Category Archives: My Book Pile

These are books I have in my possession, and may get around to reviewing.

Bedside Table books for November

Bedside table November

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

Shackleton – a biography, by Ranulph Fiennes (Michael Joseph)

To write about hell, it helps if you have been there, says Sir Ranulph Fiennes in the introduction to this biography of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. And Fiennes certainly has: as he points out, no previous Shackleton biographer has man-hauled a heavy sledge load through the great crevasse fields of the Beardmore Glacier, or walked a thousand miles on poisoned feet. Fiennes say he wrote this book because he often disagreed with statements in the many books and films about Shackleton and his amazing exploits, unparalleled leadership and unflinching courage. The first book I read about Shackleton’s Endurance adventure was South, his own account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917. It is gripping stuff, even in the formal, rather stuffy language of the time. I am very much looking forward to reading this biography.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

Bewilderment, by Richard Powers (Hutchinson Heinemann)

This novel was longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize (won by South Africa’s Damon Galgut). It tells the story of a scientist, Theo Byrne, who has devised a way to search for life on planets light years away. But he is also the father of nine-year-old Richard, clever and funny, but troubled, and who is facing expulsion from school for hitting a friend in the face with a coffee flask. Theo’s options are to put Richard on powerful drugs, or to take him to other planets in a bid to help save the one we have. Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous novel The Overstory, which was also shortlisted for the Booker, prompting Barak Obama to comment: “It changed how I thought about the Earth and our place in it… It changed how I see things and that’s always, for me, a mark of a book worth reading.”

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

The Heron’s Cry, by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan)

I love Ann Cleeves’s police procedurals, both the Jimmy Perez series set on the Shetlands, and the Vera Stanhope series set mainly in the North Pennines. And I loved both TV series too. The Heron’s Cry features Cleeves’s new detective, Matthew Venn – who debuted in The Long Call – and is set in North Devon. A group of artists have their idyll ruined by the murder of Dr Nigel Yeo. His daughter Eve is a glass blower, and the murder weapon is a shard of glass from one of her vases. It turns out Eve is a close friend of Venn’s husband, and he has to tread carefully in his investigation. And then another body turns up, killed in a similar way.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

Critical but, Stable, by Angela Makholwa  (Macmillan)

This local novel begins with a man looking at the body of his lover in bed. She was so warm, so full of passion, and now so still. Whom should he call? The ambulance? No, too late. The police? No, never. Her husband? Oh shit. Three families are living the high life in fancy homes, all members of the Khula Society, a social club with investment benefits. But under the glitz things are not what they seem. And now this death may change everything. Angela Makholwa writes gripping psychological thrillers. This novel was first published last year, was longlisted for the Sunday Times/ CNA Fiction Literary Award for 2021, and has now been published in paperback. I do feel the comma in the title is in the wrong place.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

Rise, by Siya Kolisi with Boris Starling (HarperCollins)

Did Siya Kolisi’s yellow card cost the Springboks the match against the Lions at Twickenham on November 20? Maybe it did, but Siya Kolisi has been a Springbok hero, becoming the first black man to captain the team in 128 years and leading SA to victory at the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Yet he grew up in poverty, being born on the last day of apartheid, and spent much of his primary school period in Zwide in the Eastern Cape hungry. He started hanging out with some older boys, drinking, smoking weed and sniffing petrol. And then rugby saved him. He became attached to the African Bombers club, as a junior player, water boy, and odd-job boy.  He attributes his early success to coach Eric Songwiqi, the first positive male role model in his life. At 11 he was good enough to be selected for the Eastern Province Under-12 squad to play at a provincial tournament in Mossel Bay. There he was spotted a teacher at Grey College junior school in Port Elizabeth, won a full scholarship for his next six years of school – and the rest is history. He writes: “A good job for kids from Emsengeni (Primary, his school) was being a taxi driver. For Grey boys, the sky was the limit: they could be lawyers, doctors, businessmen. Even Springboks.”

  • This was one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for October.

A Taste for Life – How the Spur legend was born, by Allen Ambor

I once got a job as a waitress at the Golden Spur in Dean Street in Newlands. The first shift was technically “training”, and they paid me R1 (this was a while ago). I never went back – and I never waitressed again. But millions of students do, and it has been a lifeline for them. The Golden Spur was the first in Allen Amber’s empire, opening in 1967, trading until December last year when Covid-19 did for it. This is the inside story of one of Cape Town’s first steakhouses, how franchising took off, how the menu was designed and how Allen Ambor, aged just 26, would tell diners his aunt and uncle were in the kitchen to create the false but reassuring impression it was a family business. He also reveals a few secrets, such as playing the Four Tops’s Reach Out (I’ll be There) at the height of the Saturday night rush. “Customers would chew to the beat,” he confides, “and it helped turn tables.”

 

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.

 

September’s bedside table suggestions

Bedside table September

These are among the books that have landed on my desk in the past couple of weeks. Some will be reviewed in full later.

