NANCY RICHARDS brings you five more terrific books to transport you through the lonely days of lockdown. These isolation reads cover the gamut from fiction to non-fiction and there is something here for everyone, even if it is the collection of SA writers that make up the one bonus book, HOT off the production line.
If you like this you may also like: Reading in Isolation: 5 Recommended reads Part 1
THE LONG JOURNEY OF POPPIE NONGENA by Elsa Joubert (Jonathan Ball)
ISBN: 9781868429769 ISBN ebook: 9781868429776
Written in 1978, originally in Afrikaans, this iconic book tells the story of a Xhosa woman whose life over 40 years epitomises the hardship that apartheid visited upon so many. Aside from being declared one of the most important books to be published in Africa of the 20th century and having more recently been made into a movie, it is a phenomenon of a work. How many hours must Elsa Joubert have spent talking to the ‘real’ Poppie, a woman that she knew, to extract her memories in such telling and tender detail, as well as to members of her family, immediate, extended and clansmen, who colour in in layer upon layer of experience. The mix of first-person, third-person narrative is an indicator of the closeness with which each voice was heard. Poppie’s long journey began in 1936 in Upington, her birthplace, taking her to Lambert’s Bay, Cape Town and the Ciskei in circumstances no one should endure. Back in Cape Town of the 70’s, it closes with what it felt like to be in the thick of the chilling ‘revolt of the children’. Finally, it is a testimony to the power of family, spirit, courage and love – and an eye-opener for those not familiar with Xhosa tradition. Joubert herself translated the book into vivid English, it was subsequently translated into 13 other languages. It is both South Africa’s pride and its shame.
PEACOCKS & PICATHARTES: Reflections on Africa’s Birdlife by Rupert Watson (Struik Nature)
ISBN: 9781775845607 ISBN ebook: 9781775845614
‘I hope that bird enthusiasts who have no idea what either ‘sympatric’ or allopreening’ means will find the text informative and entertaining and for those for whom the words are part of their everyday vocabulary will enjoy it too.’ Thus Rupert Watson, lawyer and writer with a lifelong fascination for birds, intends this book for all Africa’s twitchers. On the informative side, the Picathartes or rockfowl found in tropical rainforests of Central or West Africa are iconic ‘long, leggy birds, which bound in huge hops along the ground like miniature kangaroos‘. The entertainment factor is in colourful description, like the Hadedah who as well as their inimitable ‘mocking laughter of fairy-tale witches’ also ‘utter a comforting hiss to one another’ as well as ‘an affectionate bill rattling’ while nest building. Despite covering all Africa, South African wingers feature strongly. Like the ostrich whose plumes decorated the headgear of the Romans and Crusders as well as the hats, hair and necks of later wives – and the ubiquitous Hammerkop who ‘uses a gang of other unemployed Hamerkops to do construction work on his nest’, Guinea fowl, Secretarybirds, African eagle et al. Interesting to learn that Andrew Smith, British surgeon posted to Grahamstown in the 1820’s, collected and described over 70 bird species and became first curator of the South African Museum. And the tale of how over 20 years American ornotholigist James Chapin came to find and name the Congo Peacock is fascinating.
CHANGING A LEOPARD’S SPOTS: The Adventures of Two Wildlife Trackers by Alex van den Heever & Renias Mhlongo (Pan Macmillan)
ISBN: 9781770106987 ISBN ebook: 9781770106994
‘I will find’. Renais Mhlongo’s approach to tracking is simple. Boyd Varty describes him as ‘in constant creative response to his environment.’ Alex van den Heever’s is more wordy, ‘the idea of being a driver guide never sat well with me as I wanted to experience the bushveld more intimately…walking on foot…gave me a sense of unfiltered immersion in nature.’ Understandably van den Heever says ‘Cultural differences often caused tension in the early years of our relationship.’ But since then they have both, actively and through experience, come to understand and respect one another’s ways. Like tracking these things take time. This book tracks their twenty-year journey from the first awkward assignment together at Londolozi in search of the Tugwaan leopard for some especially demanding Canadian guests, through to their founding of the Tracker Academy and worldwide presentations on ‘The Power of Relationships.’ A game-changer was Renias invitation for Alex to visit Dixie, his home village, ‘before…I had lived by a falsely created narrative….that weekend educated me in a way that has had a lasting effect.’ It also takes us through their personal histories, into the minds of poachers, on tracking trips to unfamiliar foreign lands as well as deep into the bush right here in South Africa in compelling detail.
