Nataniël’s Second Phase Will Have Him Playing On Many Different Platforms

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Optog kombi and Nataniël. Picture by Optog!

Showman Nataniël is embarking on what he calls the second phase of his career with quite a few tricks up his sleeve. He tells DIANE DE BEER about his future plans:

 

It took only four phone calls, says Nataniël, to cut his salary by half but this drastic measure was necessary for him to get things going in a different fashion.

It’s always been part of his strategy, not to keep doing the same things all the time. Leave before they’re tired and start something completely different.  “I am not going to do anything that I’m not in control of any longer,” he says hence all the changes. And money is no longer a driving force.

As someone who prefers being the one responsible for something he does, whether good or bad, he says it is time out for projects where he is involved with egos bigger than the talent. “It’s not that I am all-powerful, just tired of all the bull!”

“I am back to earning all my money in my own head,” he notes, but he’s used to creating his own world and then sharing it with the rest of us.

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Men in black – Erik, Nataniël and Nicolaas

He and his assistant Nicolaas Swart are currently in Nantes, France (arriving back this week) where his most recent four-season television series (Die Edik van Nantes with his bro which also evolved into his latest cook/lifestyle-book released just before Christmas) was shot, and while this is a well-earned break, it is also a time to scout for new ideas with his brother-in-arms Erik le Roux who lives in Nantes.

“We love working together, so we will come up with something new,” says Nataniël, who has just started his own YouTube channel, something which is part of his plans but will also prevent one of his huge irritations, people randomly posting show videos or unwanted clips of him on the popular channel. “Once you have your own channel, you can remove any illegal ones,” he says joyously.

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Nataniël in costume.

He will also be shooting a music video for this platform while in France, the first he has made in 20 years. “We’re going to do it with cell phones,” he says, and it will be a short art film with music rather than a traditional music video.

Importantly, he will be focusing on finding creative outlets that make him happy. What he has discovered in especially Nantes, a creative city, is that he has been allowed to film and introduce basically anything to his local audience. “There’s a pride and a generosity which makes everything accessible and it is such a pleasure to work in a hassle-free environment.”

On the performance side locally, he starts his year on a new platform called Optog (March). The brainchild of producer/pianist Matthys Maree, it is described as one huge concert tour on wheels travelling through the whole of the country and beyond, running from February 14 until December with artists like Nataniël, Karen Zoid, Jo Black, Laurika Rauch, Coenie de Villiers and Deon Meyer, Vicky Sampson and Corlea Botha, all on a musical note with a few theatre productions also going on the road. Stellenbosch, Pretoria, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Welkom, Sasolburg, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Durbanville, Port Elizabeth, East-Londen, Potchefstroom, Durban, Windhoek and Swakopmund are all on the map.

Nataniel and Erik in Nantes
Nataniël and Erik in Nantes

“I am visiting rural towns I have never been to,” says Nataniël, one of our best travelled artists locally – and something he will again do more of in the future. He will be performing in three shows: Nataniël Gesels (talks) where he will be presenting one of his famous talks in theatres, something he tested at the end of last year for the first time; Nataniël Unplugged accompanied by Charl du Plessis, which is a more intimate version of his larger shows; and Four Loud People with his full band, the Charl du Plessis Trio and representative of his shows compiled of stories and songs in both English and Afrikaans.

Check out the website for more info and dates (www.optog.co.za) and hold thumbs for their plans to give new life to existing performance sites and halls in the platteland which might generate more platforms for artists everywhere.

In April he will be presenting a show at Artscape titled Anthems. And we’re not talking national flags or such like here! Nataniël describes it as “songs that singers claim as their personal anthems”. It will be in the style of his classical concerts of the past two years and he can be viewed as songs for grownups. “The songs usually represent an era, a life or an event,” he explains, “but anthems can also be attached to movies.” And he will be showcasing a few of his own.

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Nataniël at Emperor’s

Later in the year he will return to Emperor’s where he has been performing annually for just short of two decades taking a break last year and this time the run is planned to play almost like 12 individual concerts. As always with Nataniël, what that means exactly will only become clear once we see the latest spectacular extravaganza so much a part of his annual showcase.

For the first time he is also in the throes of writing an original book. “I have written many, but these have always been compiled from either columns or my show catalogues,” he says. This is something different, a kind of memoir, and more than that he isn’t willing to reveal, only that it will be published in both English and Afrikaans and this is the first time he has sat down and written an original book. He’s excited but also nervous while working hard on a Nataniël voice that works as well on paper as in performance.

On the food side, he will do a few kitchen demos – usually presented at the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria and booked out as soon as the announcements are made – but much more than that he hopes to avoid. “When you have just finished a cookbook, food is the last thing on your mind,” he says, although his Nataniël Collection (food and kitchen products and tableware) in Checkers is going to be expanded and has been doing well around the country. They will be appearing in every shop and he is hoping to add a few new products, something he always enjoys doing.

And in private time, he will be battling cell phones (mainly in shows) and plastic. “Botswana has banned single-use plastic! Surely, we can too. What makes us so special that we keep destroying the planet?”

He argues that nothing usually comes from the top and a minor anti-plastic violence in shop queues, isn’t a bad thing. “Little old ladies should just hit those using plastic bags with their handbags,” he says. “They can get away with it.”

“It’s not that anyone listens to me, but to remain silent isn’t an option any longer.”

Writer and Poet Extraordinaire Chris van Wyk Tells Stories with a Poetic Tongue

DIANE DE BEER

Pictures: Lungelo Mbulwana

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Zane Meas as Chris van Wyk.

VAN WYK – THE STORYTELLER OF RIVERLEA

Written and performed by: Zane Meas

Directed and Designed by: Christo Davids

Lighting design: Thapelo Mokgosi

Costume design: Nthabiseng Mokone

Music: Cyril ‘Dafunc’ Peterson

Venue: Manie Manim at the Market Theatre

Dates: Until February 24

 

Author/poet/storyteller Chris van Wyk wrote for the people, telling stories about his people, but he also had a deeply serious side, an intellectual one that couldn’t ignore what was seriously unjust and wrong in the world he found himself in.

His family surrounded him with love and laughter which allowed him to get more from life than the colour of his skin encouraged him to do in the Apartheid years – and he grabbed on to life with gusto. Van Wyk used his abilities to share the lot of his people probably as much a balm to his own being as to those who read his extraordinary words.