A Pretoria Boy, by Peter Hain (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

South Africa-reared Peter Hain, in his efforts to fight apartheid by campaigning against South African international rugby and cricket tours, became known here as “public enemy number one” and in the UK as “Hain the pain”. But he and those who campaigned with him – and some of their campaigns were pretty dramatic – inflicted major damage on white South Africa’s soft sports-loving underbelly. Legendary rugby boss Danie Craven said during Hain’s Stop the Seventy Tour in the 1970s: “There will be a black Springbok over my dead body.” Well, we know how that turned out. This is Hain’s autobiography, starting with his boyhood in a family of both liberal and Liberal Party principles in Pretoria, where he attended Pretoria Boys’ High, to his departure with his family to the UK, his rising political profile within the Labour Party and the anti-sports tours campaign, to his becoming a Labour MP and eventually British peer, still fighting for justice. South Africa remains close to his heart, but he certainly doesn’t subscribe to the adage of “my country right or wrong”. He celebrated in 1994, but doesn’t pull his punches when assessing where we are today. Now 71, he is still fighting campaigns, and has given testimony to the Zondo Commission. He says (his italics): “I have learnt that if you try to do too much, you’ll end up doing too little, that if you try to do everything, you’ll end up doing nothing. Better to focus on concrete objectives and not to get carried away with grand designs, ideological rhetoric or the supercilious purism of the armchair critic. Instead, as Alan Paton once counselled me, try to be an all-or-something person, not an all-or-nothing person.”

A Home on Vorster Street ­– a memoir, by Razina Theba (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Although Razina Theba lived with her parents and sister, every day she would find her way to the tiny flat occupied by her grandparents in Vorster Street, Fordsburg. The older couple had brought up seven children in it, and though by the time Razina came along, most had married and left, it was still the family HQ to which uncles and aunties and many cousins gravitated. All the residents in the block were of Indian descent, and lived together in loose neighbourliness, swopping cakes and snacks at Eid and Diwala. Theba has written a charming, often sad, occasionally frightening story of an Muslim family in the dying days of apartheid.

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

A Brief History of South Africa – from the earliest times to the Mandela presidency, by John Pampallis and Maryke Bailey (Fanele/ Jacana)

The authors of this book, teachers and educationalists, have managed an astonishing feat – a compilation of South African history in just under 300 pages (although with pretty small print). As the subtitle indicates, the volume begins with the ancestors of the modern San over 10 000 years ago, but concedes little is known of  those societies. It is written in two parts: a chronological history and then a section on themes in South African history, such as the economy, the Bantustans, life under apartheid and the trade union movement. At the end of each chapter are a set of discussion questions as well as book titles for additional reading, and a list of online visual resources. The authors say they have not produced a comprehensive history, but are rather trying to present a progressive introduction to local history and to encourage critical thinking about it, because most South Africans, those who were schooled both before and after 1994, have scant knowledge of the country’s past. In his foreword, former president Kgalema Motlanthe says: “History is not just an account of past events. It is also an interpretation of those events and developments… It is for this reason history is deeply political.”

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

The Island of Missing Trees, by Elif Shafak (Viking/ Penguin Books)

Ada Kazantzakis is 16, in her second-last year of school in north London. She lives with her father, Kostas; her mother is dead. She knows very little about her family history, only that her parents, one Greek and one Turkish, came from the now divided island of Cyprus. Her parents did not talk about their families or their youth, and when her mother died no one from Cyprus bothered to come to her funeral. But back in 1974, teenagers Kostas, who is Greek and Defne, who is Turkish, meet in secret in a tavern, a place where they are able to forget the sorrows and tensions of their island. In the tavern a fig tree grows through a hole in the roof, and the tree knows the teenagers’ secrets. It’s also there when Nicosia is destroyed and the teenagers have to part. Years later, the only link Ada has to her home is a cosseted fig tree growing in the back garden. Elif Shafak, a prize-winning British Turkish writer whose work has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, has dedicated this novel to: “Immigrants and exiles everywhere, the uprooted, the re-rooted, the rootless, and to the trees we left behind…”

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

Such a Quiet Place, by Megan Miranda (Corvus)

Hollow’s Edge is a quiet community on the edge of a lake. Everyone knows everyone else, and they’re supportive of each other. But then one night Brandon and Fiona Truett are found dead, and their neighbour, Ruby Fletcher, is convicted of their murder. But after a mistrial she is freed, and she comes back to Hollow’s Edge, to the consternation of the community in general and of her old housemate, Harper Nash in particular. People start to turn on each other and it soon becomes clear that not everyone was honest about the events on the night the Truetts died. Harper realises it is time she tried to uncover the truth. The Observer has described this book as “An unnerving and extremely classy thriller.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bedside Table books for August

 

These are a few of the books that landed on my desk recently, and some will be reviewed in full later. – Vivien Horler

Fake History – Ten great lies and how they shaped the world, by Otto English (Welbeck)

Remember the great comeback from Winston Churchill when British Labour MP Bessie Braddock him: “You’re drunk!” To which he replied: “And you’re ugly, but in the morning I’ll be sober.” Apparently Boris Johnson, Britain’s current prime minister and a great Churchill fan, has identified the very spot in Westminster where the exchange took place. But journalist Otto English says it probably never happened. It was first related by English writer Augustus Hare in his diary about an encounter between two unnamed British MPs in 1882, when Churchill was eight years old and Braddock not yet born. This is just one of English’s fake-history put-downs in this fascinating book that exposes myths of World War II, the adventures of Christopher Columbus (who never set foot on the continents of north or south America), the belief that Britain’s royal family is German, that Abraham Lincoln believed all men were created equal and that ancient people thought the Earth was flat (they knew it wasn’t).

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ top 25 books for August.

