouraged by his grandparents, mother and uncle, all educated and intelligent people, to read and discuss politics, history and literature.

Bosman’s mother, Elisa, an educated young woman from a well-to-do Afrikaans family, had married a mine-worker, to the consternation and confusion of her parents. Many years later it emerged that she had confided in a close friend that she had married Jacobus Bosman as a “necessary evil” – Herman was a love child, whose father she said she was “unable to marry”.

In 1918, Jacobus Bosman had found a job in Johannesburg as a waste-packer on the mines, and he promptly brought his family to live in Jeppestown. Bosman attended Jeppe High School, where for the first time he came up against mathematics, the subject that he would never master and would eventually cost him his matric. However, he had the good fortune to be blessed with an excellent English teacher, a subject he fell in love with and obtained excellent marks in. He began to contribute to the school magazine, and at the age of 16, was writing short stories which were published regularly in the Sunday Times.

He attended Houghton College in 1922 to study for his Cape Matriculation examination, but mathematics was again to be his ultimate academic Achilles heel. When he sat for his matric algebra paper, he decided to write the examiner an essay confessing his regrettable deficiencies in the subject, and suggesting they be overlooked given his talents in English.

It was during this year that Jacobus Bosman died in a mining accident. The only person who was truly grieved by this was Bosman’s younger brother Pierre, who was close with his father. Elisa was determined to take the insurance payout and find a new husband better suited to her “station” in life.

After eventually managing to graduate at the University of the Witwatersrand with a T2 teaching diploma at the end of 1925, he was posted as a teacher to the Groot Marico district on the border with Botswana. The experience was enthralling and enriching for Bosman, and eventually gave birth to his famous Oom Schalk Lourens and Voorkamer stories, all set in the Groot Marico region.

Tragedy struck soon thereafter, when Bosman went home to his mother for the holidays. Elisa had re-married a wealthy widower, William Russell, who had children of his own, three of whom came to live with Elisa when their father married her. Not long after Bosman arrived in the house, he killed one of his step-brothers with a hunting rifle. There are many hypotheses of what really happened that fateful night. But whether it was an accident, a heated disagreement turned violent or simply cold-blooded murder, Herman Charles Bosman was, after a sensational court trial, sentenced to death for murder.

Bosman spent nine long, agonizing days on Death Row in Pretoria Central Prison and then finally received a reprieve from the Governor-General, brought about by friends and family who had been campaigning tirelessly to save him. Bosman was sentenced instead to ten years’ hard labour, but served half his sentence before he was released on parole in 1930.

Bosman’s years in prison served as the basis for his semi-autobiographical Stone Cold Jug. After being released, he threw himself into writing stories and poetry and started his own printing press, associating himself with many poets, journalists and writers. He then took a nine-year hiatus and toured overseas, spending a lot of time in London, where he wrote the famous Mafikeng Road.

Upon his return to South Africa, he found work as a journalist and also managed to translate the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam into Afrikaans. He married Ella Mason and the couple were well-known for their bohemian lifestyle and parties.

One of Bosman’s closest friends was Gordon Vorster, a local artist, and the two spent many nights together drinking at Johannesburg’s old bars and taverns, getting drunk and coming up with outrageous ideas. Together they decided to compile and anthology of English South African poetry and the criteria for selection were eccentric and probably decided upon in a drunken state. For example, a poem entitled “Pissed in Gaza” would be accepted solely on its title, while a more conservatively-titled poem might be rejected for the same reason, irrespective of the poem’s content.

Uys Krige, a great South African author, received a rejection letter from Bosman that went as follows:

"Liewe Uys, Ek het baie siek gewees met die griep. Hoe gaan dit met jou? Hierdie gedig is sommer 'n klomp kak. Jou vriend, Herman."

(“Dear Uys, I have been very sick with 'flu. How are you? Your poem is a load of shit. Your friend, Herman.”)

After a housewarming party, Bosman was taken to the Edenvale Hospital with severe chest pains by his concerned wife. When asked by the doctor as to his place of birth, he replied, “Born – Kuils River, Died – Edenvale Hospital”. He was released after his examination, telling Ella it was merely indigestion from the night before. When they reached home, Bosman collapsed shortly thereafter and died as he was wheeled into the Edenvale Hospital once again.

