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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

“My mother died seven times before she gave birth to me” – an excerpt from Mohale Mashigo’s acclaimed The Yearning

How long does it take for scars to heal? How long does it take for a scarred memory to fester and rise to the surface? For Marubini, the question is whether scars ever heal when you forget they are there to begin with.

Marubini is a young woman who has an enviable life in Cape Town, working at a wine farm and spending idyllic days with her friends … until her past starts spilling into her present. Something dark has been lurking in the shadows of Marubini’s life from as far back as she can remember. It’s only a matter of time before it reaches out and grabs at her.

The Yearning is a memorable exploration of the ripple effects of the past, of personal strength and courage, and of the shadowy intersections of traditional and modern worlds.

‘A bewitching addition to the current South African literary boom. Mohale Mashigo tells her story with charming lucidity, disarming characterisation, subversive wisdom and subtle humour.’ – Zakes Mda.

Mashigo will be at this year’s Open Book Festival.

Read Chapter One here:

My mother died seven times before she gave birth to me. I am grateful for that corpse that somehow always seemed to resurrect itself. My father is gone but his smile is alive on my brother’s face. There is no life without death; the two rely on each other and we rely on them both for our purpose. A new mother knows her purpose when she holds her baby within her and in her arms for the first time. A man’s work has its purpose in death, as part of his legacy. Why then do we love the one and despise the other? Why do we sacrifice so much of the present to hide the past? Why do we take away the future’s knowledge of itself in order to make the past seem perfect? My brother only knows a father when he looks in the mirror. The Yearning haunts him. My mother turns away from the traditions of the past. The Yearning confuses her. I speak as only half of myself. The Yearning hurts me. The life in me came at the cost of another’s but I refuse to apologise for that. A part of who I used to be has vanished and I’m now faced with the possibilities of who I could be. The Yearning never stops till we embrace everything that brought us here. In our quiet denial, The Yearning devours us.

THE NAME
My grandmother often says she regrets giving me my name. ‘Children always live up to their names. And you did more than live up to yours.’ She shakes her head sadly and laughs as she says this. It is an unbelievably hot day in Soweto and Nkgono is on one of her rare visits to us. She has never been shy to share her dislike for Soweto. ‘My child ran away to be here. I don’t like this place. I never will.’ Nkgono was always laughing, even when saying things that seemed tragic.

‘Your mother was having a difficult pregnancy and you took a long time to arrive,’ she would tell me. ‘Such a stubborn child!’

I loved listening to my Nkgono tell the story of the day I arrived.

‘Your father had been driving like a crazy man. Your mother decided at the last minute that she wanted me with her. It was a long way back from Pietersburg and he didn’t want to risk missing your birth. I also wasn’t comfortable with my only daughter being left alone with that ngaka aunt Thoko of your father’s at such a time. That’s the reason I didn’t complain about his driving. Your Ntatemoholo had also wanted to be there, but I didn’t want my plants and animals left all by themselves. He was the only person I trusted with my plants.

‘Shelling peanuts was the only thing that kept my mind off how fast we were going. Jabu was anxious; new fathers always are. The silence hung between us until we pulled into the dusty yard of the four-roomed house your parents lived in.

‘Your mother Makosha was sitting on the stoep, grinding away at a stone with her teeth. My poor daughter − she looked absolutely uncomfortable with a fully baked baby inside of her. We thought for sure you were going to be a boy, because of the way she was so ugly. Thoko was boiling something smelly in the kitchen, so I sat out on the stoep.

‘“Ma, I’m scared.” That was all your mother said to me. Thoko stopped staring into the brewing smelliness and came over to greet me: “This grandchild of ours wants to stay the entire ten months.” Jabulani busied himself with carrying my bags into the second bedroom, while we mocked Kosha about how ugly you were making her.

‘The Soweto people were complaining that it was too hot; I live in the heat, grow food in it and have even raised a child under that relentless sun. Thoko said it would rain soon. There was not a cloud in the sky but I believed her. Your mother had just started her garden. The sun was not allowing it to flourish. “There hasn’t been rain in weeks. That is rare for Joburg summer,” was Makosha’s explanation for the state of her sad garden.

‘Thoko brought Makosha the smelly brew in a cup and sat down next to me. The three of us just sat there staring at the pathetic garden in silence. Thoko looked at me and said, “I was telling Makosha that Jabulani can help the baby come, but she doesn’t believe me.” I smiled because Makosha hated talking about sex with me. She knew exactly what my response to Thoko’s statement would be. “Oh please, Mam’Thoko don’t get my mother started,” she said, with red gravel in her mouth. She craved the taste of earth more than anything when she was pregnant with you. I smiled and pulled peanuts out of my pocket. Thoko was saying exactly what I had told your mother. Just before your father came to fetch me I was telling one of my neighbours that sex was what would bring you into this world a lot faster than anything else. Sex brings babies into the world all the time.

‘“Ma, the nurses at the clinic told me that I must just walk and that will help.”

‘“Walk to where? You trust the nurses over me, even when thousands of mothers have trusted me with their daughters?”

‘“Hai Maria, you know children never trust their parents,” Thoko said, signalling to her daughter-in-law to drink the concoction. Makosha put the cup down and tried to stand up. Her dress was wet.

