Monthly Archives: January 2018

Love letters reveal a father to orphaned daughter

Review: Vivien Horler

Letters from the Suitcase – a wartime love story, ed by Rosheen and Cal Finnigan (Tinder Press)

Rosheen Finnigan never remembered her father. A serving naval officer, he was in the UK when she was born in August 1940, and when he was posted to Swansea a few months later, Rosheen and her mother Mary joined him for just under a year, their only period of normal family life.

Then in March 1942 her father – David Francis – was selected to be part of the planning team for the top-secret Operation Ironclad, the code name for the invasion of Madagascar, and he sailed for Africa and, subsequently, India.

She never saw him again. Continue reading

A splendid book for when you need good SA news


Review: John Yeldwhat a great idea

WHAT A GREAT IDEA! Awesome South African inventions, by Mike Bruton (Jacana)


ALTHOUGH they probably won’t remember his name, many South Africans will claim to know that it was a local harbour engineer from East London who came up with the brilliant idea of dolosse – those huge weirdly-shaped concrete blocks that lock together to form an effective, energy-dissipating, sea-walls that protect ships and prevent erosion. Continue reading

The last timeless test and the end of a cricketing era

last timeless testReviewer: Archie Henderson

Edging Towards Darkness: The Story of the Last Timeless Test, by John Lazenby (Bloomsbury)

John Lazenby has breathed new life into a cricket relic.

The aficionados are familiar with its bones: in March 1939 at Kingsmead in Durban, South Africa and England played the longest cricket match. It was spread over 12 days, nine of actual play, one which was rained off, and two days’ rest. Yet it still produced no winner.

The bones are easily accessible and you can pore long and hard over the scorecard without giving them the flesh that Lazenby has found. Continue reading

When the land becomes art



sculpting the land

Scarlet rose petals are used to form a spiral beside the sea at Koeël Bay in the Western Cape.

Review: Vivien Horler

Sculpting the Land – artistic interventions with the landscape, by Strijdom van der Merwe ( Protea Book House)

Much of the art we admire has endured for centuries; some, like marble sculpture, is set in stone. But the work of Strijdom van der Merwe is ephemeral: based on light, shadow, water, wind, leaves and sand.

sculpting the landVan der Merwe is a land artist, a man who uses the materials of his chosen site to create geometrical forms that speak to the landscape in which he works. Sometimes he imports materials to complement a site, such as red rose petals in a beach installation, or scarlet flags in a field of wheat stacks.

He will also create essentially manmade shapes and superimpose them on a natural site: sawdust crosses on a forest road, a huge red cotton cross between two trees which seems to constitute a formidable bar to entry. One piece, worked in Nieuwoudtville during spring flower time, is a field of orange and yellow Continue reading

Brilliant story of Klimt’s ‘The Lady in Gold’

lady in goldReview: Vivien Horler

The Lady in Gold – the extraordinary tale of Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Anne-Marie O’Connor (Vintage Books)

My reading year has started with a glorious, muscular book that, while it has the story of the Gustav Klimt portrait as its centrepiece, is so much more than that.

It is a tale of fin-de-siècle Vienna, a city of opulence and elegance and high society, of anti-Semitism, of great art, of the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes, of a post-war Austria that tried to forget its enthusiastic collaboration in Hitler’s war, of the desolation of refugees and a glimpse into the multi-million dollar contemporary art world.

Adele Bloch-Bauer

Adele Bloch-Bauer

Adele Bloch-Bauer grew up in pre-World War I Vienna, when that city was at the centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She came from a vastly wealthy assimilated Jewish family, and married Ferdinand Bloch, a sugar-beet baron who was twice her age. She was an atheist and a free thinker, and despite her wealth, liked to describe herself as a socialist.

Also living in the city at the time was the artist Gustav Klimt, a man who had thrown off the straitjacket of conventional Austrian art, and painted works that were rejected by Viennese society for their eroticism, symbolism and boldness. He was embraced by the city’s wealthy Jewish elite, and received many commissions, including one to paint a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Continue reading