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

 

 

THE RAW SHARK TEXTS – Steven Hall

The_Raw_Shark_Texts-Book_Cover
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.

MAY 2017 READING ROUND-UP

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

THE MIRACLE OF CROCODILE FLATS

 

 


15731598._SY180_ An Affectionate Satire – Jenny Hobbs

The sub-title is apt: Jenny Hobbs skilfully skewers all the woes and peccadilloes of life in an impoverished South African small town. And yet, despite the dust, hunger, disease, squalor and crime there is still space for a small miracle, that transforms the town and its people and bring a smile to the face of the reader.
Schoolgirl Sweetness Moloi claims to have seen a vision. Let me leave it at that, lest I reveal the catalyst.
There’s a rich melange of characters: Ben Feinbaum is hopelessly sinking with the vanishing fortunes of the family owned hotel, the town’s one and only. Raylene, the volunteer teacher working in the school, boarding with the nuns of the Little Sisters of Extreme Destitution and being bullied by bitter old Sister Immaculata; the drunken Dr Ugh; the Smart Boys – the town’s *tsotsis; the senile old Chief Mohlalipula, outdated patriarch enveloped in a cloud of snuff; the two posh old ladies starving to death amidst a flood of feral cats; the alcoholic store-owner; the VanderLindeans barricading themselves for the siege against the Swaart Gevaar and life in general; the scheming dominee; the maniacal Anglican minister; and so it goes on. One character deserves her own introduction: No 1 Senior wife, Violet, in her immaculate suits, PR and business manager for her evangelical go-getter husband, the Prophet Hallelujah, the highly successful inventor of the Correct Baptised God Come Down in Africa Church.
There are other characters too who play a role in the unfolding furore, notably the brash, macho Aussie journalist Rod the Sod; and the principled policeman Capt Godwin Ngobese who is determined to stop the crime and bribery. There’s a ducking and diving government Minister and his old-school Director General grimly hanging on for his pension, no matter what. South Africa in a microcosm. The drama, the tears, the violence, and also, the hope, reconciliation and success.
I loved the book and it may well hit my Number One slot in my 2017 Reading Stakes. Read this book – highly recommended.
*criminals
Publisher: Umuzi 2012

WELCOME to THE BOOKSMITH BLOG

Welcome to my new blog!

A big wave to my faithful followers, and a huge Hello! to new blogging friends.

I hope you’ll find plenty to interest and entertain you at The Booksmith Blog.

For openers I’ve loaded some of my reviews in the Reader’s Radar pages. As you can see, these reviews date back to the beginning of my blogging career. Now that I have this secondary blog focussing on books I’ll post current and future reviews and bookish articles on The Booksmith, and continue to use my existing blog http://despatchesfromtimbuktu.wordpress.com as my electronic soapbox from which to write about everything else.

If you’d like to learn more about my reading tastes, take a look at the About Page – see top header.  I love quirky books, offbeat books, oh – who am I kidding? I just love books and reading! Come and join the party!

And then there are the Hits & Misses pages. Here you will find my annual reading lists – the good, the brilliant, the awful, the bad, the unreadable. Yes: there are such things as un-readable books – far and few to be sure, but every now and then I hit one, which I close firmly and return to the shelf. Although my reading tastes are eclectic, even I baulk at some books: bad writing, unpleasant themes (e.g. zombies), buckets of blood,  –  you get the picture, I’m sure. We all have our no-go areas. Now you’ve seen some of mine.

I’ll be posting reviews of my current reads, articles on bookish topics, contributions from guest reviewers and writers. Watch this space!

I’m looking forward to sharing my passion for books and reading with other readers. And last, but by no means least, please follow this blog and post comments – I love hearing from my readers.