#BookWalk | “the granite throat constricting” | Excerpts from Terra Incognita
To celebrate the launch of Short Story Day Africa’s latest anthology, I#BookWalk | “the granite throat constricting” | Excerpts from Terra Incognita
To celebrate the launch of Short Story Day Africa’s latest anthology, I revisited the stories that I’d previously judged together with Samuel Kolawole (Writers’ Studio, Ibadan) and Jared Shurin (Jurassic London). Fortunately, I had already marked splendid passages in some of the stories, and it wasn’t difficult to lift striking excerpts from all the others. Hopefully, they’ll tempt you to order a copy of this superb anthology, featuring work by some of Africa’s finest experienced and emerging voices. Last year’s SSDA anthology, “Feast, Famine & Potluck”, included the winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing – “My Father’s Head” by Okwiri Oduor – so you can rest assured that you’ll be treated to some quality reading, although I urge you to so during daylight hours, to avoid being haunted by the many spirits and powerful images that populate this anthology.
“During her lunch hour Joanna had gone to The Emporium, searching for an outfit that would make her look like the girls she spied on in Mister Pickwick’s: thinnish, hungover, imperfect girls who would skinny-dip in waterfalls with your boyfriend or produce large-eyed love-children with French seamen.” From Diane Awerbuck’s winning story "Leatherman"
“Jacob Lunga could feel the granite throat constricting every time he blinked the blood from his eyes. He was bent double and rushing into that darkness as fast as he could – drawn on by the retreating light.” From "Caverns Measureless to Man" by Toby Bennett
“I love coffins. But seeing a coffin with a corpse in it arouses in me the feeling that only poetry can evoke. It is the hunger for this feeling that makes me turn to reading every obituary I see. I would take down the date and venue of the funeral of the deceased.” From "I Am Sitting Here Looking at a Graveyard" by Pwaangulongii Benrawangya
“She’d been concerned that, only the night before, she’d begun to hear things: a carthorse, for instance, lumbering through the private driveway of the block of flats where she lived. But of course there was no carthorse in Killarney, no leather strapping, no nose-bag, no metal or wooden side shafts.” From "Marion's Mirror" by Gail Dendy
“He looked ordinary, but I knew he was a god. I confirmed it the day he showed me the egg-shaped thing. It stood on two bird-like legs that were as tall as a man, and it had a pair of wings that were so large he must have skinned twenty cows to make them.” From "How My Father Became a God" by Dilman Dila
“I never had any great faith in traditional medicine. I believed in science and antibiotics and clean, cool, sanitary hospital rooms.” From "In the Water" by Kerstin Hall
“Everyone in Flora agreed that it was a terrible thing, a terrible thing to happen to a young girl, and she'd been so pretty before that, they said, but Elsie knew it wasn't disease that took her teeth.” From "Mouse Teeth" by Cat Hellisen
“My head is sore and thick just now, my throat rough. I don’t know where anything is, only that I’ve been dead – a long time now, I think, looking at him. But I remember nothing about it. I feel cheated.” From "Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch" by Mishka Hoosen
“I looked to my hands. There was no trace of chalk. My nails were bitten as they ever were, but I was clean. I had no bruises, no bones protruding from my skin. My skin had never looked so soft.” From "Stations" by Nick Mulgrew
“There is a veil that separates this world from the world of the spirits. It is invisible to all but a few who know where to look. In the oldest parts of this world, the veil is worn thin in places, like a skin stretched taut over the mouth of a drum, and traces of what might be described as magic dance in the rays of sunlight.” From "Editöngö" by Mary Okon Ononokpono
“I never had much of an idea what I was going to do beyond leaving this town, but Vi was going to become a mad scientist and would cook up the cure for cancer in some basement lab, and CJ would be Nigeria’s first foreign-born astronaut, hopping from star to star.” From "CJ" by Chinelo Onwualu
“So it was little wonder that Ojahdili soon ran out of men to defeat in a wrestling bout and stumbled upon the idea of travelling to the spirit world, for was it not common knowledge that no man had been known to defeat the spirits? From "There is Something That Ogbu-Ojah Didn’t Tell Us" by Jekwu Ozoemene
“He is waiting for you, not just anywhere, no, he is seated on YOUR chair on the veranda. You have named him Jonny, despite your intentions of shooting him down. He is the leader of the pack, he is fearless, he deserves a name.” From "Ape Shit" by Sylvia Schlettwein
“Hugh sat at the kitchen table wearing his helmet, in a special chair of his own design. It had a seatbelt harness not at all dissimilar to that found in a racing car. Miss Swan strapped him in and returned to the stove to warm some soup.” From "What if You Slept?" by Jason Mykl Snyman
“Giving cyborgs memories will enable them to process responses to situations organically. The only problem is that synthetic memory creation is rather a lengthy and unstable process, which hasn’t been perfected yet, but exciting breakthroughs in neuroscience are helping to sidestep that issue.” From "Esomnesia" by Phillip Steyn
“I hear a voice that does not flow over the air. It is as if I am repeating the words myself, an echo of something heard only in my mind. It is crisp and cold, a winter voice, a dark voice, like ice on a deep lake. From "The Lacuna" by Brendan Ward
“Ever since the great event which had occurred over 200 years ago, when the people of earth fled underground, the main problem that had befallen society was one that was completely unanticipated by the scientists of the day; mass boredom.” From "The Carthagion" by Sarah Jane Woodward
“Minutes rushed past his open window and they dragged with them trees and houses and people, and still Bowuk Jana held his breath. He was amazed that he could do this, it was way past a minute, past two minutes, past three minutes, and now he held his breath out of fascination for his ability to do so, the dead dog long forgotten by now.” From "The Corpse" by Sese Yane
“The history of science clearly offers rich territory for the imagination. In Irregularity it has inspired stoA Time Machine Disguised as an Anthology
“The history of science clearly offers rich territory for the imagination. In Irregularity it has inspired stories about people’s efforts, successful and unsuccessful, to know the world better and make it comprehensible, for tales about the things that prove unknowable, and the tension between order and chaos. The result is a wonderfully eclectic mix that asks questions about the boundaries of science and what we can know. But it is more than just entertainment; writing and reading fiction can help us interpret the past and come closer to it. Like all writers, historians need imagination to draw together the papers in archives and objects in museums to tell their stories. Without it, history would be little more than lists of dates and facts,” write Richard Dunn and Sophie Waring in their afterword to this fascinating anthology, published by Jurassic London in collaboration with the Royal Museums Greenwich to coincide with their exhibition Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude.
As a contributor this anthology, I must suppress the urge to wax lyrical about the stories it contains, but I will say that I am still glowing with pride to stand among such outstanding authors, all of whom have the capacity to usher us gently into their own little time machine, before whisking us away and immersing us in the world’s and lives and histories they have chosen to reimagine. Their stories have not only enthralled me, but have also instilled an urge to delve into biographies and other works of non-fiction to learn more about the learned minds so artfully brought to life on the pages of Irregularity. To celebrate the efforts of my co-contributors, I will skip joyfully back through the pages of the anthology and pick a flower from each of their stories, in the hope that this colourful bouquet will tempt you to wander out into their world and make your own discoveries.
