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Launch: Set a Table by Karen Dudley (20 November)

Mother City foodies! Join Karen Dudley in conversation with Ming-Cheau Lin as she launches her latest scrumptious offering, Set a Table – Tuesday, 20 November (5:30 PM for 6 PM) at the Book Lounge. Yum!

Event Details

Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body

Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare.

For reasons that include her grim financial prospects and her age, she moves to a widow’s boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher.

But at every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.

In This Mournable Body, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival.

As a last resort, Tambudzai takes an ecotourism job that forces her to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead. This homecoming, in Dangarembga’s tense and psychologically charged novel, culminates in an act of betrayal, revealing just how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

About the author

Tsitsi Dangarembga is the author of two previous novels, including Nervous Conditions, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She is also a filmmaker, playwright and the director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa Trust. She lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Read an extract from Dangarembga’s latest literary tour de force here:

You climb out after Christine when the combi stops at Copacabana. She steers you eastward over a cavernous pavement in silence for the rest couple of hundred metres.

“He became quite rich,” she says in the end, as an afterthought. “It turns out he was good at what they called doing business. That’s what they called it after Independence. You know,” she observes, “it is better to call it April 18. What do we really know about independence? Maybe that it was just for people like my uncle.”

Her voice is sad now, rather than scornful, as she divulges how VaManyanga soon purchased a new dwelling in an area further to the city’s north, from another white person who was also departing to New Zealand, where there was not, nor could ever be – since all the earlier nations had been eradicated – any talk of indigenising anything.

It turns out that, just like you, everyone had applauded VaManyanga’s achievements. No one queried anything. Relatives and colleagues alike praised the way the newly independent businessman had turned his inheritance into hard currency and deposited it safely in a bank on the Isle of Man.

“What did they want? Of course, to borrow my uncle’s money from him,” Christine snorts. You shake your head and suck your teeth, genuinely outraged on behalf of your companion’s uncle.

“He was too shrewd. I admit he was clever,” shrugs your companion. “So hardly anybody got anything. So what did they start saying? That all that money he made could never just come from hard work, but that he had some wicked, blood-drinking goblins. So some of them started trying to find out what muti my uncle was using. Some wanted to neutralise it with stronger medicine, others wanted to use it themselves. More than one mouth said his charms contained pieces of kidnapped children’s bodies.”

As she mentions this, Christine confirms her uncle was the sort of man who might well have gone so far as taking the children’s parts to South Africa for sale or for imbuing with magical properties, or that he could very well have buried the organs in places where he wanted to establish further ZPNB depots.

VaManyanga, though, you find out to your satisfaction, did not let rumours derail his upward mobility.

He soon purchased more properties and moved out of his second home to enjoy a grander lifestyle. Visits to the village where their niece lived became less frequent. Christine tells you she was comfortable with that, as she had ceased to either like or respect her relatives.

Understanding with some impatience that Christine is speaking not only about the Manyangas, but about all people who harbour the same intense cravings for advancement, “This came with the war,” you say. “All of it. Nobody ever did things like that before you people went to Mozambique and went about doing what you know you did.”

“There is nothing any freedom fighter did,” your companion says, “that people didn’t do in the villages. You know they started doing those things themselves very easily. And all of them are carrying on. Me, when the war ended, I swore I would find something to do with my own hands. I pledged I won’t do that kind of thing anymore. No matter what happens.”

With this Christine walks ahead briskly, bringing you soon to the disco, whose vibrations curtail further talking. She talks her way past the outsize bouncers at the club door, who look you over, objecting with pointed questions to two women entering the club unaccompanied.

Down in the basement with the strobe going too fast and the music pumping a hallucinogenic rhythm, your companion surveys the room, weaves through dancers and tables to prop her elbows on the bar.

She gives the solitary man beside her a sidelong glance, demonstrating how to extract all the booze you want from men without having any parts of your body grabbed.

You discover you are good at it. It is marvellous to be good at something. You haven’t been good at much in a long time. Even the things you were good at, your education, your copywriting at the advertising agency – in fact one and the same thing – have in the end conspired against you, handing out a sentence of isolation.

