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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Join Masande Ntshanga and SJ Naude for a Literary Crossroads Event at the Goethe-Institut in Joburg

Invitation to Literary Crossroads

The Goethe-Institut Johannesburg invites you to another event in their Literary Crossroads – with Masande Ntshanga and SJ Naudé.

The discussion is entitled Chronists of Change and will take place on Tuesday, 2 June, at 7 PM. Entrance is free of charge.

The ReactiveThe Alphabet of BirdsAlfabet van die voëls

The evening will offer insights in two different literary landscapes and two different approaches how to respond to the real, existing world as a writer and intellectual.

Both writers portray a seemingly ordinary life, with protagonists who are sometimes marginalised, and sometimes alienated from society or from themselves. Both writers’ literary figures struggle with life and the societies they are living in and give us clues about how we respond to our changing worlds, the political and economic structures of our globalised time. We share the protagonists’ search for their little share of happiness or their place to call home – literally and metaphorically.

Event Details

  • Date: Tuesday, 2 June 2015
  • Time: 6:30 PM for 7:00 PM
  • Venue: Goethe-Institut Johannesburg
    119 Jan Smuts Ave
    2193 | Map
  • RSVP: 011 442 3232

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“He Knew There Were Tricks”: Read the Titular Story from 101 Detectives by Ivan Vladislavic

101 Detectives101 Detectives by Ivan Vladislavić is a wide-ranging collection of short stories, written over an extensive period of time with some dating as far back as 1996.

While still hot off the press, 101 Detectives was longlisted for the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a collection of short stories, proving just how strong Vladislavić’s return to his metier is.

Mail & Guardian has shared the titular short story from this collection. Read it for a taste of what to expect from this long-awaited publication:

He knew there were tricks – no – not tricks, techniques, there are techniques for getting to see what you’re not supposed to. Let’s say the register at reception in the hotel lobby. You drop the pen or you fake a cough and ask for a glass of water, and while the clerk is distracted you quickly turn the book your way and scan the page for what you’re after. Let’s say the room number of a particular person. Or let’s say the name of a particular person occupying a certain room the number of which is no mystery. He knew all that.

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Ivan Vladislavic Chats About His Decision to Dedicate 101 Detectives to Chris van Wyk

101 DetectivesIvan Vladislavić was in the Classic FM studio recently to chat about his new collection of short stories, 101 Detectives.

Vladislavić’s latest book has been eagerly received, and he says it was the product of many years of writing.

“It’s quite a wide-ranging collection in terms of the times in which the stories were written, because I haven’t had an actual book of stories since 1996,” Vladislavić says.

“In fact, the first story in this book, ‘The Fugu-eaters’, goes back to that same year. So there’s a range of pieces – the most recent ones were written in the middle of last year, just before the book went into production, so there’s around 20 years of work there.”

101 Detectives is dedicated to Chris van Wyk, the beloved South Africa poet, editor and author who died in October last year.

Van Wyk worked as an editor at the literary magazine Staffrider, and wrote one of the most quoted anti-apartheid poems, “In Detention”, winning the Olive Schreiner Prize for the collection it appeared in. But it was his memoirs, Shirley, Goodness & Mercy and Eggs to Lay, Chickens to Hatch, that brought him widespread acclaim.

“It’s something that pains me deeply,” Vladislavić says. “I think Chris had really found his voice as a writer over the last years, and I know that he was working on a novel, had been for many years, and I was just waiting with huge excitement to see where he had gone with the skills he had learnt as a memoirist, applying them in the world of fiction.

“I think it’s a huge loss.”

Listen to the podcast:

101 Detectives will be launched at Love Books on Wednesday, 6 May, with award-winning author Dominique Botha in conversation with Vladislavić. Click here for details.

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Read an Excerpt from Ivan Vladislavic’s New Short Story Collection, 101 Detectives

Ivan Vladislavic

101 DetectivesGranta has shared the first excerpt from Ivan Vladislavić’s much anticipated new short story collection, 101 Detectives.

The excerpt is the fourth story in the collection, titled “Exit Strategy”, about a corporate storyteller who is anything but content:

The corporate storyteller is having a bad day. She’s spent the morning in her office on the 11th floor peering at the monitor, occasionally typing a line and deleting it, or standing at the window, back turned on the recitation pod, looking down into the square. She doesn’t like the view and so the force with which it draws her to the window is all the more irritating. The square is a paved rectangle, to be precise, enclosed in a shopping mall and surrounded by restaurant terraces. She sees an arrangement of rooftops suggesting office parks, housing complexes and parking garages, and streets nearly devoid of life. No one walks around here if they can help it.