The afterimage of thousands of books hung imprinted on my eyes. It did not matter to me if each and every one was full of provable falsehoods and stupidities: any text is an image of a mind, and any mind is worthy of attention. (Nick Harkaway in the framing story of Irregularity)
The next thing he said gave his wherefroms away even if he hadn’t just told us: he was truly an Englishman no matter how far flung he would ever travel, for as a conversational gambit he disparaged his home weather. “Plenty worse than these climes, the weather in England. Damn rain and the drizzle.” (from Rose Biggin’s A Game Proposition)
At night she brought her candle down to the floor and lay on her stomach, marvelling at the work of the spinning spiders, the flame of the candle illuminating the intricate patterns of their mysterious creations. How did they do it? How did they know the exact length of the thread required, where to send it, how to attach it so that they might cling to any surface, however impossible? “What will you tell me tonight, spiders?” If she closed her eyes, she thought she heard their voices. (from E.J. Swift’s The Spiders of Stockholm)
I buy a medical journal, because my hand can only take so much, and I need to know where the blood in the body comes at its thickest. The concept of this seems so logical to me, now, that I can scarcely believe that I didn’t see it before. To take the body – such a perfect device of itself, and practically a clock, so permanent and constant is the rhythmic beating of the heart – and to somehow infuse my escapement with it! (from James Smythe’s The Last Escapement)
“No man knows the precise value of such celerity!” Newton exclaimed, crossly. He had managed, without being observed by Boyle, to use his thumbnail to gouge a crescent-moon sliver from the nail of his forefinger. He was attempting, again without being observed, to manipulate this into the keyhole of the lock of his handcuff. (from Adam Roberts’s The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle)
The quiet authority in his voice, and the gravity of all the men, made me think that perhaps there was truth in Venter’s story. This was, after all, a new world. Things were different here. Animals may yet exist of which Linnaeus had no knowledge, I mused. Look at the wonders they have found in New Holland: beasts with both fur and eggs. (from Henrietta Rose-Innes’s Animalia Paradoxa)
The cathedral will not sustain a cat. I brought one two nights ago during another of my perambulations – a great tom with a white streak down its nose. I set it beside the north-eastern wall in the crypt and it bristled and hissed, backing away from the stones, staring wild-eyed in every direction before streaking off. Today a wall beneath the south transept crumbled and the labourers shouted out, for they had discovered a cat’s carcass therein, much aged and dried out. (from Archie Black’s Footprint)
I looked, and beheld a small island of basalt rock, barely a comma upon the unending page of the ocean, a little protrusion that reminded me of those desolate lands where nought but fungus and tawny shrub grew in the side of the cliff, and where yet on these meagre pickings survived many birds adapted to nest in crevices, and insects to feed off of the birds, and more fungus which fed off the rotting bodies of the insects, life thus finding its way in even these most desolate of places. (from Claire North’s The Voyage of The Basset)
And so I thundered down the tower’s staircase to the Guild’s quarters, where I wandered along the murky passage, rapping on several doors before I heard the fall of footsteps approaching. You can well imagine my surprise when the preparator himself opened the door, releasing a pungent draft of camphor and spirits from the room beyond and affording me a glimpse of the macabre specimens that lined the shelves like the pale and misshapen demons of some awful nightmare trapped in glass. (from Richard de Nooy’s The Heart of Aris Kindt)
At dinner, over which Mr. Canevin exerted himself greatly, ordering his cooks to deliver a feast far beyond our capacities to imbibe even a quarter of, I revealed that the main purpose of this lengthy journey was less concerned with matters of Jamaica and more to travel on to Port-au-Prince in order to discover the problem at the Cranache Plantation. (from Roger Luckhurst’s Circulation)
She made her way down the steps to stand with the vast creature, and it backed away to keep a discreet distance, snorting steam. The behaviour seemed completely natural, no different from an elephant who respects his keeper in the hope of earning a bun. The others stared in awe, but my profession demands certain instincts – and besides I was eager to ingratiate myself with the lady now I knew who she was. “What is the next stage?” I asked. (from Simon Guerrier’s An Experiment in the Formulae of Thought)
Up at break of day to get away the remainder of my things; which I did by lighter at the Iron Gate. In the evening, Sir W. Pen and I did dig a pit, and put our wine in it, and I my Parmazan cheese. Pen said that talk has already turned to the French, and that the sensible amongst them have already fled home. Many rumours about the Abyss, and fancy is plentiful: that it reached out to grab a baby from his mother’s arms; that it speaks in whispers – but only so you’ll lean close enough that it can eat you. (from M. Suddain’s The Darkness)
She opens and closes the wooden arms of the device, presses the fleshy pad of her little finger against the pointed end, attempting to divine its true purpose. She runs, giggling, to find a scrap of drawing paper and uses the dividers to scratch a circle into the parchment. Uneven and imperfect. But a circle none the less. She hugs the instrument to her chest, rocking it like a baby. (from Kim Curran’s A Woman Out of Time)
Carl kept his disappointment to himself. He had hoped, standing in the man’s private shed, for a feeling of connection to Thomas Fairchild, the longing disappeared in a breath. There was no life in the little building: no papers or a forgotten cap, no boots by the door or an old glove, its thumb worn from use. Thomas’s business legacy, the nursery, had been left open and his nephew had stepped in seamlessly, as Carl could see by the number of workmen tending to the plants and trees. His other legacy lay in a dark drawer in a stone building in London. (from Tiffani Angus’s Fairchild’s Folly)
#BookWalk | The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet | David Mitchell
As a reader, I love David Mitchell. As a writer, I loathe him. Here are ten reasons#BookWalk | The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet | David Mitchell
As a reader, I love David Mitchell. As a writer, I loathe him. Here are ten reasons why, captured in as many excerpts from his novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
Arie Grote is plucking a bird under a canopy of pans and skillets. Oil is frying, a pile of improvised pancakes is rising up, and a well-travelled round of Edam and sour apples are divided between two mess tables. (p. 31) | Mitchell not only transports you to a kitchen on the Japanese island of Dejima, but also engages all your senses with carefully chosen, telling adjectives.
Jacob considers the power his visitor must wield to waltz into Dejima on a day turned upside down by the earthquake and mingle with foreigners, free from the usual phalanx of spies and shogunal guards. Enomoto runs his thumb along the crates, as if divining their contents. (p. 80) | The first of multiple antagonists makes his entrance. Multiple antagonists, goddammit.
“Joke is secret language” – she frowns – “inside words.” (p. 134) | Communication and cultural differences invariably present a challenge on the island.
“Girls earn a fair clip, while their looks last; the ‘Corals o’ Maruyama,’ the pimps call ‘em. But for boys, it’s harder: Thunberg Junior’s a goldfish breeder, I hear, but he’ll be a worm breeder by an’ by, an’ no mistake.” (p. 164) | Mitchell lets his characters recount historical background information in their own jargon, thus keeping the edifying aspects of the story fresh, interesting and even comical.
“The present is a battleground” – Yoshida straightens his spine as best he can – “Where rival what-ifs compete to become the future ‘what is’. How does one what-if prevail over its adversaries? The answer” – the sick man coughs – “the answer, ‘Military and political power, of course!’ is a postponement, for what is it that direct the minds of the powerful? The answer is ‘belief.’” (p. 222) | Like a superb actor playing Shakespeare, Mitchell brings characters and ideas to life, giving them a heartbeat, a cough, their very own diction.
Otane stares at him like Time itself, made human. From her sleeve, she withdraws a dogwood scroll tube. (p. 254) | Mitchell is not averse to a little cloak ‘n’ dagger ‘n’ scroll tube.
Uzaemon catches his sneeze in a paper square, which he tosses in the fire. (p. 292) | The (poor) health of the characters plays an integral part in the array of techniques that Mitchell deploys to win the reader’s empathy.
