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“The Perfect Cross Continental Time Capsule”: Jacqui L’Ange Launches The Seed Thief with Henrietta Rose-Innes

Jacqui l'Ange

The launch of The Seed Thief by debut novelist Jacqui l’Ange at Cape Town’s famous independent bookshop, The Book Lounge, was fabulously well attended. The proprietor of the store, Mervyn Sloman, introduced the author in glowing terms, describing her as “a much loved and much respected presence” in South Africa’s – and particularly Cape Town’s – book world. Her book has been eagerly awaited. L’Ange is a regular at literary events, interviewing authors at the launches of their books. She is also a book reviewer and actively promotes South African literature.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to have her on the other side of the microphone this time, bringing her own novel into the world. It’s an absolutely wonderful piece of writing,” Sloman said.

L’Ange was joined by Henrietta Rose-Innes, author of Green Lion, who was visiting Cape Town for the Open Book Festival where the two authors appeared on the “Shades of Green” panel together.

Henrietta Rose-Innes, Jacqui l'AngeThe Seed ThiefRose-Innes described the book as a labour of love, saying, “You managed to do so much in a relatively short and gripping book: It’s an eco-thriller about sea piracy and the preservation of our natural heritage; it’s also a personal story about a woman who is pursued by her own demons; it’s a fascinating history about the connections between Africa and Brazil; it’s about Afro-Brazilian spirituality; and it’s a passionate, hot romance.”

Rose-Innes said L’Ange did all these things with “an amazing lightness of touch that was impressive and rare”. She also reflected on the vast amount of research that had clearly gone into various aspects of the story. “Jacqui writes with great authority and fascination about the seeds that form the central image of the book. They are very special and rare and are extinct in Africa but survive in Brazil because of the colonial slave trade,” she said.

L’Ange reflected on the question about her relation to the plant world, chatting about her beloved fynbos gardens she has planted while living in various parts of the Cape over the years. She said she had written this book as part of her MA in Creative Writing thesis at UCT. L’Ange said, “While exploring the links between Brazil and Africa, a seed presented itself as the perfect cross continental time capsule that enabled me to more fully unpack the journey of slaves across the sea between West Africa and Bahia.”

“The lost seed came into the process as the idea of the character evolved. I wasn’t sure what would connect her to Brazil, but while researching in the library one day I came across the way seeds were used in Brazil. It became obvious that the seed had travelled with the slaves and that’s how it became the vehicle for the story,” L’Ange said.

The narrative links the journey of Maddy Bellani and her trip to Brazil to collect rare seeds from a plant that could cure cancer with the historical practice of colonialism and slavery and with a modern-day appropriation that manifests as the control of genetic resources and bio-piracy. L’Ange spent many years in Brazil in her teens but only much later, while working on a movie in Mozambique in 2004, did she learn about the ritual practices of the region. “I wanted to find out more,” she says, “so I visited Brazil in 2005 for a high school reunion, returning to Salvador in Bahia.” That trip planted the seed for this novel.

Rose-Innes and L’Ange’s discussion ranged across a number of entirely fascinating topics, including the seed for the gladiolus aureus that had been stored in Groote Schuur Hospital’s blood bank until somebody did a blitz, some 25 years later. By enormous good fortune, an amateur botanist had saved the seed, rescuing the plants from extinction.

Many book lovers who had crowded into The Book Lounge for this enjoyable and enlightening event waited patiently to share a word with the author as she signed copies of The Seed Thief.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:


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