Bedside Table Books for September

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

Three books – I Write the Yawning Void, by Sindiwe Magona and edited by Renee Schatteman, Painting a Life in Africa, by Joan van Gogh, and Prison Child, by Felicia Goosen, are among Exclusive Books’ top reads for September.

They are some of the books chosen by the book chain as part of their annual Heritage Day celebration in which they highlight “Homebru” books – books that say: “That’s Home, Bru.” –  Vivien Horler


Statues and Storms – Leading through change, by Max Price (Tafelberg)

Max Price was vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town for 10 years, from 2008 to 2018, with the two years between 2015 and 2017 coinciding with “sustained, widespread, disruptive and at times violent protests” of the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall campaigns.

He was told afterwards he had appeared “unflappable”, and his response to that was: “Oh wow.” It seems he didn’t feel unflappable at all.

One night at the height of the trouble, he and his wife packed up their valuables and took them to a friend’s house off-campus for safekeeping, as they feared their official on-campus residence, Glenara, might be attacked.

His office was firebombed on the night of February 16, 2016. Emotions ran very high.

Speaking at the launch of this memoir at the V&A Waterfront last week, Price said his first seven years at UCT saw growth and success in research and teaching, and global recognition. Then came Rhodes must Fall.

A number of SA universities, including UCT, had been oases of freedom during apartheid, so many white academics were taken aback by black attitudes – of both staff and students – in 2016. This book was written partly to explore Price’s own and others’ blind spots, he says.

I look forward to reading it.

Painting Life in Africa – by Joan van Gogh (Rockhopper Books)

A talent for art evidently runs in some families, as Joan van Gogh is a lateral descendant of the legendary Vincent. She specialises in botanical art, and has designed postage stamps and illustrated including the SAPPI Tree Spotting series.

She’s also known for landscapes and seascapes as well as portraits of animals in both watercolours and oils.

This volume is an autobiography, starting with her Johannesburg childhood during World War II, and going on to describe a life of wandering the Karoo and bushveld, and painting their inhabitants – plants, animals and views.

My heart sank a little when I opened it – the font in which it’s printed is  unfriendly and the text needs more leading, but the story – as far as I’ve gone anyway – is engaging, and enlivened by delightful pen sketches. And she certainly is a gifted artist.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ top titles for September.

I Write the Yawning Void – Selected essays of Sindiwe Magona, ed by Renee Schatteman

Sindiwe Magona is a celebrated and award-winning writer who spent 20 years working for the UN. On her retirement she could have remained in the US, but it was an exciting time in South Africa and she came home to be part of it all.

Despite this devotion to the country of her birth, she says in her introduction to this volume that her writing seems “to come out of anger, disgust, disappointment, sadness or grief; it is provoked by a deep dissatisfaction with some aspect of the life I witness all around me, a life gone all awry”.

Explaining the title of the collection, she says she writes the books she wishes were not necessary. “However, to my way of seeing the world, each book is an injunction to some, if not all members of society, to stop doing what they should not have done… or to do what they ought to have done: acts of commission or omission.”

So don’t expect a comfortable and folksy read here, but much that she writes needs to be taken to heart in this tottering country of ours.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ top reads for September.

Prison Child – The story of Vanessa Goosen’s daughter, by Felicia Goosen and Deonette de Kock (LuxVerbi)

In early 1994 Vanessa Goosen, just 21, was found guilty by a Thai court of drug trafficking and sentenced to death. But because it was a first offence, and she was pregnant, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in the Lard Yao prison.

Goosen, a Miss SA semi-finalist, had gone on a trip to Bangkok where she was asked by her boyfriend’s friend to bring back some engineering books he needed.

She willingly agreed, but when she was passing through immigration to leave the country, the spines of the books were slashed and heroin poured out.

Seven months later Felicia was born. By the rules of the prison, she was able to stay with her mother for three years, but on her third birthday she was sent to SA into the care of a family friend, who raised her for the next 16 years.

Although Felicia was well-treated and even loved by her foster family, she had enormous difficulty coming to terms with what she felt was her mother’s rejection. For a long time she was in a “deep, black hole”. Then, aged 24 she returned from a missionary outreach in Lard Yao, her birthplace, and finally found closure.

She is, she says, now able to talk about her life, and this book is her story.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ top reads for September.

Fraud – How prison set me free, by Nikki Munitz (Melinda Ferguson Books)

A woman in prison is also the theme of this book. Nikki Munitz, born into a wealthy Johannesburg Jewish family, became hooked on heroin. She was sent to a rehab facility in Noupoort in the Karoo, where she met and fell in love with Jake, the son of what turns out to have been a dodgy Afrikaans family.

They married, but Jake continued his drug habit. Money was short, and Munitz got work at a law firm, where she discovered it was relatively easy to make life more comfortable by helping herself to the firm’s trust account – to the tune of R2.5 million.

At first she was terrified, but no one seemed to notice. By now the mother of two children, Nikki told Jake where the extra money was coming from, and he  promptly told his father. The father-in-law insisted some of the money be paid into his account.

Eventually they were all arrested, Nikki, Jake and the father-in-law. By now Nikki had left Jake, and had her own lawyer, who advised her to plead guilty. She was sentenced to eight years in prison, five suspended. Jake and the father-in-law were acquitted.

Prison was a devastating blow for a single mother of two young children, and yet, unlikely as it sounds, in prison Nikki was able to turn her life around.

The Girl who Survived her Mother – navigating and healing the mother wound, by Moshitadi Lehlomela (Tafelberg)

Moshitadi Lehlomela grew up in rural Limpopo where women did the washing in the river, cooked over open fires and had to collect water from a standpipe. The family were poor, there was physical and substance abuse and “oppressive gender scripts dictated by tradition and religion”.

Lehlomela was a first daughter, as were her mother and grandmother before her. She writes: “Our lives, my grandmother’s, my mother’s and mine, when put under a microscope, tell a tale of generational trauma. A mother hurts her daughter, and the daughter becomes a mother that hurts her own daughters. They are women running on empty, because their mothers didn’t pour love into them.”

But after much suffering as well as introspection, Lehlomela says she became the cycle breaker, and in this book, should you be unfortunate enough to come from such a family, she tells you how you can do the same.

Moving to the UK – A concise guide for South Africans, by Sam Beckbessinger (Jonathan Ball)

There was a Biddulphs van outside my neighbour’s house the other day – they’re moving to the UK next week, along with their two kids and two small dogs. They’re very much interwoven in the neighbourhood and we’ll miss them.

If Sam Beckbessinger’s book had come out a few months earlier, I’m sure they would have found it handy.

If you’re thinking of heading to the UK, this book is probably for you.

It’s divided into four parts: Deciding to Move; The Move Itself; Setting up your New Life; and A Path Back to Happiness (because anyone who’s ever lived abroad for a bit knows it can be a hell of a wrench).

As Beckbessinger writes in her “welcome”: “This book will take you through the whole process of disassembling your life in SA and moving to the UK, from the first conversation with your family… to registering for council tax in your new UK home. Expect jokes, helpful downloads and to-do lists. So many to-do lists. To-so lists are your life now, sorry.”

She takes a cold hard look at costs, the best age to move children, organising visas, how to find a UK job, where to live in the UK, what you’re going to take with you, moving pets, financial advice, your first week in the UK, making friends, how to do basic things, keeping the house clean, and dealing with homesickness. And remember, she says, it just takes time.

Moving countries is a big deal but this should book help a lot.


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