Saturday, 31 May 2008


It's always difficult to select books for Bookworm's Choice - there are just so many to choose from! This week's list shows the true diversity they bring into our lives.

Fifteen Men
Margie Orford
Sinewy, riveting and frightening, Fifteen Men is a collection of writing by South African prisoners that speaks of the places and experiences rarely glimpsed, rarely represented in our fractured and violent society.
The book is a literary tribute to the power of quietness, and to the quiet heroism of fifteen writers who dared to face the dark places of the mind to produce the pieces it contains. Over a period of nine months, in a dusty prefab classroom, the men chose quietness as a way of reflecting on and articulating pain and loss; of creating stillness in the present; of tentatively mapping alternative futures where, as Steve Sam writes, ‘I believe that the past cannot tear my future apart.’

The contributions of these men, all of whom are serving very long sentences, mirror the hearts, minds and the violent lives of the men who crowd South Africa’s prisons. They offer reflections that we ignore at our peril.
Margie Orford comments: "When I first arrived at Groot Drakenstein Prison I saw fifteen prisoners, reduced to a brutal sameness by the orange or the blue uniforms, by the obedient way in which incarcerated men shuffled from one place to another at the order of a guard, by my own fear of them.
"Nine months later, I had piles of handwritten stories and poetry on my desk. The paper carried with it the unique smell of the prison: a dusty grey hopelessness of lives turned to ash. It turned the stomach. And yet the writing spoke to me of a quiet heroism.
"These fifteen men turned up at the page, so to speak, every day. They resisted the inertia that creeps into the bones and turns one’s knees to water when one thinks of twenty-five, thirty years in the same small scrap of space, and they wrote. That slow, carefully accumulated effort has produced this book."

The bookworm thinks: I'm keen to read this book for a number of reasons. With South Africa's history, it's so easy to focus on continuing crime and violence, but little attention is ever given to the pain that lies beneath the actions.

We are a wounded nation, scarred by colonialism, tribal conflict, apartheid and neo-authoritarianism. The only way for us to heal is to look the causes of our uniquely violent society in the eye and, amongst other things, learn to know the person behind the crime.

For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

Ask not for whom the bell tolls ...
Don't Panic
Alan Knott-Craig
Don’t pack for Perth – stay and put your energy into creating the South Africa we all want to live in. Be part of our Don’t Panic! drive to turn a challenging year into a year of opportunity.
During the midst of the power cuts in January, Alan Knott-Craig, MD of iBurst, wrote an inspirational e-mail to his staff about turning 2008 into a year of opportunity. Alan’s message inspired hundreds of South Africans to change their attitudes in a viral wave that started with a conversation with a disillusioned employee, and ended with a deluge of support from around South Africa – via blog, e-mail, SMS and letter.
The positive message was welcomed by countless South Africans looking for a silver lining in the storm clouds of 2008. This book is the result of South Africans wanting to share their positive messages.
Royalties will be donated to the Tomorrow Trust. For more about the trust visit

The bookworm thinks: 2008 is turning out to be a watershed in our history, a time when we either decide to build a democratic society together, or allow the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for freedom to have been in vain.

I'm wary of so-called afro-optimism, because we have many real challenges to face here, but I believe each and every one of us has a choice to make at this time - to be part of the problem or part of the solution. If we want to be part of the solution, we could build something remarkable in this country, and all it will take is for each of us to do what you can from where we stand. Start by reading this book - it's what some of your fellow South Africans are thinking.
As Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in the world. It's hard - we know that - but great results are never born from cynicism and despair.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