Many will know him for arguably his most loved book Shirley Goodness and Mercy, a memoir which best captured the way a family laughed and cried together to hold themselves apart yet together in a cruel Apartheid world.

But what this script and show do so spectacularly is showcase Van Wyk’s poetry which might not be as familiar to audiences as his family and community featured in his memoirs.

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It is in the poetry that he magnificently portrays his mother (The Laughter of my Mother), holds his wife’s impact on his life up for scrutiny, and then sharply looks at the lay of the political land with the horrifyingly haunting In Detention – the best kept for last.

It is in that melding together of the happy and the horrifying that Van Wyk becomes clearly and colourfully defined by his friend Zane Meas whose love of acting was first fuelled when he performed in a play based on one of the author’s short stories.

His love and knowledge of the writer is clear from the script, the way he has decided to tell the story with a lovingness that is hard to describe and shines through also in the performance.

Meas is masterful in his portrayal of Van Wyk and even if you didn’t know they were friends, you know that what you see on stage is the essence of the man in all his colourful cheerfulness even at the end when he reluctantly has to leave his family.

It is his spirit that lives on in his words, the way he views and explains his world, how he has you laugh, yet with a sadness at a life ended too soon. “We know the end,” says Meas both at the start and the end.

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Telling it like it is…

And while the title says The Storyteller…, Meas is able to direct the writing in a way that tells you who this man was, how he lived his life, the empathy he exudes because of the family he grew up in, and the people he chose to have in his life. And then he shared these insights with the world.

He achieves what many writers can only dream of. His way with words is extraordinary but it is also accessible, something not easily done. He has both a common touch and the ability to appeal to the intellect as he plays with words and ideas without fear even in this country’s darkest days.

These were the things that touched him, the unfairness of it all, which he realised at a young age and the way his parents and granny engaged with his world and showed him a way out of the mess that surrounded him growing up.

He found his salvation in words and when wondering what impact he has had on his world, words are what start stumbling out and for those listening, an awareness that there is so much wisdom lost from this voice silenced too soon.

Meas is determined to honour his legacy and with his friend/colleague Christo Davids as both director and designer, they have pulled a rabbit from their theatrical hat. It could have been just another storytelling nostalgic trip and with Van Wyk speaking his mind, that would have been enough.

They have, however, elevated this performance with loving care and in the detail of the script, performance, design and direction.

Zane Meas (photographed by Lungelo Mbulwana)
It’s in the detail

The design shows that they started out with a clear picture in mind, helped by the short-hand between two actors who have a working life together on stage, know what each of them can achieve and then pushing way beyond those goalposts.

Davids worked the solo show as much as he can (pushing too hard once or twice with an ending that is overly-dramatic and must go) creating his own book of stories on stage, which allowed Meas a freedom to focus on the man and what every word he wrote or spoke, meant.

It helps when you’re intimately involved with the individual you’re trying to explore because in this instance it encouraged them to show the inner workings of Van Wyk’s soul. They’ve put together a life filled with love in words and pictures.

If you can’t make it now, watch out for this one because it should (and will, I’m sure) travel, and while this is a homage by friends, they have truly done justice to the wordsmith Chris van Wyk.

If you want to rush out to discover more of his writing, you know they have found the key. It is some of the director and actor’s finest work.

 

 

Books & Bones & Other Things Attempts to Unravel The Secrets and Lies of Old

An art exhibition is often exciting not only because of the creativity but also the idea that holds the project. Jan Coetzee’s Books & Bones & other things is an example of just that kind of imagination:

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DIANE DE BEER

 

From the beginning of time, individuals have at some stage of their lives questioned the meaning of life in some way.

It makes sense that a man who has spent his whole working life in academia, studying and researching, would use these tools to question his own life – and thus began what has turned into an exhibition, Books & Bones & other things, which Mark Read of Everard Read Gallery invited academic/artist Prof Jan Coetzee to present for the month of February in CIRCA.

Jan Coetzee started his career at the University of South Africa; later became Professor of Sociology at the University of the (Orange) Free State (1979‑1986); and then moved to Rhodes University (1987‑2010) as Professor and Head of Department. In 2011 he returned to the University of the Free State as Senior Professor of Sociology where he initiated and directs the programme: The narrative study of lives.

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Jan K Coetzee

Within this research programme, he became interested in books as documents of life. “Throughout my life I’ve always been attracted to old texts – maybe not surprising given the fact that I did classical Greek and Sociology as majors for a BA. Together with my interest in narratives, I’ve also been playing around for years with sculpting,” he explains.

In short, he says, he put together almost 60 installations of “bookworks” consisting of old texts combined with found and sculpted objects. Most of these are enclosed in acrylic museum cases. “The object of this whole exercise is to attempt a reading of these aesthetically pleasing old texts – all of them old and many of them written in closed languages such as Latin, old German, old Slavic, etc.

“The installations attempt to unwrap/open the meaning of this collection of old texts: to try to hear what they are telling us today.”

As an academic he has thoroughly explained this complicated yet fascinating exhibition which would appeal to both scholars and the lay public.

“From the very beginning, humans have been living in storytelling societies. The earliest recordings of our stories are found in art and artefacts, and later on, in documents — the predecessors of what we call ’books‘.”

 Books & Bones & Other Things is thus a dialogue with a collection of books serendipitously encountered across Europe and South Africa. What started as a collection developed into a project to make the author’s own life, as well as life in general, more intelligible to himself and to others, he believes – and hopes.

The books in the collection are old texts which have considerable aesthetic appeal which originated from and bear witness to the actions, intentions, motivations, joys and hopes, as well as the fears and sufferings of human beings.

Each text, he says, narrates a story. But as his process developed, he realised that our ability to hear what they are trying to say is undermined: most are written in old, inaccessible languages which meant that Coetzee could not merely present these books as is.

 

And this is where interpretation came into play. He needed to find a way to retell the stories, to break them open and even subvert traditional narrative conventions by presenting them in a way that conjures up new stories in his mind and – hopefully – the minds of his ‘readers’.

This is when he began critically inquiring into the aims, context, and content of these books by systematically engaging with the title pages of the texts.

“Only the title pages,” he underlines. It meant that without studying the rest of the texts and without examining the meaning of the inside pages, he set out re-imagining the texts by recalling stories from his own life and readings.

He also initiated conversations between the different books so that the individual stories would resound more emphatically.

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Imperial Principal

The bookworks, he says, explore the historical development of society and its structures — religion, colonialism, imperialism, racism, language, identity and time — all steeped in Western thought and tradition. “This I relate to the books themselves, and to the sculptures and the religious and cultural artefacts that accompany them.”

