Category Archives: Guest Reviews

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

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

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

Food, eating and health – we’re faced with some confusing choices


myrna robins cookbooksVeteran food and wine writer MYRNA ROBINS looks at some of the great new cookbooks out there, with their sometimes confusing claims. The Books Page will run one cookbook review by Robins a week for the next few weeks.

My Low Carb Kitchen, by Vickie de Beer (Quivertree)

When the pile of healthy eating/diet/Banting/superfood cookbooks on my study table threatened to keel over, it was clearly time to tackle the range of diets they recommended. Looking back over my decades as a food writer, I  lived through a fair number of  diets, fads, claims and crazes, good, bad and indifferent, some of them extreme. They came, they flourished, then faded while most sensible people carried on eating moderate portions of a good, varied diet to maintain  good health. Of them all, I have always fancied the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle worth following. 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

Beyond Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith

sieges of saReview: Archie Henderson

Guide to Sieges of South Africa, by Nicki von der Heyde (Struik)

Nicki von der Heyde’s Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa is a hard act to follow, yet she’s managed to do it.

Her latest book maintains the same high quality of her battlefields guide that has become essential reading for a growing niche in South African tourism. It’s not just her meticulous research and descriptions of events in both books, it’s also the advice she gives. I ignored this in her battlefields guide – and paid dearly. On the arrogant assumption that I knew what I was doing, I had the wrong footwear for climbing Elandslaagte (slip-slops instead of boots) and not hiring a guide. She has since given me the name of a good one. Continue reading

Beautiful read that pushes the boundaries of convention, hope and desire

third reel

Review: Beryl Eichenberger

The Third Reel by SJ Naude (Umuzi)

Recently I had the privilege of moderating a panel of writers at the Open Book Festival. The theme was boundaries, which posed an interesting angle on the books I had to read and also opened up a number of questions about what we perceive as boundaries and how we push them ourselves (but that’s another story.)

SJ (Fanie) Naude was one of my authors with his debut novel The Third Reel.

A work that definitely pushes the boundaries of convention, hope and desire, it is written in an eminently readable and beautiful style. Part serious, part thriller, the novel explores obsession in an era of cold war.

Set in the 1980s, the story concerns Etienne, a young South African studying film in London after escaping conscription and Continue reading