Category Archives: Book News

Breaking news: SA’s Damon Galgut wins the Booker Prize

SOUTH African novelist and playwright Damon Galgut has won the 2021 Booker Prize for his novel The Promise.

This was announced at a ceremony at the BBC Radio Theatre in London on November 3. He wins £50 000 (about R1.04million).

The Promise is a family saga set on a smallholding in Pretoria – Galgut’s home town – and is told over 40 years through four family funerals. The story revolves around a promise made by the family matriarch to a domestic worker that she will be given title to the home she lives in.

Galgut was previously shortlisted for the Booker in 2003 for his novel The Good Doctor and in 2010 for In a Strange Room.

The other shortlisted authors were Americans Richard Powers for Bewilderment, Maggie Shipstead for her fabulous Great Circle, Patricia Lockwood for No One is Talking about This; Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam for A Passage North, and British Somali writer Nadifa Mohamed for The Fortune Men.

Chair of the judges Maya Jasanoff described The Promise as a “tour de force”. “It combines an extraordinary story with rich themes – the history of the last 40 years in South Africa – in an incredibly well-wrought package.

“It manages to pull together the qualities of great storytelling, it has great ideas, it’s a book that has a lot to chew on, with remarkable attention to structure and literary style.”

Rebecca Jones, the BBC’s arts correspondent, describes The Promise as “an excellent winner” and “outstanding book”.

“On the one hand it is a gripping saga, following the decline and fall of a white South African family over four decades. It is packed with incident – sex, drugs, shootings – and there is drama, discord and death. But there is also plenty of unexpected comedy to lighten the mood. It made me laugh.

“On the other hand, through the lens of this one family, The Promise also deftly tells the story of South Africa and its troubled transition from apartheid state to multi-racial democracy. So it is rich with layers and yet it is compact, with fewer than 300 pages.”

I thought it was a very bleak tale.

Galgut becomes the third South African to win the prestigious fiction prize, after JM Coetzee (who won it twice, as well as the Nobel Prize for literature) and Nadine Gordimer.  – Vivien Horler 

 

Will it be third time lucky for Galgut in the 2021 Booker Prize?

Vivien Horler

South African literature still has a chance of snatching the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction, with Damon Galgut’s The Promise making it on to the shortlist of six announced in London on Tuesday September 14.

This is the third time he has been shortlisted.

Sadly, Karen Jennings, the other South African writer who was on the longlist of 13 for her novel The Island, did not make the cut.

The other five books on the shortlist are: A Passage North, by Sri Lankan Tamil writer Anuk Arudpragasam; No One is Talking about This, by American writer and poet Patricia Lockwood; The Fortune Men by British Somali novelist Nadifa Mohamed; Bewilderment by American novelist Richard Powers; and Great Circle by American writer Maggie Shipstead.

Maya Jasanoff, chair of the 2021 judging panel, said: “With so many ambitious and intelligent books before us, the judges engaged in rich discussion not only about the qualities of any given title, but often the purpose of fiction itself. We are pleased to present a shortlist that delivers as wide a range of original stories as it does voices and styles.”

And Gaby Wood, director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “(The judges) also proved that the best literature is elastic: both because so many different things can be seen in it, and because – as one of the judges said – the best of fiction can make you feel as though your mind, or heart, are a little bit larger for having read it.”

The Promise (Chatto & Windus), which spans a period of 40 years, is about the white Swart family who live on a smallholding outside Pretoria and is trying to come to terms with the new South Africa. It is based around four family funerals, and describes how the family unravels over a promise made to their long-time domestic worker.

Galgut told a Booker Q& A: “I do feel qualified to say a few things about white South Africa by now. The Swart family is a kind of amalgamation of everything I grew up with in Pretoria, I guess. They’re a mix of English and Afrikaans, and a hodge-podge of creeds and beliefs too. Not unusual for this part of the world. But what makes them ‘representative’ isn’t their characters, it’s the times they’re living through. The book is structured around four funerals, each in a different decade, with a different president in power and a different spirit reigning over the land. Although most of that material is background, it conjures a sense of time passing and of the larger country changing too.”

The Passage North (Granta) is an attempt to come to terms with life in the wake of devastation of Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war. It tells the story of Krishan who makes the long train journey from the capital Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province to attend a family funeral. This is Arudpragasam’s second novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Circus/ Jonathan Ball) is described as “a delightfully profane love letter to the infinite scroll, and a meditation on love, language, and the human connection.