Coming to terms with yet another phenomenon of our time, an acknowledgement that in these European texts the voices of indigenous peoples are silent and their values, laws, and cosmologies — their very lives — are largely discounted.  He emphasises this in the use of sculls and chains for example. “What survives all individual authors, all human remembering and forgetting, I show in prehistoric fossils — a knowledge in the bones.”

He compares the results to a small private library in an ordinary family home which reflects something of the family. This collection of documents he feels, uncovers and reveals something of his own roots as it resonates with wider social, cultural, and historical refrains.

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Dominium and Control

“I cannot think of a more accomplished scholar of stories, or the narrative study of lives, than Jan Coetzee who in this ground-breaking book demands a reckoning with all those stories, of ourselves and others entangled in this post-1994 dance. This attempt at excavating the ‘knowledge in the bones’ is truly an exceptional piece of scholarship by Coetzee and an outstanding set of authors and should be required reading not only for sociologists but story-tellers and -listeners across the disciplines. It is the curriculum we desperately need.”

This is the recommendation of Jonathan Jansen, former Rector and Vice-Chancellor at the University of the Free State of Coetzee’s book which is at the centre of this exhibition.

The exhibition will end on February 28 with an endowment auction of these bookworks – conducted by Strauss and Co – the proceeds going to Kim Berman’s Artist Proof Studio and William Kentridge’s Centre for the Less Good Idea. The exhibition/auction consists of the almost 60 bookworks/installations that form the basis of a book Books & Bones & Other Things published by Sun Press in 2018.

 

Debut Novel Talion Bravely Explores and Pushes the Boundaries in Thriller Genre

Photographer: Joanna Olivier

 

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Discovering a first novel with a young writer in the process of finding his voice is exciting. DIANE DE BEER chats to author Beyers de Vos about Talion, his love of writing and future plans:

 

It’s always a thrill reading the first novel of a new writer, especially when it turns out to be quite experimental, pushing the boundaries and the result of an MA in creative writing under celebrated author Etienne van Heerden.

The young man in question is Pretoria born and bred Beyers de Vos, the novel, a thriller, is titled Talion (Penguin) and the dedication of the book points to the origins of his writing:

For my mother, who taught me to love words.

And for my father, who told this story first

It’s also a love of reading and being blessed with incredible English teachers all through primary and high school, he explains. “They fostered a love of story.”

“I wanted to understand how those stories worked – why I loved them so much and how they were made. When I started writing myself, trying to find those answers, everyone was really encouraging. I also had a really strong sense that my imagination was my strongest asset. If I let my imagination grow, if I figured out how I could harness it, I would never feel alone, never feel powerless, never feel insecure. And after all that, what choice did I have but to become a writer?”

With an undergraduate degree in Publishing, an honours degree in English literature and then the creative writing, following this with a first novel, he felt comfortable enough to resign his job as script writer to focus on a second book. “So reckless of me,” he interjects.

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First-time author Beyers de Vos

Yet when you listen to his story, there’s nothing that’s not carefully thought through in the way he has gone about carving a niche in the world of literature.

“I knew that I wanted to write a novel. But I also knew that I would never commit to it if I wasn’t put under some pressure. I thrive in an academic environment – so an MA seemed ideal. Having Etienne as my supervisor was just luck – he was there and at my disposal. He’s a genius, obviously, and his influence on my work is difficult to measure. With Talion he really guided it from something that could have been more ordinary to something that is maybe a little stranger.”

We’ll get to that strangeness later. First the book, which is a thriller – and that, it seems, is happenstance as it’s not a genre De Vos is going to stick to exclusively. “I love crime literature, I like thrillers. But I’m also a bit of a snob about it – I need my thrillers to be more than your average Jo Nesbo. Not that there’s anything wrong with Jo Nesbo – but as a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested in the darkness of those stories than the thrill of them. What I’m attracted to is tragedy – thrillers lend themselves to that beautifully. The genre is a vehicle, a shortcut, to get to what I’m really after – which is some kind of exploration of why humans are so capable of torturing themselves, and others.”

And whatever way you look at it, a strong feature of the novel is the writing and perhaps more importantly, the young audience it should appeal to. It’s young and happening with the main characters all in that peer group. The fact that it’s set in Pretoria, a city De Vos knows well and captures in an invigorating and unexpected fashion, is also a bonus. He even has Oom Paul and his warriors doing a gig on Church Square!

He isn’t always sure what he is trying to do or why, some of which works and arguably at other times not quite and he is uncertain how to articulate what attracts him to certain stories, death rather than romance for example. “An idea takes hold of me – in this case the idea was ‘what happens to someone psychologically when they decide to kill someone else?’ – and I become obsessed with it. Then I have to write my way through it. I come out the other side with a piece of work, and I’m not sure I understand what I’m trying to accomplish beyond shaking the idea around until I’ve created something meaningful. What is Talion trying to say? What am I trying to say – I’m still figuring that out.”

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Beyers de Vos

That’s not a bad thing though, and he feels similarly about his writing style. “It’s instinct. It has its own rhythm, like music. I didn’t have to ‘find’ it – it just was there, inside my head.” It’s also something that you can feel when reading the book is still being formed, sometimes it seems just too precious, perhaps self-conscious, and as a reader you become more aware of the writing than the story. But what I loved was that he was willing to go this route, to play with ideas and words which will inevitably lead to some failure, yet driven by a desire to do something different, to tell stories his way and to play with a genre that many might advise him to leave well alone.

On some levels it did feel like a first novel because of all the above reasons, but the overriding emotion was one of excitement to experience this writer’s future writing and how he approaches book two following mostly rave reviews for this first one.

Speaking to him about young readers, he argues different sides. “Are my peers reading? If not, is it because they feel alienated by the books that are out there? Are they looking for something new? Is it even a question of age? It’s certainly my hope that a new generation of writers are writing for a new generation of readers, who can pick up a book and say, ‘this book represents me and the country I know and is exploring ideas that are important to me’.”

De Vos, who describes Afrikaans as his home language and English as his first language, notes that he has a complicated relationship with his heritage, which he is only reckoning with now that he is working in Afrikaans too. “The truth is that my publishers asked me to translate it because they thought the market would be more responsive if it was released in both languages,” he says of the translated version. “The Afrikaans market is much bigger, and to be frank, much more supportive. Going forward, I will be working in both languages. I am currently working on a couple of Afrikaans-only projects, as well as a new novel, written in both English and Afrikaans.”

