Wildebeeste migrate, lemmings leap off cliffs and I rush madly to Book Sales. The irresistible urge is imprinted in my DNA, I swear! Can’t stop myself. And this weekend, I’m so glad I succumbed to the urge.

A group of Cape Town Book Sellers rented two floors of exhibition space at the V & A Waterfront and gave us, the book reading, book buying public a huge treat: The Cape Town Book Sale.  Yes folks: a real, genuine book sale. Brand new stock, no mangled remainders. Just books, glorious books, in every direction. There must have been literally thousands of them. You name it, the books were there. Kids’ books, cookery books, coffee table books, contemporary novels, literary novels, blockbusters, thrillers, biographies – I think the last time I saw so many books on sale was in the magnificent Kinokunia Bookstore in Sydney. And I have to confess that 14 years later,  I still have orgasmic dreams about that Aladdin’s cave of delights ….

The prices were jaw-droppingly brilliant: R50 for a paperback; R70 for a hardback. Normally we have to grudgingly part with between R200 and R300 to buy a paperback novel. And don’t talk to me about hardcovers. Shudder.

I was almost #1 through the doors, sprinting briskly towards the far end to work my way systematically backwards through the heaving hordes. Because I’m little I need to avoid crowds. I tend to get trodden on. South Africa is full of braai en boerewors* stalwart men (and women, too I must add, in all fairness).

After two and a half hours I staggered triumphantly back to my car, clutching two modern novels, and five Craig Johnson Longmire novels for the modest total of R350-00. Unheard of : R350 is often the price of one book, never mind seven! Reader’s Victory of note!

The novels have long been on my Wishlist. I’ve wanted to explore Portuguese writer Clarice Lispector, and found one of her novels. Recently I read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life so I snapped up her first book The People in the Trees. And the cowboy books? I can see your raised eyebrows from here. Well – I grew up on black and white spaghetti Westerns and Zane Grey: what can I say? I told you in my About Page that I have eclectic reading tastes. Now do you believe me?

So: don’t phone, text or e-mail me for a while. It’s obvious – I’ll be reading!

*barbecues and spicy sausages20170617_121122.jpg



9781408870297Helen and Ellie are twins . They play a game and swop identities for a day – what fun to bamboozle everybody! But at day’s end, one of them refuses to change back to her own identity. And then the novel plunges us into a dizzying narrative that switches between childhood memory and adult turmoil, via the tumultuous highs and lows of manic depression. In the end we don’t really know who’s who, any more, and neither do the twins, or do they? Quite a book. Ann Morgan gives us a brilliant picture of the mayhem that rules the life of a bipolar person. It’s also a picture of a not so happy family life, and the lengths to which one of the characters (and I’m not revealing who it is) will go to secure stability and ‘a happy life’. The reveal, at the end, is shocking.
Having read her previous book, a non-fiction, Reading the World : Confessions of a Literary Explorer which is a scholarly survey of translated world literature, I was very impressed by her first attempt at fiction. The book is a page-turner, well written, and full of surprises, right up to the end pages. It will be interesting to see what Ann Morgan tackles next.
If you enjoy novels about twins, life in modern Britain, and the struggles of a woman trying to forge and sustain her own identity despite enormous difficulties, then read this book.

HUNGER EATS A MAN – Nkosinathi Sithole

Nkosinathi Sithole - Hunger Eats a Man LR


I didn’t enjoy the novel and perhaps the dice were loaded from the start. The book was written by a Zulu man so we were culturally at odds before I turned to page 1. Why do I say this? Because Zulu culture is heavily patriarchal, and there is nothing about patriarchal systems that sits well with me.   But: I read widely, and experimentally,  so I gave the book a try.

I finished the book, but in order to write anything meaningful, I had to think long and hard about what I had read.

The saying “No two persons ever read the same book.” (Edmund Wilson) could not be truer in this case.  The back cover  blurb said  “Beautifully poetic, funny and highly relevant, Nkosinathi Sithole’s debut novel highlights the ongoing plight of many rural South Africans and the power of a community working together to bring about change. “  I couldn‘t find anything poetic about the writing, except maybe the very last paragraph in the book. Which, unfortunately did not follow on from the words THE END, but was  marooned on the next page, where I discovered the final  two paragraphs purely by accident.

Funny?  No,  not to me.  At a stretch I could  see the humour of school principal Bongani Hadebe’s inordinate pride in owning the only house in Canaan that has a staircase leading to the upper storey. Any other humour completely escaped me.  Maybe the cultural divide manifesting itself again.

Highly relevant?  Yes. Finally I’m  in agreement. The book shows the desperate plight of South Africa’s rural, neglected poor; the rampant greed of the ruling classes;  the sexual abuse against women and children; and the effect of patriarchy uneasily placed side by side with  a democratic system.

There’s a sub-theme of the exploitation of the rural poor by the white farmers.  The 1994 elections may have ushered in the so-called  Rainbow Nation  but in the rural areas, not much changed. And not to overlook the exploitation by the black overseer of the desperate workers.  There’s much to be said on both sides of this issue.

