Category Archives: My Book Pile

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

Bedside Table books for June

Here are a few of the books that have landed on my desk in the past month.  Some will be reviewed in full later. All but the first book, Holding my Breath, and the last, The Price of Mercy, are among Exclusive Books’ top 25 best reads for June.

Holding my Breath – Further exploits of an ER Doctor, by Anne Biccard (Jacana)

The furore around the letter by paediatrician Tim de Maayer about the situation at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital has underscored the appalling conditions in which doctors and patients often find themselves in public sector hospitals.

After his cri de coeur open letter he was suspended, later reinstated and it now appears disciplinary action against him is continuing.

Last week another doctor, Dr Aayesha Soni, published an article in the Daily Maverick in which she wrote: “Being a doctor demands incredible emotional resilience and fortitude, as you serve people at their most vulnerable of times.

“Being a doctor in the South African public healthcare sector often means that the emotional reserve required is amplified tenfold.”

She went on: “What is happening at Rahima Moosa hospital isn’t isolated to that hospital — it is a problem that has metastasised throughout the healthcare system in South Africa.

“When people like Dr De Maayer and Professor Ebrahim Variawa come bravely forward to point out the glaring deficiencies in one of the basic building blocks of our society, their pleas should be heard with earnestness.

“What they say is a representation of what most — if not all — doctors in the public healthcare system experience and feel.”

Reading about the experiences of Dr Anne Biccard, an emergency room doctor in a private hospital in Johannesburg, is rough enough — so it’s hard to gauge the horror of conditions in many state hospitals.

This is Biccard’s second book ­— her first, Saving a Stranger’s Life, came out at Christmas 2020 and chronicled the first nine months of the pandemic in South Africa.

This second volume also details the pandemic, but much else besides.

Even in the relatively well-heeled private sector, doctors are worked to breaking point, and various waves of Covid make life very much tougher.

Biccard’s narrative describes cases after case, some bizarre — like the male patient who reported his right nipple had slipped into his armpit, although it was back where it should have been when Biccard examined him — some amazing, and some frankly funny.

She also has a way with words. She writes about the 70-year-old woman with bleached blond hair, breast implants and an overall tan, who “looks like a pickled Barbie doll, and is about as responsive…

“I wonder why so many unconscious people seem to be arriving in the Emergency Department recently. It is like a sardine run of semi-dead people.”

But she makes it clear that being a hospital doctor is hard and emotionally draining.

If you’re interested in what life is like for just one doctor, Holding my Breath is a great read.

My Fourth Time, We Drowned, by Sally Hayden (4th Estate)

This book’s arresting title would stop most people. Then you look at the back cover and see no less a writer and journalist than Christina Lamb, chief foreign correspondent of the London Sunday Times saying of My Fourth Time: “A veritable masterclass in journalism… The most riveting, detailed and damning account ever written on the deadliest of migration routes.”

It is about the experiences of refugees looking for a safe new home in Europe, as well as “negligence of NGOs and corruption within the UN; the economics of the 21st century slave trade, the EU’s bankrolling of Libyan militias; the trials of people smugglers…”

Sally Haden works as the Africa correspondent for the Irish Times, and in 2019 was one of Forbes “30 under 30” media figures in Europe.

I suspect this will be a tough read, but the shouts on the cover could not endorse it too highly. Irish writer Sally Rooney described the book as “the most important work of contemporary reporting I have ever read”.

Trespasses, by Louise Kennedy (Bloomsbury)

I’ve just started reading this one, set in Belfast in the Troubles. Early on there’s a reference to the Dubliners song The Town I Loved so Well, and so I found it on YouTube and read and listened and had a thoroughly pleasant Irish hour.

Cushla, a schoolteacher, meets an older man in the pub her family owns, and is immediately drawn to him. But he’s Protestant and married, she’s Catholic and you sense trouble is on the way. In the meantime she discovers wryly that her eight-year-old pupils’ vocabulary includes words like booby trap, petrol bomb, gelignite and internment.

You sense things will not go well.

Finding Me, by Viola Davis (Coronet)

I had never heard of Viola Davis until this book arrived. Clearly I’m in a minority. She has risen to the top of the American film, TV and stage acting profession, having won an Oscar, a Primetime Emmy and two Tonys, becoming the first African-American to achieve this.