Soon you are too drunk to think of anything but downing more.

While you drain glass after glass of vodka, Christine starts taking liquor with every second or third glass of Mazoe.

You lurch into a woman on your way back from the toilet. The woman has spiky hair. Her skin is white.

“Mind!” she says, setting her drink on a table, wiping dripping fingers on the back of her jeans.

You stare at her, your eyes attempting to focus. When the image is as clear as it is going to get: “Tracey!” you bellow.

“Excuse me?” says the white woman, giving you a tolerant smile.

“I know you,” you tell her. “I used to work for you. And we went to school together. Are you going to pretend?” you crescendo. “You know you know me.”

Even as you speak, you are aware this person is not that particular white woman, the executive from the advertising agency who schemed with her fellow white people to steal the ideas you sweated over and produced for copy.

With this knowledge, the hole in the universe yawns wide in front of you again and the woman who knows better than the one you hear roaring disappears into its depths. Making yourself as large as you can, you scream, “Don’t pretend with me, Tracey!”

“Katrin,” the woman responds, backing away. “Katrin.”

“Both,” you insist. “I mean, you’re my boss. From the advertising.”

The woman takes a deep breath.

“Not me,” she says, exhaling sharply.

“Liar!”


She moves away onto the dance floor, joining a multiracial pocket of people, complexions ranging from ebony to pale marble. You follow her. She ignores you. You hear someone talking loudly, telling you she is not the woman who employed you at the advertising agency. You know this sensible voice is located in your brain. You don’t listen to it.

“You are lying. That’s what you are doing,” you keep shouting. As you shout you lunge. The white woman sees you coming. She dodges round you and you fall into a trio of dancers. Bracing themselves on their platform shoes, tossing their weaves, “Get away,” they shout, shoving you from one to the other.

The men from the door surge onto the dance floor. They clamp the flesh of your upper arm in their fingers, asking which you prefer, calming down and being reasonable or being prohibited. They have, however, reckoned without Christine.

Your companion plants her fists on her hips and informs the bouncers she is an Independence struggle ex-combatant, Moscow trained, and she can see half a dozen others still in fighting form around the bar; nor does it matter if some are not actually Soviet alumni but were trained in China, they are all comrades and fighters.

In spite of Christine’s intervention, the bouncers keep holding on to your arm, saying they are hired to end things; that when out-of-control women start beginning their messes with peaceful dancers, that is what they are ending. So Christine tells them you are under control and heaves you up the stairs and out onto the street.

You refuse to walk. Christine drags you away from the club.

You shout more and more loudly for her to release you. When she doesn’t, you scream that you will be damned if you ever go anywhere with her again. While you fling abuse at her, Christine manoeuvres you to the nearest bus stop.

She props you up on the termite-eaten bench, pushes a dollar note into your jeans pocket and tells you to take the first combi travelling towards Mai Manyanga’s.

Book details

Launch – Dimitri Tsafendas: The Man Who Killed Apartheid by Harris Dousemetzis (8 November)

 
In the South African House of Assembly, on 6 September 1966, Dimitri Tsafendas stabbed to death Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd.

Afterwards, Tsafendas was declared to be a schizophrenic who believed a tapeworm lived inside him which controlled his actions, and that he had no political motive for assassinating Verwoerd. Pronounced unfit to stand trial, Tsafendas went down in history as a deranged parliamentary messenger.

For fifty years, this story prevailed. However, this book now reveals the truth about Tsafendas; that he was deeply political from an early age.

He was arrested numerous times, starting in Mozambique, the country of his birth.

In Portugal, the security police opened a file on him in 1938, when he was aged only twenty. After the assassination, Tsafendas volunteered a series of incontestable political reasons for killing Verwoerd, but these, along with details of his political past, were never allowed to see the light of day.

This book reveals the extent of the cover-up by South Africa’s authorities and the desperate lengths they went to conceal the existence of Tsafendas’s opposition to apartheid.

The book exposes one of the great lies in South African history, that Verwoerd was murdered by a mad man. It also offers for the first time a complete biography of this extraordinary man.

