AFRICAN REFUGEES IN AFRICA

In 2021 I’m trying to read more African writers. I formed the idea last year, and am actively on the lookout for African writers. Please note: this does not necessarily mean black writers.  African is home to writers of the light skinned variants too. Our continent stretches over vast geographical and cultural distances, from the Arab world in the far North, moving South to the racial hodgepodge world of South Africa.

We all know our neighbourhood Congolese car guard. Apparently the Congolese have  the car  guarding sector  all sewn up, in Cape Town. Much the same way that the Zimbabweans have cornered the waitron sector, and the Malawians the Petrol Jockey jobs.

Way back in 2019 in the happy days when we attended large public events, I listened to Remy Ngamije speak on a panel at the annual Open Book Festival, at the Fugard Theatre.  He was introduced as a Namibian, but his heritage goes back to Rwanda. His family fled the country during the civil war.  

He made an impression on me, and mentioned his novel in progress. I recall him being somewhat dismissive of life in Windhoek. I made a note to buy his novel, and here it is.

His  novel is heavily autobiographical, as first novels so often are.  Serafin is the narrator, oldest boy in a Rwandan refugee family of three boys, transplanted to Namibia and a different way of life in every regard. It’s a coming of age novel, that covers boyhood, then student life at varsity in  Cape Town where Sera  makes  friends, composes interminable playlists, goes clubbing with diligence, and samples women with even more diligence.

Ngamije’s  writing style offers  a  wry  turn of phrase, often barbed and critical , but handled deftly.   He has plenty to say about life in South Africa, racism, and the endemic corruption, plus  the hardships of refugee status in both Namibia and RSA.   Most of the opinion is  very familiar,  but its  refreshing to read the  familiar criticisms  about South African life from an African writer.

The highlight of the book for me was his character, Maxime, the Congolese hairdresser in his Mowbray barbershop – an area I know well. Maxime’s outrageous stories are laugh-out-loud funny. We also meet other characters from the continent: Idriss, the taxi driver from Benin, the students from Zimbabwe and others, notably the rich, white chicks from Camps Bay, in Cape Town. Plus the Coloured Lesbian, Bianca, the only girl in Serafin’s High Lords posse. If you live in SA, you’ll understand why a Coloured Lesbian is a contentious character.

On the downside, the book is a tad under 500 pages; a pacey, action-driven novel it ain’t.  And then, after all the leisurely  story-telling, suddenly the  ending  is abrupt.

 Did I enjoy it? Yes.  Did I gain insight into the life of refugees? This is Refugees 101 on steroids.  Yes.  Can I recommend it? Yes.

FICTION

The Eternal Audience of One – Remy Ngamije . Life, love, refugees, student life in Cape Town, from a Namibian writer’s viewpoint. Some laughs, surprises , heartbreak, hard times, confessions,  life lessons. A contemporary novel. Try it.

FEBRUARY 2021 READING ROUNDUP

I’ve read some good novels this month, due to the generosity of friends who loan me books from their shelves. You know who you are.

The latest Robert Galbraith Cormoran Strike novel, #5,  Troubled Blood kept me reading feverishly : whodunnit?  You have to read through  927 pages to find out. Not a book for readers with weak wrists, the darn thing must literally weight a kg. Its already earned the slot in my 2021  Reading Review as Doorstopper of the Year. Many readers complained it was too long. Was it?

Initially I struggled with the cast of thousands,  but once I  grew accustomed to the names, I sailed along. Yes, I could have done with shorter or less backstories but that said, this it is an epic novel with many unsolved crime stories meshing together, hence the backstory detail.  The blurb declared it: … a labyrinthine epic …. I agree.  “Unputdownable” declared the Sunday Times. Yes. Is it a terrific read? Yes.

