VINCENT PIENAAR’S LIMERENCE HAS A NOSTALGIC RING TO IT WITH A ROGUISH HERO MOST LOVE TO HATE AND YET TOO FEW WOMEN CAN RESIST

THE thing that strikes one most with the two latest of Vincent Pienaar’s novels, is the joy. It’s something that he ascribes to and it works as you jump into what might not be an entirely happy premise and yet, you are taking off on an adventure. DIANE DE BEER gets some thoughts from the author and also speaks her mind:

When reading Vincent Pienaar’s previous book Too Many Tsunamis: a Tale of Love, Light and Incidental Humour (Penguin Books) it felt as though he had found a very specific (and joyous) voice.

It was as if even when dealing with serious issues in some instances, there’s always laughter bubbling just below the surface.

He has done it again in his latest book Limerence (Penguin Books), which is described as something that when you’ve got it, enjoy it. And advises you on the front cover, that if you don’t know what the title means, look it up!

As with the previous book, his first sentence immediately gets your attention: “Did you know that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil?”

And then he meanders on to tell you why.

But that is the interesting thing about Pienaar’s storytelling, he jumps into a place, drags you along and has you smiling (if sometimes unwillingly) on the ride.

Author Vincent Pienaar and family.

This time it’s the story of a man whom women love to hate but can’t resist. They know he will get away with it over and over again, so when he approaches four women he was involved with, all with a similar proposition, they’re reluctant yet fall for his preposterous proposition – and only start breathing fire when they discover all four of them (yes, the ego always intercepts) have been handed the same will.

Pienaar explains that the story evolved bit by bit, as his stories always do.

“I was amused by the idea of a person giving different people identical last will and testaments.”

And then he allows us to see his wandering mind, to show the process: “Why would he do that? Because he’s not dead and he wants money. As simple as that? No. Greed may be a good enough reason in real life, but in fiction you need more motivation. So he’s in trouble. He needs money quickly. For what? Unpaid debt? Maybe, but not sexy enough. He must want to do it for somebody else. Enter Julie with her three children, enter Sabelo, enter Pieter, enter Mr Downey and on and on.”

That’s when the characters get up and running and sometimes it feels as though they’re dictating where he goes. “My characters never allow me to pull anything together. The women, all from different decades, presented the perfect platform to tell the story of Johannesburg (specifically Hillbrow and Melville and later Yeoville) from the 1970s to the present. But they are all strong, which made their backstories interesting, and how the story evolved is a matter of their making. I really liked the idea of a character sauntering in and out of Melville, infuriating the women endlessly.”

Talking about the title and the obvious delight he finds in words and writing, Pienaar confesses that he liked the idea of  “finding your own voice”. But that’s easier said than done.

While you are trying to find and establish that, you are constantly being shoved into the grammar trap of do’s and don’ts. That he believes (and I agree) “smooths the peaks and valleys of the text onto a pothole-free highway of blandness”. It was a struggle, but having read both books, the Pienaar personality is unashamedly there and he’s having the best time. When an author does that, how can the reader resist?

But back to the title: he was almost finished with a book provisionally named I Love Crazy when a friend introduced him to the word “limerence” and voila, he had his title. “After I found out what it meant I worked it into the story.”

He also struggled to get a name for the main character, until a friend’s dog died. “The dog was named Scout and I decided my main guy would be Scout. This led to Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), Holly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Clarissa (Mrs Dalloway), Daisy (The Great Gatsby), etc. Even Ripley is from the movie.” And the games go on with or without the story, which is part of the fun.

Having published in both Afrikaans and English, he says: “I write competently in Afrikaans, but I write comfortably in English.”

Yert he still thinks his funniest work is Jo’burg die Blues en ʼn Swart Ford Thunderbird and he’s just completed an Afrikaans play inspired by the murder of Charl Kinnear.

But he admits that the voice he has found takes courage and he doesn’t yet have that in Afrikaans. “The Afrikaans grammar Nazis scare the shit out of me.”

If you’re wondering about writing in the time of Covid, “I didn’t want the book to become a dark tale of people darting about in the shadows, jealously guarding six packs of beer under dirty overcoats.” And with that line, he has a full explanation in the front of Limerence.

What he likes pushing to its limit is humour (not necessarily funny) in any work of fiction, no matter how bleak or dismal the story. “It’s what keeps the reader reading (or amused, if you like),” he believes.

I don’t totally agree with that premise, because there are many different things that keep me reading depending on the writing and the story being told. But I do like Pienaar’s intent and style. And I love the way he runs off in all kinds of directions to say something that he finds amusing and wants to include in his story.

He describes this penchant as a noble one.

“If you watch any of the movies in Nora Ephron’s trilogy (When Harry met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle), it’s all about the playfulness and not about laugh-out-loud funny.”

Pienaar is on a roll and while he feels he has almost stumbled on a style with Tsunami, the next book is provisionally called A Man, a Woman and a little White Dog named Floof. But don’t attach too much importance to the title, that might change, as Limerence reminds us.

 He’s hoping because of the Ephron fan he is, these three might be considered a trilogy – perhaps an homage.

AGEING GENTLY WITH PAUL SLABOLEPSZY IN WHAT CAN BEST BE DESCRIBED AS A TIME WARP

 DIANE DE BEER

MR JOHNSON (Available on BoxOffice/DStv)

DIRECTOR/WRITER: William Collinson

CAST: Paul Slabolepszy, Frans Rautenbach, Jana Cilliers, Graham Hopkins, Anthony Coleman


A confession to start this review: I have always been a Paul Slab fan. Not only of his writing, but also of his acting. And probably more than anything, of his passion as an artist.

There’s also his friendship/collaboration on (and off) stage and on film with the late Bill Flynn, which gave so many of us pleasure and memories.

That’s why this movie appealed to me right from the start. In real life there’s a youthful exuberance to Slabolepszy that few can imitate and it is exactly that quality that inhabits the world of Mr Johnson – his character and the story.

You have to let your imagination run riot –  but that’s often the case when Slabolepszy’s involved. David Johnson has been in a coma for 47 years. He wakes up at the age of 73, which is what the movie deals with.

This is a man who when 20-something has an accident, which puts him in a coma. When he wakes up, obviously, his whole life has changed – both the physical reality of who and what he has become, but also technologically with smart phones and the internet, to name just a few.

Fortunately money isn’t a problem. What the director wanted to deal with was old age and people being discarded and ignored. And to have Slab as your vehicle is smart thinking because he brings the impetus to this Cinderella type story – the down and out ageing “20-something” is something probably only he could pull off.

Jana Cilliers and Paul Slabolepszy (here and below)

And he does – with charm and wit, the perfect antidote in today’s world. There’s much to complain about; a first-time director with first-time mistakes, a script that truly tests your BS detector, and questionable decisions on too many levels.

But then there’s the appeal of Slab, the fact that they are dealing with ageing, something that features abundantly on film, stage, books and television simply because of the Baby Boomer numbers and thus higher visibility. It is part of the zeitgeist. And there’s the excellent use of some star power we’re more used to seeing on stage than on screen like Jana Cilliers, a great (also sentimental) choice as the love interest, a superb cameo by Graham Hopkins, and a hardly-ever-seen Judy Broderick, who feels as if she has been missing in action.

When I started watching, I had only read the first few lines of the synopsis and thought I was seeing a more serious movie than the one I was about to watch. However, in these times when few people need anything serious, this fantasy romp with some serious underlying issues is probably just about the right temperature.

And who can resist Paul Slabolepszy, all dressed up and ready to go.

Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsstmCBb5SY&t=1s

BOOKS ARE THE EASIEST ESCAPE AND FASTEST WAY TO TRAVEL TO ANOTHER COUNTRY OR EVEN WORLD

Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.

Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel

It doesn’t matter how much good streaming is available to us in our brand new world, quiet time with a good book cannot be replaced by any of the noise around us and gives us a chance to escape to somewhere completely different – and we can decide how and where. DIANE DE BEER looks at a few of her most recent choices…

In a time when lots of reading is possible, it’s been great to catch up with books by authors I have neglected for far too long. Damon Galgut is one of those and I sure picked the right one to enter his world.

