Friday, May 25, 2007

South Africa

I really enjoyed writing last summer’s list of books and movies, and this summer is off to a fantastic start already. Here are a list of books and movies I’ve read/seen since my trip started just 10 days ago:

The persistence of memory, by Tony Eprile: I actually started this one before I left, and returned it to my advisor before I got on the plane. I’m still looking for a copy here in Jo’burg, with little luck so far.

Age of Iron, by JM Coetzee: I read this one on the plane on the way here. The story was sad in many ways (featured an elderly woman with breast cancer, highlighted difficulties of apartheid), but was also uplifting in the evolution of relationships that grew from those difficulties. It was frustrating to read at times, although it was very well written, and was one of the first (fiction) books I’d read about apartheid. It was a great introduction and I’d highly recommend it. I’m planning on picking up some others by the author before I come home.

“El laberinto del fauno”, by Guillermo Del Toro: I was thrilled to find that this was an option on my trans-atlantic flight. I’d wanted to see it for a long time (since before it came out) and had never had a chance. I was disturbed by parts of it (thank you Franco), but overall I loved it. The monsters were amazing, but not scary to the point that I regretted watching it on the plane. The storyline with the mother was particularly fascinating (wild gender dynamics), and the whole thing was really well done. It made me think but was also beautiful to watch.

“Music and Lyrics,” no idea who directed it: This was another plane ride gem. A trashy movie (it’s the one with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, in case you’re drawing a blank) about a has-been songwriter and budding lyricist that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was funny, had very little to think about, and allowed me to knit a great deal.

Country of My Skull, by Antjie Krog: This was one of my first purchases when I got here. It is a beautiful book, but one that takes a long time to read. It weaves together testimony from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the author’s narrative of reporting on the Commission for SABC, the national radio network. As a white journalist, the author does an incredible job of chronicling her experiences of guilt, anger, empathy, and a thousand and one other emotions she experienced over the course of the Commission. She also records the life of the Commission, as it does take on a life of its own. I must quote André Brink from the back cover of the book and agree that “Trying to understand the new South Africa without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be futile; trying to understand the Commission without this book would be irresponsible.”

Spud, by John van de Ruit: One of the books I bought when I realized that reading about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was making me anxious and preventing me from sleeping well, and definitely a fine choice. This is the first in a series (I will need to import the others) about a boy in boarding school here in South Africa. It takes place in 1990, just as Nelson Mandela is being released from prison and all of the social and governmental changes dismantling apartheid are beginning. It is a hilarious book dealing honestly with not only the incredible changes in the country at large, but in the life of one 14 year old boy. I think I read this in approximately 10 days, trying to convince myself to keep going with Country of My Skull when I was feeling happy enough.

She Plays with the Darkness, by Zakes Mda: This slim novel was a great complement to the South African literature I’d been reading. I’m not sure if the author is from Lesotho, but the book takes place there, and describes the many governmental changes that have taken place there during and since the ending of apartheid. The story centers on a brother and sister. The brother is sent to the lowlands to go to school while the sister remains at home (a decision of the Catholic organization that paid for the schooling - hotly contested by the sister). Their lives never really reconnect after that, and their two different viewpoints present a unique take on the history and culture. I thought this was also a beautifully written book, and hope to pick up a few more by the author before I leave.

I think that’s all for now. I’m in the middle of several others, so there will undoubtedly be more posted soon.

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