Bosman is buried in Westpark Cemetery in Westdene and his gravestone reads:

"Die Skrywer, The Writer, Herman Charles Bosman, b 3.2.1905, d 14.10.1951."

Quote of the day

"In battling evil, excess is good; for he who is moderate in announcing the truth is presenting half-truth. He conceals the other half out of fear of the people's wrath."

Kahlil Gibran, 'Narcotics and Dissecting Knives,' Thoughts and Meditations, 1960

Friday, August 21, 2009

What to look out for next week

Next week’s author is the South African literary giant Herman Charles Bosman. If you are as old and wrinkly as I am, you may remember studying HCB in school, and I am quite sad to note that it has been removed from the list of school set books by the Department of Education, probably because of the repeated use of the word “kaffir” in his Oom Schalk Lourens stories.

Although it is an uncomfortable term for us today, it is certainly not racism on Herman Charles Bosman’s part. In fact, the truth is that through the use of the subtle irony and humour of which he was so fond, he has been able to clearly portray the shocking extent of racism in the old Transvaal of which he wrote. Reading his books is akin to opening a portal to another time and witnessing first-hand the treatment of blacks as second-class citizens.

It is unfortunate that today’s pupils are denied the opportunity to study and discuss Bosman’s short stories – I think they are the legacy of a genius and a valuable part of South Africa’s literary heritage that deserves more acknowledgement. If you have an opinion on HCB, please leave a comment below.

Quote of the day

“I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”

G. K. Chesterton

Did you know...

The oldest book in the world was written in the lost Etruscan language and was found 60 years ago in a tomb uncovered by excavators in south-western Bulgaria. The book is comprised of six 24-carat solid gold pages and is believed to be around 2,500 years old.

The Etruscans are believed to have migrated from modern western Turkey, settling in northern and central Italy nearly 3,000 years ago and were wiped out by conquering Romans around 400 BC, leaving few written records.

The book can be seen at Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia.

Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon to fight Google book deal

Three of Google's largest rivals are joining a coalition to oppose a legal settlement that would give the Internet search leader digital rights to millions of copyrighted books.

Microsoft, Yahoo and are all part of a group called the Open Book Alliance. It's being put together by the Internet Archive, a longtime critic of Google's digital book crusade.

Google contends its rivals' objections are rooted in a fear of more competition in the digital book market.

The class-action settlement that would expand Google's digital library is scheduled to be reviewed in a court hearing on 7 October.

Source: Associated Press

Parting shots...

This week’s reviews on Tahir Shah were very fun to do as he is one of my favourite authors. Unfortunately, he was unable to give us an interview due to time constraints – he tells me he’s working on something very exciting and time-consuming but as yet he can’t give us any details. We will definitely be keeping our eyes peeled for news on that front.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quote of the day

"But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony--Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?"

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet On The Western Front

Review – In Arabian Nights

“The torture chamber was ready for use. There were harnesses for hanging the prisoners upside-down, rows of sharp-edged batons, and smelling salts, used syringes filled with dark liquids and worn leather straps, tourniquets, clamps, pliers, and equipment for smashing the feet. On the floor there was a central drain, and on the walls and every surface, dried blood – plenty of it. I was manacled, hands pushed high up my back, stripped almost naked, with a military-issue blindfold tight over my face. I had been in the torture chamber every night for a week, interrogated hour after hour on why I had come to Pakistan.”

Arrested by Pakistani security forces while making a documentary on the lost treasure of the Mughals, the only comfort Tahir Shah found in his cold, bare detention cell was in the memories of his peaceful home in Morocco and the stories his father would tell him as a child.

After being released, Shah realises he must delve deep into the culture of Morocco to better understand the stories his father told, and the meanings hidden in them. Told of the Berber legend that each person must strive to find the story in their heart, Shah becomes obsessed with finding the story in his heart and begins to travel throughout the Saharan country, seeking out traditional Moroccan storytellers in traditional Moroccan tea-houses and ancient medinas.

With dismay, he discovers that the tradition of storytelling in Morocco has been dying out since the advent of television and Egyptian soap-operas. Old storytellers have had to find other occupations to earn a livelihood and they find themselves unable to find apprentices to pass on the oral tradition to, but he perseveres and travels to Fez, Marrakech and deep into the Sahara in his search.

