Tackling the big issues of African wildlife – and some babies of the bush

Review: John Yeld

A Rhino in my Garden – Love, life and the African bush, by Conita Walker (Jacana)

CLIVE Walker of Lapalala Wilderness fame is one of southern Africa’s best-known conservationists, his name synonymous with that of rhinos, the Endangered Wildlife Trust andenvironmental education in the African bushveld.

So the old adage of “Behind every successful man stands a woman” probably applies here, right? The answer to that is a definite “No”, because Conita Walker stands firmly alongside her husband of 50 years, as this wonderful story of her life and of her adventures, achievements, successes and heartaches – some shared with her husband, some intensely personal – makes clear.

Extrovert Clive had a clear headstart through his work as wildlife artist, writer and game ranger in the Tuli Block, among many other strands in his Continue reading

What’s a soldier to do when the war is over? Head to Baghdad, of course

Review: Vivien Horler

In the Kill Zone – surviving as a private military contractor in Iraq, by Neil Reynolds (Delta Publishers/ Jonathan Ball)

kill zoneNeil Reynolds describes himself as “a military man through and through”. In 1980 he was called up for national service and after basic training was posted to what was known as the “operational area” in Namibia.

He says after his first contact he “was hooked”, and by the end of that year Reynolds had joined Permanent Force, and was serving in the reconnaissance wing of 31 Battalion at Omega in the Caprivi Strip.

After eight years in Caprivi he was transferred back to South Africa. In 1999, five years after the first democratic elections, he took an early retirement package.

He then became one of hundreds of highly trained and skilled soldiers for whom South Africa no longer had any use. And so, like many of his ilk, he opted for private security work. Two years later he was providing security for a diamond mining company in Angola, a job that entailed working on an isolated mine miles from anywhere for six months at a time, allowed a single five-minute phone call home once a week. There was no internet. Continue reading

You can learn a lot when you’re a long way from home – not necessarily what you expected

Review: Vivien Horler

A Long Way from Home, by Peter Carey (faber & faber)

Ilong way from homen the 1950s Australia held a series of punishing motor rallies known as the Redex Reliability Trials which saw teams driving production cars around the continent on the roughest of outback roads.

In the 1955 event there was huge publicity as Australians followed the excitement of the more than 200 teams covering nearly 17 000 km in 18 days. More than half the field failed to finish.

Twice Man Booker Prize winner Peter Carey has used this rally as the framework for a marvellous novel of love and derring do, suffering and enlightenment set in a time when Australia was a far more homogenous society than it is today, in line with its White Australia policy. Continue reading

Flawed but often fascinating account of activities of 4 Recce in the Border War

Review: Archie Henderson

Iron Fist From the Sea: Top-Secret Seaborne Recce Operations (1978-1988) by Arnè Söderlund and Douw Steyn (Delta Books)

iron fist from the seaIf this book looks familiar, it’s because it is. Helion & Co of Solihull in the UK first published it and Delta Books, part of Jonathan Ball, has republished it and smoothed over its rough edges. The new version has given it a more coherent structure and the editing has made it an easier read.

The authors are a navy man, Söderlund, and an army man, Steyn. They have clearly had access to classified information not available to the usual researcher and have fully exploited this advantage. Too bad, then, that much of their prose reads like operational reports.

Nevertheless, they have some fascinating stories to tell. Their telling, often cluttered with unnecessary detail, does not detract from the tension on occasion. One such is the failed attack on an ANC camp near Luanda in 1987. It is interesting to consider what might have happened to delicate negotiations between the ANC and the South African government at the time had the attack been successful. It might well have set back peace negotiations and a peaceful transition to democracy. Continue reading

Thoughtful look at leaving this life when it’s time to go

Review: Vivien Horler

At Close of Day – Reflections, by Karel Schoeman (Protea House of Books)

at close of day

The cover picture is a David Goldblatt photograph titled ‘Sheep farm, near Edenburg, Orange Free State, 16 April 1982

Years ago I read an article in The Guardian newspaper that said something like “old age is terrible – it is much, much worse than you can imagine”.

I was in my early 30s at the time and old age was a long way off, but there was something about the gloomy statement that stayed with me.

And now, finally on the cusp of old age, I have just read Karel Schoeman’s sobering At Close of Day, a book of reflections on age and disintegration and death.

