Wednesday, 30 July 2008


The bookworm is taking to the hills to commune with nature for a while, and will be back in late August. Watch out for more exciting book-related "stuff" then.

Sunday, 27 July 2008


" ... we ourselves are but words spoken by God," writes the narrator in For the Sake of Silence by Michael Cawood Green, a fictionalised account of the establishment of Mariannhill monastery in what was then the British colony of Natal. And in this observation, which echoes both the first chapter of Genesis and the opening lines of John's Gospel, lies the central contradiction around which the book is constructed; the contradiction between the power and creativity of words, and the rule of silence.
Father Joseph Cupertino is one of a group of Trappist monks that, in the late 1800's, travels into the Natal interior to establish what was to become one of the world's largest monasteries. At the end of his life, he sets out to write an account of this great enterprise; not as a meditation, but as an act of penance for his part in the events that unfolded at the monastery and at its missions. For there is, in his view, no more profound penance for one bound by the strict precepts of the Rule of St Benedict than to have to betray silence with words.
So, in the painstaking detail appropriate to an act of penance, he sets down the sweep of Marianhill's history, inextricably formed and shaped as it was by its founding Abbot, Franz Pfanner.
Charismatic and driven, Pfanner impulsively agrees to leave Europe for Africa after a series of conflicts with his order, the Cistercians of the Strict Observance. Taking with him a small group of monks, he sets off for his distant destination - not with the objective of proselytising, but with the ideal of setting an example of Christian life simply by living it.
But Pfanner has within him the contradictions that inevitably manifest in his creation; his love for and commitment to the life of silence is constantly in conflict with something more outwardly-focused - the need for control that can only be given form through words. This is his fatal flaw. For it is this need - and Pfanner's inability to recognise it or let go of its roots in ego - that slowly begins to erode the very foundations on which the Benedictine way of life at Mariannhill is built.
Christian Religious life is defined by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, which reflect these qualities in the life of Jesus. The Trappists, who take their name from that of the mother house of La Trappe in France, make an additional commitment - to remain silent.
The irony that it takes so many words to tell the tale of this grand Trappist endeavour cannot be missed, but what is perhaps less evident is the irony at the heart of the silence itself. Committed as they are to the Judeo-Christian belief that the world was formed by the word of God, and to the teachings of Jesus - conveyed orally and then disseminated in writing - the Trappists' vow of silence seems to belie something at the very heart of that belief. And yet, in a world filled up with words, perhaps this is the only way to hear that original and essential sound.
The book, in its turn, also has its flaws, not the least of which is the repeated build-up to events that somehow seem to fall short in the telling. That said, Cawood Green's fictionalised account of the Mariannhill story is not only a masterly exploration of the blurred lines between fact and fiction, but part of a significant shift taking place in South African literature; one that is opening up the full scope of our history for exploration and inclusion in the canon.
Here is the complexity that lies beneath our history - one of many such accounts surely waiting to be told - and both we and our heritage are richer for it.
Editors and Webmasters: Interested in using this review in one of your publications or on your web site? Mail with any queries.

Monday, 21 July 2008


South Africa’s Henrietta Rose-Innes has won the 2008 Caine Prize for African Writing, often described as the "African Booker". The award was made for her short story, Poison, published in the book African Pens by Spearhead, an imprint of New Africa Books.
The Chair of Judges, Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly, announced Henrietta as the winner of the £10,000 annual prize at a dinner on Monday 7 July in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Kelly said that the story showed "a sharp talent, a rare maturity and a poetic intelligence that is both subtle and deeply effective. It is writing of the highest order."

Henrietta Rose-Innes was also shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2007 for her short story Bad Places, and last year won the 2007 HSBC/South African PEN Literary Award for Poison.
Henrietta was born in Cape Town and obtained her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town, after initially studying archaeology and biological anthropology. Her first novel, Shark’s Egg, was published in 2000 and her second, The Rocket Alphabet, appeared in 2004. Henrietta’s short stories and essays have appeared in various publications and she has also compiled an anthology of South African writing, Nice Times! A Book of South African Pleasures and Delights (2006). In 2007 and 2008 she was a fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart .

Also on this year’s shortlist were:

~ Mohammed Naseehu Ali (Ghana) for Mallam Sile, from The Prophet of Zongo, published by Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins, NY, 2005
~ Stanley Onjezani Kenani (Malawi) for For Honour from African Pens, published by Spearhead, an imprint of New Africa Books, Cape Town, 2007
~ Gill Schierhout ( South Africa ) for The Day of the Surgical Colloquium from African Pens, published by Spearhead, an imprint of New Africa Books, Cape Town , 2007
~ Uzor Maxim Uzoatu ( Nigeria ) for Cemetery of Life from Wasafiri No. 52 Autumn 2007

Rose-Innes, as the winner of the annual prize, will take up a month's residence at Georgetown University in Washington DC, as a Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer-in-Residence. The award will cover all travel and living expenses.