“But I discovered there are problems with owning your mind. When I am on my mind island, I am as free as any Dutchman. There, I eat capons and mango and sugared plums. There, I lie with Master van Cleef’s wife in the warm sand. There, I build boats and weave sails with my brother and my people. If I forget their names, they remind me. We speak in the tongue of Weh and drink kava and pray to our ancestors. There, I do not stitch or scrub or fetch or carry for masters. Then I hear, ‘Are you listening to me, idle dog?’ Then I hear, ‘If you won’t move for me, here’s my whip!’ Each time I return from my mind island, I am recaptured by slavers.” (p. 345) | No historical account of atrocities can match this moving soliloquy in bringing home the horror of slavery.
Surgeon Nash examines the ankle, swollen to twice its usual size. “Steeplechases and mazurkas are, more than like, behind you now, Captain. May I recommend a stick to help you walk? I shall have Rafferty fetch one.” (p. 409) | Let’s throw in a British Man o’ War, shall we? But let’s not have a cardboard cut-out with bellowing cannons; let’s populate it with real people and take the reader on board.
“Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike-topped walls, and triple-bolted doors.” (somewhere near the end) | I am not a great fan of lengthy descriptive passages, but Mitchell blends the lyrical with the technical, compelling the reader to take note, to join him on his journey, to see the story through the eyes of his characters, to sit beside an omniscient god.
PS: The real reason is that he disturbs my writing by compelling to destroy my keyboard with my tiny fists. ...more
"Corpus sancti dancing on my decks" | A review in six excerpts
“Volcanoes generate earthquakes, tsunamis, rivers of magma, boiling mud, poison gas... T"Corpus sancti dancing on my decks" | A review in six excerpts
“Volcanoes generate earthquakes, tsunamis, rivers of magma, boiling mud, poison gas... They are portals to all possible hells, from which nightmares emerge with no warning and less mercy,” writes Jared Shurin in his introduction to this compact collection of short-short stories, which I read with growing elation over the course of an hour. (Did I say it was compact?)
Take a look and download Ash as free e-book, but be warned that you’ll hit the final page too soon, gagging for more. Enjoy.
“But I, in the wheelhouse, behind the glass, beheld sights. Pink fire at the masts and corpus sancti dancing on my decks, inextinguishable balls of flame sinking through the hull and not a splinter of wood singed!” (From Dan Green’s Duidain)
“The ceremony is simple and the atmosphere on the raft reverent. When husband and wife are unable to move near enough to kiss one another, I kiss each of their lips in turn, a chain to join lips and hearts together.” (From Charlie Human’s A Raft)
“They eat the slime,” says my guide, pointing to the dusty herd milling around on the shoreline. Several horses are kissing algae off the rocks, tails swishing a warning that alert hooves await those that cannot wait their turn.” (From Richard de Nooy’s Delft)
“Martin, after first reading about the Krakatoa eruption, felt the sublime urge stir once more, had been moved to paint a few scenes of seething seas turgid with swollen corpses. But it was when the blazing sunsets started up he’d grown truly inflamed, obsessed with limning the nightly phantasmagoria.” (From Timothy J. Jarvis’s Under the Sign of the Cockatrice)
“The clouds form leering faces, hands that reach down to us, grasping and the dark sea roils and the waves grow tall like the waetman’s metal canoes and there are no stars by which to tell the way.” (From Lavie Tidhar’s Waves)
“Strange fish with jelly bodies caught in the trek nets, their too-wide mouths gaping; even a giant sunfish. Johanna and I had danced around on the flat body until Oupa had called us away.” (From Nerine Dorman’s I Dreamt I Held Her Hand) ...more
“Queer Africa is a collection of charged, tangled, tender, unapologetic, funny, bruising and brilliant stories about the many ways in wA Dog-Eared Ode
“Queer Africa is a collection of charged, tangled, tender, unapologetic, funny, bruising and brilliant stories about the many ways in which we love each other on the continent,” writes Gabeba Baderoon in her foreword to this anthology edited by Karen Martin and Makhosazana Xaba. Having dog-eared this fascinating collection of stories I strolled back to collect my markers and celebrate that love with excerpts from each story.
“That’s the idea. Let it sound bush. I sing for the people. If I sound bush, the people will think they are better than me. If they’re better than me, they will pity me; they will want to help me; they will want to save me. With their money.” (From Davina Owombre’s Pelican Driver)
“Hell, said Dominee Boonzaier, would have so many skelms from the bank that there wouldn’t be room for the Tswana and the English, and the godless people from Johannesburg.” (From Emil Rorke’s Poisoned Grief)
“I kissed you on the mouth three days after we met. You said it was a complication you could do without, and then you smiled.” (From Wamuwi Mbao’s The Bath)
“I get into bed but sleep doesn’t come easily. I stare at the ceiling and try not to think much. Too much thinking is bad for you. Look at all the grownups I know. They’re all fucked in the head. They should be smoking zol.” (From K. Sello Duiker’s Chapter Thirteen)
“The pencil outline seemed unable to contain their charcoal filling. All their faces were detailed but smudged grotesquely. She said she was trying to capture truth, but it seemed to me too obscure a concept to understand. Not truth, but her trying to capture it.” (From TO Molefe’s Lower Main)
“Siya intoxicated me. His approach and attitude to life were so different to mine. Once, I got home soaked and feeling like a drowned rat, caught in a downpour on my cycle back from work. I thought he’d see me as a cold, wet, miserable thing to be dispatched to the bathroom, but it was as if he didn’t notice anything different. I was home, safe, and we were together. That was all that mattered to him.” (From Roger Diamond’s Impepho)
“I try hiding my nervous excitement and seek solace in the bathroom. I close the door to gather my thoughts. My knees are shaking and my breasts have tightened. I stare in the mirror and randomly blabber to myself, Fuck! What do I do? I can’t remember ever feeling so lustful over someone I hardly know.” (From Dolar Vasani’s All Covered Up)
“Engulfed in the warmth of his down-feather duvet, smothered by the comforting quiet of the night, James dreams of his own death.” (From Rahiem Whisgary’s The Filth of Freedom)
“That woman’s mouth worked at words like ants on a cob of maize. Ai! Everyone knows her quack-quack-quack mouth. But people are still left wordless by just how much she can shoot at and wreck things with her machinegun mouth.” (From Monica Arac de Nyeko’s Jambula Tree)
“I touched the skin on the top of her hand with one finger. ‘You’re soft, like a dove.’ ‘You’ve never touched a dove.’ She was laughing at me. ‘But still. I know. Your cells are finer than other people’s.’” (From Annie Holmes’s Leaving Civvy Street)
“Julia’s body felt twisted and cramped, sore from lying in one position, sore from the weight of his elbow digging into her, sore and red and bruised from the needle. But she felt elated. The tattoo was really beautiful, striking and effective. She knew Cath would like it.” (From Natasha Distiller’s Asking For It)
“She was like the wily jackal that gathers wool in its mouth and then backs slowly into the river until all the fleas have fled into the fluff. Then it drops the wool and takes off like a flash, outwitting the fleas. You were the wool, Princess, floating on the river, the memories like vermin on your skin. Your entire body itched.” (From Richard de Nooy’s The Big Stick)
“Tied to the front gate of her in-laws’ home, a triangular white cloth had waved in the breeze, announcing that there would a wedding and everyone was welcome. By the verandah, little girls sang, ‘Monyadi wa rona. O tshwana le naledi.’ Our bride looks as lovely as a star. As Sethunya approached the house, men and women rushed to claim her, and she was swept into the throng of swirling skirts and stomping feet.” (From Wame Molefhe’s Sethunya Likes Girls Better)
“Too many women, the boy thinks. They smell like flowers, wet flowers; flowers that have had their day in the sun, petals soaked with sweat, used and pressed and hardened.” (From Barbara Adair’s A Boy is a Boy is a …)
“Some people said Regina had no morals and soon she would make a man of you. Others said you only had a penis, but that wasn’t enough to make you a man. I never understood what that meant. I still question what that means.” (From Beatrice Lamwaka’s Chief of the Home)
“And that was what made Pinch so addictive: they knew each other so well that it was almost impossible to succeed. They could feel each other, the one when the other came close; they knew each other’s needs, each before the other knew his own; they saw the world together, each through the eyes of the other.” (From Martin Hatchuel’s Pinch)
“She was not meant to walk on land, Ms J thought. Standing head and shoulders above everybody in the crowds milling about the corridor lockers, the girl lumbered awkwardly down the corridor, with her broad shoulders and back. Ms J followed at an inconspicuous distance. She was almost certain she walked alone.” (From Mercy Minah’s In the Way She Glides)
“As a teenager I came to be convince myself that it was not intentional ill-feeling on the dog’s part, just hunger that could not be ignored. I could relate to that. There had been moments in my life when I, too, had been so hungry I had fantasised about eating the same dog. I guess the dog got to what was on both our minds before I did, and I thought that was fair.” (From Lindiwe Nkutha’s Rock)
Het BookWalk-concept biedt de ruimte om de schepsels van collega schrijvers toe te zingen, zonder prijs te BookWalk #7 | Vertedering | Jamal Ouariachi
Het BookWalk-concept biedt de ruimte om de schepsels van collega schrijvers toe te zingen, zonder prijs te geven hoe mooi of lelijk het kindje is. Bovendien mag er uitgebreid geciteerd worden, iets dat naar mijn smaak te weinig gebeurt in veel andere recensies. Zo krijgt de potentiele lezer toch inzicht in het verhaal en de stijl van de schrijver, zonder dat de mening van de recensent in de weg zit.