 

Afraid of the Light, by Douglas Kennedy (Hutchinson)

Veteran novelist Douglas Kennedy, who has been described as the “maestro of family noir”, has written about one of big divisive issues of our time: abortion. An Uber driver has to drop off a retired professor at the abortion clinic where she volunteers, and is caught up in a violent vortex of protest. Afraid of the Light is described as “a novel of high suspense and considerable moral complexity”.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ top 25 books for August.

 

 

Two Women in Rome, by Elizabeth Buchan (Corvus)

Lottie is an archivist at Britain’s National Archives at Kew when she meets Tom at a wedding. He lives in Rome, and within nine months persuades her to marry him. A whole new life beckons for Lottie when she secures a job as an archivist in the eternal city. She discovers a valuable 15th century painting, and decides to explore the life of Nina Lawrence, the woman who left it behind. Nina had gone to Rome after World War II to restore gardens that had been devastated by war. But when she died in 1978 no one attended her funeral and Lottie is puzzled by this. She uncovers a complicated love story set in the turmoil of post-war Italy, and what she finds will come to affect her own future. Elizabeth Buchan is a best-selling prize-winning British novelist and Two Women in Rome looks like a wonderful read.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ top 25 books for August.

The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Bloomsbury)

Twenty-six-year-old Nella works as an editorial assistant at a New York publishing company. But the job isn’t great in that she’s the only black employee, and she becomes tired of loneliness and what she sees as her colleagues’ micro-aggression. And then Hazel, another black woman, joins the staff, and Nella is delighted. They hit it off, but a series of events follow which leave Nella under a cloud of opprobrium while Hazel is seen as the office darling. Shortly after this, nasty notes appear on Nella’s desk saying she should resign. Is Hazel writing them? What is going on? Soon Nella realises there is more than her career at stake. This novel has been described as “dark, funny and furiously entertaining”.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ top 25 books for August.

 

Comrade Editor – on life, journalism and the birth of Namibia, by Gwen Lister (Tafelberg)

Anyone who followed the news of the struggle in Namibia in the 1980s would know the name Gwen Lister, who first worked as a journalist in Windhoek with the maverick Hannes Smith on the Windhoek Advertiser and later the Windhoek Observer, and then founded her own newspaper, The Namibian, in 1985. Feisty, brave and intolerant of cruelty, she exposed atrocities of the SA Defence Force during the Border war. She was born in East London, studied at UCT and went to what was then South West Africa when she was just 21as a reporter for the Windhoek Advertiser. This is her account of the tumultuous years of Namibia’s struggle for freedom, and the many dramatic stories that accompanied it.

 

 

 

 

Bedside table choices for July

These are among the books that have landed on my desk this month. Not all have been read yet, and some will have fuller reviews. – Vivien Horler

The Grief Handbook – A guide through the worst days of your life, by Bridget McNulty (Self-published)

At a time of pandemic, when grief stalks the land, Cape Town-based Bridget McNulty has penned a timeous book to help the bereaved cope. Death is always with us, yet most of us have no idea what to do and how to react when someone close to us dies. Her mother was 72 when she started having odd symptoms. A physician diagnosed cancer and just 13 days later her mother died. McNulty, her father and her brothers were knocked sideways. She sought books to help her through, but suffering from the fog of grief she found books on death were either too dense, philosophical or religious. McNulty concedes she is not an expert on grief, but she has consulted many such experts and this slim volume contains suggestions that helped her and will probably help others. For example: treat yourself gently. Eat and go to bed at normal times. Move your body. And don’t question your feelings: what you’re feeling is right for you.

Ougat – From a hoe into a housewife and then some, by Shana Fife (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Writes Shana Fife at the beginning of this memoir: “I promise this book will have all of the elements that make for a real Coloured skinnerstorie.” It’s about growing up on the Cape Flats and the mixed messages passed on to a coloured girl child. The opening lines are: “The very first rule you are given as a Coloured child who has a vagina is that no one is allowed to touch it. Ever. Even with your consent. Especially not with your consent.” Fife, now 30, had two children by different fathers by the time she was 23, and was trying to emerge from a viciously destructive relationship with her second child’s father. At a low point she began writing a blog about who she was and where she was going, and this changed her life. She writes of how toxic masculinity can shape and trap a woman “from the cot to the cot because our whole purposes, from when we are babies, is to eventually have our own babies”. This memoir is shocking, frighteningly honest and disarming.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s 40 top book choices for July.

Unbecoming, by Joanne Fedler (Penguin Books)

In what would usually be called an “Author’s Note” and is here labelled an “Author’s Warning”, SA-born novelist Joanne Fedler says our second life begins when we hit 50 or so and realise: “Shit, I’m running out of time.” This is when we start to question our values and certainties, spouses and friends, and wonder if having kids was worth it. This, she says, is where our second life begins and where this novel kicks off. Jo takes a three-month sabbatical from her life – as a wife and mother – and is invited to join her friend Fiona and her mates on a sacred walk in the Australian bush to mark Fiona’s 57th birthday. Jo isn’t that keen – she doesn’t know Fiona’s friends – but she figures she could manage one night. And then a stranger joins them around the fire in their overnight camp, and there are all sorts of unintended consequences as they ponder life, midlife and truth – ánd, as the cover blurb puts it, wonder what to do with vaginas that are not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s 40 top book choices for July.