And, well, don't panic

This Secret Garden: Oxford Revisited
Justin Cartwright
Oxford is many things. But it has a symbolic meaning well beyond its buildings, gardens, rituals and teaching. It stands for something deep in the Anglo-Saxon mind - excellence, a kind of privilege, a charmed life, deep-veined liberalism, a respect for tradition.
Cartwright has spoken to many leading figures, looked at favourite places in Oxford, subjected himself to an English tutorial - he performed very poorly - attended the Freshers' dinner in his old college, studied various works of art and museums, investigated the claim that dons like detective novels, and reread many Oxford classics.
At the same time, he has looked at some of the great debates which made Oxford what it is, as well as the most recent debate about funding, which ended in a resounding defeat for the reformers. He depicts the beauty of this historic city, the landscape of enclosed quads and gardens, and the astonishing collection of buildings. Cartwright concludes that the Oxford myth, while outstripping the reality, is as powerful as ever. This is an enchanting and highly original look at Oxford, indispensable reading for anyone interested in the myth and reality of Oxford.
The bookworm thinks: I've been to Oxford and, yes, there is a haunting and mysterious quality to it that goes straight to the heart. Great men and women have studied and worked here, the Bodleian Library houses over 9 million books, and there is a great tradition of liberalism and debate that dates back centuries.
I feel the town suffers, though, under the weight of mass tourism; in so many ways it has become just another tourist attraction. And then, of course, it suffers under the weight of its own importance.
I always thought I would have liked to study at Oxford University, until I went there. Then I had the distinct feeling that independent and maverick thinkers would be crushed by the sheer heaviness of today's academic institution.
Nevertheless, this is where Alice in Wonderland was written, and where the choir still gives full voice in the Cathedral every day, so the book looks like an interesting read. To my mind, though, the vigorous debates of the 21st century aren't taking place in the hallowed halls of the academy, but on the streets, in cafes, shebeens, back rooms, and around both dining room tables and open fires in countries like ours.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

Visit Oxford's dreaming spires


Paulo Coelho
This is the story of Brida, a young Irish girl, and her quest for knowledge. She has long been interested in various aspects of magic, but is searching for something more. Her search leads her to people of great wisdom, who begin to teach her about the world.
Her teachers sense that Brida has a gift, but cannot tell what that is. Meanwhile, Brida pursues her course ever deeper into the mysteries of life, seeking to answer questions about who she is. She meets a wise man who dwells in a forest, and teaches her about overcoming her fears and trusting in the goodness of the world, and a woman who teaches her how to dance to the music of the world, and how to pray to the moon. She seeks her destiny, as she struggles to find a balance between her relationships and her desire to become a witch.
The bookworm thinks: I have an ambiguous relationship with Coelho, who is widely revered around the world for his New Age writing. There is wisdom to be found in his work, but I feel it has come to be overshadowed by his ego, and by a certain set "Coelho formula". The book's worth a read, though, especially as it's set in Ireland, which is rich with magic and beauty.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
To the land of mystery and wonder
The Rowing Lesson
Ann Landsman
Pregnant with her first child, Betsy Klein is summoned from her home in the United States to her father's hospital bed in South Africa. Harold Klein is sensual, irascible, a passionately committed doctor, and a complex husband and father.
As Betsy sits and waits for him to stir from his coma, she is compelled to imagine his life. Fatherless and skinny, Harold Klein had to struggle to assert himself in his family, and, later, to become a doctor and to win the respect of his Boer patients.
We first meet him as a young man on a formative, sexually charged excursion with his friends on the Touw, a river to which he often returns. This is where he later teaches his little daughter to row, and finally, where he makes his last metaphoric passage.
The Rowing Lesson is an utterly convincing and vivid portrait of a consciousness and a life, shot through with a daughter's fierce empathy and exasperation. By the heartbreaking end of the novel, it seems inconceivable that we will not meet Harold Klein directly, that he will never wake up, so powerfully has he been brought to life.
The bookworm thinks: This sounds like a fascinating book that explores one of the closest and perhaps most tortured relationships any of us will ever have - the relationship with a parent.