The book is interspersed with brilliant tales transmitted to him by the locals and stories his father had told him as a child. He is especially fascinated with the many stories contained within his father’s first edition copy of “Alf Layla Wa Layla” (A Thousand and One Nights) compiled by the nineteenth-century British explorer Richard Burton.

The vibrancy of Shah’s characters simply cannot be made up. He has a true gift for exposing their quirkiness so that the reader feels a kinship with each one of them. In between the tales he effortlessly weaves threads of his domestic life, such as his struggles with protecting the honour of his guardians, the rivalry between his two maids and his efforts to pass on the storytelling tradition to his children.

In Arabian Nights
makes the reader begin to doubt the wisdom of Western pragmatism and will make everyone fall in love, even if just a little, with Morocco and the exotic, mysterious layers of Eastern thought.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Featured Author Quote - Tahir Shah

"The fact that the Caliph's House is located where it is - slap bang in the middle of the city's prime shantytown - gives us a window into a world where people are less financially fortunate. As time has passed, we have developed an abiding respect for everyone who lives in the bidonville. The people who live there may not have pockets lined with money, but their heads are screwed on right. Their values are rock solid.

If the shantytown is at one end of the equation, then Casa Trash can be found far at the other extreme. Their lives are created from an alphabet of name brands, cosmetic surgery and monstrous black SUVs. Female Casa Trash is dressed in the latest Gucci or Chanel, is heeled in Prada and is so thin that you wonder how her organs function at all. Her vision is obscured by oversized sun goggles and her mouth is masked in lipstick of such thickness and viscosity that it hinders her speech."

In Arabian Nights

Featured Author Quote - Tahir Shah

"When you hire a Moroccan maid, you imagine she will cook, clean and generally help to run the house. You believe this because at the first meeting she paints a vision of tremendous comfort - the clothes washed and expertly ironed, the house spic-and-span, delicious meals bubbling away on the stove. If you're lucky, there's a honeymoon which lasts a week or ten days. After that she settles into her role and the true character burgeons forth."

In Arabian Nights

Quote of the day

"Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung of the ladder and writes novels."

P. G. Wodehouse

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review – The Caliph’s House (Tahir Shah)

The Caliph’s House was a book written by Shah when he took the decision to move his family from the security and dullness of life in England to a new life in Morocco. Shah buys a haunted palace called Dar Khalifa (the Caliph’s House) in the middle of a Casablanca bidonville (slum) and the book documents the struggles the family has trying to adjust to life in an unfamiliar country.

Dar Khalifa is a rambling, ancient house, opulent and filled with the ghosts of times gone by. Shah has a passion for the Moroccan way of life and thinking and he readily agrees to any number of insane suggestions from the three caretakers he inherited with the house to get rid of the jinns, much to the distress of his long-suffering wife, Rachana.

After a string of bad luck affects the house and its occupants, an ostentatious exorcism is performed, to Rachana’s horror and the delight of the guardians. But the book is far more than just a story about fixing up a house. It delivers clever insight into the real spirit of Morocco – its people.

The friendships that Shah develops over time in Casablanca are qualitatively different to the acquaintances he had made in London, and he finds himself living life at a somewhat slower pace – and exploring the somewhat esoteric cultural beliefs of his new countrymen on the way.

The book has plenty of both quirky and profound moments and will leave you with a strong desire to visit Morocco yourself, if only to see if will affect you in the same way.

Quote of the day

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."

- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Featured author - did you know?

Tahir Shah's book Trail of Feathers (2001) investigated the notion that men may have been able to fly. Having read an ancient Spanish manuscript that stated "the Incas flew over the jungle like birds", Shah set off on a journey to the Peruvian Amazon. After research that included a stay with the Shuar tribe, Shah concluded that the Incas partook of a powerful hallucinogen called Ayahuasca which made them believe they were actually flying.

This week’s featured author – Tahir Shah

Tahir Shah hails from a distinguished Afghan family, but was brought up in England and is the author of more than a dozen books and several documentary films. Shah is the son of well-known Sufi teacher, poet and writer Idries Shah and his paternal great-grandfather was the nawab of Sardhana in UP, India.

Growing up, Shah was greatly influenced by the teachings of his father, who drummed into him that education was about much more than attending school and that his quest for knowlegde was something that he should continue until death. Prevented from returning to his native country by the Taliban regime, Idries Shah took his family to Morocco each year for holidays and the young Tahir became besotted by the mystery and spirituality of the country, with its rich culture and traditions.