Still Life, by Sarah Winman (4th Estate)

I think I chose this novel because it’s by the women who wrote the gorgeous When God was a Rabbit. But this one is not set in Cornwall, it’s set in Tuscany in 1944. Elizabeth Skinner is in her 60s, an art historian and possibly a spy who has come to Italy to salvage paintings from the wreckage of war and remember the time she met EM Forster there. She comes across a young British soldier, Ulysses Temper, and they talk of truth and beauty, a conversation that will affect the rest of Temper’s life, and of those who love him. Still Life looks wonderful, although I wonder why writers dispense with quotation marks.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s 40 top book choices for July.

Lean Fall Stand, by Jon McGregor (4th Estate)

This novel opens with a blast, or more accurately, a blizzard. Doc, Tom and Luke are on an Antarctic research mission and have set off on skidoos from the hut, taking pictures. With the three men barely a few dozen metres apart, a storm sweeps down off a glacier and they are blinded by a white-out. Tom tries to move towards where he believes Luke is, but suddenly there is water ahead of him instead of ice. Something is wrong. This moment has terrible consequences for the men and their families. In a shout on the cover Hamnet author Maggie O’Farrell writes: “A spectacular book… it does what Jon McGregor does so well: examine the widening ripples of a single event. I read it again, as soon as I’d finished it.”

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s 40 top book choices for July.

 

Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead (Doubleday)

This is the story of an air-splitting fictional female pilot ­– think Amelia Earhart – who flies Spitfires during World War II, does dare-devil stunts over the forests of Montana, and who dreams of flying a great circle, a pole-to-pole circumnavigation of the globe. But as she is about to fly the last leg, from Antarctica to New Zealand, she crashes. Interwoven with Graves’s story is that of young Hollywood star Hadley Baxter who, 50 years after Graves’s death, is cast to play Graves in a bio-pic. It turns out the two women have a lot more in common than one would think. This is a novel of freedom, danger and obsession against the sweep of history.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s 40 top book choices for July.

 

Bedside Table books for June

THIS is a selection of books that have been sent to me recently. They have not all been read. Some will be reviewed in full in due course.  – Vivien Horler

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (Chatto & Windus)

The story of the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary is well known. Published by the Oxford University Press, it took many more years than the 10 originally planned, and began in a garden shed grandly known as the Scriptorium. The walls were lined with shelves which housed millions of slips of paper sent in from around the world giving the use and meaning of individual words. In The Dictionary of Lost Words Pip Williams invents a young orphan called Esme who spends her days under the sorting table in the Scriptorium. One day a slip of paper flutters to the floor containing the world “bondmaid”. Eventually Esme realises some words, especially those relating to women and their experiences, somehow never make it into the dictionary. So she starts collecting them for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ 25 recommended titles for June 2021

The Bomber Mafia – ­ a story set in war, by Malcolm Gladwell (Allen Lane/ Penguin)

We’ve all heard of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought World War II to an end. But I didn’t know anything about the incendiary bombing of scores of Japanese cities, including Tokyo, which must have killed hundreds of thousands of people, in the months between March and August 1945. The bombing, by the Americans, was the brainchild of General Curtis LeMay and was springboarded from the Marianas islands which, after they had been wrested from the Japanese in 1944, finally put Tokyo within flying distance of B-29 bombers. And yet all this is not really what The Bomber Mafia is about. It is about a dream that went wrong, and what happens when technology and good intentions collide.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ 25 recommended titles for June 2021

Suitcase of Memory, by A’Eysha Kassiem (Kwela Books)

Cape Town journalist A’Eysha Kassiem has a way with words. This is how she opens this novel, set mainly in Stellenbosch: “The smell of death is always the same – camphor and incense. These are the first hosts that will meet you at the door.” Set during the height of apartheid, the book tells the story of Bastian Bredenkamp, heir to a farm, and a man who has the unusual ability to remember everything that has ever happened to him since birth. And then his heart is captivated by Rashieda. Which is going to make things very tricky indeed.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ 25 recommended titles for June 2021

The Promise, by Damon Galgut (Umuzi)

The Swarts are an ordinary white family, clinging to what they call their farm on the outskirts of Pretoria. The story of their decline is told in four snapshots, each one involving a family funeral, and each one happening in a different decade of South Africa’s recent past. The protagonists get older and life grimmer, and at the novel’s heart is a promise made years ago, and not kept. One reviewer says the prose is “leavened with languid comedy, as thought Galgut had collaborated with Tennessee Williams. The effect is utterly compelling.”

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ 25 recommended titles for June 2021

Empire of Pain – The secret history of the Sackler dynasty, by Patrick Radden Keefe

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Oxycontin: “Oxycodone, sold under the brand names Roxicodone and OxyContin among others, is an opioid medication used for treatment of moderate to severe pain. It is highly addictive and is commonly used recreationally by people who have an opioid use disorder.”  The Sackler family are the owners of Purdue Pharma, the developers of Oxycontin, and this book is about three generation of the family and their legacy. It is said that the company helped spark an opioid epidemic that has killed nearly half a million Americans in the past 20 years.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ 25 recommended titles for June 2021

The Scandalous Times of a Book Louse – a memoir of childhood, by Robert Muponde

Telling stories staves off hunger, which is just as well as Father doesn’t have a job and Mother’s miserable maize plants aren’t going to feed many. This is a coming-of -age novel set in Gushure Village, in rural Zimbabwe in the period from the Second Chimurenga to independence, and according to the cover, features malevolent mermaids, eccentric shamans, outrageous relatives, fearsome teachers and men who transform hippos.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’ 25 recommended titles for June 2021