For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

Row on the River Touw
Note: Book summaries based on those supplied by the publishers or the authors.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


Hot on the heels of his mismanagement of the xenophobic violence in our country, news comes from international campaigning organisation that President Mbeki is currently blocking international attempts to have the manufacture of cluster bombs banned. Avaaz is therefore appealing to all South Africans to write to the President, using the convenient online letter the organisation provides, to urge him to support the treaty banning these weapons that is currently being drafted in Dublin.
In the words of the Avaaz appeal:
"Final negotiations are underway right now in Dublin on a treaty to ban cluster bombs. Arms manufacturers are pushing governments to riddle the treaty with loopholes and delays -- and the final text will be decided in the next 72 hours.
Cluster munitions don't just kill during war. They scatter small, shiny, unexploded "bomblets" on the ground that hold their deadly charge for years. When children pick them up, they are often maimed or killed.
Most governments agree that these weapons should be outlawed, but back-room pressure is rising to undercut a strong ban. We're hearing the South African delegation is one of the problems -- so we need to send an avalanche of messages from South African Avaaz members to Thabo Mbeki. If enough of us act before the treaty is signed on Friday, we can drown out the weapons merchants and convince governments around the world, South Africa among them, to ban cluster bombs once and for all.
Click here to send a message, and then send this email on to friends and family:"
In the spirit of doing what you can from where you stand, please support this initiative - one by one let's make the world a safer, more peaceful and more humane place for everyone.
About is a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want. “Avaaz” means “Voice” in many Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages.
Across the world, most people want stronger protections for the environment, greater respect for human rights, and concerted efforts to end poverty, corruption and war. Yet globalization faces a huge democratic deficit as international decisions are shaped by political elites and unaccountable corporations -- not the views and values of the world’s people.

Technology and the internet have allowed citizens to connect and mobilize like never before. The rise of a new model of internet-driven, people-powered politics is changing countries from Australia to the Philippines to the United States.
Avaaz takes this model global, connecting people across borders to bring people-powered politics to international decision-making.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008


The movie based on Louise Hay's classic book You Can Heal Your Life will be discussed on 3Talk with Noeleen on SABC 3 tomorrow (28 May) at 17:30. Tune in to find out more about Hay's unique approach to healing and stand a chance of receiving a DVD of the movie.
For more about the book, or to buy a copy, click here:

Go on a healing journey
Hay House South Africa, the local publisher of this and many other books on health and healing, donates all of its profits to NOAH (Nurturing Orphans of AIDS for Humanity). Over the past three years, the company has donated R3,5 million to this cause - what an amazing way of doing business!
P.S. SAbookworm always finds the best book prices for you, and the links at the bottom of all features take you through to the most affordable copy of the book available.

Friday, 23 May 2008


I've unilaterally decided to dub winter Book Season, in the same way that Cape Town refers to its cold rainy months as the Green Season. This is because, I'm heartened to note, as soon as the temperature drops, thoughts turn from braaivleis and sunny skies to the perennial pleasure of books. Promotions and awards abound, and readers are simply spoiled for choice. After all, is there any better way to spend a cold weekend afternoon than curled up on the couch with a hot cuppa, a sweet treat, the dog at your feet and a great book?
Of special interest at the moment is Exclusive Books' annual Homebru selection, a potjie of 25 great South African reads, with everything from politics to fantasy and humour.

Apart from Damon Galgut's The Imposter and The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg, which I've mentioned previously, these are the titles on the Homebru list that caught my eye:


My Brother's Book
Jo-Anne Richards
My Brother’s Book tells a story of betrayal and atonement that spans the lives of two siblings from their nomadic childhood in the Eastern Cape during the 1960s, to their adulthood in 2004 in Johannesburg.
While the nation struggles to come to terms with its past, Lily struggles with her guilt about her careless betrayal of her brother, Tom, which destroyed his life and their relationship. Tom confronts this fraught past by writing a memoir. But both Lily, and Tom’s former lover Miranda, take issue with the way his book remembers their shared pasts. The two women begin to unravel “the way it really was”. They tell a story of love and loss, of revolutionary fervour – and failure.
As the past unravels, so do Tom’s certainties about his relationship to his estranged family and to his nation. His life is thrown into further confusion and chaos as Lily uncovers a secret that will force him to confront that past.
Jo-Anne Richards has written a poignant and evocative tale of the ways in which seemingly minute choices can destroy lives and relationships. My Brother’s Book explores the most intimate aspects of betrayal and deception set against the backdrop of a nation striving to understand the consequences of its terrible and traumatic past.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