In my usual Late-to-the-Party reading style, I finally managed to read The Salt Path. It came out in 2018, to high praise, and prizes – deservedly so. It falls into the genre of Nature Writing, melded with Memoir. Raynor Winn and her husband Moth (just diagnosed with an obscure, incurable neuro-illness) are booted off their farm, lose everything: property, home, and money. In their shell-shock homeless state, they take the bizarre decision to walk the coastal route from Wales  down to Land’s End, and up the other side of the peninsula, a trek of 638 miles. It’s a remarkable story of human endurance, the healing power of Nature and steadfast love. The book will definitely feature high on my 2021  Hits & Misses list.

FICTION

Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith. #5 Cormoran Strike Series. A 40 year old cold crime case that takes an entire year to unravel to a satisfying conclusion. Recommended.

The Grammarians – Cathleen Schine. The grammarians are Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, identical, inseparable redheaded twins who share an obsession with words. A story about family, sibling love and rivalry, the interplay of language and life. Novel is surprisingly funny, charming and utterly irresistible if you enjoy words, language, and books.

Dear Edward – Ann Napolitano. 11 year old Eddie Adler is the sole survivor of an air crash that kills 191 passengers & crew, en route to Los Angeles. The book  describes how he slowly re-enters his new life, minus his family, and comes to terms with the aftermath. A number of the other passengers’ backstories form part of the story, as do the many letters (hence the title) written to Edward by bereft family members. Utterly engrossing. But  I’m glad I have no plans to  travel by air  in the near future.

The Second Sleep – Robert Harris. A mind-bending story of a future rooted in the past; a post-Apocalyptic, post-scientific, semi-Dark Ages future, ruled by the Church determined to root out dangerous (and now heretical) knowledge of the technological past. A quest to discover the secrets of the Ancients, mired in good old human greed, treachery and lust. Thought provoking! How would we fare if all technology ceased working today? Right now? Ask yourself the question. The answer is not a happy one.

A Theatre for Dreamers – Polly Sampson. The Greek Island of Hydra, an idyllic summer of sun, sea, wine, sex, and 17 year old Erica from London grieving over her mother’s recent death, adrift, growing up and surrounded by a bohemian expat community driven by passion, gossip and artistic dreams. An atmospheric novel, loosely based on a period in the lives of George Johnson and Charmian Clift, both writers; Leonard Cohen also features. An immersive read that made me itch for a ticket to Greece.

Red Joan – Jennie Rooney. Cambridge University in 1937, awash with ideas and idealists – Joan is swept away by exotic, glamorous Sonya and her cousin Leo. Only problem is they’re Russian spies. Young, idealistic  Joan hasn’t a clue and is drawn ever deeper into their web of treachery and deceit. A well-researched, intelligent spy novel. Recommended.

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig. I couldn’t wait to read this one, & it didn’t disappoint. The main premise is: what if you could identify and resolves past regrets and go on to live life fully? The midnight library provides the parallel  universe mechanism to do this and experience many alternate lives until she finally works it all out. An unusual and satisfying read.

The Rules of Seeing – Joe Heap. Blind from birth, Nova  undergoes an operation to restore her sight, and the process of learning to see is challenging. Add a lesbian love story to the mix, plus a dangerous psychotic husband bent on revenge and you have an unusual read.  The novel changes the way you see the world, says the cover.  A good read. Recommended.

Nine Letters – John Webb. A South African novel, published last year, and well received. I finished the book with very mixed feelings. See my stand-alone review: https://wordpress.com/post/thebooksmithblog.wordpress.com/101  on 21 February 2021.

NON-FICTION

The Salt Path – Raynor Winn. A nixture of memoir and Nature Writing, and wholly engrossing. The wild coastal landscape, the wild turmoil of bad circumstances, the physical challenges, the endurance and spirit of the two walkers. Unforgettable. Not to be missed.

NINE LETTERS – John Webb

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I like to read and if possible, promote local south African novels, so I was looking forward to this  acclaimed 2020 release. In this instance my expectations were skewed by the misleading jacket blurb.

