Category Archives: Reviews of new books

This category has reviews of the latest books

Saving Ningaloo and other meditations

Review: Vivien Horler

The Boy Behind the Curtain, by Tim Winton (Penguin)

Anyone who has read Tim Winton’s recent novel The Shepherd’s Hut knows that he is a phenomenal writer.

He would seem to be best known in his native Australia for his 1991 novel Cloudstreet, but The Shepherd’s Hut (reviewed by The Books Page on October 14 2018) is the first of his books I’ve read, and I thought it was brilliant.

Which is why I bought The Boy Behind the Curtain, a collection of essays, on a recent visit to Australia.

Winton has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice, and has won the Australian Miles Franklin award four times – that award is named after the author of the delightful and quirky novels My Brilliant Career (1901) and My Brilliant Career goes Bung (1946). Continue reading

The doctor who unravels the deads’ secrets

Review: Vivien Horler

Unnatural Causes – the life and many deaths of Britain’s top forensic pathologist, by Dr Richard Shepherd (Penguin Books)

unnatural causes

Four people were in the vehicle accident which claimed the life of Princess Diana in Paris in 1997, and three of them died.

Paradoxically, according to top British forensic pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd, the princess was the least seriously injured of the four.

The driver, Henri Paul, and the princess’s lover, Dodi al Fayed, were killed instantly. The Al Fayed’s bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, the only person in the car who was wearing a seatbelt, was seriously injured. But Princess Diana was conscious and speaking when the ambulance arrived, and as a result the paramedics concentrated on Rees-Jones.

But what no one knew was that the princess has sustained a tiny tear in a vein deep in one of her lungs, which slowly began to bleed. Continue reading

Astonishing story of an ordinary girl who discovered people had been looking for her for 17 years

Review: Vivien Horler

Zephany, by Joanne Jowell (Tafelberg)

zephanyHow do you cope when you discover, at 17, that you’re not who you thought you were, and nor is anyone else?

One summer day in 2015 Miché Solomon, who was in matric at Zwaanswyk High School in Main Road, Retreat, went to school as usual. Within a couple of hours her entire life, and that of her family, had been turned upside down.

She was informed by her school principal that it was suspected she was Zephany Nurse, the baby who had been stolen from her crib at Groote Schuur Hospital in April 1997. She was told she would have a DNA test to see if this was true, and no, she couldn’t go home. Her mother had been arrested. Her cellphone was taken from her. Continue reading

The SABC8 may have been vindicated, but the battle continues

Review: Vivien Horler

The SABC8, by Foeta Krige (Penguin Books)

sabc8I’ve never met Foeta Krige, but I’ve worked with people like him, and I have an idea about the way he operated.

He was an old-school reporter and editor. You covered the news without fear or favour, assembled the facts, spoke to analysts and gave your subject the right of reply.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to be called to a meeting – as Krige was in 2014 – and told it had been decided the SABC would give no further coverage to the EFF. When Krige protested to Jimi Matthews, head of TV news, that this sort of order was reminiscent of the years of apartheid censorship, Matthews exploded: “Don’t you talk to me about apartheid. You people, what did you do to change things?” Continue reading

Trendy eating, mindful gastronomy, and simple, inspired writing 

Review: Myrna Robins

GREENFEAST by Nigel Slater (4th Estate)

greenfeastLet’s start with the design of this hardback, which does not resemble a cookbook at all. Shocking pink cover, featuring a swathe of gold, a single brushstroke by artist and calligrapher Tom Kemp which, he points out, are not pictures or representing anything, but a small aside to remind readers about the “nature of nature… where ultimately the food in this book comes from”.

Glued on to this hard cover is a half-page, glossy red,  listing author and title on the front, and a photo and quote from the author on the back.

Unconventional. Intriguing. But as every foodie knows, we can rely on Nigel Slater to produce another title that features his simple prose that is English culinary writing at its brilliant best. Seldom prescriptive yet always thorough, so that beginner cooks are guided unobtrusively to success. An occasional command: “Don’t even think of using horseradish from a jar.” Continue reading

Mind matters from a modern cricket thinker

Review: Archie Henderson

The Barefoot Coach: Life-Changing Insights from Coaching the World’s Best Cricketers. By Paddy Upton (Self-published).

barefoot coachPaddy Upton worked with two of the best cricket teams in the world, South Africa and India. He was fitness trainer for the former and mental coach to the latter. Was it any wonder, then, that India won a World Cup and South Africa didn’t?