 

Go Away Birds, by Michelle Edwards (Modjaji Books)

Go Away Birds is a lovely read about Skye, a young woman who’s more or less lost the plot. She is suffering from grief for a loss she has never been able to talk about, not even to her husband Cam. She and he own a restaurant in Cape Town, but then an unwise remark in a magazine interview upends the business. Meanwhile during a Christmas with Cam’s family at Misty Cliffs, things unravel. Skye flees back to her family home in Mpumalanga, where her decidedly strange mother is running writing retreats and is possibly going bankrupt. Her brother is deeply suspicious of what is going on and is in some trouble too. Skye is convinced her marriage is over, and there is a rather nice chap on the farm next door, but things go awry there too. Maybe it’s time for her to stop running. Set in modern South Africa, the novel is nuanced and warm.

Midlife Money Makeover, by Kim Potgieter (Tafelberg)

Most of us worry about money. And we especially worry about whether we will have enough money to retire on. In her introduction Kim Potgieter, a financial planner, says starting to think about your money at 60 is too late (so that’s me, then) and she adds: “The earlier you start, the more options you have.” She says her book is a call to action, a reminder that one’s second chapter is a chance to create one’s best life. Midlife, she says, is the perfect time to pause, tune in and decide what you’re going to do next.

Bedside Table books – April

THIS is a selection of books that have been sent to me recently. They have not all been read. Some will be reviewed in full in due course.  – Vivien Horler

The Trial of Cecil John Rhodes, by Adekeye Adebajo (Jacana)

Imagine if Cecil John Rhodes returned to Africa in the present day to be interrogated by some of those on whose lives he and his cohorts had such devastating effect. This is the theme of the short novel by Professor Adekeye Adebajo, a former Rhodes Scholar and currently the director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg. It is set over five days in an African Hereafter. He is accused by Two Counsel for Damnation – Olive Schreiner and Stanlake Samkange – and defended by two Counsel for Salvation – Nelson Mandela and Harry Oppenheimer, while the seven judges include Ruth First, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Patrice Lumumba and Maya Angelou.

The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse (Bantam Press)

Elin Warner is a detective who has gone to an isolated hotel in the Swiss Alps to celebrate her estranged brother’s engagement. As soon as she arrives in the building, once a sanatorium, she feels uneasy. Her brother is behaving oddly, and a mighty storm is threatening. The next morning, as the storm hits, the guests wake to find the fiancée, Laure, is missing. Because of the weather, no one can come or go. And then it turns out another woman is missing.

This novel has been described as “an absolutely splendid Gothic thriller”, chilling, creepy and compulsive.

Win, by Harlan Coben (Century)

A rich family’s home is burgled, and heiress Patricia Lockwood is abducted. The girl escapes, but no one is ever arrested; nor are the stolen items recovered. Twenty years later, at a New York murder scene, a Vermeer painting and a leather suitcase with the initials WH3 are found. The suitcase had belonged to Win Horne Lockwood III and the Vermeer to his family, and now he wants some answers. The FBI have no clues, but Win decides to investigate.

I love Harlan Coben books and I’m not alone. A shout on the cover from Lee Child says the author “never lets you down”, while another describes him as “the absolute master of huge twists and turns”.

 

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House, by Cherie Jones (Tinder Press)

My great-grandmother had a way of dealing with her naughty granddaughters. Having caught them in some sort of mischief, she would look at them solemnly and say: “I knew a little girl who died doing that.”

This is the same tactic Wilma, of Baxter Beach, Barbados, uses on her granddaughter. When 13-year-old Lala is out late, Wilma tells her the story of the one-armed sister, the girl who defied her mother and went into a tunnel in the garden where a monster grabbed her and pulled off her arm. Lala is not impressed by the story, but years later realises, after losing a baby and marrying the wrong man, it is actually one of hope. And then there’s Mira Whalen, whose husband has been murdered and who never heard her tell him she loved him.

Everything is Beautiful, by Eleanor Ray (Piatkus)

Amy is a bit odd. She is cool and efficient at the office and something of a hoarder at home. In fact soon there won’t be any room for her among the pretty wine bottles and piles of newspapers, the terra cotta pots, the chipped china bird. Amy has been like this for 11 years, since her world fell apart – saving things that most other people would throw away. And then a family move in next door, and Amy’s life starts to change again. Everything is Beautiful is described as the sort of book lovers of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine would enjoy.

 

 

It’s Not Inside, It’s on Top – memorable moments in South African advertising, by Khanya Mtshali (Tafelberg)

Remember the famous Cremora ad, where the hapless husband is peering into the fridge for milk for his coffee, and his wife yells: “It’s not inside, it’s on top!” In this collection of essays on TV ads Khanya Mtshali has taken what I think is a rather scholarly look at the advertising industry and some of its more memorable moments, mainly made in the post-apartheid era. The ads she writes about include Kulula, Nando’s, Castle Lager and the chummy multi-racial beer gatherings, and the Vodacom “Yebo Gogo” offerings. In a shout on the cover Richard Poplak calls her comments “hilarious, incisive, caustic and surprisingly human”. I didn’t laugh much, but the book is an interesting look at the culture of our advertising. I was irritated by the “woke” style convention of using caps for Black and Coloured people and lower case for whites, but I understand this is a growing international trend in journalism and publishing, following the Black Lives Matter movement. I guess I need to get over myself.

