Tuesday, 24 June 2008


As Robert Mugabe continues his campaign of violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe, the MDC has rightly pulled out of the presidential run-off election scheduled for 27 June. To participate under the current circumstances would only be to give legitimacy to an wholly illegitimate process.
But the international community cannot allow Mugabe's de facto coup to go unchallenged. All South Africans know the fear of living under an illegitimate regime, and we need to do everything possible to help Zimbabweans restore democracy and the rule of law in their country. Others have done the same for us.
Avaaz.org, the world's largest advocacy organisation, is calling on ordinary people all over the world to endorse an emergency campaign petitioning African leaders to hold an immediate summit on Zimbabwe, to isolate Mugabe, and to ensure by all means possible that a legitimate government reflecting the will of the people is established in that country.
Please consider endorsing this campaign by clicking through to: http://www.avaaz.org/en/save_zimbabwe/8.php?cl=101337596. If you were in the position that Zimbabwe's people find themselves in, wouldn't you want others to do the same for you?
Be a force for peace in the world - do what you can from where you stand.

Sunday, 22 June 2008


As promised last week, today we have a look at the titles shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Award, representing the very best in contemporary South African writing. It's a really interesting selection.
After Tears
Niq Mhlongo
Kwela Books
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?
Witty and amusing, yet rooted in the gritting reality that is Soweto, Mhlongo reminds us yet again why he has been dubbed the writer of the kwaito generation.
"After Tears is a uniquely South African story, told in a fast, hip and happening style that is synonymous with Soweto where the author's witty, dodgy, plain and simple characters play out their daily drama." ~ Lucas Ledwaba, City Press.

Blood Kin
Ceridwen Dovey
A chef, a portraitist and a barber are taken hostage in a bloody coup to overthrow their boss, the President. They are held in a sparsely-furnished room, in a castle high above a nameless capital city. Far below them, chaos tears through the streets. The chef's daughter, the portraitist's wife and the barber's lover watch their men from the shadows. In such chaotic times, intimate relationships are as dangerous as political ones. As the old order collapses, so does the network of secrets and lies that hid the brutal truth about their own dark passions.
Drawing her readers masterfully towards the novel's devastating climax, Ceridwen Dovey reveals how humanity's most atavistic impulses - vanity, obsession and vengeance - seethe, relentlessly, just beneath the veneer of civilization.

Diary of a Bad Year
J.M. Coetzee
An eminent, seventy-two-year-old Australian writer is invited to contribute to a book entitled Strong Opinions . It is a chance to air some urgent concerns.
He writes short essays on the origins of the state, on Machiavelli, on anarchism, on al Qaida, on intelligent design, on music. What, he asks, is the origin of the state and the nature of the relationship between citizen and state? How should the citizen of a modern democracy react to the state's willingness to set aside moral considerations and civil liberties in its war on terror, a war that includes the use of torture?
He is troubled by Australia's complicity with America and Britain in their wars in the Middle East; an obscure sense of dishonour clings to him. In the laundry-room of his apartment block he encounters an alluring young woman. When he discovers she is 'between jobs', he claims failing eyesight and offers her work typing up his manuscript.
Anya has no interest in politics but the job provides a distraction, as does the writer's evident and not unwelcome attraction toward her. Her boyfriend, Alan, an investment consultant who understands the world in harsh neo-liberal economic terms, has reservations about his trophy girlfriend spending time with this 1960s throwback. Taking a lively interest in his affairs, Alan begins to formulate a plan.

The Fence
Andrew Gray
Human and Rousseau
The Fence is a political thriller set in Jo'burg around the turn of the millennium. Jan Klein is hired by Brano, the biggest diamond company in the world, to investigate the transgressions of their best trader, Jose Perreira (aka "The Fence"). Ten years as a legal advisor to the government have hardly prepared Klein for this mission, but his old mentor, the enigmatic General who is now head of internal security at Brano, is sure that he is the right man for the job.
So, Jan Klein sets out for Rundu, with only his marmite sandwiches for comfort, and a meeting with Steve Brunner of Strategic Outcomes, the private security firm with which Brano has a long-standing association. But this is not as simple a mission as it at first appears and soon Jan is drawn into a world of high politics where the outcomes are all that matter to those involved.