Paige Nick, enthused  on the front  cover:  What a novel! Hilarious and beautifully written, I smiled the whole way through.  Reverting back to her comment when I’d finished the book, I wondered whether we’d been reading the same book. The Blurb is misleading .  Emphasis is on the Nine Letters, when in fact, 65% of the book relates to narrator, lawyer Teddy Dickerson, nephew of the recently deceased Aunt Val( who wrote the Nine Letters  and the progress of a very emotionally fraught contested deceased estate case.  It felt as if two unrelated stories (1) the letters/Aunt Val’s nine correspondents and (2) the Smollen family and their fight over the estate had been stuck together. Not very successfully. Granted, unhappy gay lawyer Teddy is the common factor between the two story threads, but the blurb makes no mention of the legal story. Guided by the blurb I was expecting a fun, light read   but found the book far from a laugh fest.

TD is going through a mid-life crisis, gloomily contemplating a bland and predictable old age. The Smollen mother and daughter have enormous emotional baggage, and are haunted by a dark family history with a tragic secret at its heart.

And what of quirky old Aunt Val and her surprising collection of correspondents? Here the book becomes uncomfortably philosophical. I’m a life-long letter writer, so was looking forward to this part of the story but on the whole I found the letters disappointing.  And overshadowed by the dramatic legal side of the story. Granted the letters did enable unhappy TD soften somewhat and discover that he actually was fond of his difficult Aunt Val – well, sort of.

I did enjoy the Kwa-Zulu Natal setting of the book. A province that I have visited often.

I finished the novel with mixed feelings.  However, other may have  different views. I’d love to hear from them.  

FEBRUARY BUYS 2021

I can’t resist stories about twins, so when I heard about The Grammarians, I knew it was a book I really, really wanted to read. I had to wait for over three months for the books to struggle through the difficulties of overseas orders and Covid problems, plus postal delays, but the book finally staggered in, and now its in my possession. I can’t wait to read it! Twins, words, language …. what’s not to like?

I’ve been dithering around over the Salt Path for at least a year. Despite my efforts to loan the book from the Library (regret not in the Cape Town Library system), or borrow the book from my bookish friends (no, sorry, haven’t got that one) or buy a second-hand copy but again no luck. So in the end, I had to bite the bullet and buy the darn thing. I like the cover. It reminds me of lino print designs, which I always enjoy.

As usual, I’m late to the party. The Salt Path was published in 2018. What a good thing books don’t “go off” like the contents of the grocery cupboards. Although this said, I was hunting through my book cases last week, and found a book dating back to the 1980s, where the pages have turn a deep, dark, toasty brown, and I promise you, the book has never been left lying in the sun. Oh the very idea! oh, the horror!

The Salt Path is part memoir, part Nature writing, and it poses a difficult question: what would you, the reader, do if faced with a massive, life-altering situation like the onset of an incurable disease coupled with homelessness and financial ruin. I certainly wouldn’t chose to walk 638 miles around the British coastline, which was the Winn’s solution. I’d probably hide in the darkest corner of the biggest library, whimpering pitifully, and praying for a heavy book shelf to fall on me and deliver me from my plight.

And my third purchase was another book that I’ve been dithering over for some time. I read a glowing review in one of the many recent Best Books of 2020 articles, so I went mad and bought it. Again, I love the vibrant, fiery cover – I’m a pushover for yellow and orange. Fingers crossed that the contents live up to the cover.

Have you acquired any new books in the last seven weeks ?

JANUARY 2021: READING ROUNDUP

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous –  Ocean Vuong. I finished the book on December 31st, by which time I’d posted my Dec 2020 Reading Round-up, so here it is starting off the January reviews. What a book! The writing is visceral, passionate, at times unbearable. Its not an easy read, and falls into the Unforgettable Reads category. Little Dog writes a long letter to his mother, who cannot read. Its his life story, his experience of growing up a Vietnamese immigrant in America. If you’re an animal lover, you will find parts of the book difficult, if not unbearable. Strong stuff, but what a read!

A 2019 hit memoir, On  Chapel Sands, proved to be an unusual and interesting read because it was the careful excavation and piecing together of Laura Cumming’s mother’s early history: her adoption, kidnap and family background. The final outcome proved, yet again, that truth is always stranger than fiction. But this apart, I enjoyed the social history aspect, the portrait of life in rural England in the late 20s and the 1930s. My heritage is British, and I grew up in a British Colony; I was surprised at the similarities with my own life. A recommended read. 