‘“The baby is coming … Jabu!” Eehhh this child of mine! Sitting with women who are there to help her deliver and she calls out for her husband. Jabu came running out of the house but Thoko waved him away and helped me take your mother into the bedroom. Hooo the scene your mother made! She was crying for her husband, acting like she was the first woman in the world ever to give birth. Thoko grabbed hold of her face and looked her in the eyes. “This is not a man’s place. Those pains are going to get worse but you and your baby know exactly what to do, sisi.” That seemed to calm her some. I was standing by the window in the second bedroom that Thoko had prepared for us to sleep in. “Don’t worry, wena Thoko, that stubborn child is not coming any time soon. Let Makosha shout until she can’t.”

‘Eventually your mother stopped crying and we told her exactly what was going to happen. Things she had already heard but was suddenly fearful of. What happened next is something nobody can
explain. I knew you were ready to emerge, and the room suddenly grew dark. Thoko stood by the window and said it was starting to rain. There is no way of knowing this for sure, but I felt the rain hit the ground the same moment you crowned. The stubborn baby turned out to be a girl. Your mother took one look at you and started crying again. You had finally arrived and you were alive, breathing, screaming, humming and beautiful.

‘I always tell people that you just slipped out with no fuss and nonsense. Your mind was made up and you stepped out with nothing but the past behind you. You looked like a queen from an ancient civilisation, so regal and certain. That’s why I gave you that name: Marubini. You were a new beginning for us who had lived long lives and needed respite. Marubini is where our past lies, the place of old from where we once came. You emerged and brought us into the future. Thoko loved the name and nobody objected to me giving you that name. Jabu wanted his first child to have only one name and that’s why we didn’t give you a “school” name too.

‘Your father, Marubini … what an incredible man. Jabu never doubted himself. Once his mind was made up there was no discouraging him. Heh, he is the person who brought my child back to me! Ei, your mother was so troublesome you know? She just left home. Did what all girls who have too much power and not enough sense do: ran away from what she thought was the problem. Then one day she stepped out of your father’s car, unsure whether we would welcome her back. Well, you know Peter doesn’t know how to stay angry. He was just glad that his only daughter was back home finally.

‘Jabulani introduced himself and said he was returning our daughter to us so one day he could ask for her to be his wife. That day you were born, you wouldn’t stop crying once you had started. But when your Mama held you, then you stopped. The past was really behind us. Everything changed once you were born. The summer rains fell and Makosha started paying attention to her garden. That same garden that was dry and dying … The rain that you brought with you revived the garden and your mother’s love for gardening.’

I can’t say for sure how much of Nkgono’s story is true. But I liked hearing it. Every year on my birthday, she still calls to tell me the story of how her daughter gave birth ‘to a beautiful but stubborn granddaughter’. We all have the desire to be special. The story of my birth made me feel extraordinary. I was born and I revived my mother’s love for gardening. The little garden that was saved by my rain became her florist business that kept our family alive. I am blessed to have matriarchs who hold their own even when the ground falls from beneath their feet. But even the sturdiest trees fall if the wind is strong enough. My father’s death devastated my mother and the child she was carrying at the time. Her ability to cultivate couldn’t save her garden. It seemed like every tear that was shed took life out of the plants and vegetables in our backyard. The soil dried up and nothing grew there again while we lived in that house. Luckily my little brother didn’t suffer the same fate as the garden. As soon as Simphiwe was born, I felt like he was mine. That may seem a strange sentiment for a little girl to have, but it was obvious that Ma didn’t want to get too close to him, not in the beginning. He came out light yellow-brown like my father, not deep brown like me and Ma. He was too much of something she had lost. So I helped Gogo Thoko look after him while my mother went to work, or lay in bed looking out the window.

Even though she kept him at a cautious distance, I knew Ma loved Simphiwe. Sometimes when she came home from work she would sit down in the kitchen and just hold him; smell his hair and kiss his little fingers. Gogo Thoko would spend the day with Simphiwe while I was away at school. My first years of school were horrible. I cried most mornings because I just wanted to be at home. I was so used to spending week days at home with my Ntatemoholo, my mother’s father. While other children were at crèche, I was with my grandfather. Gogo Thoko said that it was okay to cry because I had lost my grandfather and father in such a short space of time. ‘Kodwa, the crying has to stop eventually, Marubini.’ I really didn’t want to cry. In the evenings I was content to wait for Ma to fetch me at Gogo’s house after work. Then we would take a taxi home and Ma would have her time with Simphiwe in the kitchen, kissing his fingers and counting stars on his toes. She would put him on her back and go outside to work at reviving her garden.

The house was very quiet when Ma and Simphiwe were in the garden. The TV would be on but it may as well have been off because I couldn’t concentrate. I came to prefer the silence, just sitting and watching Ma outside trying very hard to get her garden back to its previous state. But it was futile. Baba died and so did the garden. All we had was sadness and anxiety. Ma went to bed with it and I woke up in its arms. I would be washing myself in a big metal dish while Simphiwe was getting his morning bath, all the while reminding myself that school was not a bad place and that Ntatemoholo and Baba would not like to know that I was crying for no reason. As soon as the minibus taxi stopped outside my school the panic would set in. Lwambo was the man who drove the minibus that took me and the other kids to school and back. Everyone was used to my tears by now so they just ignored me. I didn’t mind because I craved to be left alone. Ma would stand at the door waving until we turned the corner. The further we got from home, the sadder I became. By the time we arrived at the school I would be crying quietly. But the crying didn’t remain quiet for long. It became a full-scale meltdown as we were sitting down for the lessons to start. Ma enjoys telling Simphiwe how his sister ‘almost became a primary school dropout’ because the teachers were tired of my tears.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about these old things now. The words in the report I’m supposed to be working on have started blurring. At this point there is no use pretending any useful work will be done. My apartment is quiet, the TV off as usual. Muffled laughter and unfamiliar voices filter through the walls from next door; my neighbours seem to be having a dinner party. Fridays are a break from my usual steamed vegetables and fish dinners. The plan was for Pierre to come over but judging from the lack of communication he is probably working late at the restaurant again. How did a smart girl like me get stuck with a man who never has time for anything but work?

