Writing is What Debut Author Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu Wants to do With her Life

A writer that was born to write is a wondrous thing as DIANE DE BEER discovers when first reading The Theory of Flight (Penguin Books) and then speaking to the author Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu:

 

book Siphiwe and mom
Author Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu and her mom Sarah Nokuthula Ndhlovu.

 

On the third of September, not so long ago, something truly wondrous happened on the Beauford Farm and Estate. At the moment of her death, Imogen Zula Nyoni – Genie – was seen to fly away on a giant pair of silver wings…

 

These are the first words in Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu’s debut novel The Theory of Flight (Penguin Books) and it never lets up. From that first sentence, it grabs your attention and keeps you in a state of wonderment about this first-time fiction writer’s glorious gift of storytelling.

She says that an immensely strong connection to her family and a similar one to Bulawayo, the city where she was born and raised, informs her writing.  “I am also deeply invested in Zimbabwe’s history. These things not only influence my sense of self but also inform my writing. The Theory of Flight is marked through with these influences and Beauford Farm and Estate is built on the memory of the place I grew up as a child – Rangemore.”

She was born in 1977 in the former Rhodesia during what she calls “the country’s civil war, but what most call the war for liberation and others call the bush war or terrorist war”. At the time of her birth, her family was going through a rough time as her grandparents’ nationalist politics had her grandfather imprisoned as a political detainee and her grandmother blacklisted from her teaching profession. “When my grandfather was released from prison in 1978, my entire family left the country as political refugees. We lived in Sweden and then the USA before moving back to Zimbabwe when the country became independent in 1980.

“I grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in the 1980s and 1990s, in 1997 I left Zimbabwe for college in the USA. I lived in the USA for 18 years, furthering my education until I received my PhD from Stanford University in 2013. When my grandmother passed away in 2014, I realized that I had lived in the ‘diaspora’ long enough and that it was time to come home. I got a job in Johannesburg in 2015 and worked and lived in South Africa until July this year. I had decided to take a year off to just focus on my writing, so that is what I will be doing, now back in Bulawayo, starting in October.”

book flight

The remarkable thing about her book is not only the writing but also the way she tells her story which she says she has been doing since she was a very young child. With a grandmother who was a teacher, she was taught to read from a young age and was told these amazing stories. “I have always had a vivid imagination and a passion for storytelling. My grandmother used to tell the most amazing stories so from a young age I was very aware of what a great and wonderful expanse the imagination was. I visited the places in my imagination many times as a child. I remember standing in sunflower and maize fields lost in my imagination.” (All images which are very present in her book).

“As my vocabulary grew, I started drawing stick figures whose lives grew more and more complicated as I grew. In my teens, I started writing general ideas for stories and short stories. I loved reading ever since I started reading at around the age of 4. And at some point it occurred to me that I wanted to be a writer. It was a distant dream, but one I firmly believed I would realise. So at college I studied Writing, Literature and Publishing.”

She then went on to pursue an MFA in Film and a PhD in Modern Thought and Literature, but she held tightly to the dream of becoming a writer. “It was something that I always knew I was going to do. Doing it, however, proved somewhat more difficult and complicated than I had imagined.”

She started writing The Theory of Flight in 2010. But she was writing her PhD dissertation as well. The situation was untenable because she was losing her heart to her characters but she didn’t have time to spend with them. She talks about being a conduit for these stories, that it feels as if they come to her and she simply has to listen.

She finally finished writing the dissertation in 2013 and the first draft of The Theory of Flight in 2015.

What she discovered was how difficult it is to transport the world you visit in your imagination onto the page. But however difficult, she fell in love with the process of writing, of getting to know the characters better, of having more of their world revealed to her. “This was what I want to do with my life.”

She can’t remember how the title of the book came to her but there is an explanation in the book. The story, she explains, was a means for her to deal with the loss of her aunt, Sibongile Frieda Ndlovu to whom the book is also dedicated, who passed away in 2007, at the age of 34. “She was four years older than me and we had grown up as sisters.”

She wanted to explore the many ways we love and lose the people in our lives. She also wanted to examine Zimbabwe’s own history of loss — civil war, ethnic cleansing, HIV/AIDS, genocide. “The country has lost millions of people, all within the span of a generation – what does this mean for the country, who are we now?”

It’s clear when reading the book that the writer is someone extraordinary and when you chat to her, that feeling is reinforced. Having been out of her country of birth the past 20 years, she could watch from afar, think about things more clearly and come to very specific decisions. In a time when it is all about me, Ndlovu believes strongly in the Kennedy adage: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

But she was also very clear in her mind that she did not want The Theory of Flight to be a doom-and-gloom African tale. “I wanted all that loss to be put in the context of all the love that existed throughout all those difficult events in our history. I wanted the story to also be about the sunflowers, the friendships, the loves that people experienced. I also wanted the story to capture the way stories are told in this place: anything is possible, the imagination is a great big expanse, people can fly.”

She does all that and so much more. When she was a little girl, soon after her grandfather came out of prison, she saw the torture marks on his body. When she asked him about them, not fully understanding yet feeling the pain, her response was that she hated all white people. “He looked at me and asked me what had white people ever done to me?” She describes this as her most teachable moment which says everything about who she is and has become – and it runs through her writing with clarity and charm.