The Song Before it is Sung
Justin Cartwright
On 20th July, 1944, Adolf Hitler escaped death by a miracle in a failed bombing. He found the main conspirators, had them hung from meathooks and their executions filmed. Axel, Count von Gottberg, is one of those hanged by Hitler.
Sixty years after his death, his old friend Elya Mendel leaves a legacy of papers and letters to former student Conrad Senior. And, with the legacy comes a mysterious duty. Drawn into a web of jealousy, betrayal, passion and terrible misunderstandings, Conrad's own life and marriage begin to suffer as a result of his obsession with the events of that momentous day in 1944.
The Song Before It Is Sung recreates the events of one fateful day which could have changed the world and ended the war, bringing Von Gottberg and Mendel vividly and brilliantly to life. Cartwright weaves an extraordinary story of human frailty, degradation and nobility, spanning Oxford in the nineteen thirties, pre-war Prussia and contemporary Britain.

Book summaries based on those supplied by the publishers.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


SAbookworm would like to wish all of its readers a peaceful and restful Winter Solstice. Last night was the longest night of the year and today we celebrate the shortest day.
In pre-Christian nature religions and across faiths today, the Winter Solstice is regarded as the most important solar festival. It marks the turning of the wheel of the year, the moment when the sun figuratively "stands still" before turning again towards spring and summer. For this reason, it was traditionally considered very unlucky to turn a wheel on this day, and it was meant to be a time of quiet, rest and reflection.
In the southern hemisphere, we're privileged to be able to mark the winter solstice in the old way; in the northern hemisphere, it falls just before Christmas, which is hardly conducive to peace and quiet!
This is a time to pause and think over the year that has been, and to rest until the first signs of the lengthening day can be seen. Many celebrate by lighting a fire and a candle, to symbolise belief in the return of the sun; in the great procession of the year and in life's capacity for eternal renewal.
It is also a time to focus on an area of greatest need, either personal or collective. Some do this in the form of prayer or ceremony, while others meditate or simply sit quietly to think on these things.
And in this time of extraordinary social, economic and natural upheaval, it is perhaps fitting to focus on the healing of the earth and all things on her. What greater wish could there be for the natural environment or for its animal and human inhabitants than that?

The image at the top of the page shows a sun halo, photographed in Iowa, USA on the morning of the Winter Solstice in 2002. A sun halo is created by the sun's rays shining through millions of ice crystals in the air. Photograph courtesy of NASA.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Regular SAbookworm readers will recall me writing about the use of the terms "chick lit" and "chick flick" in Open Letter to the Media in January.

As I said then: "This may come as a surprise to some, but the use of the word "chick" in this context is either overtly or covertly dismissive, as it directly associates women with something that is small, vulnerable, cute, compliant, dim-witted, non-threatening and controllable. Simply put, to use this term to describe women, and things related to and of interest to them, is offensive and denigrating."

In the piece, I specifically mentioned e.tv's use of the term to advertise its Thursday night movies. And, just to see what would happen, I submitted the piece to the station for comment, as well as logging a complaint about its use with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission.

Not unsurprisingly, e.tv didn't even respond, and the BCC told me the complaint was invalid as the term is in common usage. When I asked how they would respond to a similar campaign featuring "Dick Flick Fridays" or, heaven forbid, something using the k-word, they told me such campaigns did not exist, and so the point was moot.
Well, here's my point, which is definitely not moot: just because a term is in common usage doesn't make it innocuous or acceptable to use. I would imagine that would be self-evident.
And here's another point: if a promotional campaign used a term that was offensive to men or to people of colour, it would be whipped off the air in a New York minute. Why don't the same rules apply for language that is offensive to women? And why are women's protests about this kind of thing just ignored or dismissed? After all, the fact that both etv and the BCC feel the use of this term to describe women is acceptable says something profound about how women are viewed in our society.

Worse still, Five Roses Tea is now sponsoring the odiously-named "Chick Flick Thursdays", and its promo ads using the term run several times a day.

Now, stop me if I'm wrong, but isn't it strange that neither the station nor National Brands Limited has taken into account that the term it uses in its ads may be offensive to the very market it's targeting?

But here's the thing: you're not powerless in the face of big business and big media. If you don't like being called a "chick", stop using Five Roses Tea and stop watching etv. Women constitute slightly more than half of the population and spend disproportionately high amounts on fast-moving consumer goods like, well ... tea ... and all those other things that are advertised on e.tv.
The fact of the matter is that we teach people how to treat us, and silence, after all, constitutes acceptance.
So, if you're offended by the use of this term - as I am - and see it a symptomatic of something far more deep-seated, don't support the companies that use it with your hard-earned bucks. You can even call the National Brands Customer Service Line on 0860 100219 to voice your objection, or e-mail e.tv at info@etv.co.za.
And tell your sisters , mothers, aunts, grannies, neighbours, colleagues and girlfriends to do the same. Send e.tv and Five Roses a clear message that sexism doesn't sell. Who knows what could happen? You've heard of the butterfly effect, haven't you?
What do you think? Tell us what you think about this issue. Use the "comments" button below to post a comment. This is an open forum, so you don't need to be registered, and you can have your say anonymously or by using a pseudonym. And you can keep up-to-date with what other SAbookworm readers think about the books and issues being featured on the site.