I sit alone at the table, thinking back to the day we met. I had just started my job at De Villiers Wines and everything was new. Not only was I feeling completely inadequate, but my colleagues were constantly questioning my presence. I had only lasted a year in advertising, in a job I had come to hate. That ivory-tower world made me feel far removed from people. The clients were okay, if you didn’t mind them throwing their weight around, reminding you that your job wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for ‘the budget’. It was the people I had to work with that finally made me quit. Most of them thought that taking a two-hour Township Tour that ended at a tourist-friendly drinking spot was a good way to get to know the ‘target market’. It didn’t help that all too often the ‘target market was me, my family and the people I knew. I grew tired of being accused of ‘overreacting’ and ‘reading too much’ into the crappy campaigns. My colleagues had stopped asking for my opinion, even on campaigns that I was involved with. They just couldn’t get why I would object to the fact that black people were portrayed dancing; why would they be dancing, when the advert was for tea?

One day during lunch break I just started looking for new jobs. There was no point in staying on in advertising; we weren’t meant for each other. I didn’t know anything about wine when I applied for the vacancy in the wine farm’s marketing department. De Villiers Wine needed to put some ‘colour’ into their team, so they hired me. I spent two weeks following the wine from seed to bottle and distribution. Eyes and doubts followed me around the tiny office. All my preconceptions about people stomping grapes to make wine were shattered. Winemaking was actually a very technical and scientific business. I immersed myself in the world of wine. No time to eat or sleep much. I was working for one of the country’s oldest and most established wine farms. The pressure was beginning to consume me. It was the worst possible time to organise a birthday dinner for a friend.

‘Nobody here yet? Am I early?’ The birthday girl, Unathi, stood in the foyer, clutching at the hem of her party dress. Her long legs couldn’t keep still, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. As the designated organiser of this celebration, I smiled to show her that everything was going to be just fine. I didn’t blame her for sounding anxious. I’d arrived late because Stellenbosch is far away from Cape Town and I’d been locked into a late afternoon meeting that had gone on for far too long. Unathi was already there when I arrived. True to her usual panicky nature, the first thing that came out of her mouth was ‘Aphi ama-lady? Where is everyone?’

Unlike me, my best friend is super-organised. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t just remember your anniversary but sends you a reminder to get your partner ‘that thing he mentioned he wanted that day we met’.

‘Unathi, calm down, it’s not even 7.00 yet. They’ll be here. Some of us work for a living, you know.’

My stay-at-home-mom friend wasn’t at all hurt by my outburst. It just rolled right over her. We seated ourselves at the bar of La Cuisine, her favourite restaurant in Mouille Point. She ordered a fruity cocktail for herself and a glass of wine for me. An overly chatty waitress showed us to our table and my head started pounding; there were only four chairs at the tiny table. I had my back to the birthday girl but I knew she was wringing her hands. With my business smile fixed to my face, I explained the situation to Ms Chatty. She didn’t seem to understand the enormity of the error. Ms Chatty didn’t get the chance to do more than mumble inaudibly before she was cut off by my demand to see the manager ‘immediately!’. At this point Unathi was looking around nervously, suspecting, correctly, that I was about to make a scene. She moved closer to me and said, ‘Please, Rubi, don’t.’ I put my overloaded handbag down on the table and counted to ten, something Unathi recommended I should do whenever I felt that I was going to lose my cool.

I was on my seventh recount when a calming male voice greeted us: ‘Good evening, ladies, I’m so sorry about the mix-up.’ As soon as the voice appeared, things started to happen around us: tables were re-assigned, extra chairs brought up and in moments we were being led to our new, much bigger table.

Unathi was busy putting away the tissue that she had ready in her hand, just in case things went from bad to worse and she couldn’t control her tears; that girl is always prepared. I was looking back towards the door where our party had, thankfully, started to arrive when a hand was extended towards me across the table. It belonged to the owner of the calming voice, who turned out to be the owner of the restaurant too.

‘Hi, I’m Pierre; please let me know if you need anything else.’

I couldn’t quite place the accent. He handed me the handbag that I had left on the previous table.

‘Uh, are you wearing contacts?’ Unathi asked him in her tactless way, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. This made me take a closer look at him; and there they were, those green, gorgeous eyes, staring out at me from that caramel face. A perfectly chiselled face, the caramel rising at the cheek bones and dipping into beautiful craters that appeared when he smiled.

