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16 Days of Activism and South African Contemporary Fiction

Glowfly DanceWhat About MeeraMy Children Have FacesBirdseyeSister Moon

 
By Jennifer Crocker

Every year from 25 November, for 16 days, South Africa highlights activism against gender violence, and every year comments are made in the media about how this campaign does not make any real difference to those who have the very fabric of their lives torn apart by domestic violence, because we are told that we have more to fear from those we know than from strangers – a sober thought indeed.

In addition to using just 16 days to highlight this scourge, there are other ways in which people are creating awareness of the fragility of many people’s lives as a result of domestic violence. One is through literature, music, theatre and the arts. From time immemorial authors, philosophers and commentators have written about the issues around them, often weaving entertainment with harsh realities into what become cautionary tales. For many of us, the messages that resonate most are those conveyed through stories.

The South African publishing industry appears to be on the cusp of taking the publishing world by storm, with publishers pushing the boundaries and bravely bringing books to the reading market that stir the conscience.

A number of novels have been published that tackle the issue of domestic violence and abuse – bearing in mind that abuse is not always only physical, it also does not only affect women (although women are most often its victims), and almost universally it causes a sense of shame.

When novelists bring these stories out into the scrutiny of the light, and allow themselves the freedom of created characters to portray the horrors that are perpetuated on a daily basis, not just for 16 days of a year, we are drawn into stories that are as captivating as they are instructive. Discussions that follow from the reading of these books often allow those who have suffered – or continue to suffer – from abuse to share their experiences in a safe place for the first time.

Glowfly DanceGlowfly Dance by Jade Gibson (Umuzi, 2015) is one such book. Gibson begins the novel by setting up a perfect storm, and introducing the destruction of the life of a young girl, Mai, the voice through which the story is told. Mai lives with her mother and sister Amy. She is a happy little girl. She doesn’t know who her father is, but she has her mother and her quirky grandfather. The family is not rich in monetary terms, but they have flowers and games and love. When her mother meets Rashid, this all changes; Rashid, with his red car, is an abuser of children and women. Through the beauty of the writing Gibson shows us how a happy – if unusual – family is decimated by one man’s cruelty. How cunning and coercion can make you flee your happy place and put you on the bottom rung of society. It’s a brilliant and brave book, and carries across the message that violence in a family does only one thing: it destroys hope. And hope, once broken, is lost. Rashid is one of those men we will remember long after we have put down Gibson’s book; he’ll remain in our memories as the man who stole innocence in a whirlwind of cruelty and pain.

What About MeeraWhat About Meera (Umuzi, 2015) tells the story of a young woman who is happy in her life in rural KwaZulu-Natal, until she is forced to marry a man of status, a doctor. Her loveless marriage becomes a thing of entrapment and horror. Meera flees her life with him, but is judged and becomes a shame to her family. Events spiral out of control when she travels to Dublin and does a stupid and dangerous thing from a place of desperation. The book is essentially about the loss of innocence through neglect and cruelty. In a case of life imitating art, author ZP Dala was attacked after a literary festival in Durban, apparently by a group of men who took offence to her support of Salman Rushdie, and hit her in the face with a brick. One is tempted to think that the real world may intersect with the imagined world, for violence was done to a novelist by those wielding power. And abuse is about violence and exerting power over others. What About Meera also addresses the fact that the survivors of domestic abuse are often also victims of abuse within the wider family unit, either wittingly, to keep up appearances, or unwittingly, because they refuse to see what is happening.

My Children Have FacesIn Carol Campbell’s book My Children Have Faces (Umuzi , 2013), we are taken to the edges of suffering in the Karoo, where a family has fled to escape the brutality of Miskiet, a murderer and a rapist who lives in the small town they have left. When Muis’s husband takes his ragged family back to the town, Miskiet is waiting for them. He sees Muis as a “dried out whore” but he has not forgotten her. While he still has the power to strike fear into her, he does not have enough power to stop her from doing the one thing she wants to do: get identity documents for her children so that they have a chance in life. It’s a wonderfully crafted tale spun from a composite group of people the author came to know in a little Karoo town. Muis has power, but it comes at great cost. It is price she is prepared to pay, but one that no person should be asked to pay.

BirdseyeSister MoonMáire Fisher broke our hearts in her novel Birdseye (Umuzi, 2014), where violence perpetuated against little boys shows the ugly face of almost random violence, while in Kirsten Miller’s Sister Moon (Umuzi, 2104) the reader is confronted by familial complicity where the sexual abuse of a young girl is ignored because of financial dependency on the perpetrator. The shockwaves of the abuse reverberate through the family for decades.
 