It’s Not About the Bats – Conservation, the coronavirus and how we must re-set our relationship with nature, by Adam Cruise (Tafelberg)

I suspect this is an important book; certainly other reviewers such as Don Pinnock have described it so. Adam Cruise is an investigative environmental journalist and academic, and the academia shows. In the prologue I was rather bogged down by his use of the terms weak and strong anthropocentrism, which basically describe how humans tend to regard nature as something for us to enjoy and control, rather than being vital to the survival of everything on the planet. But with the UN Climate Change Conference looming – it’s due to take place in Glasgow in November – it behoves us all to sit up and take notice. Or as Cruise says: “It is clear, therefore, that a major shift in our attitude and behaviour needs to occur, and without any further delay – otherwise we all might be sharing the fate of the dinosaurs.”

  • All but the last two books are among Exclusive Books’ 25 recommended titles for April 2021.

On my bedside table in March

  • THESE are some of the titles that landed on my desk in the past few weeks. Not all have been read yet, and some will be reviewed in full. – Vivien Horler

The Smallest Man, by Frances Quinn (Simon & Schuster)

At 10 he was the size of a two-year-old, and was sold by his butcher father to a duke. A shilling changed his life. In 1625 Nat Davy was hidden in a pie (it must have been quite a big pie) so he could be given as a gift to the new queen of England. He became her friend and also saved her life. This historical novel was inspired by the life of Jeffrey Hudson, who became court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles 1. In an author’s note Frances Quinn says Hudson was a celebrity, “thanks to his tiny size, doll-like looks and ready wit”.

Girl A, by Abigail Dean (HarperCollins)

Girl A is Alexandra Gracie, one of seven children whose parents kept them locked up as prisoners in what they call the House of Horrors. But one day Lex and her sister Evie escape, which brings an end to their suffering and a jail term for their mother. The novel opens with Lex, now a New York-based lawyer, visiting the prison where their mother has just died. The children have inherited the House of Horrors, which Lex wants to turn into a force for good. But first she has to stop running from the past she and her siblings shared. One of the shouts on the cover describe Girl A as “terrifyingly gripping”.

The Prophets, by Robert Jones jun (riverrun)

Two young male slaves on a Deep South plantation provide the loving mutual warmth that in every other way is lacking in their lives. They look after the animals in the barn, and made the space their home. But then an older slave starts to speak for the master, and the slaves turn on each other, with developing tension culminating in a major reckoning. Author Marlon James describes this novel as “epic in its scale, intimate in its force, and lyrical in its beauty. The Prophets shakes right down to the bone what the American novel is, should do, and can be”.

The Chanel Sisters, by Judithe Little ((H Review)

Coco Chanel said a girl should be two things, “classy and fabulous”. She and her sister Antoinette certainly were. This is a historical novel about Antoinette and Gabrielle (later Coco), who changed the face of French fashion. They were abandoned at a Catholic orphanage as children, but dreamt of a glittering future, and began singing in cafes and music halls. Later in Paris they had a small hat shop on the rue Cambon, the beginning of the Chanel empire and legend. The story is told in the voice of Antoinette.

  • These titles are among Exclusive Books’ 25 recommendations for March 2021.

Books on my Bedside Table January 2021

  • THESE are some of the titles that landed on my desk in the past few weeks. Not all have been read yet, and some will be reviewed in full. – Vivien Horler

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart (Picador)

Encouraging news for anyone battling to get a novel published: fashion designer and writer Douglas Stuart’s debut novel Shuggie Bain was rejected by 32 US publishers and 12 British ones before going on to win the 2020 Booker Prize. The American independent publisher Grove Atlantic took the winning chance on it. Shuggie Bain is set in working-class Glasgow – where Stuart grew up – of the 1980s and 1990s, and the Booker Prize judging panel said it was destined to be a classic.

 

How I Learned to Understand the World, by Hans Rosling (Sceptre)

The late Swedish doctor, academic and public speaker Hans Rosling wrote a bestseller Factfulness in which he proposed that most of us have a dubious and out-of-date view of the world, which is not borne out by the facts. Things are actually better than you’d think. This new book is a memoir, and unlike Factfulness, “is about me” and “very short on numbers”.

 

 

Unconventional Wisdom – Adventures in the surprisingly true, edited by Tom Standage (The Economist Books)

So you think the world’s population is rising uncontrollably (see review above)? Well, according to the United Nations, not. The body has reduced its predictions, suggestion the world will contain a little over 9.7bn in 2050, a total of 37m fewer than it forecast two years ago. One reason is that birth rates are falling faster than expected in some developing countries. This book is full of unexpected and intriguing facts, such as the effect a ghost in a property can have on house prices, why Easter is dangerous for dogs, and why US Republicans eat more meat than Democrats.

six years with al qaeda

Six Years with Al Qaeda, by Stephen McGown, as told to Tudor Caradoc-Davies (Maverick 451)

In November 2011 Steve McGown was on an epic motorbike journey through Africa, riding home from London to Johannesburg. In Timbuktu he was taken captive by Al Qaeda and held in the desert for six years, with no idea whether he would live or die. Thanks to huge efforts of those of at home, including Gift of the Givers, led by the indomitable Imtiaz Sooliman, he survived and came home to his wife  and father, though not his mother who died while he was in custody. He taught himself French and Arabic, converted to Islam and decided to live his life as a better human being.