January is a long and usually bleak month, so a fluffy Rom-Com read was called for. I hit the jackpot with Sophia Money-Coutts Rom-Com, The Wish List. She has written columns for a number of British newspapers and magazines, notably four years at The Tatler, and her background shone through the narrative of her funny and charming rom-com. Life in London, posh blokes, champagne, everybody catching taxis, political  grand events (a Black & White Ball, if you please, at which our heroine appears in eye catching crimson – ooops. Not one of her better moments). The book sparkles with charm, offers some spicy sex, and  best of all: some humour. Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Craig Johnston-Walt Longmire series. I’ve tossed in the towel and started reading the series on my Kindle. Craig Johnson is a master storyteller, and seldom disappoints. I’ve read and loved most of the Longmire series, but in this book Walt’s retirement (no, surely not!) or demise (much more likely, he attracts bullets like a magnet) is hinted at. Up until now, he’s been indestructible despite daunting odds, but … I suppose all good things come to an end sometime.

FICTION

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous –  Ocean Vuong. The Vietnam War casts a long toxic shadow on Vietnamese immigrants to the USA. Highly acclaimed, adjudged a masterpiece. But not for the faint hearted.

Paris Echo – Sebastian Faulks. Present day plus WWII Paris; Moroccan runaway teen; earnest academic. The characters and plot didn’t engage me, so it was a D N F for me, but Francophiles and history fans will enjoy it.

Deadly Feast – Lucy Burdette. A foodie mystery, set in Key West, Florida. Well written with credible characters and plot. An enjoyable light read.( A Kindle Cozy Mystery).

Key Lime Crime – Lucy Burdette. More of the above, with enough interesting variations to make it an enjoyable read. (e-book).

The Wish List – Sophia Money-Coutts.  British Rom-com; feel good with a happy ending. Some posh men who turn out to be absolute cads and get dumped when the girls involved come to their senses. Oh, and a cat called Marmalade, so what’s not to like? (e-book).

The Birthday Mystery – #1 Jenny Starling Mysteries, – Faith Martin. A classic whodunnit, in the great tradition of Agatha Christie et al.  A cut above the Cozy Mystery genre, well written and plotted. I enjoyed it. (e-book).

Land of Wolves – Craig Johnston. #16  Walt Longmire series. Walt is getting older, severely  battered and bruised, probably suffering from PTSD,  but gamely solves another mystery despite dreadful odds, and a threatening personal computer on his desk. Oh the horror! Wolves in the high country of Wyoming, and the Basque community feature in this book. Recommended. (e-book).

Logging Off  – Nick Spalding. Funny Brit  light read, written & narrated by a man. Andy Bellowes decides to log off completely, and do a cold turkey detox from all things electronic, media, gadgets, the works. The results are hilarious but there’s also a thought provoking warning. Internet addiction exists and it could well be ruining your health and your life. Balance is the key word. (e-book).

MY JANUARY DIPPER

The Ultimate Wodehouse Collection – P G Wodehouse. Published by Blackmore Dennett & available on Kindle. I’m currently enjoying the Jeeves & Wooster series. Perfect light, funny reading for difficult times. I can dip in and out and be beguiled for half an hour.

NON-FICTION

On Chapel Sands – Laura Cumming. ‘This memoir-cum-detective story becomes a remarkable search for truth.’(Sunday Telegraph.)

MY 2021 READING PLANS

Nothing very dramatic to report here.

Pretty much a repeat of last year’s Bookish Promise list, i.e. to abandon boring books without hesitation, and to read for enjoyment. And if I need to read umpteen Cozy Mysteries on my Kindle, to maintain my sanity, I will and to hell with tackling Virginia Wolf. That boat has sailed, I have to report; ditto many other literary aspirations. 

I remain determined not to fall into any goal orientated activities, Reading Challenges and the like. At this point in a grim period, my biggest challenge is to remain alive and not fall prey to the dreaded virus.