A Tale of Two Siblings

After Tears

Niq Mhlongo
Bafana (nicknamed Advo for advocate), is a young man with a weight on his shoulders. After flunking his law studies at UCT, he now has to find a way to either admit the truth to his family, or somehow find a job that will allow him to continue fooling them.
Soon after his arrival back home in Soweto he meets up with a Nigerian guy named Yomi who promises to help him solve all his problems. What should Bafana do? Should he bite the bullet and confess the truth to his mother and uncle, or should he rather take up Yomi’s suggestion to buy a law degree and start practicing as an attorney?
A piercingly funny yet poignant novel by the author of Dog Eat Dog.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
To be or not to be a lawyer ...

Three-Letter Plague
Johnny Steinberg
At the end of a steep gravel road in one of the remotest corners of Lusikisiki in the old Transkei lies the village of Ithanga. Home to a few hundred villagers, the majority of them unemployed, it is inconceivably poor. In the broader world, most would consider it entirely inconsequential.
It is to this remote place that award-winning author Jonny Steinberg travels to explore the lives of a community caught up in a battle to survive the ravages of HIV/Aids. There e befriends Sizwe, a young local man who runs a spaza shop and who refuses to be tested for Aids despite there being a well-run testing and anti-retroviral programme in the area. It is this apparent illogic that becomes the key to understanding the dynamics that thread their way through a complex and traditional rural community.
As Steinberg grapples to get closer to finding answers that remain maddeningly just out of reach, he realizes that he must look within himself to unravel certain riddles.

For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
A tragedy in three letters

The Jews in South Africa: An Illustrated History
Milton Shane and Richard Mendelsohn

Spanning the past two centuries, The Jews in South Africa explores the fascinating role played by this small but highly significant community in the economic, political, social and cultural life of this country. This richly illustrated story – the first comprehensive history to appear in over 50 years – includes a wide range of historically important photographs, many long unseen, and encompasses a broad swathe of Jewish life, from the bimah and the boardroom to the bowling green.

Beginning with the first Jewish immigrants to South Africa, and depicting the fragility of the early foundations and the shifting fortunes of this infant community, the book traces its development to robust maturity amidst turbulent social and political currents. These include the strident anti-semitism of the 1930s, the moral dilemmas of the apartheid era, the subsequent turbulent transition towards a non-racial democracy, the birth of the new South Africa and the fresh challenges and promise that have followed in its wake up to the present day.
Included are such personalities as Barney Barnato, Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo, Sol Kerzner and Rabbi Cyril Harris, as well as many others who have made an important mark in their fields.
The Jews in South Africa will be of great interest to every member of the Jewish community living both in South Africa and in their adoptive countries, as well as for all wishing to learn more about this highly energetic and innovative community whose contribution in many spheres of life has so greatly influenced and enriched the history of South Africa.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

Explore South African Jewish life and history

Some of My Best Friends Are White
Ndumiso Ngcobo
Some of My Best Friends are White is a collection of sharp, satirical essays on contemporary South African issues from the point of view of a successful corporate professional who just happens to be Zulu.

Crossing various controversial, amusing and downright confusing racial divides, the title delivers a healthy dose of black and white humour as it explores some of the rainbow nation's defining characteristics, its many colourful characters and its myriad mysterious idiosyncrasies.

Unfortunately not available at - check out your local bookstore.

With so many books to choose from, there's only one thing to do. Get the book, the dog and the cocoa, and take to the couch this weekend ...