And as a reader: “I read fiction almost exclusively. In the last few months I’ve read The Southern Reach trilogy, which is science fiction, and Snap, a crime novel by Belinda Bauer. I’ve discovered Joyce Carol Oates, and I’m making my way through her bibliography. I also read Transcription, Kate Atkinson’s new novel.”

What I loved about Talion most was the approach on all the different levels, the language, the youthfulness which is fun and informative and also the intent. It is also with some of those aspects that I often struggled most. But given a choice, this is the kind of book I like reading as I discover a new voice still finding its way – but once it hits the ground running, I predict, will soar spectacularly.

  • The author will be part of a panel discussion titled Nuwe Bloed (New Blood) at this year’s US Woordfees on March 6 at 2pm in the Adam Small seminar room

Mike Nicol pushes all the right buttons with Sleeper, the third in his latest trilogy

DIANE DE BEER

Sleeper_NicolWith issues and idiosyncrasies like state capture and Donald Trump dominating the news cycles almost to the exclusion of anything else, it feels as if in the realm of fiction, especially writers of thrillers and espionage must be having so much fun. When fact becomes stranger than fiction, doesn’t that give especially a thriller writer carte blanche?

“Oddly enough,” says author Mike Nicol whose latest book Sleeper (Umuzi) is the third in a series that began with Of Cops & Robbers and Agents of the State, “the worse the behaviour of our leaders, the more difficult it is to write fiction that reflects contemporary situations.”

Trump, he says, is so outrageous that he cannot be placed in anything but farce while Zuma was slightly different and more in the manner of dictators as his period in office was characterised by the deliberate and malicious plundering of the state. “You must remember that readers aren’t that interested in the fantastical. They want their thriller fiction to be logical and deadly and they certainly don’t want the outlandish.”

 

That means instead that life has suddenly become that much harder for crime writers because of what is happening in the real world. But he is having fun – to his surprise. As someone who switched to crime writing following a slew of novels and non-fiction writing, he wasn’t expecting that. “Don’t get me wrong, it is no easier than any other type of writing, but it is a lot more fun,” he accentuates.

 

He reckons he has the best time with the dialogue. In Sleeper there were great opportunities – with the sleeper herself and two characters called Bill and Ben. This is exactly what he means by fun. These two are a reference to Bill and Ben, the flowerpot men in the popular children’s story. “As I had been exposed to the antics of Bill and Ben thanks to my granddaughter, I thought why not haul them in to do service in a spy novel?”

You have to love that in-between all the madness and mayhem, two of the characters have been snatched from a children’s book!

 

Those familiar with Nicol’s writing will know his characters but if you need to catch up, Nicol supplies some back story. While each book is a standalone and can be read in isolation, the main characters – Fish Pescado, a private investigator, and Vicki Kahn, a lawyer and spy – are at the heart of the books. “Their relationship is the link from book to book,” explains the author. “There are walk on parts by secret operative Mart Velaze and his handler the mysterious Voice, who have featured in earlier novels. Also, Krista from Power Play, the daughter of Mace Bishop, who was the protagonist of the initial Revenge Trilogy. And here Mace flies in for a small part in Sleeper,” he elaborates.

 

“I had always wanted to develop a universe of characters, which I could call on from time to time. Unfortunately, they’re only human and for some of them Death comes calling,” he says ominously. That’s precisely what makes the books intriguing. If you have been following the different trilogies, you have come to know even the side characters well because at some point they were centre stage. If one of them is killed, as a reader, you are much more invested because of previous meetings.

 

So, bizarrely in a world where the characters often don’t feel that much for one another and are often easily expendable, the reader has an attachment because of a character’s back story. It keeps you reading though because of the unpredictability and Nicol’s seeming indifference for his (and our) darlings. It’s as it should be.

 

Speaking about thriller writing in general, it all started for him when trying to find a good fit as writer. “The house of crime fiction has many rooms and my initial venture into the genre was into a sub-category, the security industry, which hadn’t yet had much play at that point.”

But as we live in a lightning fast, changing world while his first, the Revenge Trilogy, confronted such issues as Pagad bombings, arms trading, land claims, farm murders, corruption in real estate development and then drugs and abalone poaching in Power Play, with Of Cops & Robbers he found a new tack. “The focus here was to look at the atrocities of the apartheid hit squads, rhino horn and elephant tusk poaching then and now, before moving into the corruption of the current government and human trafficking, particularly during the Zuma years in Agents of the State.

Mike Nicol
Mike Nicol

 

“Once the major crime in the country became government crime it seemed logical to shift into a form of espionage fiction – thrillers by another name. And this is where Sleeper finds its centre: the corruption of government officials in positions of power and what happens to whistle-blowers.”

Sound familiar?

 

There is so much going around at present but as usual, this savvy writer is pushing all the right buttons. His writing has always been exceptional and in this genre, he has found his niche with great aplomb. Both the writing and story are fast, feisty and furious and with Cape Town (where he lives) as the backdrop, it’s visual and familiar to everyone living here. If in the earlier books, the story might have felt far-fetched, the real world has raced ahead so briskly that far-fetched has become an outmoded concept.

 

As Nicol has established not only his slacker hero in the minds of readers but a clutch of colourful characters that keep us entertained, if this is your introduction, perhaps start with the first in the trilogy and work your way to number three.

There won’t be too much of a gap between this one and yet another encounter with Fish and Vicki, so for the moment, he is sticking with them. “The characters are the real plot manipulators but there invariably and inevitably comes a point where I don’t know what is going on or how to resolve things. This is about two thirds of the way in. Weeks of despair follow until the obvious plot resolution suddenly dawns. And it is always obvious. The obvious, I have discovered, is difficult to see. So I guess you could say that the process is a tough one.”

 

When he has time to tune out and get into his own reading, Nicol has an eclectic smorgasbord to choose from: “A variety of non-fiction and fiction. Just recently I read McMafia by Misha Glenny and The New Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins.