As a young man, Shah became a successful journalist, travelling to far-off countries, reporting on women’s issues. It was then that he decided to move full-time into writing books and travelogues about far-off lands. His travels took him to India, the Middle East, Africa and South America. Tired of living in London, Shah decided to move with his wife and two young children to Morocco in 2003. He purchased a grand but derelict house in the middle of a Casablanca shantytown called Dar Khalifa (the Caliph’s House) with the intention of restoring the ancient dwelling to its former glory.

In July 2005, while making a documentary, Shah and two colleagues were arrested and detained by Pakistani security police in Peshawar. They were held without charge and interrogated for sixteen days. Upon their release, the Pakistani government admitted Shah and his colleagues had done nothing wrong. Despite the experience, Shah still retains a deep affection for Pakistan and is passionate about bridging the divide between East and West.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Quote of the day

"It is not permissible to add to one's possesions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation."

- Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Kindle - doomed to fail?

Although the Kindle e-book reader was launched in a blaze of publicity by Amazon a couple of years ago, it may become obsolete as phones get smarter. The popularity of touchphones is unquestionable, and they come with large enough screens to be used as e-book readers themselves.

Barnes & Noble Inc., one of the U.S.’s largest book retailers, has launched its own free e-book reader application which can be downloaded onto your iPhone, Blackberry, PC or Mac and versions are coming out soon for most other makes and models of touchphones. And B&N are not the only ones developing free e-reader apps for phones.

This may well render the need for a separate lump of plastic – and very expensive plastic, I might add – to read e-books on unnecessary. The limitations of the Kindle may also see it become outmoded, as the Kindle is only available in the U.S. and us poor non-American folk will likely never see it implemented in other countries.

Barnes & Noble’s e-reader can be downloaded here, and it comes with a few free classics, such as the Last of the Mohicans, Dracula, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

I prefer the feel of paper under my fingers, myself, but e-books can serve a useful purpose, such as those times you travel by bus or train. Hey presto – you can now read an e-book on your phone and can avoid making eye contact with those sitting next to you.

Quote of the day

"Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it... All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children."

- George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 2

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quote of the day

"Because, if one is writing novels today, concentrating on the beauty of the prose is right up there with concentrating on your semi-colons, for wasted effort."

Neil Gaiman

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Booker Prize longlist is out!

Here are the nominees (courtesy of

The Children’s Book
A.S. Byatt

This vivid, rich and moving saga is played out against the great, rippling tides of the day, taking us from the Kent marshes to Paris and Munich and the trenches of the Somme. Born at the end of the Victorian era, growing up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, a whole generation grew up unaware of the darkness ahead.

J.M. Coetzee

A young English biographer is working on a book about the late writer, John Coetzee. He plans to focus on the years from 1972-1977 when Coetzee, in his thirties, is sharing a run-down cottage in the suburbs of Cape Town with his widowed father. This, the biographer senses, is the period when he was 'finding his feet as a writer'. Never having met Coetzee, he embarks on a series of interviews with people who were important to him - a married woman with whom he had an affair, his favourite cousin Margot, a Brazilian dancer whose daughter had English lessons with him, former friends and colleagues. From their testimony emerges a portrait of the young Coetzee as an awkward, bookish individual with little talent for opening himself to others. Within the family he is regarded as an outsider, someone who tried to flee the tribe and has now returned, chastened. His insistence on doing manual work, his long hair and beard, rumours that he writes poetry evoke nothing but suspicion in the South Africa of the time. Sometimes heartbreaking, often very funny, Summertime shows us a great writer as he limbers up for his task. It completes the majestic trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with Boyhood and Youth .

The Quickening Maze
Adam Foulds

Based on real events in Epping Forest on the edge of London around 1840, The Quickening Maze centres on the first incarceration of the great nature poet John Clare. After years struggling with alcohol, critical neglect and depression, Clare finds himself in High Beach Private Asylum - an institution run on reformist principles which would later become known as occupational therapy. At the same time another poet, the young Alfred Tennyson, moves nearby and becomes entangled in the life and catastrophic schemes of the asylum's owner, the peculiar, charismatic Dr Matthew Allen. For John Clare, a man who had grown up steeped in the freedoms and exhilarations of nature, who thought 'the edge of the world was a day's walk away', a locked door is a kind of death. This intensely lyrical novel describes his vertiginous fall, through hallucinatory episodes of insanity and dissolving identity, towards his final madness. Historically accurate, but brilliantly imagined, the closed world of High Beach and its various inmates - the doctor, his lonely daughter in love with Tennyson, the brutish staff and John Clare himself - are brought vividly to life. Outside the walls is Nature, and Clare's paradise: the birds and animals, the gypsies living in the forest; his dream of home, of redemption, of escape. Rapturous yet precise, exquisitely written, rich in character and detail, this is a remarkable and deeply affecting book: a visionary novel which contains a world.