P.S. Also on the Hombru list are To the Brink: The State of Democracy in South Africa by Xolela Mangcu, and Laying Ghosts to Rest by Mamphela Ramphele, which I'll be reviewing soon.

Note: Book summaries based on those supplied by the publishers.

Thursday, 22 May 2008


In times of crisis we are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation; too overwhelmed, in fact, to feel that we can help or make a difference. But we can.
I've always believed in the principle of helping from where you stand, of making a difference right where you are. And that is what each of us as individuals can now do in the face of the xenophobic violence sweeping our country. The cumulative effect of every small effort can make an overwhelming difference, and will go some way towards alleviating the terrible suffering that so many people are going through.
So what can you do?
For one thing, aid agencies are desperate for funding and supplies to manage this enormous humanitarian crisis. Donate something - anything - and do it now. For a list of organisations appealing for help, go through to Talk Radio 702's web site at Donations of cash, blankets and other emergency supplies are desperately needed.
The Red Cross has also set up a disaster management fund, and donations can be made online at or by means of direct deposit into the following dedicated account:
South African Red Cross Society
Standard Bank
Account Number: 071760563
Branch Number: 025309
Please fax a copy of your deposit slip, together with your contact details, through to +27 (0)21 531 3007
Volunteers are needed to assist with relief programmes as well. For more information, call the The Red Cross's Gauteng regional office in Germiston on 27 011 873 9009, or the Johannesburg office in Houghton on 27 11-339 1992. You can also e-mail the SARCS on
And, if you want to raise your voice and speak out against xenophobia, the Social Movements Indaba (SMI) is organising a protest march this Saturday. The march will begin at 09:00 at Pieter Roos Park (corner Empire and Hospital Roads), and will end at the Johannesburg Library Gardens. Further information is available at
Whatever you can do, do it. Make a difference from where you stand
Mozambican Domingo Christophe cries before leaving his South Africa-born wife, Silindile and his child, Tando, to flee the Makause informal settlement in Primrose under police protection on Wednesday. Foreigners have been forced to return their home countries in the wake of xenophobic attacks.
Image and caption courtesy of Mail and Guardian Online:
Top image by Paul Botes, Mail and Guardian: Ramaphosa Informal Settlement, 20 May

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


The media is overflowing with coverage of Salman Rushdie's new book, The Enchantress of Florence, which is due, I suspect, as much to the man's profile and history as to the literary merit of the novel. After all, the author who was forced into hiding to avoid a fatwa for writing The Satanic Verses deserves both attention and admiration. And then, of course, he's a multiple award-winning writer, with his book Midnight's Children having been named the "Booker of Bookers". He's even recently been knighted, so that's "Sir" to you.
I confess, I don't find Rushdie easy to read, and this book is no exception. As Tymon Smith of The Times says, "(it is) an uneven, sometimes magical, often frustratingly overwrought account of a fictional encounter between two historically factual worlds", 15th century Florence and the 16th century court of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar.
In short, a tall young European traveler calling himself “Mogor dell’Amore,” the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the Emperor Akbar, lord of the great Mughal empire, with a tale that soon begins to obsess the imperial capital. It is the tale of a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, and of her impossible journey to the far-off city of Florence.
And so the book weaves itself between these two great cities, the Mughal capital at the height of its powers and the equally sensual city of Florence, as an extraordinary woman takes command of her destiny in a male-dominated world.
Painstakingly researched over a period of ten years, the historical detail is extraordinary, but the narrative sometimes labours under its weight. The characters, nevertheless, are vintage Rushdie, riven with inner contradictions and the challenges of negotiating "interesting times", as we ourselves are in South Africa.
If there is a lesson to be learnt here, says Rushdie, it is that, as human beings, we remain unchanged; we were violent then and we are violent now. On reflection, what a sad indictment ...
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
Be enchanted ...
And to listen to Tymon Simth's interview with the great man, click through to

Monday, 19 May 2008


I am haunted by the images of xenophobic violence I have seen in the media over the past week. Yesterday, the conflict that started in Alexandra, where it displaced people I care for deeply, moved to the Johannesburg CBD, Cleveland and Jeppe, close to where I live. Dozens sought refuge in police stations and churches, and the evening's news showed angry mobs hunting down foreigners and looting their property in a way that was hauntingly reminiscent of the Nazi persecution of the Jews that preceded the Holocaust.
And where was our President?