Advocate George Bizos characterised Dousemetzis’s work on Tsafendas and Verwoerd’s assassination as ‘monumental’ and of being ‘of major historical importance for South Africa and as to our understanding of Verwoerd’s assassination’.

Professor John Dugard said ‘South African history should know the truth about Tsafendas. Dousemetzis has done South Africa a service by correcting the historical record.’

Event Details

Launch: Everyone is Present by Terry Kurgan (14 November)

In this book, Kurgan begins with a family snapshot made by her Polish grandfather in 1939 on the eve of the war. Presenting this evocative image as a repository of multiple histories – public, private, domestic, familial and generational – she sets off on a series of meditations on photography that give us startling insights into how photographs work: what they conceal, how they mislead, what provocations they contain.

Terry will be in discussion with Professor Gerrit Olivier (Wits School of Arts).

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 14 November 2018
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Love Books, The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre, 53 Rustenburg Rd, Melville | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Gerrit Olivier
  • RSVP: kate@lovebooks.co.za
     

    Book Details

Launch: Confronting Apartheid by John Dugard (6 November)

South Africa achieved notoriety for its apartheid policies and practices both in the country and in Namibia.

Today Israel stands accused of applying apartheid in the Palestinian territories it has occupied since 1967. Confronting Apartheid examines the regimes of these three societies from the perspective of the author’s experiences as a human rights lawyer in South Africa and Namibia and as a UN human rights envoy in occupied Palestine.

Most personal histories of apartheid in Southern Africa tell the story of the armed struggle.

This book is about opposition to apartheid within the law and through the law.

The successes and failures of civil society and lawyers in this endeavour are described in the context of the discriminatory and oppressive regime of apartheid.

The author’s own experiences in Namibia and South Africa serve to illustrate the injustices of the regime and the avenues left to lawyers to advance human rights within the law. The end of apartheid and the transition to democracy are also described through the experiences of the author.

The book concludes with an account of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank and the author’s work as human rights investigator and reporter for the United Nations.

This involves the examination of issues such as the construction of Jewish settlements, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the restrictions on freedom of movement and the attacks on the life and liberty of Palestinians which the author argues constitute an oppressive regime falling within the definition of apartheid under international law.

A separate chapter is devoted to the situation in Gaza which was closely monitored by the author for nearly a decade.

Namibia, South Africa and Palestine are dealt with separately with introductions designed to ensure that the reader is provided with the necessary historical, political and legal background material.

Event Details

Read an excerpt from David Bristow’s The Game Ranger, the Knife, the Lion and the Sheep: 20 Tales about Curious Characters from Southern Africa

The Game Ranger, the Knife, the Lion and the Sheep offers spellbinding stories of some amazing, little-known characters from South Africa, past and very past.

Let us introduce you to some of the characters you’ll meet inside. Starting with Krotoa, the Khoi maiden who is found working in the Van Riebeeck household as both servant and interpreter.

In time she becomes the concubine of Danish surgeon Pieter Van Meerhoff and later his wife.

Then there is Mevrou Maria Mouton who preferred to socialise with the slaves than her husband on their farm in the Swartland. It was with these slaves that she conspired to murder him.

What became of them is … best those gory details are glossed over for now.

And the giant Trekboer Coenraad de Buys – rebel, renegade, a man with a price on his head who married many women (none of them white) and fathered a small nation.

The explorer Lichtenstein called him a modern-day Hercules.

Then there are the men of learning and insight, such as Raymond Dart and Adrian Boshier, who opened up the world of myth and ancient artefacts so we now better understand the ancients and the world they created for us to inherit.

Or James Kitching who broke open rocks in the Karoo to reveal creatures that inhabited this region long before even Africa was born. And so, without further ado, we give you our selection of stories about remarkable characters from the veld.

These stories will excite, entertain and enthral you! You will finish reading them wishing you had more!

George Mossop – Running the Gauntlet

A life lived to the fullest on the open veld

The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 is remembered almost entirely for two battles. The most famous one was at Isandhlwana where a Zulu impi inflicted a humiliating blow on a rear detachment of Lord Chelmsford’s grand imperial army. The second was a follow-up engagement later that day and all that night at Rork’s Drift store and field hospital where a rag-tag assortment of reinforcements, storemen, medics and the wounded put up a most heroic defence.

