My first read of 2022 was memorable. A debut novel by Zimbabwean author, Petina Gappah – The Book of Memory.

Synopsis from Faber & Faber:  Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?

Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.

Petina Gappah  paints an unforgettable picture of modern Zimbabwe, warts and all. Albinos live a perilous existence in Africa. They are often murdered for their body parts, used in traditional muti.  We have rural tradition colliding with modern urban life.  Tribal superstition playing out in an urban setting. The corruption of modern African dictatorships beating down its hapless citizens. Not to overlook the persistent  vexed question of homosexuality, and attitudes to mental illnesses,  in the African traditional  context.

Apart from these hefty themes which run throughout the book, PG also gives us evocative portraits of people living  under difficult circumstances,  chiefly Memory who narrates her  story through the lens of childhood. And then there are the prison warders at Chikurubi Prison. Tyrannical, newly converted Christian wardress Synodia, with her speech defect, still lingers in my mind. She’s a menacing, comic figure.

Despite the grim events and themes, the book has short chapters and is very readable.  I highly recommend you give it a try, if you’re interested in exploring contemporary African writers, and/or learning more about Zimbabwe.   


The book had a very personal resonance for me, because I met our previous neighbour, Wally Stuttaford,  a few years after his release from Chikurubi.  It was deeply shocking to see this once confident, successful man who was an MP in the last Rhodesian government, reduced to a gaunt wreck, utterly haunted by his 308 days spent as a prisoner in Chikurubi, undergoing torture during this time. He died in South Africa in May 2000.  See links below.


I’m definitely ditching Goodreads in 2022. Apart from the fact it’s a  tiresome chore to log on to the site,  hunt up my books, then label my reads with their unhelpful star rating system, at year’s end GR never, but never, get my year-end total reads figure correct.  Reverting to my Stone Age tools i.e. my Book Journal and a ballpoint pen, I keep a running total of my reads.  It never coincides with GR’s figure.

I’ve flirted with the idea of swapping over to another electronic book app, but no, I’m done with book apps. One of my friends is a whizz at spreadsheets, and will set up a comprehensive spreadsheet for me. Trick is, of course, to keep adding the data.

Yet again I will be refusing all Reading Challenges, continue  abandoning any book that does not either entertain or inform me, and rambling through the Back Lists with a happy song on my lips.

I’m also debating whether I am finished with my Read more African Writers project. Last year I won a number of books via the Goethe Institute’s generous  Virtually Yours Zoom sessions, some of which were a great success, whilst others were not. I still have two recent  Indian Ocean novels* highlighted on my Wish List, which are very tempting, but on the whole, I think I’m done with the project.

And yet again, I will dive into my TBR shelf, which is actually very modest. I’ve read recent Book Bloggers’ posts wherein they admit to a hoard of +200 books. Einah! One good thing about the wretched Pandemic is that it’s kept me away from the bookshops and Charity Book Sales. Unfortunately, the online booksellers have been very obliging.

One good innovation last year, was registering with the LIBBY system, which the Cape Town Municipal Library system joined.  Such good news to be able to read e-books without having to fall into the capacious jaws of .  

And finishing on a happy note: friends of mine are currently in the UK, and will be making forays into the Charity Book shops, with my Wish List added to their own. I can’t wait for them to return. Whenever I read UK Book Bloggers’ accounts of picking up book bargains for 50p per book, I could weep; we have no such bargains here.

So there we have it: no grand plans or target, just happy to be able to continue reading. Happy reading to everyone!

  • House of Rust –  Khadija Abdalla Bajaber  and Blue Dragonfly Sea – Yvonne  Oadihambo 


Title: The Shadow King

Author: Maaza  Mengistu

Published:  2019

Length: 428

What it’s about: Amazon synopsis:

A gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record.

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster’s household. Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians―Jewish photographer Ettore among them―march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.

What follows is a gorgeously crafted and un-putdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.