Sunday, 20 July 2008


To paraphrase Mr Dickens, it is the age of fiction, it is the age of truth - and what glorious truth there is out there ...
The Meaning of Mandela: A Literary and Intellectual Celebration
Xolela Mangcu
HSRC Press
As the world goes gaga over the great man's 90th birthday, it's worth re-visiting this title, first published by the HSRC Press in 2007.
Edited by the ever-insightful Xolela Mangcu, it is a lively, engaging and witty collection of lectures in which three renowned African and African-American scholars reflect on the public meaning of the iconic Nelson Mandela. Here we find the profoundly philosophical and political interpretations of Cornel West, the storytelling genius and witticisms of Henry Louis Gates Jr, and the wisdom of Africa's grand man of letters - and the first person of African descent to win the Nobel Prize for Literature - Wole Soyinka.
With an erudite foreword by the Chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Meaning of Mandela should be required reading for all South Africans.
The bookworm thinks: The HSRC Press's books are unfailingly well researched and astute, and I have enormous respect for the editor of this work, Xolela Mangcu. So perhaps here we will find measured insight into the man, the phenomenon and, indeed, the brand that is Nelson Mandela.
Amidst all the media attention and the frenzy of the world's celebrities claiming him as their own, we should never forget that Mandela gave up his freedom so that we could be free, and then set a divided nation on the road to democracy and reconciliation. It could so easily have been otherwise. Even now, nine decades into an extraordinary life, he continues his life's work, using his fame to raise desperately-needed funds for those most in need in our country.
Make no mistake, Mandela has been well branded and, to some extent, is a media phenomenon. But beneath all of that lies an exceptional man - no less so for his failings - and one who deserves to be honoured for a life of dedication and service.

Love Thyself: The Message from Water IIIMasaru Emoto
Hay House

Love Thyself is the third in a series of titles from Masaru Emoto, the Japanese researcher who discovered a way to document the impact of words and thought on matter.
The process began when he developed a method for photographing the crystallisation patterns in frozen water molecules. Finding a marked difference between crystals derived from pure water and those from polluted water, he started experimenting with how crystal patterns could reflect the impact of negative and positive words, then the impact of negative and positive thoughts. His findings were startling, and were first documented in his book, The Hidden Messages of Water, published in 2005.
Positive words and thoughts resulted in well-formed, symmetrical crystals, while negative words and thoughts brought about malformed, asymmetrical crystals, if the water crystallised at all. Given that 90 percent of the human body is made up of water, and that most of the earth's surface is covered by water, this discovery had far-reaching implications. Emoto began to experiment further, with even more incredible results.
In Love Thyself, he focuses on the impact of prayer and other similar practices on crystallisation patterns. And, in a world torn apart by war, terrorism and famine, he documents how effective prayer is - not just on a spiritual level, but in the physical environment too.
"For this volume ... I decided to choose what the world most urgently needs at present as a theme. That is, of course, the need to eliminate war and terrorism throughout the world. The theme I have chosen is prayer.
"When I thought about it more deeply, I realized that prayer is most effectively sent when each person in the world raises their energy of love by imagining a scene where the peoples of the world are living in peace. I’ve been taught this through the process of asking water many questions.
"For this reason, the title of this book is Love Thyself. First you must shine with positive, high-spirited vibrations, and be full of love. In order to do that, I think it’s important to love, thank, and respect yourself. If that’s the case, then each of those vibrations will be sent out into the world and the cosmos, and the great symphony of that harmonic vibration will wrap our planet in waves of love that serve to cherish our Heaven-granted lives. This is the message from water."
The bookworm thinks: Quantum theory, almost by default, has steadily been closing the gap between the spiritual and the rational that emerged with Newtonian physics. Dr Emoto's work bridges that gap even further, and brings us closer to an understanding of ancient truths long lost to us in the scientific age. I've read all of his books, and am really looking forward to reading this one too.

Water from a polluted lake, before and after a Buddhist prayer

Dr Emoto in South Africa
Dr Emoto will be visiting South Africa at the end of August to spread his message about water and healing, and to create an awareness of the power of intention. He'll be presenting seminars countrywide, which will include special screenings of the latest movie from the creators of What the Bleep Do We Know?!, aptly entitled Water.
For further information, visit Bookings can be made through Computicket from 5 August.
I will be 65 years old in this year and all I want is world peace.

