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

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

We cannot live in a world without bees

history of beesReview: Vivien Horler

The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde (Scribner)

A life without bees is unimaginable. Honey is the least of it – pollination is the major service that bees provide.

And as we all know, honeybees are dying out around the world. Maja Lunde, who is Norwegian, had her interest in the subject sparked by a documentary she watched on the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, something that she says both scared and fascinated her.

The result is this novel, a story about bees from three perspectives: one set in England in the 1850s, one set on a bee farm in Ohio in 2007, and one set in Sichuan in China in 2098. Continue reading

Northern Ireland’s Troubles cast a long shadow

woman of stateReview: Vivien Horler

Woman of State, by Simon Berthon (Harper Collins/ Jonathan Ball)

Maire Anne McCartney is a clever Catholic girl growing up in Belfast and doing her A-levels. Her family have high hopes for her. But she has a Provo brother and a Provo boyfriend, so there is an inevitability about the fact that she is recruited for an IRA mission. It’s a one-off, she is promised, and there will be no violence.

But they lied, and she is forced to flee alone to Dublin to start a new life for herself. It is lonely and tough, but she makes a sort of life studying law at university. Continue reading

Laughing our way into 2018, please God

zapiro hasta la guptaReview: Vivien Horler

Hasta la Gupta, Baby! by Zapiro (Jacana)

Hadeda La Land – A new Madame & Eve collection, by Stephen Francis & Rico

When I was a child we always gave my dad a Giles collection for Christmas. And then there’d be arguments after the big lunch as to who got to look at it first. Dad didn’t always win.

There’s no dad any more, nor is there Giles (although sometimes you find a dusty old collection in a beach house, and smile as you page through them, remembering political events of decades ago.)

madame & eve hadedaBut in South Africa we have jolly fine substitutes from our top cartoonists, Zapiro and Stephen Francis & Rico, and there’s nothing like revisiting the tough political events of the year with a sugar-coating of laughter.

In his book Penpricks, a serious look at South African political cartoons, author and writer Ken Vernon said there could be no better guide to the country’s complicated and convoluted political history than its mixed bag of political cartoonists.

Continue reading

Birds, in our gardens and out at sea, are a delight

garden birdsReview: Vivien Horler

Garden Birds in Southern Africa, by Duncan Butchart (Struik Nature)

Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa, by Peter Ryan (Struik Nature)

Poor old hadedas – in his forward to this delightful guide Duncan Butchart says we often forget to appreciate the pleasure birds bring, “although granted, the Hadeda Ibises can be a bit irritating!”

But we’re not as mean as the Australians. The Australian white ibis, which closely resembles our sacred ibis, is known there as a bin chicken, dump chook or trash vulture. Not kind. A skein of ibises flying home to their roosts at dusk is a lovely sight.

If you enjoy seeing little flocks of small grey birds with smart red beaks alight on your grass, but have no idea what they are, this is an ideal book. They are not wild finches as I first thought, but common waxbills, much more charming than their name suggests.

seabirds of SAFor the second summer in a row, a pair of greater striped swallows have spent time perching on a candelabra over my patio dining table, chirring charmingly and giving me much pleasure. I’m learning to live with the resulting mess on the table and chairs.

In a foreword, Mark D Anderson of Birdlife South Africa says the birds in our gardens provide opportunities for observation, education and conservation, and a chance to introduce children to the natural world.

He says as the vastness of the natural world shrinks, urban environments like suburban gardens are becoming increasingly important for the conservation of biodiversity. “Gardens play a small, yet important, role in protecting our heritage.” Continue reading