Old age is not for sissies

Review: Vivien Horler

Cul-de-Sac– a memoir, by Elsa Joubert (Tafelberg)

cul-de-sacThis poignant memoir, first published in Afrikaans when Elsa Joubert was 95, is an exploration of extreme old age.

It is a time of life, she writes, which almost represents “the laying down of dreams”, where the only road that can be ventured on “with a minimum of anxiety is the road to the past”.

The Afrikaans version, published under the title Spertyd, came out two years ago. Spertyd means deadline; the English term for cul-de-sac is dead end; and the Afrikaans version that we grew up with was “straat loop dood”. Of the various alternatives, cul de sac seems gentlest translation.

Yet old age is not gentle. As the title suggests, you’re not going anywhere. At one point Joubert describes old people as being members of the “last shift”. Life’s options progressively close down.

And yet in the hands of a a writer as accomplished and reflective as Elsa Joubert, her memoir is not discouraging; it is rather a glimpse of another stage of life, if we live long enough to get there. Or as someone once said: old age is what happens if nothing else does. Continue reading

Zimbabwe and the coup that was not a coup – the inside story

 Review: Vivien Horler

Two Weeks in November, by Douglas Rogers (Jonathan Ball)

two weeks in novemberThis is the “astonishing untold story of the operation that toppled Mugabe” in Zimbabwe in November 2017.

I watched the televised Sunday night press conference where the frail old man sat, surrounded by generals and a priest, shuffling his papers and, against all expectations, not resigning as president.

In the previous few days there had been reports of tanks on the streets of Harare – something was going on but, after 37 years in brutal control, Mugabe being toppled in a coup seemed unlikely.

Rhodesian-born Rogers, author of the delightful The Last Resort, about his parents clinging on to their tourist resort near Mutare in the east of the country during the land grabs, says a reported global audience of one billion people watched the press conference on the evening of November 19. Continue reading

André Brink biography may contain just a touch too much information

Review: Vivien Horler

The Love Song of André P Brink, by Leon de Kock (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

love song brinkA three-and-a-half-year undertaking to produce a significant work on groundbreaking South African author André Brink has turned into a marketing nightmare for publishers Jonathan Ball.

The author is Leon de Kock, poet, novelist and professor emeritus in English Studies at the University of Stellenbosch who, apparently overwrought at completing this major book, allegedly called an Observatory restaurant worker the k-word, and then also made sexual advances to a second woman present.

De Kock was arrested and appeared in the Cape Times Magistrate’s Court on May 10 on a charge of crimen injuria. Instead of appearing in triumph at the Franschhoek Literary Festival over the weekend of May 17 to 19, he stayed away. Continue reading

A poignant tale of a boy who wanted to fly

Review: Archie Henderson

Gunship over Angola, by Steve Joubert (Delta Books)

gunshipThis story is not as gung-ho as the title implies. It is a charming, and at times even poignant, memoir of a boy who wanted to fly.

Steve Joubert grew up on the outskirts of Pretoria in Wonderboom. Watching the SA Air Force pilots, in a variety of aircraft, pass overhead every day, he had the classic little boy’s dream of becoming one of those men in their flying machines.

His dream came true early. Progress from the Air Force Gymnasium to the pupil pilot’s course was swift despite some amusing setbacks at the start. He literally stumbled in his interview before a pilot’s selection board headed by none other than the legendary Korean War fighter pilot General Bob Rogers. At the time, Joubert believed his dream to be doomed before it even took off. Continue reading

Quest to find a house and the memories of a fading mother

Review: Vivien Horler

The Blackridge House – a memoir, by Julia Martin (Jonathan Ball)

blackridge houseFrom a family home to a retirement flat to a single room to a single bed – this is the trajectory of so many people as they age. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

It was the experience of Elizabeth Madeline Martin, who was born in what was then Natal in 1918 and who died in Cape Town in 2012.

Elizabeth Martin was the mother of Julia Martin, the author of this fine, touching, and beautifully written memoir.

As dementia claimed Elizabeth, her memories drained away. She didn’t remember her husband, she often didn’t remember Julia, frequently confusing her with one of her own long-dead sisters. She told Julia: “My memory is full of blotches, like ink left about and knocked over.”