Sunday, 15 June 2008


Today we take a look at the titles shortlisted for the 2008 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. Watch out for a feature on the fiction titles shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize next week.

Odyssey to Freedom
George Bizos
This the autobiography of one of the world's most admired human rights advocates.
George Bizos' story, told on a grand scale, begins with his daring rescue of six New Zealand soldiers from the Nazis when he was a boy in Greece. He later emigrates to South Africa with his father, and arrives in Johannesburg penniless and unable to speak English.
He then studies law at Wits and becomes an advocate, building a career on defending the downtrodden against apartheid abuses in a hostile justice system. He becomes the defender of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and the families of Steve Biko, Chris Hani and the Cradock Four. He mediates in the events around Winnie Mandela and even defends Morgan Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe.
These cases are related as gripping courtroom dramas, augmented by the drama behind the scenes. His whole remarkable, courageous and beneficial life is told in astonishing detail, involving hundreds of colourful characters and anecdotes. This is set to become the autobiography of the decade.
The bookworm thinks: One of Umuzi's top sellers this year, this is my pick for the prize, although others in the trade have weighed in behind The Fox and The Flies.
Not only does this book tell the story of an extraordinary life, it tells the story of an incredible time in our history, from the other side of what was then the political fence. And in case anyone's forgotten exactly how apartheid was kept in place by institutionalised oppression, intimidation and violence, this book will be a timely reminder. On a more personal level, it is story of a lifetime of achievement and service in the face of overwhelming odds.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

A truly incredible journey

Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred
Mark Gevisser
Jonathan Ball Publishers
This title is a story about home and exile. It is a story, too, of political intrigue: of a revolutionary movement struggling first to defeat and then to seduce a powerful and callous enemy, of the battle between unity and discord, and the dogged rise to power of a quiet, clever, diligent but unpopular man who seemed to take little joy in power but have much need for it.
By the time he retires in 2009, Thabo Mbeki will have ruled South Africa, in effect, for the full fifteen years of its post-apartheid democracy: the first five as Nelson Mandela's 'prime minister' and the next ten as Mandela's successor.
Gevisser's long-awaited biography is a profound psycho-political examination of this brilliant but deeply-flawed leader, who has attempted to forge an identity for himself as the symbol of modern Africa in the long shadow of Mandela. It is also a gripping journey into the turbulent history and troubled contemporary soul of the country; one that tries to make sense of the violence of the past and confusion of the present.
As Mbeki battles with demons ranging from AIDS to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, and finds his legacy challenged by his would-be successor Jacob Zuma, The Dream Deferred takes the reader back along the path that brought him to this place, and helps us understand the meaning of South Africa, post-apartheid and post-Mandela.
The bookworm thinks: This book was widely criticised when it was published for being a somewhat pandering view of a president who has failed his country and his people badly. I haven't read it, though, so there's obviously something in it that merits its inclusion on the shortlist for this esteemed prize.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

The unknown Mbeki?
The Fox and The Flies
Charles van Onselen
At the end of the nineteenth century European pimps and 'white slavers' established a hugely successful global market for commercial sex and, for three turbulent decades before the First World War, Joseph Silver was central to this hidden world of betrayal, intrigue, lust and sexual slavery.
Burglar, gun-runner and trafficker of women on four continents, Silver was a disturbed adolescent, youthful predator and adult misogynist whose notoriety was captured in the most confidential correspondence of a dozen countries in the western world. But what those in charge of law-enforcement agencies kept to themselves was how their officers had attempted to use Silver as an informer to infiltrate syndicates, only to have him outwit them as he moved in the dangerous space between police and prostitutes.
In this brilliant study, Charles van Onselen situates the private life of one man amidst the demimonde of the Atlantic world and casts a brilliant light on the most infamous serial killer of all time - Jack the Ripper.
The bookworm thinks: Charles van Onselen is one of South Africa's foremost sociological writers, and his research is always impeccable.
In this book, the writer of the seminal books about the birth of the Witwatersrand, New Babylon and New Ninevah, uncovers the dark truth behind the man who was Jack the Ripper. A rightful and worthy contender for the prize, Charles van Onselen previously won the Alan Paton Award for another remarkable book, The Seed is Mine: Kas Maine - The Life of a South African Sharecropper.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

The truth stranger than myth ...