I do have a new bookish idea floating around in my scattered brain and that is to re-read some of the favourites on my shelves.  After all, that’s why I kept the books in the first place, to re-read at some point.

I have finally admitted to myself that its impossible to keep up with new publications and reviews, no matter how many book bloggers I follow. And since my Library Book Club looks unlikely to reconvene any time soon, if ever, does it really matter?

But, that said,  I do  rely on a few Book Bloggers who I faithfully follows: The Book Jotter , at  https://bookjotter.com/. Paula Bardell-Hedley  provides a weekly digest across a wide range of  (mainly) British publishers and writer, plus op-ed articles from newspapers and magazines. I find it invaluable and thank her for her labours. Week in and week out, she publishes. Hats off to her!

Another blogger with a prodigious output is Rebecca Foster at Bookish Beck: https://bookishbeck.wordpress.com/ . She loves lists which makes for quick, easy reading but also writes good reviews across a wide spectrum of books.

Thirdly I must mention  Karen Heenan-Davies  https://bookertalk.com/tag/wordpress/. I’ve followed her blog for years. Her initial theme was reviewing and discussing the annual  Booker Prize nominations, but more recently she has been a fountain of knowledge on the  arcane workings of WordPress.com and how to get the most out of their blogging platform.

So these speed readers and industrious bloggers keep me informed. And my lovely Indie book shop, The Book Lounge https://booklounge.co.za/  is prepared to research and  order my quirky requests, AND  deliver them to my front door. Where would I be without them?

I’m sure my reading in 2021 will reveal some new treasures, and reacquaint me with old favourites. I hope yours does too!

DECEMBER 2020 READING ROUNDUP

Here we are at the end of 2020. What a year it has been. Plenty of time and opportunity for reading, during long lockdown periods. Thank heavens for books, and my Indie bookstore that delivers. Sanity savers, both.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also toss a thank-you to Amazon and my Kindle device. During my brain-fog period, they supplied cozy mysteries which alleviated the boredom and loneliness.

I shattered my Bookish Resolution  to limit my book buying. Blame it on the pandemic. But one Bookish Promise that I did  fulfill, was to read more books by African authors: books from  Zambia, Nigeria, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and South Africa slid past my bifocals this year.  African writers need all the help they can get.

If you’re interested in my  2020 reading summary , please go to my previous post 2020 Hits & Misses, where I hand out the bouquets and the bricks.

December has been a wildly eclectic melange  of books, most of which I enjoyed. My Rave Read would be The Shallows, by Ingrid Winterbach.

FICTION

The Shallows – Ingrid Winterbach translated by Michiel Heyns.  A complex and complicated book by an established Afrikaans author. Superb descriptive writing about Stellenbosch and environs. Its a character driven story, not plot driven. The plot is enigmatic, to say the least. A rich and rewarding novel. Readers of Literary novels will love the novel .

The Universe versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence. A coming of age novel, set in England; Alex survives a direct hit by a small meteorite and life is never the same again. A quirky, enjoyable read, but also offers surprising  existential depths.

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese. A rich, family story set in Ethiopia, with a medical background. An all round satisfying novel both from the perspective of the plot, the characters and the setting. An engrossing enjoyable read.

Cinnamon Gardens – Shyam  Selvadurai. Ceylon, late 1920s, through the eyes of a Sinhalese writer. British Colonial rule ending, political and social change, and the restricted lives of women inching towards modernity. A book evocative  of life and  South Asian settings.

Earthlings – Sakiya Murata. Unless you’re a diehard fan of Sakiya Murata, avoid this novel. See my review: http://thebooksmithblog.

Tangerine – Christine Mangan. Dark twisted psycho drama mainly set in Tangiers. Obsessive college girl friendship turns horrendously into disaster. Hitchcock fans will love it. I didn’t.

MY DECEMBER DIPPER

A Writer’s World. Travels 1950 – 2000.  Jan Morris. Alas, she died very recently, but what a life she had! Traveller, and historian, and writer par excellence. Armchair travel at its best. Informed, erudite but never dull. I shall miss her.

