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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

“It’s an extraordinary story” – Margaret von Klemperer reviews Becoming Iman

Published in The Witness: 30 July 2018

For readers who only know Iman Rappetti as a warm, skilled and urbane presenter on television and radio, this memoir will come as something of a surprise.

We may think we know someone through their daily arrival into our space via the media, but in fact, we really know nothing about them other than that they are the one we like, or dislike.

Rappetti grew up in Phoenix, living with her Indian father and her Coloured mother, a combination that caused deep family rifts. She loved both her parents, though her father was violent and abusive to his wife until he became part of an Evangelical Christian church and apparently changed his ways.

And then there were her siblings.

Her eldest brother had been forcibly removed from her mother straight after his birth to live with his Indian grandmother, and there were another older brother and sister who suddenly arrived back to live with the family without explanation.

It was a complex, very South African childhood, taking place in the apartheid days where discovering your own identity was always going to be compromised and complicated.

But Rappetti tells her tale with humour, bringing to life aunties and their “School of Suffering” (SOS) which they raised to an art form. The writing is beautiful, with unexpected and memorable turns of phrase, while the telling of the story is episodic, linear in emotion rather than in time.

Once beyond the coming-of-age memoir stage, Rappetti’s life takes unexpected turns. From the evangelical Christianity of her upbringing, she converts to Islam, moves with her husband to Iran and becomes a veiled, submissive Muslim wife and mother as the reader begins to realise that whatever Rappetti does, she does wholeheartedly.

It’s an extraordinary story, and the frankness with which she relates her growing later disillusion with both her marriage and her faith is powerful and compelling. Now, she sees the Muslim veil as a symbol of oppression, but her journey into faith and on to rebellion is fascinating to follow, as are the swings in her story between the sacred and the profane.

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“He explores humanity without sacrificing the enticing nature of mystery that many apocalyptic-genre novels do well” – Aerodrome reviews Marcus Low’s Asylum

Barry James is detained in a quarantine facility in the blistering heat of the Great Karoo. Here he exists in two worlds: the discordant and unforgiving reality of his incarceration and the lyrical, snowy landscapes of his dreams.

He has cut all ties with his previous life, his health is failing, and he has given up all hope. All he has to cling to are the meanderings of his restless mind, the daily round of pills and the journals he reluctantly keeps as testimony to a life once lived.

And then there’s an opportunity to escape. But to escape what? And where to? Can there be a life to go back to? Is there still a world out there in the barren wasteland beyond the fence?

Gareth Langdon recently reviewed Low’s remarkable, unsettling debut novel for local online journal, Aerodrome:

Post apocalyptic motifs are overdone. Between The Walking Dead and The Hunger Games, contemporary media seems to scream the need for us all to be prepared for the worst – for the coming of the end. Whether or not this is a universal set of fears, or something unique to Hollywood is not much of a question.

What matters is that it is a tired trope, and that anyone hoping to tackle the genre is going to have an uphill battle.

Marcus Low makes light work of this challenge in his debut novel, Asylum.

The novel follows, through a series of eloquent and detailed journal entries, the plight of James Barry. Barry has been diagnosed with a fatal lung disease – likely tuberculosis – and finds himself incarcerated in a treatment facility or modern day sanitorium, in the middle of the Karoo.

His days drag on at a snail’s pace as he gazes out of the window at the dry bones of the earth, watching nothing happen, and writing regularly in his notebooks. He has made some friends though, and as inmates are want to do, they begin planning their escape. The novel traces Barry’s internal struggles as well as the planning and execution of their proposed escape.

Composed of notebook fragments and interjected with editor’s notes, written from what is ostensibly the point of view of whoever discovered the notebooks, the novel has an intensely personal feel.

Asylum is at once apocalyptic rendering, and psychological exploration.

Continue reading Langdon’s review here.

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“A powerful and though-provoking novel”: Margaret von Klemperer reviews Dikeledi

Published in The Witness

It has been a while since we had a new novel from Achmat Dangor, and in Dikeledi he has given us a complex and wide-ranging family saga that spans the years from 1970 to the present, set against the backdrop of South Africa’s turbulent political past and its disturbing current reality.