Stars, Bars and Guitars: A Journey in South African MusicJon Monsoon

This book is a fascinating peek into the lives of some of South Africa’s most famous bands and musical icons, as well as those of the people who support them behind the scenes.
The first book of its kind in South Africa, it is a riveting account of the journey to fame of more than twenty bands and performers that have dominated the country’s live music scene and airwaves over the last decade and a half. It is also a journey through a multitude of established and home-grown genres and music styles – rock, Afro-pop, funk, maskande, roots reggae, hip-hop, kwaito, industrial rock, boere punk and the lesser known rockabilly and psychobilly. The grooves played by DJs, such as breakbeat, jungle and house, also get a look-in, as do music festivals, including the popular Oppikoppi Festival.
Simultaneously travelogue, educational handbook and a piece of real entertainment, the book is above all a riveting account of musicians’ lives in the limelight, off the stage and on the road. Bands featured include Springbok Nude Girls, Freshlyground, Taxi Violence, Johnny Clegg & Juluka, Lark, Fokofpolisiekar, Nine, Wonderboom, Battery 9, Prophets of Da City, No Friends of Harry, Sugardrive, Boo!, Fetish, Lithium, Squeal and Saron Gas.
The bookworm thinks: Hell, I know almost nothing about the contemporary music scene in South Africa, but this looks like a fascinating book - hats off to Struik for exploring new territory.
Um, will someone out there please fill me in on the lesser known rockabilly and psychobilly genres...?

Friday, 18 July 2008


This week brings the news that Salman Rushdie has been awarded the Best of the Booker Prize for his novel Midnight’s Children. First published in 1981, it received the Booker Prize for that year, and was awarded the Booker of Bookers in 1993, when the award celebrated its 25th anniversary.
This latest prize - a once-off - was created to honour the best overall novel to have won the Man Booker Prize for fiction since it was first awarded in 1969. This means that Midnight's Children has won the only two celebratory prizes ever presented as an adjunct to the award itself.
The Best of the Booker shortlist was selected by a panel of three judges: biographer, novelist and critic Victoria Glendinning; writer and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup; and Professor of English at London's University College, John Mullan. The decision then went to a public poll.
When voting closed at midday on 8 July, over 7 800 people had voted for the six shortlisted titles, with 36% voting for Midnight's Children. Votes flooded in from across the world, with 37% of online votes coming from the UK, followed by 27% from North America.
Commenting on the award at the presentation ceremony in London, Victoria Glendinning said, "The readers have spoken - in their thousands. And we do believe that they have made the right choice."
Wait 'til you see what South African readers chose as their 'best of best'...

AG, NO MAN ...

From the sublime to the ridiculous. In the same week as Salman Rushdie won the Booker of Bookers for Midnight's Children, it was announced that the South African public had voted The Secret the CNA Book of the Year. Ag, no man ...
Regular SAbookworm readers will recall me reviewing this title in December last year, and I still haven't got over how p*ssed off I felt when I tried to read it.
I said it then and I can only say it again: "To lay claim to an ancient teaching that pre-dates history, and to take on the mantle of the pathfinder who is revealing its essential nature to the world, is nothing short of hubris and, in my opinion, offensive. I mean, where do people like this get off?"
'Nuff said ...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008


From the acclaimed author of Expecting Adam, Leaving the Saints and Finding Your Own North Star, comes a book that provides powerful new tools for finding the life you feel you were meant to live.
Described in publications such as Psychology Today as one of the best-known life coaches in America, Martha Beck has demonstrated a rare gift for helping people whose lives have gone off course find their way back to authentic, rewarding lives. Now, in Steering by Starlight (nice title), she describes the step-by-step process she uses with her private clients to help them navigate the terrain to their best lives.
Bringing together cutting-edge research in psychiatry, neurology, and related fields in an accessible, substantive, original way, Dr Beck offers new methods for solving the problems that beset ordinary people. Using her trademark wisdom, empathy, and engaging style, she connects readers with fresh strategies that have proven most effective and efficient for the hundreds of people she has coached.
Dr Beck identifies three stages along the path to recapturing a satisfying life:
-“the stargazer” stage, during which one comes to an understanding of why it is so easy to lose oneself
-“the mapmaker” stage, during which one can use this newly-clarified perspective to evaluate one's situation and plot a course for the future, and
-“the pathfinder” stage, which is defined by the adventure of travelling a new life course.
For readers who have found their North Stars, this book will be an invaluable tool to stay the course and overcome obstacles. For those who still feel adrift, it will provide a way to find true North and follow the path of destiny.
Steering by Starlight is a worthy successor to Finding Your Own North Star, providing another set of valuable life navigation tools for those who want to steer a true course.