When I got the book: August 2020

How I acquired the book:  Birthday gift vouchers

Why I want to read it:  During my “Read more African authors” period. Plus the many rave reviews.

Lisa, at Book Shelf Fantasies – hosts a weekly Wednesday feature called Shelf Control, which prompted me to write this post. Thanks for the wake-up call, Lisa – much needed.



Piranesi – Susanna Clarke. An elegant concept, and elegantly constructed in the telling. A Chinese-box sort of novel, gradually revealing its secrets. Curious as to the title, I googled the Italian Piranes, which helped my understanding and enjoyment of the book. A wildly different novel, that will  haunt me for some time to come.

A Mumbai Murder Mystery – Meeti Shroff-Shah. The thing I most enjoyed were the  descriptions of the mouth watering food served frequently to  the Jain family that are involved in the murder mystery. Sure, I puzzled over  the whodunnit aspect, but the background and setting stood out for me. I hope Ms SS  gives us another murder mystery  soon.

The Bear – Andrew Krivak. A Re-read. Just as moving, the second time around. The natural world continues its age old cycles of  birth, life and death, the seasons change, the equinoxes wax  and wane, and so does human life. An adult fable elegantly written in sparse prose. Probably a masterpiece.

What are you going Through – Sigrid Nunez. A thoughtful, reflective quiet novel about friendship,love, death and dying. Wise and  compassionate but not an easy read. Fans of Literary Novels and Sigrid Nunez will enjoy the novel.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths – Barbara Comyns. A Virago Press reprint. The two things I enjoyed about the book were the catchy title and striking cover. Other than that,  London in the 1930s, Bohemian artists’ life, poverty, children, selfish, immature characters did not appeal. The book was promoted as funny, but didn’t tickle my funnybone. Fortunately the book was a quick, short read.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Café – Toshikazu Kawaguchi. Appropriately, my last read of 2021, came from my TBR shelf. On my second attempt to read the book , I reached the last page, but with relief.  Whether due to  the author’s natural style, or the translation from Japanese, the story was stilted, which was a pity, because the premise of the book is time travel. Visitors to the café can travel backwards or forwards in time, but must return before the coffee in the cup turns cold. Four stories of guilt, grief and regret unfold: husbands, lovers, sons, surrogate fathers all wanting to make amends, or explain . The book was a big hit in 2019, but not with me. You can’t win ‘em all.


Dear Reader. The Comfort and Joy of Books –  Cathy Rentzenbrink.  I devoured the book,  what a joy to share Cathy’s love of books and reading!  She’s my soul-mate.  A book to keep, treasure, and re-read many times. A must for booklovers.

Underland  -Robert MacFarlane. I’ve found my quintessential Desert Island Book. If permitted only one book for my Desert Island sojourn, I wouldn’t hesitate to pack Underland. It is a marvellous mosaic of science, history, culture, personal memoir, a veritable treasure chest of facts, travel writing and stories. A slow, thoughtful, delightful read.  Highly recommended.

Bon Appetit! – Peter Mayle. With his customary charm, the foodie writer par excellence,  shares his travels around his beloved  France, visiting Festivals and food fairs en route. The book is sub titled: Travels through France with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew. A neat summation of a delightful, atmospheric read. Perfect armchair travel with a light touch.


Zen Dust.  A Journey Home through the back roads of South Africa – Anthony Osler. A couple of pages daily is balm to the soul.  A mixture of gentle humour, wisdom , travel notes, the occasional poem or haiku fragment, together with elegant black and white photographs.  Occasionally a glimpse of a beloved teacher or local Sangha member that I know,  make the book personal for me.  Another book to treasure .


My 2021 reading year was brightened by the  discovery of three new authors, who illuminated my year in bursts of glory. 