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

Thursday, 12 June 2008


Well, South Africa's winter Book Season is in full swing. With the third annual Cape Town International Book Fair coming up this weekend, both the Mail and Guardian and the Sunday Times published related supplements last weekend, and a number of awards longlists and shortlists have been announced.

First off, the shortlists for the annual Sunday Times Fiction Prize and Alan Paton Award for non-fiction were announced over the weekend, and the awards themselves will be announced on 2 August. Ten judges read a total of 72 entries over 140 days, so results are eagerly anticipated.
Titles on the shortlist for the fiction prize are:
  • The Song Before it is Sung by Justin Cartwright, a reflective novel that explores the difficulties of a conflicted relationship against the background of Nazi Germany
  • Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, in which a 72-year-old Australian writer airs his moral, ethical and philosophical concerns on a range of subjects in an age of unease
  • Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey, a fable of power and sexuality set in a nameless dictatorship and told through the eyes of a chef, his daughter, his lover, a barber, a portraitist and his wife
  • The Fence by Andrew Gray, a chilling portrayal of corporate corruption in the world of blood diamonds
  • After Tears by Niq Mhlongo, the tale of Bafana Kuzwayo's adventures in Soweto after his return from the University of Cape Town
Titles on the shortlist for the non-fiction prize are:
  • Odyssey to Freedom by George Bizos, in which the eminent advocate recounts his exile from Greece, his arrival in South Africa and his commitment to justice under apartheid
  • Thabo Mbeki - The Dream Deferred by Mark Gevisser, which draws out the broader issues of history, identity and society through its examination of the life of a complex and intriguing subject
  • The Fox and the Flies by Charles von Onselen, the biography of the early 20th century psychopath and racketeer, Joseph Silver
To read more about the books on the shortlist and to see the judges' opinions of the shortlisted books, click through to the Sunday Times Special Report on this year's awards.

Then, the winners of this year's MNet Via Afrika Awards will be announced at a private event at the Cape Town Book Fair.
Nice to know, but I wish the organisers would be a bit less secretive about this awards programme. One seems to need major connections to find out anything about it which, in my view, smacks a bit of elitism. One even needs to "request registration" to view press releases on the MNet corporate web site!
Us ordinary folk will, however, be permitted to meet the award winners (oh joy!) at 10:00 on Sunday at Stand L8. You can also download a copy of the Book Fair's full programme to have a look at what else is on there from Saturday to Monday.
Open to all, though, will be the presentation of this year's European Union Literary Award, which is held in association with Jacana. The winner will be announced at a cocktail function hosted by His Excellency Mr Denis Pietton, Ambassador of the Republic of France, at the Old Town House on Greenmarket Square:

When: Sunday, 15 June 2008
Where: Old Town House, Greenmarket Square, Longmarket Street, Cape Town
Time: 18:00 for 18:30
RSVP: emily@jacana.co.za /011 628 3212
The EU Literary Award is the first of its kind in the world. Supported by the various European Union embassies and commissions operating in South Africa, the award promotes new, fresh literature that speaks in a South African idiom to an international audience.
The titles on this year's shortlist are:
  • The Monkey on the Mountain by B. K. Green
  • Martin Winter’s Road by A. J. Kruger
  • Till We Can Keep an Animal by Megan Voysey-Braig
  • Mourning by Karen Williams
It's also great to hear that the CNA Book of the Year Awards are back.
A list of 24 titles has been longlisted based on sales, Nielsen market share data and the assessment of CNA's book buyers, and these are currently in-store. Customers are invited to vote for their favourites until 18 June, and the final awards will be announced on 25 June.
Participating customers stand the chance of winning one prize of all twelve books to receive this year's awards, while ten customers will be able to make their own selection of six titles from the list.
So get into CNA this weekend and cast your vote!


The winner of this year's Commonwealth Writers' Prize was also recently announced at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. A project of the Commonwealth Foundation's Culture and Diversity Programme, the prize is awarded annually for the best work of fiction written by an author who is a citizen or permanent resident of a Commonwealth country. A supplementary prize is also given for the best first book.
Eight winners from four different regions of the Commonwealth qualify for the final phase of the competition, with the overall winners being selected by a distinguished pan-Commonwealth panel. The Best Book winner receives a prize of £10,000 (about R155 000), while the Best First Book winner receives a prize of £5,000 (about R77,500).

The objectives of the prizes are to promote new voices, reward achievement, encourage wider readership and greater literacy, thereby increasing appreciation of different cultures and building understanding between cultures.

