APRIL READING ROUND UP

APRIL HITS

Without doubt, Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald is top of the list. She’s an English naturalist, ornithologist, who writes brilliantly about the natural world, and particularly about birds. Her observations and experiences make for compelling  reading.

 I particularly enjoyed the title essay Vesper Flights : an  account of swifts, that fly up to ten thousand feet altitude, and then go into deep sleep mode! Verified by scientific observation, let me add.   

 The essays are mostly short, but concentrated. One essay gives you plenty to think about, mull over and return to. I enjoyed the book so much that I’ve ordered my own copy.

My second April Hit is The Last Hunt by Deon Meyer, South Africa’s #1 crime writer. What an excellent read!  I seldom read crime because every time I consume any local media, crime confronts me. I read to escape it, not be faced with more of the same!  However, that said,  the book is set partly in Cape Town and I always enjoy reading stories set in my city. Deon Meyer is hailed as SA’s best crime writer, with good reason. He knows how to plot and tell a darn good story, and how to create authentic characters.

Some years ago, before he became super-famous, he was kind enough to attend our West Coast Writers’ Circle meeting as guest speaker. What a modest, down to earth man  who was prepared to give time to aspiring writers.

Lastly but by no means least, my third April Top Read : KIara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Generally I’m not an Ishiguro fan, but this book blew me away. How refreshing to read such an original book. The book is narrated by Klara, an Artificial Friend; robot companion to a lonely and sickly teenage girl, Josie. The book explores the theme of love, via childhood, adult and AF forms of love.  Humans don’t always emerge covered in glory .

Its fascinating to see our  world through the eyes of an Artificial Creature and to be party to the sometimes skewed (by human standards) thoughts of an Artificial Creature.

The title is enormously apt. AFs are solar powered, and Klara views the Sun as a god;  to expand on this aspect  would be a spoiler.

I continue to mull over sections of the story, it leaves the reader with plenty to think about, on many levels. Beg, borrow or steal a copy.

On the downside, I read two African novels, Bitter Eden (see earlier review) and the Booker Short List nomination (2019) This Mournable Body  by Tsitsi Dangaremba. I found the novel a difficult read, because of the oblique mode of narrative. I struggled to relate to the main character Tambudzai, she was such a solipsistic woman.  This said, the novel gives insight into the harsh realities of Zimbabwean life.

Two DNFs this month. If I’m not enjoying a book, I firmly close it. Sometimes books are not to one’s taste, or they arrive at the wrong moment in your life.  C’est la vie.

FICTION

Gold Never Rusts – Paul-Constant Smit.  Action packed, epic  South African novel that starts with the pre-Biblical era Queen of Sheba, and finishes  in 1901 at the end of the Anglo-Boer War. Adventure, wildest Africa, pioneering, mining, political intrigue,  romance, and gold. Fans of historical novels with an African setting  will find plenty to enjoy.

The Last Hunt – Deon Meyer.  A cracking good thriller set in current day captured, corrupt South Africa, and France. A crime  and an assasination  plot, peopled with credible    characters . It’s a page turner that provides a truly satisfying ending.  Recommended!

Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro. A speculative novel that explores the ramifications of introducing Artificial Friends (AI /robots) into close relationships with humans. Thought provoking, fascinating; a melancholy and truthful ending. Highly Recommended.

Ordinary Grace – William Kent Kruger. A thoughtful literary mystery, a tale of fury, guilt and redemption; also a coming of age story set in 1960’s Minnesota. A compelling and satisfying read. Recommended.

Bitter Eden – Tatamkhulu Afrika. Men struggling to survive  WWII POW camps in North Africa, Italy & Germany. Male friendships, and their aftermath. A challenging read. See my review posted on  10 April 2021.

This Mournable Body – Tsitsi Dangaremba. A  challenging read. A young Zimbabwean woman’s struggle to succeed in the big city of Harare. She struggles against herself (chiefly)  but also against society,  her rural relatives and background. Ultimately, after many trials and failures, she remains at the bottom of the heap.  Life in Zimbabwe, not a comfortable read.

APRIL DIPPER/NON-FICTION

Vesper Flights – Helen MacDonald . A collection of essays about human relationship to the natural world. The perfect dipper. Well written, most of the essays are short but crammed with ideas and questions  about us and about the natural world.

DNF

In the Midst of Winter- Isabel Allende

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Macdonald_(writer)

https://www.deonmeyer.com/bio.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazuo_Ishiguro

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/author/paul-constant-s

TATAMKHULU AFRIKA

I encountered Tatamkhulu Afrika in the mid-1990s, at Gus Ferguson’s monthly Poetry meeting, held at the Natale Labia Museum in Muizenberg. Gus Ferguson made an enormous contribution to poetry, and publishing of poetry via his Snail Press.  One of the poets he championed was Tatamkhulu Afrika, and it must have been on the occasion of the launch of TK’s poetry collection  in 1995, Lemon Tree, which is still on my poetry bookshelf.