Novelist Nicola Barker –  endlessly inventive, wildly creative, completely original. Thus far I’ve read and loved: 5 Miles from Outer Hope, I am Sovereign and The Cauliflower. I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Humorist Ben Schott – who has written two brilliant homages to the Master of British humour: P G Wodehouse. I own Jeeves and the King of Clubs and Jeeves Takes a Chance. Schott has channelled  The Master’s style, frothy plots and witless characters; and of course featuring  the brainy Jeeves. Both books were a tonic in a difficult year.

SF Writer Becky Chambers –  her Wayfarer series has provided hours of entertainment, plus intriguing ideas, fresh possibilities, with  future scenarios peopled by vivid characters. Her series has a strong feminine slant, and not a raygun in sight. This is thoughtful, philosophical young writer with a fresh take on the Universe. She has taken SF writing into a  fresh dimension.

On the Non Fiction side, I discovered Robert MacFarlane, via his wide ranging  book, Underland, which is a rich and varied reading experience. I  knew RMF was a Nature writer, but I had no idea that his approach was so eclectic,  including  elements of History, Myth, the Anthropocene, and  Travel, to mention but a few. His book is both literary and scholarly (it took ten years to write) but the writing is lyrical,  vivid, thrilling ….  I shall treasure and re-read the book.

And the Misses? I decided to let them sink quietly into the depths of my hard-drive. Of course I had Did Not Finish and Definitely Not for Me reads during the year, but after a hard year I’ve no wish to re-visit past disappointments.

 Ten Terrific Reads 

  • Motion of the Body Through Space – Lionel Shriver (novel) #1
  • Little Family – Ishmail Beah  (African novel)
  • Hum if you Don’t Know the Words – Bianca Marais (South African  novel)
  • The 100 Years of Lenni and Margo – Marianne Cronin (novel)
  • Patron Saint of Liars – Ann Patchett  (novel)
  • Word Freaks – Stefan Fatsis (Non-Fic) Scrabble
  • The Salt Path – Raynor Winn (NF) memoir
  • Look at Me – Nataniel (NF) memoir
  • Vesper Flights – Helen MacDonald (NF) nature writing
  • The Library Book – Susan Orlean (NF) Libraries!

My book of the year. After some agonising I am nominating the novel Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke. Apart from the strange and wildly original story, the book itself is a thing of beauty with the  metallic copper lettering on the black cover, plus a dust-jacket executed in the same black/copper theme, plus an elegant faun playing his Pan Pipe, atop a slender classical column.

The book offered a missing person mystery as a sub-theme, but the major theme was : the existence of a different corporeal reality, into which people from our world are inserted. Followed by another theme: what is personal identity ? and another question: what constitutes mental derangement? A haunting read. .

Wishing my readers an enormous pile of gift wrapped books during the Festive Season, and another splendid reading year ahead in 2022. May we all be safe, and be well.


Could you sum up your nomination for your  Most Memorable  Book of the Year in a brief, 60 second voice note? If you could, then perhaps you entered Cape Talk Radio’s Book Club competition which announced the winning entries yesterday. Dictating a brief summary put readers in the running for a 15 book hamper to the winning entry. 

I listened to the selection of entries which revealed a mainly female readership, only three men entered  their choicess. Perhaps Cape Talk edited the entries, but I would guess that  women form the bulk of our national readership.  I’ve noticed the same phenomenon on Facebook reading group pages, nearly all the posts are from women.

The winning entry came from a  woman who  nominated Rise, by  Siya Kolisi ( the Springbok rugby captain). No surprise, because South Africa is sports mad, and rugby mad in particular.  Categories  were limited to kids’ books, Sports Books, non-fiction, fiction .   

Sports: that’s one of the genres I never read: I read widely, but I do exclude Romance and  Horror,  plus I tend to avoid historicals, and I seldom read crime.

At this time of year there are lists galore and posts by the dozen on the theme: Best Book/s of 2021. I read many of them, always interested in other people’s choices and  reviews . In fact, I post my own annual Best Books of the Year on my blog.  

