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Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

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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Lauren Beukes Praised on Various Platforms as a Firm Favourite in 2014

Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsBroken Monsters2014 has been a good year for Lauren Beukes, with high praise, award nominations and wins, and rave reviews of her books The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters setting the tone.

As the year draws to a close various publications are releasing their editions of the Book of the Year listicles typically seen around this time. So far international publications Flavorwire, NPR and Slate Book Review have included her work in their editions of their favourites with the LA Times including her latest novel in their holiday gift guide.

Julia Keller, author of Bitter River, notes that Beukes “writes like a combination of Agatha Christie and Don DeLillo” and nominated Broken Monsters as her 2014 Book of the Year for NPR‘s list. “You’re drawn in by the whodunit and then cold-cocked by the succinct, electrifying prose,” Keller writes. Read her short review:

Fiercely smart, caustically creative, defiantly feminist, Lauren Beukes has pioneered a new genre: the technothriller set amid crumbling cities. Broken Monsters is a grim mystery that lives at the intersection of cold electronic gadgets and the blood-hot desires of the human beings who wield them. The novel is set in Detroit, where Detective Gabriella Versado is assigned to find out who killed a boy and then attached the top half of his body to the bottom half of a deer. Here, as in her brilliant 2013 novel, The Shining Girls, Beukes writes like a combination of Agatha Christie and Don DeLillo. You’re drawn in by the whodunit and then cold-cocked by the succinct, electrifying prose.

Literary scout and author Claire Lundberg chose Broken Monsters as her book for Slate Book Reviews list of “great books you never heard about – but should have”. “Beukes’ latest novel is literary horror set in modern-day Detroit that combines the supernatural spookiness of Stephen King with the cat-and-mouse serial killer narrative of The Silence of the Lambs,” writes Lundberg. Read her review on Slate:

Beukes’ latest novel is literary horror set in modern-day Detroit that combines the supernatural spookiness of Stephen King with the cat-and-mouse serial killer narrative of The Silence of the Lambs. The result is a hallucinatory referendum on this quintessential American city that’s constantly on the verge of extinction even as it’s being reborn. The body of a teenage boy is found, cut in half and attached to the hindquarters of a yearling deer in a strange and gruesome piece of serial killer art. Homicide detective and single mom Gabriella Versado hunts for the killer: Is he an outsider artist, a desperate man marginalized by the recession, or a new kind of demon for the modern age?

LA Times has put together a list of holiday book reccomendations, including Broken Monsters in their science fiction / fantasy category:

Set in contemporary Detroit, where a mysterious corpse — half-man, half-deer — launches a police detective into obsession in this suspenseful multivoiced narrative.

Flavorwire‘s Angela Lashbrook picked The shining Girls as on of her favourite things last week, calling on readers to “please, pick up a copy this book ASAP”. Read her review of this award-winning book:

I started South African novelist Lauren Beukes’ mystery/horror novel The Shining Girls with a little trepidation. I love mysteries, but Beukes’ serial killer is a time traveler who stalks his victims over the course of the 20th century until he’s ready to kill them. It’s a ludicrous premise. Yet The Shining Girls is a beautiful novel, and is startlingly progressive and feminist in a way many murder mysteries aren’t. Beukes provides access to the victims’ feelings, thoughts, and lives. They’re all “shining” — that is, they’re all extraordinary young women with bright futures that the embattled psychopath killer has to snuff out. I don’t want to get too deep into it here, but please, pick up a copy this book ASAP. I promise that it’s a fast — but enlightening — read.

Joe Hill, author of Nos4r2 and Horns which has just been released as a feature film, raved about Beukes’ style of writing in an interview with the New York Observer.

Hill, one of Beukes’ favourite writers and son of Stephen King, interviewed the Broken Monsters author earlier this year when she was doing a promotional tour through the US and joined her in studio for Guardian Books where they discussed horror writing as a genre.

Read what Hill had to say about Beukes’ writing:

I like writers like Lauren Beukes, you know, I don’t think of Lauren Beukes as a thriller writer or a horror writer or a dark fantasy writer even though her stories incorporate all those elements. I love her sentences, her ability to construct scenes, her dialogue and characters and that’s why I read her.