It is about a social media guru who travels the world, her existence overwhelmed by the internet. And then two urgent messages from her mother pierce her virtual bubble.

Lockwood told a Booker Q & A: “The internet – in the form of social media, at least – is much more like fiction than it is anything else.”

The Fortune Men (Viking) is a gripping novel, based on fact, about a petty thief in Cardiff, Wales. In 1952 he became the last man to be hanged there, after being wrongfully convicted of murder. Mahmood Mattan, a Somali seaman, isn’t too worried when he is arrested for the murder of a local shopkeeper – after all, this is Britain which is a country of justice. But eventually it dawns on him that innocence may not be enough.

His conviction was quashed 45 years later, in February 1998 – a true Pyrrhic victory.

Mohamed told a Booker  Q & A: “I knew I wanted to make the line between fact and fiction inperceptible.” This is her third novel. She becomes the first British Somali to be shortlisted for the Booker.

Bewilderment (Hutchinson Heinmann) tells the story of an astrobiologist, Theo Byrne, and his troubled son, nine-year-old Robin, who is about to be expelled from school for smashing a metal Thermos into his friend’s face. His father believes the only thing to do is take Robin to other planets, while helping him to save this one.

Powers told a Booker Q & A: “The astrobiology and neuroscience in Bewilderment – two fields undergoing rapid and dramatic revolutions – are really ways into much older and more intimate human passions.”

This book is Powers’s 13th novel and the second to be shortlisted for the Booker prize.

Great Circle (Transworld) is the story of a daredevil woman pilot who delivers Spitfires in World War II and in 1950 sets off on an ultimately doomed north-south circumnavigation of the Earth. And it is the story of a spoiled young actress who is chosen to play her in a Hollywood biopic.

In a Booker Q & A, Shipstead said: “I’m sadly incapable of planning my books. I wish I could, but instead I just have to leap and then hope I’m able to resolve all the problems I create.” Great Circle is her third novel.

The winner of the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced in London on November 3.

 

Two SA authors make the longlist of the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction

 

Vivien Horler

South African writers Damon Galgut and Karen Jennings are among the 13 international authors whose novels have been longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction – Galgut for the third time.

This time it is for his novel The Promise, about the Swart family who live on a hardscrabble smallholding outside Pretoria, and whose story is told over 40 years in a series of snapshots, each one surrounding a family funeral.

At the heart of the story – and the family conflict – is a promise made to a domestic worker that she would get title to the house she lives in.

Galgut’s two previous longlisted titles were The Good Doctor (2006) and In a Strange Room (2010).

Jennings’s book is called An Island, and is about Samuel, a lighthouse keeper on an island off the southern African coast. One day a young man, probably a refugee, washes ashore and Samuel reluctantly takes him in. Their interaction forces Samuel to look back over his own life. Local author Joanne Hichens has described An Island as “a terrifying novel”.

Historian Maya Jasanoff, chair of the judging panel, said: “‘One thing that unites these books is their power to absorb the reader in an unusual story, and to do so in an artful, distinctive voice. Many of them consider how people grapple with the past – whether personal experiences of grief or dislocation or the historical legacies of enslavement, apartheid, and civil war.

“Many examine intimate relationships placed under stress, and through them meditate on ideas of freedom and obligation, or on what makes us human. “It’s particularly resonant during the pandemic to note that all of these books have important things to say about the nature of community, from the tiny and secluded to the unmeasurable expanse of cyberspace.

“Reading in lockdown fostered a powerful sense of connection with the books, and of shared enterprise among the judges. Though we didn’t always respond in the same way to an author’s choices, every book on this list sparked long discussions amongst ourselves that led in unexpected and enlightening directions.”

The longlist was chosen from 158 novels published in the UK or Ireland between October 2020 and September 2021. The Booker is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English and published in the UK or Ireland.

Apart from Jasanoff, the judges were writer and editor Horatia Harrod, actor Natascha McElhone, twice Booker-shortlisted novelist and professor Chigozie Obioma, and writer and former archbishop Rowan Williams.

Other longlisted authors who have made the list before, other than Galgut, are Kazuo Ishiguro (won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day; shortlisted in 2005 for Never Let Me Go, in 2000 for When we were Orphans and in 1986 for An Artist of the Floating World); Mary Lawson (longlisted in 2006 for The Other Side of the Bridge); Richard Powers (shortlisted in 2018 for The Overstory and longlisted in 2014 for Orfeo); and Sunjeev Sahota (shortlisted in 2015 for The Year of the Runaways).

