Sunday, 22 June 2008

BOOKWORM'S CHOICE: SUNDAY TIMES FICTION PRIZE SHORTLIST

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
Penguin
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
Penguin
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
Bloomsbury
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.

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