Book of the month is Tomb of Sand – Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell. A wonderful read. Such an exuberant book, playful and lively in style. While the bones of the  story are fairly simple – 80 year old Ma rises from deep depression and sets out on an odyssey, driven by unresolved issues from her early  years in Pakistan, during the period of Partition.   The treatment of the story, the language, the word play, the diversions and detours into a myriad other topics are what makes the novel so original.

The brilliant translator of the novel, Daisy Rockwell,  says … Tomb of Sand is above all a love letter to the Hindi language.

And: … a  tale of many threads, encompassing modern urban life, ancient history. Folklore, feminism ,global warming, Buddhism  …

Not to mention Ma’s unseemly friendship with Rosie a hijra (eunuch/transvestite/wedding entertainer); then there’s Ma’s Daughter Beti, a modern bohemian woman determinedly living a single life away from her family;  there are talking birds; there’s a long divagation into Ma’s sari collection, and much much more.

If you prefer novels that are clear-cut and plot driven, you probably should give the book a miss.

If you like Indian novels, with all the colour, smells, vivid characters and  uproar of daily life, then this is the book for you.

I need to record my thanks to my generous friend C, who presented me with the book and  made great efforts to get the book to me. Gratitude, my friend.

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The novel won the international Booker prize in 2021, no surprises there. Highly recommended.

Postscript: here’s a link to an excellent article on the book.:



The Music of Bees – Eileen Garvin . The golden thread of honey from the lives of bees and their beekeepers, sticks this  heartwarming story together. Recently widowed  Alice and newly paraplegic teen Jake get their lives back together through beekeeping, while hapless Harry enters their little farm and is healed by friendship and kite-surfing. The healing power of friendship is a major theme, with  sub-themes of dysfunctional families and the villainous mega company destroying the orchard industry . I enjoyed the book enormously.

The Secret Keeper of Jaipur – Alka Joshi. Sequel to The Henna Artist.  Family secrets abound, as do love and jealousy, and gold smuggling. Modern India, colourful and complex. Enjoyable but not memorable . Fans of Indian novels will love it.


 The Book-Lover by A M Smith©[Fiction]

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is index.jpg

Doris was completely, utterly and forever, in love with books; with reading the printed word. As a precocious 5 year old she  suddenly made the connection between the black marks on the page and words, and that was it, the magic of reading struck powerfully, and for life.

Of course during her 60 years Doris experienced   other loves – briefly for her husband and cautiously for her children, but her one abiding love and passion that did  not fade over the years was for books, and the happy past time of reading. People would have been amazed to discover how passionately Doris felt about books, because Doris  effectively camouflaged herself as the archetypal Little Old Lady, and faded discreetly and quietly into the background. It just made life simpler.

 The arrival of gray hair,  a little stoop to the posture,  and a few extra kilograms  aided the process of becoming virtually invisible; and when she was visible,  it appeared that the Little Old Lady persona  swamped any other impressions. She was philosophical about  her official Little Old Lady status and in many ways it quite suited her. A little hesitation here, a little flutter or quaver there, certainly oiled the wheels and made things easier.

She was therefore surprised and flattered when Anne, a fellow volunteer at the local library asked whether Doris would like to join their Book Club.

“ I know how much you love your thrillers and whodunits,  and most of our club just love them too – you’ll have a ball,”  she said cheerily.

So Doris joined the Southern Suburbs Book Club happily ignorant that she  been approached in desperation to make up the numbers.

 “ Just as a temporary measure, she’s a quiet old duck, but very reliable and she does love her thrillers,” Ann breezily told the club.

Doris felt as if she  died and gone to heaven.  The Club had an enormous collection of books, packed into plastic crates and carted round to members’ houses for the monthly meetings. Oh the joy of reading all the latest thrillers,  whodunnits,  best sellers, family sagas, prize winning novels, biographies  and travel books,  and occasionally chick lit micro novels .Doris felt like the proverbial kid in that candy store, the alcoholic let loose at a bachelor stag party.  Doris was ecstatic.