Continue reading

A breezy celebration of 25 years of SA sporting joy

Reviewer: Archie Henderson

 Vuvuzela Dawn – 25 sports stories that shaped a new nation, by Luke Alfred and Ian Hawkey (Pan Macmillan)

vuvuzela dawnBeing a sportswriter is better than having a real job. Getting paid to go to Newlands, or Ellis Park, or King’s Park, or Loftus, or the Wanderers – or wherever it is that games are played – is one of life’s great pleasures. It is a privilege that comes to only a few.

On and off during the past 50 years or so it was my privilege. OK, we used to moan and complain as much as our colleagues who were not that privileged, but we always knew that we were, to risk a hoary old sports metaphor, on a good wicket.

Those of us who worked in the sports department (derisively referred to the toy department by the envious) had a lot of fun too. Opinions in sports stories were positively encouraged whereas our colleagues in the newsroom had to avoid them like the plague. Cliches, of course, came thick and fast. Continue reading

School supper frikkadels and an image I cannot delete

Review: Vivien Horler

The Messiah’s Dream Machine, by Jennifer Friedman (Tafelberg)

messiah's dream machine
Jennifer Friedman has a way with words. So much so that I may never look at a frikkadel in the same way again.

The Messiah’s Dream Machine is a sequel to her well received Queen of the Free State, about a little Jewish girl growing up in Philippolis, the sleepy Afrikaans town where Laurens van der Post was born.

As far as one can gather there aren’t many Jewish farmers in the Free State, but her family had farms in the Philippolis area, now run by her cousins, and it is clear these spaces are deep in her heart.

This has not however prevented her from emigrating to Australia, where she has acquired her pilot’s licence, bought a Grumman Tiger aircraft and now “flies to the small outback towns and stations around Australia, often just for a lunch date and where the sun is shining”.

Continue reading

A triumph of hope and love over despair – and some tough cliffs

Review: Vivien Horler

The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn (Penguin)

salt pathRaynor and Moth Winn were in their 50s when they decided to walk. Their lives were falling apart and they didn’t know what to do.

So they started to walk, along south-west England’s famed South West Coast, setting out from Minehead in Somerset, and carrying on, across North Devon, round the Cornish Peninsula and Land’s End, and on, eventually, to Poole in Dorset, covering just over 1000km.

And by the time they had completed their trek they had a plan.

Raynor was in her teens when she met Moth, and loved him from the off. They married, had two children, and bought a run-down farm in Wales which they rebuilt and from which they ran holiday lets. Continue reading

Local author challenges JM Coetzee over ‘Disgrace’

Article: Vivien Horler

Lacuna, by Fiona Snyckers (Picador Africa)

lacunaWhat right do you have to your name and history? Can you object if someone makes you the subject of their fiction?

Do you have less right to your own persona if you are world famous?

These questions were prompted by beginning to read Lacuna, a new novel by the successful South African author Fiona Snyckers.

A leading character in the novel is one John Coetzee, winner of the Booker Prize for his novel Disgrace, and a former professor at the “University of Constantia”.

He has since gone to live in Adelaide in Australia, a feted man of letters. And going after him is Lucy Lurie, a former junior colleague at the university, who believes her gang rape by a number of black men on her father’s farm in the Boland inspired Coetzee’s prize-winning novel. Continue reading

Beating a mountain of rock and ice, atoms and stars

Review: Vivien Horler

One Man’s Climb – a journey of trauma, tragedy and triumph on K2, by Adrian Hayes (Pen & Sword)

K2 is not the highest mountain in the world, but unlike Everest, very few people have climbed it.

It is more remote than Everest, which is why it never acquired a local name – the title K2 comes from the Great Trigonometrical Survey of British India, begun in 1802 and finished in 1871.

Italian climber Fosco Maraini referred to K2 as: “Just the bare bones of a name, all rock and ice and storm and abyss. It makes no sense to sound human. It is atoms and stars. It has all the nakedness of the world before the first man – or the cindered planet after the last.” Continue reading