Throughout this horror he has remained silent. All the government has deigned to tell its citizens and those suffering these attacks is that it believes there is a sinister "third force" at work, once again denying the lived experience of the people. And when Mbeki was finally shown on TV it was only to announce that he had set up a panel to look into the attacks. His words? As best I can remember, "It will be interesting to see what is at the bottom of this."

Your people are not a social experiment, Mr Mbeki, and you shame us with your conduct. In the end, the tree is known by its fruit, and this is the fruit of your presidency; the racialisation of public debate, the HIV/AIDS denialism, the failure to address corruption and poverty, and the spectacular failure of your policy of "quiet diplomacy" with Zimbabwe.
It is time for you to step down, for us to return to the roots of our democracy and the ubuntu on which it is founded, and to reclaim the dream you have betrayed. It is the only honourable thing to do.

Images by Gianluigi Guercia, AFP

For further images see:

Friday, 16 May 2008


Today's Bookworm's Choice is a feast of fiction, and brings you a selection of the very best new titles, both local and international. But before that, there's a book every book lover should have ...

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Peter Boxall (Ed.)

They're called the classics for good reason. Whether they're works of wacky imagination, of piercing insight into social and cultural traditions, or simply fantastically absorbing stories, all of the books featured in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die have grown out of the desire to communicate a story, a message or a lesson.
From much-loved tales to off-beat cult fiction and the timeless classics of the nineteenth century, discover the influences on the authors, plots and characters of the books that really should make up part, if not all, of your library.
Battle orks with Frodo and Aragorn in Middle Earth , go on the road with Kerouac in search of freedom, get involved with questions of gender and androgyny with Orlando, immerse yourself in the full and expansive portrait of India created by Seth in A Suitable Boy, and enter the world of Christoper Boone in his touching and amusing quest to find the killer of his neighbour's pet dog.
All of these books, and many more are reviewed with fresh perspectives in terms of plot, the ideas that they bring out and why they deserve, above others, to be recommended and read.
The bookworm thinks: On my reading list? What a question ...?!
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
Get your book fix
The Imposter
Damon Galgut

