If you love reading there has probably been no time in your life more ideal for your hobby than lockdown. Here are a few relatively new South African books that we think you might find interesting.
Writing the Ancestral River
If the great rivers of the world, from the Mississippi and the Yangtze, to the Ganges and the Congo, have been dammed, domesticated, diverted and polluted, what chance does a little river like the Kowie stand? Rising outside Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) and emptying into the sea near Port Alfred, it once ran red with blood during clashes between the Xhosa and British colonisers, had its course altered to offer safe harbour to sailing ships and, more recently, was dredged to create an upmarket marina for the elite. A professor of sociology, Jacklyn Cock deftly traces the impact of humans on a river she has loved all her life and uses it to raise bigger questions about colonisation, capitalism, the effect of development on the ecology and the link between social and environmental injustice. In doing so, she takes a critical look at her own roots: her 1820 settler ancestor, William Cock, was the driving force behind developing the harbour at the mouth of the Kowie River. Cock uses a small river to tell a big story. It takes courage to examine one’s own roots with such clarity, honesty and style. It’s a biography with a difference that all South Africans would do well to read.
Author: Jacklyn Cock Reviewer: Marion Whitehead Publisher: Wits University Press Price: R350
In the Jaws of the Crocodile
It is the stuff political thrillers are made of. An increasingly unhooked first lady wants the deputy president out of her way. He narrowly escapes death by poisoning. Then she gets her aged husband to turn on his long-time comrade and fire him. The ex-deputy has to get out of the country fast. He knows that if caught he will be jailed, given a lethal injection and have it announced that he had killed himself by hanging. He has been on the inside for years. He knows how it works. Treachery is in the air as a daring escape gets staged.
A wealthy Johannesburg-based compatriot sends his plane to the rescue. Back home the situation unravels as army tanks roll in. Jubilant masses take to the streets. In their palatial home the presidential couple know not what to make of it all. It takes a priest to talk sense into the old despot. His former deputy returns to take over. His destructive reign is finally at an end. Still a long-suffering nation waits.
Author: Ray Ndlovu Reviewer: Leon Marshall Publisher: Penguin Random House Price: R250 ISBN: 978-1-77609-348-9
A Tree for the Birds
Vernon Head has taken his passion for birds to another level in this beautiful story, with a strong ecological message. A boy, Chrisnelt, experiences great loss in a city that is struggling to find its way and identity in a global landscape. He is striving to find answers to his loss through planting a tree and garden for it in a dry city suffering from great drought on the edge of the Congo River, watering the garden a handful at a time. As the garden grows, he learns that trees need water, river mud, fallen leaves, earthworms, insects, birds and weeds.
He learns of the water cycle, how the distant forests make the rain that feeds the mighty river and the true value of large trees. He feels the interconnectedness of all things. While planting a garden constrained by high walls for Pastor Kadazi, he comes to realise that Africa is a place of strange boundaries, each country an island, yet affected by far-away places like China, plastic, cellphones and greed, and believes the boundaries can disintegrate through growing gardens that are connected to each other and to the river.
Author: Vernon RL Head Reviewer: Tania Anderson Publisher: Jacana Media Price: R260 ISBN: 978-1-43142-565-5
Theo & Flora
When life presents you with a dusty box of forgotten letters, you can leave them in the annals of the past or pore through and spin them into a golden tale. It took him a few years, but Mark Winkler did the latter. The authors of the real-life letters in question were Theo, Mark’s father-in-law’s father, and his lover Flora. Dated between December 1944 and July 1948 they were penned in turbulent times – the end of WWII and the birth of apartheid – but the lovers only had words for each other. Winkler reimagines the unlucky couples’ lives together – or more often apart – and in the driving seat of the discovery of said letters he has placed the failing writer Charlie Wasserman whose A-type wife has left him with the house, a grumpy dachshund named Troilus and more possessions than he wants or needs. Among them, a box of correspondence.
Wasserman, ‘being Wasserman’ gets stuck in the dusty letters, telegrams and telexes with their old paper and illicit passion, and becomes obsessed with the idea of writing a story around them. Coincidence? Not really, but far too subtle a writer to be so obvious, the witty, worldy and well-read Winkler has painted irresistible portraits around the players in the book. He takes them, in their respective time zones, to places like Paris, or sometimes more familiar like Knysna or Hermanus, but you remain intimately involved every step of the way, complete with cued music and sound effects.
Author: Mark Winkler Reviewer: Nancy Richards Publisher: Umuzi ISBN: 978-1-41521-019-2 Price: R250