Unathi kept staring as he shook his head and answered the question he had probably been asked all his life. I couldn’t look away from him either; it was as if he had accidentally turned us into statues. Summer possessed my body and it seemed to have forgotten how to move. I could feel the pools of sweat forming inside my silk top. He didn’t look like he was trying to keep us there intentionally but there we were, the three of us; us staring at him and him smiling at us. He himself was stuck there too, trying to pull himself away from this process of turning our flesh into fire. Finally his gaze moved from us to the women arriving at the table, and he was able to escape in the distraction.

‘That was nice,’ Unathi sighed.

Nice indeed! All I could think about for the rest of the night was that delicious mix of caramel skin and gorgeous green eyes.

The intercom goes off; it’s the building security downstairs, informing me that I have a visitor. I tell them to let her up, knowing it’s Unathi. A few minutes later my best friend is standing in my kitchen, pouring herself a glass of wine. ‘Why didn’t you invite me over? Woo, it’s bad behaviour to drink by yourself, sisi.’

I just laugh.

‘Serious, Marubini.’ She’s smiling, though − I can tell from the way she says my name.

Nkgono says she regrets giving me my name. But I don’t think my name is the problem. The real problem is all the lies.

The Yearning

Book details


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University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English 2016 winners announced

 

The University of Johannesburg is pleased to announce the winners of its annual literary award:

The main prize of R75 000 is awarded to Nthikeng Mohlele for Pleasure (Picador Africa).

The debut prize of R35 000 is awarded to Mohale Mashigo for The Yearning (Picador Africa).

A formal prize-giving ceremony will be held later in the year.

Publishers who wish to submit entries for the UJ prize for works published in 2017 should contact Prof Ronit Frenkel (ronitf@uj.ac.za).

Background information

The prizes are not linked to a specific genre. This may make the evaluation more challenging in the sense that, for example, a volume of poetry, a novel and a biographical work must be measured against one another, but the idea is to open the prize to as many forms of creative writing as possible.

Approximately 60 works were submitted this year, from which the following books were selected for the shortlist:

Main Prize:
Pleasure by Nthikeng Mohlele
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Sigh the Beloved Country by Bongani Madondo

Debut Prize:
The Yearning by Mohale Mashigo
Loud and Yellow Laughter by Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese
Tjieng-Tjang and Other Stories by Jolyn Philips
The Keeper of the Kumm by Sylvia Vollenhoven

Book details


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“As frequent listeners know, I will discuss anything and everything, and do” – read an extract from Free Association

Free AssociationMax Lurie’s navel-gazing podcast about his life has become an unexpected success. But its embellishments and inventions are starting to leak into his everyday life. As Max tries to navigate the grey areas between fact and fiction, things begin to spin out of control. He juggles real and imagined girlfriends, an illegally procured firearm, an unpredictable friendship with a homeless schizophrenic, his acerbic immigrant producer, his dying father, his famous childhood sweetheart, an unlikely romantic entanglement and his critical and growing audience. Can he keep all of these balls in the air and finally bring them safely to rest?

This story takes a deep and satiric dive into the worlds we imagine for ourselves and the lives we actually live, particularly in a time when our real and digital personas intersect and merge in chaotic ways.

Free Association casts a steely and comic eye on the great and small concerns of being human: the chances we take and miss, the pain of not fitting in, the fragility of the psyche, the unpredictability of love, the dull certainty of death, the importance of listening to others and the careening craziness of it all.

This is National Podcasting Network. Welcome to Free Association. This is, as always, your host Max Lurie.

Today, my loyal audience, is the one-year anniversary of this podcast.

That started as a lark, because the universe had decided that I was a failure as a novelist, and podcasting seemed like a way for me to escape a life of bitterness and regret. Which is almost certain to happen at some point anyway, but as of this moment my distributors tell me that the audience for Free Association has exceeded fifty thousand per episode. There is no one more surprised than I am, but there you have it.

So thank you. Keep downloading. Send in suggestions to www.npn.com/FreeAssociation.

But remember the rules.

I will not discuss my family, my friends, the Middle East or religion. I will not discuss particle physics (too hard), celebrities and their annoying lives, politicians and their bloated egos. I will not discuss history or sports. Nor diet fads, fashion, medieval literature or cooking.

Right. Sure. Ha.

As frequent listeners know, I will discuss anything and everything, and do. Things that might or might not have any thread, theme or relevance to
anything at all. Even the things about which I am woefully under-informed.

That’s the only vision for this podcast. My life and its frequent disappointments, your lives, the lives of others. Anything that gets my back up. Random observations. Anything that piques my interest.

And so a taking of stock is due because it is, after all, an anniversary. When I started this a year ago, I had no clue what I was doing. Which still remains stubbornly true, although I am now well exercised in the art of focused lack of direction. A number of people, including those nearest and dearest, have often asked me – what is Free Association about? Even those who have listened since the beginning.

I have no idea.

I crack open my skull every week and let everyone peer in.

The letters I receive make it clear that what sloshes around in there is in turn exasperating, funny, ignorant, surprising and annoying. And yet you continue to eavesdrop. Which supports a startlingly modest but reliable income. So I thank you again.

I have a theory about the success of this show. I am an insecure shell of a human with little confidence in myself or anyone else. I am constantly in a state of confusion and bewilderment.

Perhaps I have grown this audience because I make everyone feel better about themselves. Fifteen minutes listening to me ramble and rant leads to the inescapable conclusion that I suspect you all draw – your life is not as bad as that schmuck Lurie’s. You all feel better after listening to me complain. I may have invented a new type of psychology. Comparative Loser Analysis.