Whether before a battle, or an international rugby game at Ellis Park, the opening lyrics of the Juluka classic “Impi”, cool the blood and raise the hair on one’s arms.

Impi! Wo’ nans impi iyeza.

Obani benanthinta amabubesi?

War! O here comes war.

Who here can touch the lions?

However, the war that followed was no mere two-day event, lasting some six months with many other battles and skirmishes. At least as bloody and humiliating for the British forces as Isandhlwana was the battle of Hlobane Mountain. George Mossop, a sixteen-year-old British subject of South African birth, was among those who fought there. His recounting of the action, as well as the events in his life that led up to it, is one of South Africa’s best least-known sagas.

George Joseph Mossop was born near Durban or what was then Port Natal, in the Colony of Natal in the early 1860s. He spent his youth running barefoot in the veld around Umvoti where he was supposed to be attending the village school.

“Wanderlust was in my blood,” he wrote in his memoirs in 1930, using all the scraps he’d written throughout his extraordinarily adventurous life to bolster his memory. In 1875, at the age of fourteen, he left home and set off for the Transvaal where, he understood, the real wilds of Africa could still be found.

“I became a product of the veld and the wide spaces to which I still cling, for I have never lived in a town or near one.”

In 1937, the year before he died, when he wrote a preface to his notes he admitted he had never been to the cinema or seen a circus, although he had once seen an aeroplane sailing the sky like an eagle, “though no bird ever kicked up such a fiendish row”.

His first year of freedom was spent with a party of Boers shooting game for their skins and to make biltong.

The Eastern Transvaal Highveld, now Mpumalanga, was the last refuge of the huge herds of game that once covered the entire grassland biome in tens and hundreds of thousands. Before the arrival of white hunters the Highveld would have hosted a wildlife spectacle far exceeding the now more famous Serengeti Plains.

The region was also covered in wetlands where waterfowl gathered in vast flocks, and great numbers of other birds nested in the extensive reed beds. However, one by one the reed beds were burned to convert the land for grazing. The birds moved off, never to return, and neither did most of the wetlands.

When his hunting party reached the main body of the game migration near present-day Ermelo, the Boers made camp without any hint of haste – they had done this many times before. The Good Lord would provide. Oxen were unyoked, horses knee-haltered, tents pitched, fires made, then coffee and rusks were handed round. The game was on.

Mossop said of the migration: “The scene which met my eyes the next morning is beyond my power to describe. Game, game everywhere, as far as the eye could see – all on the move, grazing.”

It seemed to the inexperienced lad that the game appeared not to be moving but that the Earth itself was carrying the vast herd of animals along with it. As he watched he realised that within the great herd were smaller groups of specific species: a herd of some five hundred black wildebeest moved towards the wagons, stopped, wheeled as one with their heads facing the shooting camp, then up went their white tails and off they moved. Then another, several thousand strong.

Next came a group of about two hundred quaggas, which were called “the zebra of the bush veld”. Mossop describes them as being taller, of lighter colour and shaggier than their more common brothers. They charged towards the wagons and came to a stop about sixty metres distant, their hooves ploughing into the ground.

Their innate inquisitiveness made them easy to shoot and the writer reckoned this was likely the last of their kind to be seen anywhere.

There were also hundreds of thousands each of blesbok and springbok. Mossop was awed, rendered speechless by the scene, but the Boers calmly went about the business of readying for the slaughter as if it were just another day’s work, stretching riems between the wagons and poles on which hides and meat would be hung.

What must the country have looked like, Mossop pondered, before the shooting had begun decades earlier? Black wildebeest moved past them at a canter, hour after hour, making speech all but impossible.

The men shot and shot and shot until they could shoot no more. At one point he asked the leader of the group, “old man Visagie”, if he did not think it wrong to slaughter all the game to the verge of extinction.

“Can you tell me, Mister Heathen,” came the stern reply, “what good this game is doing, running wild over the veld? You dare to say that the Lord did not know what he was doing when He placed them here. It is a sin to listen to such words. Never use them again in my presence.”