Wandel mee door Jamal Ouariachi’s Vertedering (Querido, 2013), waarin een postkamermedewerker durft te dromen van een nieuwe kans op een grootser leven.
Beneden fonkelde de rivier in het stroperige licht van de late middag. De namen van de haltes popten op in zijn hoofd nog voordat de omroepstem ze uitsprak. (p. 17) | De naamloze hoofdpersoon reist per openbaar vervoer naar zijn uitzichtloze baan.
Lichte teleurstelling. Aan de andere kant: ook wel klasse, dat ze zich niet zomaar door de eerste de beste neanderthaler mee naar zijn grot liet sleuren, beentjes wijd, volgende patiënt. (p. 51) | Dit meisje is anders.
De mappen hingen in een volgorde die correspondeerde met de route van zijn postronde. Als je zo van bovenaf naar de kar keek, kon je in één oogopslag en met geografische precisie zien hoe de uitgeverij in elkaar zat. (p. 93) | De postklerk heeft zijn studie filosofie nooit afgerond.
Emotie was wat hem betreft een vormeloze klont. Vaag was hij zich bewust van wat er door hem heen ging, maar het was als stront: verschillende maaltijden, drankjes, ingrediënten, verwerkt, half verteerd, intact, alles door elkaar. (p. 120) | Het meisje wil alles weten. Ze vraagt door.
Ze stond in de keuken, eten klaar te maken. Toen hij achter haar kwam staan om haar in de nek te zoenen, weerde ze hem af. De ochtendwrok was nog niet opgedroogd. (p. 154) | Het meisje laat het er niet bij zitten.
Je had mensen die melancholisch werden van de lente, van zoenende stelletjes op een zonbeschenen grasveld in het park – hij werd melancholisch van de winter, de echte winter. Vrieskou. Geglaceerde landschappen. Samen door de sneeuw knisperen, thuiskomen, je schoenen schoonstampen, water opzetten voor thee, de kachel op vol. Dat was waar hij naar snakte, nu. (p. 204) | De seizoenen kruipen onder zijn huid en in zijn hart.
Dat moest dan wel de slotsom zijn van zijn zoektocht. Dat hij geen kern had. Dat zijn eigenschappen afhingen van toevallige omstandigheden – genetica, opvoeding, levenservaringen, relaties – waar hij aan was overgeleverd. (p. 233) | De lezer zoekt mee en blijft stilletjes hopen.
Hij voelde geen enkele neiging om een goede indruk te maken. Hij hád al indruk gemaakt, dat was gratis en voor niets gebeurd, de afgelopen twee jaar. (p. 269) | Dit meisje kan niet anders.
Ze herhaalden de scène een keer of zes. En naarmate ze langer oefenden, groeiden ze allebei in hun rol. Hij merkte het aan zichzelf, aan zijn toenemende ergernis, aan gevoelens van weleer die weer in hem opgloeiden. (p. 312) | Zelfs het absurde wordt vanzelfsprekend onder Ouariachi’s bezielende pen.
Voor zover hij als man van dertig enige wijsheid had vergaard, beschouwde hij die als een last. Steeds minder in staat om nog ergens van op te kijken, daar kwam het op neer. Steeds vaker in een situatie te belanden die de gedachte opriep: dit heb ik al eens meegemaakt. Wijsheid was een verlies van onbevangenheid. (p. 335)
Bookwalk #5 | Tomorrow Pamplona | Jan van Mersbergen
My BookWalks allow me to celebrate the writing of fellow authors – sometimes friends – offering poBookwalk #5 | Tomorrow Pamplona | Jan van Mersbergen
My BookWalks allow me to celebrate the writing of fellow authors – sometimes friends – offering potential readers insight into the plot, themes and style of the novel without drawing any critical conclusions. Being a translator myself, I take a special interest in the English translations of Dutch novels, which I hope will become one of the focal points of future walks. The first in this series is Jan van Mersbergen’s Tomorrow Pamplona.
The rain is coming down harder now. His hair is plastered to his forehead and his T-shirt is sticking to his chest. (p. 10) | Why is Danny hitchhiking in the rain, wearing only a T-shirt?
He held the back of the boy’s head with one hand, pushed his head against his hip, and pressed the mouth guard onto the boys top row of teeth with his other hand. (p. 22) | The story flips back and forth between the trip to Pamplona and the events preceding it – Danny’s boxing career and the people feeding off it.
A small, brightly coloured car overtakes them. A woman is driving; she has long hair and the same colour skin as Ragna. (p. 43) | Like Danny, Van Mersbergen plays his cards close to the chest, revealing snippets of relevant information in passing. Together they leave the reader guessing along with Robert, the Pamplona-bound motorist who picks Danny up.
He’s a good bloke, said Richard. When he gets an idea in his head, he makes it work. He’s that kind of guy. Not a time-waster. (p. 60) | Because the dialogue is sparse, clear and usually succinct, you don’t miss the parentheses. The presence of a namesake always adds an odd dimension to a book, as if you’ve been dragged on stage at a show.
Do you know what the problem is with childbirth? You can’t do a bloody thing. As a man, you can be there with here, but there’s sod all you can actually do. (p. 82) | Robert keeps striking up conversations with Danny, circling around him, jabbing with questions, trying to get him to open up.
As they reached the changing room, the outside door opened and someone pushed a bike inside. The handlebars got stuck on the door handle it took a while to free it. It was Ragna. (p. 95) | Few other languages can boast the presence of so many bicycles in their literature. They regularly feature as a catalyst for bringing people together. The passenger on the carrier almost always has to touch the cyclist in some way. Not the mention the symbolism of having to exert oneself to carry the extra weight.
She opened her bag, took out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter, pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Danny looked at the cigarette. The filter was red with lipstick. (p. 103) | A boxer, a lady and a cloakroom – sex is in good hands with Van Mersbergen.
He looks into the cars they overtake. He sees men dressed in white in some of the cars, with red handkerchiefs around their necks. (p. 115) | As Robert and Danny approach Pamplona, they encounter the first carloads of men who will face the bulls with them.