I have found when reading as much as I do now but also as I grow older, that the thing that interests me most when it comes to choosing books and really getting into the heart of whatever matter the author wishes to explore, is innovative storytelling.

And that’s what moved me most with Galgut’s latest, which already has the accolades and possibility of awards (Booker, for example) streaming in. The topic, our apartheid past, has long not yet been exhausted, but to keep readers engaged you have to find a way to look at familiar tropes and topics that is as innovative as it is engaging.

The Promise (UMUZI) does that in spades – for me. I have heard others complaining with passion about his lack of empathy with his characters and more, but none of this came into play for me in his particular telling of the story.

One of the many podcasts I listened to about the novel and the writing is that Galgut was exploring a new way of telling the story. He found the magic carpet for my ride and he loved that he had found a different voice, as did I.

I could feel that even when dealing in very heavy subject matter, especially for readers in this country at this time, there was a lightness about the telling which was joyful to read.

It’s the story of four siblings in a particular family and the events unfold around four funerals of different generations of this same family. This means it is set in different times in a country that underwent huge changes , with a different president , for example, at the telling of each tale. Not that the president and the politics are in the forefront.

What plays out in this particular family is the dictum that where you are born and how you are raised, all have an impact on who you become. And it all circles around a promise that was made a long time ago which has never been kept and has everything to do with the country we live in.

I loved the originality, the elegance of the writing and what lies underneath the story for each individual reader to unwrap.

For something completely different, Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote so sharply about the Vietnam war in The Sympathizer turns his gaze to a different country – and even continent – France. I couldn’t help smiling in The Committed(Corsair) as he turns his acerbic gaze on the French; and as we have discovered, those who read the first novel, in the way he treated the Americans and turned their interpretation of the Vietnam war on its head, he takes few prisoners.

But while he might be telling the story in colourful gangster style, there’s nothing rough and ready about his opinions of the latest country he has decided to tackle.

Walking through Paris (even today) with even its touristy streets very sharply defined by different races, it’s easy to spot the heart and soul of this majestic city.

And in this time of refugees, Nguyen starts his latest novel with the following penetrating sentence: “We were unwanted, the unneeded, and the unseen, invisible to all but ourselves. Less than nothing we also saw nothing as we crouched blindly in the unlit belly of our ark.”

This is not going to be an easy read and yet, the pace is fast and furious, and you have to get with the programme to keep up with his sharp comments and incisive opinions as he tells a story of corruption, complicity and companionship only if you can bring riches to the table.

“That’s not a French name they would say … All I had to do was change my name. I’ll admit, I tried on some different names, it didn’t feel right. And I thought, I went to your schools, which are my schools. I learned your language, which is my language. I don’t feel Arab at all, except when people call me an Arab. And that’s not enough? Now I have to change my name, which my parents gave me? And I knew this would not be the end. They would never stop. They would not be happy until I married a woman who looked like them, gave them children who looked more like them than me, made friends only with them. Either I could be one hundred percent French or I could just be a dirty Arab, so instead I decided to be one hundred percent gangster.”

It’s a small passage in a large book, but it captures the essence of both the story and the world we currently find ourselves in, where everything that has been done to others has festered and turned into a ferocious beast who has no way of protecting itself or those of us watching.

There’s a third in the trilogy on its way and I can’t wait.

If you’re a Deon Meyer fan there’s no need to read this but if you’ve never met the detective duo Benny Griesel and his partner Vaughn Cupido, get a life.

Most of us read a thriller at some stage of our life and because it has meant big money for many authors (probably in this country as in many others, the only authors who have any chance of making money), there’s a landscape of books to choose from.

South Africans are blessed to have one of the most successful in the world in this genre in our midst – Deon Meyer. Personally, I fell in love with his stories because of the South African landscape he established.

He might be wearing rose-tinted spectacles but I prefer to think not, because what he has done is focus on the characters and no one can argue that while we might have some of the worst politicians in the world (they didn’t really have any role models?), we also have some of the best people.

There’s not a day that goes by that  one of my fellow citizens doesn’t put a smile on my face, and it is that element that Meyer captures so well.

Then of course he also spins a good yarn. He has all the fodder available right under his nose but also in today’s zeitgeist, and he has captured that brilliantly in the past. And again in this latest novel, Donkerdrif (Human&Rouseau), (if you can, read it in Afrikaans, but the translations are good and should be available very soon) which latches onto all the evils that drive our world today: greed, power, money, corruption… and the list is endless.

We know the formula although Meyer is too smart to make it thus, but Benny and Vaughn will win the day and we will be there rooting for them all the way.

Starting this column with a book that is all about the writing and the storytelling, it is perhaps apt that I conclude with one that didn’t succeed for me in especially the familiar way the story unfolds.

We’re still reading about World War 1 and 2 and I suspect it will go on for a long time, as it should. Lest we forget and the horrors are repeated is the age old explanation and that’s true, but if you are going to focus on telling stories that capture a specific time, you are going to repeat versions of stories that came before which happened for me in mark Winkler’s Due South Of Copenhagen (Umuzi).

After all, the two boys with surnames Fritz and Udengaard aren’t the first with German or German-sounding surnames bullied by their schoolmates even 30 years after the war. So come at it with a fresh angle, a different vantage or you won’t keep my attention. I have heard and seen too many different versions and after a while, you switch off.

Winkler’s snapshot of the past is beautifully captured, he writes masterfully and perhaps from my point of view, it is best read by a younger generation who would not know about these intimate stories set against a larger backdrop.

But for me, the small-town idiosyncrasies of a specific time and place, two youngsters thrown together because of the prejudice against them, wasn’t enough to keep my attention. Because it was well written, I finished the reading, but it was in one ear and out the other as quickly as I turned the last page.

AUTHORS MICHAEL LEWIS AND TA-NEHISI COATES WRITE AND MAKE SENSE OF OUR CRAZY WORLD

DIANE DE BEER

Two of my favourite authors wrote books recently focussing on issues that are part of how we function and why. I want to urge anyone interested in the world and how we view it, to tap into their insight:

THE PREMONITION:  A PANDEMIC STORY BY MICHAEL LEWIS:

“I would read an 800 page history on the stapler if Michael Lewis wrote it,” writes a New York Times book reviewer and that is pretty much exactly what I feel about Lewis and anything he writes.

His last book, The Fifth Risk, looked at the federal bureaucracy during the Trump years and how things unravelled because of incompetence, or if you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, ignorance.

So it was perhaps justified to expect this latest book, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, to put all the blame on Trump and his coterie of civil servants. But not so.

What he does is to go and fetch the facts from way before the pandemic, when a group of medical specialists started warning about the possibility of a pandemic like Covid-19 and how best to prepare for it. The problem was that few people were listening and the government specifically didn’t want to listen.

He has a handful of heroes and one of the most intriguing individuals in this story is a California health official, Charity Dean. Lewis has a knack of discovering these characters who seem to almost hand him his story on a plate – but it’s perhaps not that easy. You have to find them and then you have to both listen and pay attention; and that he does quite brilliantly.

He also has the instincts to know which story to follow. And if anything, Dean wasn’t obviously the voice that many would listen to. She admits that who she really is has nothing to do with her exterior, which is apparently more Barbie than Florence Nightingale.

But that’s only part of the story. Two doctors, Richard Hatchett and Carter Mecher, were part of a pandemic planning team set up during the George W. Bush administration and then they hooked up with some other extraordinary individuals who were all extremely good at what they were doing.

Almost by accident these people all get together or connect in some kind of fashion. Rather than predicting what was going to happen, as one might expect, all these people in some kind of form become interested in pandemics and start looking out for the possibility of future disaster(s).

The frightening thing though is not the incompetency of the Trump administration or even Trump’s wild claims during some of the worst times of the pandemic, but rather that this first-world country with all its expertise and some of the best brains in the world was so ill prepared.

 Most of the rest of the world is less alarmed by some of the incompetency in their own countries, having a much more jaundiced eye, but most of us will be surprised that those who constantly hold themselves up as being the best, can do so badly.

