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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

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.”

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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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SJ Naude: Reading and Writing are Diametrically Opposed to the World of Finance (Podcast)

The Alphabet of BirdsAlfabet van die voëlsNancy 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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Umuzi-skrywers by die US Woordfees 2015

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:

Vuilspel Die sirkel van bekende dingeDie Alibi KlubVerwoerdburgAlfabet van die voëlsThe Alphabet of BirdsVerwoerdburg

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
Tyd: 15:00
Plek: Erfurthuis
Koste: R40
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
Tyd: 16:00
Plek: Erfurthuis
Koste: R40
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
Tyd: 14:00
Plek: Erfurthuis
Koste: R40
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, pl​​ek en demokrasie”
Datum: Vrydag, 13 Maart
Tyd: 16:00
Plek: Die Khaya-kafee
Koste: Gratis
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
Tyd: 12:00
Plek: Erfurthuis
Koste: R40
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 Lists His Top Five Books, Including The Folly and The Alphabet of Birds

Arctic SummerThe FollyThe Alphabet of BirdsDamon 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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Potgooi: Johann Nel lees Chris Barnard se kortverhale uit Oulap se blou

Oulap se blouSuzette Kotzé-Myburgh het onlangs vir Johann Nel genooi om twee kortverhale deur Chris Barnard op RSG se Kortom-program voor te lees. Die verhale verskyn in Oulap se blou: Veertig kort vertellings.

Nel het begin met “Rooi Koos hardloop die myl”. In hierdie storie onthou die verteller ’n armsalige klasmaat wat saam met hom grootgeword het, Rooi Koos van Niekerk. “Rooi Koos se pa was ’n sukkelaar,” begin die vertelling oor die seunskind wat eerder op die plaas gewerk het as om skool toe te gaan. Rooi Koos se huiswerk was dikwels agter, maar op atletiekdag het hy geskitter.

Die spreker beskryf hoe Rooi Koos van alles af probeer weghardloop het: “Rooi Koos van Niekerk hol weg van die goiter, en sy pa wat skel op die werf, en die huiswerk wat hy nie gedoen het nie, sy suster se asma.” Aan die einde wonder hy wat van Rooi Koos geword het: “Die lewe is heelwat langer as ’n myl en die lewe het ’n manier om ’n mens in te haal.”

Die tweede verhaal, “Poensie herwin sy geloof”, handel ook oor ’n buitestander. Poensie is ’n boekwurm met ’n dikraambril wat boeke oor bygelowe versamel het en self bygelowig was. Diep in die dertig het hy nog nie ’n meisie fliek toe gevat nie. Op 37 trou hy uiteindelik met ’n vrou wat hy op ’n bus ontmoet het, maar wanneer die spreker by sy huis gaan kuier sien hy Poensie bekommer hom nie meer oor bygelowe nie.

Luister na die potgooi om te hoor hoe Poensie dan uiteindelik sy geloof herwin het:


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SJ Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds Launched With Michiel Heyns at The Book Lounge

SJ Naudé

“Incredibly eery or incredibly beautiful?” asked Mervyn Sloman about the cover of SJ Naudé’s The Alphabet of Birds last week at The Book Lounge. He was welcoming an excellent turnout of readers and fans who had arrived to celebrate this remarkable collection. The author translated the text himself, from the original Alfabet van die voëls which first appeared in 2011 and was awarded the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize and the Jan Rabie Rapport Prize. In 2013 Naudé received the Jan Rabie and Marjorie Wallace Writing Scholarship.

SJ Naudé and Michiel HeynsThe Alphabet of BirdsAlfabet van die voelsSloman expressed his delight that the book was available to readers like him, whose Afrikaans was not good enough to appreciate fully the text in the original language. He welcomed Michiel Heyns, the author of seven novels, most recently A Sportful Malice.

Heyns, who is both an award-winning novelist and an award-winning translator, affirmed the quality of the translation in The Alphabet of Birds. “It’s wonderful. You’re not losing out by reading this work in translation,” he said.

Heyns referred to the very nice commendation of fellow South African short story writer, Ivan Vladislavic, who says, among other things, “Naudé writes compellingly about South Africa and its dilemmas, but he is equally at home, or perhaps not at home, in many other places, in Hanoi, Phoenix, London, Tokyo.” He observed that a unifying theme among all the stories in Naudé’s collection was a “not-at-homeness” or “ontheemdheid”.