Locally, Sunday Times books editor and founder of Books LIVE Ben Williams also chose Broken Monsters as one of this favourite books of 2014, calling it her “best novel yet”.

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Imran Garda Inspired by How Chuck Palahniuk and Zakes Mda “Broke the Rules”

The Thunder That RoarsImran Garda, who’s debut novel The Thunder That Roars was recently released, chatted to Talk Radio 702‘s Nomonde Ndwalaza.

Garda spoke about the writers he considers to be his mentors, saying he mostly reads non-fiction and is currently enjoying Ryszard Kapuściński’s Shah of Shahs and The Emperor. However, he also mentions some fiction writers who have inspired him, including Chuck Palahniuk and Zakes Mda, because “they broke the rules”.

“In terms of writers who have inspired me,” Garda says, “the best, the one that made me go on an emotional journey the most, was Zakes Mda, because there was a bit of craziness in there and he broke the rules as he went along.”

Listen to the podcast:

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Justin Fox on the Traits He Shares with His Whoever Fears the Sea Protagonist

Whoever Fears the SeaJustin Fox says his new novel, Whoever Fears the Sea, can be read as autobiographical, but only to a point.

Commenting on the similarities between his protagonist, Paul Waterson, and himself, Fox tells Bruce Dennill of The Citizen: “Paul and I are very similar. We both love the sea and travelling in general, and we’re both writers. But I went into fantasy in order to make the story exciting by adding guns and sex.”

However, Fox says he does differ from his character in some ways: “Paul is more adventurous than I am. I’m quite a nervous traveller. I’m always watching my back. He’s laid-back, where I want everything to run on time.”

Fox and Dennill speak about the way in which Paul tries to be open minded and consider both sides of an issue, which Fox says can be seen as a challenge to readers:

Paul Waterson, the protagonist in travel writer and author Justin Fox’s first novel, Whoever Fears The Sea, is, like Fox, an excellent researcher, a big fan of Africa’s East Coast, and a South African.

How autobiographical is the character, given that Waterson’s undesirable traits – he can be shallow and selfish, for a start – can be explained away as fiction?

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View Justin Fox’s Inspiration Images for His Debut Novel Whoever Fears the Sea

Whoever Fears the SeaIn Justin Fox’s debut novel, Whoever Fears the Sea, the protagonist, Paul Waterson, is working in Kenya and goes on a mission to find the last remaining Mtepe dhow, which is said to be in Somalia.

Fox is a travel writer and photographer and has shared images that inspired his novel on Random House Struik’s Pinterest page. Have a look at his photos to see what dhows look like and to get a glimpse of the open seas:

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Image courtesy Justin Fox

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Find Out Why Lauren Beukes Thinks You Might Be a Psychopath

The Shining GirlsIn one of her latest blog posts, best-selling South African author Lauren Beukes discusses the fact, “that there’s a lack of depth of deep dark motivation” in her characterisation of Harper, the killer in The Shining Girls. She says, “there’s a reason I wrote him like that. Because that’s what real serial killers look like – shallow, violent opportunists with impotence issues.”

Beukes goes on to discuss an article on the “myth of the elite psychopath”, written for Quartz by Rachel Feltman, which she says is, “worth reading in full, not least cos YOU might be a psychopath.” The article explains that a real serial killer is unlikely to resemble the diabolical Hannibal Lecter in the slightest.

The blog post also links to a number of other interesting articles on the subject, from, among others, Zola Books and Science News.

I’ve had some readers disappointed that we never really get into the depths of Harper’s head in The Shining Girls, that there’s a lack of depth of deep dark motivation, unlike, say someone diabolical like Hannibal Lecter.

But there’s a reason I wrote him like that. Because that’s what real serial killers look like – shallow, violent opportunists with impotence issues. I did a lot of research on this and if you read prison interviews with real serial killers like John Wayne Gacy, say, the truth is that they’re not fascinating monsters with deep dark histories – they’re pathetic men, violent losers really, (although often charismatic), who have don’t have insight into why they did what they did.

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Nelson Mandela Was One of Thirty Six Righteous Ones Says Meg Vandermerwe

Zebra CrossingIn a post on O, The Oprah Magazine‘s website Meg Vandermerwe explains that Jewish folklore has “thirty six hidden righteous ones”, placed on earth to “justify humankind’s existence in the eyes of God”. Vandermerwe notes that she believes that Nelson Mandela, who sadly passed away last week, was one of those thirty six and that he showed the world how to forgive.