This year's Best Book Award went to Lawrence Hill for his work
The Book Of Negroes, and the Best First Book Award went to Tahmima Anam for her book A Golden Age.

The New York Times has called The Book of Negroes a "wonderfully written fictional slave narrative … populated by vivid characters and rendered in fascinating detail", and this extract from the novel gives the reader an idea of the beauty and depth of Hill's prose:
"Let me begin with a caveat to any and all who find these pages. Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, Dear Reader, have an African hue and find yourself led toward water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary. And cultivate distrust of the colour pink. Pink is taken as the colour of innocence, the colour of childhood, but as it spills across the water in the light of the dying sun, do not fall into its pretty path. There, right underneath, lies a bottomless graveyard of children, mothers and men. I shudder to imagine all the Africans rocking in the deep. Every time I have sailed the seas, I have had the sense of gliding over the unburied. Some people call the sunset a creation of extraordinary beauty, and proof of God's existence. But what benevolent force would bewitch the human spirit by choosing pink to light the path of a slave vessel?"

Described in similarly glowing terms as a brilliant debut novel, A Golden Age is the first major fictional account in English of the creation of Bangladesh.
Set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971, it is a story of passion and revolution, of hope, faith and unexpected heroism. In the chaos of this era, everyone - from student protesters to the country's leaders; from rickshaw wallahs to the army's soldiers - must make choices. And as widow and mother Rehana Haque struggles to keep her family safe in the face of this, she finds herself faced with a heartbreaking dilemma.
For more about the prize-winning books and their authors, visit Lawrence Hill's web site at http://www.lawrencehill.com/ and Tahmima Anam's web site at http://www.tahmima.com/.

Saturday, 7 June 2008


A treat for all bibliophiles - the third annual Cape Town International Book Fair is coming up next week. The four-day book extravaganza will take place from 14 to 17 June at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, and promises a veritable feast for book lovers and writers of all ages.
Highlights will include debates and discussions, as well as appearances by over a hundred local authors, as well as several international ones.
Just to give you a taste, Alexander McCall Smith will be at the fair to promote his new book in the ever-popular Ladies No.1 Detective Agency series; Jo-Anne Richards will speak about her new novel, My Brothers' Book; poet Isobel Dixon will be here from London to launch her new collection of poems, and Eben Venter will launch Trencherman, the new English version of his book Horrelpoort, translated by Luke Stubbs.
Other local authors in attendance will include novelist and academic Njabulo Ndebele, biographer Mark Gevisser, former parliamentarian Andrew Feinstein, political analysts Moeletsi Mbeki and Xolela Mangcu, popular fiction writers Rayda Jacobs, EKM Dido and Pamela Jooste, sensational new talents Kopano Matlwa, Rosie Kendal, Jane Bennett, Sihle Khumalo, Niq Mhlongo, Bree O'Mara and Zukiswa Wanner.
One event that is eagerly awaited - and is sure to get everyone talking - is the launch of the Cape Flats graphic novel Stormkaap: Drome Kom Altyd Andersom Uit, written and illustrated by André Trantraal, Ashley Marais and Nathan Trantraal. Spoken word poet and rapper Jitsvinger will provide the beats.
The Cape Town Book Fair is run under the auspices of the South African Publishers Association and in collaboration with the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest book fair in the world.
For more information, and to have a look at the full programme, click through to http://www.capetownbookfair.co.za/.


And now for the really fun stuff - just some of the books you'll be able to find at the Cape Town International Book Fair:

The Great Karoo
Leon Nell
The Great Karoo is a vast, arid area with expansive plains, imposing mountains and warm and welcoming inhabitants. Focusing on eleven roughly drawn regions, Leon Nell depicts the fauna, flora, history, farming, architecture, attractions and people – both the unusual and the famous. Here is a treasure house of well-loved stories, characters, features and events that make up the paradox of the Karoo.
Nell brings to this book his experience in nature conservation and deep love of the land, and finds himself moved by the dogged determination and extraordinary hospitality of those who call this special place home.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

Explore the extraordinary Karoo

A Fold in the Map
Isobel Dixon
A Fold in the Map charts two very different journeys, the dislocations of leaving one's native country and an the grief of a father's final painful journey.
In the first part of the collection, Plenty - before the fold - the poems deal with family and the longing for home in a new country, and all the ambiguity this entails.
In the title's second half, Meet My Father, the poems recount events more life-changing than merely moving abroad - a father's illness and death, the loss of some of the plenty of the earlier poems.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