A year later, in 1879, the Zulu War flared up so the sixteen-year-old George rode back to Natal to sign up for duty with the Frontier Light Horse (FLH), a rag-tag group of self-equipped colonials that was modeled on the Boer commando system.

Mossop’s Bushman companion of the previous year, Gerswent, pleaded with him not to leave. The wrinkled old man said the British had no hope of beating the mighty Zulus. He had seen the British, he said, stripping naked early in the morning in winter and washing in a river. They even put their heads under the water!

The young adventurer’s journey to join up with Colonel Wood’s column took him on a tortuous route back across the Highveld and down to the Lowveld.

He got caught in a storm on the Berg escarpment near Utrecht and he and his Basuto pony, Warrior, had to brave a night of wind and driving rain “camping” – hiding behind a rock until dawn came and the storm let up.

“Although my pony was only a few feet from me, I could not see him, so thick was the darkness, but I knew that he was standing there with his tail to the blast.”

Moans and groans seemed to grip the mountainside, rushing sounds becoming ever louder until they seemed to be upon the miserable young man. When a reedbuck appeared out of the squall and let out a shrill whistle, the man crawled up close to his pony for comfort. In his day people did not prepare padkos but took whatever they had to hand. Then it was usually just a strip of biltong. Mossop finished his while sheltering behind that rock in the storm.

On 6 January 1879 he crossed the Ncome River (site of the earlier pivotal battle of Blood River between the Boers and Zulu army in the time of King Dingane) and caught up with the British army just inside Zululand: endless wagons, teams of oxen, whips cracking, drivers yelling, horsemen galloping to and fro, general bedlam.

The procedure for joining went something like this:

Officer to lad:

“That your horse?”

“Yes, sir.”

“That your saddle and bridle?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can you shoot?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Where did you learn?”

“In the Transvaal, sir, with the Boers, shooting game.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen, sir.” (What was one year’s difference?)

“See him equipped, sergeant, and put him in a good tent.”

One seasoned soldier tried with some persistence to warn him to turn around and head back to from wherever he had come. The officer in charge of the Frontier Light Horse was Major Redvers Buller, later the general who led the British army at the beginning of the Anglo-Boer War when it got its imperial nose bloodied by General Louis Botha’s Boers on the Natal Front.

About the author

David Bristow grew up on the Highveld, north of Johannesburg.

Dreams of becoming an architect took a sharp turn on 16 June 1976 when “the other side” of Johannesburg seemed to suddenly go up in smoke. He resigned that day and went to study journalism at Rhodes University.

Just a few years into working as a journalist back in Johannesburg he did another 180 and resigned, this time to research and write his first book, Mountains of Southern Africa. It was an unexpected commercial success. Once again bags were packed, this time to read for a master’s degree in environmental sciences in Cape Town.

Some 20 coffee-table style books later (in between which there was a longish stint as editor of Getaway travel magazine), he decided to do what he really always wanted to: write paperback narratives about southern Africa. His first in the series of Stories from the Veld was Running Wild: The Story of Zulu, an African Stallion. This is the second.

Book details

Launch: Born To Kwaito by Esinako Ndabeni and Sihle Mthembu (25 October)

Born To Kwaito considers the meaning of kwaito music now. ‘Now’ not only as in ‘after 1994’ or the Truth Commission but as a place in the psyche of black people in post-apartheid South Africa.

This collection of essays tackles the changing meaning of the genre after its decline and its ever-contested relevance. Through rigorous historical analysis as well as threads of narrative journalism Born To Kwaito interrogates issues of artistic autonomy, the politics of language in the music, and whether the music is part of a strand within the larger feminist movement in South Africa.

Candid and insightful interviews from the genre’s foremost innovators and torchbearers, such as Mandla Spikiri, Arthur Mafokate, Robbie Malinga and Lance Stehr, provide unique historical context to kwaito music’s greatest highs, most captivating hits and most devastating lows. Born To Kwaito offers up a history of the genre from below by having conversations not only with musicians but with fans, engineers, photographers and filmmakers who bore witness to a revolution.