“The folktale of the Tzadikim Nistarim goes further. It claims that when one of the thirty-six righteous passes on, another is immediately born to take his or her place for the world cannot continue to exist without all thirty six.”

According to mystical Jewish folklore there are thirty six hidden righteous ones – the Tzadikim Nistarim – on earth, whose purpose it is to justify humankind’s existence in the eyes of God. Their lives are rarely easy or without suffering, since it is through their humility and goodness in the face of strife that they exemplify all that is great and possible within the human spirit. Nelson Mandela was, without question, one of the thirty six hidden righteous ones. Through his actions and behavior he literally re-birthed a nation. By forgiving those who had done him harm, he showed us how to forgive each other and enabled us to forgive ourselves.

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Podcast: George Bizos Remembers His Friend, Nelson Mandela

Odyssey to FreedomGeorge Bizos gave two interviews on Talk Radio 702 about Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Thursday. Bizos is an old friend of Mandela’s and he says that after hearing the news he reflected on their days studying together at Wits University in the late 1940s.

“You wonder whether we will ever find another to do so much for so many in the country,” Bizos says. In the second podcast, and in this article for the Mail & Guardian, he recalls the time of the Rivonia Trial when he represented Mandela.

Nelson Mandela’s commitment to the struggle for freedom started more than 15 years before he and many others decided, towards the end of 1961, that peaceful resistance was no longer the only option available to the oppressed people of South Africa.

The decision to form Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) to attack symbols of apartheid was not easily taken. But as a result of the Sharpeville massacre – during which 69 people were killed and 180 were injured by police at a non-violent protest for the abolition of the pass laws – on March 21 1960, the banning of the African National Congress, and the detention of the leaders of the ANC – and particularly those facing a charge of treason – they were persuaded that the decision was inevitable.

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Lauren Beukes Speculates on a Future Where Everything is For Sale in The Big Issue

The Shining GirlsLauren Beukes has written a piece for the latest edition of The Big Issue, which is the collector’s issue and will be on sale until 17 January 2014.

Read a short snippet of her article, in which she speculates on a future where everything is for sale. The article is illustrated by Daniel Ting Chong.

We’ve faced some tough times in South Africa, from apartheid to the Great Woolworths Shortage of 2014, unemployment, illiteracy, public housing shortages, corruption and crime. But that’s all in the past. Thanks to leaps in science and surveillance, life has never been better for those on the inside.

Food is plentiful! Just set your kitchen Protein-Cuisinator to grow the tissue fibre you want to eat. What will it be today? Cruelty-free bacon or Kobe-sim beef steak? Or perhaps you’d like to try something more experimental, grown from one of Curiosities Gastronome range of stem cells. Go paleo with meaty mammoth ribs! Or mix it up for Christmas with roast honey-glazed dodo instead of turkey. (Please note that harvesting your own sample cells automatically voids your warranty and the use of human tissue is illegal and carries the penalty of re-socialising, including cases of autocannibalism.)

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Lauren Beukes: “The Thing is to Take the Work Seriously, But Not to Take Yourself Too Seriously”

The Shining GirlsWamuwi Mbao from SLiPNet visited Lauren Beukes in her Woodstock studio to talk about The Shining Girls, Twitter, reviews and her literary success. She mentioned the help that she has been able to source on Twitter, including connecting with a cop in Chicago who consulted on The Shining Girls and her next book, Broken Monsters.

Mbao asked Beukes about how she handles reviews and she said that she’s gotten good at skimming reviews and stopping reading them if they’re negative: “The thing is to take the work seriously, but not to take yourself too seriously.” She explained that in the beginning she was reading them all to see how people were responding to the book, but now she is at a point where she can just skim them.

WM: So if I were to meet you at a swanky publisher’s cocktail party (assuming such things exist) what things would I learn about Lauren Beukes in the first five minutes?

LB: That I find literary celebrity very uncomfortable, and I would really like it if you had something to say other than “OMG I love your work so much!” or “I hate your work so much” as the case may be. Let’s talk about other people’s books because I really don’t want to talk about my own, ever again! (laughs)

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