It’s worrying when even the “best” fail so miserably. And to this day, people are dying because of a refusal to take the vaccine. How is it possible to keep on refusing to take it seriously even after the high death counts? And now many of those naysayers are starting to die, so it will be interesting to see how that changes the dynamic.

The best of the Lewis style is the way he finds and fetches the story, dresses it up in the most palatable fashion and then allows the story to unfold. It’s powerful and will keep me reading – yes even when the topic doesn’t grab me. I know his storytelling abilities will.

WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER BY TA-NEHISI COATES (Hamish Hamilton):

In a sense, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a similarly mesmerising voice. He deals in a different world but also with the lives of people; and perhaps that’s the common thread.

This time it is the late Toni Morrison who is quoted on the back page: “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates.”

This one was published in 2017, but I’ve only recently received a copy and can’t resist bringing it to anyone’s attention who doesn’t know about it or is unfamiliar with this particular voice.

The premise is the Obama presidency and what Coates did was to take eight articles written during the eight years of the first black presidency. Before each of these essays, there is as the author explains “a kind of extended blog post, one that attempts to capture why I was writing and where I was in my life at the time.”

He describes what he has put together as almost a “loose memoir”. And at the end of the book, he attempts to assess the post-Obama age in which we find ourselves. He wanted all these eight essays (originally published in The Atlantic) assembled in a single volume.

It’s as smart as it is clever and I can’t think of anyone else I would rather have guide me through that particular time in American history. And because of these times of George Floyd and the renewed urgency of Black Lives Matter, it almost lands with more penetration because of current events than when it was first published.

He deals with so much that is out there right now and for years to come. About reparations, for example, he says the following: “What would it mean for American policy so often rooted in its image as the oldest enlightened republic and pioneer of the free world, to forthrightly note that freedom and enlightenment were only made possible through plunder that stretched from the country’s prehistory up into living memory?”

And that’s just a tiny snippet and sits sweetly next to Prince’s brand new album (posthumously, of course) and the searing lyrics:

“Land of the free, home of the brave

“Oops, land of the free, home of the slaves…”

Coates doesn’t mince his words either. If you want to hear, he will tell it like it is. And if anything, you could read it just to see what he has to say about Trump, the man he describes as America’s first white president. And that already is a fascinating story.

He writes in his incisive epilogue that Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that in working twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. “But Trump’s counter is persuasive  ̶  work half as hard as black people and even more is possible.”

Much was explained about both the Obama and Trump presidency (according to Coates, the result of having had a black president) and again Coates steps up as the voice of a new generation, insightful about the world in which we live in, and more importantly, not one where he sees white supremacy disappearing anytime soon.

It was reported recently that Mitch McConnell expressed initial satisfaction about the Obama presidency because he felt this would put a stop to the kind of complaints heard from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Which says everything about his understanding of the lives of others especially those of colour. And again underlines the importance of this book.

ESCAPE FROM LUBUMBASHI IS ABOUT A REFUGEE’S DETERMINED STRUGGLE TO REUNITE HER FAMILY

The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”.

mde

With The Escape from Lubumbashi (published by Unisa Press), author Estelle Neethling tells a story that she felt compelled to share especially of this particular woman and her excruciating journey and circumstances to find a life and home for her family. And more than ever, this is the time to share the stories of refugees she tells DIANE DE BEER :

When author Estelle Neethling first met Adolphine Misekabu, her dignity and obvious honesty struck her forcibly. “From the very first time I saw her sitting in a makeshift classroom at a refugee centre in Cape Town in the mid-2000’s, teaching refugee children,” she says.

At the time Neethling was working for the South African Red Cross Society as the national tracing coordinator (restoring of Family Links Programme, International Committee of the Red Cross).

When the South African Red Cross, where she was based in Cape Town, relocated to Pretoria, she chose to remain in Cape Town. “I felt the need to write about the hardships of the genuine refugee, something I came to know all too well during my 10 years working in the refugee sector, my main mandate being to restore family links in cases where people had been displaced due to conflict and political turmoil over which they had no control.”

She was especially affected by the sorrow felt by women and children. And this is how her book Escape From Lubumbashi: A Refugee’s Journey On Foot To Reunite Her Family was given life.

“My life-changing ten years at the Red Cross also made me realise that there are other forms of displacement and I needed to explore and come to terms with my own personal history of emotional displacement,” she explains.

The author Esteller Neethling.

“Because Misekabu’s story so poignantly represents what the refugee goes through, I wanted her story to be ‘out there’, to combat the scourge of xenophobia so rampant in the world, but particularly among our communities in South Africa. It can be said that displacement – brought even more into focus because of the Covid-19 pandemic – is the theme of our time, second only to the ravages of World War 2.”

And fortunately or so it seems, the world is very slowly waking up to this reality with books like these and more and more real-life stories emerging. It is becoming harder and harder to simply ignore.

For Neethling this dignified woman’s story reflects the power of the human spirit to combat unimaginable challenges. “When Misekabu was finally reunited with her husband, Sepano, in Cape Town after almost two years through a confluence of circumstances, some kind of synchronicity that baffles me to this day, she suffered enormously because of cruel xenophobic attitudes, including the 2008 xenophobic violence that raged in South African for many months.”

And when you read her story, at this stage, this young woman had endured and survived what most of us will never see or experience in a lifetime. In fact, it’s impossible to understand how she motivates herself to keep going. That took willpower and courage, something not asked from many of us

“Emotionally drained at times due to the humiliation inflicted by local people and crime she encountered here after her gruelling search for her husband all the way from Lubumbashi in the DRC, she remained undaunted,” writes the author as she highlights Misekabu’s strength of character. And that’s what it takes once you’re part of that world, one you’re not a willing part of – but without any choice.

“In trains and on buses, when she was called amakwerekwere and other derogatory names, she would speak out: “Excuse me. Are you talking to me? Forget about other people’s business. Think development!” In telling me, she’d add, with eyes flashing: ‘I didn’t come to Cape Town to give up’,” explains Neethling.

She knew that this was a story that needed to be told. But she was also aware of the responsibility towards Misekabu to honour her truth. She was especially aware that she was delving however respectfully, into the life of a highly traumatised human being who had lost all her family, except for her baby, her small brother and eventually her husband.

Adolphine in the Meheba-camp in Zambia.

She explains that the enormity of this remarkable woman’s loss was due to the First Congo War during which Mobutu Sese Seko’s ruinous reign destroyed innumerable lives. “Probably only my work with people in crisis made it possible for me to take on such an onerous task, albeit with the utmost respect and sensitivity.

“Misekabu immediately agreed when I initially approached her. The problem of re-traumatisation was always foremost in my mind, but slowly we pieced together her story, because there were times when I needed to do extensive research regarding the history of the times she lived in as a Kasaian, and a member of a family which was persecuted by Mobutu’s army and the factions which supported him.

“Her enduring love, especially for her dead father shone through all our interactions. Nkudimba’s name means ‘man of peace’ was a trained doctor, an internationally recognised artist and a leading politician in opposition to Sese Seko, who had disappeared mysteriously months before she and Sepano had to flee Lubumbashi in 1976.

“Our interactions over four years, with a few intermissions when I had to earn my daily bread, were of course often emotionally draining for me. Undoubtedly these intermissions gave her respite from verbally relating her memories. However, she expressed that our work together had had a healing effect on her. But of course that is an ongoing process,” Neethling stresses.

The impact of reading  her story is one of admiration but also trying to understand why such a gruelling journey, probably the toughest you could ever make on every level possible, is turned into even more of a nightmare because of the impossibly difficult hoops refugees are asked to jump through when applying for the necessary status.

Neethling explains that there are organisations which assist refugees as best they can, but the process to obtain refugee status is gruelling, shared with migrants, persons who have come to South Africa ‘in search of a better life’, some whose goal is to be resettled in an overseas country of their choice.

“The Department of Home Affairs needs to deal with applications to become, first, an asylum seeker, secondly, a recognised refugee and, if it is the final goal, to seek permanent residency. The road to the latter is arduous, very long and not easily achieved.”