And if you lose your heart to the people of her world in The Theory of Flight, there’s good news. She’s in the process of planning the second book of what she hopes will be a trilogy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackwashing Homophobia in SA and How Violence is Used as Control

blackwashing coverAuthor and activist as well as adjunct associate professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town, Melanie Judge is speaking at the Open Book Fair in Cape Town on September 5 and 7, and then she will also be joining diverse authors at the South African Book Fair in Jozi on September 8 in a discussion titled Feminism – a global conversation. She spoke to DIANE DE BEER about her latest book titled Blackwashing Homophobia: Violence and the Politics of Sexuality, Gender and Race (Routledge, 2018):

 

It sounds like a mouthful, the title, and it is, but what it captures is the essence of what still drives the world – power and how that plays out in the worlds of especially “the other”.

The title, notes Melanie Judge, is an attempt to think about homophobic violence alongside other types of violence and discrimination, not in isolation but to historically situate it in a South African context. “I wanted to know what fuels homophobia” And adds, “given our history, it is impossible to unpack issues of race and sexuality in South Africa separately – hence the title.”

Pointing to the title – blackwashing homophobia – and what emerged from her research, especially how racial and sexual discrimination work alongside one another to produce very problematic ideas about gay and lesbian people in South Africa, and about black gay and lesbian people in particular, is what drives this particular story.

As an activist, she wanted to understand and glean the multiple dimensions of both the causes and effects of violence and its relationship to race, gender and sexual power.

She notes that violence is always an instrument of power and a way to exercise it. How then are lesbians vulnerable to violence – more so than other groups for example – and in what way do they resist.

Power, she explains is a way to exert control over those who don’t conform to sexual and gender norms. If for example, you’re a lesbian, the implication is often that you’re not a “real woman”. In the book, the specific vulnerability lesbians face is described as “double trouble”, meaning that they are stigmatized because they are women, and also because they are lesbian, and that the trouble the gender system in which men are straight people are dominant. In all cultures, sexual and gender diversity is battle ground on which social norms are defined and challenged.

Melanie Judge
Melanie Judge

The book also explores how violence is used to control sexuality and gender. Looking back at colonial and apartheid times, people were governed through violence. “Violence was used to control,” she explains, and that continues to today. “We are a very violent society, so it makes sense,” she argues as she fast forwards to now.

But her focus for the book is on homophobic violence and how it relates to other forms of violence. “How for example does it intersect with racism?” Her argument is that violence props up, establishes and maintains systems of inequality. It is also used to maintain the hierarchy between men and women, gay people and straight people, and rears its ugly head whenever there’s inequality.

It’s important in maintaining the status quo to keep those binaries in place. In other words, if you’re a lesbian, you cannot be a real woman, so you’re always viewed as ‘lesser than’ for not complying with gender norms. And in the end, everyone in society is affected. “Queer becomes a spectacle,” she says, “a kind of anomaly to the ‘normal’ that is sometimes tolerated, just as long as it knows its place and doesn’t disrupt too much”.

If people from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community are systematically excluded on different levels, it creates a form of marginalisation, something the South African society and its way of conducting life is very familiar with. It was important in this sense for example to explore the link between the everyday insults that LGBT people face and the more brutal forms of violence they are subjected to.

This results in a social environment that makes these more extreme forms of violence possible. Already, for example, white LGBT people who are affluent, escape some of the targeting. In trying to understand this violence, she found that it was often ascribed to blackness. “I find that particularly racist,” she says.

There’s a strong discourse for example about violence in the township and this idea that violence is inherent to black people. What she feels needs to be done is to problematise that kind of misrepresentation because it doesn’t tell the full and thus correct story. “No one,” says Judge, “is naturally bigoted, and we must understand the realities facing black LGBT people as a product of centuries of racial and economic oppression and dispossession.”

But she argues, power inequalities produce violent outcomes. “People are kept in their place in the social and economic hierarchy through violent means.”

She argues strongly that if we want to address the violence, we have to address social injustices. Violence is all about building your identity, who you are and how you function in the world. It is time says Judge that we stop asserting our own right over others in terms of race, gender and sexual superiorities. “We have to establish new forms of social relationship,” she says. “How empty is your power if it can only hold its own at the cost of the other?”

That’s why binaries were so essential during apartheid: blackness and whiteness had to be classified and identified constantly. “Yet, we never have singular identities,” she notes. You’re not just a woman, you might also be queer or straight, rich or poor, and this will shape your life prospects. What defines you never rests on one thing alone and in that intersection is where people connect across difference. “We have a multiplicity of identities. Some of these give us power and others make us vulnerable.”

As individuals we are all complicit in maintaining the current state of affairs but she has discovered powerful and positive resistance against discriminatory social norms.

But how does one erase the past patterns of doing and being in relation to others? It is something that we need to confront in this country especially because of our past and with the hope of creating a different future. “We have to undo everything,” says Judge who knows things don’t just happen as a matter of course.

Systems of prejudice are all about exclusion. “It’s about keeping people in positions of inferiority or superiority that lies at the heart of inequality.”

But she is excited about the divergence and vibrancy of queer life in this country. “We are in post-apartheid and to some extent with huge advances, but the law has largely run its course in how far it can take us towards a more equal society.” She believes that with the firm footing of legal equality, the battle ground can, and has, shifted to the religious and cultural spheres. “It is important that we change the way we relate to one another, and that we change social structures to be more equitable and inclusive.”

“We have to think back before we can go forward,” are her sage words of advice. Homophobia is part of the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. “We can’t approach the now if we haven’t dealt with the past,” she advocates.