Spend fifteen minutes with someone unhappier than you, wallowing in greater misfortune, with less control of his life and circumstances, and you will be sure to feel a spring in your step.

You’re welcome.

On the up side. I have a new girlfriend. I won’t talk about her much, because not only will I jinx it, but if she ever listened to this podcast she would certainly turn tail and skedaddle. She does not listen to podcasts, she told me; she is too busy. Also, calling her my girlfriend is a dangerous play; there have been no such declarations. We did go on two dates. And we were indeed introduced by a trusted third party.

On the first date we went for dinner. I said, tell me about yourself. When she finished and was about to ask me about myself (this was something I wished to delay, lest she find my life story as dull as old cardboard), I said, tell me more about yourself. I did this three times and then the meal was over and we were a bit tipsy and she invited me to her apartment and maybe I will reveal more at another time. Stop prying.

The second date was a big music concert. A band and an audience. I hate stadium concerts. You park miles away and then you can’t find your seat and when you do someone is in it and then you have to go through a whole passive-aggressive number to sort it out. Then you realise that the stage is too far away and the musicians look like ants and the opening act is a waste of time because everyone around you is talking excitedly about the main event and then they come onstage to a great roar of the fans and everyone stands up which is the last time in the next three hours you will sit down.

The guy in front of you is huge and you stare at the pockmarked back of his neck and the disturbing pimple on the rim of his ear and the sound is so awful that even in those rare moments when the audiences quiets all you hear from these cheaper seats that you should never have bought is the bass and one of the cymbals and a slightly off-key backup singer. And then they leave the stage and are shrieked back for not one encore but four and then you stream out with tens of thousands of people and get stuck in a traffic jam in the parking area for sixty-five minutes.

She loved it.

We came back to my apartment where we made chai tea and watched two old episodes of Seinfeld and she fell asleep on my shoulder. I carried her to
bed and covered her up and slid chastely in beside her and waited. Some stuff happened later which is none of your business and the next morning she rummaged through my fridge and made me a hot breakfast, and kissed me on the forehead and texted me later and so I suppose she can sort of be called my girlfriend. Right?

Right?

Well, there must be some terrible mistake. Let’s not get too optimistic here. Because she is very attractive, in another league really. I expect this to be over soon. Perhaps I will hasten the event by showing my baser instincts, and then I can be resignedly alone again, where all is predictable, where expectation and reality coincide politely. I will keep you posted.

My father is dying. I have mentioned this before. I have struggled with whether I should talk to you about this. It is obviously a subject of great import and anxiety for me. I love my dad, or at least the man he used to be before, well … maybe I will save this for another time. I first have to wrestle the ethical dilemmas to the ground.

Can I make my father’s dying fodder for public consumption? At first pass this would seem like a monstrous show of disrespect and callousness. Perhaps. I will meditate on this.

But death, in both its specific and general incarnation, is a terrific subject – wide in its scope, deep in its consequence, loud and insistent in its certainty.

There is hardly a subject more important to us, I suspect. It hovers like airborne pestilence. Everything we do is an attempt to mute it, delay it. We take out life insurance, buy cars with safety features, drive close to the speed limit, don’t cross at the red light. Eat healthy foods, applaud scientists foraging in our cells and looking for ways to extend and protect us. We hope that our governments can use diplomacy instead of death to negotiate nasty disagreements with those people over there. We take pills, have the doctor’s number on speed dial, decide not to go white-water rafting, avoid travel to Syria. We support climate change reversal initiatives, because if we don’t we all drown or burn or asphyxiate. Death is fuel for at least half of the arts.

That and love, of course. But love is mutable. Death is not. Why is there not a podcast dedicated to death? It is the ultimate general-interest subject. Maybe I should change the admittedly nebulous recipe that makes up this podcast to an enthusiastic coverage of death and dying. The podcast could interview people with terminal diseases, extract all sorts of wisdom from their truncated hopes and dreams. Talk to doctors and health workers who do battle with the beast every day. Gently probe the bereft as they try to deal with loss. Perhaps a scientific round-up of what kills us daily. Bad food. Pollution. Not enough exercise. Murderers. Cars. Ageing. Stress. Poison. Wars. We could have an episode on famous eulogies. One on funerals. Another on afterlife mythologies. Great natural disasters and their tolls. Euthanasia. Genocide. Patricide. Infanticide. Oh, and an episode on the lighter side of death. I refuse to believe that there is no humour somewhere.

We can laugh at death, can’t we?

Maybe the most amusing last words. Or most inept attempts at suicide. Actually, there are a number of sites dedicated to death jokes (I checked) but they aren’t very funny. Death is a very tough nut to crack in the humour department.

I will talk to my producer, Bongani. My sponsors and distributor. Change this podcast from general-purpose navel-gazing, solipsistic nonsense to a wide-ranging, sensitive and well-considered investigation of death and its dark omens and endless damage. I would change the name of the podcast from Free Association to, what? The End – An Exploration. Or Death – A Miscellany.

No, these are terrible. Perhaps I could ask you to send in your suggestions for a podcast title.

I am aware that one of challenges is that much research is required. Research is not really my cup of tea, as you know. Maybe Bongani will do it for me. However, even given my poor record in the research game, I do try to tell you something new every now and again.

So here it is.