And she explains further: “The ‘refugee question’ is convoluted and many refugees become desperate. Some do ‘fall through the cracks’ or remain in the country illegally. Refugees often speak of corruption during their efforts to remain in South Africa. Our country has also had its fair share of troublemakers among these ‘immigrants’ or ‘foreigners’, as they are often called, and those who turn to crime, just as one would find in most groups of people.”

Add to that xenophobia which Neethling describes as a universal problem and based on the difficulty diverse groups have of accepting the ‘otherness’ of people who are strangers to the ways of their adopted country. “Lack of respect for human rights, an absence of tolerance, the burning issue of scarce resources and jobs play a huge part in the cruelty on which xenophobia is based,” she notes.

And how is the family doing now? In many ways fortunately after many years of unthinkable hardship and miraculous survival, three more children were born to Adolphine and Sepano.

Adolphine with her brother Joseph who finally has also received his residency papers.

There was much distress when her young brother, Joseph (five when she fled Lubumbashi with her baby, Ilunga, as a 22-year-old woman) was not granted permanent residency with the rest of the family through some bureaucratic error, but after persistent efforts, he is now also a permanent resident.

But that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t still a daily struggle. Despite being a permanent resident, finding stable work is difficult for this warrior woman. “As a strong, confident woman, a trained teacher, she should in my opinion have more employment opportunities. But as it is, she plays a significant part in assisting refugees and in helping local communities to accept refugees,” Neethling says.

She concludes that the world has in many ways become a perilous place, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect it has on people and the economy. “My hope for the future is that people will stand up for and support basic human rights. All of us have agency – even the most humble among us. Tolerance and a word of kindness to someone ‘at sea’ in their desperation can go a long way in alleviating distress and even open the door to hope of acceptance – and a good life.”

And as a final word: “The journey with Adolphine started in 2010. Writing her story was an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. However, I always knew it would be difficult to find a publisher, because it is nonfiction, although a memoir in many ways, because most of her story is told in her own words. Further, the book isn’t about a famous person or a politician. Therefore, much of the time it took before I held the book in my hands was harrowing.

I have Unisa Press to thank for believing in Escape from Lubumbashi. When all’s said and done, it is in many ways a life’s work that has become an integral part of my very being.”

And in this time when millions in the world are either refugees or displaced people, all of us have to understand exactly what that means.

At a price of R137, the book can be ordered from Emily Monyai at monyaen@unisa.ac.za or from Johannes Morodi at morodjm@unisa.ac.za.

SAMSA-MASJIEN SHOWS AGEING AS PART OF THE LIFE CYCLE CHALLENGING BOTH YOUNG AND OLD

If you tune into the KKNK website, one of the many delights you will find is the route and tickets to a filmed version of Jaco Bouwer’s brilliant if disturbing Samsa-masjien written by Willem Anker and starring the brilliant Antoinette Kellermann and Gerben Kamper.

DIANE DE BEER reviews:

Gerben Kamper and Antoinette Kellermann

Most of us have or had ageing parents and will be ageing at some stage. That’s exactly what Samsa-masjien is dealing with.

When our parents are ageing, the process that becomes part of the children’s lives in some way can be either a joyous or troubling one. And often, it is in the hands of those who are younger to determine the outcomes.

The parents ageing are in most cases exactly who they are, they’re not going to change and you simply have to decide where and how you’re going to fit into the process.

When I first saw this production live, I was dealing with ageing parents and very vulnerable about the whole subject because it doesn’t matter how you regard your parents or how much work you do to deal with what may lie ahead, nothing can really prepare you for the process.

But what I had come to realise (with films like The Savages) and with dealing with people hoping to age gracefully, is that dignity is something everyone – those ageing and those caring – hope to cling onto. But it’s not easy.

So when I first experienced Samsa-masjien, I could hardly breathe being so overwhelmed. It was in fact only with a second viewing that I became aware of Pierre-Henri Wicomb’s emotive sound recordings which are almost like an invisible yet very present character – especially in the live performance.

Samsa-masjien with Ilana Cilliers

What Willem Anker did with the text was quite astonishing, as he honed into the basest of emotions when dealing with something as overwhelming as this particular human condition, which most of us will be subjected to at some stage in our lives from different vantage points.

Witnessing this on film felt to me much different – not better or worse – but different and which one you prefer will be a very individual rather than an artistic choice.

What Bouwer (who since this production was first staged live at the KKNK has focussed more on film than live theatre) decided was to shoot this play as often in close-up as he could manage – or that is what it feels like. And I suspect he was right because the thing with this topic and particular play is that you have to find yourself in the midst of this particular emotional storm because that’s what it is.

And since writing the review, I had the chance to listen in to a discussion that artistic director Hugo Theart had with Anke,  Bouwer and Wicomb which explained a lot about the process as well as the recording. This was followed later by a discussion with the cast which was as insightful. (both of these are available on the KKNK website

Samsa-masjien was in fact recorded during the Baxter Theatre run in 2015 for archival purposes, which Bouwer had started doing with his work, including Rooiland and Balbesit. (Can we please see those too?)

The way they did it was to shoot a couple of hours before every performance. “It wasn’t meant to be seen,” says Bouwer but fortunately for those of us who relished another viewing or even first-time viewers, Theart could twist his arm.

It is one of the few theatre advantages during Covid that more attention is being paid to online productions and in many instances especially in a country where theatre-makers are always struggling, that’s a good thing. There are many one-off shows for example in Joburg which I can’t make but which I would love to see. It’s also a solution to those theatre makers who struggle with producing remarkable plays for a festival and then it doesn’t travel any further.

But to get back to the production, everyone in this story is busy with their own drama because it’s as much as they can deal with.

Ludwig Binge in Samsa-Masjien

The ageing father (Gerben Kamper) is losing his mind, while his wife (Antoinette Kellermann) is trying her best to keep him safe and allow him to age gracefully. His daughter (Ilana Cilliers) is battling with what is happening to her parents and her husband (Herman Binge) doesn’t think any of this is his problem. He is already providing her parents with a place to stay. Nothing more required. They seem to be cool, calm and collected throughout the unravelling process – but obviously that’s not the case.

It’s a remarkable text (Kafka-inspired and with many different layers to delve into) with Bouwer always a visual thinker and a cast to die for. Bouwer was the first to admit that especially for the actors portraying the ageing parents, these are not easy characters to play.

But his choices were easy because few actors have the courage that these two displayed. All four actors are perfectly cast, but especially Kamper and Kellermann as the parents because of the vulnerability of the characters and the players bringing them to life. It is simply astonishing and contributes to what is essentially an ensemble piece with those on and off stage involved.

It’s not an easy piece to watch but something all of us should heed as it will be part of our lives in some form. And who knows, with enough care and understanding we might even make it a smooth process for everyone involved.

But not in this tale where the children are hosting a dinner party upstairs while the parents are sinking deeper and deeper into the obscurity of their own world below the surface – unseen, or so everyone believes.

Anyone who has walked into a retirement home (previously known  as old-age home) recently will understand that feeling of  displacement as you pass cheerful souls in the passage and people eager to see if they know you or can start a conversation.

It takes me back to boarding school.  I didn’t want to be part of that tribe then and I have no desire to repeat anything vaguely described as group activity in this lifetime.

But as my mother said to me in those tough years: “We are your children now. And I know you never wanted any!”

And that’s the irony of life. There are many things we simply have no say in. They’re given to us and usually at a time when we’re least prepared. Ageing is one of those and watching people die is at its best one of the toughest things you will be asked to do.

So watch Samsa-masjien. No one wants to go through the worst of it and at least, with some thoughtfulness, you can complete this life cycle with the gentleness required.

Go to the KKNK website for tickets and viewing.

THE KKNK VIRTUAL ART GALLERY IS ALL ABOUT FEELING YOUR EMOTIONS THROUGH FANTASTIC ART

Feelings dominate in the second Klein Karoo National Arts Festival Virtual Gallery. DIANE DE BEER chats to the curator Dineke van der Walt about the moods she hoped to capture in Feel/Voel, with artistic director Hugo Theart adding his impressions:

Emotion (Curator Dr Paul Bayliss , Absa Gallery)

The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) was the first of the arts festivals to be impacted by Covid-19 last year.