Liezie Mulder of the Iconic île de pain Makes Every Recipe Her Own – Anytime

Ile de Pain Wild oats loaf_4599
Wild oats loaf

Liezie Mulder and her family’s restaurant île de pain in Knysna are legendary. Her second cook book île de pain ANYTIME (Quivertree) has recently been published. If you love food, playing around in the kitchen, take note. She tells DIANE DE BEER about her way with food and how best to replicate her passion:

ile de pain cover muckup (002)

 

 

If you have been to Knysna’s famous île de païn, buying into Liezie Mulder’s latest (2nd) cookbook will be easy.

She says it herself in the introduction: As a chef I borrow, share and am inspired by the works of others and I absorb what is happening around me, at home and on my travels, and then make it my own.  …what is important is to use my own voice, to be honest, to be unique and true to myself.”

She wants to make it better using different techniques or using ingredients in a way that’s different or by introducing unique flavour combinations. Sometimes she simplifies it to express her style and philosophy more emphatically.

Travel is a huge source of inspiration for her. It gives her a chance to breathe far from her immediate surroundings, to experience, listen and be immersed and influenced by different cultures. She scribbles notes while watching cooking shows and collects food memories when she travels- here or abroad.

The restaurant menu is constantly evolving but for her the important ingredients are simplicity, uncomplicated and wholesome. And then she adds: “There has to be a party in your mouth with every bite!”

Ile de Pain Liezie
Liezie Mulder’s île de païn

The past 15 years at île de païn with much heartache and joy has taught her to have more fun and not to take work and food too seriously. It shows and comes across especially in her philosophy. Asked about her recipes, she says they should be fresh, simple, uncomplicated and fun. “I like to keep flavours in a recipe clean, working within the flavour palette of one region or country. I like to combine unexpected flavours and present it in a way using few components on a plate, so as not to confuse the palate.”

It’s about celebrating her favourite food memories … and food! “I wanted to create something lasting, beautiful but also useful. Something that captures the essence of what we do, and at the same time inspires others.”

If you’re interested in the food world, watch food programmes or speak to foodies, you will already know that sourcing ingredients is hugely important. “It is vital to use quality, healthy, fresh produce that offers high value in terms of both vitality and beauty.” All of this will contribute to the quality of your food in a way that saves both money and time in the long run.

The restaurant is a family affair with Mulder and her partner and master baker Markus Färbinger at the helm. What they initially set out to do was a village bakery which has now turned into a fully-fledged restaurant that works around the clock. She gives insight into the running of that as well: “It was only after five years that systems began to flow. Better-qualified chefs joined the team, we changed our working hours, took a step back, and grew as a result of becoming more aware of what needed focus.”

Because this was their family’s life, they had to adapt the running of their restaurant to suit their lifestyle. Everything was going well at the 10-year mark and then something dramatic happened – a fire in 2015 and everything burnt down.

But this gave them time to rethink their lives and their restaurant – and whether they wanted to start again – from scratch. The answer was yes but this time they could take a deep breath and design a new île de païn which she describes as “confident, lighter, happier, sophisticated but not perfect”.

This time it’s all about quality and not quantity – in their food and their lives. The recipes included in the book are the most popular from the restaurant menu, her own personal favourites and those of her family. Each one tells a story from where the inspiration comes from and how it became part of their menu. It could be cooking with her mother-in-law or sharing a meal with a Vietnamese farmer or even something as exotic as being invited to cook with the chef of the King of Bhutan.

Ile de Pain1
île de païn

Before she gets into the real recipes, Mulder has some advice:

Basics, basics, basics, she stresses. Only when you have mastered the basics can you start playing around. That’s the rule with most creative endeavours.

One of this chef’s strengths is organisational skills. She advises cooks to work with checks and balances. Take the time to read through a recipe, weigh out all the ingredients, organise your work area, get all your equipment ready – and clean as you go.

Quality ingredients has already been highlighted and with equal importance, she stresses detail and consistency in everything she does in the kitchen.

Speaking as a professional chef, she believes passion about food, people, creativity and a need to be of service are what you need to make it in the hospitality industry.

There’s much to like about the book but with bread and baking a strength of this restaurant whose name translates as island of bread, pay attention. And when she notes that the concluding chapter – Prep Time – is her favourite, also take note.

She loves sauces, relishes and dips, almost all of which can be made ahead of time and are jampacked with flavour as well as guaranteed to deliver a punch at every meal, she assures. So perhaps that’s the right place to start. She believes the great start to any successful meal, menu or dinner party is in the planning and preparation.

Ile de Pain L and M
Liezie Mulder and and her partner and master baker Markus Färbinger

Especially if you cook and entertain mainly on your own, here’s heartfelt advice and if you listen to what she says and how to go about it, your kitchen can become a great source of joy.

What makes this such a special book is the fact that Mulder spends most of her life thinking about and working with food. It’s not just the recipes that are precious, it’s also everything she has to say about the recipe and how best to prepare a certain dish or bake a brilliant loaf of bread.

Get thee into the kitchen!

Is Sitting Pretty a Case of White Afrikaans Woman Sitting Pretty Uncomfortably?

Sitting Pretty Cover Oct- hi res

Sitting Pretty – White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa – the title is enough to stop you in your tracks. DIANE DE BEER speaks to author Christi van der Westhuizen about the issues that encouraged her to write this book:

 

I first heard author/social and political commentator/associate professor in Sociology at University of Pretoria Christi van der Westhuizen chat to Radio 702 host Eusebius McKaiser about her latest book Sitting Pretty – White Afrikaans Women in Postapartheid South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press) and I was intrigued.

How can I not be, as one of that species whom she describes as both the oppressor (as white) yet also oppressed (woman)? Chatting to her about this academic treatise, she explains that book’s intro, which is the toughest of the lot because she wanted to get all the theoretical stuff out of the way at the start. And if you read it slowly – and again once you’ve read the book, even if like me, you are not au fait with academic speak – you will get there.