Living in a place between criticism and biography, Born To Kwaito merges academic theories and rigorous journalism to offer a new understanding into how the genre influenced other art forms such as fashion, TV and film. The book also reflects on how some of the music’s best hits have found new life through the mouths of local hip-hop’s current kingmakers and opened kwaito up to a new generation.

The book does not pretend to be an exhaustive history of the genre but rather a present-active analysis of that history as it settles and finds its meaning.

Event Details

Win a copy of Nthikeng Mohlele’s Rusty Bell and Small Things

Nthikeng Mohlele is one of the most accomplished authors South African literature has to offer. His work has received much praise from literacy critics, culminating in his last novel Pleasure winning the 2016 University of Johannesburg Main Prize for South African Writing in English as well as the 2017 K. Sello Duiker Memorial Prize at the South African Literary Awards.

Rusty Bell and Small Things introduce readers to his earlier work and give those already familiar with his work a chance to complete their Mohlele collection.

Rusty Bell

‘An intimate and effortless philosophical work that establishes Nthikeng Mohlele as, undoubtedly, one of our generation’s finest novelists.’ – Eusebius McKaiser

‘I wrestled with life and lost.’

So begins the story of Michael, a corporate lawyer known to his colleagues and associates as Sir Marvin, who picks his way – sometimes delicately but more often in his own blundering fashion – through the unfathomable intricacies that make up a life: love and anger, humility and ambition, trust and distrust, selfishness and selflessness.

Small Things

‘Behind this story of love, music and the eternal quest lies an artistic sensibility as generous as it is complex. The prose is rich in texture, the final effect melancholy and comic in equal proportions.’ – JM Coetzee

In this haunting tale of love and learning, the existential chaos of a life ravaged by circumstance takes on a rhythm of its own, one bound by loss and loneliness but also an intelligent awareness of self. Sometimes melancholy, sometimes brutal, occasionally funny and infuriating, a journalist-comrade-lover caught up in the shade and shadow of politics and social injustice faces treachery and betrayal on every level.

Nthikeng Mohlele was partly raised in Limpopo and Tembisa Township and attended the University of the Witwatersrand, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in dramatic art, publishing studies and African literature. He is the author of four critically acclaimed novels: The Scent of Bliss (2008), Small Things (2013), Rusty Bell (2014), Pleasure (2016) and Michael K (2018). In 2016 his book Pleasure won the University of Johannesburg Main Prize for South African Writing in English as well as the 2017 K. Sello Duiker Memorial Prize at the South African Literary Awards. It has also been long listed for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Three copies of both Rusty Bell and Small Things are up for grabs! To enter, simply answer the following question: Which local publishing company recently republished Rusty Bell and Small Things? Mail your answer to our editor, Mila de Villiers, before Thursday, 27 September (17:00): mila@book.co.za

The Scent of Bliss

Book details
The Scent of Bliss by Nthikeng Mohlele
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EAN: 9780795702761
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Small Things

Small Things by Nthikeng Mohlele
EAN: 9781431426638
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Rusty Bell

Rusty Bell by Nthikeng Mohlele
EAN: 9781431426645
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Pleasure

Pleasure by Nthikeng Mohlele
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EAN: 9781770104853
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Michael K

Michael K by Nthikeng Mohlele
EAN: 9781770104792
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Fiction Friday: read chapter one of Vernon Head’s A Tree for the Birds

In this long-awaited follow-up to his international success, The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World, Vernon Head once again reveals his mastery of the genre of nature writing. This time with a novel, A Tree for the Birds. In this remarkable book, Head captivates and enchants us as he tells of the adventures of Chrisnelt, Chaminda and Pastor Kadazi as they navigate deep into the mysterious world of the Congo River, the Great Dancing Road.

This story of a boy’s quest contains an urgent ecological message: a plea to break down the boundaries that humans impose on the world and to reconnect with the eternal, life-sustaining cycles of nature. Head offers a novel of profound beauty. Set in the heart of Africa, this powerful story at the edge of damnation bends a reflection of all of us through the eyes of a birdwatcher who sees wings fly like escaping leaves on streams of eternal water and air for all.

The book reveals Head’s deep love for nature and his penetrating and startling way of seeing birds. This story will fascinate birdwatchers, twitchers, bird lovers and birders-in-training alike.