While she’s been musing, the monitor has gone to sleep. In its inky depths she sees the outline of her head, a darker blot with a spiky crown. Not yet thirty, she thinks grimly, and already as gnarled as an old vine. She badly needs a story for the quarterly meeting of the board, a parable to open proceedings and set the tone. Just a week after that it’s the annual Green Day, which demands fresh and leafy input. Which aquifer will she draw it from?

She scoots her chair aside to face the white slab of the desktop. This paperless expanse, a mockery of a blank page, usually makes her long for clutter, for a glass paperweight with a daisy inside it and a tangle of paper clips, but today it’s as refreshing to her eye as a block of ice. She rests her forearms on the desk, palms flat and fingers splayed, and then she sinks down in submission until her forehead touches the cool veneer.

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Presenting Ivan Vladislavic’s New Collection of Short Stories: 101 Detectives

Ivan Vladislavic

101 DetectivesUmuzi is proud to present 101 Detectives, a collection of short stories from award-winning author Ivan Vladislavić:

A private-eye convention and a tussle over a Pierneef. A young man’s unsettling experience in the American South and a tragedy off the coast of Mauritius. A bizarre night of industrial theatre and a translator at a loss for words.

These are but a few of the fictions in 101 Detectives, a new collection of short stories by Vladislavić, one of South Africa’s most celebrated authors.

A collection of short stories launched his career as a writer. 26 years and a whole oeuvre later, 101 Detectives showcases Vladislavić’s virtuosity as he bends and recasts this literary form in spectacular fashion.

About the author

Ivan Vladislavić is a novelist, essayist and editor. He lives in Johannesburg where he is a Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand.

His books include The Folly, The Restless Supermarket, Portrait with Keys and Double Negative. Among his recent publications are Flashback Hotel, a compendium of early stories, and The Loss Library, a reflection on writing.

He has edited volumes on architecture and art. His work has won several prizes, including the University of Johannesburg Prize, the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. In 2015, he was awarded Yale University’s Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction.

The FollyThe Restless SupermarketPortrait with KeysDouble NegativeFlashback Hotel



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Excerpt: “A Master from Germany” from SJ Naude’s The Alphabet of Birds

The Alphabet of BirdsThe Alphabet of Birds is a collection of seven short stories by SJ Naudé that scrutinises South Africans at home and abroad.

“A Master from Germany” is a story about a man visiting his lover, Joschka. He follows Joschka, “the dark prince of Berlin nightlife”, through clouds of cocaine, rivers of drink and a populous country of unfamiliar names and faces that he could never remember.

Read the excerpt:

* * * * *

Excerpt from “A Master from Germany”

Shortly before his mother’s death he sees her naked for the first time in his life.

He enters the bedroom. The bathroom door has been left open, in case she should fall or lose consciousness. It frames her: the body shapeless, the small towel she quickly presses against herself too small to cover her lower abdomen. Each pubic hair with a drop of clear water clinging to the tip. They both look away. Later they pretend it never happened.

Let’s first go back in time, a few months, to where he is standing, halfway down the cellar stairs, looking up at Joschka. Joschka is hesitant, calling him back, a large old-fashioned key in his hand. They are staying at Joschka’s brother-in-law’s castle, Burg Heimhof, in the Oberpfalz, not far from Nuremberg.

The castle sits on a rocky promontory, overlooking a quiet little Bavarian valley through which a Harley Davidson roars once or twice a day. The castle has a waterless moat on one side; on the other side it overlooks the edge of the cliff. The moat is overgrown and scattered with rubble. There is an eighteenth-century gate with metal-plated doors and ornamental carpentry. The part of the castle in which they are standing dates from the eleventh century. It is five storeys high. The oak floors have partially collapsed. The stairs, too, are broken off in places: as you ascend, they suddenly vanish. If you look down, you can see through three floors, all the way to the stairs descending to the cellar. If you look up, there are pigeons beneath heavy beams, light radiating through holes in the roof. The broken lines of the floors and stairs and beams form a three-dimensional diagram, an optical illusion. It is hard to get a grip on scale. Through openings in the wall you can see fragments of the valley and surrounding hills and forests, the hamlet at the foot. On the metre-wide sills there are birds’ nests.

Joschka’s brother-in-law, whose parents bought this castle from the German government for a song shortly after the war, has been restoring one room on the middle floor for decades. Painfully precise: wall paintings of knights and unicorns, floors and ceilings of reclaimed Southern German oak, torches on the walls. A knight’s armour stands in the corner with a lance clutched in the gauntlet. You could imagine that he is still in there.

A strange sensation: standing in a beautiful room, but when you open a door, you are in a ruin. Or let’s go back a week further. Berlin. They are staying with Joschka’s friends Aarik and Wilfred in Kreuzberg. Joschka lived in Berlin for a few years before moving to London, where they met. It is Joschka’s opportunity to show him his Berlin, everything from the sublime to the abject. Mostly the abject.