Cloning. Remember cloning? Remember Dolly the sheep? Cloned 1996? Cloning pops up in the news occasionally, usually via some rumour that a demented North Korean lab is trying to clone Kim Jong-II. Then there is a big outcry, and the news cycle moves on. So I now find out that polo pony cloning is well under way. One of the great polo ponies of all time, the Argentinian horse called Aiken Cura (who was euthanised with a broken leg ten years ago) was cloned by his rider, a really famous player by the name of Combasio. The cloned polo pony will be in competition next year. I am so taken aback by this news snippet that I find myself, unexpectedly and unusually, stunned mute.

My twin brother Frank, of whom I have spoken often and who is unlike me in every way other than physical, called me from London, where he lives and works as an economist in one of the huge tech companies. I thought economists only worked for banks. But this company is so large that they have a staff economist. Go figure. He urged me to find a new career.

He said – Max, podcasts are going the way of the music industry, and podcasters are going the way of musicians.
I said – explain this to me.
He said – millions of musicians, no way for them to make a living, even the good ones.
I said – explain this to me.
He said – free distribution and piracy without consequence and endless inexpensive content creation by many talented people – ergo, no commercial proposition.
I said – how so?
He said – the podcast industry will become structurally over-efficient, just like the music business, and you can only make money in inefficient markets.
I said – ‘structurally over-efficient’? I have no idea what you are talking about.
He said – yes, you do.
He is very unlike me, Frank. We agree on very little. But he is no fool.

So anyway.

A one-year anniversary. A robust and growing listenership, many of whom like the show. Oh, there are a few malcontents who send nasty comments to the website, but by and large we seem to be okay. Maybe more than a few.

A quaint but dependable pay cheque. And a new girlfriend, no matter how transient.

Carpe diem before the other shoe drops.

This show is produced by the inimitable Bongani Maposa. Until next week, this is Max Lurie, and this is Free Association from the National Podcasting Network.

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He had removed the notepad abruptly, locked it in a drawer, his eyes telling her that he did not want to discuss what she had read – read an excerpt from Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit

The last time Silas Ali encountered Lieutenant Du Boise, Silas was locked in the back of a police van and the lieutenant was conducting a vicious assault on Silas’s wife, Lydia, in revenge for her husband’s participation in Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

When Silas sees Du Boise by chance twenty years later, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to deliver its report, crimes from the past erupt into the present, splintering the Alis’ fragile peace.

A clear-eyed story of a brittle family on the crossroads of history and a fearless skewering of the pieties of revolutionary movements, Bitter Fruit is a cautionary tale of how we do, or do not, address the deepest wounds of the past.

‘Freshness and bold vividness are the qualities of Achmat Dangor’s writing … inn the post-apartheid era, he has tackled, in Bitter Fruit, as in Kafka’s Curse, with the honesty of his insight, the problem as well as the promised fulfilment of the enormous change that freedom brings about.’ – Nadine Gordimer

Achmat Dangor lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has published four novels, Waiting for Leila (1981), The Z Town Trilogy (1990), Kafka’s Curse (1997) and Bitter Fruit (first released in 2001), as well as a short-story collection, Strange Pilgrimages (2013).

Bitter Fruit was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for 2004 as well as the 2003 International Dublin Impac Award. Dangor’s new novel, Dikeledi, will be released in August 2017.

Chapter 14

THE DAY HAD passed uneventfully. The President had had to leave the meeting early. A confrontation brewing between ‘the Arch’ and people in the movement. He was to meet with all sides, try to find a dignified way out of ‘the mess’.

‘Silas Ali, he works for the Minister, he’s a good man, is he?’ the President had asked no one in particular, but everyone around the table had nodded their agreement. The Old Man’s way of confirming something he already believed.

In the end, no one had mentioned Kate’s dress, and she had begun to feel uncomfortable.

Cold semen did not feel sensual on the skin. As soon as she could, she left work, drove home and lay in a hot bath for an hour, trying to stem her renewed feeling of disquiet. Before leaving the office, she had asked Van As, the President’s security chief, if he could locate security records on ‘François du Boise, a Lieutenant in the old Special Branch’.

Major Rudy van As had been in the old security police himself. His transformation into loyal guardian of the new order was complete, and fierce. Du Boise? The name did not sound familiar, he said. There had been thousands of foot soldiers, but he would see if he could get anything out of archives. Major Van As’s smug voice, his neutral smile. He was living up to the cliché of the inscrutable old security policeman.

Afterwards, she regretted having asked him at all, bewildered by her own impulsiveness. Draped in the loose gown she wore when there was no one home, she lay sprawled out by the pool, sipping a glass of wine. Her dogs, three huge German shepherds, clamoured for attention, pressing their noses against her. So much to be done, and here she was lazing about, breaking a house rule: no alcohol before five on a weekday. A gesture of restraint meant to impress Ferial. We lead by example. She quickly dismissed her guilt. She worked hard, put in many hours, this bit of indulgence was deserved.

Her thoughts drifted back to the morning’s events. How had Mikey known that his mother was coming?

There had been no warning, no phone call, no knock on the door, just this crazy kid standing at the window, sensing his mother’s imminent arrival.

Michael the Phenomenal.

Always probing, lately, asking questions about the amnesty process, things he should ask his father, not someone he’s just had sex with. Perhaps trying to demonstrate his intelligence, not just a young kid only good for fucking.

