Bedside table list for October

  • Bedside Table October

    These are among the books that landed on my desk this month. Some will be reviewed in full later.

    Scatterling of Africa – My early years, by Johnny Clegg (Macmillan)

    The late Johnny Clegg is a South African legend and now we have his own account of his youth, first in what was Southern Rhodesia, the grandson of Jewish immigrants, and later in Johannesburg. As a teenager he and his mother lived in a flat in Alpha Court in Yeoville.  In the mid-60s the suburb was home to a cosmopolitan community of immigrants – Jewish, Lebanese, Greek, Portuguese, Italian and English. Forty-five years later Clegg went back to Alpha Court and the found the area much changed, and yet the same. It was still full of immigrants, but now they were black, French-speaking Congolese and West Africans. As he stood gazing up at the block a woman on a third-floor balcony recognised him and shouted: “Le Zulu blanc!” A circle of sorts had been closed. This looks to be a really good read and I’m looking forward to it.


    This is one of Exclusive Books’s top 40 books for October.

The Reading List, by Sara Nisha Adams (HarperCollins)

It can be hard for immigrants to connect with their grandchildren, especially when they speak a different language. Author Sara Nisha Adams, whose parents are Indian and English, says this novel was partly inspired by her grandfather who was able to forge a relationship with her through books and reading. It tells of Aleisha, an anxious London teenager who finds solace in the Harrow Road Library. One day she comes across a crumpled reading list tucked into a book and, at a time when she needs to be transported away from her problems, the stories are a comfort. And then she meets Mukesh at the library, an elderly man who is anxious to bond with his book-loving granddaughter, and Aleisha shares the booklist with him. They become an unlikely but supportive book club of two. (The books on the list? To Kill a Mocking Bird, Rebecca, The Kite Runner, Life of Pi, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Beloved and A Suitable Boy.)

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s top 40 books for October.


More than I Love my Life, by David Grossman (Jonathan Cape)

Gili and her family are celebrating the 90th birthday of her grandmother Vera on the Israeli kibbutz where Vera lives. Vera’s daughter Nina arrives for the party, which complicates things. Nina’s relationships with her mother, Gili and Gili’s father have never run smoothly; Nina rejected her mother when she was just 15, and abandoned both Gili and her dad when Gili was a baby. There is a back story: many years before, Vera was held and tortured on the remote island of Goli Otok, part of the former Yugoslavia. With Vera’s first husband also a prisoner , a very young Nina was left to fend for herself, which has sent echoes down the years and bedeviled every relationship Nina has had. Now, determined to understand what lies behind her mother’s apparent indifference, Gili and her family travel to Goli Otok to see if they can unravel the secrets. David Grossman won the International Booker Prize for his novel A Horse Walks into a Bar, which was written in Hebrew and then translated into English (as was More than I Love my Life).

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s top 40 books for October.

The Fire Portrait, by Barbara Mutch (Allison & Busby Ltd)

I thoroughly enjoyed Barbara Mutch’s first novel, The Girl from Simon’s Bay, about love and the Group Areas Act in Simon’s Town. This novel follows the fortunes of an Englishwoman, Frances McDonald, who settles in the Boland where she embarks on a marriage of convenience. She does her best to integrate into the community, and paints wonderful works of art of the surrounding landscapes.  Then her husband enlists to fight for the Allies in World War II, and her neighbours once again shun her. She happens to meet a former love, and everything seems briefly wonderful, until a fire destroys the life she has built. Back she goes to London, where a one of her paintings sends her life in a new direction.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s top 40 books for October.


Rediscover Your Self-Confidence  – 7 steps to a new you, by Rolene Strauss (Tafelberg)

If you look at pictures of Rolene Strauss, who became both Miss South Africa and Miss World in 2014, you see a radiantly beautiful young woman with the world at her feet. But apparently she was not as confident as she looked. Six years before that she had been 16 years old, a leggy Afrikaans-speaking tomboy from Volksrust who had been given the opportunity of a lifetime: she had been scouted at a modelling competition and offered a three-month contract with the Elite Models head office in Paris. But before she flew to Paris, she had to meet a model agent in Pretoria who took her hip measurement and announced with a raised eyebrow: “It’s 95cm. We’ll have to get it down to at least 90cm, little lady.” And with that, some of Strauss calls her “breezy, natural self-confidence” began to fade. Years later, with a medical degree, the Miss World title, a husband and a son, she realised she had to do something about her poor self-confidence. Her efforts to sort herself out have led to her becoming a mentor, and to this book. It is dedicated to “you who are ready to rediscover your self-confidence”.

White Trash – My year as a high-class call girl, by Terry Angelos (Melinda Ferguson Books)

Terry Angelos’s life today could not be more proper: she is a visual artist living in Durban, married to her soulmate with three grown-up children and a pug called Juniper. But when she was 19 she was living a very different life in London – taking drugs and selling sex. Her early years were spent in Rhodesia and she describes herself as strong-willed, fearless, curious, racist and entitled. Later the family emigrated to South Africa, and Angelos didn’t fit in at all. At 19, after two years of a fine arts degree, she headed off to London in search of adventure, and found work as a hostess in a club. Initially it was fine: cheap champagne, a bit of pawing and groping, lots sexual banter – and easy money. But more was of course expected. Looking back she can’t remember the first time she exchanged a sexual favour for money. But within eight months of her arrival in the UK, her life had spiraled into degradation, to the point where she seriously considered suicide. And then, through a serendipitous meeting, she found God – or God found her – and her life changed. Don’t be put off by the religious angle, Angelos writes well and this is not a happy-clappy book. But it does serve as a warning of what can happen to headstrong young people heading off to find themselves in the big wide world.

Frontline, by Dr Hilary Jones (Welbeck)

Frontline is a readable saga about life in the trenches and in the field hospitals of World War I, and centres on a pair of very young British lovers, Grace, a member of the landed gentry, and Will, a London dockworker. (The couple is of course not to be confused with the Will & Grace of the American TV soap.) Grace is headstrong and determined, and becomes the first of her family to go to war, as a nurse. Excitement and patriotism see Will enlist, and he becomes a stretcher bearer, his life always on the line. Through their work the pair meet in a hospital, and fall in love. They are painfully aware of the death and destruction around them, and the fact there are no guarantees either will see out the war alive. Even if they do, will their very different stations in life allow them to stay together? And then, just when it looks as though the war is heading towards an Allied victory, people start falling sick and dying from a strange illness that becomes known as the Spanish flu. I was initially put off by the fact that the author felt it was appropriate to tell us on the cover that she is a doctor, and by the cover shout from the infamous Jeffrey Archer. But it’s full of bloody and gritty detail, a good read and I enjoyed it.


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