“On the fiction front I have been immersed in espionage novels by Charles McCarry, Robert Littel, Olen Steinhauer, Charles Cumming, John le Carre, Chris Pavone. My crime fiction reading encountered the French writer Pierre Lemaitre (who probably wrote the first of the now popular psychological thrillers involving a woman, Blood Marriage) but who has also written three really good police procedurals (Alex, Irene and Camille). Another interesting top crime writer this time from Australian is Candice Fox, especially her Crimson Lake.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie On Histories Of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the keynote speaker at an event hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as part of the “Remembrance period” to mark five years since Madiba’s passing. She explored how histories have shaped the imagination of the future. This was followed by a conversation with Dr. Sebabatso Manoeli and Neo Muyanga on the role of memory and importance of remembering:

 

Chimamanda and Graca
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Graca Machel © Nelson Mandela Foundation

Diane de Beer

 

There was envy, said Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Johannesburg on Thursday night, where she was the keynote speaker at the Nelson Mandela Tribute night hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as part of the centenary Living the Legend celebrations. “We wanted a Nigerian Nelson Mandela!”

Fresh from her talk with former First Lady and author Michele Obama, who reinforced the Nelson Mandela legacy when she told Adichie that Nelson Mandela made Barack Obama possible, she switched between the inaccuracies of history and memory, turned to women who need to fight back and also dwelled on being African and the pride that had to be reclaimed.

“But I don’t trust this Rainbow Nation thing,” she said to loud cheers from her predominantly young audience. “I am fiercely Pan African. My visceral sense of protection is high. We haven’t talked it through,” she said, pointing out that we cannot just forget the past as is so often suggested.

Can the process of remembering be scrubbed clean? “They might suppress it but always it will be there,” she warned. “It is important to acknowledge that the process will be messy and long and most of all, that kindness is necessary.”

Returning to Nelson Mandela time and again as was her brief, who and what he represented, speaking about memory and history, she shared that even though he was South African, the world claimed him. “He sparked a belief in what was possible,” she said.

Chimamanda
An ecstatic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie © Nelson Mandela Foundation

Speaking in a country where heroes are ditched easily, and the memories distorted, she explained that as a storyteller she couldn’t trade in perfection. “Where does absolute perfection exist? Memory, she pointed out was often about how the present configured the past, something that features strongly in our world today. “To avoid the truths we do not like is to avoid grappling with complexity,” she says. “Progress is a journey which doesn’t run in a straight line but in zigzag.”

“I think humanising him, acknowledging that he wasn’t perfect, isn’t denigrating him. When we do that, we realise that there’s a lot that we ourselves can do.”

“It’s about pushing against this idea that perfection is required. The idea of people being heroic is not that they are perfect, it’s that they have done one thing that is remarkable”

That’s it absolutely. Often with history, the facts are there, but the citizens, those who lived it, know it is not the truth. That’s where storytelling becomes the driving force says the storyteller. That’s where the truth often lies. “If human beings were perfect stories wouldn’t exist because our imperfections create the stories we tell.”

Who defines the accepted norm? “It’s about owning who you are and knowing that who you are is enough.” In stories she learnt about the loss of dignity, to be human, is to be valued, she affirmed. “We need to push back against the idea that there is a way that things should be.”

“Our history was invented for us. It’s time for us to reclaim it. I went to a very good school in Nigeria, but I knew very little about Nigerian history. I knew a lot more about the kings and queens of England.”

Changing tack but sticking to her theme of humanity, she said that with our high rates of sexual violence, South Africa needs to grapple with gender stereotypes, but we need to focus on the perpetrators, the boys. It’s no longer good enough to tell the girls to be careful.  “It is time to raise boys differently,” she says. “A woman’s body belongs to her and to her alone. We must insist that men go through a process of learning. Women must be accepted and respected as full human beings – from the boardrooms to the busses.”

As we focus on boys rather than on girls, we could start by saying “Mandela wouldn’t do that!” And switching to fighting talk she insisted that women should never feel shame or guilt because they were a victim of crime.

She also touched on South Africans and their many languages. Traveling from the airport, her driver confessed that he spoke nine languages. “South Africa is in many ways an inspiration to many parts of the African continent,” said Adichie, as she pointed to their confidence and their command of African languages.

“We should own who we are and know that it is enough.”

Chimamanda and guests
Facilitator Cathy Mohlahlana, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Neo Muyanga and Dr Sebabatso Mano. © Nelson Mandela Foundation

She was then joined on stage by historian Dr Sebabatso Manoeli and activist, composer and musician Neo Muyanga. Discussing how people could reclaim their history, Dr Manoeli suggested that Europe should be regarded as irrelevant, an idea that Adichie immediately adopted.

“We also need to read against the grain,” noted Muyanga, suggesting that’s how to find history on the margins. “We need to explore alternative narratives as we move away from fact to truth.”

Given the final word by journalist Cathy Mohlahlana, who facilitated the discussion on the importance of memory, Adichie encouraged everyone not just to talk about the wrongs of the current historical narrative, but to find a way to do something – anything – even something tiny.

That’s the way forward.

Nataniël at Play with Family and Friends

Edik book coverSiblings Nataniël and Erik le Roux partner in a book that captures the magic and mayhem of a French-styled lifestyle based on their four-season television cookery series Edik van Nantes, which finished earlier this year:

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

“Except for family, we don’t have things that old,” says Nataniël at a French heritage evening hosted by French ambassador to South Africa, Mr Christophe Farnaud, in celebration of the entertainer/TV personality’s latest book Die Edik van Nantes (Human & Rousseau, R370) co-written by his brother Erik le Roux, who was also co-presenter of the KYKnet cookery/lifestyle/travel programme consisting of four 13-episode seasons.

It all began with the younger Le Roux brother settling in Nantes after marrying Nathalie, who is from the area and introducing Nataniël to this city where he quickly lost his heart. Before that, he says, he only travelled to Paris where he had great adventures – amongst them Paul Gaultier remarking that he was the only overdressed person he had encountered in this city of high fashion.

Nataniel and French Ambassador
Nataniël presents his latest book to the French ambassador in SA, Mr Christophe Farnaud

Once the siblings discovered that Nantes was their heritage, their great adventure followed as they searched for their roots, criss-crossing the region all the while cooking with both their French and Afrikaans heritage, coming into play. But they also focused on the arts and culture of the city and region, turning this into much more than just a cooking show.

They were also smart enough to know that you have to have a hook to hang a cooking show on (similarly with a book) to distinguish yourself in a market that’s saturated. “People don’t use recipe books anymore,” says Nataniël, “they cook from the internet. You have to give them more.”

He is amused by some South Africans who feel a sense of betrayal because of his love affair with many things French, but to understand his admiration, you have to understand his sense of adventure and added to that, a journey he could share and experience with his brother. “We could catch up and reconnect,” he says which is why he describes this as one of his happiest work experiences.