Among the characters are Patrick Tau, a stern, silent figure who is the son of a respected pastor from Mahikeng – or Mafeking, or Mafikeng. Names, their changes and the reasons behind them are a recurring theme in the novel. Then there is Patrick’s wife Julia/Baile and their children, Pitso/Peter and Dikeledi/Miriam. At the outset, they live in the mixed suburb of Newclare, but the Group Areas act will soon put paid to that, forcing them back to the apartheid homeland of Bophutatswana.

The story then jumps forward eight years, to 1978. Julia has left Patrick and returned to Johannesburg, where she is living with her female lover. In the first half of the book, Julia is the most realised and most intriguing character. But politics, and the involvement of her daughter in the struggle send her back to Patrick from the life she has carved out for herself.

Fast forward again, and now the main weight of the story is carried by another Dikeledi, this time Pitso’s daughter who was born in New York to Pitso and his African-American wife. Following the deaths of her parents, she returns to South Africa, leaving her lecturing job to become a journalist. And what she uncovers pitches her and her South African Indian boyfriend into danger as a brutal history of struggle veterans and traitors is revealed.

The novel is driven more by plot than character, and Dangor raises all kinds of issues – exile, displacement, belonging, politics, Aids, and always the apartheid past. As one character says: “we have sanctified the struggle”, but buried in it too were treachery and hatreds which are revealed and which stretch long tentacles into the present. There are moments in the latter part of the book when the saga aspect gives way to a political thriller, which does cause a certain unevenness of tone, but in general, Dangor handles his content in a more than competent manner. And, in doing so, he has created a powerful and thought-provoking novel of South Africa, its past, its challenges and possible hope for its future.

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“A flamboyant, moving, and nuanced debut novel” – The Financial Times reviews Olumide Popoola’s When We Speak of Nothing

When We Speak of Nothing‘This smart novel with electric prose tells us what it means to be young, black and queer in London.’ Elle Magazine

‘Refreshingly original, energetic and ambitious storytelling. Popoola joins the ranks of the best of the powerful new voices invigorating both British and African fiction.’ Bernardine Evaristo, author of Mr Loverman

Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near King’s Cross. It’s 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across London. Abu is infatuated with gorgeous classmate Nalini but dares not speak to her. Meanwhile, Karl is the target of the local “wannabe” thugs just for being different.

When Karl finds out his father lives in Nigeria, he decides that Port Harcourt is the best place to escape the sound and fury of London, and connect with a Dad he’s never known.

Rejected on arrival, Karl befriends Nakale, an activist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world, and falls headlong for his feisty cousin Janoma.

Meanwhile, the murder of Mark Duggan triggers a full-scale riot in London. Abu finds himself in its midst, leading to a near-tragedy that forces Karl to race back home.

The narratorial spirit of this multi-layered novel is Esu, the Yoruba trickster figure, who haunts the crossroads of communication and misunderstanding.

When We Speak of Nothing launches a powerful new voice onto the literary stage. The fluid prose, peppered with contemporary slang, captures what it means to be young, black and queer in London. If grime music were a novel, it would be this.

London-based Nigerian-German Olumide Popoola is a writer, speaker and performer. Her publications include essays, poetry, the novella this is not about sadness (Unrast, 2010), the play Also by Mail (edition assemblage, 2013), the short collection breach, which she co-authored with Annie Holmes (Peirene Press, 2016). In 2004 she won the May Ayim Award (Poetry), the first Black German Literary Award. Olumide holds a PhD in Creative Writing

Read the Financial Times’ recent interview of Olumide’s remarkable book here.

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Watch: Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu discusses The Soweto Uprisings on SABC

When the Soweto uprisings of June 1976 took place, Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu, the author of The Soweto Uprisings: Counter Memories of June 1976 was a 14-year-old pupil at Phefeni Junior Secondary School.