Announcements of the country’s first lockdown came crashing down during the last weekend of the Woordfees (Stellenbosch) only a couple of weeks before the start of the 2020 KKNK.

It was a huge blow and while we are much more adept at adapting almost 18 months later, at the time festival managements were reeling and artists were trying to work out how they would earn a living without live performances.

Thinking on their feet, Artistic Director of the KKNK Hugo Theart and his young first-time festival art curator Dineke van der Walt realised that they could create a virtual art gallery of the 11 exhibitions which were already on their way to Oudtshoorn at that time.

And it worked! Following the huge success of last year’s first Virtual Gallery, supported by Absa, they have flung open their “doors” for a second time running.

They had tested it almost on the run the first time round, but this year they had the experience of the first effort, which had been richly rewarded. And this time they could work with a digital endgame from the beginning.

“It is a privilege to be able to offer such a fantastic range of visual art to art enthusiasts in the comfort of their homes for the second time,” says Theart. “Van der Walt is again the curator of this gallery having won a Fiësta Award for her work on last year’s virtual gallery.”

This time round, the gallery showcases of six exhibitions with a total of 260 works by 83 artists from far and wide across South Africa, as well as from Zimbabwe, Taiwan, America, Ghana, Mauritius, Kenya, Iran, and Namibia, with many artists from the Klein Karoo and Garden Route region, which is also the festival’s home ground.

The theme of this year’s gallery is Voel/Feel. “This collection of exhibitions presents a wonderful opportunity for us to see, feel and understand more about the way we experience and process feelings and emotions. My hope is that viewers will find the experience enriching and exciting,” she says. 

If you think about it, just midding in the meantime (or) Progression (Curator Fadzai Muchemwa)

The six exhibitions are: Emotion (Emosie),compiled by Absa with Dr Paul Bayliss as curator,Feeling Things, compiled by Donavan Mynhardt, Paint. Verf., compiled by Johan Myburg, If you think about it, just midding in the meantine (or) progression, compiled by Fadzai Muchemwa, Something Pauses, compiled by Christa Swart and Amplifica: A Medley of Moods in Miniature, compiled by Van der Walt herself.

“Since we built the platform last year, we have received valuable feedback from our visitors regarding what worked. So this year we had the opportunity to focus on aspects we couldn’t introduce last year. The artworks are, for instance, available on our e-commerce platform making it much easier to acquire. 

“Having the virtual architecture in place for our gallery was also beneficial for curators, who could select work that would present well in the virtual rooms. This however didn’t stop us from experimenting. I believe it’s important to continue exploring ways to present works and mediums that might be regarded as too difficult for digital platforms, even if it’s not yet clear how to do so.”

All artworks, she believes though, need to be seen. There are miniature artworks, three-dimensional sculptures and ceramics (Feeling Things), as well as primarily paintings (Paint.Verf. ), or digital artworks (Emotion) and works on paper (Progression). “We’re exploring how these different mediums interact with the overarching theme of emotions, but also how various mediums present online,” she notes.

And especially  from a digital perspective, I have sometimes found these works difficult to view as part of a more conventional exhibition because it breaks the rhythm of the viewing process. But here, it can be seen as a stand-alone exhibition and because it is digital, it makes sense to view it online.

Talking about the theme of the exhibition, Van der Walt feels there’s a striking irony in titling the virtual gallery VOEL/FEEL and presenting various material textures of artworks that viewers are unable to access through touch. “For me, this presents a playful opportunity for unpacking the possibilities of art as an emotional access point or a way of finding an emotional connection with others – even when it is presented digitally and virtually.”

It was particularly important for them to continue to expand and optimise the user experience of the virtual gallery started last year.

“I have noticed many people shifting focus and looking inward, considering the emotional impact that the outside world has on them. With this in mind, I wanted to select a theme that could be both meaningful – a way for viewers to contemplate their inner emotional lives – and that would allow playfulness. After all, emotions are not all dark and challenging, they can be light-hearted as well,” she reminds us.

In these times she specifically aimed for balance in the emotions explored because she wanted an equal playing field for both positive and challenging emotions. “Too often we regard the one as more important than the other. We might feel pressured to be happy all the time, or consider the ‘tortured artist’ exploring her/his dark emotions as more intellectual or powerful than light-hearted approaches.

“There’s certainly immense value in both, but I don’t think specific emotions can be regarded as more complex or important than others. We need the variety in that medley of moods we experience from time to time. Placing too great an emphasis on feeling happy, for instance, disregards the necessity of other emotions. Similarly, focussing on dealing with challenging emotions ignores that emotions can be shaped by our thoughts and how we choose to guide our attention,” she argues.

Her hope and her aim was for artists, curators and viewers to explore the fascinating complexity of our emotional lives. “There is so much that we can still learn about our own feelings, and we do this best when learning from one another.

“In observing how others express their emotions, we can learn to understand our own. We shape each other, and heighten the role that emotions play collectively. And while we cannot connect to people in all the ways we did before, art can be a form of exchange. It becomes our meeting place.”

This is even more important than before, and art also benefits from being seen virtually and in everyone’s own time and at an  individual pace.

Ilene Bothma’s Displacement (She Felt her Heart Sinking to her Feet)(Emotion)

There are many ways to view the work, and the gallery encourages individuals to find their personal preference. On the kknk.co.za website viewers can get a quick visual overview of each exhibition and read more about each artist, curator and artwork.

There’s an option to view each individual artwork in full screen, where one can also zoom in to see more detail. This allows you to get closer to inspect a work than you probably might in brick-and-mortar gallery spaces.

“Being able to zoom in is especially helpful when viewing the miniature artworks of Amplifica, and also specifically when viewing Paint.Verf. curated by Johan Myburg – an exhibition that centres on the medium itself.” 

Each exhibition is also curated in a virtual room, showcasing the works in relation to each other, as artworks in dialogue encourage fascinating themes to emerge. In the virtual room for Emotion, viewers can watch video and sound artworks in their own time but also as often as they choose.

It’s also insightful to listen to the audio walkabouts of the curators when virtually ‘walking through the spaces’. Language choices are also available.

“In many ways, the virtual experience empowers viewers to construct their own ideal viewing experience,” says Van der Walt. And that is true. You have the choice to view in exactly the circumstances that are personally ideal.

In conclusion, Theart notes there is something for everyone in these exhibitions, with fantastic artworks on sale from only R500. “Absa customers also receive a 10% discount on their purchases as a bonus.”

Visit the KKNK Virtual Gallery, supported by Absa, at www.kknk.co.za until the end of August 2021.

THE DURBAN FILM FESTIVAL INVITES YOU TO FREE ONLINE SCREENINGS WITH FILMS THAT EXPLORE THE DREAMS AND DETERMINATION OF WARRIORS

In spite of everything that has happened these past 10 days, the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts (CCA) will still host the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) from 22 July to 1 August 2021. And the films and documentaries they screen talk about the world we live in which passes most of us by unseen and unheard. DIANE DE BEER looks at just a handful of entries available for free viewing – and encourages viewers to look more closely at our world – all of it not simply the one we find palatable:

This year, for its 42nd edition, the festival presents close to 140 feature films, documentaries and short films alongside an exciting industry programme: Isiphethu.
DIFF which is located in Durban but representative of African voices across the continent and the diaspora, is a dynamic platform that aims to broaden our viewpoints and allow for robust critical discourse about our societies. The Festival hopes that its extensive programme drawn from across the continent and from other parts of the globe will disrupt, challenge, provoke and provide directions for a deeper and more empathetic understanding of the human condition – something that we need more than ever in these times.

The entire programme, alongside all the films that will be screening, is accessible through www.durbanfilmfest.com.

