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Jacana

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Pen/Studzinski Winner James Whyle Debuts with The Book of War

The Book of WarA flickering scene of carnage in the forest. A fairy tale metamorphosed into something simple and old and real and horrible beyond reckoning. Yellow fires roaring like dragons and choking smoke and a stench of burning hair and bone and flesh and the trees looming over it. Bloodied beasts clotted with gore that sniffed about for any that might still live. A slathered shape approached.

“I think some got away.”

“They’ll spread the word,” said the Captain.

A realist nightmare that piles horror upon horror, The Book of War tells the story of a child who comes to manhood in the bloody cauldron of war. With inescapable prophecies locked quietly in the terse lines, it shines an uneasy light on how South Africa started to become what it is…

“It is a very good book…Possibly great.” – Rian Malan

“A rare feast – a book whose subject is people slowly making their way through the trudge and mud of their history, but which is also a real page-turner. [It] makes visible, in a way I have not seen before, the Eastern Cape frontier wars.”
– William Kentridge

About the author

James Whyle grew up in the Amatole Mountains of the Eastern Cape. Conscripted into the apartheid army, he was discharged on the grounds of insanity. He did everything in his power to assist the authorities in arriving at this diagnosis. His play about the experience, National Madness, has been called “a simple, subtle and frequently satirical portrait of the condition of militarism”. It was performed at the Market and Baxter theatres and published in Market Plays.

Whyle has published poetry, short stories and journalism. His radio dramas, commissioned by the BBC, include A Man Called Rejoice which was published as Rejoice Burning in the UK in New South African Plays. His screenplay for the film Otelo Burning has been nominated for achievement in screenplay by the Africa Movie Academy Awards. His story, “The Story”, was chosen by JM Coetzee as winner of the 2011 Pen/Studzinski competition.

“…the true drama takes place below the surface” – JM Coetzee on The Story

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