On the first evening there, they go out on the town. They move from bar to restaurant to party to bar to party to underground event to nightclub. They meet friends of Joschka’s, and acquaintances. And friends and acquaintances of friends and acquaintances. Joschka snorts too much cocaine in toilets. He moves with purpose, as if heading somewhere, as if his feet are lifting off the street. There are taxis, long walks through wide streets, lifts in speeding cars. From Kreuzberg to Schöneberg to Mitte, to Prenzlauer Berg and back to Mitte. They join people and take their leave, meet and move on: a night of greeting and departure, of random trips and changes of direction. He drinks too much himself, swallows or snorts things he is offered without knowing what they are. There are times when they linger – sometimes it feels like an eternity, sometimes like seconds – in apartments all over town. The places of friends and acquaintances – or those of strangers. Fragmented conversations, shared cigarettes. Apartments overlooking courtyard gardens, one on the Landwehrkanal, a penthouse by the Spree, a place in Mitte deep inside the Hackesche Höfe, another next to the gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg. A place in a massive Communist-era block by Alexanderplatz. Here he stands on a little concrete balcony next to a blonde nymph dressed in metallic tights. The Fernsehturm’s sphere hovers above them like a disco ball.

Everywhere there are people; all of them know Joschka. They remember him or know of him, have something to say about him (‘ein wilder Junge, this guy of yours,’ or someone nodding in Joschka’s direction, a kind of hero worship in his eyes: ‘Der dunkle Prinz des Nachtlebens dieser Stadt, dein Freund’). Joschka as the dark prince of Berlin nightlife: he is not all that surprised. He meets all of those milling around Joschka, immediately forgets their names again. In one place there are Ulrich, Aloysius, Ebermud, Detlef, Ida and Petra. Elsewhere there are Arno, Theodulf, Finn, Christian, Ava, Till, Lauri, Eriulf, Hilderic, Reiner and Ervig. In diverse places they encounter Sven, Nardo, Hugo and Wolfgang. And then there are also Ladewig, Kai, Adelfriede, Leander, Monika, Arno, Irnfried . . . Or similar names. There is no end to the list.

Later he will be unable to recall large parts of that night. In reality it was probably two or three nights, people and events having since merged. Like shadows observed through a smoke-blackened pane.

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Ivan Vladislavic Need Not Live in the Shadow of JM Coetzee – Leon de Kock

“The award of the R1.5-million Windham Campbell prize for fiction to Ivan Vladislavić confirms a successful trajectory for his extended career in ‘marginal spaces’,” Leon de Kock writes in an article for the Mail and Guardian, reflecting on the impact and nature of Vladislavić’s career.

Bad SexThe FollyThe Restless SupermarketPortrait with KeysDouble NegativeThe Loss Library

De Kock, academic and author of Bad Sex, notes that while readers were caught up in writing by the likes of JM Coetzee, André Brink, Mongane Wally Serote and Nadine Gordimer, Vladislavić was writing in a different register but saying the same things. Vladislavić offered South Africans an introduction to postmodernism and surrealism while taking “significant artistic risks”.

Vladislavić’s new book, 101 Detectives, is out in April.

De Kock concludes that it is about time that international judges and critics start realising that Vladislavić “need not live in the shadow of JM Coetzee”, adding that “the moment could not have come sooner”:

The award of the R1.5-million Windham Campbell prize for fiction to Ivan Vladislavic confirms a successful trajectory for his extended career in “marginal spaces” – also the title of an academic book on the author.

That Vladislavic’s work has taken a long time – more than 20 years – to find resounding international recognition shouldn’t be too surprising.

His writing has never pandered to the prosaic or the obvious, or any other clear-cut category of reception. It has been, from the start, very worldly and also very local, more surreal than realist (especially the early work), and never easy to pin down.

Related news:


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SJ Naude Chats to The Guardian About The Alphabet of Birds and Being a White South African (Podcast)

The Alphabet of BirdsAlfabet van die voëlsSJ Naudé made an appearance on The Guardian‘s Book Podcast recently.

Naudé chatted about the process of translating his own short story collection, Alfabet van die voëls, into English. The English version, The Alphabet of Birds, was published in October last year.

The conversation also covers the psyche of white South Africans, and Naudé is asked: “Your white South Africans in the collection are adrift from what one of them calls ‘this strange continent’, they seem never at home in it, but unable to resist its pull. Is that how it feels to be a white South African, with an encumbering passport, as one of them describes it, at the beginning of the 21st Century?”

