Monthly Archives: July 2018

Some politics but more love in fictional story of Eleanor Roosevelt

Review: Vivien Horler

White Houses by Amy Bloom (Granta)

white housesLorena Alice Hickok was a rare thing in the US in the early 1930s, a hard-news woman journalist.

She covered Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election campaign which saw him and his wife Eleanor entering the White House in 1932.

Hickok, who was known to be a lesbian, became a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, moving into the White House, which led to her resignation from her reporting job with Associated Press as she was too close to the First Family.

The women travelled together, and wrote each other passionate letters – more than 3 000 letters between the pair are held at the Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in New York State. Continue reading

Where is home for an exile?

Review: Vivien Horler

Always Another Country, by Sisonke Msimang (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

always another countryAs an immigrant, like I am, you are always just a little torn between the country you come from and the country in which you’ve grown up. Which is home?

The Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole says one way of resolving this dilemma is to ask yourself where you’d like to be buried? (He said in that context, Lagos was certainly not home – you’d get no RIP there.)

Sisonke Msimang is the child of exiles. She grew up in Lusaka, Nairobi and in Ottawa in Canada. But home was always South Africa, the place of the dream, where apartheid would be vanquished by heroes in the ANC, and there would be peace and freedom and belonging. The country she imagined as a child was a crucible from which a more dignified and just humanity would emerge.

As we all know, it has not turned out quite like that. Or as Msimang says, today we stand in a country that is free but not just, and she has enormous difficulty accepting this. Continue reading

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