The ambiguities of two deeply personal journeys


Bodies Politic
Michiel Heyns
Jonathan Ball

Bodies Politic is a wonderfully elegant novel.
Three women look back in old age at a past they shared, not always harmoniously: Emmeline Pankhurst, the formidable suffragette; her daughter Sylvia; and Helen, who was loved by Harry, the neglected son of Emmeline and beloved brother to Sylvia. Through the narrative of each woman flits the figure of Christabel, Mrs Pankhurst’s favourite daughter: selfish and vain, but irresistible.
The three accounts, sometimes contradictory, sometimes confirmatory, reconstruct piece by piece the events surrounding Harry’s death and the human entanglements behind -indeed, at times driving - the public acts of the time.
Against the background of massive events – the struggle for the vote for women, the First World War – Bodies Politic examines, in fictionalised form, the private lives of the participants in these events, and the need for causes to be manifested in specific human bodies, in all their strength and weakness.
Moving, dramatic and at times grimly humorous, Bodies Politic is an entirely original account of great love and bitter resentment, political victory and personal defeat; but ultimately of the indomitable spirit that escapes the shackles of the body.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

A tale of the personal behind the political
Pompidou Posse
Sarah Lotz
It’s the late eighties and British teenagers Vicki and Sage are on the run in Paris after burning down their art-school pottery shed. Penniless, homeless, and worst of all, out of cigarettes, it isn’t long before they find themselves living on the streets.
Survival means not only learning to navigate the perils of soup-kitchens, begging, hallucinogens and sleeping rough, but also dealing with charismatic gypsy fire-eaters, violent German hoboes, teargas-happy gendarmes and sexual predators, including Taffy, a psychotic one-legged Welshman. While Sage battles with her own damaging secrets in the angry scrawls of her diary, naïve Vicki finds herself drawn to the damaged and often dangerous people living outside society. Can the girls emerge from this experience with their friendship and sanity intact?
Pompidou Posse is a unique glimpse into the dark side of Europe’s most glamorous city.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

A posse to Paris

Solomon's Angels
Doreen Virtue
Hay House
King Solomon knew how to harness universal energies to build his temple, tap into wisdom, and enjoy all of life's riches. The only thing he was missing was true love. Makeda, soon to become the Queen of Sheba, was young and filled with exuberant curiosity about the world. She knew about the Jinn elemental realm and how to work with the sun and moon's magical light, but she still wasn't sure how to take charge of her own life.
In Solomon's Angels , Doreen Virtue's first novel, which is based on thoroughly researched historical, biblical, archaeological, and culturally accurate information, you'll see how Solomon and Makeda's meeting changed both of their lives forever.
You'll discover the ancient secrets behind how Solomon's temple was built without hammers and saws, and the role that the archangels and sacred geometry played in manifestation and divine magic.
Solomon and Makeda's magically romantic story will inspire you in many ways ... long after you've finished reading it.
For more about this book, or to buy a copy, click here:

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Note: Book summaries based on those supplied by the publishers.

Thursday, 5 June 2008


"There is a story that when we die we will not be asked, ‘Why were you not more like Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Jesus or Krishna?', writes poet and author Dorian Haarhoff. "The great question will be: 'Why were you not more like yourself?' ".
The truth is that we can be anything we imagine. Everyone is inherently creative, and all it takes to tap into that creativity is the right opportunity to explore it.
That's why I was thrilled to hear of a new initiative called Imagine Life, which presents a whole series of workshops that help individuals and groups to discover not only their inner creativity, but the meaning from which it springs.
The workshops in Imagine Life's winter series include:
Discovering Meaning Through Creative Writing, a writing workshop focused on exploring the meaning that is unique to you in your life through the art of creative writing
When: 19 July and 23 August
Where: St Luke's Church, Norwood
Time: 09:30 - 13:00Cost: R630, including tea and coffee
Facilitator: Dorian Haarhoff
Enquiries: Coral Wilder - 011 622 8793 / 083 450 9148 / coralw@telkomsa.net
A Book of Nights and Days, a writing workshop about the cathartic and therapeutic process of keeping a journal
When: 19 July and 23 August
Where: St Luke's Church, Norwood
Time: 09:30 - 13:00
Cost: R630, including tea and coffee
Facilitator: Dorian Haarhoff
Enquiries: Coral Wilder - 011 622 8793 / 083 450 9148 / coralw@telkomsa.net
Finding the Fire, a writing workshop that deals with the challenge of finding personal myths that will enable us to sustain ourselves through times of transformation
When: 20 July and 24 August
Morninghill, Bedfordview
Time: 09:30 - 13:00
Cost: R630, including tea and coffee
Facilitator: Dorian Haarhoff
Enquiries: Coral Wilder - 011 622 8793 / 083 450 9148 / coralw@telkomsa.net