There was no doubting how bright he was. She saw the evidence of it all around him, the books on his shelf (without order, a random collection of truly intimidating titles), the music he listened to. Once, she’d glanced at some notes on his desk and was startled to read the beginnings of an analysis of the liberation struggle: there had never been an ‘armed struggle’, the movement had had more of an armed propaganda ability than any ‘real capacity to wage even a limited war’.

He had removed the notepad abruptly, locked it in a drawer, his eyes telling her that he did not want to discuss what she had read.

He had all the hallmarks of a driven person. A quest for truth, or justice, that grand kind of thing. She’d seen that ruthless gleam in people’s eyes before, the holy, malevolent clarity of someone obsessed.

Bitter Fruit

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Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit back in print after more than 10 years

The last time Silas Ali encountered Lieutenant Du Boise, Silas was locked in the back of a police van and the lieutenant was conducting a vicious assault on Silas’s wife, Lydia, in revenge for her husband’s participation in Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress.

When Silas sees Du Boise by chance twenty years later, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to deliver its report, crimes from the past erupt into the present, splintering the Alis’ fragile peace.

A clear-eyed story of a brittle family on the crossroads of history and a fearless skewering of the pieties of revolutionary movements, Bitter Fruit is a cautionary tale of how we do, or do not, address the deepest wounds of the past.

‘Freshness and bold vividness are the qualities of Achmat Dangor’s writing … inn the post-apartheid era, he has tackled, in Bitter Fruit, as in Kafka’s Curse, with the honesty of his insight, the problem as well as the promised fulfilment of the enormous change that freedom brings about.’ – Nadine Gordimer

Achmat Dangor lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has published four novels, Waiting for Leila (1981), The Z Town Trilogy (1990), Kafka’s Curse (1997) and Bitter Fruit (first released in 2001), as well as a short-story collection, Strange Pilgrimages (2013).

Bitter Fruit was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for 2004 as well as the 2003 International Dublin Impac Award. Dangor’s new novel, Dikeledi, will be released in August 2017.
 

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“I feel that as a writer, our duty is to capture the human experience” – read an interview with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

I think a lot of novels that we have coming out that most people consider particularly African novels are expected to play on politics, on corruption, on all these things. I don’t want those to be at the forefront. They are there, obviously, and they are very dominant, like on the landscape and the scenery. But despite all this, people carry on with their lives. They are little romances in hidden corners, they have their issues with their children, and all that. This corruption, this politics, this violence, in a way it kind of shapes certain things in the way we behave and the way we act, it is not necessary that every time you have to struggle with corrupt politicians and corrupt people, but the decisions they make somewhere, so far away from you, somehow have a resonance in the way you make your decisions and the choices you make in life.

Jennifer Malec, editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books, interviewed Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, winner of the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature, during Ibrahim’s recent visit to Johannesburg.

Ibrahim received the Nigeria Prize for Literature for his novel Season of Crimson Blossoms.

Read their interview here and listen to Ibrahim read an excerpt from Season of Crimson Blossoms here.

Season of Crimson Blossoms

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Pan Macmillan SA to publish Peter Harris’ debut novel

Pan Macmillan South Africa is delighted to announce it will publish the debut novel of award-winning author Peter Harris. The book will be released in South Africa in October 2017.

The narrative revolves around Max Sinclair, the CEO of Wits Mining, who is in the process of selling 25% of the company to a consortium. As the deal-making gathers pace there are casualties on all sides as corporate and political intrigue spiral, and Johannesburg reveals its true colours as a gritty mining town. The novel is an acerbic exploration of post-apartheid South Africa, with a particular focus on the deepening corruption and cronyism that is threatening the country’s long-term development.

Peter Harris has gathered many accolades for his non-fiction writing. In a Different Time: The Inside Story of the Delmas Four was awarded the prestigious Sunday Times Alan Paton award as well as the Booksellers’ Choice Award in 2009. He is also the author of the best-selling Birth: The Conspiracy to Stop the ’94 Election.

Harris was born in Durban and moved to Johannesburg after qualifying as a lawyer. In the early 1990s, he was seconded from his law firm to the National Peace Accord. Thereafter, he was seconded to head the Monitoring Directorate of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission for the 1994 election. He currently practises as a lawyer.

Peter Harris commented: ‘In a Different Time was a book about the 1980s, and an extraordinary treason trial. It also chronicled the huge sacrifices that were made to bring about democracy in South Africa. My second book, Birth, was about the transition in the early 1990s and the extreme challenges that the country encountered in getting to and conducting the 1994 election, in the face of significant odds. This novel, located in the cauldron of Johannesburg, is about the society we have become.’

Terry Morris, Managing Director of Pan Macmillan South Africa, said: ‘It is such a privilege for Pan Macmillan to work with an author of Peter Harris’s calibre. Peter is well known for his non-fiction writing, but our team was instantly hooked by the storyline and characters of his debut novel and we look forward to sharing this gripping book with readers.’
 

In a Different Time

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New novel from South African literary legend Achmat Dangor to be published in 2017 – along with a new edition of Bitter Fruit

New novel from Achmat Dangor to be published by in 2017 with a new edition of Bitter Fruit
Strange PilgrimagesWaiting for LeilaKafka's CurseBitter Fruit

 

Pan Macmillan South Africa and Isobel Dixon of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency are pleased to announce that a new novel from Achmat Dangor will be published in southern Africa under the Picador Africa imprint in 2017.