With his classmates, he was among the active participants in the protest action against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

Contrary to the generally accepted views, both that the uprisings were ‘spontaneous’ and that there were bigger political players and student organisations behind the uprisings, Sifiso’s book shows that this was not the case.

Using newspaper articles, interviews with former fellow pupils and through his own personal account, Sifiso provides us with a ‘counter-memory’ of the momentous events of that time.

Here Professor Ndlovu discusses the book and his participation in the protest on SABC’S Morning Live Show with Leanne Manas:

The Soweto Uprisings

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French stamp of approval for Imperfect Solo by Steven Boykey Sidley

Ben Williams & Steven Boykey Sidley

Imperfect SoloThe French edition of Imperfect Solo by Steven Boykey Sidley has been receiving some excellent media coverage in that country, with the author being compared to heavy hitters such as Joseph Heller, Philip Roth and Richard Ford.

Published locally by Pan Macmillan in 2014, this dark comedy follows the flailing and hapless Meyer who is seeking hope and redemption as his world unravels around him. His random misfortune begs the question: Will Meyer find his grace? Can he, or we, ever?

Imperfect Solo is Sidley’s third novel and was longlisted for the 2015 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.

The French translation is titled Meyer et la catastrophe and published by Belfond. We love the cover, a completely different design to the local one:


Even if you don’t understand French, have a look a the incredible number of positive reviews in the French press:

French Reviews of Imperfect Solo

About the book

Meyer is filled with dread. His fading musical aspirations, his tyrannical CEO, his ex-wives, his exiting girlfriend, his ageing father, his beloved and troublesome children and his confused and bewildered life all bear witness to the sky that he is convinced will soon fall on his head.

And then it does.

This is the story of a man adrift in anxiety, ill-fortune and comic mishap, buffeted by the existential and prosaic concerns that modern life in Los Angeles inflicts. Forty years old, caught in the netherworld between the reckless optimism of youth and the resignation of age, Meyer tries to find handrails and ballast. Funny, intellectually probing and poignant, the story follows the flailing and hapless Meyer seeking hope and redemption as his world unravels around him. Surrounded by the absurdity of an ageing America, the affection of flawed but well-meaning friends and family and the randomness of everyday life, Meyer tries gamely to stay afloat.

He must navigate love lost and found and lost, the indignities of ageing, the courage to stand up to assholes and the search for the perfect sax solo. Will Meyer find his grace? Can he, or we, ever?

About the author

Steven Boykey Sidley has divided his adult life between the USA and South Africa. He has meandered through careers as an animator, chief technology officer for a Fortune 500 company, jazz musician, software developer, video game designer, private equity investor and high technology entrepreneur. He currently lives in Johannesburg with his wife and two children. Sidley’s novel Entanglement is the winner of the 2013 University of Johannesburg Prize (Debut) and was shortlisted that same year for The Sunday Times Fiction Prize and The MNet Literary Award. In 2014, Sidley’s second novel Stepping Out was shortlisted for the UJ Main Prize.

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Read All About Nnedi Okorafor’s Recently Published Binti (With Excerpt and Interview) Publishing has just published Nigerian-American fantasy and science fiction author Nnedi Okorafor’s Afrofuturist novella Binti.

Binti – Okorafor first book set in outer space – is now available in ebook, print on demand and audiobook editions. Publishing is distributed locally by Pan Macmillan.

Binti tells the story of a 16-year-old girl from Namibia who is leaving home to take advantage of an opportunity to study at the prestigious Oomza University. The story is rooted simultaneously in the current reality of Africa and an speculative universe of the future, which makes it socially relevant in a number of different ways.

Read a review of the novella by Mahvesh Murad:

What is most important about Okorafor’s work is that she sees diverse races and cultures as being just as much of the future as they are of the present—something mainstream SF doesn’t always do. Not just does she put Africans from all over the continent in the futures she creates with great clarity and purpose, she makes certain that their various cultures travel forward with them, informing these futures, maintaining unique customs. Okorafor’s stories are where the ancient cultures of Africa meet the future, where what we have been and what makes us human meets what we can be and what we may be in the future. announced the publication of Binti earlier this year, and Carl Engle-Laird reported that the publisher was “thrilled to have her onboard”. Okorafor is equally happy about it:

“I’m really pleased and excited to be a part of’s new novella program. My novella Binti is the first story I’ve ever written that is set in outer space.’s novella program is daring, progressive and pioneering in ways that remind me of my main character Binti, so I think this is a perfect fit.”