Fabric and Fibre: The Path to Selfhood, full-day creative workshops designed for women to use craft making as part of the rite of passage on special occasions such as engagements, marriages, births and birthdays
When: Arranged on request to suit individual groups
Cost: R930
Facilitator: Ronel Wheeler
Enquiries: Coral Wilder - 011 622 8793 / 083 450 9148 / coralw@telkomsa.net
In proud association with BOOKDEALERS - for a wide range of collectible, out-of-print and pre-owned books, as well as overstocks of new titles at incredible prices

Photo: Bookdealers in Melville
About Imagine Life:
Imagine Life was conceptualised and developed by Coral Wilder as part of her own journey towards imagining a life that would enable her to be truly herself.
Coral has a strong background in the non-profit sector, and was the Marketing and Fundraising Manager for the Endangered Wildlife Trust for many years. She has also worked for ORT (Organisational Resources and Technology), the Food Gardens Foundation and Lifeline. She is currently completing the advance course in Logotherapy at UNISA, is a founder member of the Victor Frankl Institute of South Africa, and is constantly seeking out new workshop concepts.
About the Facilitators:
Dr Dorian Haarhoff is a published writer, story-teller and a former Professor of English Literature who has a deep belief in the power of words to create new realities, support change and build community. He has conducted many creative workshops in different parts of Africa. These are based on his text The Writer’s Voice, and his clients include business people, medical doctors, researchers, embassies, therapists and development organisations.

Ronel Wheeler trained as a social worker specialising in trauma and play therapy. She is a registered Psychophonetics therapist, and works with both groups and individuals to facilitate personal development using art therapy, fabric, clay, sounds, gestures and much more in order to weave and express the rich inner experiences of soul.
Lead photo: Michael Pollan's writing house. Click through here to read a review of his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


It’s World Environment Day tomorrow (5 June), and the United Nations Environment Programme is urging us to kick the carbon habit, for good.
With a campaign entitled Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy, the UNEP is asking countries, companies, communities and individuals to focus on ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by simply changing their daily habits and consumption patterns.

Although climate change is a global challenge, there’s a lot that ordinary people can do to reduce their carbon footprint and, as we know, it takes every drop to fill the barrel. The good news is that, in the current difficult economic climate, living a low-carbon lifestyle isn't only good for the environment and for long-term health, food security and socio-economic stability, but it can save you money too.

Each one of us creates a carbon footprint just by going about our daily lives: by driving to work, making a cup of tea or just buying a carton of milk at the shop. Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly or indirectly support your activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide.

The first step towards kicking the carbon habit is to find out just how big a footprint you make.

Greater Good SA and one of its registered causes, Food & Trees for Africa, urges South Africans to determine their carbon footprint so they can take active steps to reduce it by, for instance, cutting back on travel, recycling or planting trees. Their Carbon Standard Calculator is the first of its kind in the country, and is a quick and easy way to measure your impact on the planet.

Do it - it's a sobering experience.

Then, in the spirit of doing what you can from where you stand, click through to Greater Good SA's Going Green for Good feature to find our what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. It's easier to do than you think, and the cumulative effect of many small actions can significantly reduce our individual and collective impact on the environment.

Another Greater Good SA cause that book lovers will be keen to know about is Donate-a-Book. This initiative aims to empower our country's children with the essential skill of literacy and bring them the joy of reading by funding mother-tongue storybooks for disadvantaged communities.

Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of my grandmother reading stories to my sister and me. It's my dearest wish that every child can have a similar experience. So, share your love of books with the next generation by making a donation today.


An SAbookworm reader has kindly written to let me know that you can read Paulo Coelho's classic work, The Alchemist, for free on the author's blog. Click through to http://www.paulocoelhoblog.com/ to read the e-version, as well as excepts from his latest work, Brida.
If you'd like to download the e-book onto your Kindle, you can purchase a copy from the blog, or order a good old-fashioned paperback copy too.
Or, if
you'd like to order a copy of the book locally, click through to kalahari.net here:

A fable about following your dreams

HSRC Press has also taken the leap to open access publishing, and offers free downloads of all its books from its web site.
The Press publishes the research output of the Human Sciences Research Council, as well as externally authored works, and its objective is to provide access to quality social science for all South Africans. A formal peer-review process guarantees that its titles are of the highest academic quality, and it collaborates with foreign publishers on some of its projects.
If you prefer the non-virtual reading experience, you can also order print copies from the HSRC Press list online. Click through to http://www.hsrcpress.ac.za/ to have a look.
P.S. You need broadband to download these books, otherwise it could take a while ...