South Africa’s cricket team, the Proteas, one of the fittest teams in the world, are famous for having lost World Cups in their head as well as on the field. At the most recent World Cup, they lost on both, but that is another story. This is about an extraordinary man who delved deeper into sport than most, and discovered that motivating athletes was no different from doing the same with the athletes of business, a path he is now pursuing.

Upton, a pretty good cricketer himself, had ambitions of becoming a sports scientist, which was how he was recruited by Cricket SA in the first place. He worked with the team during Hansie Cronje’s era as captain, then abruptly left to broaden his horizons beyond sport. This entailed backpacking through Asia and joinning an NGO in Cape Town to work with homeless youths. It opened his eyes to life beyond cricket. Continue reading

The day I met an 18-year-old killer

Review: Vivien Horler

Blood on her Hands – South Africa’s most notorious female killers, by Tanya Farber (Jonathan Ball)

blood on her handsOne late afternoon in 1974, when I was 22, I went with my boyfriend to visit his brother Rob in the boarding house where he lived behind St Paul’s Church in Rondebosch.

Rob hadn’t been in the boarding house long, and his initial relationship with his co-residents was bedevilled by the fact that soon after he moved in, someone’s portable radio had been stolen. As he was the newest resident, suspicion fell on him.

Rob, an engineering student, had also been a victim of crime in the boarding house. He had a pistol, which he kept locked in his wardrobe. One day it disappeared.

We hadn’t been in Rob’s room long when a slim young fellow resident called Marlene strolled in. She had shoulder-length hair, lots of eye make-up, and was wearing a Truworths mini-dress. Continue reading

It wasn’t the restrictions or the tariffs that made us save water – it was panic

Review: Vivien Horler

Day Zero – one city’s response to a record-breaking drought, by Leonie Joubert & Gina Ziervogel (AXA/ Mapula Trust/ ACDI)

day zeroWe may not have heard of the small Canadian town of Gibsons, but they have heard of us.

The west coast town near Vancouver, where the long-running series Beachcombers was filmed, relies on snowmelt and the Gibsons Aquifer for its water. But with climate change increasing temperatures in the area, Gibsons is dealing with a multi-year drought.

So in May this year mayor Bill Beamish issued a challenge to its citizens, asking them to live like a Capetonian for a single Sunday, and see what it is like to manage on 50litres of water a person, instead of the average 250l a person Gibsons’ residents use.

Afterwards Beamish told Cape Talk Radio that the challenge had been a success in that many people had taken part and been made aware of the consequences of unbridled water use.

The possibility of a major city seeing its taps run dry made world headlines.

Continue reading

It’s hard to fight when you’re laughing

Review: Vivien Horler

Marriageology – the art and science of staying together, by Belnda Luscombe (Oneworld/ Jonathan Ball)

marriageologyThere is not much fairytale magic about marriage in South Africa.

In 2016, according to Stats SA, a total of 25 326 marriages ended in divorce. And almost half – 44.4% – of those divorces took place within 10 years of the wedding. Most happened between five and nine years afterwards.

In one case I know of, the couple divorced well before her parents had paid off the wedding.

As we’ve read in dozens of self-help books , marriage has to be worked at, but what exactly does that mean?

Belinda Luscombe, an Australian living and working in New York, has written about and researched marriage for Time magazine for more than 10 years and has picked up some useful information. She has interviewed therapists, sociologists, demographers and researchers, read many studies, journals and books. And she got married. Continue reading

How do you face the world when your grandfather was Verwoerd?

Review: Vivien Horler

Verwoerd – my journey through family betrayals, by Wilhelm Verwoerd (Tafelberg)

verwoerdMost whites with a modicum of sense will acknowledge that almost 30 years after apartheid began to be dismantled, they are still advantaged.

And so are their children, even children born today. It’s what the often tiresome trade unionist and former city councillor Tony Ehrenreich correctly refers to as the apartheid generational advantage.

But what is a white person to do? How do you acknowledge the harm that has been done in your name and that of fellow whites, and move on? Is it possible to move on?

If you’ve ever grappled with this, spare a thought for Wilhelm Verwoerd, grandson of the man often referred to as the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd.

He has found himself torn by his rejection of his grandfather’s beliefs and actions, and his love for his family; despite the subtitle of this painful memoir, it is dedicated to “my family”. How do you reconcile these polar opposites? Continue reading