 
 
Albert Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” It has a ring of truth to it, because heaven knows we need as many ways as possible to address the horrible truth that lies behind violence and abuse. And not just for 16 days, but every day. There is a reason that text in books is always referred to in the present tense: it exists as a reality when a book is both closed and open. By opening up the reality of abuse and exposing it through literature, another arrow is added to the quiver exposing it in all its horror. Thank goodness we have authors who do that for us.

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign runs from 25 November to 10 December 2106.

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How to Beat Writer’s Block and the Ogre of Insecurity – Rahla Xenopoulos and Irna van Zyl Share Their Best Tips

TribeRahla Xenopoulos, author of Tribe, and Irna van Zyl, who is publishing her debut thriller next year, recently shared their advice for conquering writer’s block with Media Update.

The feeling of fear inhibits one’s ability to perform and it affects all sorts of people, not only writers. No matter when or where it hits, though, there is a reliable way to beat it.

Xenopoulos says that she imagines writer’s block as “this ogre we feed that thrives on insecurity” – the best way to beat it is to starve it.

Van Zyl advises avoiding writing when you are tired, because: “You need a lot of energy to stay with it.”

Read the article:

“It has been said that writers have tidier houses than other people,” explains author, Rahla Xenopoulos. “When I start colour co-ordinating my underwear and sitting on Facebook, I know the god of literature is sending [me] signs.”

Writer’s block has many names and forms and each writer experiences it differently. But one thing is for sure, whether you’re a poet, novelist, copywriter or journalist, you will – at some point – come up against it.

 
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I Love to Feel Words Run Through My Hands, Like Water – Recipes for Love and Murder Author Sally Andrew

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria MysterySally Andrew has shared a video in which she chats about her deep connection to the Karoo and her love of writing.

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery is Andrew’s debut novel, and has already been published in 17 countries, with more to come. It is also available as an audiobook, read by Sandra Prinsloo.

“Writing is a huge joy to me,” Andrew says. “I love to play with words, to feel them run through my hands, like water. Writing this book has been one of the biggest pleasures of my life.”

Andrew also speaks about the themes of the book: recipes, murder, mystery and love.

“This book is predominantly a murder mystery, but I guess the theme closest to my heart is love: love of the Klein Karoo, love of food, love of justice, love between friends.”

Watch the video:

YouTube Preview Image

 
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The Hardest Thing Lauren Beukes Has Ever Written, and Why She Wants to Eat Jennifer Egan’s Brain

MaverickBroken MonstersThe Shining Girls

 
Lauren Beukes was recently interviewed by Alex Segura for Pen America about her “enthralling and immersive fiction”.

Segura asks Beukes about how she came to write for a living, and where she writes. The author admits that she would like to “absorb” Jennifer Egan’s powers, by means of eating her brain if necessary.

Beukes says that she would like to have been a anti-apartheid activist because the enemy was simple – she wishes that “current social issues were as easily defined and that there was a clear path of resistance.” This leads into a discussion of the hardest thing she has ever had to write:

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words? Why does it stand out for you?

The most daring thing I’ve wanted to put into words was vetoed by my editor. I wanted to describe my terrified heroine’s heart thumping “like an avalanche of ponies.” I still like the metaphor. Can’t you just see it? The ponies tumbling down the scree, all clattering hooves and dust? But the hardest thing to write, which still upsets me and makes me sick and angry, was the essay I wrote, “All The Pretty Corpses,” about the murder of my cleaning lady’s daughter in 2010 and how I believed in the fairytale of justice until the moment in the prosecutor’s office when he told us he was going to have to throw the case out. It was devastating, and it has fed into how I write about violence—what it is, what it does to us, how we talk about it, what it means when we lose someone, how violence is shocking and contemptible, how we shouldn’t let this shit go.

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Johann Rossouw vra: Wat staan voorstanders van Afrikaans as akademiese taal te doen?

VerwoerdburgJohann Rossouw het op Vrydag, 27 November die stigtingstoespraak gelewer tydens die amptelike bekendstelling van die Afrikaanse Alumni-vereniging.

Luidens ‘n verklaring op hul webtuiste is die doel van die Afrikaanse Alumni-vereniging “om as spreekbuis te dien vir diegene wat die voortsetting van uitnemende Afrikaanse hoër onderwys nastreef”. Die vereniging bestaan uit “lojale en besorgde alumni” wat bekommerd is oor onder meer “staatsinmenging, transformasie en die viktimisering en afskaling van Afrikaans by ons universiteite”.