Chapter One

The rain came to Chrisnelt as the softest stars, large drops landing in the street of dust. His imagination took each drop into his heart, bouncing and glittering in every colour. He counted the seconds between drops. He counted the drops becoming muddy dents and swelling brown circles in the sand. The patterns were slow and rhythmical, a breathing thing of delight. He began to run in leaping arcs below the heavens, his little arms outstretched, his thin fingers splayed like feathers and his pink nails twinkling. Around the tree he went in gentle wetness toward happiness, as only seven-year-old boys can go. And his long shadow rippled upon footprints and across the old walls of rust in a tail of joy. He laughed, following the spoor-line of his best friend, who was no longer on the ground, but now high in the middle of the brightest mango tree.

The tree was the only greenness in that world of corrugated iron and homemade bricks the colour of burnt earth: the rancid hue of soils passed through the bowels of an insect.

A tropical street in the late afternoon is often cooler than a house in those parts. The mists from the River at the edge of the City found their way between houses, up alleyways, over roofs and into the wide streets, whereas houses simply held heat. And so it was always good to have a veranda: a place that gave shade and a wooden stool or two. There were intermittent verandas along the street. Each was fringed with palm fronds held on the arms of ancient treetrunks bleached like bones, standing rhythmically and pattering swathes of shadow here and there in the dust. Wood had become scarce, no longer coming from the forest, a forest that seemed to get further and further away with the passing of every season. All the houses were very low, some sagging, some swelling at the sides as the dry walls crumbled, like rising ribs revealing lungs.

Chrisnelt’s street was a typical street, his house a typical house, although one of the few to have a wooden deck below the overhang of the veranda, and the only house to host bats in the eaves near the front door, swinging like little black flags of welcome. The Malotikas loved bats, as they loved all wild things; it was just their way. Mainly, it was Mr Malotika’s way, since his youth far up the River. Along the house-fronts on both sides of the street lay concrete culverts filled with sewage, flowing with flies. Dogs drank occasionally from these edges, as did the little birds after bathing in hot sand that seemed to bubble. Below the house, buried like a corpse under the linoleum, lay the hard mud of a previous house made by unknown owners, and below that, the crushed pieces of a forest that was now charcoal.

Yet within the dirt, and deep inside all the browns – as with anything fertile – lay hope and life, and the unknown. From a street of hardened sand near Chrisnelt’s house – a two-minute sprint for an energetic child with big feet and eyes filled with notions – a marvel of leaves had slowly pushed up to the sky, or so his father told him. The mango tree had arrived unobserved by almost everyone, a relic (all seeds are relics) from a meal once tossed as waste.

With unfathomable resilience, it had fought its way to the light, shaped by goodness, looking for a future away from the darkness cast by walls; avoiding rush hours of storming feet, dodging the sacks of charcoal dragged monthly by tired men to the sooty doorways, and bending deftly away from the wheels of wooden carts. Once it had been trampled by a stumbling drunk who vomited upon its first leaf, and twice pissed on by a dog. It always bounced back. It knew only to rise, and to continue rising, constant, instinctive, on the route that all trees take: the profound stretch toward the inevitable edge of the sky – or so Chrisnelt was told by his father. And as it went up, so it went down, great roots singing all the time as they drank, down into the vast depths that held the song of the River, which, in turn, held everything else. Eventually the tree grew beyond harm – higher than the tallest man, with a trunk fatter than any belly – and became part of the street: a wild thing from nature finding a place in the City of shading walls. Chrisnelt remembered this story very often.

Once, during a particularly hot summer, sitting under the tree with his best friend No, soft pollen fell on his feet. Then they heard whistles coming from above; undulating, battling within the grinding from old trucks, and under the honk of taxi-cars, and below the shrieks and moans of wandering people. The whistles came from inside the tree’s tiny flowers, and they made a poem, a private lullaby for this special boy and his friend. Chrisnelt and No seemed to be the only people to hear it: the buzzing wings of insects and the rattling legs of ants that shone like glass. The sprays of creamy flowers erupted in waterfalls right before their big gazes. Glistening creatures from the world of feelers, carapaces and pincers came to feed, playing on twirling leaves and dangling petals of scent, alive in all their senses. And everything swelled into bulbous green, blushing finally into red, becoming the gift of fruit.

