Alice and Natalie Kessler, he reveals a secret painting. Kessler Sisters is an evocative piece of art, portraying the charming young artist himself, with Alice and Natalie.
Bayber persuades Dennis Finch, an art history professor, and Stephen Jameson, a young authenticator, to explore the possibility of selling the painting. It sounds like a simple enough request…but there is a caveat. They first need to locate the sisters, who seem to have vanished.
Revelations about the past, are juxtaposed with clues Finch and Jameson discover in the present. History catches up with them all and we are drawn into family secrets, which have brought about devastating consequences. The question which lingered long after reading this story was - are we ever able to correct our past mistakes or should we be content to simply forgive them?
Guzeman writes with passion and delicacy. There are many evocative passages which I went back to a number of times. The author weaves the sisters’ conflict, the intrigue of a missing painting, and the grief of long lost love, into a poignant tale which resonated deeply.
I will be on the lookout for more of Tracy Guzeman’s work.
In fact it starts before that with his secrecy, strange behaviour and outbursts. These should have been warning signs – but the well-known, popular television and radio presenter, not knowing what more was in store, did her best to keep the peace.
But this was not the first time Going had been exposed to unpredictable behaviour and violence. Her story tracks back and forth to her childhood and school days when she would wait peeping through the curtain, for her drunk father as he staggered up the pathway, stopping to vomit. Or when she’d try to protect her sibling twins from the noise as his took out his wretchedness on her mother. This will never happen to me, she thought. I will never be beaten up. Never. Ever. History has a cruel way of repeating itself.
The book touches on a number of remembered incidences, hopes and dashed dreams in her life, and also on the many people who played significant roles. Going’s troubled brother who dies tragically in an accident weeks before his time in the army is up. Her then five-year-old son who tries to put cream on her badly bruised eye, her caring domestic Wilhelmina, the loyal friends who stood beside her in court and not least her devoted mother. But if the beating and the violence she describes are shocking, worse is the court ordeal. ‘He’ who remains nameless throughout the book (‘this is my story, not his’), is as menacing, sly, deceptive and vindictive throughout the drawn-out proceedings as he had been in the later stages of their short lived relationship. At one point he even jumps bail and leaves the country. The series of prosecutors, the cross-examinations, the patriarchal defence team, the manipulation are all alarming. The twist of the knife is when incredibly, the magistrate declares that ‘he’ ‘deserves another chance’ and finally, accuses her of exaggeration and ‘speaking to all and sundry in the media’. One can only hope that one day that magistrate reads her book.
In conclusion at a time when the country is imprisoned by a rampant virus and so many women are literally trapped in homes with abusive partners, as hard as it was for Going a woman of status and privilege to be heard and believed, how much harder, if not impossible it is for them. This is a shocking but vital book.
They are all mentioned in this book. Her wit comes through with force, your minds eye is working overtime recalling scenes and laughing out loud in appreciation of that wry wit.
This is not a book you can simply skim through, but one that needs time and constant return to sections to refresh as needed.
Perhaps a little hard going in places talking of the back to back stage performances, the detail is exact and intense, but you get a strong sense of who she is and what an extraordinary talent with a work ethic that shuts everything out but her professionalism.
Much enjoyed but take your time..
on my reading list as long as they continue writing. Strong, versatile voice, incredible characters, and tough, fascinating plots. I will be begging Mopai to contribute to one of the short story collections I plan to edit in the future.
She is a wife and mother of two, but finds life much more interesting with her lover. Her stories of people she meets while waiting for Coenraad, are enthralling and detailed. The meetings are never straight forward, she has to first follow a set of coded instructions and he is often in disguise, leading to several amusing interludes.
The is a story that holds you and makes you want to know whats coming next. It is no surprise this is now published by New York Review.
reader a glimpse into their unique experiences of the government-mandated state of Lockdown, imposed on all citizens to “flatten the curve” of the deadly Corona Virus.
The list of contributors is like a bibliophile’s wet dream. I honestly wouldn’t mind spending an indefinite number of days locked up with the likes of Ben Travato, Professor Pumla Dineo Gqola, Eva Mazza, Professor Ismail Lagardien, Tracy Going, Christy Chilimigras et al. Reluctantly pushing my apocalyptic fantasies aside, I settled for simply delving into their words, penned Polaroid snapshots of their diverse and distinctive experiences of the “new normal that is utterly abnormal” - my description - called Lockdown.
The book encompasses essays as diverse as the contributors themselves and spans perspectives just as singular as their writing styles. Ben Trovato’s keen observation skills and dry wit cannot de outdone. The poignancy of Christy Chilimigras’s green wingback chair and the bourgeoisie burden of Dave Muller’s chocolate cake. Helena Kriel’s words, dense and descriptive and divine. Robert Hamblin’s rage threatening to jump from the page and interrupt the reader’s carefully-scheduled Zoom meditation class. From Lindiwe Hani questioning, “Is it possible to suffer from PTSD from events you were not a part of?” while she dances with the spirit of her deceased father to Kelly-Eve Koopman’s gripping dystopian tale outlining the seemingly inevitable descent into acceptable societal madness.
Sara-Jayne Makwala King’s words resonated deeply as she wrote of issues that I am passionate about: addiction recovery, mental health concerns and motherhood. Not much forethought has been given to the addicted populations – both in recovery and not - and how they will navigate their own madness, their uncontrollable afflictions, without access to support and vital resources.
She writes, “My own personal reality is that any one of several monsters I’m already living with could take me out way before a microscopic parasite decides to use me as its host. Borderline, bi-polar, anxiety and depression – not to mention their motley-crew of comrades, self-harm, anorexia and addiction – are all ready to launch their unwavering, potentially deadly assault upon me at the slightest hint of vulnerability. And right now I’m vulnerable as f*ck. Four months post-partum, still feeling ripped from c*nt to craw and single-parenting my way through a global f*cking pandemic.”