I keep a running list of Best Reads throughout the year, but its difficult to cut it down to the best Ten Books.  Many readers opt for this number, which is illogical, given our 12 month calendar system. Maybe December is a bad month, too much shopping and partying,  and perhaps  in  the height of summer, even  dedicated readers go outdoors.

I refuse to set annual Reading Target.  Reading is not a competitive sport, for goodness sake!  According to my Book Journal I read 103 books in 2021. Consulting my tatty Journal, via Stone Age technology, i.e. pen and paper – Excel spreadsheets continue to elude me – I totted up the totals and carried out a rough (very rough!) survey. 

My reading was predominantly Fiction, with a small non-Fiction component, consisting mainly of Memoir and Nature writing. Otherwise it was Fiction all the way. Horror, Sport and  Romance didn’t get a look in, but General novels and Literary novels featured large.

I read far too many cozy mysteries, plus more SF than in previous years, and I lay the blame squarely on the pandemic. 

Because I read for pleasure and entertainment, this earnest analysis doesn’t matter one little bit. I read some spectacular books this year, which will be listed in my next post. Watch this space.



Transcription – Kate Atkinson. The murky world of spies in Britain, during WWII and into the post-war cold war period. The opaque, nothing is as it seems atmosphere and characters kept me glued to the pages. This was a read-in-one-sitting book. Recommended.

A Shot in the Dark. A Constable Twitten Mystery – Lynne Truss. Lynne Truss is a British columnist, writer and broadcaster. She’s produced a hilarious whodunnit, set in Brighton, that combines cosiness with cake, a series of murders, whilst  taking  a satirical swipe at  police procedure. Its such good fun that you don’t even notice the wildly improbable plot. Highly enjoyable.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers. The life stories of five characters, Exodans living in the Fleet i.e. a huge colony of human migrants  in space. The book explores  not only the philosophical ideas of an exodus from dying planet earth and  re-starting in space, but also the logistical minutiae of surviving generationally in space.  Many fascinating ideas chanelled through the 5 disparate characters: one older woman, two middle aged women  , one  young male adult, and a teenage boy. Not to mention a many tentacled Harmagian cultural anthropologist on a visit. I’m a fan of Becky Chambers’ approach to SF.

To be Taught if Fortunate – Becky Chamber. A novella relates the story of  four astronauts on a 4-planet space exploration mission ,that ends starkly despite  their success. Thought-provoking and philosophical. Recommended.   

Transient Desires – Donna Leon. Good old Comissario Guido Brunetti is still solving crime in Venice, this time in the brutal world of human trafficking. Donna Leon always delivers an atmospheric, flavourful whodunnit and this book ticked all the boxes. Enjoyable, despite the grim subject matter.

The Tearoom – Gretchen Haley. Tubby Reddy is a cook, a husband, father, a dreamer in the little coastal town of Usendleleni, Kwa Zulu Natal.  He ‘s in love with Yogi, who works in his kitchen; he dreams of another life with her, away from his volatile, pious wife Lynette. He’s waited patiently until both his kids are adults, and is poised to start  living his dream life , but …. You will have to read on. An original novel, featuring the KZN Indian community. The bittersweet ending was bravely authentic  – life seldom provides neat, tidy solutions. Recommended.

The Victory Garden – Rhys Bowen. A feel-good read set in WWI Britain. Middle class  Emily joins the Land Girls to her parents’ horror, and gains independence, a lover, a knowledge of gardening and herbs, and ultimately freedom on her own terms. Plus wartime romance and tragedy. An enjoyable light read.


The Library Book – Susan Orlean. What a marvellous book! It relates the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, a seemingly  dull topic but as Adrian Liang, Amazon Editor, says: Orlean can peer through the keyhole of a seemingly picayune topic and see endless fascination on the other side of the door.  Every page offered colourful anecdotes, library history both local and global, plus a detailed account of the devastating fire that swept through the Library in 1986 inflicting devastation in its path. A must read for readers and book lovers.