In sy toespraak deel die Verwoerdburg-outeur sy waarnemings oor die toekoms van Afrikaans aan universiteite en vra wat voorstanders van Afrikaans as akademiese taal vandag te doen staan.

Rossouw kyk terug oor twee dekades se gesprekke oor Afrikaans en besin oor onder meer staatsinmenging en onvoldoende bevondsing, die FeesMustFall-beweging en die politieke wêreldkonteks waarbinne al die gebeure afgespeel het.

Lees die artikel:

Daar is een laaste punt om te maak oor die politieke wêreldkonteks waarbinne hierdie gebeure aan Suid-Afrikaanse universiteite vanjaar afgespeel het, veral met betrekking tot die FeesMustFall- en RhodesMustFall-bewegings wat Afrikaans en sogenaamde whiteness in die visier gekry het. Ek verwys na die feit dat op die dag nadat Maties se bestuurspan hulle omstrede dokument oor taal aan die US bekendgemaak het, ISIS se aanvalle op Parys plaasgevind het. Waarmee ons hier te doen het, is ’n nuwe geslag voorheen benadeeldes wat vir hul ouers se verraad teenoor hulle wraak wil neem op die nakomelinge van diegene wie se ouers hul ouers verdruk het. Die wyer politieke effek van die verdrywing van Afrikaans as akademiese taal uit die openbare universiteite is dat dit ’n verdoemende boodskap stuur oor hoe die huidige orde nie plek het vir minderheidstale nie, dat dit nie sy erns met diversiteit is nie, dat demokrasie bloot ’n vyeblaar vir sentralisme is en dat die 1994-akkoord van wedersydse erkenning tussen Afrikaner en Afrikaan toenemend misken word.

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“Stay Well with All Our Secrets” – Ingrid Jonker’s Last Letter to Andre Brink in Flame in the Snow

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeuKarin Schimke recently wrote an article for Marie Claire about Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker.

Schimke en Leon de Kock were responsible for the translation of the collection of letters, which is also available in Afrikaans as Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink en Ingrid Jonker.

In the article, Schimke writes tenderly about Jonker’s suicide and how Brink responded to the public scrutiny and gossip. She also shares a line from the last letter Jonker ever wrote to Brink.

Schimke spoke to the people who were involved in helping these precious love letters see the light: Umuzi publisher Fourie Botha and Brink’s widow Karina Magdalena Szczurek, as well as to Willie Burger, professor of Afrikaans at the University of Pretoria, who said:

“The letters are a knock-out blow to the idea that she was a bubble-headed blonde with a few good verses. She displays clear political thinking, good literary discernment and sharp insight. She had a particularly difficult life. Towards the end of the correspondence it becomes clear that her loneliness has become more desperate, while he slowly withdraws. It’s the stuff good novels are made of.”

Read the article for more about Jonker’s last days and her final letter to Brink:

In the weeks before her suicide, friends noticed a change in Ingrid. Where once she had taken enormous pride in her looks, she had become sloppy. Her cheerfulness had receded into an almost constant bleakness. An extremely difficult childhood and adult life, and a possibly genetic predisposition towards depression and anxiety, had caught up with her. She was poor, had worked in soul-destroying bureaucratic jobs and could not find safety and succour from the maddening world with any of the men who loved her. It is clear, from all the literature available – and now these letters – that the talented poet Ingrid Jonker had run out of the emotional resources required to go on with life.

Her last letter to André ends: ‘Stay well with all our secrets…’

For extracts in English and Afrikaans, quotes from the contributors, articles and more news about Flame in the Snow, visit the website www.flameinthesnow.co.za:

 

 

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Why Sally Andrew Invented Tannie Maria: “To Teach Me How to Love … and Maybe How to Cook!” (Podcast)

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria MysterySally Andrew was recently interviewed by Nancy Richards for SA FM about her newly published debut Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery.

In the interview, Andrew tells Richards about the authors and influences that affected her choice of genre for this book. She says she was interested in exploring the theme of love, although she doesn’t like to write romance. “I really like the genre of the old-fashioned, cosy, mystery writers,” she says. Her love of “the slow moving writing of Alexander McCall Smith and Herman Charles Bosman” also affected her chosen style.

Andrew says she invented Tannie Maria, the lovable and irrepressible narrator of her novel, to “keep me grounded and laughing, and to teach me how to love … and maybe how to cook!”

Listen to the podcast:

 

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Minister of Health or Mass Murderer? Excerpt from Lauren Beukes and Nechama Brodie’s Maverick

MaverickIn Maverick: Extraordinary women from South Africa’s past Lauren Beukes and Nechama Brodie tell the story of some of our most famous and infamous women.

