Bedside Table books for June

These are among the books that landed on my desk this month. Some will be reviewed in full later. They are on the list of Exclusive Books’s top reads for June. Another June top read was Winnie and Nelson – Portrait of a marriage, by Jonny Steinberg, which the Books Page reviewed on June 18. – Vivien Horler


Truth to Power – My three years inside Eskom, by André Ruyter (Penguin Random House)

When André Ruyter was first interviewed for the post of Eskom CEO – well before he actually got the job in 2020 – he was asked to make a short video of himself with a “meaningful object”. He chose an old pair of safety boots he had used when working at Sasol, because he saw himself as a “boots on the floor” kind of boss.

This found favour with the then chairman of the board, Jabu Mabuza, who later informed him that while he had done well in the interview and psychometric tests, it would be politically impossible to appoint a white man to the position.

He was offered another job instead, the newly created post of chief operations officer, which he turned down as he was not an engineer. And so it was only following another round of searches for a CEO that he got the job to a media storm, after 28 black people had turned it down.

I have just read the first couple of chapters but it looks like a gripping read. I didn’t know he was the son of Dutch immigrants who came to SA after World War 2, and who impressed on him the importance of treating everyone, regardless of race or class, with respect.

He became a supporter of the old liberal Progressive Reform Party, and his newspapers of choice were Weekly Mail and Vrye Weekblad.

He’s refreshingly self-deprecating. “Perhaps part of the reason for taking the job was just sheer Dutch bloody mindedness with a hint of arrogance thrown in.

“A fool was rushing in where angels feared to tread.” And we all know how that turned out.

Born White Zulu Bred – A memoir of a Third World Child, by GG Alcock (Tracey McDonald Publishers)

GG Alcock has a truly extraordinary story to tell. He was born on a Catholic mission station in what was then Natal, where his father, who was not a missionary, helped with local agricultural development.

Eventually the Alcocks were turned off the mission station and settled, with their two little blond sons, in Msinga, near Tugela Ferry, a place Alcock said was the most violent in the country.

And while Alcock senior helped poverty-stricken locals with their lives, including in local inter-tribal battles as well as fights with local white farmers and police, his wife wrote newspaper articles about what was going on in this distant corner of the country.

Life was tough and dangerous, but the two little boys, GG and his brother Khonya, ran wild, snaring small animals, never missing a target with their catties, speaking isiZulu fluently and being treated just like all the Zulu kids around them.

This is the story of GG’s youth, his father’s murder, and GG’s subsequent life. Today he is a businessman who in this book describes “the mazes of township market places… to reveal the proud and dignified world of township entrepreneurs who are transforming South Africa’s economy”. I look forward to reading it.

Small Mercies, by Dennis Lehane (Abacus Books)

Dennis Lehane is the best-selling thriller writer of titles such as the acclaimed Mystic River, which became an Oscar-winning film directed by Clint Eastwood.

Small Mercies is set in an Irish enclave of Boston in the sweltering summer of 1974, a time when schools were being forcefully desegregated and protests flared in the streets.

One night Mary Pat Fennessey’s teenage daughter Jules doesn’t come home. The same night a young black man is found dead, hit by a subway train.

There doesn’t seem to be a link between the two events, but Mary Pat starts asking questions, questions people like Marty Butler, head of the local Irish mafia, don’t want answered.

Stephen King describes Small Mercies as “thought-provoking, engaging, enraging”.

Little Lies, by Gail Schimmel (Macmillan)

This Joburg-set novel has been described as “brilliant – it’s a wolf of a thriller in suburban sheep’s clothing”.

Monique and Ben have been married for 20 years. Monique gets her affirmation from her friends’ admiration of her beautiful marriage, beautiful home and beautiful children.

But three children can derail your best plans, especially when one’s a 15-year-old who only ever dresses in black, and two young boys who have to play club cricket even when their grumpy father knows they have no real talent or inclination.

And so, what with one thing another, plus a few new people in her life, things start to go wrong for Monique and her beautiful family.

Gail Schimmel is an attorney, the author of two previous novels, and is the CEO of the Advertising Regulatory Board.


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