Adam Napier is retrenched from his not-very-interesting job and, finding his prospects bleak on all fronts, accepts an offer from his successful property developer brother to move to a small cottage in a nondescript Karoo town, where he intends to return to writing poetry, something he did with modest success as young man.
One day, while buying garden implements in the town’s hardware store, Adam is surprised to be recognised and accosted with extravagant delight by Canning, an old school friend whom, it seems, has harboured a strong and devoted sense of connection to Adam ever since their school days.
And so begins a pattern for Adam - of spending weekends at what is a lush, green, exotic oasis in the middle of a desert, with a couple who are clearly mismatched and uneasy with each other – Baby, spoilt, bored and seemingly indifferent to everything, her husband included, and Canning, as eager to impress Adam as he is to please him, and to show off his spoils and his connections with people in high places whose credentials appear dubious.
The bookworm thinks: If it were to depend on the blurb, I'm not sure I'd read this book - it all sounds so convoluted - but Damon Galgut is one of our best South African writers, so he wins out. And anyway, I have a yen to read about someone who sets out to return to the poetry of his youth. After all, that takes courage ...
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, browse the book section at
Browse Book Section
The Painter of Shanghai
Jennifer Cody Epstein
In 1913, an orphan girl boards a steamship bound for Wuhu in South East China. Left in the hands of her soft-hearted but opium-addicted uncle she is delivered to The Hall of Eternal Splendour which, with its painted faces and troubling cries in the night, seems destined to break her spirit. And yet the girl survives and one day hope appears in the unlikely form of a customs inspector, a modest man resistant to the charms of the corrupt world that surrounds him but not to the innocent girl who stands before him.
From the crowded rooms of a small-town brothel, heavy with the smoke of opium pipes and the breath of drunken merchants, to the Bohemian hedonism of Paris and the 1930s studios of Shanghai, Jennifer Epstein's first novel, based on a true story, is an exquisite evocation of a fascinating time and place, with a breathtaking heroine at its heart.
The bookworm thinks: A tale of mystery that features a place called The Hall of Eternal Splendour and a modest man resistant to the charms of the corrupt world? Definitely one I want to read!
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
This way to the Hall of Eternal Splendour
The Sound of Butterflies
Rachael King
It is 1903 when Thomas Edgar says goodbye to his young wife Sophie and embarks on a journey to the Amazon, where he dreams of finding a mythical butterfly that will make both his name and his fortune. His dreams change, however, soon after his arrival in Brazil ...
Months later, Thomas arrives home, thin, sick and, worst of all, unable or unwilling to speak. Frustrated by his silence, Sophie takes increasingly drastic measures to uncover the truth about what happened to her husband while he was away. But as she sorts through Thomas' diaries and boxes of exquisite butterflies, it becomes clear that the truth may not be easy to bear.
The Sound of Butterflies fuses Edwardian gentility with obsession, murder and a glimpse of the giddy excess of the Brazilian rubber boom. Told in prose as opulent as one of Thomas' specimens, it's a convincing debut.
The bookworm thinks: So many books, so little time ...
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
Float like a butterfly ...
The Garden of Bad Dreams
Christopher Hope
The Garden of Bad Dreams is a seductive collection of short stories from Christopher Hope, a conjurer of strange places and displaced people.
From the story of the entertainer who is compelled to collect small people, to the monk who pushes away a mountain from his monastery, we are confronted with characters who could have been plucked from a fairy tale and yet are very much part of our own world.
Transporting us from the Malaysian highlands to an ex-servicemen's estate in Badminton, from a zoo in the midst of a civil war to a forested hillside in central Serbia, The Garden of Bad Dreams is a constantly surprising, highly addictive mixture of the absurd and the darkly familiar. It is a masterful collection.
The bookworm thinks: This is a new book from the self-proclaimed "wandering South African" whose first novel A Separate Development was immediately banned on publication in 1980. It sounds thoughtful, quirky and sometimes downright bizarre. Just up my alley ...
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:
Come into Hope's garden
Note: Book summaries based on those supplied by the publishers.

Friday, 9 May 2008


Welcome to the new Bookworm's Choice feature, an SAbookworm selection of the latest titles just released in South Africa.

The book summaries in this feature are based on those supplied by the publishers, and you can find out at the end of each one what the bookworm thinks of that title(!).