In addition, a new edition of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel Bitter Fruit will be published as part of the Picador Africa Classics series as well as in paperback in 2017.

Dangor is an award-winning poet and novelist whose titles include Kafka’s Curse (1997) and the 2004 Booker-shortlisted Bitter Fruit, and Strange Pilgrimages (2013), an acclaimed collection of short stories. He lives and works in Johannesburg, and was last year awarded a Lifetime Achievement Literary Award.

I am honoured that Pan Macmillan is to publish my new novel and reissue Bitter Fruit. Both books explore, through eyes of ordinary people, the unresolved legacies of our troubled past.

- Achmat Dangor

Achmat Dangor’s prize-winning, Booker-shortlisted Bitter Fruit is one of the great classics of South African literature, a searing novel still so relevant in so many ways. I’m thrilled that it will reach new readers under the Picador Africa Classics banner, and that Pan Macmillan will also be publishing an exciting new novel by Achmat next year.

- Isobel Dixon, Blake Friedmann Literary Agency

I am delighted that Pan Macmillan will have the opportunity to work with Achmat Dangor to publish his new novel in 2017, as well as to bring an absolute classic, in Bitter Fruit, back to our local bookstores and readers. Achmat’s writing is a national literary treasure.

– Andrea Nattrass, Publisher at Pan Macmillan

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‘So did you, like, bang Brenda?’ – Bongani Madondo chats about his new book Sigh The Beloved Country

Bongani Madondo

 
Sigh The Beloved CountryWriter, biographer and culture critic Bongani Madondo was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Sandton recently for a discussion of his new book Sigh the Beloved Country.

The conversation focused on a selection of topics from the book, and the subject of women dominated the evening.

70 per cent of the current book was about women, Madondo said.

“The greatest percentage of the people who obsess me, that I’m particularly interested in, the people who create magic – whether it’s song, dance, ideology, raising our children, breastfeeding white people’s children, doing everything for us – for me the centre of this world is African women. I try to figure them out,” he said to a rapturous audience.

Madondo has previously written a book on Brenda Fassie, the late South African icon, titled I’m Not Your Weekend Special.

In his new book, which runs to over 500 pages, Madondo includes an eyebrow-raising chapter titled “So Did You, Like, Bang Brenda?” – a question he says he was often asked by awestruck teenagers.

Image courtesy of Taji Mag

 
The event, which was billed as a discussion on women and the role they play in “transforming the media and branding industry”, morphed into something slightly different.

Madondo spoke of his childhood aunts and uncles, who he says went to great lengths to wear the most fashionable clothes of the time. Yet, for all their joviality, the aunts would be crying at the hands of the uncles later on. This and his watchful nature is what led him to writing, revealed Madondo.

“From a very young age, I was more like a peeping Tom. Someone who wanted to keep quiet, watch and listen,” he said.

As a failed law student and architect wannabe, Madondo turned to writing and journalism as his storytelling outlet. This led him to stints with City Press, among other local publications, as well as international publications such as The New York Times.

Madondo also talked about the “need to create a new language”. This was after he rejected the word “artsy-fartsy” to describe his miscellaneous artistic projects. “I prefer being labelled as a storyteller instead,” he said.

On the question whether journalists who occasionally appear on TV and radio turn out to be more successful than their media-shy colleagues, Madondo said: “I don’t like the word ‘famous’. It’s about the impact journalists have on society that matters, not appearing on a soapbox.”

Lungile Sojini (@success_mail) tweeted live from the event:

 
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The God Who Made Mistakes – the powerful, poignant new novel from Ekow Duker

The God Who Made MistakesPresenting The God Who Made Mistakes, the third novel by Ekow Duker:

Behind the closed doors of their suburban Johannesburg home, Themba and Ayanda Hlatshwayo, both legal professionals, are beset by deep tensions that claw with relentless intensity at the polished facade of their lives. Ayanda seeks solace in dance classes, while Themba is increasingly drawn to the male companionship he finds at a book club.

With wit and sympathy, The God Who Made Mistakes explores the origins of Themba’s unease and confused sense of identity. It takes us back to a river bank in Alex, the township where he grew up, and to a boy he once knew who met a violent death there. As the story peels back the painful layers of recollection, Themba’s domineering mother, Differentia, has a major decision to make. When developers set their sights on buying the family home and building a supermarket in its place, tendrils of envy and greed begin to curl out of unexpected quarters, as the unscrupulous seek to grab a share of the spoils.

Backyard tenant Tinyiko, with her short skirts and questionable morality, and Themba’s disgraced, unemployed elder brother, Bongani, begin to plot and scheme, while across town Themba’s fragile marriage faces its biggest challenge. When his past walks unexpectedly into his present, it threatens to blow apart his carefully constructed world.

The God Who Made Mistakes is a powerful, poignant story of unexpressed longings which, when finally uttered, can no longer be contained.

About the author

Oil field engineer turned banker turned writer Ekow Duker was educated in Ghana, the United Kingdom, the United States and France. His time in the oil industry took him to the harsh expanses of the Sahara desert and the fetid swamps of the Niger delta, with lengthy stopovers in several countries in between. Since leaving the oil field, Duker has worked mainly as a corporate strategist and in banking, roles that, at their core, are really all about storytelling. Duker lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Duker’s previous novels are White Wahala and Dying in New York:

White WahalaDying in New York

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