Programme and details

Screenings by film students and a diverse workshop and seminar programme are the pulse of this year’s Isiphethu industry-focused programme at DIFF, aiming to educate and up-skill, instil confidence in young aspirant filmmakers and share information that is relevant to the film industry and empowers young people. 

All workshops and seminars take place between 26 and 30 July and are accessible for free through Zoom and streamed live on Facebook. Find the entire programme and register for the Zoom Room here: https://ccadiff.ukzn.ac.za/isiphethu-2021-2/
 
The full programme, alongside all the films that will be screening, is accessible through www.durbanfilmfest.com. Tickets for the virtual screenings are only available from South Africa and free and accessible through a booking system, which will open tomorrow (21 July 2021).

The 42nd edition of the Festival is organised by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, in partnership and with the support of the KZN Film Commission, the National Film and Video Foundation, KZN Department of Arts & Culture, the Film and Publications Board and other valued funders and partners. 

Here are four of the films/documentaries available and if this is any indication, the stories are extraordinary and will change the way you view the world:

Rickshaw Girl: This was my first experience of a Bangladeshi film and I was quite interested to see what I would make of it.

Rickshaw Girl, a story about a young girl trying to make a living to save her father’s life.

What I didn’t expect was to find a mind that I completely identified with – that of the scriptwriter. After all, or so I thought, we live on different continents and live completely different lives. If I know anything about Bangladesh apart from frequent flooding and natural disasters (I think), it is also that  every so often we read of a large number of women, garment workers, who die in a factory fires!

That’s true then I realised as our Rickshaw Girl is adamant that even if she has no income or food, that’s not where she is going to work … ever

Work becomes what drives her when her father falls ill and loses the family’s main source of income as a rickshaw man. But she can’t simply take over because to do the work, you have to be male – and after many struggles, that’s what she decides to become – a man.

I lost my heart to our heroine, who had a very specific outlook on the world and what she was prepared to do and take to provide for her family. And that’s how dreams come true…

Not only do you make contact with a different part of the world in this beautiful film, it is again reinforced that we all have the same dreams and desires and will do anything to achieve them. It’s a message of hope and one we could embrace  ̶  especially now.

The Last Shelter: The title explains exactly what this documentary is about. It is the last place of safety for hopeful immigrants in Gao, Mali, a refuge at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It is a final stay-over for those in transit towards Algeria in the north or their way back from a failed attempt to make it to Europe.

Two teenage girls from Burkina Faso named Esther and Kady are the ones who tell this particular story and the thing that grabs you by the throat is the desperation, the determination, the daring of these two young girls. What is clear, though, is that both feel they don’t have any choice. While everyone they come into contact with explains the hardships and horrors of this particular journey, where else should or could they go?

And probably/possibly, that’s what people don’t understand about immigrants. These journeys aren’t undertaken with much hope, joy or even expectation. Those participating with this level of trauma at play, feel this is their only outcome – even if there’s a 50 percent chance (probably higher) of dying.

I found it mesmerising to watch, especially in these times when many people for whatever reason are reassessing their lives. Those of us who have homes have to think hard about our privileges – really.

I Am Here: This is something completely different but sadly no less harrowing, as one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors, a spirited Ella Blumenthal, at her 98th birthday celebrations tells of her life and her past so that her Cape Town-based family can experience just what she had gone through as a young Jewish girl from Warsaw, Poland during World War 2.

Many of us know the stories and have read and watched many horrific tales but there’s always another tale of heroism and resilience that gives us hope for anything we might have to face in life.

It is Ella’s spirit, her courage and the way she approaches life and the world around her that is so encouraging in someone who has endured more than any of us could even imagine. So many stories, so much pain but there are always those who stand up, fight back and remain vigilant and determined to tell their stories. She’s truly an inspiration.

Zinder: It’s the name of a town, but it kept steering my mind to tinder because that’s what the lifestyle I was being exposed to, reminded me of. Something that might go up in smoke at a whim. It is, however, a town in Niger, and in the poor area of Kara-Kara which used to be a leper’s district, a culture of gang violence reigns.

It’s not the kind of topic that would normally appeal to me, but in this world of the haves and the have nots (and you don’t have to have that much to fall into the first group, and most of the world falls into the second), we have to start paying attention – and the recent events in our own country pointed to just that.

The reason we are watching flames rising in many different parts of the world is because those who have something are so busy accumulating and flourishing that they haven’t noticed those who struggle simply to survive  ̶  day by day. As the apartheid fathers showed, it’s easy to ignore what is happening all around you, if you don’t want to know. Simply turn away.

And this is what makes this festival and its choices such a gripping one, it takes you to places you might be aware of but will never visit. This is your chance, in the safety of your home, and it is both well made and doesn’t cost anything. Even if or when reluctant, I was totally gripped and warmed to the people telling their stories.

It truly is time to pay attention if you haven’t before.

And if I haven’t been persuasive enough …

* The Generation Africa film Zinder directed by Aïcha Macky, won the Ladima Foundation  Adiaha Award for Best Documentary Film by an African woman at this year’s 23rd Encounters South African International Documentary Festival last month.

Winning director for Zinder Aicha Macky

The Jury gave this citation: “For its powerful and engrossing deep-dive into the life and struggles of young people in the streets of her marginalised home town. The director paints a compelling, unadorned and humane portrait of a harsh and neglected corner of the world, providing a non-judgmental and trusting space for her characters to reflect on their own choices and on the social inequity and spirals of violence that pervade their lives.”

The prize includes $2000 towards their next production and an invitation to attend the Dortmund Cologne International Women’s Film Festival 2022 in Germany, where their film will be screened.  

“It is an honour for me and my team to receive this award at the Encounters Festival,” said Macky speaking from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. “The film itself is the result of an ‘encounter’ between me and a newspaper that painted a bleak picture of the youth of my hometown without any glimmer of hope. This is our first international award, and for us it means that this work made from a singular story touches many.  It is the voice of the youth to whom I dedicate this film that begins to remember them.”

At the 2018 Durban FilmMart, Zinder also won the AfriDocs award of €2500 for further development, funded by the Bertha Foundation.

“For STEPS it’s been a great journey working with Aïcha and her co-producers on this film,” enthused Don Edkins, producer at STEPS and AfriDocs. “She has crafted a beautiful film that asks pertinent questions about her country and the futures of its youth. Aicha is not only a courageous woman filmmaker but also a leader in her country’s film community leading the change that young people are yearning for.”

THE BEST TIME TO ESCAPE INTO A WORLD OF WORDS – PLAYFULLY SOMETIMES WOEFULLY PUT TOGETHER BY WIZARDS – FOR US TO DREAM

IF THERE ARE ANY POSITIVES IN THIS TIME OF PANDEMIC, IT IS THE DETERMINATION OF THE WORLD TO GET VACCINATED AS WELL AS THE TIME IT HAS ALLOWED SOME OF US TO CATCH UP ONOUR READING. HERE IS A MIXED BAG REVIEWED BY DIANE DE BEER… WITH MORE TO COME SOON…

KLARA AND THE SUN BY KAZUO ISHIGURO (FABER):

If, like me, in these isolated times youhave been listening to podcasts on books and authors, it would have been tough avoiding Kazuro Ishiguro interviews talking about his latest book, with one also surfacing on DStv’s BBC World.

Klara and the Sun is an intriguing novel and that’s equalled by some of the author’s insight into his own work. He never talks about robots but instead refers to Klara as an AF (artificial friend), with the friend part being that she was specifically created to serve as company for a teenager – which I suspect is perhaps not the easiest thing to be.

For Ishiguro it was about looking at the future through the eyes of an artificial friend who is watching and listening to the people in her/his environment and reacting to their behaviour. And naturally, this is also the way the author can explore certain types of human behaviour in this imagined world he has created. Something he loves doing.

Quoted on the back cover of the book: “Do you believe in the human heart? I don’t mean simply the organ, obviously. I’m speaking in the poetic sense. The human heart. Do you think there is such a thing? Something that makes each of us special and individual.”

And perhaps more than anything, it is this idea about being special and individual that drives Ishiguro in this particular story. He always dives deep in his novels to scratch almost microscopically at specific human conditions and here he is also looking more closely at gene editing specifically.

