Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The rest of the books

Here’s the quick list of the rest of the books I read on my trip.

Coconut, by Kopano Matlwa: This winner of the European Union Literary Award (which is apparently how it got published - it’s a first novel) was not as good as I’d hoped, but was engaging and a fast read. First it follows a black family living in a white suburb, and is told primarily by the adolescent daughter (Ofilwe). Second it tells the story of another young black woman (Fiks) who is living in the township, but working in the white suburb where the other family lives. Her story was significantly better written, and much more compelling. She seemed to have a more authentic sounding voice, though that may have been in part because of the story that was told - Fiks has a much stronger sense of who she is and where she is going than Ofilwe, even if her perspective seems a bit skewed to one who has spent any time in Jo’burg.

Spud: The Madness Continues, by John van de Ruit: This sequel to Spud was just as good as the first one. It hilariously tracks year two of Spud’s boarding school excitement. Notable high points are descriptions of Wombat, Spud’s nickname for his grandmother, and the expansion of his father and maids growing illegal beer brewing business.

A Change of Tongue, by Antjie Krog: This book was written after Country of My Skull, and works with the changes that took/take place with the fall of apartheid and the change in government. Another beautifully written piece, it is also nonetheless difficult to read because of the thought-provoking subject matter and intense-almost-to-the-point-of-being-confrontational-but-not-quite story-telling. I particularly liked the skillful weaving of memories/stories from the youth of the narrator with contemporary anecdotes and stories, similar to Country of My Skull, with the intertwining of the author’s story with the stories of the victims, perpetrators, and other members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Blue Shoes and Happiness, by Alexander McCall Smith: This was purchased in a moment of desperation (needing something happier to read), and sticks out as the only non-South African piece I read on my trip. It also stands out as not being nearly as good as the first “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” book I read. I’m not sure what happened, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much.

Mhudi, by Sol T. Plaatje: After reading lots of contemporary fiction this was a bit of a step back. Originally published in 1930, it chronicles the fierce take-over by the Matabele and the arrival of the Boers. It is also a romance between a strong, independent, and overall amazing woman (Mhudi) and her husband, who life is frequently saved by his wife’s incredible intelligence. I didn’t much care for the meticulous style of this one, but it was interesting to gain insight into another aspect of South African history.

The Whale Caller, by Zakes Mda: Although I think I liked She Plays With the Darkness better, this book was also beautifully written. The liner notes compare Mda to the magical realists of Latin America, but I disagree (perhaps in part because I don’t care for

García Márques). I think that while the magical realists infused realism into magical happenings, Mda seems to take magic and weave it into his work. Even the most mundane thing is infused with a sort of mystical element. I really enjoyed this one, even though it was sad.

Gayle: A History and Dictionary of Gay Language in South Africa, by Ken Cage: This was a bitter disappointment. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was far more entertaining than what I got. While I knew that fully half of the slim, hot pink, 100-page volume was a dictionary, I had hoped an engaging history and discussion in the first 50 pages. Instead it was a dry discussion of linguistics and a brief discussion of some random gay symbols (the rainbow flag, the hanky code, etc), none of which went as deeply as I would have hoped.

Miss Kwa Kwa, by Stephen Simm: I read this one on the plane on the way home, and got it because it looked light and entertaining. For a story centered on sexual predation and violence, it was amazing fun to read. The author has a gift for capturing the voices of his different characters, and the subplot of the older wife is hilarious. (Maybe I just find old ladies funny, as I really enjoyed all of the Wombat stories in the Spud books as well…) All in all, this was a good way to end my trip.

That’s all for now - if you’re interested in borrowing one, let me know!

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