P.S. The book is worth reading for the history of eccentric journalist, adventurer, Charles Lummis who was appointed City Librarian in 1905 – despite having no prior training in the field! The Library Board  summarily dismissed the current City  Librarian, Mary Jones, simply because she was a woman – infuriating to read this! However,  Lummis proved to be a mixed blessing. To describe him as a colourful character is an understatement. The Library Board should have stuck with their female Librarian!



I’m sharing this anecdote with you, because I am so proud of myself.

Today I actually managed to walk into my favourite bookstore, buy two gift vouchers for upcoming birthdays, and left without buying  any books!

Let me tell you: this is a miraculous event. Worthy of a trumpet fanfaronade, worthy of a  medal; worthy of a round of applause, at the very least.

Bookstores are to me as catnip is irresistible to cats. As bars lure alcoholics. As sales lure bargain hounds. You get the picture.

Budgetary considerations have never hindered me in the past. Buy books and live on lentils for a month? No problem, I’ll walk out of the shop with a bag of books. So perhaps old age is finally diluting my addiction?



Bewilderment – Richard Powers. What  a story! A dazzling blend of visionary science – biology, Astro biology, astronomy, neuro science – and the tragic story of a 9 year old boy, whose brain has a few short circuits, filled with grief and bewilderment at an uncaring, baffling  world. The title is well chosen, the characters are well rounded and the portrayal  of a capitalistic,  uncaring America is well timed. I think it must have been written in the terrible Trump years.. I empathised with the recently widowed Dad, trying to cope with his mercurial son and life in general. A wonderful read. I hope it wins the 2021 Booker Prize.

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith – Ben Schott.  An Homage to P G Wodehouse. And what a splendid homage it is!, Bertie Wooster patriotically involved with  the machinations of the  British Secret Service v.s. the odious Black Shorts, lead by the unpleasant Lord Sidcup; the usual  terrifying aunts,  a dipsomaniacal  fortune telling addict, a criminal bookmaker, and – of course –   romantc complications on every side. Every chapter produced gales of giggles from me. A tonic and a treasure.  Highly recommended.

Hum If You don’t Know the Words – Bianca Marais.  A  story set in a dark period in South Africa, the mid 1970s, when apartheid held the country in its iron fist. Two unlikely people – Robin, a recently orphaned white 10 year old girl, and Beauty a mid-50s black mother desperately hunting for her daughter – are flung together by events. The Soweto student uprising is the catalyst, but despite the grim circumstances, the book is full of heart and humour, and humanity. I approached it with reluctance, but was surprised how much I enjoyed the story. Recommended.   

A Closed and Common Orbit  – Becky Chambers. Another enjoyable space opera from BC.

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg – Harry Kalmer. Sub-titled ’A City Novel’. Spans more than 100 years, covers many lives, follows one family but the disjointed narrative  was difficult to follow.


Hard to believe that Sigrid Nunez’s  Salvation City  came out in 2010: does the woman own a crystal ball, I wonder?  She writes of the civil and social havoc experienced in a (fictional) post-pandemic America and produces a wonderfully nuanced coming of age novel from a teenage boy’s perspective. She introduces contentious themes:  religion, gun ownership, fundamentalism, familial relationships, parental relationships, and climate change  but never hauls out her soapbox – admirable, given the subject matter. I will definitely be reading more of her novels.

And then there’s Sierra Leonean Ishmael Beah’s third novel: Little Family. I was looking forward to the book, and it did not disappoint. Such an engrossing read, as we follow the fortunes of a ragtag little family of survivors (maybe ex-child-soldiesr? Or maybe some of them are war victims? so much is delicately hinted at, with reference to a recent civil war). One young adult man, one budding teenage girl, two pre-teen boys, and one ten year old girl live by their wits on the fringe of the city, in an abandoned aero-plane hidden in the African bush. Crime is their business, booze and ganja provide the escape from deeply buried memories – and we are talking about kids here, may I remind you!