Naudé said there were different kinds of displacement and exile or migration, and suggested that his going to study overseas was a privilege. “If you’re on an overloaded boat in the Mediterranean sea, or off the coast of Australia it’s not so cushy,” he said. Heyns said the characters in the stories that comprise The Alphabet of Birds have often voluntarily left home but this spoke to an existential displacement.

“Sandrien is not at home in her own country, nor even in her own skin,” said Naudé. “Returning to the geographic sense of not-at-homeness, there’s something quite precious about South Africans and their sense of South African exceptionalism, their sense of home being something very special. Yet, if you go to any to any major metropolis, everybody is in the same boat.”

Heyns reflected on the characters who have a sense of alienation from themselves as well as from a specific locale, and yet, from the privileged position of being free to travel and live overseas, they find upon their return to South Africa that everything as rather dreary.

Naudé wrote these stories in “a state of fevered automation” soon after returning to South Africa. He suggested there was a universal experience when one moved from the country of one’s birth to another, which was “the state of constantly translating your environment to yourself and yourself to your environment. It’s as if you end up at the intersection of various processes of translation. It also results in the abstract construction of a certain notion of home and the abstractness, the detachment from the physical space is, in a sense, quite liberating. It can be quite soothing and quite consoling even though there are losses.”

The erudite conversation was hugely rewarding to all who joined Naudé and Heyns for the evening. While those who were fortunate enough to attend will have an enhanced reading pleasure for engaging in the discussion, Heyns pointed out that the deep sense of homecoming in the stories from The Alphabet of Birds promises readers a truly satisfying encounter.

* * * * * * * * *

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


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Excerpt from The Alphabet of Birds by SJ Naude: “She is in Fact the Only White Person in Town”

The Alphabet of BirdsAlfabet van die voelsThe Alphabet of Birds is the translation of SJ Naudé’s award-winning debut, Alfabet van die voëls.

This collection of longer short stories offers fresh perspectives on gay, expat and artistic subcultures and tackles the pain of loss head on. Pulsating with passion, loss, and melancholia, Naudé’s stories are filled with music, art, architecture, myth, the search for origins and the shifting relationships between people.

Random House Struik has shared an excerpt from The Alphabet of Birds, in which Sandrien, the only white woman in Bella Gardens, attends a refresher course at the training college of the provincial health department and acquaints herself with her environment.

Read the excerpt:

Sandrien is the only white woman in Bella Gardens. She is in fact the only white person in town. An establishment for the accommodation of women travellers, reads the website of Bella Gardens. The most luxurious home for females, reads the brochure in the dim entrance hall. One could mistake it for a refuge for unwed mothers.

Her hostess is Mrs Edith Nyathi, who introduces herself as a widow and retired matron of Frere Hospital. She never stops talking about her ‘second life’. She raises her eyebrows and drops her head forward when pronouncing the phrase. The guest house is her pension, she says, ‘my little egg’. The number of maids in her employ permits her to relax with a cigarette on the veranda during the day; sometimes, late in the evening, with a cigar. Mrs Nyathi does not raise her voice to any of the maids – a phalanx of demure village girls, ready to fry up sizzling English breakfasts or to polish baths and wooden floors to a high gloss. When she calls to one of her girls, it is in the same cooing voice she uses to address her guests.

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Diving into the Uncanny: An Excerpt from Cabin Fever by Diane Awerbuck

Cabin FeverNamibiana Buchdepot has shared an excerpt from Cabin Fever by >Diane Awerbuck.

Cabin Fever is a collection of short stories that is haunted by a particularly South African version of the uncanny.

The excerpt is taken from a story about a girl holidaying at a dam. She is fearful of jumping of a cliff into the water below her, because she knows that people have drowned there. Her companion has no such apprehension.

Read the excerpt:

Mami Wata
‘Look,’ he said, while she was still panting behind him on the path. Their shoes had crushed the oils from the fynbos as they went, and the smell settled sharply in her skull so that she remembered being sick as a small child, with her mother propping her up like a doll and rubbing Vicks on her back with warm hands.

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