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Archive for September, 2018

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):

The Scent of Bliss

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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 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.

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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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Book signing: Mutts by Emma O’Brien (8 September)

Mutts is a book about rescue dogs and their heartwarming stories.

Full of character, mischief and second chances, this book will have you howling with laughter and reaching for the tissues. Featuring portraits by award-winning photographer Emma O’ Brien, Mutts will complement every dog lover’s coffee table. Many of the dogs that feature in the Mutts project were deposited at shelters because their owners didn’t want them anymore, some were abused before being rescued and some found themselves there by accident of birth.

All of them are at the mercy of someone seeing them and choosing to adopt them when there are not enough homes to go around. The book proceeds will all go to CLAW and Sandton SPCA, but the publication of Mutts is not just about raising funds, it is also to raise awareness about the number of great dogs that sit in shelters, and to encourage people to adopt.

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