In his head, he is running through Amsterdam again, flying once more through the streets with no idea where to go, just the certainty of leaving everything behind. But right now, in Pamplona, it feels as though his boxing boots are stuck to the cobbles. (p. 129) | At this point, there are 60 pages of the story left, but it would be criminal to give further excerpts that might reveal how the two storylines are interwoven and eventually tied together....more
BookWalk #6 | Het Geheim van Treurwegen | Guus Bauer
Het BookWalk-concept doodt twee vliegen met een klap. Het biedt een oplossing voor het netelige prBookWalk #6 | Het Geheim van Treurwegen | Guus Bauer
Het BookWalk-concept doodt twee vliegen met een klap. Het biedt een oplossing voor het netelige probleem van de ‘vrienden-recensie’, door de recensent te vrijwaren van een oordeel waar toch vaak een zweem van onbetrouwbaarheid aan kleeft. Zo kan de pasgeborene met een gerust hart worden toegezongen, zonder dat je hoeft prijs te geven hoe mooi of lelijk je het kindje wel niet vindt. Bovendien mag er uitgebreid geciteerd worden, iets dat naar mijn smaak te weinig gebeurt in veel andere recensies. Zo krijgt de potentiele lezer toch inzicht in het verhaal en de stijl van de schrijver, zonder dat de mening van de recensent in de weg zit.
Wandel mee door Guus Bauer’s Het geheim van Treurwegen (Signatuur, 2013), waarin een intrigerend en onderbelicht stukje geschiedenis uit de Eerste Wereldoorlog een hoofdrol speelt.
Elke tien minuten heeft va een nieuw glaasje ingeschonken, zes stuks, in totaal precies een vol uur. De blos op de wangen van de kapelaan breidt zich binnen een seconde of twee uit over heel zijn hoofd. Van lichtrood naar bijna kardinaalpaars. Hij buigt naar voren en vraagt achter zijn hand aan va: “Komen er ook voor de jongsten al vrijers aan?” (p. 14) | Boer Treurwegen heeft weinig vertrouwen in de kerk en de dienaars van God, maar maakt van de nood een deugd door ze als brandstof voor zijn vileine grappen te gebruiken.
Iedereen kijkt naar het beest. Zoiets heb ik nog nooit gezien. Er zitten grote zwarte plekken op de roze huid en er kringelt rook omhoog. Toen de zeug tegen de draden aan liep, knetterde en flitste het alsof we midden in een onweer zaten. Het lichaam van het dier schokte en sidderde. (p. 43) | Willem Treurwegen begint te begrijpen waar het hoge hek met de bliksemschichten voor bedoeld is. Een varken dient als proefkonijn.
Het maakt een piepend geluid wanneer het traliewerkje in de deur wordt geopend. Er is natuurlijk geen olie meer voor de scharnieren. Daarmee moet de oorlogsmachine worden gesmeerd. Hans kijkt een paar keer om zich heen. Dan haalt hij een worst uit zijn mouw en steekt die door het luikje. (p. 62) | Met hun eerste daden van verzet smeden boerenzoon Willem en slagersknecht Hans een band die door de oorlog danig op de proef zal worden gesteld.
Ik leg de revolver op de keukentafel en trek de broek en het jasje aan die ook in het pakket zitten. Het vriest al behoorlijk en zo zal ik het warm hebben als vannacht de grens over ga. (p. 77) | Het noodlot trakteert Willem op een cadeau dat zijn verdere leven zal bepalen.
Die blik van hem wil ik op papier vastleggen. Ik heb een nieuw vel papier genomen en teken rustig verder: de appèlplaats met aan de ene kant onze soldaten en de mannen met de Engelse baretten, aan de ander kant de piekhelmen en in het midden de Hollandse jongens. (p. 108) | Willem maakt kennis met een vroege vorm van de multiculturele samenleving in het Nederlandse interneringskamp waar hij wordt vastgezet. Hier woedt de oorlog stilletjes door op neutraal gebied.
Ik deel kruistekens en de absolutie uit alsof het mijn dagelijkse werk is. Iedereen wordt door mij vergeven. Ik kijk nergens meer van op. Dat is natuurlijk niet helemaal waar. Of helemaal niet waar zelfs. Heel veel technische snufjes zijn nieuw voor me. Net als sommige zonden. (p. 143) | Willem begint de nadelen van zijn vermomming in te zien. Zijn moeder zou trots op hem zijn. Zijn vader minder.
Heeft ons kleine land wel een pand met vertegenwoordigers in Londen? En is dat dan wel openbaar? Wat voor mensen werken daar? Zijn die wel te vertrouwen? Wat moet ik dragen, houd ik het Hollands marineblauw aan, ga ik in het uniform van oom Alfons, of verkleed ik me weer als pastoor? Zijn ze in Engeland ook zo goedgelovig? (p. 159) | Onder zijn vele gedaantewisselingen blijft Willem een boerenzoon uit de Kempen, die de snelcursus overleven in oorlogstijd moet doorlopen.
Toen hij sprong knapte de staande balk en viel boven op zijn hoofd. Gelukkig had Hans zijn helm op, de Engelse die lijkt op een omgekeerde nachtspiegel. Hij werd door de balk tot aan zijn heupen in de aarde gehamerd. Er waren zeven rekruten nodig om hem uit de grond te trekken.(p. 193) | Enige overdrijving is Willem niet vreemd, vooral waar het zijn vriend Hans betreft, die uitgroeit tot een minzame Goliath.
Mijn koerier met de puntsnor en de metaalachtige ogen is er ook weer. Ik heb hem eergisteren niet herkend, omdat hij een verband om zijn voorhoofd had en een platte pet op zijn kop in plaats van een nephelm. (p. 217) | Deze kunstzinnige koerier zal nog een belangrijke rol in de geschiedenis gaan vervullen. Maar daar is Willem zich jammer genoeg niet van bewust.
Hij knielt naast de soldaat, slaat het boek open en begint in het koeterwaals iets op te dreunen. Het komt me vaag bekend voor. Dan zegent hij de gewonde en slaat tegelijkertijd een paar vliegen weg. Ik denk even aan va en moe. (p. 232) | De dienaars van God zijn alom aanwezig, evenals de herinneringen aan het leven waaruit Willem Treurwegen is losgerukt, misschien zelfs bevrijdt, door de oorlog.
Daarna gingen we met z’n allen de ladders op. Het was een machtig gezicht om langs de linie te kijken. Al die uniformen, al die mannen die als stengels van een vreemd veldgewas ineens de kop over het maaiveld uitstaken. (p. 261) | En dan moet de volgende wereldbrand nog komen....more
(Just a reminder that these BookWalks offer me a means to celebrate the writing of fellow authors, without drawBookWalk #4 | The Release | Eric Miyeni
(Just a reminder that these BookWalks offer me a means to celebrate the writing of fellow authors, without drawing any critical conclusions. Hopefully, they also offer potential readers insight into the plot, themes and style of the novel.)
You hate me. I can see it in the pain on your lips as you smile your “thank you” and take my money. (p. 10) | Jeremy Hlungwani has reached the end of his tether and someone has to pay.
Meshach was calm. Cold as ice. Looking at him, you would never guess the speed at which the oversupply of adrenalin coursing through his veins was driving his pounding heart. (p. 23) | Jeremy has friends who remind him how pleasant it can be to let go and allow the demons run your life.
Dead because they were seen talking to the wrong man’s girlfriend. Dead because they thought robbing a bank was a one-time thing. Dead because they went to a shebeen where nobody knew who they were. Dead because they drove a car somebody wanted but couldn’t afford to buy. (p. 41) | Most of Jeremy’s other friends are leading even less successful lives than Meshach.