Not only could the Le Roux siblings research their heritage as descendants of the French Huguenots, but Nataniël could also discover and explore the culturally rich university city, now the home of family.

He describes Erik as someone who has the technique and experience of professional kitchens while he is a “rough home cook”. Erik notes that he loves eating more than cooking, yet they both acknowledge that food is the way too many hearts and hearty get-togethers with friends and family. “It’s an escape and a way to destress from a hectic stage career,” explains Nataniël, hence the book, which features the lifestyle and recipes the way these were presented in the television series in celebration of a city the artist now calls his second home.

His brother was always going to leave South Africa, because he couldn’t come to terms in a place where old men wear shorts, he notes.

Nataniel's favourite table in the book
Nataniël’s favourite table in the book

And when Nataniël first wanted to visit his brother’s new home, Erik explained that he would hate the industrial city. But determined to recognise the region, it was a quick yet lasting enchantment. To the amusement of everyone at the French Embassy, he explained that Nantes was his French addiction. What he learnt in France was everything about inspiration, aspiration and even more importantly, intimidation!

“I love the way the city has welcomed me and my crew,” he explains. Doors were flung open and he was invited to film in renovated art museums, try their regional cuisine, tweak the recipes for local viewers, discover new ingredients in cafés, bistros and restaurants and share his French passion with his South African television audience. Because of their dedication to capture the essence of the city, these two bald brothers have also become a fixture in this North-Western French city.

Discovering a town that boasts everything from four upmarket paper shops, for example, to the largest puppet building company in the world, Nataniël knows how to flaunt it. He was thrilled to hand the Ambassador his first Afrikaans book on French culture!   “It’s a South African book on France without any lavender or rusted wrought iron,” he says, pointing to an overcrowding in this French oeuvre that he feels has leant too heavily on a specific nostalgia.

And followed that with a piano recital where he was joined in a piano tribute (with She and Emmenez-Moi) to Charles Aznavour by his accompanist, classical and jazz pianist Charl du Plessis (see picture).

messenger poster

So apart from this latest book, which is already flying off the shelves according to the author, he is also finishing with his last short season in 2018, Messenger, at the Oude Libertas from December 12 to 15, following a short run at Pretoria’s Atterbury Theatre.

“A sign, a message, a suspicion, a proverb, a shock, a revelation, that’s how lives are changed, for the better or worse,” he notes. From the earliest miracles, legends and myths to new discoveries or internet filth, most of humanity live life overwhelmed by fear, trends, tiredness or hysteria. “This is what I wanted to explore, social phenomena that paralyze, surprise and rejuvenate.”

These are his topics of discussion in a show performed in a time usually associated with festivities and inspiration and you will find all of that in these stories told in either Afrikaans or English with music both self-penned (including Messenger, which is completely mesmerising) and established songs, like the soft Duke Ellington jazz ballad  It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream..

Costumes are original and breath-taking in his own inimitable style and his superb musicians include Du Plessis (piano), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Werner Spies (bass) and drummer Peter Auret.

It’s a glorious way to conclude your cultural year with an entertainer who will have you laughing hysterically as he smartly underlines the madness we need to navigate in our modern world.

Booking at Computicket.

 

 

 

 

Adrienne Sichel Gives Context to SA Contemporary Dance in Body Politics

Adrienne book cover

Kgomotso Moncho – Maripane

Guest Writer

 

The description that dance is “wordless expression in a world where words are currency,” by poet Lebo Mashile in her unpublished poem, I Dance To Know Who I Am, speaks to the hesitation and sometimes lack of engagement with South African contemporary dance locally.

The poem also encapsulates the transformative experience that dance can be.

Mashile created the poem for the production, Threads, a collaboration with choreographer and anthropologist, Sylvia Glasser and her Moving Into Dance Mophatong Company.

The poem opens veteran dance writer and arts journalist, Adrienne Sichel’s new book, Body Politics: Fingerprinting South African Contemporary Dance (published by Porcupine Press).

Adrianne_Sichel_photo_by_Val_Adamson
Adrianne_Sichel_ Picture: Val_Adamson

The book is a socio-political cultural history that focusses on the roots and evolution of South African contemporary dance from the mid 1970s to 2016.

Whereas the role of protest theatre is known in its engagement with socio-political issues, it may be taken for granted that contemporary dance, through its activist actions, played an important part in the championing of a free and multi-cultural society, during and post- apartheid.

Sichel’s book illuminates this particular cultural history, revealing how prior to democracy, the proponents of contemporary dance were at the fore-front of cultural activism.

“The policy-making Arts and Culture Task Group (ACTAG) process which culminated in the White Paper, the establishment of the Department of Arts and Culture, Science and Technology, as well as the founding of the National Arts Council in 1997, was the handiwork of many politically focussed dancers, educationists, choreographers, researchers and administrators,” she writes.

One of the standout traits of South African contemporary dance is that it is driven by the activist artist.

Adrienne Sichel Book Launch Jhb.
Adrienne Sichel Book Launch Jhb.

“That’s what gives it its originality and made it attractive to the world. You have people commenting on their society and the human condition. It has overtaken theatre in a way because dancers keep working and make it happen despite the challenges,” says Sichel.

“Paradoxically contemporary dance is an individualistic art form, but in so many ways South African contemporary dance is a collaborative mission to express our cultural and artistic identity. A lot of SA contemporary dance and African contemporary dance is sensorial and experiential. Those dimensions create a much more holistic vibrant art form,” she says.

Body Politics gives context to South African contemporary dance. It captures the collusion of cultures and histories as people explored their roots and their identities of the country and the people they wanted to be pre-1994. It highlights these very rich essences and fingerprints their origins with chapters looking at the birth of Afro-Fusion, subversive storytellers, the birth of theatre dance and what constitutes contemporary African dance.

It features festivals, companies and artists including early pioneers and contemporary players like Glasser, Carly Dibakwane, Robyn Orlin, Alfred Hinkel, Jay Pather, Jeannette Ginslov, Vincent Sekwati Koko Mantswe, Gregory Maqoma, Mamela Nyamza, Nelisiwe Xaba, PJ Sabbagha and many more.

 

It also includes a collection of Sichel’s published and unpublished journalistic writing. This makes it an important documentation and preservation of a unique artistic heritage and a necessary learning tool.