HITS & MISSES : MY 2020 READING YEAR

In this year of accursed years, whose events have unfurled like bad writing for a television series that went off the rails a few seasons back and I would’ve ditched if we weren’t living it, I am indebted to the authors and books that offered solace, refuge, a safe harbor. The books that shepherded me through the tumultuous news cycle, provided companionship through the pandemic, while trying to reckon with ….. the   slew of other dreadful happenings that marked this year. I’m beholden to the books that enticed me to think harder, to be present, the books that convinced me again and again there are worse things than solitude, books whose language, vitality, and mindfuckery made me feel alive, still, and grateful to be so, mostly. Year In Reading: Anne K. Yoder  Posted: 13 Dec 2020 08:00 AM PST

The above passage from The Millions sums up 2021 perfectly, I thought.

One of the few good things about the 2020 global lockdowns was that book sales rocketed upwards by 50% as the world caught up on its reading.  I read far more books this year than I usually do, not that reading is a competitive sport, I hasten to add.

My Book Budget was shattered to smithereens around about May month, and my book buying continues to expand vigorously; and yet, life lurches on. Maybe setting a Book Budget is a fruitless exercise?

I’ve listed the hits and the misses below. Do share your year-end lists or views.

BEST NOVEL

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

BEST FANTASY

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

BEST AFRICAN NOVEL

The Old Drift – Namwali Serpell

BEST TRANSLATED NOVELS

The Shallows – Ingrid Winterbach,  Translator – Michiel Heyns

Celestial Bodies – Jokha Alharthi, Translator – Marilynne Booth

BEST WRITING

The Broken Road – Patrick Leigh Fermor

NOTABLE, ENJOYABLE READS

Miss Benson’s Beetle – Rachel Joyce

The Bear – Andrew Krivak

Akin – Emma Donoghue

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese

Actress – Anne Enright

BEST MEMOIR

Travel Light, Move Fast – Alexandra Fuller

THE MOST CHALLENGING READ

North & South – Mrs E Gaskell

BEST SHORT STORIES

A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin

BEST SERIES (e-books)

The Sophie Katz crime series – Kyra Davis

BEST NON-FICTION

The Boy Behind the Curtain – Tim Winton

THE MISSES

84K – Claire North

Ducks, Newburyport – Lucy Ellman

Kintu – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

EARTHLINGS by SAYAKA MURATA

Sometimes, when you’re driving, you see something out of the corner of your eye and you think: Huh? What was that ? No! can’t be!  But by then you’ve driven past, and you tell yourself, no, I must have been mistaken. Quite impossible.   Has that happened to you?

When I’d finished reading Earthlings, I experienced the same WTF was that? What did I just read? What did I experience? No! surely not!  

The novel left me in a state of  mental and emotional upheaval, and has  – I don’t want to say haunted  –  lingered uneasily  for days.

Now I’m accustomed to the opacity and otherness of Japanese novels, having served my reader’s apprenticeship with Haruki Murakami (no disrespect intended).  But this Murata novel  sucker punched me. I was expecting SF or Fantasy. What I got was a terrible tale of childhood abuse, a dysfunctional family and a traumatized girl, Natsuki, the narrator.  So much for the first half.

In the adult section of the story, Natsuki  passes for a normal adult member of Japanese society, whereas she is anything but. She radically disagrees with Japanese societal norms and expectations about the role of women, marriage, and social obligations. She puts her disagreement into action, quietly escaping  under the radar with a non-consummated marriage with Tomoya  (he’s seriously off the scale weird), until the end of the book where she is re-united with her childhood friend,  soul mate,  childhood husband Yuu. Oh, and Tomoya  joins them as  Number Three in this disturbing trio.

From here on in, things take a downwards turn, with a vengeance. I use the words advisedly. One of the book’s minor themes is sibling rivalry.  The main theme is a radical dismissal of life in modern Japan. Another major theme is the role of Fantasy as a mechanism for dealing with/escaping trauma.