Sunday, 1 June 2008


I was about twelve when I discovered poetry, and I spent the next decade or so reading it voraciously, and penning hundreds of poems. That was at a time in my own life and in history when it was still regarded as part of everyday life.

Something, however, has changed since then, and this was brought home to me when I read Patrick Cullinan's new collection, Escarpments. Whether we like it or not, poetry in its traditional literary form just doesn't have the same place in our lives that it used to have. The world has changed and we've changed with it.

I wish I could recall which 20th century author said that the novels of the future would be biographies. Either way, he or she has been proven right, as we see a marked trend towards the blurring of the real and the imagined in fiction. Poetry too is in transformation, as it moves back onto the streets from which it originally came.

The power of poetic form to capture the essence of experience remains, of course, unchanged, but an increasingly personal and interior literary prose is steadily claiming its historic ground. What will become of the established form itself remains to be seen, but it has certainly moved out of the mainstream.

That said, Escarpments brought back some of the old joy in poetry that I recall from half a lifetime ago.
Much of the collection captures our country's history in a way I recall viscerally, sometimes bringing a knot of fear and recognition to my stomach. Some of it harks back to the great Italian poetic tradition, and some it of captures the heartbreakingly ordinary in the extraordinary times those who came before us lived through, such as this poem entitled Johannesburg 1902 does:

After the war, when we got back
To the house, my father came with
Cherry branches, a wagon full,
And I remember how glad we were:
Because till that day
We had never seen
Green branches with red cherries.
It is something I shall not forget.
I also remember how the soldiers
Took my matchboxes
That were hidden in a special drawer.

This is the power of poetry, the power to capture in a few perfect lines the vast swathe of human experience, and Cullinan is a master of his trade.
In Spring Burning, for instance, he captures both the imagery and meaning of an age-old pastoral practice, and what its destruction would mean to those who grew up in its embrace:

Late in the afternoon:
Before the rain,
Before the summer,
A dead branch bursts -
Blazes at the tip.

A boy runs forward
From the men,
And dropping flame like seed
Sows the hills with fire.
And when the rain breaks
In the mountains,
He will see that flame
Go green through the grass,
Grow fat in the bellies
Of his father's oxen,
Grazing slow and red.
And through his life, his dreams,
Fire will be his knowledge;
Will glow there bright in innocence,
And burn with fury through his age.

Here, in a few brief stanzas is the tragedy of our recent past. But here too is memory and the meaning that will not die.
Perhaps, when we read lines like these, something as ancient and ancestral as the practice of spring burning is re-awakened in us too, and we can sense that the poetic, if not poetry, is still very much part of our daily lives.

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

Re-visit the poetic
Editors and Webmasters: Interested in using this review in one of your publications or on your web site? Mail sabookworm@telkomsa.net with any queries.


For those of us who will always want to capture the poetic and transform it into poetry, I've discovered a wonderful online poetry course by local poet, De Waal Venter.
The Poeson Poetry Course (pronounced POE-er-zon) comes in four modules and is written in a relaxed, conversational style. The modules cover the poetic techniques required for preparation, writing and revision, and engage the aspirant poet in various special assignments.
Most importantly, the course offers personal contact with De Waal, who gives detailed feedback on each assignment and module, as well as guiding you through the process of giving form to perceptions, observations, feelings and insights.
Unique to this course is the concept of poesons, tools developed by De Waal to facilitate the poetry-making process.
He explains that entangled meaning in a poem links seemingly unrelated concepts and creates new meaning, richer as a whole than the parts from which it originated. This entangled meaning or Gestalt of a poem is a poeson. In writing a poem, poesons, in their turn, can be used to create structure and meaning, and to convey complex intellectual and emotional dimensions.
For more about this fascinating approach - and about the Poeson Poetry Course - e-mail De Waal on dewaalv@gmail.com or visit his web site at http://dewaalventer.book.co.za/. You can take one, two, three or all four modules, and you can take them in any order. Each module costs R700.

About De Waal:

De Waal is an active poet who publishes weekly on web sites like Poets.org (http://www.poets.org/). You can read his work there and also see his critiques on other poets.

He is also on the management team of another poetry website, Neopoet (http://www.neopoet.com/), and it is his role to greet and vet new members.

De Waal published his first volume of poetry, Kiem, in 1963 , which was followed by more poetry anthologies, novels, short stories, plays and children's books. A collection of short stories
containing one of his works went into its 13th reprint in January 2008. He writes in both English and Afrikaans.