“I think South Africans, white South Africans particularly, have traditionally had almost a 19th Century notion of home, when it comes to South Africa,” Naudé says. “It’s almost a sense of South African exceptionalism; home being more of a home than anywhere else. It’s a somewhat new thing for South Africans to be living scattered across the world, but the reality is of course that living in cosmopolitan cities is, for many other people in the world, nothing new.”

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SJ Naude Writes about Translating The Alphabet of Birds in International Journal, Asymptote

SJ Naudé

The Alphabet of BirdsAlfabet van die voëlsSJ Naudé has written an illuminating article for the international translation journal Asymptote, in which he shares his thoughts on his experience in translating his award-winning Afrikaans short stories in Alfabet van die voëls to English, published as The Alphabet of Birds.

“In South Africa, everything is politics. It is impossible to reflect on the translation of literary work from Afrikaans to English without first becoming entangled in at least the rudiments of some of the language and literary politics in South Africa during and after apartheid,” writes Naudé. He substantiates this statement by illustrating the complex history of Afrikaans, one of very few languages to be standardised as recently as the twentieth century. The author gives a brief overview of censorship in South Africa, with special regard to the work of liberal Afrikaans authors like Breyten Breytenbach and the late André Brink.

“The burdens and constraints imposed on South African authors by history were to a degree lifted by democratisation,” Naudé writes, explaining where it leaves Afrikaans authors today. He stresses that “it has proven to be remarkably resilient, Afrikaans” and offers reasons for writing in this language despite the many constraints and feeble (financial) support.

On translating his stories to English, Naudé explains that it did not prove too difficult as they were set in milieus and subcultural contexts “often foreign to Afrikaans (or South African) readers”. Another factor that made it easier was the fact that the stories were originally written partly in English, and then translated to Afrikaans by him. “Maybe one shouldn’t think of the process as writing in one language first and then performing a translation, but as two languages, and two worlds, occupying the same space and time. Superimposed on each other. A double exposure,” he writes. The translations for The Alphabet of Birds, however, were done from the published Afrikaans stories.

Read Naudés interesting article about language, translation and his stories:

Educated speakers of Afrikaans are almost universally fluent in English. I grew up speaking and being schooled in Afrikaans, but then spent the great majority of my adult life outside South Africa, first studying at British and American universities, and then practising as a lawyer in New York and London. During this time, I hardly ever spoke or wrote in Afrikaans, although I continued to read Afrikaans literature. Afrikaans was ultimately reduced to a few ghost movements of the tongue, then became like a code silently pulsing under the skin. But it turned out it had remained preserved, like an ancient mosquito in amber. When I started writing years later, the stone simply cracked open and the Afrikaans resurfaced intact. It was, it turned out, the language that demands to be written in: the language of one’s mother, embedded in the bones. It has proven impossible to escape.

There is, of course, something perverse and exhilarating about refusing to be understood, about seeking out the margins. About turning one’s back on the rules governing the accumulation of capital (whether symbolic, intellectual, or monetary). Writing in Afrikaans is in that sense perhaps perverse. A kind of refusal. A bid for disappearance, even.

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The Guardian Proclaims SJ Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds to be “Bursting With Transcendence”

Alfabet van die voëlsThe Alphabet of BirdsThe Guardian‘s Richard Lea recently reflected on the last three collections of short stories he read, noting that they were all “full of open narratives, bursting with transcendence”. One of these collections is The Alphabet of Birds, SJ Naudé own translation of his award-winning debut in Afrikaans, Alfabet van die voëls.

“Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds, lays out a recipe for this kind of fiction when the protagonist retires to the garden to write a ‘belated journal’ of a holiday he took two years before,” Lea writes, introducing Naudé’s work to The Guardian readers. Lea relates this approach to that of short story legend Anton Chekhov and modernist Virginia Woolf’s description of Chekhov’s work. “Can you read the current fashion for open endings as an indication of literary progress? Or literary progression, at least,” the literary critic writes.

Lea also spoke to Naudé about these open endings, asking him what it says of modern literature. Naudé said: “Different readers have different temperaments. There will always be readers, perhaps a majority, who are keen to have neat narrative resolution and read in order to experience a certain kind of escape. And there are other readers who are more interested in what is new, and what new modes of being might be explored through new forms, or new modes of writing.”

Read the article:

There’s no science to the saying that while two things are just a coincidence a third makes a trend, but the last three collections of short stories I happen to have read have all been full of open narratives, bursting with transcendence.

It started with Colin Barrett’s lyrical Young Skins, which won the Guardian first book award last year. Set mostly in County Mayo, these stories follow a cast of bouncers, drifters and drug dealers as they criss-cross the streets of a fictional small town – the threat of violence always at their shoulder. On the night of the award, the judges and his editors lined up to praise not only his striking voice, but also his deft touch with narrative.

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