Read an interview with the author on, in which she shares a bit about what inspires her writing:

Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.

Godzilla. And not the heroic Godzilla, the one that comes and destroys sh*t for no reason.

Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?

Life on Mars, definitely! Youth is highly overrated, Martians aren’t. has also shared an excerpt from the novella. In the excerpt, Binti sneaks away from her family home and set out on a space journey to university:

I powered up the transporter and said a silent prayer. I had no idea what I was going to do if it didn’t work. My transporter was cheap, so even a droplet of moisture, or more likely, a grain of sand, would cause it to short. It was faulty and most of the time I had to restart it over and over before it worked. Please not now, please not now, I thought.

The transporter shivered in the sand and I held my breath. Tiny, flat, and black as a prayer stone, it buzzed softly and then slowly rose from the sand. Finally, it produced the baggage-lifting force. I grinned. Now I could make it to the shuttle. I swiped otjize from my forehead with my index finger and knelt down. Then I touched the finger to the sand, grounding the sweet smelling red clay into it. “Thank you,” I whispered. It was a half-mile walk along the dark desert road. With the transporter working, I would make it there on time.

Press Release Publishing, an imprint dedicated to novellas and short novels, launched this September with Kai Ashante Wilson’s critically acclaimed fantasy The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. has long published award-winning short genre fiction, and our new line provides a home for emerging and established writers to tell focused, engaging stories in exactly the number of words they choose.

From Afrofuturist science fiction to darkly imagined fairy tales, Publishing offers a diversity of genre titles for a wide variety of readers. Our current books include:

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell: The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Only Judith Mawson (local crank) knows that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination. But if she is to have her voice heard, she’s going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies…

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach. If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace: In New York, eating out can be hell. Everyone loves a well-catered event, and the supernatural community is no different, but where do demons go to satisfy their culinary cravings? Welcome to Sin du Jour—where devils on horseback are the clients, not the dish.

You can find out more about our current titles, including Sunset Mantle by Alter S. Reiss, Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter, and K.J. Parker’s The Last Witness, here.

All of our titles are available globally in print, DRM-free ebook, and audiobook format. Starting next year, a select number of our titles, including Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (April 2016) and Infomocracy by Malka Older (June 2016), will also receive traditional print runs in partnership with Tor Books.


Also read:

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Under Ground Featured in The Guardian’s Round-up of the Best Recent Science Fiction Novels

Under GroundThe Guardian recently featured Under Ground by SL Grey in a round-up review of the best science fiction books at the moment.

Under Ground, co-authored by Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg, was reviewed alongside Chris Beckett’s Mother of Eden, Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Stephen Palmer’s Beautiful Intelligence; Ian Sales’ All That Outer Space Allows and Alex Lamb’s Roboteer.

Eric Brown writes in his review that Under Ground “ramps up the tension to an almost unbearable level”.

Read the review:

It’s JG Ballard meets Agatha Christie, with a soupcon of Patricia Highsmith thrown in. Grey rotates the viewpoint through the eyes of five very different characters, ramps up the tension to an almost unbearable level, and ends with a stunning double finale.

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Ron Irwin Discusses His Debut Novel, Flat Water Tuesday, with Joan Hambidge (Plus: Podcast Review)

Flat Water TuesdayJoan Hambidge interviewed Ron Irwin for LitNet about his debut novel, Flat Water Tuesday. They discussed rowing, which is a central focus of the book, and Irwin commented that “Rowing is a metaphor for endurance and commitment to a team”, he was a rower both at school and university and said, “I still have dreams about it. It feels like flying.”

They discussed the themes and issues raised in the book and Irwin spoke about studying under JM Coetzee, saying that “he provided what is certainly the best thing a mentor can provide: a good example.”