Once you start fiddling with who you want to bring into the world, we’re talking about a race that might all have similar characteristics – and who decides what those might be? And who would love to live in an homogenous world like that?

But also, what makes humans so fascinating is their flaws and what they do with them. Choices – for those privileged enough to have those – are what most of our lives are driven by and whether we make the right ones. But for whom?

And typically Ishiguro, while he does concede that this novel offers “pathetically futile hope”, he has no solutions or comments on what he thinks about particular problems. He is simply guiding you down a particular road and asking the questions, hoping to make you think.

What is left unsaid (and these silences, he says, are as much work as what has actually been written) is often where he wants you to play with your imagination and hopefully in this way his other desire is allowed to prosper – that the novel lingers and lingers.

And while he is playing in the future, it is one that is plausible. With everything happening in the AI world, much of what he is writing about isn’t far-fetched. Just think of the pandemic, for example, and fully automated restaurants or the speed at which everything medically is happening.

So as Klara stands in the shop window watching the people go by, her observations might just echo those of the people who made her, but once that is fiddled with, how far can we go? That’s why the question –  poetic as it might be – about individuality becomes important and quite scary.

TWO SISTERS: INTO THE SYRIAN JIHAD BY ÅSNE SEIERSTAD (TRANSLATED BY SEÁN KINSELLA) (VIRAGO):

The previous book I have read by this author, One of Us, was about the massacre of young Norwegians, which was also turned into a film. While I found it fascinating, like reading a documentary (which is what it is), I also thought that it could have done with some editing as some things were dealt with in such detail it felt almost as obsessive as the shooter. Perhaps that was exactly the point.

Yet it also showed that Seierstad is a remarkable journalist and her attention is drawn to events that affect especially her own society.  Because of their seemingly successful country, the story and how it unravels reaches across borders and nationalities in a way that captures the terrifying modern world we live in.

Think, for example of Syria, and what has been happening in that country these past few years. For quite some time it dominated headlines, starting with the Arab Spring, but with Covid, you hardly hear anything more about that failed state, which seems to have collapsed. Not only in their world but also in the eyes of those of us who pay attention to what is happening in the world.

Dying has been happening all around us and those embroiled in particular struggles starting pre-covid seem to have taken a back seat – like Syria.

As the title explains, Two Sisters deals with two siblings who travel to Syria to participate in the jihad. And a father sits drinking tea and thinking about his two young daughters. Who would even have imagined that they would want to wage jihad?

In October 2013, teenage sisters Ayan and Leila Juma leave their family home near Oslo. Later they send an email to their family confessing that they are on their way to Syria. They had been planning their “escape” for months –  in secret.

 Think of any family and what they would do if two young children decide to go to a war zone where they join ISIS, at the time and still regarded as one of the most deadly groups operating in what they view as vacuums in many different countries.

While Ayan and Leila’s father decides to follow them to try and bring them back home, by the time he reaches Turkey they have already crossed into Syria. Their story is followed through email and phone contact with the family, who worked closely with the author.

What turns this into such a fascinating read is not only the journey of the two girls and the family tragedy that unfolds as lives are shattered, but also the detailed story about Syria. What is unfolding in what started as part of the Arab Spring is still in progress with no end in sight.

Anyone just watching who says they know what is going on in that tragic war is probably delusional, but at least when reading the tale of these two young women who hope to find a future with men they have never met, embroiled in what some consider a holy war, throws some light.

I just remember watching the fall of Aleppo  ̶   at the time the largest city in Syria being turned into rubble. And when you read about the father crossing into Syria from Turkey and how the family’s funds were being wiped out, another tragedy is playing out just on this border. As with all war, someone is making money.

One can only read in horror as these two young women set a series of events into motion. How could they not? What family does just allow their daughters to slip away …

But that’s the world we live in.

DIE DAO VAN DAAN VAN DER WALT BY LODEWYK G. DU PLESSIS (TAFELBERG):

If you’re steeped in Afrikaans literature, you’ve probably read this one, which won among others the UJ Debut Prize, the Eugene Marais prize; the WA Hofmeyr Prize; the ATKV Prosa prize and the kykNET-Rapport prize for fiction. He didn’t leave much for anyone else in 2019.

But I came to it late and only then discovered that the author was writing under a pseudonym, but had revealed who he was when becoming a serial winner of many of the book prizes available locally.

He fooled me in many different ways, the first being that I so fell for his description of Daan that I didn’t want to read further. It not being my favourite kind of man, I mistook the character of Daan for that of the author. Took me a while and a sheepish grin … I have done this before when something is one of my personal bugbears, so much for objectivity.

Nevertheless, I fortunately spotted my feet of clay and made a u-turn. The language was the thing that initially grabbed me. It’s something that has been popping up all over the show in Afrikaans literature and I’m no specialist in this particular genre, but when a book makes strong enough waves, I jump.

Those fearing for the loss of their mother tongue need not fear, it has been given wings, I suspect –  slowly but surely. Readers especially those as sporadic as this one, are reaping all the benefits. Because it is such a young language still, it has always been the playground of the creatives and gloriously so. It is wonderful to experience the celebration!

But back to Daan, the title is actually your guiding light as it tells you that we are going on both a physical and spiritual journey as the ageing widower and father of two sons reviews his life and the people who were a part of his daily existence – amongst others his wife, whom he starts writing to.

Before too long, this reflective debut novel worked its magic and the praise heaped on it came as no surprise. So if you don’t want to miss out on the important stories that emerge from our country, this is one of them and a most novel and invigorating way of reflecting on a life.

NIGHT FEEDS AND MORNING SONGS – HONEST, FIERCE AND BEAUTIFUL POEMS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD COMPILED BY ANA SAMPSON (TRAPEZE):

With no children of my own and way past my sell-by date, I was stunned that the publisher thought I was a candidate to review this one, but on closer reflection and paging through the book I saw some method in the madness.

The  compiler/collector probably says it best:  “Poetry was a luxurious comfort to me during the newborn days when my bone-deep exhaustion rendered reading a novel a wild and distant fantasy. It was something I could gulp down during a night feed, or while liquidising a blameless vegetable. These poems granted me windows into other dark bedrooms and, when I read about infant-speed toddles, I could see something of our own haphazard progress reflected there.

“As the years passed, I squirrelled away more of these verses. In the company of these poets, I could forgive myself the piled laundry, the toast-for-tea, the not-now-I’m-busy’s and the school-run screeching.

“They helped me to approach some of the tender feelings often buried under the avalanche of weaning and wiping, cheering or chivvying, and give them a moment – those quiet moments that are for some years, so few and precious – to be felt.

“These women invite us into their homes and their hearts, and we understand ourselves- and this deep, wild, ever-evolving bond – better for hearing the voices.”

All of us, with children or without, have had those periods of time where nothing you do gives you enough time to catch up. And especially for young mothers, this is a soft reprieve embraced with the words of other worthy souls, who share their innermost thoughts about something those reading have experienced or might in the future. It’s a great idea. I would have liked a touch more diversity and yet, now we know the gaps, we can look for something to augment that. Or perhaps a local poet or lover of poetry can compile that book, which speaks from all corners of our country and show what we mean by diversity!

THE CAPITAL CITY’S DELI QUEENS RISE TO THE TOP

Covid with all the different lockdown phases has been difficult for everyone. Some however felt the pain more directly than others. A handful of Pretoria’s deli dames spoke to DIANE DE BEER about turning disaster into a supercharged expansion…with more in the future…as they tackle the latest phase…

PICTURES: Littish Swarts

Alicea Malan from Lucky Bread Company

When Alicea Malan gets going nothing stands in her way. She’s not scared of failing but she doesn’t simply rush in.

It’s lovely to hear her talk about what she is doing and where she is heading, because there’s constant motion for this owner/chef of Lucky Bread Company with a branch in Brooklyn Mall and another in Mall of Africa.

If you think she has enough on her plate, think again. She’s only starting. On our last morning recce, she showed me two projects she got up and running during Covid. This is apart from their full swing into a delivery service when Covid restrictions were full-blown.