The undeniable thread that connects the contributions to this book is that of privilege; making the overwhelming needs of the homeless, the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, the desperate and disadvantaged even more conspicuous by its absence. As, Pumla Dineo Gqola writes, ““kuhlekwa nokuba kubhuiiwe” (we laugh even in the presence of death).”
But another unmistakable thread also ties the tales to one another: that of hope. Hope spreads through the book like the virus itself. And if there is anything worth holding onto right now, it is hope.
This is a light easy read but makes sure you know full well the journey is not sometimes so easy for the travellers. Anyone looking for adventure this is a good place to start.
forty years threw a searchlight into a way of life that many of us young white women didn’t know, or didn’t want to know much about – and certainly didn’t understand.
Nearly forty years on, here comes Poppie again in a newly released edition, with a cover image of Clementina Mosimane who plays Poppie in the film released earlier this year (2020). But ‘Poppie’ has had a remarkable history in the intervening years. Elsa Joubert translated her original 1978 Afrikaans book into a wonderfully vivid English in 1980. It went on to be translated into 13 languages and was acclaimed as one of the most important books to come out of Africa in the 20th century. Over and above which it was made into a play starring Nomsa Nene as Poppie, performed at the Market Theatre and later on Broadway in the US in 1982.
But aside from the story of the book, what is the story of Poppie herself? Her real name was Ntombizodumo Eunice Msutwana, born February 28 1936 in Upington and raised in a township called Blikkies. Her Xhosa name means ‘girl born from a line of famous women’. Joubert now 97 and something of a legend herself, knew Ntombi for just two years before she wrote the ‘Poppie’ story – and remembers that ‘she was an intelligent person with a great memory for detail’ (I quote an article in the Sowetan). In a note ‘To the reader’, she says ‘This novel is based on the actual story of a black woman living in South Africa today. Only her name Poppie Rachel Nongena, born Matati, is invented. The facts were related to me not only by Poppie herself, but by members of her immediate family and her extended family or clan, and they cover one family’s experience over the past forty years.’
I’m presuming that inscription was included in the original edition of 1978. But the truth of the matter is that whilst the story of this ‘black woman living in South Africa today’ would not be the same in 2020 – the stories of so many ‘black women’ whilst different, may not be much better.
The Poppie journey starts with her childhood in Upington where she ‘looked after mama’s children till I was thirteen because at thirteen the factory took children to work as cleaners’. From there to Lambert’s Bay, forcibly removed to Cape Town then to Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape and back to Cape Town. All the while dogged by the impossible apartheid laws. It’s an education in so many ways, not least of which is the ability of a woman to love and care for her husband, her children, her extended family, despite all.
But what is special about the Poppie story, then as now, is that you can hear her voice and that of her family members so very clearly. You can understand and empathise with her challenges, her traditions, her humour and her love. All of which is a testimony to the quality of Joubert’s listening skills as well as her writing. It’s an absolute must read.
The real ‘Poppie’, mother of five was only 56 when she died of cancer in April 1992 in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. At 97 Elsa Joubert recently published 'Cul de Sac' 'a memoir 'exploring the continent of old age.'
I really do think a book resonates because of what you are seeking or feeling or intrigued about at the time. Or it unlocks something you didn’t even know you were storing.
(Confession two: I seldom feel compelled to write book reviews but this one grabbed me by the throat.)
Strangely enough, this book, The trouble with my aunt, was not one that I intended reading at the moment. But somehow, when the Jewish Literary Festival was cancelled, along with so many other literary events, I was fortunate enough to have picked up a copy of this book.
And I have loved every single minute of it. Even prolonging the end because I wanted to savour it for longer. I hope I can do it justice here:
At the centre of novel is Leah, who has always been intrigued by the condition of her aunt Vi, her mother’s sister, who presented with habits and traits of a person who most of us would have described as ‘mentally challenged’ or ‘disabled’ but not quite known exactly why. But when Leah’s casual encounter with a work colleague, Steve, in a steamy start to the novel leaves her pregnant, Leah’s quest to understand her family history really begins.
The story is carried by a perfect pace with easy dialogue and characters are simply all lovable, including the awkward and flat-footed aunty Vi who repeats herself constantly and delights in her weekly visits to have her hair permed and addresses any object of her affections as ‘Toozazee’. The bond of family is the overriding theme: between mother, daughter, and the matriarchal glamorous granny Sadie, but also between mother and her new-born son. And then of course, how to deal with the troubles of Vi.
And then there are other delightful characters like Granny’s best friend Lily Gerber, who I wished I’d known but who we all have somewhere in our midst, I think.
But I also have to mention the Yiddishms which punctuated this story: the fahribbels, the Meshuggehs, and the chalisching which goes on amongst people who are generally identified by their unfortunate schnoz’s! (And you’ll have to read the book if you don’t understand these!)
Perhaps it was the recollection of giving birth which is described in such heart-warming honesty, or the eating habits she mentions in her descriptions which I recalled in my own home- the half grapefruit and kippers for breakfast,- or the fact that Toozazee is close to the nickname of my own mother (Toozie) amongst so many in our family, but I honestly think it goes far deeper than that.
Because in fact many of us know people like Vi, and we really have no idea how families have dealt with the repercussions or family dynamics that these special individuals bring.
I can highly recommend this book. Start by looking carefully at the beautiful cover of self-drawn images by the author and then open and enjoy. I wish I could start all over again.
Perhaps Gus Silber says it best… ‘it grabs you by the heart and never lets go’.