Two debut novelists made the list: Nathan Harris with The Sweetness of Water and Patricia Lockwood with No One is Talking About This. 

The six books on the shortlist will be announced on September, and each author will wina total of  £2 500 (about R51 000).

The overall winner will get their prize at an award ceremony on November 3. They win £50 000 (about R1.02million), and in the po-faced words of the judges, “can expect international recognition”.

The full list of 13 novels is:

Continue reading

Zimbabwean activist and writer makes Booker 2020 shortlist

Vivien Horler

Tsitsi Dangarembga

So Hilary Mantel is not going to make history by winning the Booker Prize three times.

I’m a bit disappointed – I thought all three novels about Thomas Cromwell: Wolf  Hall, Bring Up the Bodies and The Mirror & the Light, were absorbing, often terrifying and utterly brilliant.

Not even to get on to the shortlist for the 2020 Booker! I think she wuz robbed.

But thriller writer Lee Child, who was on the panel of judges, was quoted in The Guardian saying of The Mirror & the Light: “It is an absolutely wonderful novel, there’s no question about it. It’s a trilogy which will live forever. But as good as it was, there were some books which were better.”

Another two international novelists whose books failed to make the cut were Anne Tyler with Redhead by the Side of the Road, and Colum McCann for Apeirogon.

But closer to home, acclaimed Zimbabwean writer and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga is in with a chance to win the prize for her for This Mournable Body.  This is the third in a trilogy which includes Nervous Conditions (1988), named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world, and The Book of Not, published in 2006. Continue reading

Learning to write – 200 words at a time

Vivien Horler

Mike Nicol

I have to write 200 words of description for my assignment for my writing course this week.

“Imagine that sunset that stunned you or catching a wave on an early morning surf or a tense hang-gliding moment, or an afternoon at a waterhole in the bush …” instructs Mike Nicol, top SA crime writer, biographer and memoir-writer who is running the course.

“Or something completely different: describe entering a foreign city for the first time; or moving into a new home; arriving at a holiday destination.”

In 200 words? It’s not easy. But it’s not meant to be.

In fact I have an MA in creative writing, and my thesis scored good marks, so why am I doing Mike’s course on Writing Reality – essentially narrative non-fiction writing?

Because as a friend briskly pointed out, a thesis is not a book. So I’ve been hoping to learn some skills, how to round out what I’ve written, how to make it live and breathe and connect to the reader. Continue reading

Can Hilary Mantel make it a hat trick?

 

Vivien Horler

Can Hilary Mantel make history and be the first writer to win the Booker Prize for a third time?

The longlist of 13 novels in English was announced this week.

The third in Mantel’s riveting trilogy about Henry VIII’s chancellor Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror and the Light, follows Wolf Hall, which won the prize in 2009, and Bring Up the Bodies, which won in 2012.

The Mirror and the Light takes the saga from the time of Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536 to Cromwell’s own just four years later.

Only a handful of writers have won the Booker twice, including South African JM Coetzee, Margaret Atwood and Peter Carey.

Of the 13 titles on the list, more than half are debut novels, but another favourite to make the cut is the American writer Anne Tyler with her Redhead by the Side of the Road.

The final book in another trilogy, by the Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga, This Mournable Body, also made the longlist. The two previous novels are Nervous Conditions (1988), named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world, and The Book of Not, published in 2006.

The Guardian reports: “Award-winning Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga is in the running for This Mournable Body, a sequel to her 1988 novel Nervous Conditions, named by the BBC as one of the 100 books that shaped the world. Judges said This Mournable Body ‘drew an immediate reaction like a sharp intake of breath from all of us on the panel’.”

Margaret Busby, chair of the 2020 panel of judges, said of the longlist:  “Each of these books carries an impact that has earned it a place on the longlist, deserving of wide readership. There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing.

“The best fiction enables the reader to relate to other people’s lives; sharing experiences that we could not ourselves have imagined is as powerful as being able to identify with characters.

“As judges we connected with these writers’ well-crafted prose, the mastery of detail, the arresting sentence, the credibility of the narrative arc, the ability to use to the full, the resources of storytelling. Unplanned, our final selection encompasses both seasoned favourites and debut talents – a truly satisfying outcome.”