Avni Doshi’s debut novel Burnt Sugar landed up on the 2020 Booker Prize Shortlist. Set in 1980s Pune, India,  we experience the emotional conflict of Mothers vs Daughters, Daughters vs Mothers,  families v.s. women. Toss in formative childhood years spent in an Ashram, childhood neglect, a sadistic Catholic Boarding School,  topped off with a Mother sliding into Dementia – or is she? And a daughter sliding into madness – or is she?  A disturbing read, one that will stay with me quite a while..

September has turned out to be Memoir month: the wonderful, outrageous, flamboyant Nataniel;  author Roald Dahl during WWII; and Allen Johnson, who explores life in France. Great reads, all three.


Salvation City – Sigrid Nunez.  A dystopian novel set in a post-pandemic America. The ‘flu strikes, devastation and chaos ensue. Against this setting,  teenager Cole struggles with the loss of this parents, contracting the disease himself, surviving a brutal orphanage and then adoption by a fundamentalist Pastor in the Mid-West. A wonderful coming of age novel, highly recommended.

Little Family – Ishmael Beah. An engrossing story about five young people, survivors and/or victims of an African civil war. Add the coming of age story of the teenage girl who cannot resist the feminine in herself, despite her dangerous lifestyle as a post-war victim/survivor  In a hostile environment. What does family mean? Read the book and find out. Recommended.

Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi.  1980s Pune, India. Family conflict, emotional drama, the aftermath of a neglected, abused childhood playing out into adult life. Plus the turmoil of a Mother’s slow descent into dementia, not to mention a daughter’s decline into madness. A riveting read, and not as heavy as it sounds. Recommended.

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman. What a fun read!  A classic murder mystery, but the twist is that the amateur sleuths live in an upmarket country retirement home.  The excellent plot turns every which way, but all is revealed at the end, very satisfactorily. Moral of the story is: don’t underestimate the elderly. They are not brain dead. I can’t wait for RO’s next book. Happily, there is one in the pipeline.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Wayfarers (1)  – Becky Chambers. (e-book)Another happy discovery – Becky Chambers writes refreshing SF, that does not place the human species at the top of the tree ( au contraire, pretty near the bottom due to our endemic violence); and introduces dazzlingly imaginative scenarios of future worlds and alien species. I can’t wait to read more.

Dreams and Assorted Nightmares – Abubaker Adam Ibrahim.  Zangor is the mythical African town conjured up by  the Nigerian writer, where a collection of interconnecting short stories explore life, death, hopes, dreams, passion – in short: hot, busy, African life. A very different read for me, but oddly enjoyable.


Look at Me –   Recollections of a Childhood. Nataniel.   Flamboyant dramatic performer Nataniel, artist, cook, and all round eccentric, shows us where his roots lie: in three small Boland towns. It’s a gorgeous feast of people, food, buildings, streets, neighbourhoods, trees, gardens  and small town life in the Western Cape  during the 1970s. I’m a fan of his storytelling, outrageous costumes, extravaganzas and music, and loved every page.

Pardon My French: How a Grumpy American Fell in Love with France  – Allen Johnson .(e-book)Allen  and his wife Nita, spend a year in a small coastal town in the south of France, where he battles with the intricacies of the French language and the baffling social customs of his new friends and neighbours. And he catalogues  his skirmishes with horrendous French bureaucracy.  But Allen  is up for all and any new experiences,  and  thrives in his new French life. A very enjoyable read.

Going Solo – Roald Dahl.  Memoir. In 1938, aged 22, Dahl goes out to Tanganyika/Tanzania, East Africa, to work for the Shell Oil company. His life in East Africa fills the first half of the book, and I loved his stories of life in Africa. He has some hair raising snake stories! The second half of the book  details his war time experiences in Greece and the Middle East, as a RAF pilot. I thoroughly enjoyed the East African section.