They all laughed in a brave attempt to turn the grim reality into some sort of happy memory. Jeremy could not tell which he hated more: this pretence or the actual torture. (p. 61) | Boarding schools are designed to be enjoyed by sociopaths only. Jeremy’s schooldays add a couple of bricks to his bagful of traumas.
Fear was Gembani’s weapon of choice. He would anything to instil it. He was so strong he could do a handstand with his back against the wall and do a hundred push-ups that way. (p. 71) We all have our own Gembanis to fight and forget. But sometimes a cure can be more terrifying than the problem itself.
It’s as though the last time they had had sex was not seventeen years ago. Despite her ecstasy, Jeremy feels like he is walking on fire without faith and burning his feet all the way to the end, too stubborn to jump off. (p. 88) | Jeremy’s trip down memory lane is more like a stumbling run along a narrow footpath at the edge of steep cliff. Halfway, he meets former lover S’mangele and there seems no way around her, except under, in and over her.
So white people suffered, like the fat policeman and Jesus Christ on the cross and farmer Littlemetalplate. (p. 105) | Despite the obvious pitfalls and drawbacks, Jeremy aspires to lead a “white life” in defiance of his deluded father’s warning: “Know your place and you’ll go far. Act above your station and you will be chopped down.” (Note: the book consists of three sections: Black Life, White Life and Life.)
He had been unable to see this back in 1976. His father’s voice, screaming, “Agitators, agitators, agitators”, had clouded his view of this reality, which was finally coming into focus for him. (p. 122) | University offers Jeremy a whole new perspective on his past, his present and his future. But that perspective looks like it may just leave him floating in the middle of nowhere, disenchanted with both black and white life.
“When he started getting bumped on the dance floor, it was an unmistakable signal for him to leave because it felt like an energy rising from hell.” (p. 165) Jeremy’s coping strategies earn him a “big-shot job and a life in the suburbs”, but by then he is towing a trailer full of trauma and ammunition behind his luxury car.
“The bullet releases like a long overdue sigh of relief.” (p. 174) ...more
“For fuck’s sake, Sage. He’s trying to help us out! Can you at least try for five minutes not to be such a bBookWalk #3 | Pompidou Posse | Sarah Lotz
“For fuck’s sake, Sage. He’s trying to help us out! Can you at least try for five minutes not to be such a bitch?” (p.20) | British friends Vicki and Sage have yet to agree on a strategy for survival on the streets of Paris.
He was EXCELLENT!! He was wearing dark glasses and was really pretending to be this dead mysterious guy. (p. 58) | Vicki and Sage take turns telling the story. Lovely use of the vernacular “dead”, meaning “very”, rather than “dead”.
“You and Sage,” he begins. “I was wondering. Why is it that you do not wash? Especially down there?” he points towards my crotch. (p.93) | The layers or propriety are swiftly peeled off and lost as the girls spend more time living rough.
As usual, the other nannies are clustered around the jungle gym benches like the cockney vultures in Jungle Book. (p. 118) | Vicki’s brief spell as a nanny only serves as a reminder that there is no easy way back into the secure but boring world of humdrum mediocrity.
Finally, Scotty and Irish run out of steam without bringing a heart-rendingly awful version of Hotel California to its rightful (or wrongful) conclusion. (p.146) | Busking has more drawbacks than begging, partly because beggars are easier to ignore.
I cock my head to one side and make my eyes go all blurry in a vain attempt to make our chalk pavement drawing look better. It doesn’t help. (p. 194) | The two art-school dropouts soon learn the dictum that so many artists have learned before them: begging is more lucrative than art.
The one time my brother and I had picked magic mushrooms from the field at the back of my parents’ house I’d puked all over the dining room carpet. (p. 228) | Because their memories of home are seldom warm enough to seem inviting, the girls assemble a new family who share their desire to forget the past and ignore the future.
Ralphie curled himself into my side and Stefan stroked my back or dozed as I devoured the book of Somerset Maugham short stories I’d unearthed from the box. (p. 257) | Because Vicki manages to remain more receptive to the world and its inhabitants, she finds comfort in the company of beasts and humans and books.
“I thought the Germans were all mad bastard Nazis or something? That guy seemed kosher to me.” (p. 304) | Even on the outer fringes of society, prejudice can be the cement that holds groups together. But a mutual enemy – in this case The Blues, a tramp-chasing police force – can help unite former adversaries.
It was like I knew all about her and could look right inside her even before we’d said a single word to each other. (p. 347) | One doesn’t really know one’s friends until one decides to leave them.
(Sarah Lotz’s Pompidou Posse is published by Penguin.)
A #BookWalk Review (selected quotes and observations)
He unpacked the all-purpose supply of clothing he had considered adequate for Paris in May, thougA #BookWalk Review (selected quotes and observations)
He unpacked the all-purpose supply of clothing he had considered adequate for Paris in May, though of course nothing he owned was really adequate for Paris. (p. 11) – Christopher Turner returns to Paris on a quest, no better prepared than he was on his previous visit, thirty years before.
Christopher was about to put down the phone – he had no intention of leaving a message – when a brusque voice cut in with a businesslike Oui? (p. 36) – Paris clearly has no intention of helping Christopher on his quest.
Christopher was never sure, with Americans, whether the interrogative rise at the end of a sentence signalled a true question or just an unassertive way of stating a proposition. (p. 64) – It takes expats to move Christopher’s quest forward, as the discretion of Parisians seems to verge on catatonia.
Eric de Villiers clearly excited interest wherever he went, if two American, one Swede and an Argentinean could be taken as a representative sample. (p. 78) – When Christopher eventually locates Eric, he finds a man “immeasurably improved” not only in appearance but also in attitude and behaviour. Too good to be true?
“You were ogling, but you needn’t beg my pardon for that. Or Beatrice du Plessis’s pardon. She’s used to being ogled.” (p. 103) – Christopher finds himself surrounded by beautiful creatures and the men and women who feed off their beauty.
Some bystanders were commenting animatedly on the proceedings, and Christopher felt thoroughly exposed; and yet, he felt, there were worse situations to be caught in than being wrapped in silk by a black Dobermann. (p. 129) – In the world of haute couture, the object of one’s affection can so easily become an accessory.
“Ah, you English,” Fabrice growled. “Your language is so insipid, you have to invent words you do not know the meaning of.” (p. 156) – A world where brutal honesty is used to conceal darker secrets.
Their loyalties were a thing of the past, as were their betrayals. (p. 193) – And yet this shifting, unpredictable moral landscape offers greater freedom to reassess one’s own position.
It was as if they both knew that between them they had not yet arrived at a frankness that both of them wanted, yet were wary of. It was a question of who would take the initiative, and along what lines. (p. 213) – The knowledge of failures, shortcoming and fears becomes a carefully guarded social currency.
Under the mild glow of the chandelier, Eric shone gold; and on this face, as he emerged from Gloriani’s greeting, was a smile of such candour and joy as to constitute a motion of confidence in his host, in the gathering as a whole, in the evening: whoever else is here, it seemed to say, will be delightful, and my mere presence will make them more delightful still. Adapted to his environment, yes, but at the same to so constituted as to form a defining part of that environment. (p. 254) – A world defying easy interpretation, where the truth changes shape as often as the person telling it.
“ I can recognise potential in unpromising material. I cannot, how do you say, make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but I can make a very good Moroccan leather wallet, which is after all more serviceable than a silk purse.” (p. 285) – The experts take pride in their ability to reduce humanity to accessories, porte-monnaies, money-holders, cash cows.