Van der Westhuizen has a mind that grapples with life and she had enough given to her to make sure that it will be worth grappling for. She grew up in a female-headed household in 1980s Boksburg when the city council was taken over by the Verwoerdian Conservative Party, and the Afrikaner-Weerstandsbeweging was on the rise. “My experience of alienation as a young woman and a lesbian within a patriarchal and racist context made me ask hard questions. People should know,” she says, “that I’m investigating my own life when writing on these kinds of subjects.”

Christi - pic - FLF
Christi van der Westhuizen

She took her premise from Nelson Mandela who in his inaugural State of the Nation address extended an invitation to South Africans who identify as ‘Afrikaner women’. She starts with that invitation as Mandela re-remembers Afrikaans Poet Ingrid Jonker “and poignantly proffered her ‘glorious vision’ of possibilities of identification:

“She was both a poet and a South African, he said. “She was both an Afrikaner and an African. She was both artist and a human being. In the midst of despair, she celebrated hope. Confronted by death, she asserted the beauty of life. (…) She instructs our endeavours must be about liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child.” He then quoted Jonker’s best known poem, The Child Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers in Nyanga.

She argues rigorously that Mandela’s invitation to Afrikaner women was “an invocation of the democratic potentialities … amid the ruins of apartheid”. That’s what she wants you to think about, says Van der Westhuizen as she asks whether Jonker’s contemporary counterparts (at least in terms of structural classifications of gender, sexuality, class and race) step into the positions that democratic discourses have prepared for them?

We all know how big an ask the country was given and up to now, how dismally we’ve failed. But Van der Westhuizen believes that the global context hasn’t helped. Because of the neoliberal kind of capitalism that exists today, with its high level of destabilisation and inequality, people feel under attack, which has meant that they have fled into specific enclaves of recognisable identity. It’s a very complex situation.

“Because of all these forces at play, people tend to organise their lives to re-entrench hierarchies and keep oppressive power relations intact.” Previously, she says, the state enforced gender, sexism and racism for us. “Now people are doing it for themselves.”

She is happy that greater diversity exists among white Afrikaans women in the democratic era. For some it is still true that if they don’t adhere to the strict rules laid down mainly by family structures headed by the husband/father, they will be ostracised and banned. But there are those who battle the forces stacked up against them.

Van der Westhuizen points to identity as the main culprit, in those instances where old habits recur, the way the instability and precariousness associated with the current phase of capitalism make people feel threatened and turn inward rather than embracing the diversity that’s out there. There’s no arguing that. Sadly though for those white Afrikaans women given an invitation at the beginning of our democracy to forge different lives. The pressures are many (from family, church, school and society at large) because if you don’t conform. However, that might also plant the seed of resistance.

The book also deals with the fact that this country is unusual as it has two distinct settler groups. “That doesn’t often happen and has its own set of problems, as both groups vie for the spoils of whiteness, with a particular model of heterofemininity attached,” she argues. It’s all fascinating stuff and in a complicated country as ours, with its past, with its diverse cultural groups trying to work together even though all the odds seem stacked against us, it is important to get as much understanding about the issues that confront us.

Van der Westhuizen makes it clear that her study is a qualitative one, which shows what the dominant discourses are that form white Afrikaans women. “If you throw these women together in focus groups, what comes through? It’s about throwing light on what is the mainstream,” she says. “The study also uses dissident voices to do that.”

This was a relief to know, because it was one of my issues when reading this gripping dissertation. I know all over the world conservatism seems to be a dominant force and while locally, amongst both Afrikaans and English speakers, racism seems to be everywhere, it isn’t all pervasive.

But is this where we should be throwing the light? Yes, says Van der Westhuizen and I agree, because white Afrikaans women are the least studied group in the country.

“That isn’t the case for the earlier part of the last century when the Nasionale Manne Party and the Nasionale Vroue Partye (men and women’s parties) folded into one another to form the National Party in the 30s, but after that Afrikaner women seem to disappear from public view and into the home where they were expected to be wives and mothers. But they were homemakers with an edge, as most instilled apartheid’s racism, sexism and homophobia in their children through socialisation in the family,” she concludes.

In a world where the Other is perceived as all-invasive, and many negative ‘isms’ are deployed to subvert challenges from groups with less power, an investigation of a previously dominant group that still holds significant relative power, and the contestations within this group, is fascinating reading.

With its academic slant, it is a tough yet compelling read.

 

 

40 Years On, The Black Consciousness Reader Commemorates Steve Biko’s Murder: It’s Time

Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.
― Mark Twain

 

DIANE DE BEER

BC reader

 

 

The Black Consciousness Reader written and compiled by Baldwin Ndaba, Therese Owen, Masego Panyane, Rabbie Serumula and Janet Smith with photography and videography by Paballo Thekiso (Jacana):

 

 

 

 

This one truly caught me unawares. At first glance, I thought it was more than anything else an academic presentation and one I would dip into simply to write something about it.

But as I started with the topics that interested me,  like the arts and women, for example, I was completely drawn into a story about our country that I lived through and thus knew something about. But there was so much that I didn’t know or needed reminding about or simply had to be informed about by someone who had the facts.

Because of the world we live in now, one that is much more inclusive of all the people who are part of this country, many more players are familiar to me, which they wouldn’t have been in the past. We are also looking at events and people through a different prism as we look back as well as focussing on where we are right now. The stories are new and fascinating and further enhance and colour the intricate quilt that is South Africa.

