Monthly Archives: November 2017

A couple of good reads

new times rehanaNew Times – a novel, by Rehana Rossouw (Jacana)

It wasn’t easy being a journalist for the donnerse Engelse pers in the old South Africa, but it’s not that easy being one now either. Ali Adams starts a new job as a political writer for The New Times, a weekly Cape Town newspaper. Nelson Mandela is starting his second year as president, the Rugby World Cup is happening, and life is heady with promise.

But with a gallery seat in Parliament, Ali realises all is not well. The government’s new economic policy seems to be ignore the poor, there is the smell of corruption, and Ali exposes a major scandal.

While Ali, in her jeans and Doc Martens, may be a modern and politically sussed journalist, she lives with her devout Muslim family in the Bo Kaap, a family who want nothing more for her than to settle down and have children. Can she square both sides of her life?

Rehana Roussouw, who once worked at the Cape Argus with me, is now a journalist based in Johannesburg. Her first novel, What Will People Say? set on the Cape Flats, won the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Science prize for fiction earlier this year and was shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Literature last year.

tell tale archerTell Tale, by Jeffrey Archer (Macmillan)

Jeffrey Archer has had a rollercoaster of a life, from deputy chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party to jailbird (his Wikipedia entry is eye-stretching), but he is certainly a constant and prolific writer. Although a Daily Telegraph shout proudly quoted on the cover, “If there was a Nobel Prize for storytelling, Archer would win”, seems to damn with faint praise.

Tell Tale is the clever title to his second book of short stories. He says some of are loosely based on tales he picked up on his travels around the world, including to Cape Town, while the rest are the result of his imagination.

The few I’ve read have a feeling of being dashed off, but he starts off with one called Unique which is clearly polished. He says he was challenged by a Reader’s Digest editor to write a 100-word story with a beginning a middle and an end, in just 24 hours. He rose to the challenge – and his story is a delight: small but perfectly formed.

Jürgen Schadeberg’s Drumbeat – a memoir of a different time

schadeberg drumReview: VIVIEN HORLER

The Way I See It – a memoir, by Jürgen Schadeberg (Picador Africa)

You could call Jürgen Schadeberg a bit of a name dropper, but that would be unfair. The fact is, he just happened to know some pretty famous people in the 1950s and 50s, and he took their pictures.

And while you might not be familiar with his name, you’ll recognise many of the pictures that appeared in Drum magazine under his byline. The word iconic is over-used, but his pictures – of the Sharpeville funerals, of Mandela in his Robben Island prison cell, of Mandela in his attorney’s office, Hugh Masekela with the trumpet given to him by Louis Armstrong, and Mirian Makeba in front of a microphone – really are iconic.

The stories of how he came to take them sometimes belie Continue reading

The joy of reading other people’s letters

letters of noteReview: VIVIEN HORLER

Letters of Note – Correspondence deserving of a wider audience

compiled by Shaun Usher (Canongate/ Unbound)

A tremendous cacophony of barking heralds the arrival in my street of the postman on his bike.  He puts something in my letter box but I do not rush out to see what it is.

It’ll probably be the rates and Telkom bills. These days the interesting stuff comes via e-mail. But I remember a time, not that long ago, when there was a good chance of a long and chatty letter from friends in London or elsewhere, and the receipt would brighten my day.

Shaun Usher, who compiled this volume, says in his introduction that he wanted “to illustrate the importance and unrivalled charm of old-fashioned correspondence just as the world becomes digitised and the art of letter writing slips from view”. Continue reading

Illegal firearms on the Cape Flats, and what this has to do with Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers

Review: Vivien Horler

The President’s Keepers: Those keeping Zuma in power and out of prison, by Jacques Pauw (Tafelberg)


Excuse the squeaking noise – my eyes have been out on stalks and I’m reeling them back in.

A variety of emotions go through your mind as you read The President’s  Keepers, from depression (lots) to mirth (not so much), from wanting a double brandy to wanting to emigrate.

Much of what Jacques Pauw writes is not new. You have read and heard hints here and there, and he quotes extensively from journalists such as Marianne Thamm, Richard Poplak, and Justice Malala as well as publications like the Daily Maverick, the Mail & Guardian and City Press. 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

Book club at my house tonight – so what will we choose?

It’s book club at my house tonight, so I’ve had two milk crates of books cluttering up the dining room for a month, and now two brown bags full of new books.

Our club, The Observatory Book Club, has been going for well over 25 years, starting when most of us were young mothers living in and around Obs. Today we’re scattered across the Peninsula, but most of the original members are still with us. We include a couple of journalists, a former town planner, two doctors, a couple of academics and a retired (but not retiring) headmistress.

Originally we used the stokvel approach – we each paid in R20 or R30 a month to fund the purchase of a pile of books, because we were young and fairly poor and books were very expensive. But the collection of the money became problematic, and we also got a bit better off, so now the host just pays for the lot. Continue reading

Why do cats lie in the sun? The answer is stranger than you think

rapid fire maytham

rapid fire maytham

Review: Vivien Horler

Rapid Fire – Remarkable miscellany, by John Maytham (Tafelberg)

JOHN Maytham says he has “a magpie memory”, one that is attracted by bright, shiny facts that he stores in “the large and messy nest” of his memory.

Certainly anyone who listens to Maytham during his afternoon drive show on 567 Cape Talk radio is aware he knows almost everything, which is why his daily “Rapid Fire” segment is so compelling. You really want to beat him, and I think I have the question to do it.

He says in his preface (what he calls “The short bit before the proper book”) that originally the format of Rapid Fire was to award the prize to someone who could stump the team, but this often meant boring questions won prizes. “Does rubidium or strontium have a higher value on the table of valences?” Who cares, says Maytham.

So they changed the format to give the prize to the person asking the most interesting question. And then Maytham collected them, googled the answers Continue reading