How To Paint A Dead Man
Sarah Hall

Italy in the early 1960s: a dying painter considers the sacrifices and losses that have made him an enigma, both to strangers and those closest to him. He begins his last life painting, using the same objects he has painted obsessively for his entire career - a small group of bottles. In Cumbria 30 years later, a landscape artist - and admirer of the Italian recluse - finds himself trapped in the extreme terrain that has made him famous. And in present-day London, his daughter, an art curator struggling with the sudden loss of her twin brother while trying to curate an exhibition about the lives of the twentieth-century European masters, is drawn into a world of darkness and sexual abandon. Covering half a century, this is a luminous and searching novel, and Hall's most accomplished work to date.

The Wilderness
Samantha Harvey

It's Jake's birthday. He is sitting in a small plane, being flown over the landscape that has been the backdrop to his life - his childhood, his marriage, his work, his passions. Now he is in his early sixties, and he isn't quite the man he used to be. He has lost his wife, his son is in prison, and he is about to lose his past. Jake has Alzheimer's. As the disease takes hold of him, Jake struggles to hold on to his personal story, to his memories and identity, but they become increasingly elusive and unreliable. What happened to his daughter? Is she alive, or long dead? And why exactly is his son in prison? What went so wrong in his life? There was a cherry tree once, and a yellow dress, but what exactly do they mean? As Jake, assisted by 'poor Eleanor', a childhood friend with whom for some unfathomable reason he seems to be sleeping, fights the inevitable dying of the light, the key events of his life keep changing as he tries to grasp them, and what until recently seemed solid fact is melting into surreal dreams or nightmarish imaginings. Is there anything he'll be able to salvage from the wreckage? Beauty, perhaps, the memory of love, or nothing at all?

Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

The Glass Room
Simon Mawer

The precisions of science, the wild variance of lust, the catharsis of confession and the fear of failure - these are things that happen in the Glass Room. High on a Czechoslovak hill, the Landauer House shines as a wonder of steel and glass and onyx built specially for newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile. But the radiant honesty of 1930 that the house, with its unique Glass Room, seems to engender quickly tarnishes as the storm clouds of WW2 gather, and eventually the family must flee, accompanied by Viktor's lover and her child. But the house's story is far from over, and as it passes from hand to hand, from Czech to Russian, both the best and the worst of the history of Eastern Europe becomes somehow embodied and perhaps emboldened within the beautiful and austere surfaces and planes so carefully designed, until events come full-circle.

Not Untrue and Not Unkind
Ed O’Loughlin

In Dublin, a newspaper editor called Cartwright is found dead. One of his colleagues, Owen Simmons, discovers a dossier on Cartwright's desk. And in the dossier Owen finds a photograph, which brings him back to a dusty road in Africa and to the woman he once loved. Not Untrue and Not Unkind is Owen's story - a gripping story of friendship, rivalry and betrayal amongst a group of journalists and photographers covering Africa's wars. It is an astonishingly powerful and accomplished debut that immediately establishes Ed O'Loughlin as a mature master of the novel form.

Me Cheeta: the Autobiography

The incredible, and moving true story of Cheeta the Chimp, star of countless Hollywood blockbusters, told in his own words The greatest Hollywood Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller, died in 1984. His coffin was lowered into the ground to the recorded sounds of his famous jungle call. Maureen O'Sullivan, his Jane, died in 1998. Weissmuller's son, who first played Boy in the 1939 film Tarzan finds a Mate, has gone too. But Cheeta the Chimp, who starred with them all, is alive and well, retired in Palm Springs. At the incredible age of seventy-five, he is by far the oldest living chimpanzee ever recorded.

Colm Toibin

Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Toibin's sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.
Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood just like Ireland -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Love and Summer
William Trevor

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