In mapping the evolution of this remarkable art form and its vocabulary, Sichel moves through terrains of contentious issues of appropriation and ownership, leaving questions to ponder on. Questions similar to the ones she asked herself when contemplating writing this book, like, who has the right to collate and tell this history? Who owns this history?

As a dedicated witness to and advocate for SA contemporary dance for 40 years in an environment that often rejects SA contemporary dance, she has earned the right to tell this history. Her background growing up in the rural Rustenburg exposed to her to a variety of cultures, religions, rituals, political practices and prejudices which fueled her curiosity as an arts journalist.

She co-founded the South African Dance Umbrella as a free democratic platform for all South African dancers and dance forms. She has also created an accessible language to articulate meanings behind movements and the fresh aesthetics of South African contemporary dance, which is no easy feat.

At the Johannesburg launch of the book in September, Sichel said, “What is scary about Body Politics is that it’s very concrete, it is tangible and it can’t be changed. I will be judged, just as I have been judging and evaluating people over the decades.”

She is also acutely aware of the gaps the book leaves and this is perhaps a challenge for the gaps to be filled.

The existence of Body Politics also makes the dearth

of books archiving or capturing cultural history in the country glaring. This is an urgent concern for Sichel.

“So many people did not want to publish this book. We don’t respect our history in this country. There are many narratives and cultural histories that are not being published and also need to be written,” she says.

Sichel’s hopes for dance is that “it keeps informing, transforming and educating.”

 

 

 

 

 

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A Handful of Holiday Reads With Heart

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. 
― 
Groucho MarxThe Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

 

Holidays are on the horison and that means more reading time for many while others might just indulge more than usual. Here are a few old and new, brightly coloured and blue, to make a note of for yourself or as gifts, for those who need to escape:

DIANE DE BEER

 

The Home by Louise Candlish (Simon and Schuster):book roy

Imagine returning home one day and finding strangers making it their own. It is probably unthinkable and yet, that is exactly the premise Candlish is working with.

That and an individual who gets into trouble and instead of grabbing someone close to him to help out, he tries to fix it on his own and finds his life spiralling out of control. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of and yet, this story shows just how easily that kind of scenario can play out.

It’s a simple premise yet what makes the read intriguing is the way it it runs away with not only one but a few lives. Fi Lawson’s home on Trinity Avenue is her dream house. It’s where she and her family will grow old and everything she does is focused on this fact, the proverbial white picket fence dream even when it isn’t exactly that.

The point though when reading the book is that most of us can identify or at least imagine arriving home to find it is no longer yours and what this would mean to your life. Or perhaps not and that’s Fi’s problem. Husband Bram is nowhere to be found. Even though there have been problems never on this kind of scale. But once he was discovered en flagrante by his wife in their garden getaway shed, there’s almost no getting away from a life that hasn’t been truthful.

Trapped in a lie of some kind, he plunges from one dizzy height to another as the fall turns catastrophic beyond anything we can imagine.

It’s a dream of a read because while it all seems plausible, its also unimaginable but surely will help you to see why the straight and narrow is such an appealing option. It’s the perfect escape in Gone Girl kind of way.

Circe by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury Publishing):book circe

Nothing would have drawn me to this book if someone hadn’t pointed to the fact that she had heard a fabulous interview with the author. Generally I like my fiction to be more contemporary as we already live in a world so fantastical, we need writers to make sense of it in some way.

But this caught me unawares and much of it has to do with the reinvention and retelling of an age-old story, one we have all been introduced to but from another point of view. Yes, the men are all still there, but what Miller does so majestically is take the women from the side-lines and cast them centre stage.

Perhaps it is exactly that which kept me in contemporary literature for stories with more relevance for my life, but this time round, Miller caught me delightfully unawares.

Take this following paragraph for example and it is Circe’s thoughts that are set out:

“Later years I would hear a song made of our meeting. I was not surprised by the portrait of myself: the proud witch undone before the hero’s sword, kneeling and begging for mercy. Humbling women seems to be the chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

But with Miller’s retelling of a tale we’ve heard before, the accents are moved to turn this into a compelling story with a contemporary heartbeat. The reading is poetic, the language mesmerising and more than anything it is the way Circe moves in her world, takes charge of the life she has been “allowed” and turns it in a way that makes it her own choice.

Miller’s is a brave new world which all of us should venture into.

book allAll the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy (Maclehose Press):

With everything happening to women in India in these current times, reading the stories their women writers are telling is fascinating.  This one starts with the words of a young boy: “In my childhood I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.”

And like so many books from that part of the world there’s a whimsy, a mystical quality and a poetry in the language that captures all the elements that seem to be floating in and around the stories they want to tell. There’s an immediate censure in that opening paragraph. What kind of mother would leave her young child? How does he cope? Where does she go? And why?

Many more questions will emerge while getting to grips with the lives of this unusual and perhaps oddly disconnected family where different members are adopted by passers-by, almost as if they feel the need to lend some kind of attachment.

These are difficult times in the world – similar to now – with many wondering about the state of their universe and how to navigate things that seemed simple in the past. And for Myshkin’s mother, with strangers entering her family’s domain, new vistas seemed to beckon but at a cost to those whose lives hers intertwined.

One of India’s greatest living writer’s proclaims Oprah on the cover and that’s something to live up to. Nevertheless, she tells an impactful story from a specific world and time that resonates strongly in our troubled world today.

And underlining all this, is that it is a story told by a woman allowing her female characters a much stronger say than they might have had previously: “She’s not forward, she’s forceful. She is sure of herself and lives by her own means – runs her own taxi service and her own shop and orders her staff around and bosses her daughters and spits her tobacco juice as far into the corner as any man – I suppose these things mark her out as forward.”

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Picador):book life

I was given this book by a friend who said she had read halfway but couldn’t see why she should deal with so much suffering. I was intrigued, if she didn’t want to read about such suffering, why did she feel I should? Fortunately I persevered because what this story does superbly is underline the impact of one’s childhood on the adult psyche.

If ever there is a hackneyed phrase it is this and yet, there’s a reason which is what this remarkable story about four classmates who moved to New York to make their way, each in a particular field, some more successful than others, some more deeply scarred that those who might be struggling to make ends meet, sets out to show – perhaps for some too painstakingly.

As we follow in their footstep as they try to make their careers and a lives in the ultimate city to achieve success, it is the reaching out, the turning away, the holding someone upright, the coming together of friends as lovers, and in conclusion, the way people look out for each other, that holds our attention. Finally it is about a life that can be navigated with a little help from a friend.