Her background, growing up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, was appalling. She was one of six children, and her father regularly beat her mother in drunken rages. There was no money, often no food, and in the vicious New England winters usually no heating and often no water. She said she and her siblings usually smelt of pee. There were plenty of rats.

School was a relief, even if the children’s smell made other children shun them. There was food and heat and a lot to engage a bright mind.

But for years she felt she was an outsider, that no one saw her. This is a remarkable story.

The Long Road from Kandahar, by Sara MacDonald (HarperCollins)

It is 2007 in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, and Raza, who is supposed to be minding the family’s goats, is firing his wooden gun at the hordes of infidels who have invaded his country. He can’t wait to join the Taliban like his big brothers. But his father has other ideas.

Meanwhile British soldier Ben is on a military base in Lashgar Gah in Helmand Provincie, Afghanistan, wondering if he will survive the war to get home to his family in Cornwall. And his young son Finn is worrying about the state of his parents’ marriage.

Finn goes to stay with his grandma, Ben’s mum, and somehow there Raza and Fin’s worlds collide. They form an unlikely friendship — but can it last?

In writing this novel Sarah MacDonald has drawn on her experiences as a British army wife, a year spent in north Pakistan and her love for Cornwall. This is her eighth book.

The Price of Mercy — A fight for the right to die with dignity, by Sean Davison (Melinda Ferguson Books)

Professor Sean Davison doesn’t need much introduction in South Africa. Born a Kiwi, he is a professor in the department of biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape, and famously the man who helped four terminally ill people, including his own mother, to die with dignity. He is also a founder member of the pro-euthanasia Dignity SA.

In the past week he was freed from five years’ house-arrest after being convicted in the Western Cape High Court of three counts of murder. This memoir describes how he felt when he was arrested, facing the prospect of three life sentences,  how he and his family coped with his house arrest, and the morality of helping desperately ill people to die.

In his foreword, Philip Nitschke, the founder and director of Exit International, says Davison is warm, trusting and kind. But “make no mistake, this is a man of cold steel rail determination”. He adds: “We all deserve a good death. The state must do better than hanging well-intentioned good men like Sean Davsion out to dry.”


Bedside Table books for May

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

Exclusive Books’ top titles for May include a rich selection of books by South African writers, ranging from essays from Haji Mohamed to the latest novels by Mike Nicol and Sarah Lotz and a book of short stories, set in Joburg’s Eldorado Park, by Terry-Ann Adams. Then there are The Boer War in Colour, Richard Steyn’s latest biography Milner, Genius by Bruce Whitfield in which he looks at the stories of amazing individuals, companies and industries, and Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim’s memoir Beyond Fear.

Here’s the Thing, by Haji Mohamed Dawjee (Macmillan)

On a Saturday when my first grandson was three weeks old, my son announced to his wife he was planning to have “an Eric-free day”. She looked at him levelly and told him that wasn’t how it worked.

In this collection of essays, with topics ranging from a letter to her late father to the joys or otherwise of freelance writing and the lessons tennis can teach you, Dawjee writes an acidly hilarious  piece about how no one discusses the horrors of a new baby. Or as she says (and I’m sure my son would agree): “…there is a significant part of you that is filled with… well, at times, regret, confusion and doubt”. She adds: “You may think it’s a tiny body so it will be a small shock – but it is in fact a huge shock; one you are never supposed to talk about…” You are basically not allowed to say: “What the fuck have we done?” She writes that Baby is not a Cabbage Patch doll, content to sit in a rocker while you go about your day. No, “Baby is a seven-month-old who needs to do something but can’t really do anything”. I think I need to introduce my son to Dawjee.

Hammerman – A walking shadow, by Mike Nicol (Umuzi)

I love a new Mike Nicol crime thriller – and this one looks to have everything his fans have come to appreciate. Apparently “hammerman” is a term used by the Cape Town underworld for a hired killer. In this case Hammerman, aka AJ, aka Colonel Andre Jacobs, or “No shit Jacobs” to his subordinates, is waiting on Rondebosch Common for a meeting with a woman. Who’s planning to kill him.

Bodies turn up all over – in the Strandfontein dunes, outside parliament, in a beach house, in a hotel room. Private investigator Fish Pescado discovers that it all ties back to the murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme in 1986.

Looks like a winner.