 

Dark Tides, by Philippa Gregory (Simon & Schuster)

In her Fairmile series, historical novelist Philippa Gregory has moved away from the Tudors to the 17th century and the world of the newly restored monarchy of Charles II. The action takes place between restoration London, Venice and the American frontier, and is a story about love, wealth, and the search for a child. Tidelands was the first in the series, this is the second.

  • All these titles are among Exclusive Books’ recommended monthly reads for January 2021.

 

Great bookish Christmas gift ideas

Reviews: Vivien Horler (mostly!)

If you need last-minute Christmas present ideas, here are some from both recent book parcels I’ve happily received, and from my best books of the year.

I haven’t read all the latest ones, but they look brilliant (see down at the bottom). Most are non-fiction, my favourite  reads, but there are some triffic fiction books too.

NON-FICTION

Saving a Stranger’s Life, by Anne Biccard (Jacana) is a Joburg private hospital doctor’s account of being on the Covid frontline. The experience is tough and exhausting, but the book is frequently both funny and heartbreaking. Great read.

Death and the After Parties, by Joanne Hichens (Karavan Press) is Hichens’ account of surviving the loss of her mother, her husband, her father and her mother-in-law within about three years (the last three within about three months). It’s a h4ear-breaking time, and this is a book very different f5rom Hichens’ usual police thrillers.

Lost without You, by Vinnie Jones (Seven Dials) recounts Jones’ life as something of a bad boy of English football and now a film star (remember Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels?), and his love for his beloved wife Tanya who died after a six-year battle with cancer. This is his memoir of how he is learning to cope.

The Windsor Diaries 1940-45, by Alathea Fitzalan Howard (Hodder & Stoughton) During their teens British princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had a pleasant social life at Windsor Castle – where the British royal family was based during World War 2 to escape Hitler’s bombs – and aristocrat Alathea Howard was one of their friends. Her diaries describe lunches, dances and fun with the princesses, and her anxieties if she thought they had forgotten her.

The Terrorist Album, by Jacob Dlamini (Harvard University Press) is contemporary history about some of the people who featured in a real album of photographs, distributed by the Special Branch to police stations around South Africa, so that police would know who to look for. All you had to do to get into the album was to have left the country illegally. And once you were in the album you were fair game.

My Mother, My Madness, by Colleen Higgs (deep south) and A Childhood Made Up, by Brent Meersman (Tafelberg) are two memoirs by Cape Town writers on growing up with mothers suffering from various degrees of mental illness. Survivors of even the happiest of childhoods probably all carry some resentments, but the experiences of Higgs and Meersman are in a different terrain. These are thoughtful accounts of great suffering on the part of both mothers and their children.

Goodbye Christopher  Robin by Ann Thwaite (Pan) is a much better book than the film of the same name. It is based on Thwaite’s biography of AA Milne (AA Milne: His Life), and is the story of how Milne, a prominent playwright, poet and novelist in the early 20th century, came to write the four children’s books for which he is remembered. In 1952 he wrote: “little thinking/ all my years of pen-and-inking/ Would be almost lost among/ Those four trifles for the young.” More than a half century later, we have to drop the “almost”.

The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton (Harper) is a novel based on the Kindertransport – a bid to save Jewish children from the holocaust by getting permission to send them to England. A Dutchwoman, Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, helped around 10 000 children, three quarters of them Jewish, to flee Austria for England before September 3, 1939. Some grew up to be prominent artists, scientists and politicians, and one, Walter Kohn, won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1998.This is a compelling page-turner.

Homesick: Why I live in a shed, by Catrina Davies (Quercus) describes how Davies has not bought into the salary culture, instead surfing and writing and playing her cello. This means she tends to be, as she puts it, “skint”. She moves into a shed her father owns (the shed, not the land it is on) and describes her battle to stay there. You’re not allowed to live in sheds in England, but the price of accommodation in that country is prohibitive; as she writes: “If food prices had risen as fast as house prices in the years since I came of age, a chicken would cost (about R1 000).”

Seven Votes: How WW2 changed South Africa forever, by Richard Steyn (Jonathan Ball) goes back to the South African parliament’s very close vote to enter World War 2 on the side of Britain. With his fine feel for the current readership of South African history, Steyn has taken the vote drama beyond 1939 to the beginning of apartheid and the stirrings of militant black resistance. (Review: Archie Henderson)

Know My Name, by Chanel Miller (Viking/ Penguin) describes what happens when Miller, then 22, went to a party on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California, drank too much and passed out. She was sexually assaulted by a student, and was launched on a three-year ordeal which upended her life, led to the recall of a judge and saw state law changed. As young people we’ve all made mistakes, but mostly we survive unscathed. Miller did not. Gripping.

Unholy Union – When rugby collided with the modern world, by Michael Aylwin with Mark Evans (Constable) Could Covid hasten the takeover of rugby by professionalism? The authors agree that such a development, if it leads to the extinction of community rugby, would deprive the game of its charms – indeed its soul – and turn rugby from a participation sport into a spectator game. (Review: Archie Henderson)

Beast, by Tendai Mtawarira with Andy Capostagno (Macmillan) tells the story of Tendai Mtawarira, better known as the Beast, a kid from Zimbabwe who came to SA to play for the Sharks. How he then became a world-class loosehead prop is the story told by Andy Capostagno, our best rugby commentator on TV and one of the game’s finest writers. (Review: Archie Henderson)

Dr Abdullah Abdurahman – South Africa’s first elected black politician, by Martin Plaut (Jacana). Medically trained in Scotland and married to a white Scottish woman, Abdurahman came home to District Six both to practise as a doctor and to represent his people in the Cape Town City Council and the Cape Provincial Council. His daughter Cissie Gool frequently disparaged him as an “Uncle Tom”, but he was an indefatigable fighter for black people – of all shades – in South Africa between 1904 and his death in 1940.