I recall TA as a gaunt , white-bearded, old man, accorded much respect by Gus. I knew nothing at all about the poet or his extraordinary background. Which I have now remedied via Wikipedia – see link below. It’s a story worth reading.

This post is a short review of TA’s novel Bitter Eden , published in 2002, by Arcadia, a British publishing house. I borrowed the book from the Library, as part of my Read More African Writers in 2021 project.

Boyd Tonkin of the Independent’s quote  on the cover says: “Ordinary male relationships in extraordinary circumstances”.  That’s one way of putting it. I don’t know that I would have come up with the phrase, in describing the novel. Knowing the man’s poetry, his novel came as a bit of a shock! 

Briefly: the narrator (Tom Smith) relates his experiences as a POW in North Africa, Italy and Germany during WWII, and his male friendships. The aftermath of these frames the story, and provides one of the most explosive final sentences I have ever read anywhere.

That said, this is not a book for the faint-hearted because TA  is graphically straightforward about basic human functions and male genitalia.

The story tells  the progress of  difficult, emotional male friendships under brutal circumstances.  It also highlights the basic inhumanity of man towards man, and the horrors of war.

It’s not an easy read by any means. Did I enjoy the book? No.  But that said, its unforgettable. Not recommended for sensitive readers of any gender.

https://johannesburgreviewofbooks.com/2020/12/27/gus-ferguson-1

Ismail Joubert (7 December 1920 – 23 December 2002), commonly known as Tatamkhulu Afrika, which is Xhosa for Grandfather Africa, was a South African poet and writer. His first novel, Broken Earth was published when he was seventeen (under his “Methodist name”), but it was over fifty years until his next publication, a collection of verse entitled Nine Lives.

He won numerous literary awards including the gold Molteno Award for lifetime services to South African literature, and in 1996 his works were translated into French. His autobiography, Mr Chameleon, was published posthumously in 2005.

MARCH 2020 READING ROUND UP

index
I’ve found another book to add to my list of Desert Island Books: The Broken Road From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos. It’s the long-awaited final book in Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s trilogy, and compiled posthumously by his Literary Executors and editors, Colin Thubron (another brilliant travel writer) and Artemis Cooper (PLF’s biographer). I would go to great lengths to pack this Travel classic, it’s a gem. I reviewed the book separately in March, on this blog.

Words on Bathroom Walls – Julia Walton. Thanks to our Book Club Challenge, I tackled this diarized account of 16 year old Adam’s struggle with schizophrenia and an experimental drug. Normally, I would have avoided such a book, but I bravely dived in and what do you know? I had a wonderful read. Sometimes its good to leave that cosy Comfort Zone. And I ticked the Challenge Boxes: Made Into a Movie, and Debut Novel.
I realised I never read any poetry in February, so I pulled out a book at random from my shelf of Poetry books and found a slender red book in my hand, The Lemon Tree – Tatamkhulu Afrika. I remember buying it at a Poetry meeting in the Natale Labia Museum, down in Muizenberg, organized by that indefatigable champion of local poetry, Gus Ferguson.  In fact, the collection was one of his publications, from Snailpress.  Tatamkhulu was present, and read some of his work.  I have a faint memory of a tall, skinny old white man, who was – to my astonishment – a Moslem; this was unusual in the mid 1990s. He told us a charitable Moslem family had taken him in, and he lived in an outbuilding on their property – again, highly unusual for South Africa at that time. Re-reading his elegant, quiet poems about his life I wish I’d paid more attention at the time. Too late now.

FICTION
Badger on the Barge & other stories – Janni Howker. Short Stories.. A focus on adolescents; set in Britain. Perceptive and unusual.
Words on Bathroom Walls – Julia Walton. A diarized account of 16 year old Adam’s struggle with schizophrenia and an experimental drug. Very enlightening & a good read. Recommended.
The Distance – Zoe Folbigg. An entertaining light read. He’s in Mexico, she’s in Arctic Norway. Will these twin souls ever get together? It’s a cyber-Skype romance, and I enjoyed it.
An Open Swimmer – Tim Winton. His debut, prize winning novel. A coming of age story, moody and male but also filled with wonderful descriptions of sea, fishing, and coastal bush.
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens. An unusual story of a lonely abandoned child who grows into a shy reclusive woman, rooted in her marsh wilderness in North Carolina. Superb descriptions of marsh life birds, animals, marine creatures. Engaging human actors, a mystery, and a real kicker of an ending. Recommended.
NON-FICTION

The Broken Road. From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos – Patrick Leigh-Fermor. A travel classic brimming with history, colourful detail and characters. A must-read for Travel fans and lovers of good writing.

POETRY
The Lemon Tree – Tatammkhulu Afrika.