(Michiel Heyns’ Invisible Furies is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers)
It is potentially lethal to review the work of fellow authors. South Africans and Americans are especiall#BookWalk – Dropping Quotes Like Bread Crumbs
It is potentially lethal to review the work of fellow authors. South Africans and Americans are especially dangerous because they are allowed to own guns and use them in their own defence. Being a brash and reckless soul, however, I keep seeking ways to review the books of friends and acquaintances, mainly because I very much enjoy receiving appraisals from fellow authors.
So I’ve come up with a new approach that marries some of my favourite aspects of books and reviews. For instance, I like it when a reviewer lifts excerpts from a book, giving the reader insight into style and content, without wasting space by regurgitating a blurb that can be read all over the internet. So that’s something I’ve tried to incorporate: lots of lovely quotes selected from the book at regular intervals.
The thing I love most about books is that, regardless of their quality, they give you access to a world that the author finds important enough to describe or use as a setting. Once you have finished the book, you could say you know the neighbourhood. That means you can stroll back through it and stop on any page to marvel at an observation, knowing how it ties in with the rest of the narrative landscape.
What I’ve tried to do is take readers on a Book Walk. I’d be interested to hear whether this approach offers enough insight into the style and content of the book, without giving too much away. I sincerely hope this will be the first of many ten-point walks, tracking the plot by dropping quotes like bread crumbs, hopefully luring new readers into these novels.
Did I hear a hammer being cocked? Maya, is that you?
BookWalk #1 – The Elephant in the Room – Maya Fowler
“Lilith Fields, what did you think you were doing?” (p. 20) – The lifelong badgering of Lily Fields begins. Will she ever be able to answer that question?
“Look at me, I’m the Sea Queen,” Beth shouts. (p. 38) – Lily’s younger sister already has the confidence to usurp the throne, albeit at play.
I see old music tapes, pens, stamps, badges; the usual boy rubbish. (p. 62) – Lily and Beth explore their uncle’s room and soon discover what makes him ‘special’.
“You can mix cement with Rosie. Is girls’ work.” (p. 89) – Out on their grandma’s farm, the rules of suburbia no longer apply and the threat of violence hangs heavy.
Her whole body is super smooth, her eyes are a brighter blue than mine, and she has no nipples. (p. 104) – Lilith Fields finds perfection and places it upon the highest shelf to watch over her fat-fighting efforts.
Vera is being nice today. “Hmm. Red shutters. That’s sweet, Lily.” (p. 130) – Too late do we realise that the cooler kids we seek to please are unable to resist the thrill of toying with us like a kitten with a frog.
In the mirror I can see what I look like. I think my arms are fabulous now, like a model’s. (p. 164) – Lily works herself to the bone to see the figure of her dreams.
She turns away when she sees me looking. I lurch out of my bubble of sadness and bang my fist on the table. (p. 178) Lily discovers that almost everyone has bitter secrets, and briefly finds solace in sorrow shared.
My mother never tells a whole story. You always need to prompt. (p. 201) The unspoken often hangs over families like a Sword of Damocles, and cries somehow go unheard.
Gracie’s butterfly obsession has made me notice things that wouldn’t have struck me before. (p. 243) Meanwhile, Lily’s younger sister seems to be withdrawing into a cocoon, as if to avoid the inevitable.
(Maya Fowler’s The Elephant in the Room is published by Kwela Books) ...more
Ezra de Haan, Literatuurplein.nl: "[...] Richard de Nooy laat met deze roman zien dat er een keerzijde aan de liefde is, dat die mensen blind maakt en foute beslissingen veroorzaakt. Maar dat is slechts het verhaal van deze schitterende roman, het tweede deel van een nog te voltooien drieluik. Belangrijker is het spel met de taal van de auteur die werkelijk ieder personage in dit boek een eigen stem geeft. Zacht als taal verdient door een groot publiek gelezen te worden. Het is lang geleden dat ik een roman las waarin zo goed en zo soepel de Nederlandse taal werd toegepast. Misschien is het een goed idee Zacht als Staal voor te schrijven als lesmateriaal op de diverse schrijversvakscholen…" [Meer...]
Jaap Goedgedbuure, Tirade.nu: "[...] Misschien biedt De Nooy’s betrekkelijk late start wel een verklaring voor de vulkaanachtige heftigheid van het werk dat hij tot nu toe publiceerde (al kun je je natuurlijk ook afvragen of hij van het lange wachten niet juist milder is geworden). De verhaallijn van Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot staat bol van geweld, in enkele gevallen zelfs met dodelijke afloop, en is vormgegeven met behulp van een zwiepende en striemende stijl. Zacht als Staal, zijn net verschenen tweede, in het Nederlands geschreven roman, kent een vergelijkbaar recept." [Meer...]
Erik Feenstra, gay.blog.nl: "Zacht als Staal is een roman die je niet meer weglegt, wanneer je eraan bent begonnen: het boeit, ontroert en leest ‘in één ruk uit’. De sfeer van Amsterdam in de 80er jaren doet met weemoed terugdenken naar die tijd en de auteur weet de roze couleur locale geraffineerd neer te zetten, niet gespeend van valse nichtenhumor, bijnamen en sappige beeldspraak." [Meer...]...more
Having finished this book, I fell asleep, my mind a-buzz, and dreamed that a crocodile swam up to me as I stood shiveringChronicles of a Crocodile Man
Having finished this book, I fell asleep, my mind a-buzz, and dreamed that a crocodile swam up to me as I stood shivering, waist-deep in the river. Because I had no weapon, I tried to fend the beast off with my hands. But he was not intent upon attack. Instead, he nudged and nuzzled me like a friendly cat.
And so fear became wonder, and when I awoke I spent several weeks contemplating, perhaps pointlessly, why crocodiles behave like crocodiles. Mainly because I could not bear to blow the brains out of this menacing metaphor. Instead, I set about imagining a man in a crocodile suit, who grows weary of the anger, hate and fear he inspires. And so he gradually slips off his suit, a gruesome metamorphosis, until he emerges naked and hurriedly fashions his discarded hide into a loincloth, a hat, cowboy boots, and a rough satchel in which to carry his diary, his memory, his most prized possession.
Imagine, if you will, what kind of reception our Crocodile Man might expect from the world. The crocs in the river would be filled with hate and perhaps even envy at his trickery. The relatives of his former victims would look upon his transformation with suspicion. Those unaware of his past might see him as an eccentric exhibitionist. Those who dare to engage with him may marvel at his scaly past, but would remain wary of his dormant crocodile temperament.
And then there are those who know better than to blow the brains out of a walking metaphor. Those who want to open the man’s croc-skin bag and read his diary. I have. And it is more absurd, unlikely, entertaining and intriguing than this review. Somewhat tattered and stained in places, full of madness and rage, sometimes spiteful, sometimes remorseful, often hilarious, always brutally honest, as one might expect from a man who has lived the life of a crocodile and dreamed crocodile dreams. ...more
(Warning: This is a skatebike review in that it combines elements of two classic forms – the anecdotalThings Fall Apart Again, Raising More Questions
(Warning: This is a skatebike review in that it combines elements of two classic forms – the anecdotal vignette and comprehensive literary analysis – to create an utterly useless monstrosity that is neither one nor the other. In short, you will be made to pedal really hard without getting anywhere.)
I first read Things Fall Apart (TFA) as a teenager at school in Johannesburg. This was back in the early 1980s when Apartheid was girding its loins for the “Total Onslaught” from “Commies” gathering on our country’s northern borders. The following passage gives you some idea of the anxious atmosphere that had been contrived at the time:
...“Boys in blue and grey uniforms are marching in the afternoon sun. Ten sad rectangles move back and forth between the rugby posts, like human concertinas easing out a tune as the back rows lag, catch up, then lag again. These are the men who will fight the acronyms that have launched a Total Onslaught on The Border: SWAPO, PAC, ANC, MPLA, FNLA, ZANU, ZAPU, UNITA. Some are bad, others good, say the papers, “but when push comes to shove, each and every one of them would rape your mother and hang you little white turds upside down by your balls,” says Mr Cloete, our PT teacher, an ex-drill sergeant.”