Book summary based on information provided by the publisher.

Monday, 7 July 2008

KEEP UP THE PRESSURE ON MUGABE is keeping up the pressure on Robert Mugabe and his illegitimate government, while President Thabo Mbeki, the African Union and SADC continue to dither in a criminally negligent way.

In its latest Zimbawean action, Avaaz is calling on ordinary citizens all over the world to lobby their governments not to recognise Mugabe's government:

After a violence-ridden, sham run-off "election" on 27 June, Robert Mugabe has declared himself President of Zimbabwe. Ominous reports of a massive crackdown on all his opponents are circulating. The fate of the country now hangs on negotiations between Mugabe and the legitimate winner of the first-round election - Morgan Tsvangirai.

Many African leaders have made strong statements condemning Mugabe's terror tactics and the illegitimate run-off. If other world leaders now refuse to recognize Mugabe, his position will be weakened and he could possibly be pressured into agreeing to a deal with Tsvangirai that will reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people.

There's still hope of saving Zimbabwe, but every day of silence strengthens Mugabe's position.

So far, only a few governments have refused to recognize Mugabe as President - we urgently need to turn this trickle into a flood this week. Click on this link to send a personalised message directly to your head of state or foreign minister, and let others who might like to do the same about this campaign:

Don't let Mugabe get away with murder. Add your voice to this protest - not just for the Zimbabwean people, but so that a dangerous international precident is not set by default. Do what you can from where you stand to ensure that democracy is protected wherever it is threatened.

Friday, 4 July 2008


After a veritable bonanza of South African books over the past few weeks, today we travel offshore to have a look at two recently-published titles that are attracting a great deal of attention.

After Dark
Haruki Murakami

The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man - a musician - intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home. They realise they're acquainted through Eri, Mari's beautiful sister.
So begins a bizarre night, in which lives intertwine in only the way chance can precipitate.
The musician leaves with a promise to return before dawn. Shortly afterwards, Mari is interrupted for a second time, by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel. A Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, she has heard Mari speaks fluent Chinese, and she needs her help. At home Eri sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is "too perfect, too pure". And as the digital clock shows 00:00, a faint electrical crackle is perceptible, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen though the plug has been pulled ...
Murakami, acclaimed master of the surreal, returns with a stunning new novel, where the familiar can become unfamiliar after midnight, even to those that thrive in small hours. In After Dark we journey beyond the twilight - is this a strange nocturnal happening or a trick of the darkness?
The bookworm thinks: Few writers like Murakami come along in a generation, so it is no wonder that one reviewer said of his last book, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, that it left him "weak-kneed with admiration". To read it is to wonder at the sheer technical skill required to write it, as well as at the way in which Murakami captures the very essence of post-modern existence with all its parallel chaos and inner symmetry.
This is a book that I intend to buy immediately, just as I intend to set aside an uninterrupted day to read it.

My Life
Fidel Castro, with Ignacio Ramonet and Andrew Hurley

For years, many have tried to persuade the leader of the Cuban Revolution to tell his own life story. Finally that story is being told.

In a series of probing interviews with Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel Castro describes his life from the 1950s to the present day. Discussing everything from his parents and earliest influences to the beginnings of the revolution, his relationship with Che Guevara, the Bay of Pigs, the Carter years, Cuban migration and his controversial views on everything from human rights to the freedom of the press, this is the tale of a bold life. And, as a bonus, Castro gives us his personal opinion of other leaders he has dealt with, alive and dead.

The bookworm thinks: Castro is a fascinating figure; a Socialist revolutionary who believes unfailingly in the collectivised state. And were it not for the US blockade of his country, which has been in place since revolutionaries overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, the Cuban Socialist experiment would almost certainly have borne greater fruit.
As it is, it has laboured under the burden of isolation in an increasingly "market-driven" world, and under too zealous an interpretation of the Socialist ideal.
History, however, may prove that the ideas on which it was founded were ahead of their time; that the socio-economic environment required for them to flourish did not yet exist. There may come a time when some form of communalism will be the only way for billions of people to cohabitate on a small planet. That time, in fact, may not be too far off.
However Castro and, indeed, Socialism is judged by history, this is a chronicle of an extraordinary life.
Fidel Castro hugs Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who was the first man in space.

Book summaries based on those supplied by the publishers.