Category Archives: Guest Reviews

Franschhoek link in sweeping historical novel set in France

burning chamabers

burning chambers

Review: Adelle Horler

The Burning Chambers, by Kate Mosse (Mantle/ Pan Macmillan)

Fans of Kate Mosse – the author, not the model – will be delighted to know there’s another historical French trilogy on its way, with the first book, The Burning Chambers, released in May.

Happily for us in South Africa, part of the series will play out here – in fact, the entire story was inspired by Mosse’s visit to the Huguenot Museum while at the Franschhoek Literary Festival* several years ago.

“There, on the wall, was the name of a family I’d written about in my first historical novel, Labyrinth,’’ she says. “It was a shiver-down-the-spine moment.” Continue reading

How Mozambique went from Portuguese colony to “complicated” independent country

mozambique history

mozambique history

Review: Myrna Robins

A Short History of Mozambique, by Malyn Newitt (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

 

Malyn Newitt, who has penned more than 20 books on Portugal and its colonial history, is one of the leading historians on the former colony and now independent Mozambique.

Presently retired, he was deputy vice chancellor of  Exeter University in the UK and – given his background – one expects his latest title to be academic in tone and content. Continue reading

Delicious brunch ideas for autumn weekends

Review: Myrna Robins

BRUNCH ACROSS 11 COUNTRIES: Recipes of a private chef, by Alix Verrips (Human & Rousseau)

With a some autumn long weekends to savour, brunch comes to mind as the perfect meal. Whether on a country excursion, lazing at home, or entertaining  friends and family, there’s no better time to combine breakfast and lunch into a long, langorous and relaxed meal, preferably relished outdoors.

All of which makes this new title from local publisher Human & Rousseau both timely and inspirational. Alix Verrips is an adventurous chef who now enjoys life in Knysna, raising money for children’s charities. Continue reading

How the Brits stymied SA troops ‘up north’ in WW2

Safricans vs rommelReview: Archie Henderson

South Africans versus Rommel, by David Brock Katz (Stackpole)

Almost 80 years after the events, it is still easy to get angry with the British military commanders under whom our troops served in North Africa during World War 2.

When our soldiers went “up north” in 1940, they were subjected to British military doctrine, which did not suit the South African way of making war. Explaining this difference of approach is one of the strong points of David Brock Katz’s book, an extension of a thesis for his masters, which he attained cum laude from the South African Military Academy.

Katz’s book has a subtitle, “The Untold Story of the Desert War in World War 2”. If that seems a publisher’s exaggeration, it is a story that has seldom been told and never as forcefully as this.

On the question of doctrine, Katz writes: “Had the British shown greater foresight and availed themselves of the South African mobile capability, the disaster (the destruction of an entire infantry brigade at Sidi Rezegh, Libya, in 1941) may have been avoided.”

South Africa’s soldiers showed their prowess at manoeuvre during the campaign, and victory, in East Africa. But once they moved north, into Egypt, that freedom to apply their national military doctrine was subverted and submerged into the British one. The South African divisions came under the supervision of British corps and army commanders.

And those commanders didn’t have a clue, to paraphrase Katz. While the Germans, and their unfairly maligned Italian allies, had perfected the art of combined arms (a balanced approach using armour, artillery, infantry and, where possible, air) in concentrated attacks, the British fragmented their forces.

The British also had almost childlike faith in tanks being the ultimate weapon, forgetting that the Germans had formidable anti-tank weapons, especially the famous 88 guns.

It is not only Katz who believes the South Africans were hard done by; one of the most astute British military minds thought so too. Eric Dorman-Smith, a controversial British general who was regarded as one of the brightest military minds, served for a while as General Claude Auckinleck’s deputy chief of staff when Auckinleck was Middle East commander. He wanted Auckinleck to fight the German way, with “a couple of armoured divisions wedded to two tactically mechanised unarmoured divisions”.

“The proper people for this sort of work, to my mind, were the descendants of the South African War (Anglo-Boer War) riders who had so often run rings around the slow-moving slow-witted British,” wrote Dorman-Smith.

Alas, it was not to be. When Bernard Montgomery became Eighth Army commander in 1942, he sacked Dorman-Smith, whom he loathed because of some disagreements earlier in their careers. If South African troops had been used more effectively, and earlier, in a role such as Dorman-Smith envisaged, who knows how better they might have performed in the desert. Perhaps the disaster of Sidi Rezegh and the capitulation of an entire South African division at Tobruk, due mainly to British confusion and indecision, may have been averted.

Most books on the war in the North African desert deal with the big picture, involving British and Commonwealth forces and, from November 1942, the Americans. Katz has focused on our soldiers in great detail and it is the first book to do so in 60 years, so it’s long overdue. And it’s not only about doctrine; he has a good story to tell about South Africa’s forgotten war.

Nonetheless, there are a few minor irritations. But with so much detail, footnotes and conscientious research, writing the perfect book is as impossible as trying to stop a tank with a Webley revolver. So it was the South African 2nd Division that surrendered at Tobruk, not the 1st, as mentioned in the introduction – a clear typographical error because the mistake is not repeated.  Katz slips up, however, by still having the Aussies in the fortress when it is first relieved in late November 1941. By then the Australians had been evacuated and replaced by the British 70th Division. These are mere quibbles and should not detract from what is not only an assembling of facts – many of them new – but also contextualising, interpreting and explaining what is often a complex series of battles.

Eating family style food the Banting way

delicious low carbReview: Myrna Robins

DELICIOUS LOW CARB by Sally-Ann Creed, published by Human & Rousseau, 2017.

The writer first leapt into prominence as a co-author of The Real Meal Revolution which started the Banting diet craze and the hullabaloo between Professor Tim Noakes and his detractors.

This new collection of low-carb, gluten-free, sugar-free recipes offer those already on a low-carb, high-fat diet further culinary choices, It combines eye appeal with all the dishes that most families cook, including sauces and  trendy pestos from ingredients like nasturtium leaves. Pizza  and quiche bases from coconut flour resemble traditional wheat flour ones. There’s a baby potato salad – surprise! – as she says our gut flora need resistant starch now and then. Continue reading

Snack fare if you’re Banting

Review: Myrna Robins

JUMP ON THE BANT WAGON by Nick Charlie Key (Human & Rousseau)  

A self-explanatory title and one  on which first-time cookbook writer,  regular blogger and Banting devotee  Nick Charlie Key expands as he shares 90 recipes that are low in carbs, gluten- and sugar-free and aimed at those on a budget.  

He lost 22kg on this diet after getting a wake-up call from his doctor reporting hbant wagongh insulin levels. He was 29. He also reports other health benefits,

The recipes will appeal to those who enjoy snack fare and fast food as Key has spent time creating equivalents that follow Banting principles. Think onion rings with sour cream dip, garlic butter prawns, sweet potato nachos, cauliflower “pizza” bases, “burgers”, tacos and crustless quiches. He uses xylitol extensively in his desserts and bakes, and almond and coconut flour instead of wheat flour.

The subtitle proclaims “Quick and easy on a tight budget“. I find little evidence of low-cost ingredients in his recipes – just the opposite in most cases.

*Also available in Afrikaans

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