Older and wiser readers will know that one cannot do it alone, but sometimes, people who have been damaged by blind trust are reluctant to travel that road again. It is a tough life to follow but because these are four such remarkable characters with their hangers on, their lives determined by such recognisable desires, the length of the novel gives the author the chance to make them come alive in a way that invites insight and ownership.

Take your time, because it is a compelling read.

book americanAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones (One World):

We hear daily about the numbers of African-American men jailed in America. We also read about human rights lawyers who spend their time trying to free those who have been unjustly imprisoned in a system that has been designed to make their lives impossible and turn their dreams inside out.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the lives of those who are connected to these innocent victims and how their imprisonment is much more than just an individual punishment? That’s exactly some of what is investigated and explored in what seems like just another well-written fictional tale but is so much more as it homes in on one of the scourges of our world.

It’s about the ultimate love as two people are torn apart with one unable to hang on and still feels responsible for the devastation she leaves behind. But more than that, it is also bringing the personal to what has become a universal story.

In an interview with a white male TV host who was shocked about all these young black men dying at the hands of police in the US, Toni Morrison graciously yet sharply pointed out that this wasn’t new to the African American community, because of social media, it was simply out there to be seen by everyone. It could no longer be an invisible crime.

With the growing statistics of African American incarceration and the abusive prison system in that country, it is also tough to ignore the impact on a people. It is all of this that tragically underlines and holds this particular story which might imply a tale of three ordinary lives but cannot be further from the truth. This is how worlds are destroyed by not valuing the lives of all of the people all of the time.

book againstUs Against You by Fredrik Backman (Michael Joseph)

In an earlier post, I had reviewed the prequel to this book then still titled Scandal which later changed to Beartown. It was a fascinating read about a small Swedish town whose livelihood and passion is all focused on their young ice hockey team. Until, a disaster happens which tears the town apart.

Their strongest and most popular hockey player is accused of raping the daughter of the coach of the team. Just that one sentence is loaded with many different implications and that is what the author plays with.

It was a deeply enjoyable book as Backman dissected the town and their reactions to this particular event – and then allowed it to play out. Especially in this time of course, nothing of this seems unfamiliar or surprising and what happened in fact was that the young star player accused by the teenage girl and the deed confirmed by his best friend left town while the girl stayed behind.

This follow-up takes it further as we enter a town that is deeply divided with the most inhabitants accusing the girl (even if just in their minds and attitudes) of causing this great loss to their town and its future.

The upheaval is huge and into that void steps an ambitious politician who knows how to play the pack to his own advantage and a future visibility which will take him to the top. It doesn’t come more cynical than this but that’s the world we live in so tell it like it is.

And Backman loves doing this – very cleverly as he explains how people think and why they do certain things with no empathy for the people they harm in the execution and fulfillment of their own dreams.

It’s really sad yet refreshing to navigate this story of modern living in a world where everyone is out there battling only for him/herself.
It’s a clever story but alas, unlike the last one (and arguably the translation doesn’t help), the writing becomes both preachy and cute. There are too many devices, too many nods to the reader allowing them to participate in the conspiracy and this detracts from the delight that the first novel accrued.

But the story is still on point and those who read the first, will not want to miss this further development.

Saunders has a Specific Way of Telling Stories in Style, Stridency and Sweetness

I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough… The more one reads the more one sees we have to read. – John Adams

 

DIANE DE BEER

Book lincolnLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Random House):

If you’re familiar with the short story wizard, you will not want to miss his first foray into novel territory.

As is to be expected, this master of imagination and writing has thoroughly thought through his first outing and how to approach it. He does this without the attempt feeling too grueling, because he has a story to tell that’s so smart and so unique, his followers won’t be disappointed. Probably more than anyone, Saunders would have felt the weight of what he was trying to do more than anyone else.

If you have ever listened to an interview with this writer, you will know that he has an exceptional mind, thinks about life in an extraordinary fashion and seems to make interesting choices on whatever catches his fancy – from marrying to writing.

In this instance the title refers to the Lincoln you’re thinking of and it is his son Willie who is trapped in the bardo (the state of limbo which is how the Tibetans refer to this intermediate state between death and moving on). He is the adored 11-year-old son of the man known as the Civil War president who is in there fighting a losing battle with typhoid fever.

His parents are hosting a lavish banquet when Willie dies and his body is taken to Oak Hill Cemetery where he is laid to rest in a marble crypt.

What ensues then is the magnificence of the Saunders mind. He saw a snippet that the president had at least twice visited the crypt at night where he sat and mourned over the body of his cherished son, and this sent this limitless imagination a wandering.

The cemetery is occupied by spirits who, it becomes clear in the reading, don’t want to move on and become the narrative as they tell the story of the father and the young boy by also dwelling on their own state of limbo.

The novel unfolds through their speeches, passing mainly between three vessels consisting of a young gay man who killed himself after his lover rejected him; an ageing reverend; and a printer who was killed in an accident before he and his young wife could consummate their marriage, an event that was on the verge of happening following many years of marital friendship and that’s all.

Willie, like all the children, is expected to pass on quite swiftly but because of his father’s visits, he is reluctant to leave which could mean that he could become trapped in a terrible tangle of almost demonic growth.

The three voices as well as those of contemporaries of Lincoln – whose quotes are used throughout to tell a particular story – make this a magically compelling reading. It’s like seeing a novel, so visual is the Saunders narrative, but you have to keep your mind sharp to keep up with the conversation and the people and events being described.

It’s fascinating and not unexpectedly unlike anything you have ever read which makes it hugely exciting. It’s the kind of book that you should just go with and not worry too much if you’re not quite sure what is happening and why. It does start to make sense as you go on and because of the writing, you can simply wallow in the Saunders literary genius, his way of telling the story and the words and language he picks to convey a certain feeling or mood or describe a rascal or a love affair between an unlikely couple. That’s just the way he tells stories.

The Lincolns in fact don’t even feature on the foreground although it is a story to explain certain things about memory, how people see and view things and how it loses in translation or from which perspective it unfolds.

With memory such a big thing at the moment, it makes you think about history and how we learn things – inadequately – because it came almost all of the time from a white male perspective. Nothing wrong with that perspective as long as it is supplemented and supported with a wide range of ideas and views to cover all the tracks and prejudices that might reside with a particular group.

Exciting times we live in as perspectives shift and trust Saunders to capture this particular mood change that is causing such upheaval all around the world we live in.