Killers, singers, strippers and revolutionaries populate the pages of Maverick; the only thing these real historical characters have in common is that they were – for better or worse – far from ordinary.

News24 has shared an edited excerpt from the book that deals with the much-maligned late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Read the excerpt:

In December 2009, in Johannesburg’s exclusive Donald Gordon Medical Centre, a woman lay dying. There may well have been the backbeat of life-support machines – she was in the ICU after all – and there was certainly a heavy media presence, enough that security guards were posted at the door to her room. But this was no Brenda Fassie. While the bed’s occupant was undoubtedly one of the most notorious women in South Africa, there were no legions of fans praying for her recovery.

In fact, if people were praying at all, it might have been for things to go the other way. Which sounds like a perfectly horrible thing to say, but then again, no one really expects polite condolences for a mass murderer.

Between June 1999 and September 2008, the woman in the hospital bed had been responsible for an estimated 330 000 preventable deaths.

What made the incomprehensible figure worse was that she was no arbitrary murderess, not even a Daisy de Melker. She had been the minister of health.

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Ivan Vladislavic Believes Society’s Monuments Should be Complex, with a Sense of Irony (Podcast)

Ivan Vladislavic
101 DetectivesThe FollyFlashback HotelDouble NegativeThe Loss Library The Restless Supermarket

 
Ivan Vladislavić chatted to Corina van der Spoel on the RSG Skrywers en Boeke show recently.

Vladislavić won the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for fiction this year, along with Teju Cole and Helon Habila. His most recent book is 101 Detectives.

Vladislavić chats about the very welcome prize money that came with the Windham Campbell Prize, how being a very precise editor has made his writing process more chaotic, and how he has become interested in the writing that does not get published (hence the “deleted scenes” in 101 Detectives).

He also talks about his relationship with Johannesburg, which he describes as “complicated”.

“My affection for Johannesburg has flourished and also withered away over time,” he says. “I find I like the place more, and then I like it less, according to my own circumstances. I still find it fascinating, for some of the same reasons that I like to write: it’s difficult. But it’s not often fun, is it?

“You have to find what’s interesting, and you have to find a way of surviving here, without the city completely diminishing you or grinding you to dust. It’s an ongoing challenge. One can take these challenges as a way of clarifying something for yourself. For me, as a writer, primarily in my work. But Johannesburg also forces you to confront things in the way that you live, and your relationship with other people, that’s maybe a good and necessary thing.”

Van der Spoel asks Vladislavić for his views on the Rhodes Must Fall movement, since his 1996 collection of short stories Propaganda by Monuments pondered similar issues.

Vladislavić says he is glad people have been forced to admit that statues and monuments are not neutral.

“If they are just a bunch of old statues, then why are people so attached to them?” he asks. “These things have value in society, they stand for something, and they don’t stand for the same thing for everybody.

“It has the potential, anyway, to make people think hard about how the society represents itself, what the power is of representing certain ideas in the form of a statue or a monument. I think that’s the positive side of it.

“We need a society and a public domain that’s complex. If we are going to represent anything in our public spaces by the construction of monuments or museums the least one would hope for is that we construct something complex and something that asks questions rather than delivers answers, delivers final position on things. I think there are many more inventive or interesting things to do with a statue than to take it away and put it in a warehouse.

“To live in a society like this you need a sense of irony. You need a sense of irony about yourself and the society, and how it came to be. How we came to be living where we live. I would hope for a broad and open and maybe even amused public space rather than one that declares certain things anathema.”

Listen to the podcast (introduction in Afrikaans):

 
Related:

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Diane Awerbuck Presents a Talk on South Africa for the University of Tampa’s Global Scholar’s Series

Home RemediesDiane Awerbuck visited the University of Tampa in Florida, United States recently as part of the institution’s Global Scholar’s Series.

Awerbuck presented a talk titled “Angel of the Morning: Race, Sex and Self-Image in Post-Apartheid South Africa”, focusing on “the ongoing violence in South Africa and the transition of privilege that white South Africans once held as minorities in a black majority rule”.

Last year, Awerbuck won the 2014 Short Story Day Africa competition, and was runner up for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. However, she also works as a teacher and develops language material for high schools. Her most recent novel is Home Remedies.

 
Read the Minaret Online‘s report from the event:

Awerbuck wants people to visit Africa before forming glossy or detrimental views about the continent.

“We all have preconceptions and stereotyped notions of people in countries not our own: they’re often inaccurate, and that kind of ‘othering’ hurts us because it stops people telling their own stories,” Awerbuck said.

 
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