Of value to me were the insights into the African mindset.  How violence  and mob action seem to be an instinctive response to challenges e.g. The Grinding Stone, the local  women‘s collective,  rushes off and castrates two men in the community who’ve been guilty of child and elderly abuse (in addition to bestiality!) and cut off the men’s testicles. The collective is led by Nomsa – wife of  school principal Bongani Hadebe; she’s a modern woman  with modern ideas in that she is unwilling to have children and  takes the contraceptive pill; and although she’s a moderating influence, she’s stirring up the women against patriarchy.

Another insight was how important Ancestor worship still is to black people. They may belong to Christian churches but Ancestor worship exists right alongside Jesus et al. Tied in to this ancestral thread, is the urgent need for black men to have children, as many as possible. Regardless of their female partners’ personal,  economic or social wishes.

And then there’s the vexed feature of black life, urban or rural: the on-going belief in the power of the sangoma*to heal, to remove (or deliver) spells and curses. But always at a price. A high price. Thousands of rands, and/or livestock. All this within the context of people driving BMW cars and glued to their cellphones, or those living in hungry, dusty rural poverty. When worlds collide yet again, in South Africa.

I found the plot difficult to follow, and  felt there were loose ends dangling all over the place.  But after considerable thought  when I’d finished reading, I realised that in essence  Pastor Gumede’s fall into poverty and loss of faith in both God or politics provides the  contrast to school principal Bongani Hadebe’s successful life – he has a job, money, a car, a house in the prosperous nearby area of Canaan.  Bongani is a dimwit, who had to buy his university degree and is unqualified for his job. Pastor Gumede, on the other hand, is educated and intelligent, hardworking  and principled.  But  he’s unemployed, and starving.  The story of SA in a microcosm.

I didn’t like any of the male characters, and but did feel empathy towards the women – a sort of sisterly solidarity, if you like.

And then there’s the factor of Pastor’s son’s story which we are told arrived to him in a dream state at night. The story is mentioned in the blurb on the back cover of the book, but  after a brief mention early in the book,  only reappears  in  the last chapter of the book and I didn’t know what to make of it. Was it intended as a portent? A threat? A nightmare? A call for community unity and action?  A revolutionary warning?  I remain baffled.

To me, only one thing about the novel really worked, and that was the title  Hunger Eats a Man.  It’s accurate and  clever, and perhaps it could be said that it’s the underlying theme of the novel. Literal physical hunger and other more psychological hungers e.g. the  yearning for immortality via one’s children.

While I did not enjoy the novel, both from the perspective of my reading comfort zone, and due to its obscure plotting, in fairness I must say the novel offers more to me  in retrospect than it did during the reading.  In my case, that is. Others may well feel differently. As I said at the beginning : “No two persons ever read the same book.”

*sangoma – at best, a traditional herbalist, a healer; at worst a witchdoctor who may well trade in human body parts




Partial Goodreads Summary
Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house one day with no idea who or where he is. A note instructs him to see a Dr. Randle immediately, who informs him that he is undergoing yet another episode of acute memory loss that is a symptom of his severe dissociative disorder. Eric’s been in Dr. Randle’s care for two years — since the tragic death of his great love, Clio, while the two vacationed in the Greek islands.

But there may be more to the story, or it may be a different story altogether. As Eric begins to examine letters and papers left in the house by “the first Eric Sanderson,” a staggeringly different explanation for what is happening to Eric emerges, and he and the reader embark on a quest to recover the truth and escape the remorseless predatory forces that threatens to devour him….

My Review – A 4+ star stunner!

The back cover blurb says … Genuinely isn’t like anything you’ve ever read before (Independent) and they’re not kidding – it’s highly inventive, I could feel my mind bending and twisting as I tried to keep up with the idea of a voracious … word shark ? I suppose I should call it.
Writer Mark Haddon opined: “ … The bastard love-child of The Matrix, Jaws and The da Vinci Code.” Haddon neatly sums up Steven Hall’s novel.

I couldn’t put it down, nervously reading on, expecting the worst to happen page after page.

My one and only quibble, as a seasoned Cat Carer, is the complete impossibility of carting your cat (named Ian, by the way) with you on your lengthy adventure, albeit Ian was riding in his cat carrier. But this is a minor quibble. Ignore me.
For an intriguing, unusual, gripping story this novel hits the target bang on. Highly Recommended.


I enjoyed a total of seven books this month. As you can see they ranged from Chick Lit to worthies, via Zim shorts and South African drama, taking in chilling  Fantasy/Spec Fic . You name it, I picked it up. Maybe you will be inspired to try a couple?

Ratings: 5* – Outstanding! 4*+ –  Good to very good; 3* – average; 2* – run-of-the-mill; 1* – dismal;  zero * – no comment.


Picnic in Provence – A tale of love in France with Recipes – Elizabeth Bard
4.5* see Goodreads for review – . https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5903520-alison-smith . A very enjoyable Foodie read.
The Miracle of Crocodile Flats – Jenny Hobbs
4.5* – see GR and this blog for review. Terrific read!

An Elegy for Easterly – Petina Gappah
4* Zimbabwean short stories – a Must Read
see GR for review https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5903520-alison-smith
The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall
4+* – Wow! Dazzlingly original . – see GR and this blog for review.

Being a Woman in Cape Town – Ed Nancy Richards (Woman Zone)
3* – a worthy, socially relevant read

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe – Mary Simses
2* – easy Romance/Chick-lit read
The Olive Branch – Jo Thomas
2* – Italy, Chick-lit