A year passed by and suddenly the honeymoon was over. Doris began to notice how careless the other woman were with the books, treating them roughly, returning them dog eared or with  coffee-mug stained jackets; losing them altogether or  keeping them way beyond the loan period .

In Doris’s eyes this cavalier attitude to books was criminal, outrageous behaviour, heinous beyond belief or acceptance. However, she paid her Subs and returned her books religiously. She sat quietly and unobtrusively at Book Club meetings, neatly in old lady mode slowly sipping her glass of white wine,  only one for me thank you dear , and watched the raucous antics of the ladies. She was surprised to discover that many  of the members regarded the Book Club as an excuse to have a night out, away from husband, home and kids, to relax in a friendly female atmosphere helped along with a few bottles of wine.

 Certainly all the Book Club members could be classified as readers, but as book lovers ? No definitely not, rated on Doris’ scale of passionate obsession. The eleven other members scored minus five points on a scale of 10,  with one or two exceptions of course, but on the whole,  lamentable.

Doris brooded moodily. In private of course, because archetypal Little Old Ladies are not supposed to harbour dark, moody, broody thoughts. No of course not, perish the thought! The night Betty spilled a glass of red wine over the newest Jonathan Kellerman in a tipsy fit of giggling was the night that Doris decided that enough was enough.

As a child Doris  existed on a solid diet of her father’s Crime Book Club selection of thrillers and late 1940s  private eye  novels: Peter Cheney, Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie – undisputed queen of the genre – Edgar Wallace, Ellery Queen, the names flicked through her head in a satisfying, familiar roll call.

Other children  filled their school days with the jolly hockey sticks activities of the Enid Blyton books but not Doris, who  roared through these tame escapades and quickly discarded them in favour of the exciting, risqué  adult world of car chases, hangovers, chain smoking detectives wearing  raincoats, armed with pistols, alternating with the polite,sophisticated Society of Europe in the 1930s – sports cars, cocktails, foxtrots, backless evening dresses, aristocratic sleuths; and always, always,  MURDER as the solution to all of life’s little problems, financial, personal or romantic.  It seemed the perfectly reasonable solution to the book-despoiling Betties of this world . Anybody who treated books in such a disrespectful way definitely had  it coming to them, thought Doris . It would solve the Betty problem and then of course there was the odious Susan,  but, one thing at a time, Doris chided herself . Softly, softly catchee monkeee,  she murmured to herself, and carefully, carefully plot and plan, no good solving the Betty problem and getting oneself all tangled up . No, no!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is images.jpg

“Betty dear”, she murmured hesitantly,” I wonder if I could ask you – I know how busy you are – but I did wonder …” and out came the request for Betty to help Doris with her volunteer duty at the library, next Tuesday afternoon .

“It’s just two hours, from two until four,  and the lady who usually helps,  is in hospital having her hip replaced, and it’s a bit much for me on my own … “ .Doris’s request tailed off uncertainly .

Betty  thought, shame, all those heavy books to cart around, it probably is a bit much for her ,“ OK, I’ll make a plan – see you at the library on Tuesday “.

 Betsy duly arrived at the library and Doris was flutteringly grateful for the help. “Cup of tea, dear? “ Doris inquired, “ shall I put the kettle on”, and then: “ Betty, I can hear the kettle boiling, would you mind? You’ll have to turn it off at the plug, it’s an old one, not an automatic, “ and obliging Betty groped her way into the dark corner housing the tea-making equipment, failed to see the cunning puddle of water in which she stood, didn’t notice the crafty removal of the earth wire in the kettle plug; the electricity sizzling up the wires did her no good at all: DOA at the emergency unit in Groot Schuur Hospital .

Poor old Doris, quite shattered . and what an awful accident, was the Book Club verdict. Doris, heavily in Little Old Lady mode, deliberately missed the club meeting after Betty’s  sad accident, and when she did appear, she looked paler than usual  (careful application of face powder two shades lighter the normal, did the trick) and seemed very subdued.

 Shame,  must have been a terrible shock, said the Book Club.

