Four new books by SA authorsJennifer de Klerk
Jennifer de Klerk reviews new books by South African authors Jenny Hobbs, Imraan Coovadia, Andrew Brown and Ken Barris.
THE MIRACLE OF CROCODILE FLATS
Random House Struik
Billed as an affectionate satire, this is a hoot of a book, warm, witty with a gentle chuckle of recognition and humour on just about every page. It’s a feel-good tale with an ending you only wish could be true. No matter, it will brighten up your day.
At first sight there is not much room for laughter in Crocodile Flats. It’s the town that everyone, including the government, forgot. One piece of tar road, a few run-down buildings, a failed hotel, a shanty town, a remnant of poor whites, a few struggling churches – and a Boer homeland that nobody bothers to challenge.
Then Sweetness Moloi , aged 14, saw a vision on her way home from school. She saw Ma-Jesu, Mary, the Mother of God, in all her brown African perfection.
The news spread, the world erupted, the world descended, the world changed … and so did Crocodile Flats and all its wry, funny characters and wry, funny perceptions.
Again and again you stop to laugh as the contradictions and contrasts of this crazy, mixed-up, glorious country of ours are held up in a few well-chosen words.
Characters abound, from feisty Father Liam and his chorus of nuns, to the amaPula and the Van de Lindes, who have more in common than they know, drunken Eddie Drinkwater at the local store, Vigilance the shoemaker, the town intelligencer, Captain Ngobese, trying to keep the peace, the Prophet Hallelujah, milking the situation, and many, many more, all human, funny and believable.
As the foreword says: “The rainbow nation was back in the world news, wearing a halo.”
I laughed my way through this book. It’s an absolute gem.
THE INSTITUTE FOR TAXI POETRY
Random House Struik
Words, the power of words, capturing the soul of a people, of an industry, of a world.
Words, written on taxis, buses, trains … words that catch thoughts and meanings and make sense of surroundings – and those who write the words, who ask the questions, who soak up the meanings and make them accessible to those who do not have the gift of discernment.
A world where taxi poets are honoured above drivers and even industry captains. A world where Cape Town is recognisably Cape Town, but the Congress Party rules, the key language is Portuguese and the world is dominated by Brazil.
In this strange, complex world a taxi poet is shot and Adam Ravens is lost in time and space. He has to make sense of it, make sense of his rebellious son, his job at the Institute for Taxi Poetry (can transport poetry be confined to a classroom?), the twists of his own searching, his own convoluted thinking – after all, he is a taxi poet, and poets are not simple people.
This is a strange, unusual, but satisfying book, cryptic and offering as many insights as you care to dig out.
Layer upon layer, thought upon thought, meaning enmeshed in meaning … I wouldn’t want to enter a debate with Imraan Coovadio. I would lose.
But it was a privilege to enter his world and his mind, if only for the space of these pages.
Random House Struik
This is the gritty underworld of Cape Town, rundown streets, tattered buildings, pimps and prostitutes, street kids on the run, muggers and bergies … and policemen who have seen too much and turn to a bottle to escape.
This is the world of Eberard Februarie. He’s part of it, he understands it, until he is called to a murder in which he is completely out of his depth.
A child is found dead in a synagogue in what looks like a ritual murder. Is it a Muslim child? In no time the rival cultures are up in arms. Rumours, old hatreds, old misunderstandings boil up in the light of day. Mobs gather, peace teeters on a knife edge.
At the centre is scarred, drunken Februarie, the investigating officer – a scapegoat, chosen because he is bound to fail?
There’s another agenda here, a deeper plot that cuts into the very fabric of society, a sinister web of control from above, a deliberate attempt to ferment civil war.
Assisted by his young, keen partner Thabani Makosi, Februarie has to race against time, placate the opposing sides, challenge the authorities and find the killer.
This is often grim reading, but totally gripping. It is assured, well-plotted and intricately woven, touched with mystery, offering telling insights into a complex community. Februarie, with all his insecurities and fears, emerges as a rounded and realistic character.
At the end, there is a ray of hope, the solace of the title, a gleam of light in the darkness.
Look down from an aeroplane at the sweep of Algoa Bay and the sprawled city of Port Elizabeth. The water shades from blue to green, ripples chase themselves across the surface.
All is well… until you look underneath.
On the surface the Machabeus family is a typical Jewish family of the 1960s. An extended family rooted in their culture and traditions. Dad, who drinks to forget his failures, Ma who yells to forget hers’ and the three boys, keen-eyed Eli, the observer; Simon, who swims as best he can, and Jude, the controller.
Beneath the surface they tear at each other like sharks.
In a deftly drawn setting, filled with the sights and sounds of the era, warmly nostalgic at times, Ken Barris tells his tale, swinging from young Eli’s sharp and precocious observances, to Simon’s more sleepy narrative.
In the last section the boys are men and Jude’s voice comes to the fore. Has time healed, or are the wounds still raw?
This is lyrical at times poetic book, layered with images. Adolescence, family ties, vignettes of meaning, snatches of history, all interweave into complexity.
As in life, there is nothing so final and complete as a finale. This is portrait of a family and inevitably circular as the patterns repeat and the argument continues.
An interesting book, as rippled, shaded and at times as stark as the sea itself.
Jennifer de Klerk is editor of Artslink.co.za