Impossible, by Sarah Lotz (HarperCollins Publishers)

Impossible is a love story, which starts with crossed emails, and then blossoms. Bee has a company repurposing wedding dresses. She tends to swipe right and never knows if a date will end up as Oh Hell No, Maybe or Shag. Nick is an editor who seems to be married. But they sense an immediate connection and agree to meet under the clock at Euston station.

And then the plot twists and sends us off on a weird, weird journey.

Is this relationship doomed? It certainly seems to be. And yet… One reviewer said: “I blinked and I was 50 pages in. It’s breathtakingly good, it has blockbuster movie written all over it.”

Looks a lot of fun.

White Chalk, by Terry-Ann Adams (Jacana)

The loves and losses of young Eldos people are the theme of this collection of stories. It’s full of vernacular, humour and real-life bitchiness, like Robyn, who goes to the matric dance as an Indian bridegroom, complete with turban, because she wants to be “extra afshowerig”.

And then there’s Laurelle, the belle, who plans to be the Beyonce of the banquet, but who is upstaged by Shanice at the After the After Party, whose boyfriend plays first-team rugby and is gebou aan to hou.

My Mess is a Bit of a Life –Adventures in anxiety, by Georgia Pritchett (faber)

I thought this was going to be a comedy novel but discovered no, it’s a memoir. Georgia Pritchett is a hugely successful British comedy and drama writer with the likes of Succession and Miranda under her belt. She’s won five Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Bafta. So what’s she got to be anxious about?

Well, of course anxiety doesn’t necessarily recognise success. Or you could be anxious about losing that success. Or losing your writing touch. I don’t know.

But having scanned a few pages of this hilarious but dead-pan account, I’d say it’s certainly worth reading. And from her earliest years she had things to worry about. “When I was little I used to think that sheep were clouds that had fallen to earth. On cloudy days I used to worry that I would be squashed by a sheep.”

The No Show, by Beth O’Leary (Quercus)

On the same day, which happens to be Valentine’s Day, three women have set up dates with Joseph Carter. Siobhan is supposed to be having breakfast with him, Miranda’s having lunch and Jane is taking him to an engagement party. But he doesn’t turn up to any of them.

One reviewer described The No Show as “a truly brilliant book. It’s clever and intriguing…” Well I dunno about that, but it would seem to be easy to get into.




Bedside Table books for April

Bedside Table April

These are among the books that landed on my desk this month. All are among Exclusive Books’ top 25 reads for April. Some will be reviewed in full later.

The Man who Loved Crocodile Tamers, by Finuala Dowling (Kwela Books)

We read so many novels set in London or New York or California, and it is a delight to read one set here, in what I call the Shallow South – roughly Lakeside to Muizenberg. Right at the start Finuala Dowling tells us where we are: “The waves this morning were laced with bluebottles and browned by the wind’s relentless churning of kelp beds. Along the catwalk to Kalk Bay and on every available rock, anglers were casting out.” And: “A depressing gale blew yesterday from dawn until well past midnight. I was one of the few people braving Muizenberg beach.”

Gina is an aspiring novelist who works in a call centre. She wants to write a fictionalised story about her father, and it has to be a fiction because she knows so little about him. But she does know he was once engaged to Koringa, a crocodile tamer, and that he is buried in an unmarked grave. She wants to “climb inside my father’s youth, run away to the circus with him, fall in love: that is what I want.” Eventually she uncovers the truth about her father, a complex and ultimately nervous man.

Cape Talk presenter John Maytham said of this novel: “I am the man who loved The Man who Loved Crocodile Tamers. I am the man who loved it very much through many smiles and snorts of uncontrolled laughter and occasional tears.”

Love Marriage, by Monica Ali (Virago)

Yasmin and Joe are engaged. They are young London doctors, in love, and everything seems rosy. Yasmin’s parents might have hoped she would find a nice Muslim boy to marry, but haven’t said anything, possibly because their own match back in Calcutta was a love marriage. But both Yasmin and Joe are worried about what will happen when their parents meet. Yasmin’s parents are traditional and conservative, Joe’s mother Harriet is a wealthy, fiery feminist who once posed naked on her back with her legs akimbo, peering challengingly right into the lens. Years later the picture is of course still out there, and Yasmin’s irritating younger brother has found it and is threatening to show it to their parents. What could go wrong? This is a story of families and cultures and how hard it can be to steer a true course between very different backgrounds. One reviewer said he thought Love Marriage was Ali’s best, and added: “Ali writes like an angel who is not afraid of the devil.”

Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday/Penguin)

This novel, which opens in the early 1960s, has another feminist as its protagonist. Elizabeth Zott was once a research chemist whose all-male co-scientists didn’t believe in equality. Life takes some unexpected turns which include a relationship with another scientist, and Elizabeth ends up as a single mother and the reluctant star of an American cooking show, Supper at Six. Her scientific approach –  “combine one tablespoon of acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride” – proves to be wildly popular with viewers. She is bold, uncompromising, and never bothers with tiny cucumber sandwiches, little soufflés or jokes. But the viewers love her – even President Lyndon Johnson loves her. Every programme ends with her signature catchphrase: “Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself.” But the concept of mothers needing time to themselves doesn’t please everyone: along with teaching women to cook, she’s also daring them to challenge social norms. TV cook and cookery writer Nigella Lawson wrote of this novel: “I am devastated to have finished it.”

Young Mungo, by Douglas Stuart (Picador)

Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for his depressing but brilliant debut novel Shuggie Bain, about a young boy growing up in an utterly dysfunctional and poverty-stricken family in Glasgow. Stuart has returned to the city in his second novel Young Mungo, a story of love between two young men, one Catholic and one Protestant in a city divided along sectarian lines. If Mungo and James want to be seen as proper men at all they should be enemies, and yet they have bonded over Jame’s prize racing pigeons. They have to hide their love, especially from Mungo’s brother Hamish, a local gang leader. Will they be able to find a future far away from the grey drizzly city and the threat posed by people’s intolerance towards gay men?

A Terrible Kindness, by Jo Browning Wroe (faber)

It is October 1966 and 19-year-old William is attending a swanky dinner-dance in Nottingham to mark his graduation from embalming college. During the speeches a waiter hands the speaker a telegram. “Embalmers needed urgently at Aberfan. Bring equipment and coffins.”  Shortly after 9am the previous day a waste tip from the Merthyr Vale colliery, loosened by two days of heavy rain, slipped down the mountain to the village of Aberfan and engulfed Pantglas primary school and two rows of houses. Within two hours some children were pulled out alive, but after that there were just bodies – more than 140 of them. Working in Aberfan will be William’s first job, and it is one that will remind him of memories he has tried to bury. But he discovers that his compassion towards others ultimately helps to heal himself. British novelist Rachel Joyce said of this book: “It’s a long time since I’ve read a debut novel that moved me so much.”


Bedside table books for March

These were the books that landed on Vivien Horler’s desk this month. Some may be reviewed in full later. The top four are among Exclusive Books’s top choices for March.

Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson (Michael Joseph)

Black cake is a type of fruitcake made at Christmas in the Caribbean, featuring blackened sugar, dried fruit soaked in red wine and rum, preferably for months, as well as candied citron, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. It is reportedly a mission to make. And black cake is a recurring theme in this family saga of love and loss (and a bit of murder) set partly on an unnamed Caribbean island, the UK and eventually in southern California. When Eleanor Bennett dies a widow, she has been estranged from her daughter for eight years. Before the funeral brother and sister are summoned to a lawyer’s office and told their mother’s last wish was for them to hear the truth about where they come from and their family history. This truth is expressed in a recording made by Eleanor over many hours, and it turns the adult children’s world upside down.

I’m halfway through this and loving it.

Serpent Crescent, by Vivian de Klerk (Picador Africa)

The cover blurb is promising: retired English teacher Megan Merton lives in the small Eastern Cape town of Qonda, where the power and water supplies are unreliable and the municipal dump spews noxious fumes. Merton lives in Serpent Crescent, and is very nosy about her neighbours, to the extent she goes through their rubbish. She is also a self-confessed sociopath who believes in administering small secret punishments to people who offend her sense of justice. And she’s decided to write her memoirs.

When a neighbour suffers a stroke and ends up in a care home, Merton gets the keys to her home to keep an eye on it. This gives her a really good chance to snoop. She visits the neighbour in the care home, and over time the two women develop an unlikely relationship.