Then Fate played right into Doris’s hands: the odious, careless, non- book returning Susan unexpectedly had a stroke and was rushed to hospital . Susan was stricken the day before the monthly club meeting, and Anne breathlessly reported that Susan was in Our Lady of Fatima hospital, run by the nuns, up in Oranjezicht .

Now it so happened that Doris had  spent time in the hospital the previous year, having her gallbladder removed. Such dear, sweet nuns, she remembered rosily, such devoted nurses . Quite like the old days and such a quaint old building . Originally it  been a large convent but when  new novices declined to a thin trickle, the nuns decided to convert the building into a modest hospital in order to financially sustain their dwindling community . Yes it was an old building, she reflected . Hmmm.

so, Good Samaritan Doris visited Susan the next day, bearing a small pot plant, and fussing over the bed covers, and exclaiming over the life- support machine that ticked and bleeped next to the bed and assisted Susan’s very paralyzed body to breathe.

Doris didn’t stay long . “ I don’t want to tire you out, dear, and I do want to go and say hello to that nice sister Francis, she was so good to me last year. Bye, dear, I’ll come again tomorrow.”

Doris headed briskly for the Ladies cloak room, making a short detour down a small passage to check that her memory of the floor plan was correct. Yes indeed it was, there on the wall was the electrical distribution board . Who would have thought that marriage to an electrician would prove so useful so many years down the track, mused Doris, as she whisked into a nearby supply room to find a broom with a sufficiently long handle to push up the mains switch . Having switched off the power it took just another quick whisk into Susan’s room to turn off the life support machine at the wall plug.

This time Doris didn’t stop  to say goodbye to Susan, seemed pointless really. The corridors were filled with nurses and nuns scurrying distractedly to and fro in search of the cause of the power failure and  when the power was finally restored, everybody assumed that all was well with Susan and her life support machine, but alas, this assumption proved false and the dear, sweet nuns didn’t notice that the wall plug was switched off . Accidents happen, even in the best regulated hospitals.

Book Club meetings for the next couple of months were much quieter and better ordered with the removal of Betty and Susan. Doris attended happily, now secure in a neatly ordered club until somebody suggested that maybe they should look for two new members? The rising price of books and the two missing monthly subscriptions were causing a bit of financial strain. Two new members were recruited and Doris anxiously watched their behaviour, their demeanor, their attitude towards books. Christine was a librarian, quiet, bookish and a fan of travel books and biographies. She’d do  mused Doris, a real book lover.

She wasn’t so sure about Pam, though.  Pam loved her wine and offered  an inexhaustible supply of dirty jokes . She only borrowed one book a month and didn’t appear to particularly enjoy reading .  It transpired she was married to a very ambitious eye surgeon, who was hell bent on making his first million by the age of 35 .  Enough said .

In December Pam spilled a bottle – a whole bottle  –  of wine  over a stack of 10 books. Well! Doris’s lips tightened. This wouldn’t do at all.

 Doris was still working as a volunteer at the local library, and being very careful in the kitchen, with the old kettle. Honestly, you’d think that they would have bought a new one after that awful accident, wouldn’t you?

 “ I don’t know what we do without Doris, a real book lover and such a worker,” said the librarian and, “ Do  be careful when you leave the library Doris, those trucks come over the bridge at a hell of a speed. Last week one of those big breweries’ trucks came over the rise at the bridge too fast, and very nearly ran over old Mr van Tonder, you know him Doris? Old man with a stick? “

Yes, Doris knew old Mr van Tonder . He’d had such a lucky escape, hadn’t he? Hmmm.

 Doris cornered Pam at the next Book Club meeting, very smartly, before Pam got stuck into the wine. “ Pam, “ she said cosily “I’ve been meaning to ask you, I know busy you are, but I was just wondering whether you could help me out next week at our local library, my usual helper has gone to Hermanus for two week. Do  you think you……? “

 Oh dear.


                                                                        THE END

If you enjoyed the story, perhaps you would consider making a small donation by way of an amazon.com gift voucher? Due to the negative exchange rate between our currencies, it is too expensive for me to keep my Kindle running. For details, kindly email me on nyassa@telkomsa.net