Steve Biko is probably the name most South Africans associate with the Black Consciousness Movement in this country and much of what we knew and read at the time has been overtaken by his horrific death. We need to be reminded time and again about our heroes, often living all too short lives because of our violent past, but we also need to review their lives and why they were viewed with such fear by the Apartheid order.

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The Biko Series photographed by Paul Stopforth: Clockwise: Biko’s arm; Biko’s Hand; Biko’s Legs; Biko’s Feet; Biko’s Foot

There is a current revival of Black Consciousness in our country as political and student movements reconfigure the continued struggle for socio-economic revolution with this ideology at the forefront. It is also finding solidarity with similar movements around the world (the Fallists for example with #BlackLivesMatter from the US).

But the authors believe there’s still not enough known about the history of Black Consciousness in South Africa and having read the book and discovered how much I didn’t know, I can underline that belief fully.

The book was published in the year of the 40th anniversary of Biko’s murder which is already a startling fact. So much time has passed so quickly? The book is described as an essential collection of history, culture, philosophy and meaning through the voices, art, religion, writing, music, politics, solidarity and dreams of some of those who developed it in order to finally bring revolution to South Africa.

And with the backdrop of what we have just been living through this past decade, it is  so important to take cognisance and to know about our past, the dedication and determination, and the sacrifices people make to find and further solutions of the best way for South Africans to live as a people. If we don’t investigate and interrogate our past, how can we find a way to move more effortlessly and with some equality into the future?

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Clockwise: General-secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Malusi Mpumlwana. Pictured by Paballo Thekiso. He was a founding member together with his wife Thoko of the Black Consciousness Movement; Activist/artist Omar Badsha (Photo Media 24); Dikgang Moseneke and his wife Khabonina after he was admitted as attorney in 1978. (Gallo Images/Avusa)

“The decision to do the book came out of a group of us wanting to commemorate the 40th year after Steve Biko’s murder by examining the philosophy that underpinned his life. Not only that, Black Consciousness was the philosophy that was deemed so dangerous by the apartheid state that it had to be cut off at the knees and disabled.

“And, to some extent, this might also have suited the liberation movement in exile, predominantly the ANC, which was somewhat threatened by the rise of BC. The ANC, as we know more and more today, was not a supreme revolutionary movement catering to the rise of the black majority in every frame of South African life. It was an often-compromised, divided organisation containing some individuals driving their own interests.

“Its ideology was a bit messy and confused and it didn’t have this kind of fundamental philosophy even if the Freedom Charter was invoked. So, Biko’s death fascinated us from that perspective too.

“What was Black Consciousness that it was such a threat? Why did it – and has it continued – to grow around the world in different ways to the point that today, a movie like Black Panther can have a massive opening even as it celebrates the dominance, power and excellence of black life.

“We wanted to try and be an additional set of voices in the ever-expanding archive of blackness – not for the sake of it, but to really attempt to make a proper contribution,” writes Janet Smith, one of the contributors.

Although Biko is a strong and arguably the most recognisable figure in BC history, they also document many other significant Black Consciousness personalities and write about Robert Sobukwe, for example, who introduced a new style of leadership.

“True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, above all a consuming love for one’s people.” How relevant does that sentence sound at this time, given what we have been through as a country and a people this last decade?

The book also points out that he refused to compromise the birth right of his people – land repossession. That was then…

Those two sentences reverberate in our current political landscape and point to everything that has been missing and what went wrong. It also captures in essence why this kind of book is so important and why it becomes much more than an academic treatise.

It held my attention throughout; I was fascinated with the people and the movement, felt I understood so much more about our past and what is currently happening, especially with young people who seem driven by the status quo, the adults speaking rather than taking action.

As as with so many movements around the world, it’s time.

Engaging With The Diversity Of Our Narratives Is How We Learn From The Past And Progress Into The Future

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. ­– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

DIANE DE BEER

NEW-TIMES-COV

New Times by Rehana Rossouw (Jacana):

Familiar and startling as the quote (above) might be, it is the perfect introduction to Rossouw’s book as she must have intended – placing it on the page preceding the start of this involved and intriguing tale of a country at the dawn of its democracy.

It points to many different things including that familiar adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s the never-ending cycle experienced through the ages, as the story takes the reader back more than 20 years to a time of hope and distrust, mingling together in a way this country had never experienced and allowing for many different narratives to develop.

The excitement was palpable, and remembering those heady days at a time in our country’s history when we seem to be experiencing this kind of maelstrom yet again is a reminder of the validity of the Dickens quote, and adds to the depth of the story which makes it so much more than mere fiction.

Most of us will have our own memories, but what Rossouw is doing is dipping into her own world to tell a story and investigate certain personal truths she wants to play with.

Rehana Rossouw

But she stresses: “The story is not mine, although I was a political reporter in 1995 and I was covering Parliament and the Presidency. Nelson Mandela’s timeline in the book is accurate and all the issues Ali covers were unfolding at the time. And I do have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), partly as a result of covering all the political violence of the 1980s. I began writing the novel out of frustration with the Fallists: in many interactions I had with them there were two refrains: Nelson Mandela was a sell-out and violence is a justified form of protest. I wanted to explore how compromised Mandela was as he spent most of his presidency involved in work on reconciliation and did little to ensure redistribution of wealth to poor and black South Africans.”

She does however emphasize that the book was written in anger and that she was unhealthily obsessed by violence. “I need to write for other reasons, other than healing,” she says about future work. But it feels as if she hasn’t quite finished what she has started in her first two books – both so revealing in different ways of so many different issues which is what makes her stories so powerfully engaging.