Schoeman, a prolific and award-winning Afrikaans author, updated the manuscript on April 26 last year, when he was 77. Five days later he killed himself.

The book was published in Afrikaans shortly afterwards and has now been translated into English by Elsa Silke. Continue reading

How letters can make history sing – and what will historians of the future do?

Review: Vivien Horler

Last Letter Home, by Rachel Hore (Simon & Schuster)

last letter homeAs recently as 1990 I was still writing and receiving letters, and I have my half of the correspondence to this day. But who prints out and keeps important emails?

Novels based on the discovery of old letters, or on the consequences of a letter that was never delivered, will now need to be relegated to historical fiction.

I suppose Last Letter Home is technically historical fiction, half of it taking place during World War II which is still within living memory, but only just.

There are two narrative threads here, the story of author and historian Briony Wood, set in the present, and her fascination with the lives of a group of people in Norfolk before and during the war. Continue reading

One family’s experience of living in eye of the storm of history

Review: Vivien Horler

Two Sisters – Into the Syrian Jihad, by Asne Seierstad (Virago)

two sistersThe awful news of a deathly attack on worshippers at the Malmesbury mosque on the penultimate night of Ramadaan – apparently by a Somali man – brings closer the world laid bare by Norwegian writer Asne Seierstad in this stark work.

We read the headlines about IS and the devastation of Syria every day, we hear of attacks and beheadings, we see Somali refugees on our streets, but rarely get a glimpse of the human stories behind the news.

Seierstad, a former Norwegian war correspondent whose book The Bookseller of Kabul sold more than two million copies, has detailed one family’s devastation in Two Sisters. It is her non-fiction account of how a pair of teenage sisters, of Somali descent but born and brought up in Oslo, left their family and travelled to Raqqa in Syria to join IS. Continue reading

Murder can be a deadly dish

Review: Myrna Robins

Death Cup,  by Irna van Zyl (Penguin Random House)

death cupHow could I resist? A thriller sub-titled Murder is on the Menu, set against an Overberg background dripping with fickle foodies, on-trend restaurateurs and self-important chefs, followed by a series of deadly dishes and human corpses.

This is Van Zyl’s second detective novel and is translated from the Afrikaans original, titled Gifbeker. I was impressed by the author’s culinary knowledge of gastronomic contests, trends  and top restaurants. Having raced through the book, I came across pages of generous acknowledgements where she listed cookbooks that afforded her culinary knowledge both trendy and basic, chefs who shared their passion and expertise, especially with regard to foraging of  both seafood and fungi and techniques like open fire cooking in the kitchens.

From page one the tension is tangible, as a well-known and not always popular food blogger keels over in a top restaurant and dies – a highly poisonous mushroom proving responsible for her untimely death. Continue reading

Spirit of Jewish life for literary festival

Author Rahla Xenopoulos who will speak about her book The Season of Glass at the Jewish Literary Festival on Sunday

Author Rahla Xenopoulos who will speak about her book The Season of Glass at the Jewish Literary Festival on Sunday.

No sooner is the Franschhoek Literary Festival over than news of upcoming Cape Town festivals emerges.

The first is the Jewish Literary Festival, which has a programme of more than 60 events over a single day on Sunday (June 17).

Then later this year comes the Open Book Festival which runs from September 5 to 9.

The Jewish Literary Festival is in its third year, Continue reading

A member of the ‘SABC Eight’ remembers his father, one of the murdered ‘Cradock Four’

Review: Vivien Horler

My Father Died for This, by Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata (Tafelberg)

lukhanyo calataImagine if you were a three-year-old and this was your first memory.

“Once at the gravesite I remember holding on to my mother’s dress, too afraid of letting go. The up-and-down stamping by toyi-toyiing mourners shook the ground under my feet. I had never felt anything like that before, and I remember being so afraid of the ground collapsing underneath me.”

Despite dredging his memory, Lukhanyo Calata cannot remember a single moment with the father who by all accounts doted on him. Fort Calata, one of the Cradock Four, was murdered by the South African security police in June 1985. His older daughter Dorothy was almost 10, Fort was three, and his younger daughter, Tumani, was not yet born. His wife, Nomonde, was just 26. Continue reading