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Category Archive for 'South Africa'

You may have read many novels in which the two main characters hate each other, but how many have you read in which the main characters, two professional women, are in their eighties and next-door neighbors? Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door, will appeal to readers looking for an escape from some of the doom and gloom of contemporary life without escaping into mindlessness, a story with some realistic grit. Setting the novel in Cape Town, South Africa, Omotoso depicts an upscale enclave in which these two women, one black and one white, must deal with some big issues, some of them racial. Though apartheid is outlawed and the neighbors may pretend that the problems are solved, the feelings are not yet gone. This is not a “message novel,” however. For Omotoso, the story and its characters come first, her themes being revealed through their conflicts and the empathy she creates among her readers. Fun and often funny, with unique characters, and strong insights into the racial tensions of South Africa.

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South African author Damon Galgut’s fictionalized biography of author E. M. Forster (1879 – 1970), known as Morgan, takes a different approach from non-fictional biographies, synthesizing all the author’s research into the character of Forster and then journeying inside his mind, ultimately allowing “Forster” to tell his own story. As the openly gay Galgut asserts throughout this novel, Forster’s most significant difficulty in his personal life and in his writing seems to have been in reconciling his homosexuality with the rest of his life so that he could live and love fully on all levels. During Forster’s most prolific years as a novelist, 1908 – 1924, “minorite” activities were almost universally hidden, not just frowned upon by society, but rejected as aberrant behavior.
Strict codes of behavior governed how people interacted within various social classes, and the need to conform allowed little room for any kind of social experimentation and led to the ostracism of those who were “different.” How “minorites,” in particular, came to terms with their essential natures and were able to live within this restricted society becomes a major theme of this novel.

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Those who not have been lucky enough to have discovered South African author Deon Meyer’s mystery/thrillers, to date, are in for a real treat. Always among the very best writers of this genre, he keeps getting better and better, but unlike many others who have suddenly become popular, he has not rested on any laurels. Instead, he has become even more committed to constructing tight, beautifully organized and highly plausible plots in which well-developed characters share their lives in South Africa with all its challenges and triumphs. In Cobra, Meyer’s new (ninth) novel, set primarily in Capetown, Capt. Benny Griessel appears in his fourth novel, and this time he and his Hawks, who work for Priority Crimes Investigations, must investigate three murders and the disappearance of a college professor who specializes in economics and computer systems which enable countries to monitor trends. The British professor has been staying at a wine farm and guest house in the Franschhoek Valley, and the three murdered men were professional bodyguards hired to protect him from some unknown threat. Alternating with the story of these murders and questions about the professor’s work is the story of Tyrone Kleinbooi, a young “colored” pickpocket who works to pay for his sister’s college education so that she can become a doctor. Great insights into contemporary South Africa.

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The sardonic comment at the end of the opening quotation says all that needs to be said in establishing the tone of Voorspoed, a small rural “dorp” in the center of South Africa in 1994, which is the setting of this novel. A whole new way of life has just begun for the residents, both black and white, since white rule has just been abolished with the election of Nelson Mandela as the new President of the country. The long conflict between the British and the Boers, both of which sought dominion over the blacks generations ago, have been officially resolved for years, but eighty percent of the country’s residents, its blacks, are still poor and still have little to say as far as the government is concerned. In this novel from 1994, the tensions and the uncertainty are palpable, but they run in the background of the novel and only rarely intrude directly on the action. Newly translated into English by Iris Gouws and author Ingrid Winterbach, The Elusive Moth captures a unique period in a small rural community in which no one can be quite sure who is really in charge. Whoever thought he was in charge, especially among the police, made sure that everyone else knew it, whether or not it was true. Like her two later novels available in English, To Hell with Cronje, and The Book of Happenstance, this novel deals with clear themes of life, love, and death, analyzed on a grand scale and shown in an equally grand evolutionary context.

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Moments of tenderness alternate with dramatic moments of violence in this semi-autobiographical novel of World War II by Tatamkhulu Afrika, a name assumed by the author late in life and meaning “Grandfather Africa.” As the novel begins, an elderly man is opening two letters which accompany a package. Telling the story from his own point of view, the old man learns in the first letter, from a law firm, that someone the speaker refers to only as “he,” someone he knew more than fifty years ago, has died after a long illness and that the speaker has received a legacy. The second letter is from “him,” a man who has been “lost” to the speaker for virtually all of his post-war life. The legacy and the letter clearly upset the speaker as he wonders “Am I permitting a phantom a power that belongs to me alone? What relevance do they still have – a war that time has tamed into the damp squib of every other war, [and] a love whose strangeness is best left buried where it lies?” Though he knows he should leave the past buried, he is unable to resist. What follows is the story of the four years the speaker survived when, during the long siege of Tobruk, he suddenly found himself a prisoner of war. This is an honest and controlled novel which focuses brilliantly on some of the well-known but less publicized aspects of prison camp life.

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