I felt that the ending, to coin a phrase, lost the plot, with a descent into horror, Fantasy and/or full-blown madness. Take your pick. But, on reflection,  the ending of this bizarre tale was always going to be difficult.

One reviewer said the novel was a coming-of-age  book. I disagree. To me it was a radical, revolutionary book and a blunt criticism of modern Japan. I’m surprised the writer‘s citizenship hasn’t been revoked!  No doubt many will disagree with me.  You’re welcome.

Other reviewers found it funny. Not to me it wasn’t.  Weird, off-the wall, terrifying,  tragic, haunting, stunning, unexpected; anything but funny. .

If you’re looking for cherry blossom, geishas, merry sake parties, Japanese uber techno- modern life, this is not the book for you. I’m not too sure it was the book for me, either.

Unforgettable, yes. Original, yes. Weird, yes. Re-readable, no. Anybody want my copy? If you live in South Africa you may have it, gratis. Either collect in Cape Town , or be willing to pay the courier charge.

NOVEMBER 2020 READING ROUNDUP

This  month’s Dipper is a selection of Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges  short essays starting in 1922 and ending in 1986. He was a witty, erudite and critical commentator on life, literature and the world. Everything and anything interested Borges and he wrote about a dazzling diversity of subjects ranging through, but not limited to: history, literature, book and film reviews, magazine articles. This collection includes  his Lectures on Shakespeare, The Detective Story, and Blindness – particularly poignant because  he suffered from total blindness, a hereditary affliction ….  And progressively diminished his own eyesight from the 1920s onward. It  forced him to abandon the writing of long texts and to begin dictating to his mother or to secretaries or friends.

I would unhesitatingly include this collection high on my list of Desert Island books. Whatever your personal taste, or mood of the day, I’ll bet you’ll find a short piece to your liking,  in this collection. Not all my Dippers are literary, not by any means. Last month’s Dipper was a collection of short pieces, mostly social comment, from the British columnist Lynne Truss and they were a jolly good read, often resulting in laughter, giggles and explosive mirth from yours truly.

Irish novels …. Irish novels   … as a rule of thumb, I tend to avoid them. All that rain and Catholic suffering and general gloom. No thanks. But periodically one of Anne Enright’s novels comes my way, and I read her novels, conscious that I am reading a work by a wonderful writer,  that succeeds in eclipsing  my dislike of Irish novels.

 Actress is a marvellous novel, about an Irish actress and her story is related by her only daughter, Norah. I found the book difficult to start with, because the early section dealt with family history and skipped around  timewise, and was littered with characters, but once I got through that, I enjoyed the story.  Oh the drama! Oh the agonies of doubt, insecurity,  career difficulties and rivalries, oh the drama!  It’s a brilliant account of a woman growing more and more unstable, related with vivid detail, some of which lingers unpleasantly in my mind – grubby bedsheets, the physique of a middle aged seducer –   uuuurrrggghhh! But I read on, cross-eyed, and totally immersed. If you’ve never read Anne Enright, do yourself a favour, and try this novel.

FICTION

Actress- Anne Enright . Brilliant, difficult, worth the effort. Recommended.

Our Souls at Night – Kent Haruf. A little gem of a book, written with simplicity and sincerity, about companionship in old age, about a small town love affair and an anxious 6 year old boy. The story has great emotional depth .  Recommended.

The Enchanted Garden (South Side series) – Abigail Drake. (e book). Quite sexy, and also Wicca Lite.  A refreshingly well-written book in the cozy series, with some interesting twists at the end.

In For a Penny – Kelsey Browning & Nancy Naigel (e book)              ] Southern Sleuth

Catfish & Collard Greens – Kelsey Browning & Nancy Naigel (ebook)]       Series

Not bad for CMs. Three old gals in a Southern setting – loads of Southern sweetness, and summed up by another reviewer beautifully: the Golden Girls meet Dirty Harry.

NOVEMBER DIPPER – Jorge Luis Borges : Selected Non-Fictions ed by Eliot Weinberger.  A cornucopia of wit, wisdom and Critical Insights, said the TLS.