 

The full list is:

  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Oneworld Publications)
  • This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Faber & Faber)
  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
  • Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
  • The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
  • Apeirogon by Colum McCan (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Canongate Books)
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing)
  • Redhead by The Side of The Road by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus, Vintage)
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
  • Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward (Corsair, Little, Brown)
  • How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Virago, Little, Brown)

The shortlist of six books will be announced on September 15, and each author will receive £2 500 (about R46 000). The 2020 winner will be announced in November and wins £50 000 (just over R1million.

  • On Friday (July 31) British writer and broadcaster Joe Haddow will host a podcast discussion of the longlist with some of the judges. It will be available on SpotifyiTunesSoundCloudEntaleDeezerand Stitcher.

 

Use your lockdown time to write a novel

Vivien Horler

Mike Nicol

When you read detective thrillers by overseas writers you can enjoy them, knowing your chances of bumping into the baddies roaming London or Los Angeles are pretty small.

Mike Nicol’s books are different. The Clovelly-based writer creates recognisable Capetonian baddies of the type you would not want to irritate on the M5 on a dark night.

Now Nicol, author of successful and chilling crime novels, biographies – including one of Nelson Mandela – and memoirs, is offering budding writers who want to end the tedium of the lockdown an opportunity to write a best-selling novel.

“The lockdown provides at least one of the critical elements of writing a novel – and that is the time to write,” says Nicol. Continue reading

Elsa Joubert – a writer who travelled life’s long journey

 

Vivien Horler

You can go a long way in 97 years, and Elsa Joubert did.

Born in Paarl in 1922, Joubert grew up in an orthodox Afrikaner family, and at first embraced their beliefs. In fact in her early years she felt her father was not sufficiently committed to the Afrikaner cause.

In 1938, when Afrikaners celebrated the centenary of the Great Trek, 16-year-old Elsa was in the crowd when the Cape Town wagon, on its way from the Mother City to Pretoria, passed through Paarl. The oxen were unhitched for the night and Joubert was one of the proud young Afrikaners who placed the yokes over their shoulders and pulled the wagon to the showgrounds. Later she wrote in her diary: “I shall never forget this day.” Continue reading

Virus leads to postponement of Jewish Literary Festival

The organisers of the Jewish Literary Festival, due to take place in Hatfield Street on Sunday, have postponed the event in the light of Covid-19.

Spokeswoman Beryl Eichenberger said they did not yet have a new date, but the festival would place at some stage. People who had bought tickets should hold on to them as they would remain valid.

“We have decided to be proactive and postpone the festival. This regrettable but responsible action is to limit transmission of COVID-19.

Our team has been working for the past 18 months and so we are  deeply disappointed at having to make this call but our responsibility is to act in the best interests of our literature-loving community.”

Dynamic programme for third Jewish Literary Festival

TERRY Kurgan, whose moving book Everyone is Present, was reviewed on this website last week, is one of the speakers at the third Jewish Literacy Festival in Cape Town on Sunday March 15.

Kurgan’s book, about her family’s flight from Poland one day ahead of the Nazis, is based on her grandfather’s diary of their long and often desperate journey and a slim photo album with pictures of what was a happy middle-class life until they turned into refugees literally overnight.

Other top writers taking part include Joanne Fedler, Diane Awerbuck, Jonny Steinberg and Joanne Jowell Harding.

Beryl Eichenberg writes: “Perhaps listening to Judge Dennis Davis debate with Pierre de Vos interests you or maybe getting a sneak preview into the new novels of Gail Schimmel, Hedi Lampert and Lynn Joffe?

“If you love the heady 60s and Leonard Cohen, there’s a session for you or, if sport is your bag, then cricket legend Ali Bacher in conversation with David Williams will tick your box.

“Then again murder and mayhem may be your choice, so Nechama Brodie, Tanya Farber and Annika Larsen will be on your list.

“You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this gathering, just have a love of reading and conversation.”

Books will be on sale at the festival through The Book Lounge.

The festival also boasts a young adult programme in partnership with Herzlia Middle and High schools. Children from four to 11 can enjoy a full day programme which includes stories, puppets, music and book writing.

The festival takes place on March 15 from 9am to 5pm at the Gardens Community Centre in Cape Town in Hatfield Street, home to the Jacob Gitlin Library, SA Jewish Museum and Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre who partner the event.

Visit www.jewishliteraryfestival.co.za to view the programme of over 40 sessions and be spoilt for choice.

Tickets are R380 for adults, R115 for teens and R100 for under-12s.

Booking: www.jewishliteraryfestival.co.za or through Quicket or
the Gitlin Library 021 462 5088