THE UPSIDE OF DOWN: How Chaos and Uncertainty Breed Opportunity by Bruce Whitfield (Pan Macmillan)
ISBN: 9781770107250 ISBN ebooK: 9781770107267
Financial journalist may be his professional handle, but Bruce Whitfield, voice of 702’s The Money Show and face of enca’s Taking Stock has a range that stretches way beyond the economy. Steeling myself for immersion education on business, inflation, shares, bulls and bears I was astonished to find myself learning simple truths in this book. Like that unequal really means unfair and ‘there is no country that was born rich’, that 3% of South Africa’s schools produce 98% of matric mathematics distinctions and that a failure is simply a problem looking for a solution. His skill lies in cutting through the, um crap, applying perspective – and above all in storytelling. His anecdotes, for example around his father’s lost half-a-crown are infinitely memorable, his recall of the detail he’s gleaned from interviewees over the years impressive, and his influence far-reaching. He cites, with some modesty, his best day ever on receiving a letter from a long-term dedicated listener which opens, ‘Hi Bruce, I wanted to share with you how you helped me transition into business’, closing with ‘I have moved from selling cigarettes for 90c each to discussing financial-inclusion interventions for entire communities with budgets that run into millions. Warm regards Owen Muzambi CEO Driven’ You can’t make this sort of thing up. A breath of fresh thought in an atmosphere of gloom.
A CHILDHOOD MADE UP: Living with my mothers’ madness by Brent Meersman (Tafelberg)
ISBN: 9780624089391 ISBN ebook: 9780624089407
How long does a person live with a painful personal story before the time is right to tell it? At what point Brent Meersman decided it was the moment to release the anguish of his poor and troubled childhood, who knows, but it must have taken Herculean strength and a marathon of self and memory searching to finally lay this ghost, this piece of his own history, to rest. His mother’s mental health, schizophrenia or ‘madness’ defined his and his family’s lives. Mixed with his downtrodden, depressed father’s alcoholism, it was a recipe for a messed up childhood which he escaped by, amongst other things, overachieving at school, and by writing – penning adventure books from the age of ten. But whilst his mother’s wayward mind caused untold emotional difficulty for a young devoted child, her once-questing creative energy, her love of culture and Greek mythology clearly influenced his own broad range of knowledge. Her diaries also gave him even deeper insight into her experience and condition. Whilst he was forced to ‘make up’ his childhood, his levels of empathy and understanding are very real. It is moving that much later after her passing he arranged a retrospective exhibition of her paintings, framed, professionally lit and hung. A journalist now, this is not Meersman’s first book, but certainly his most poignant and courageous. There is much in it to be learned about many things, not least care and acceptance.
BONUS BOOK – Lightning quick off the mark…..
LOCKDOWN: The Corona Chronicles by 17 authors from the stable of Melinda Ferguson Books
The first Corona book to be released in South Africa, LOCKDOWN captures the intense mood of these unprecedented times, through a tapestry of brilliant local voices, delivering individual and insightful stories from the COVID19 front. Penned by 17 of maverick publisher, Melinda Ferguson’s best-loved authors, this collection reflects a historical time of panic, pandemic and
pandemonium. Just like the virus pounced unannounced, it’s been billed as “the fastest book in history every written by 17 authors in just 7 days”. On the brink of catastrophe and
lost in a viral fog, what better time for a bunch of isolated writers to try and make sense of it all. It’s even hilarious in places! Authors are: Prof Pumla Dineo Gqola, Eva Mazza, Lindiwe Hani, Ben Trovato, SaraJayne Makwala King, Helena Kriel, Tracy Going, KellyEve Koopman, Prof Ismail Lagardien, Steven Boykey Sidley, Sam Cowen, Gabi Lowe, Letshego Zulu, Christy Chilimigras,
Dave Muller, Robert Hamblin & Melinda Ferguson