 

FICTION

A Time for Mercy, by John Gresham (Hodder & Stoughton) is a delicious legal thriller that I wanted to gobble up. A teenager shoots his mother’s boyfriend dead, after he has attacked her up again and apparently murdered her. But she’s not dead, and the perpetrator is a popular local cop. Can the teenager beat a death sentence? (Apparently in the US 16-year-olds can be tried as adults.)

Love After Love, by Ingrid Persaud (faber & faber) tells the stories of Betty, her son Solo and Mr Chetan on the island of Trinidad. Betty loves Mr Chetan and she also loves Solo, but her love is thwarted at every turn. A wonderful novel about love and longing in a setting not well known to most English readers.

The Sound of the Hours, by Karen Campbell (Bloomsbury) is a brilliant novel based on the people in a handful of Italian mountain villages before, during and after a devastating World War 2 battle. This is one of those novels that will have you turning back to the first chapter after you’ve finished it to absorb the wicked twist in the tale. A beautiful book.

Loves & Miracles of Pistola, by Hilary Prendini Toffoli (Penguin) is the charming novel based on the true story of how around 100 young Italian men came to settle in South Africa shortly after World War 2, having been recruited by the old SA Railways & Harbours to work as waiters on the country’s mainline trains. After a few years many left to open their own Italian restaurants, introducing South Africans to the delights of Italian cuisine.

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press) is based on the short life of Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, who died of some sort of plague. O’Farrell brilliantly recreates Shakespeare’s life and times, and the love between the playwright and his wild and beautiful wife, who stays behind in Stratford while Shakespeare makes his fame and fortune in London.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate) is the final book in the Mantel trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, right-hand man to Henry VIII. It is a fabulous story, detailed and absorbing. Proximity to the king meant great honour and wealth could come your way, but it also exposed you to great danger as two of Henry’s six wives and Cromwell himself experienced. It failed to win the Booker Prize – as its prequels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies did – but it is a great novel. Read all three in order though.

The Inn at Helsvlakte, by Patricia Schonstein (Penguin) is a strange and wonderful tale, shot through with a sense of fable and mystery, and peopled with a motley bunch of circus men, soldiers, a military uniform designer, a transport ride, a woman farrier, her one-legged lover and a foppish man intent on revenge. It is set around the turn of the 20th century in sort-of Namaqualand, and has a plot that is complicated and intricate, swooping forward and looping back, revealing layers of action, love, beauty and peculiarity. Marvellous.

American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins (Tinder Press) ignited a firestorm of criticism because it was written by an American woman who was telling the fictional story of a Mexican refugee and her young son fleeing to the United States. Latinx people based in the US have excoriated the novel on the grounds of cultural expropriation, but it is a terrific thriller that will have you breathlessly turning each page.

UNREAD BUT INTERESTING

Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) This doorstopper – over 900 pages (are Rowling’s editors being too indulgent?) – has had some bad press because it features a cross-dressing serial killer. It is the fifth Cormoran Strike novel and sees Strike chasing a 40-year-old cold case in Cornwall. Rowling says the fundamental story is based on a real case.

Cop Under Cover, by Johann van Loggerenberg (Jonathan Ball). We’ve all heard of  Van Loggerenberg, the dogged SARS investigator who fell foul of the Guptas’ campaign to discredit and derail South Africa’s tax revenue collection service. I haven’t read this one yet, but it looks pretty interesting.

White Tears/ Brown Scars – How white feminism betrays women of colour,  by Ruby Hamad (Trapeze) and Sensuous Knowledge – A black feminist approach for everyone, by Minna Salami (ZED). The Hamad book is described by one reviewer as “An essential guide for those who want to be truly intersectional in their feminism”, while the Salami book is referred to as centering on “the black female body and experience at the heart of global feminist discourse”.

50 People who F***ed up South Africa – the lost decade, by Alexander Parker and Tim Richman, with cartoons by Zapiro. This is a sequel to the book of the same title without the caveat of “the lost decade”, and the shout on the cover says: “It took 350 years to come up with the list of shame for the original” book published in 2010, “but it’s taken only 10 more years to come up with the next 50”. They include Bathabile Dlamini, Jessie Duarte and Gwede Mantashe, John Hlophe,   Julius Malema, Helen Zille, Iqbal Surve, Gavin Watson and, of course, Jacob Zuma and the Guptas.

United We Are Unstoppable, ed by Akshat Rathi (John Murray). Here’s another list of people, but these are 60 inspiring young ones from around the globe who are saving the world. I’m afraid I haven’t heard of any of them (Greta Thunberg isn’t included). There is a South African, Ruby Sampson, 19, a passionate eco-activist who says: “Don’t let your fear stop you, let it unite and drive you.”

Do the Macorona, by Zapiro (Jacana) and Days of our Lockdown Lives by Stephen Francis & Rico. These welcome annuals may seem to be light relief, but usually provide a sharp and pointed look at our country and the way we live. Hooray for Zapiro and Francis & Rico for telling us like it is, but lightly.