Her father died while she was writing, which was incredibly stressful and triggered one of her worst bouts of PTSD flashbacks and she explains that all of the symptoms Ali experiences are hers. She would write during these attacks which is why they make such an impact and feel so immediate and raw.

The PTSD flashback, for me personally, was a revelation. Of course, when you look back at our history and what journalists were put through during those horrific, oppressive years, it is understandable.

It’s not as if no one has spoken about it before but Rossouw has given it a personality in the form of Ali and lifted the veil for us to experience what it feels like and how it happens. It did catch me by surprise and brought a renewed awareness of the different lives led in the same country from so many perspectives – not just the obvious ones.

That has always been both our challenge but also the fascination of living here – and as Ramaphosa pointed out time and again in his first State of the Nation Address – as one people.

But writing about the PTSD as she does also plays into her engagement with the Fallists. “Don’t lead your people into violence,” is what she argued strongly because students can do their protests legally and Rossouw is still carrying the pain of the violence she witnessed and experienced. She knows what that does to a life.

Being a woman in today’s world is not an easy thing – and again this changes from individual to individual and personal circumstances. Ali’s struggles in her community, who she is, her coming to terms with her sexuality in a religiously conservative environment, where being a woman comes with very particular problems, drive much of the story.

She’s appealingly hardcore, a politically-driven journalist, the toughest job in a country as volatile as ours – especially in those times if you had all the cards stacked against you. Ali was both female and a woman of colour. That was enough to make her world a much tougher one than many of us experienced.

We are currently living in times when perhaps we look at the world more cynically than we did in the Mandela years. And many believe that skeletons from those heady days will all start tumbling out as Zuma tries to salvage some honour.

That rockets this book into a heightened space even though it was relevant from the start. That’s the thing about our stories. We live in such a divided country still. What that means is that some narratives still play out more loudly than others and the different sections of society are at odds often because they ignore the similarities and focus on the differences, which should be exciting and embraced rather than viewed as a threat. But that’s the world we live in and who we are.

Reviewing our world today through the prism of the past but selecting specifically a time that is arguably viewed by many as golden years, reminds us how far we have come and who we are becoming, even when it is a sometimes an excruciatingly bumpy ride.

And in-between all these huge stories, Rossouw reminds us that there are the smaller individual stories about people who are affected directly as history plays itself out around us. It’s fast, furious and I love the fact that I am constantly learning more about our people and this place when I read stories from here.

In a fractured society and world like ours, it’s the best way to discover who we are in all our rich diversity.

And as Rossouw talks about issues she deals with when writing, she concludes that with everything that has happened in her life, she would still rather be part of the oppressed than the oppressor.  That’s why her stories have such power and reach – especially today.

Survivor’s Story of Fight Against the Islamic State and Hope to be The Last Girl

Diane de Beer

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and my Fight Against The Islamic State by Nadia Murad and Jenna Krajeski (foreword by Amal Clooney) (Virago):

The-Last-Girl_

We read the headlines and we see the awful images, especially those horrific beheadings but then a mudslide, another refugee crisis, drownings in the Mediterranean Sea or a Trump tweet swamp the news cycle and the ISIS terror falls through the cracks.

They were topping all the news broadcasts at a specific time but only in very specific instances. We knew much more of those leaving their own safe homes in the UK and Europe to join the Islamic fighters in their endeavours to establish a caliphate than about the people in the devastated countries like Syria and Iraq.

But it is these little lives – those we don’t read about, those who lose everything and have never had a voice – who have to live the everyday horror on the ground of what it means to become part of the statistics of these terror groups that have only their ideology (power and money) to dictate their actions.

Humanity isn’t part of what they believe which is a scary thing when you are at their mercy.

This is the story of one of the voiceless women snatched from everything she ever knew to be a sex slave for men who had all might on their side and believed they had the go-ahead of the Koran to do their worst. Nothing could stop them.

Nadia Murad was born and raised in Kocho, a small village of farmers and shepherds in northern Iraq. She is a member of the Yazidi community and with her brothers and sisters lived a quiet and quite isolated life.

On August 15, 2014 when she was just 21 years old, life as she knew and loved it, ended abruptly. Even though the village had been waiting for the Islamic State militants who were on the march in the region, no one could have predicted what was about to happen to this community.

Already regarded as a fringe of a fringe community in the wider Iraq, they believed their Arab and Iraqi neighbouring villagers would step in and come to their aid. But they were left on their own without any chance of survival. Nothing could have prepared Nadia for the devastation and emotional upheaval of her life.

Scenes of the holocaust and people being pulled from one another without any warning, or simply shot if there was any resistance, play out in your imagination as you follow this story of a young girl who had hardly ever set foot outside her village.

Once the rape begins, it isn’t only the horror of that brutality that is overwhelming but also her belief and being told that her family would reject her because she is no longer a virgin and it won’t help for any of them to escape. In the end they would be killed by friend or foe.

Survival is part of our genes and this is also how it plays out here in even the direst circumstances. Nadia never stops fighting for her life. She knows even with her family decimated, that she wants to go on, fight the good fight and tell the world what is happening to the tiny Yazidi community that is in the last spasms before being obliterated.

The frightening thing about Nadia’s story is that it is happening today in a time where no one goes unseen. But there’s so much going on, countries devastated, people wiped out by other people or natural disasters, that we can hardly keep up. So even if the means are available, the audience is overwhelmed.