The question that has plagued me since the 50th anniversary of Things Fall Apart is: why was this book prescribed to us at school? In retrospect, it seems odd that a book intended as a counterpoint to racist perspectives and narratives of Africa espoused in European literature should be placed on the reading lists of students who were, quite frankly, being overtly and covertly brainwashed with a view to perpetuating white dominance and privilege in South Africa. This seemed so implausible that I even began to doubt whether I had actually read TFA at school. But when I expressed these doubts previously, others confirmed that they too recalled having read the book at school. I soon decided that the only way to unravel this conundrum was to re-read this classic novel. Having done so – more than a year after announcing my intention – I fear I am not much closer to the truth.
The world described in Things Fall Apart is not a pretty one. Much of the story revolves around Okonkwo, a power-hungry, wife-beating, son-killing potentate, whose only redeeming feature seems to be an unwavering struggle against more perverse forces encroaching on his realm. While there are other characters who represent a variety of alternative perspectives and moralities, the story paints a grim picture of a community governed by customs, traditions and superstitions threatened by an influx of white missionaries and colonists bringing their own customs, traditions and superstitions. To put it bluntly, the average reader might quite easily characterise the book as: black savages being threatened by white savages carrying more powerful weapons.
Because I am not untainted – I was suckled on Apartheid’s grotesque breast – I began to wonder whether deep-seated remnants of racism may be causing me to miss the point of this story. Surely Achebe never intended to confirm or perpetuate common prejudice about Africans as savages eking out an existence on the edge of the forest, threatened by drought, war and disease?
This question led me to the author’s essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’” (Massachusetts Review. 18. 1977. Rpt. in Heart of Darkness, An Authoritative Text, background and Sources Criticism. 1961. 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough, London: W. W Norton and Co., 1988, pp.251-261), which wasn’t too difficult to find online In this critique of Conrad’s classic, Achebe writes: “Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world,’ the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man's vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality.”
Achebe subsequently cites various passages from Conrad’s book illustrating the racism underlying the author’s perspective on Africans. I have not read Heart of Darkness, but I am more than willing to take Achebe’s word for it that a white author, writing about Africa in the 19th century, would harbour some downright prejudicial views of any culture beyond his Anglo-Saxon frame of reference. Achebe himself arrives at a similar conclusion, but ultimately aims his sharpest arrow at the fact that Conrad’s book still ranks as a classic and is still a setwork for students of literature.
“The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.”
All of which brings me back to Things Fall Apart, which is, to the best my knowledge, today considered as much a classic of English literature as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It is often argued that Achebe wrote his book as a counterpoint to the narrow portrayal of Africa and Africans in European literature. One online study guide characterises TFA as follows:
“Its most striking feature is to create a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional village culture in Africa. Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much of value. All too many Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering.”
But does Achebe’s novel indeed achieve this high-flown objective? Or does the fact that TFA was prescribed to us at high school in Apartheid South Africa point towards a more sinister side-effect of Achebe’s effort to redress Conrad’s one-sided perspective? Was it perhaps prescribed because it inadvertently confirms white prejudices about savage Africans eking out an existence on the edge of an evil jungle?
One thing is certain, this book has set me scouring the internet for further analyses. Some of these have offered new insight into how the text should be read, and I have every intention of seeking out other texts on the topic. More specifically, samples of African scholars’ perspectives on this book. However, I doubt whether the average reader will take the trouble to do so. And I wonder whether they will be able to extract the true essence and meaning of this book without a guide to put things into perspective for them.
In the closing passage of his essay, Achebe writes: “Although the work of redressing which needs to be done may appear too daunting, I believe it is not one day too soon to begin. Conrad saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation but was strangely unaware of the racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth. But the victims of racist slander who for centuries have had to live with the inhumanity it makes them heir to have always known better than any casual visitor even when he comes loaded with the gifts of a Conrad.”
Is it possible that Achebe too was “strangely unaware” to what extent his book might be misinterpreted or misrepresented? And to what extent is my own re-reading of his novel tainted by the frame of reference from whence I come?
Let me start by confessing that I began reviewing the books of fellow authors to sate my own hunger for reviews and sucThe Irony-Clad Truth
Let me start by confessing that I began reviewing the books of fellow authors to sate my own hunger for reviews and success. Nothing startling or unusual about that, except that I have chosen to admit it openly. In fact, I’m even prepared to take this one step further by admitting that, as a keen observer of human nature, I not only know exactly what people want to hear, but also how to present it in such a way that it has a semblance of veracity – the irony-clad truth, as it were.
This irony-clad truth is forged at the edge of a fiery abyss that embodies my desire to explore human nature by exploring myself, warts and all. Your book (and my promise to review it) has reminded me that I initially pledged to follow the bleak track of truth that spirals ever deeper into the abyss. I also realised that I may have wasted time dawdling along the rutted edge of the chasm. And so, without further ado, I must now plunge headlong down the path, although I do not know the way and cannot promise that I will not stray.
All of which brings me to your book and a further confession: I had to consult Wikipedia to confirm what ‘young adult fiction’ is. To my surprise, I am not wholly unfamiliar with the genre, because the oracle lists Catcher in the Rye as a ‘young adult classic’. This got me thinking about genres and classification – again! – and why it annoys me when books pander to the supposed tastes, interests and intellectual capacity of a specific group of readers. While Salinger’s Catcher is certainly not one of my favourites, I’m pretty sure he didn’t write his book with young adults in mind. This probably explains why his work has such universal appeal. It’s classification as a ‘young adult classic’ simply confirms that authors usually don’t have a hand in choosing which section or shelf their book is displayed in/on.
Having read your book, however, I’m pretty sure you moulded the story and style to appeal to readers of a certain age. The stepbrothers Justin and Kendall are both rather stereotypical – the popular Prince Charming and the shy, somewhat grotesque Frog Boy – but they are painstakingly sketched. This in contrast to the other characters in the book, who seem to be little more than two-dimensional whoopee cushions for the boys to bounce off. Consequently, I never gained any real insight into what drives these people. And so the ‘bad guys’ (Daddy Mullins, The Headmaster, Bomber Craig and Cousin Gavin) are little more than caricatures neatly matching the supposed perceptions of ‘young adults’ and confirming the notion that they are understandably locked into an Everyone- Is-Against-Me-So-Fuck-Them state of mind. In short, no prizes for guessing who adolescent readers are expected to identify with.
This is not necessarily a problem, of course. Readers invariably identify with one or more characters in a book. However, I felt you could have done so much more with the plot and secondary characters. Your writing has great pace, clarity and balance, which leads me to conclude that you really have what it takes to add further depth to the story and offer readers insight into the actions, desires and intentions of secondary characters. I’m not sure whether you write bios for all your characters. If you do, this usually prevents them from becoming cardboard cut-outs. And by giving the extras more body, it becomes easier to flesh out your main characters, thus making them less stereotypical and adding novel dimensions to the interaction between them.
Having re-read the above, after letting it rest for several weeks, I’m acutely aware that some of my remarks are based on assumptions that may be wide of the mark. In a way, the above is more about me and my preferences than it is about your book. But I suppose this applies to all reviews. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely hope you stand to gain more from a slap in the face than from an irony-clad pat on the back. Feel free to slap back. I probably deserve it. ...more