Yes they did some voluntary retrenchments but basically they managed to keep everyone else employed, at the same time streamlining the business in a way that works best for the future.

First off is a fantastic coffee pick-up at her home at 510 Mississippi Street, Faerie Glen, where she appropriated the home of the rubbish bins and with a bit of tweaking changed it into a coffee outlet for the neighbourhood. As we arrived at Press for Coffee (and that’s exactly what you do), there were four women sitting on the pavement, chatting and enjoying their coffee.

She has a few women baking inside for this outlet and it has become a neighbourhood special. “They have taken it to heart,” she says gratefully. And it’s easy to see why.

A few suburbs away, she also has a spaza shop, but the actual value of this lies in the future. She and architect Braam de Villiers have developed this idea together. He has designed the capsule and she is looking at a business app that will help first timers to develop and grow their own business.

The kaleidoscope of a Kospaza

“We have seen with baristas that they all want to go off on their own once they have been trained”, so this is her idea of getting them moving, fully trained and with a business plan. It’s impressive, both the design of the capsule, which can hold everything someone might want, as well as the business plan, especially with Malan au fait with the rules of this particular game. She has been round the block a few times and knows what works and how to go about it.

If someone like her can break even during that first year of the pandemic with all the surprises that entailed and still keep developing and growing her business, that’s impressive. But also the capsule itself. It is self-contained and could actually serve many different purposes as well as stand in different settings.

It’s not quite that simple, says Malan. But then nothing ever is. In the meantime, she is also involved with much bigger plans. At heart, she is a chef and she wants to create and cook. That is exactly what her future plan involves. So watch this space. It is just around the corner and holds some wonderful food surprises for Gauteng as she develops an artisan food precinct with Lucky Bread opening in Centurion at Tribeca Coffee roasters.

In the meantime, Lucky Bread, Brooklyn Mall and Lucky Bread, Mall of Africa keep producing quality – with smiles.

For more info: https://www.luckybread.co.za

PICTURES: Marethe Grobler

Michelle Cronje-Cibulka from Afro-Boer

In a similar way, Michelle Cronje-Cibulka from Afro-Boer has also been moving during lockdown. Driven by the survival of her staff and business, to keep it growing and developing even in the toughest of times, she started a Spaza Shoppe to fall in with the Lockdown Level 5 restrictions, and as these lifted they morphed this into a Café Deli.

She had been planning something like this even before the pandemic, but now things became more urgent as she could encourage customers to pick up coffee and other goodies – from toasted sandwiches (braai broodjies) to cakes to slices of cake, jams and lemon curd, rusks, cookies, salted caramel and the list keeps growing.

As rules relaxed, so the coffee could be enjoyed at small tables away from the main restaurant, and now it has remained the place to collect any orders that can be placed ahead of time. But, of course, you could also just drop in unexpectedly and pick up what catches your fancy.

With lockdown rules changing according to the Covid numbers rising and falling, capacity restrictions have become the new norm. For Afro-Boer it was simply a matter of rising to the fast-changing world and its challenges. “We started changing the Boardroom into a coffeeBAR and soon we will present this as an evening Gin Bar at the start of summer,” she says.

Ideas have always been percolating but Covid just hurried things along. ”We always wanted to build a wood-fired oven on that bottom side of the garden to extend our artisanal bread baking approach, and finish with a small Charcuterie to incorporate an even more of a ‘farm to plate’ food approach.”

“The Baker’s Café main building is well on track to expand into evening trade in a month or so pending curfews and possible alcohol restrictions.”

Afro-Boer’s garden spectacular

From their earliest days, planning never stopped. And this has been Afro-Boer’s success from the beginning. Started in 2013, it has grown organically as they could meet the demands and also determine exactly what those are. Covid played devil’s advocate with many lives and business plans, but the dramatic effects have simply made Afro-Boer look at time differently.

They are blessed with one of the best spots in town. Part of a business park owned and developed by her father, Cronje-Cibulka has her own spot of sunshine and a garden that is as enchanting as it is inviting. Don’t be surprised if you have a cackle of hens join you at breakfast.

“Since we are still forced to have a single entrance to the main building, we closed off access from the Baker’s Café (the original Café for those who aren’t sure) side into the garden, which has allowed us to serve towards the garden from the Café Deli side, incorporating this second premise in a more informal style with our deli goods while we step up business in the main Baker’s Café and quite possibly bring in a Wine Bar that side …”

They have stepped up their take-away side of the business, which was pretty much the only thing allowed to happen during the strict lockdowns last year… and again in these renewed lockdown times. In normal times, it becomes just an added convenience to the regular deli fair which can still be had on the stoep or inside of the main building or in their beautiful garden.

For more info: https://www.afroboer.co.za/

PICTURES: Theana Breugem (thefoodphotographer.co.za/).

The Original Delicious Lulu de Beer, Rachel Botes and Naomi Lourens

When the new weekend market Busstop 7 opened in the east of Pretoria, Rachel Botes (of the acclaimed former Carlton Cafe Delicious) decided it was time to expand the cooking and baking she was doing via orders and test the waters with two of her favourite cooking cohorts, Naomi Lourens and Lulu de Beer, each with their own specialities – and to change the name slightly to address their latest venture.

Those who knew the deli will recognise The Original Delicious fare as the same people are involved and that’s why the name rings in those changes but is still familiar.

They do regular orders as well as some of their old favourites like the very popular #DinnerSorted on Fridays. It all started at the deli when customers complained about Friday night dinners and Botes decided to devise these affordable weekly menus that could be ordered during the week (closing on Thursday at 4pm) and be collected on Fridays between 3 and 5.30pm close to the Faerie Glen Hospital in Garsfontein.

On Friday June 4 for example, the menu took into account the cold weather and presented a comfort dish of note: creamy chicken, corn, potato and bacon chowder (thick soup) with garlic and cheese baguette. Serves 4 at R200 and simply needs reheating. The menu changes every week but quality and competitive pricing are the main drivers.

On their order list they have anything from quiches (tomato, basil and camembert, beef biltong and green fig; bacon, mushroom and feta) to very specific baked goodies for those with food intolerances.

Very popular are their family meals which are frozen immediately after preparation using only quality, fresh meat and other ingredients that are free of preservatives, additives and colouring agents. These include mac-n-triple-cheese and chicken or beef  lasagne, which can be ordered in medium (6) or large (12) servings. “Some people bring their own dishes and we prepare the meals in that,” explains Botes, never missing a trick! These are best ordered before the time and once you’ve served this easy supper, you’ll be back for more.

A selection of pies fantastic.

Another Botes speciality is a variety of pies, including chicken, beef and onion, BBQ pork belly, lamb and oxtail, as well as rhubarb. These are also available in different sizes, including singles pies, medium serving 6 and a generous large which is enough for 12 people. “I’m chuffed that people are starting to recommend these,” says Botes. It’s a no brainer!

If you want to wallow in comfort food, Botes is famous for her melkkos. Especially in cold weather it is the perfect meal, morning noon and night!

Ignore this trio’s baking skills at your peril. Bakes and cakes include baked milk tart, chocolate ganache cake, baked milk tart cheesecake and a baked New York cheesecake with other sweet treats like millionaire’s shortbread, dark chocolate brownies and white blondies, anzac biscuits, red velvet biscuits, olive shortbread and polenta fingers.

Chocolate Ganache Cake

Add to that the Lourens bespoke cakes and De Beer’s allergy and food-intolerance products and this trio cover the spectrum.

As they don’t have a regular physical space, they are active on Facebook and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/original.delicious/ and easy to contact, but they need time when things are baked on request.

Cafe Delicious’s followers will be delighted to have Botes and her cohorts back. She has an unusual food mind and while something like a cheese-n-mac might sound familiar, there’s always a delicious twist. Once you run through their order list, or even better, you visit them at the market when lockdown rules are relaxed, you won’t look back.

Visit The Original Delicious at Busstop 7 Market on Saturdays (when allowed) or email them on original.delcious@icloud.com with enquiries for pick-ups or deliveries.