Think of Rwanda. Nadia herself makes that comparison, saying that never in her life would she have thought her horrors would be compared to that of Rwandan women. It is like a cycle repeating itself over and over again and the picture is of course far bigger than this one small corner of Iraq where ISIS has now been removed to go and battle and sow chaos somewhere else.

But Nadia has done this the way that works best. She wanted to tell her story, to bring justice to her world, not to allow the Islamic State militants to further their reign of terror and to make people pay attention – one story at a time.

It must come to that or it simply becomes a mass of horror. It’s like the body of the small boy that washed ashore that stopped everyone in their tracks – for a moment at least.

Learning about the Yazidi people, listening to Nadia explain how fractured Iraq is since the fall of Saddam, understanding when she notes how ISIS occupied the roads in these outlying regions which meant that they controlled all the movement. There was no other way in or out.

This is a story not only of the atrocities but also of a country that has splintered into tiny pieces with everyone fighting and mistrusting each other and even the larger groups we are aware of, consisting of infighting, splinter collectives.

It’s madness and in amongst this, real lives are battered and destroyed. Nadia has become an activist and a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations but every time she tells her story – and that is often what she does – she relives the horror of every rape and the loss of every member of her family and friends.

She also remembers how they searched the horizon for help, how they hoped above all that their neighbours would be there for them. It’s an anger and a mistrust that is difficult to curb to the point where she couldn’t speak Kurdish once she managed to escape even when it meant it could save her life.

That’s what happens in these circumstances when the world turns its back.

“More than anything else,” concludes Nadia in this astonishing book, “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”

Hence the title and the reason you should take the time and read her story.

This is our world – sadly.

Gordon Forbes Plays his Best Hand

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

– Ray Bradbury

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

I’ll take the Sunny Side by Gordon Forbes (Bookstorm):

 

Ill-Take-the-SunnysideI’m a tennis fanatic so I loved his first memoir A Handful of Summers, but that was some time ago and as I started this one and set off with a bunch of ageing guys having lunch and the discussions emanating from that, I wasn’t sure I was up for it.

Sorry guys, but many of us, not part of that demographic don’t feel the need to be privy to your conversations. They’ve been too dominant for most of our lives and we need and have found more diversity elsewhere.

But then he turned his pen to the place that interests me – again – and I was hooked. As one of his lunch companions wisely points out, this is his expertise. After all, how many of us have played tennis on his level. He still mixes and watches the best and has much to say about everyone.

Also, Forbes knows how to spin a yarn and doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body, hence the title. So while he tittle tattles a touch, there’s no malice and for those of us interested in the great game, he has more than enough knowledge to impart. Of course, he is nostalgic about the old ways and condemns the impact that a world with social media has had on the game, but he does speak his mind on all kinds of things relating to tennis and for those of us who were already glued to our screens from the Hopman Cup and the Brisbane Open with the Australian Open almost in full flow, this is heaven.

Who doesn’t want to know what somebody with Forbes’s expertise thinks about the game today? In his time, it was a gentleman’s sport and they weren’t purely driven by the money. Just watching Federer raise record crowds simply by being in Australia, tells you in which way the game has evolved. Even the Australian pairing at the Hopman Cup couldn’t do the same with their own people. They wanted to see The Fed, that’s it.

But Forbes is also someone who has a led a life which gives him a specific perspective. He has fun with his chums around a table in a Joburg club, one of those that started without allowing women but had to change with the times.

It is though his tennis participation – still-  in a world that those of us who follow can never learn enough especially from an insider and that Gordon Forbes is. He and his partner Abe Segal, who he writes about with great dexterity, still hold the record for the longest set in men’s doubles at Wimbledon – 32/30! Makes sense that they have discussions about matches ending in the dark at the hallowed Wimbledon courts.

With a partner like Segal, the stories abound and every occasionally, he drops titbits like the win he and his first wife Val had in Gstaad in the mixed doubles when it meant they were presented their silver cups by Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. That’s the kind of life he has led, and he spins a great yarn about these meanderings.

It’s the kind of book you read with a gentle smile about times gone by, but it also focusses you on a life worth living and how people go about sharing what they regard as stories worth telling.

While I might have been dubious at the start especially in these times when writers have more important stories to tell, it is a good thing to escape the fury of today’s world sometimes, catch your breath and listen to a voice that might not be your obvious selection from the start.

You might just learn something and for me the tennis insight was invaluable.

Bosch’s latest thrill boringly by the book

Sleep is good, he said, and books are better. 

– George R.R. Martin

DRIES DE BEER

Guest Writer

 

 

Two kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly (Orion Books)

 

Two Kinds of TruthHarry Bosch has been with us for a long time.

This the 23rd book in the series and I have not read all of them.

Bosch is now in his mid-60s, semi-retired and working cold cases for the San Fernando police department. The current cold case is more of a missing person case. A mother disappeared leaving behind a husband and a baby. Her body was never found.

Bosch’s current office is a police cell and his table a door that he scrounged from somewhere and placed across two stacks of file boxes.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is lurking in the background and the action starts when they re-open an old case of Bosch when newly-discovered DNA evidence now shows that an innocent man has been imprisoned by the seasoned detective. The suspicion is that either Bosch or his now dead partner planted evidence to get a conviction.

Bosch naturally is very sure that he had the right man sent to jail but the Conviction Integrity Unit has other views; they work old cases but unlike Bosch, it is not unsolved cases, but rather badly solved ones.

Just as the LAPD is trying to get Bosch back in court, a double homicide happens at a local pharmacy and the detective gets roped in.

The police investigation about the wrongful conviction drives the timeline and Bosch must juggle his time between the double homicide, the cold case of the missing mother and the pending investigation and possible overturning of one of his old cases.