Chrisnelt’s laughter became louder, intermittent giggles bursting out in between and here and there, every time he had a deep thought. He pranced and ran, being sure to plant each foot in the prints made by No. The summer raindrops – as it is in the tropics – continued to dance with him, bouncing and ululating. One by one they came down, some tickling his cheeks, some dribbling off his pointy chin, some hesitating, clinging to him like friends do. His thin shadow, and the thick shadow of the tree, held hands as he circled it again and again. He circled some more. Everything glistened. His wide eyes glowed. ‘I’m a bird and I’m looking for a tree!’ he said at the top of his voice.

No had loved birds since he could first crawl, watching them on the veranda in all their intricate colours. He would lie next to Chrisnelt there, spitting bits of masticated corn at the sparrows that looked like tiny toys, the birds hopping closer and closer, often sitting on his outstretched fingers, once even on his nose. No loved birds so much, he squeaked and chattered like them before he could talk. And when he could walk, he flapped like them too. Chrisnelt learned to love them as well. He loved everything No loved. The love was wild and true like wilderness.

‘If you close your fingers tightly and point your arms, you can make wings and fly like a fast pigeon ah, with all its colours. And if you wiggle the tips you can dive like a sparrow,’ said No to Chrisnelt on a quiet day, watching a distant flock of white birds against a white cloud.

‘You can’t fly like me yet Chrisnelt ah, I have already taken off into the sky up here,’ said No (pronounced Noh, with the ‘h’ floating off the tongue). No always wanted to be first. Chrisnelt would have the idea, No would then take the lead. He was very brave. Chrisnelt would often hide behind that bravery. They had been neighbours since birth. They’d shared the adventure of standing for the first time, holding each other up, with a single gurgling cry. It had been a grand day back then for both families; the parents had clapped and the two boys had fallen into each other’s arms, the strong arms of No, the weak arms of Chrisnelt: four legs and one fat body of folds wobbling on the green linoleum floor.

Book details

Launch: Beaten but not Broken by Vanessa Govender (12 September)

At the height of her journalism career, more than one million households across the country knew her name and her face. Her reportage on human suffering and triumph captivated viewers, and with it Vanessa Govender shot to fame as one of the first female Indian television news reporters in South Africa.

Always chasing the human angle of any news story, Govender made a name for herself by highlighting stories that included the grief of a mother clutching a packet filled with the fragments of the broken bones of her children after they’d been hacked to death by their own father, and another story where she celebrated the feisty spirit of a little girl who was dying of old age, while holding onto dreams that would never be realised. Yet Govender, a champion for society’s downtrodden, was hiding a shocking story of her own. In Beaten But Not Broken, she finally opens up about her deepest secret – one that so nearly ended her career in broadcast journalism before it had barely kicked off.

She was a rookie reporter at the SABC in 1999. He was a popular radio disc jockey, the darling of the SABC’s Lotus FM, a radio station catering to nearly half a million Indian people across South Africa. They were the perfect pair, or so it seemed. And if anyone suspected the nature of the abusive relationship, Govender says, she doesn’t believe they knew the full extent of the horror that the popular DJ was inflicting on this intrepid journalist. The bruising punches, the cracking slaps, and the relentless episodes filled with beatings, kicking and strangling were as ferocious as the emotional and verbal abuse he hurled at her. No one would know the brutal and graphic details of Govender’s story … until now.

In Beaten But Not Broken, this Indian woman does the unthinkable, maybe even the unforgiveable, in breaking the ranks of a close-knit conservative community to speak out about her five-year-long hell in this abusive relationship. Her story also lays bare her heart-breaking experiences as a victim of childhood bullying and being ostracised by some in her community for being a dark-skinned Indian girl. Govender tells a graphic story of extreme abuse, living with the pain, and ultimately of how she was saved by her own relentless fighting spirit to find purpose and love. This is a story of possibilities and hope; it is a story of a true survivor.

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