The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam
Lauren Liebenberg

The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam is, above all else, a magical evocation of childhood; at times laugh-out-loud funny, at others heartbreakingly sad.
It tells the story of two young sisters, Nyree and Cia O'Callohan, who live on a remote farm in the East of what was then Rhodesia in the late 1970s. Beneath the dripping vines of the Vumba rainforest, and under the tutelage of their heretical grandfather, Oupa, theirs is a seductive world laced with African paganism, bastardised Catholicism and the lore of the Brothers Grimm - until their idyll is shattered forever by their orphaned cousin, Ronin. His arrival at the farm sets in motion a chain of events that result in tragedy and the loss of innocence.
The bookworm thinks: For those of us who grew up in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's, there will always be a disconnection between the innocence of childhood and the environment in which it was lived. This book sounds particularly evocative, and one I've certainly put onto my reading list, especially since there's not only peanut butter and jam to be had, but also an heretical grandfather!
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, browse the book section at
Browse Book Section
Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black
Nadine Gordimer
In this collection of new stories the author crosses the frontiers of politics, memory, sexuality, and love with the fearless insight that is the hallmark of her writing.
In the title story a middle-aged academic who had been an anti-apartheid activist embarks on an unadmitted pursuit of the possibilities for his own racial identity in his great-grandfather's fortune-hunting interlude of living rough on diamond diggings in South Africa, his young wife far away in London.
"Dreaming of the Dead" conjures up a lunch in a New York Chinese restaurant where Susan Sontag and Edward Said return in surprising new avatars as guests in the dream of a loving friend. The historian in "History" is a parrot who confronts people with the scandalizing voice reproduction of quarrels and clandestine love-talk on which it has eavesdropped. "Alternative Endings" considers the way writers make arbitrary choices in how to end stories - and offers three, each relating the same situation, but with a different resolution, arrived at by the three senses: sight, sound, and smell.
The bookworm thinks: I recently came across a review of this book in which the writer said she had always found reading Gordimer's work a bit like taking a pill. I'm afraid I fall into that category, no matter what accolades this elder writer may have garnered. I mean, just reading this description makes my eyes glaze over. If you're brave - and don't mind pills - you might want to give this one a try; I'm going to pass ...
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Skylark Farm
Antonia Arslan
At the age of thirteen, Yerwant left his home in the Anatolian hills of Turkey to study at an Armenian boarding school in Venice. Now, in May 1915, after forty years, he is planning a long-awaited reunion with his family at their homestead, Skylark Farm.
But while joyful preparations for Yerwant's arrival are being made in the town of his birth, Italy enters the Great War and closes its borders. At the same time, in Turkey, Yerwant's family begins a brutal odyssey of hunger and humiliation at the hands of the Young Turks who are determined to rid their nation of minorities. Fighting brutality with love, courage and hope, four of the family's children set out on a dangerous and daring course of their own: to reach Yerwant, and safety, in Italy.
The bookworm thinks: Like the movie The Rabbit Proof Fence, this is a book about the outer journeys that frame our inner journeys, and of how - no matter what - we are all at the mercy of history. Definitely on my reading list.
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The Economic Naturalist
Robert H. Frank
This book helps you discover the secrets behind hundreds of everyday enigmas. Why is there a light in your fridge but not in your freezer? Why do 24-hour shops bother having locks on their doors? Why did Kamikaze pilots wear helmets? The answer is simple: economics. Economics doesn't just happen in classrooms or international banks. It is everywhere and influences everything we do and see, from the cinema screen to the streets. It can even explain some of life's most intriguing enigmas.
For years, economist Robert Frank has been encouraging his students to use economics to explain the strange situations they encounter in everyday life, from peculiar product design to the vagaries of sex appeal. Now he shares the most intriguing - and bizarre - questions and the economic principles that answer them to reveal why many of the most puzzling parts of everyday life actually make perfect (economic) sense.
The bookworm thinks: Come to think of it, why is there a light in the 'fridge but not in the freezer? This sounds like an excellent read in the tradition of Freakonomics and, since I'm fascinated by the connection between economics and life as it is lived, this one is also definitely on my reading list.
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Real Simple Fuss-Free Meals
Struik Publishers
We all like savouring dishes that are cooked from scratch, but with the daily stresses of a challenging job and a demanding family, food that's quick to prepare - and not always healthy - often wins out. Not any more.
If you're wondering what to make for dinner (again), how to entertain guests with hors d’oeuvres that don't come out of a packet, how to make a meal of the lone tin left in your pantry, or how to put a dish together without turning on the stove, you'll find the answer in these pages.
With easy-to-follow methods and hands-on time frequently under 30 minutes, you can have it all - delicious, healthy meals and time to spare.
The bookworm thinks: My kind of book - it's on my wishlist already.
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