Read the interview:

Congratulations on your wonderful debut, Flat water Tuesday, a riveting novel. The sport is not just about brute power. Or endurance. Or the ability to suffer. Rowing in a team forces you to respond to what other men do in the boat. To adhere to a strategy. To follow commands. To put your petty gripes and prejudices and fears aside” (65). Rowing is a metaphor for endurance. Are you personally interested in this sport?

I learned how to row at the West Side Rowing Club in Buffalo, New York when I was 15 and went on to boarding school in Connecticut, where I rowed for three years. I also rowed at university in two varsity teams. I have rowed as a sculler, in a four-man shell and in an eight-man shell. It is safe to say that there was a considerable time in my life when all that mattered was rowing. I was lucky enough to have had magnificent coaching and to have rowed with some truly talented oarsmen. It really wasn’t until my last year in university when it occurred to me that there might be more to life than rowing, and I quit the sport so I could have free time to have fun, party … do normal college student things. But I also knew that I was not going to get much better as a rower. I had reached my personal best during the final races of my third year at university. Overall, I was a good rower, but not as good as the main character in my novel.

John Maytham reviewed Flat Water Tuesday on Talk Radio 702, commenting that “Ron Irwin’s particular skill in this book is to take an environment and a sport which is not terribly well known and much followed and make it absolutely real and accessible for the readers… It’s an exceptional novel about sport … a very good novel indeed.”

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Exerpt from Peter Godwin’s The Fear, With Carrot

The FearZimbabwe, a country in shackles of its own making, is guilty of “politicide”, as we learn in Peter Godwin’s account of the last Zimbabwean elections, The Fear, which tracks the near-wiping out of an opposition movement.

The persecution hasn’t stopped. With fresh elections mooted – possibly – for this year, four of Zimbabwe’s opposition members of parliament are in custody on bogus corruption charges. A reporter in Zimbabwe talks about the anxiety that once again seizes the nation:

So the culture of fear sets in, and the people are cowed into resistance, discussing their fate in hushed tones and only with people they trust to share the same sentiments. And the fear rots us from the core, eats at us until the day they herd us to the ballot box and we speak in overwhelming numbers … again.

And the US Embassy in Harare tweets, today, that the arrests continue:

Credible sources have informed us Energy Minister Elton Mangoma of #MDC-T was re-arrested in #Harare this morning. Will try to get details.less than a minute ago via web

Susan Gilman of NPR reviewed Godwin’s The Fear and featured an excerpt from the book. Says Gilman, “In the hands of a less talented writer, The Fear could have become simply too painful to read. But while Godwin spares us nothing, he writes with such compassion, poetry and ironic humor that you cannot put his book down”:

When I teach writing, I remind students that real villains aren’t like cartoons: They don’t cackle, “When my evil plan succeeds, the world will be mine!”

But after reading Peter Godwin’s harrowing book, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, I’m not so sure.

Godwin grew up in what had been Rhodesia. He witnessed the war of liberation and Mugabe’s rise to power. He saw Zimbabwe flourish — then curdle.

Here’s the excerpt from the book:

Deep into the night, in pursuit of the westward escaping sun, we fly into a fogbank, where the cold Atlantic breakers curdle upon the warm West African shore below. Consoled, somehow, to have reached the continent of my birth, I lay down my book and fall uncomfortably asleep, my head wedged against the buzzing fuselage.

I am on my way home to Zimbabwe, to dance on Robert Mugabe’s political grave. The crooked elections he has just held have spun out of his control, and after twenty-eight years the world’s oldest leader is about to be toppled. When I arrive the next evening in Harare, the capital, his portrait is everywhere still, staring balefully down at us. From the walls of the airport, as the immigration officer harvests my U.S. dollars, sweeping them across his worn wooden counter, and softly thumping a smudged blue visa into my passport. From the campaign placards pasted to the posts of the broken street lights, during our feral packs of hollow-chested dogs, he raises his fist into the sultry dome of night, as though blaming the fates for his mutinous subjects.

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