Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category
Granta 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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Umuzi 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.
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The 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:
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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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“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.
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.
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SJ 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.”
Press play to listen to the podcast:
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SJ 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‘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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Nancy Richard recently spoke to SJ Naudé about his book, The Alphabet of Birds, on SAfm Literature.
Naudé speaks about taking the leap from lawyer to writer and being interested in human things rather than money. “To me reading and writing is in some ways diametrically opposed to the world of shifting financial risks around. In some ways it’s a gentler world.”
The Alphabet of Birds first appeared in Afrikaans as Alfabet van die voëls and Naudé explains the title: “Bird language is a kind of secret language that is not really accessible to humans.”
He says that those who can speak to birds possess a unique kind of wisdom.
Listen to the podcast:
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Die Woordfees vind vanjaar plaas van 6 tot 15 Maart en die tema is “Sestien Onse”. Hierdie jaar gaan ’n opwindende groep Umuzi-skrywers aan die program deelneem.
Op Saterdag, 7 Maart bied die Vuilspel-outeur Bettina Wyngaard met John de Gruchy en Carel Anthonissen ’n skryfskool aan vir voornemende Christelike skrywers. Die praktiese slypskool neem plaas van 9:00 tot 15:30 by die Protea Hotel Tegnopark.
Johan Vlok Louw gesels op Woensdag, 11 Maart met Fourie Botha oor sy roman, Die sirkel van bekende dinge, wat ook in Engels beskikbaar is as Karoo Dusk. Dieselfde dag stel Pat Stamatélos haar nuwe boek, My groot vet Griekse egskeiding, by die Erfurthuis bekend.
Op Vrydag, 13 Maart gesels Jaco van Schalkwyk met Melt Myburgh oor sy debuut, Die Alibi Klub, en Johann Rossouw sal met Danie Goosen gesels oor Goosen se nuutste boek.
Moenie SJ Naudé se gesprek oor die Afrikaanse vertaling van The Alphabet of Birds misloop nie! Kom luister na Naudé op Saterdag, 14 Maart. The Alphabet of Birds is in Afrikaans beskikbaar as Alfabet van die voëls.
Meer besonderhede oor Umuzi se skrywers by vanjaar se Woordfees:
Slypskool vir Christelike en spirituele skrywers
Datum: Saterdag, 7 Maart
Tyd: 9:00 – 15:30
Plek: Protea Hotel Tegnopark
Koste: R500 (middagete ingesluit)
’n Skryfskool vir opkomende en voornemende Christelike en spirituele skrywers. Prof John de Gruchy, Andrew Murray-Desmond Tutu-pryswenner, dr Carel Anthonissen, skrywer van daaglikse en weeklikse e-meditasies, en die bekroonde skrywer Bettina Wyngaard deel van hulle skrywersgeheime. Deelnemers neem prakties deel en kry terugvoer op hul skryfwerk. Publikasiemoontlikhede word ook ondersoek. Beperkte sitplekke.
Johan Vlok Louw: Die sirkel van bekende dinge
Datum: Woensdag, 11 Maart
Fourie Botha gesels met Johan Vlok Louw oor sy nuutste roman, Die sirkel van bekende dinge, wat in die Karoo afspeel. Die boek is in die styl van ‘n moderne Western en is propvol driftige jonges, motors en gewere.
Pat Stamatélos: My groot vet Griekse egskeiding
Datum: Woensdag, 11 Maart
Daar is huismoles in ‘n Griekse huishouding in Johannesburg oor ‘n man en vrou wat nie tot skei kan kom nie, en dit word vertel soos net Pat Stamatélos kan! Ilse Salzwedel gesels met die skrywer van die topverkoper, Kroes, oor haar nuwe roman – gevul met humor en patos.
Jaco van Schalkwyk: Die Alibi Klub
Datum: Vrydag, 13 Maart
Jaco van Schalkwyk se debuutroman, Die Alibi Klub, speel af in ‘n kroeg in New York in die tyd van 9/11. Dit is ’n unieke dokument, oor ’n tydperk in die lewe van ’n groep individue en hul woonbuurt in ’n stad wat onherroeplik verander het. Jaco is in gesprek met Melt Myburgh.
Spooksaam: “Gemeenskap, plek en demokrasie”
Datum: Vrydag, 13 Maart
Plek: Die Khaya-kafee
Gespreksleier: Pieter Duvenage
Met Johann Rossouw en Danie Goosen.
Goosen se nuutste boek kom onder die loep.
SJ Naudé: The Alphabet of Birds
Datum: Saterdag, 14 Maart
Lou-Marie Kruger speaks to SJ Naudé about the translation into English of his acclaimed short story collection Alfabet van die voëls. The Alphabet of Birds is filled with music, art, architecture, myth, the search for origins and shifting relationships between people. It will also be published in the United Kingdom and America in 2015.
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Damon Galgut recently shared with Swati Sharma from The New Indian Express the top five books that have made an impact on him, including The Folly by Ivan Vladislavic and the recently launched The Alphabet of Birds by SJ Naudé.
“I don’t usually read books that have been recently published. I prefer older offerings that have been tested by time, without the hype and publicity that distort perception,” Galgut told Sharma, while he was in India to participate in the 2014 Tata Literature Festival. His latest book, Arctic Summer, was announced as the Book of the Year during the festival awards held on the final evening of this annual event.
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‘The Folly’ by Ivan Vladislavic who is one of South Africa’s best writers and bafflingly under appreciated. He’s ripe for some big international enthusiasm by now. This is his first novel, though I only came upon it recently. In a country obsessed with social realism, Vladislavic has always tried to find less obvious ways to approach the world. An immaculately-written allegory or parable (though neither word is quite right) about two unlikely neighbours, it’s a clever and elegant book that lodges in the mind like a dart.
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