The Lincoln Lawyer, Harry Bosch’s brother in law and his motorcycle-riding sidekick, also make an appearance in the book, racing in to help Harry and his wrongful conviction case.

So, there is a small legal drama on the side with the Lincoln lawyer providing at least some sense of drama while Bosch’s other investigative ventures appear to be pretty much by the book.

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Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch. Check Universal Channel (DStv 117) for updates on broadcast dates. Photographer Jennifer Clasen and Amazon Studios

The double homicide leads to an undercover job for Bosch as he tries to unmask an opioid drug ring in order to find the gunmen who killed the two people in the pharmacy. This also kicks the story into the current addiction crisis in the US, and perhaps more could have been made of this.

While the opioid drug smuggling and abuse is very current and interesting, the drug bosses are portrayed stereotypically as Eastern Europeans and Russians cast as invincible and without feeling for corrupt drug runners.

Connelly is an accomplished writer and this is an easy read. But it lacked suspense. The perpetrators are revealed early on and the only mystery is how Bosch has been conned into an unlawful conviction.

I have to confess that I read this book while trawling through an awfully repetitive and at times, boring biography and I needed a break. Connelly’s crime thriller provided the breathing space, but no more than that. Perhaps the Harry Bosch genre has been over-traded and perhaps, dare I say it, it is time that he is put out to pasture.

I dread to think about the last cold case that Bosch will have to unravel. He may be using a zimmer frame by then.

 

 

 

Love in a Heatwave

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.
― Jorge Luis Borges

DIANE DE BEER

Three very different love stories in three marvellous books are perfect to start off your year.

Atomic Weight of LoveFirst dip into what might be the more traditional story, published in 2016, magically titled The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church (4th Estate).

 

It’s intriguing and the title has significance as the backdrop is Los Alamos where scientists worked on the development of the atomic bomb.

The cover notes also divulge that the author is a lawyer who was born in Los Alamos and lives there now, which explains her interest but also the fact that she’s writing from within a world she has experienced herself.

But the title referring to that era when atomic bombs were still under the radar, also points to a young woman with a burgeoning career who falls in love with her professor two decades her senior and sacrifices her future to nurture his career.

She lives in a time when women are just beginning to question their submission. While at the beginning of her marriage, the stars in her eyes propel her in a direction which she later battles with, it is also the complete acceptance of her husband that she should sacrifice her desires to fulfill his that leads to her disillusionment.

It’s the old, old story for women and what makes it gripping even now is that while we cannot argue that we have come a long way, with the current #MeToo so overwhelming, it really is two steps forward and four back – all the time – still. And while that’s sad, women in the workplace anywhere will not be surprised.

That’s why even this one set almost 80 years ago, still has such relevance. It’s a story of a woman’s awakening, finding herself and a life that she wants to lead as she takes control of her own life, listens to what she really wants and sets out to find it.

in-the-midst-of-winterIsabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter (Scribner) veers off into a completely different universe. For those of us who have loved her since the magic realism days of Eva Luna and House of Spirits, her amazing storytelling qualities might sometimes teeter on the brink of soap opera but her writing is of a quality that pulls it back just at the right time.

And this one has a movie quality in which I can almost see the Coen brothers do something quirky as an unexpected friendship blossoms between three people who are unexpectedly thrown at each other by circumstances.

Richard Bowmaster is a lonely university professor in his 60s who unexpectedly slides his car into the car driven by a young undocumented migrant from Guatemala, Evelyn Ortega, in one of the worst snowstorms experienced in Brooklyn in living memory.

That’s a handful already and in the background, moving centre of the story, is Chilean academic, Lucia Maraz, which is where this love story ignites. She has been invited to teach in New York by the professor, but she has much more than her work in mind – yet he doesn’t budge. Then Ortega literally crashes into their lives which take a dramatic turn as they go on a thrilling road trip.

It’s made for the movies and a real page-turner in the best sense of the word. As always, because Allende seems to have so much fun as she stretches the story, she takes you along on this whirlwind of a yarn that has you rooting for this band of adventurers who might not be operating strictly in the law but always with the best intentions and heart.

This is the perfect book if you want to start your year with some escapism while having huge fun along the way.

Standing ChandelierOn a more serious note but no less entertaining, Lionel Shriver will always test your mindset and where you are on issues as she is never simply telling a story. And of the three love stories, her The Standing Chandelier (The Borough Press) is perhaps the most intriguing.

Weston Babansky and Jillian Frisk are best friends which all works out wonderfully for the two of these sometime lovers until Weston falls in love and a triangle comes into play.

It’s that age-old question. Can men and women truly be friends? Just friends? Or is there always something else at play on some level.? For the two friends, their friendship might appear innocent – after all, they have tried the other thing and it didn’t work out.

But for the third party, things are never that simple. It is all these issues and more that Shriver explores so magnificently – that and of course some other modern and moral dilemmas that are swirling about.

That’s always what makes her storytelling so enticing. She lives now, she approaches the world in that way and she dissects and discusses what she experiences around her.

It’s going to be fascinating when she gets to what is happening with #MeToo and how it is expanding in all kinds of directions with women finding a voice to tackle different dilemmas.

With this one, she dips in and out of different issues but at the heart of the novel is the nature of friendship and how it impacts the lives of so many when two people find a meeting of minds that they might think is sacred and non-negotiable.

As always, even in what is best described as a novella (only 122 pages), Shriver digs deep and takes you to places you wouldn’t have imagined to best solve what she has determined is her current theme(s).

Shriver fans will be mesmerised.