Bedside books April
These are some of the books that landed on my desk this month. The first two are among Exclusive Books’s top reads for April. A review of a third Exclusive Books novel, All Your Children, Scattered, by Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse, is due to appear on this website on Sunday April 30. – Vivien Horler
Homecoming, by Kate Morton (Mantle)
It’s been a long, blazingly hot Christmas Eve of 1959, and Percy Summers is heading home after helping clear fire-prone bush on a cattle station in South Australia.
He takes a shortcut through the extensive grounds of the Turner family home to the cool of the river, where he sees the Turner family, asleep on picnic blankets – mother, three children and the baby. Utterly still.
Years later, Jess Turner-Bridges is an Australian journalist living in London. She is called back home to Sydney where her beloved grandmother is seriously ill. While staying in her grandma’s house she finds a true-crime book telling the story of the Turner family murders.
And then, while reading, she discovers a link between her own family and this ghastly crime – one that has never been solved.
I think that sounds like a pretty good beginning of a doorstop-sized novel that spans a couple of generations. I’m halfway through and enjoying it immensely.
The Library Suicides, by Fflur Dafydd (Hodder & Stoughton)
When the novelist Elena commits suicide, her distraught twin daughters, who work at the National Library, are convinced she was driven to take her own life as a result of a review by a literary critic, Eben.
Eben wants to clear his name, and asks if he can have access to Elena’s diaries, which are kept at the library. The twins see an opportunity for revenge.
They manage to lock the library, trapping their colleagues, readers and Eben inside. But the plan falls apart when a security guard starts freeing the hostages.
The cover blurb tells us this is “an intensely memorable and provocative literary read unlike any high-concept thriller you’ve read before”.
Harry Oppenheimer – Diamonds, gold and dynasty Michael Cardo (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
With the Ruperts, was Harry Oppenheimer the representative of “white monopoly capital” par excellence, or were things a bit more nuanced?
In a thoughtful introduction to his biography, DA MP Michael Cardo, shadow minister of employment and labour, says what struck him forcefully during his research was how, in the 1950s, “nationalists of another stripe had focused their ire on the Oppenheimer family”.
He is of course referring to the Nationalists of 1948 and later, when Harry Oppenheimer became an MP for the United Party. “He represented an existential threat to Afrikanerdom: he embodied everything its leaders dreaded and detested.”
Oppenheimer (1908-2000), writes Cardo, was in many ways ahead of his times, in others he was a product of his era. He bankrolled the Progressive Party for decades, yet supported a qualified franchise until 1978.
And Cardo adds: “And even though Oppenheimer was an enlightened capitalist, certainly by the standards of his peers, on his mines the conditions above and below ground contributed to generations of black hardship.”
He was never any more than an accidental tourist down his own mines, remarking once to a journalist: “It’s quite amusing but I wouldn’t like to work there.”
Well no. And yet he was a brilliant entrepreneur and Anglo-American came to dominate the SA economy, “a $15 billion empire on which the sun never set”.
Cardo adds: “…his legacy is multifaceted, and he deserves neither obloquy nor hagiography”.
This One Thing: Journeying with Tutu, by Dan Vaughan (Sunlit)
Most of us remember Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu with fondness and respect. He could be hilarious, he could be fearless and brave in defying the powerful of the day as well as murderous mobs.
But this is a memoir of a time before he became internationally famous, a time when he was head of the SA Council of Churches, when his path crossed with that of one Dan Vaughan, who became his deputy.
Vaughan was a young white man in 1948, the year the Nationalist Party came to power. He worked in an office in Cape Town, and life moved in a pleasant routine, he writes. Yes, there was an increasingly draconian crackdown on black people, but it didn’t really affect him. That was the way things were.
And then Vaughan felt drawn to being a missionary, spending time in what was then Rhodesia, and for the first time in his life felt he was “seeing, tasting and feeling Africa and its people”.
Later he began working for the SACC, not long before Tutu arrived. Eventually he became the cleric’s righthand man, travelling with him as Tutu confronted the apartheid government – a stance that eventually won him the Nobel Peace Prize – and bore witness around the world.
I asked a friend, who worked closely with Tutu in the archbishop years, what he thought about This One Thing, and he said: “Its strength and uniqueness is that it’s the story of the conversion of a white conservative to the cause of liberation on religious grounds… Vaughan is a sweet man of great personal integrity.”
The Scholarship Kids – a memoir by Robert Gentle (Melinda Ferguson Books)
Robert Gentle and his twin brother Michael were small coloured boys living in Wynberg in Cape Town, just below the railway line, on literally the wrong side of the tracks.
Sometimes the family went to Cape Town harbour to watch ocean liners head to Europe. But the event that turned their lives around was the day the boys’ dad took them to the airport to see one of SAA’s newly acquired Boeing 707s.
“The sight of that plane triggered something in both Michael and me: a love of aircraft that would give our lives purpose and direction… A dream was born that day. Time would give it wings.”
But how were two young coloured boys in apartheid SA going to achieve their dream? This memoir tells their story.