The cover blurb refers to the book’s hilarity, sharp observations and brilliant acerbic satirical wit, but Merton is such an unpleasant creature the book is hard to read. On page 39 Merton says: “I hope my ‘confessions’, recounting all my own unpleasant stuff, are not becoming unbearable, because I still have a long way to go…”

Oh dear. Presumably she gets her come-uppance eventually, but do I care enough to press on?

The Couple at the Table, by Sophie Hannah (Hodder & Stoughton)

Six couples are staying at an exclusive honeymoon resort when one woman gets a note of warning: “Beware of the couple at the table nearest to yours.” But the tables are equidistant. What can it mean?

Later however Jane Brinkwood is found stabbed twice, and police have no leads. Could it have been Lucy, whose husband William left her for Jane? Could it have been William? Or was it a stranger who broke into the complex? But no one has been picked up on the security cameras.

This looks like fun.


Greenlights – your journal, your journey, by Matthew McConaughey (Headline)

Matthew McConaughey is an Oscar-winning American actor who, a few years ago, took a couple of months off to write a memoir based on diaries and journals he had kept from the age of 14. He described it as a collection of “stories, prayers, poems, people and places and a whole bunch of bumper stickers”, one of which read: “Sometimes the guest list needs to be for one. You.”

It was published in October 2020, debuting  at No 1 on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list. Reviews have been mixed, from “stuffed with vaporous, circular proverbs” to “truly entertaining”.

When I chose this volume from the Exclusive Books top books for March, I hadn’t realised the memoir was two years old. I thought I was getting the memoir – what I got was essentially an empty journal, with handy aphorisms perched on blank pages, such as: “Knowin the truth, seein the truth, tellin the truth are all different experiences. What’s a truth you know, a truth you’ve seen, and a truth you tell? What’s a truth you live by?”

In his introduction to this empty journal, he says his journals helped him to understand who he was now, and who he wanted to be tomorrow. He adds: “This is your journal. This is your story. Write it. Just keep livin.”

Not sure what the Gs at the end of words have done to offend him.

Thrown Among the Bones – My life in fiction, by Patricia Schonstein (African Sun Press)

Acclaimed Cape Town author Patricia Schonstein has ventured away from fiction in this memoir in which she provides the backstory to her seven novels, which include Skyline, about Long Street, The Apothecary’s Daughter, A Quilt of Dreams and the brilliant The Inn at Helsvlakte. The text is accompanied, in the form of endnotes, with brief extracts from the novels.

In an author’s note she writes: “They illustrate how my own life, together with the ficitious worlds I’ve fabricated, correspond with each other, acting as mirrors, allowing deconstruction and reconstruction of real events, in order to fathom the complex arena into which I was born.”

She had some rich material to work from: born to a Jewish Holocaust escapee and an Italian Catholic mother, she ended up being educated in a Dominican convent in what was then Rhodesia.

She writes: “These two great religions would predispose me to seeing life through the eyes of a magic-realist. Their repertoire would alert me to the polarities of Heaven and the Underworld, Light and Dark, Angels and Demons, the Real and the Preposterous.”

This looks fascinating.

Death on the Trans-Siberian Express, by C J Farrington (Constable)

I mentioned this novel last month before I’d read it and now I have. It has a great deal of charm and humour, but I’m afraid I got bogged down in the minutiae of the plot, and I think the plethora of Russian names didn’t help.

But there were two bits that I thought were brilliant, and want to share them.

The first sees the hero, Olga, being driven home on snowy roads by Glazkov, who has been drinking. “But that wasn’t unusual on a Saturday in Kemerovo Province. The joke was that you could spot drunk drivers because they drove in a straight line; the sober ones wove from side to side to avoid the potholes.”

And then in the pub Fyodor the Dreamer ponders which is a better system of dictatorship: a tsar or an all-powerful president. When his drinking mates tell him they don’t need some “hoity-toity ponce in a crown” telling them what to do, he counters: “But that’s exactly what Russians do need.”

Fyodor explains the problem is that presidents are chosen by election, which gives them legitimacy. “Presidents can do anything they like, because it’s the will of the people. But a tsar has to remember … what happened at the House of Special Purpose in Ekaterinburg, when the Romanovs perished from the Earth. A tsar, in short, has to tread carefully. Can you say the same of our glorious President Putin?”

This was of course written well before the events in the Ukraine.

Thrown Among the Bones, by Patricia Schonstein (African Sun Press)


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.