Author Archives: Vivien Horler

Dido and her thoroughly modern fairy tale

queen of everythingReview: Vivien Horler

The Queen of Bloody Everything, by Joanna Nadin (Mantle/ Pan Macmillan)

Dido’s life gets off to a somewhat rocky start. It is the early 70s and her mother rejects her middle-class parents’s values, gets pregnant, has the baby, and moves into a London squat, sharing space with a transient group of people.

Edie rejects any help offered by her parents but when, during the long hot summer of 1976, a great-aunt leaves her a cottage in the Essex town of Saffron Walden and money to live on, Edie and Dido move in. Continue reading

Rip-roaring view of recent history from a journalist with a front-row seat

breaking newsReview: Archie Henderson

Breaking News: An Autobiography by Jeremy Thompson (Biteback Publishing)

For some years the British TV newsman Jeremy Thompson was a welcome guest in our lounge. You knew that when he was there, he always had a good story to tell – and one that was especially relevant.

No matter how complex the story might be or how remote, Jeremy could be relied on to marshal the facts, unravel its twists and turns, and tell it in such a coherent and interesting way that it immediately made sense. Of all the personalities on our TV, Jeremy was the most recognisable – and the most liked. Continue reading

When the Donald trumped decency

joe biden book

Review: Vivien Horler

Promise Me, Dad, by Joe Biden (Macmillan)

The name Joe Biden on the cover of this book seemed familiar – wasn’t he an American politician? But with its title of Promise Me, Dad, it didn’t seem that kind of book. Maybe a different Biden.

But no. Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president, at the charismatic US president’s side for the two terms they served, and privy to the highest power in the land – like Obama he too had control of the codes that could launch a nuclear strike. He had a Security Service detail, flew in Air Force Two, and lived in an official residence not far from the White House. He was also considering running for president after Obama.

biden obama

Joe Biden with former president Barack Obama

But Joe Biden was – and is – a devoted family man and devout Catholic, who has had more than his share of personal tragedy. Promise Me, Dad, is the story of a year “of hope, hardship and Continue reading

Tour de force may leave you wanting a little lie-down

utmost happinessReview: Beverley Roos-Muller

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin)

The tiny, Indian-born activist writer Arundhati Roy is now in her mid-50s, so can hardly still be considered an enfant terrible of the literary scene, as she was when she burst onto it in 1997 by bagging the Big One – the Booker, for The God of Small Things.

Yet she certainly has lost nothing of her “go for it” approach: there is nothing “small”  about The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her first novel in two decades.

On the contrary, this is a big, busy and at times overwhelming book, sprawling across the layers of politics, gender, culture, caste, identity and other crises in India today. It is bold and at times meant to unnerve, which it successfully does. It also demands quite a lot from the reader both in concentration, and in patience. Continue reading

The right stuff for wrinklies

Here is another in our series of reviews of cookbooks by veteran food and wine writer MYRNA ROBINS.

midlife kitchenTHE MIDLIFE KITCHEN by Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice (Mitchell Beazley)

I approached this book with some scepticism partly because the two authors, featured on the front cover, look far too young to know what those from 50 to 70-plus want from the kitchen.

But I’m happy to admit that this is an intriguing  collection of recipes for senior readers ready to change culinary direction and eat fare that helps meet the changing needs of ageing bodies. I learnt a new word from the introduction: “nutri-epigenetics” which has become a major focus of scientific inquiry, as certain vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals have been found to be powerful potentials for reducing the risk of age-related disease. Continue reading

Chris Barnard: daring, driven and brilliant – but not very nice

chris barnard heartbreakerReview: Vivien Horler

Heartbreaker – Christiaan Barnard and the first heart transplant, by James-Brent Styan (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Chris Barnard, the first man to perform a heart transplant, wasn’t a particularly nice man.

Answering a question in a TV interview about the fact he had left his first wife, Louwtjie, who was in her 40s, to marry the 19-year-old heiress Barbara Zoellner, Barnard replied with a broad smile: “Why eat biltong when you can have fillet steak?”

Interestingly, Louwtjie’s own book about her marriage was titled Heartbreak.

He loved women and was serially unfaithful to all his three wives. He also kissed and told: in his Continue reading

It seemed to be an all-black, stripeless zebra, but it couldn’t be, could it?

Zulu running wild

Zulu, after being recaptured and back on safari.

cover running wild

Review: Vivien Horler

Running Wild – the story of Zulu, an African stallion, by David Bristow (Jacana)

It must have been an amazing sight: a stallion, coal black except for one white sock and a white smudge on his shoulder, running wild in the bush of Botswana’s Tuli Block with his harem of zebra mares.

Reared as a riding horse and one of a herd used for bush safaris, Zulu spent four years living as a zebra stallion in the bush, avoiding predators, snakes and the scourge of African Horse Sickness. Continue reading

Transcending divisions of religion and politics through food

cookbook palestinianReview: Myrna Robins

The Palestinian Table, by Reem Kassis (Phaidon Press)

Let’s start with the author – a Palestinian professional who offers in her introduction both a fascinating self-portrait one of her family, and  follows with the complex composition of the Palestinian table.

Kassis’s mother is a Palestinian Muslim from a rural village in Palestine’s centre, her father a Palestinian Christian from a mountain village in the far north. Kassis grew up in Jerusalem, a melting pot of food and cultures, where her parents ensured that their daughter took a route other than aspiring to marriage. Having focused on her schooling, Reem was accepted, at 17, by several top American universities. A decade in the United States saw her attain professional degrees, followed by glamorous jobs and a hectic lifestyle. Then, after she met and fell in love with a fellow Palestinian, the couple moved to London and married.

myrna robins cookbooksAs a young mother at home with a small daughter Kassis had time to enjoy cooking traditional dishes from her childhood, and she shortened and simplified some of them. She noted that British restaurants serving Middle Eastern dishes displayed little Palestinian cuisine, and decided to share with the world family recipes and others from various villages. Continue reading

Veteran environmental journalist takes sobering look at the dangers facing SA wildlife

Review: Myrna Robins

Overkill,  by  James Clarke (Struik Nature)

The subtitle – The Race to Save Africa’s Wildlife – sums up the conservation goal, but the scope of the book is wider, offering readers a comprehensive summary of past and present threats to Africa’s wildlife, both marine and land-based.

Describing 2015 and 2016 as “the worst of years and the best of years” Clarke refers to the former as the costliest in terms of the wanton slaughter of the continent’s megafauna. But the 24 months  will  also go down , he thinks, as the time when the tide started to turn…  As he puts it, the lowest ebb is always at the turn of the tide Continue reading

Mad, bad, and dangerous to have shared a planet with

stuffed up the world50 People who Stuffed Up the World, by Alexander Parker and Tim Richman, illustrated by Zapiro (Burnet Media)


I assumed, driven partly by the “stuffed up” in the title, that this was a bit of a comic book, an amusing take on famous baddies.

Well, apart from Zapiro’s illustrations, there’s not much that’s amusing about it. In fact it leaves you feeling downright depressed. I hadn’t intended to sit down and read it through, though – between books I decided to pick it up and read a chapter here and there. And I was hooked. Continue reading