Title: Skin we are in (David Phillip)
Author: Sindiwe Magona and Nina G. Jablonski
Reviewer: Sarita Waller
A beautiful collaboration between story teller, scientist and illustrator as the children’s story is told alongside very understandable science about skin colour. The message that skin colour is not a determinant of what is in a person’s heart nor is the colour of skin indicative of a person’s level of intelligence…yes, this is an extremely important message for all. And so Njabulo and his friends work together on a recycling project in his Uncle Joshua’s scrapyard while learning that although different in appearance all people originated from the continent of Africa…many, many years ago. And while having fun the children also learn the importance of team work and the value of collaboration. And so this magical children’s book which is also a recommended read for adults concludes with a musical surprise!
Author: Vanessa Raphaely
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Reviewer: Nancy Richards
Some people are born to write a book not any book, but a particular book, and Vanessa Raphaely was definitely starred for this one. So it’s set in the heart of women’s magazineland – and not only was Vanessa raised by magazine-pioneer mother Jane Raphaely, but she herself was both editor of Cosmo in South Africa and in London where she launched and edited a major health and beauty title. The point being, Vanessa knows what she’s talking about. Though hopefully she may be exaggerating just a little, in some instances anyway.
Plus One’s protagonist is South African-born Lisa Lassiter, deputy editor of glamour magazine Fille in London. ‘Plus One’ being the second-class title given to partners of the main invitees to posh events. Like for instance a weekend away off the coast of Mykonos on a billionaire’s yacht where Lisa is persuaded to go (as PO) with her best buddy, gorgeous golden movie star Claudia Hemmingway As you may imagine on a yacht full of A listers, a great deal of cocaine and champagne is going down and Something Really Awful happens. From here, as if life in the style-society lane weren’t already spiked with backstabbing and bombshells, things start to seriously unravel.
Lisa and Claudia fall out big time and the lovely Ms Lassiter reinvents herself with restored dignity back in South Africa. But bear in mind this is a crime novel in essence, well crime and passion perhaps – and unpacking that crime is, to coin a phrase, complicated – as is the passion. Claudia has a hot but uber-cool brother, Liam.
Whilst Vanessa will take you by Lisa’s manicured hand and guide you gasping through the air-kissing coke and couture set and their shenanigans – she has not been afraid to pull back the curtain on the dark side of celebrity – on power, deception and rape. Got you guessing? Yup, it will – right to the end.
Title: There Goes English Teacher (Modjaji, 2018)
Author: Karin Cronje
Reviewer: Nancy Richards
How many of us have felt the need to just get out of our rut and change direction. Well at the age of 48 in 2005, KARIN CRONJE felt the need big time – for a whole range of reasons. The direction in her case was South Korea – to teach English. Kind of random, but the universe had spoken. Amongst the reasons were that her son Marko’s Uni fees needed paying and she had a book to finish writing. Well, she went on to finish the book which despite all the grief it gave her, turned out to be an award-winner, and eventually her son got to finish his degree. But what happened in between was a journey of note, culture shock and a super-steep self-learning curve. When she left South Africa she was not prepared in any way for what lay ahead – she hardly knew where South Korea was and she had absolutely no teaching experience – plus she was leaving behind a perfectly good job (she had amongst other things, been a book publicist), a house and a much beloved, if aged dog.
So travelling this road with her – part stream of consciousness, part journal (although she never wrote one) you want to laugh, cry, seethe and scream with her. She (and the reader) learn about Korean language and body language, their social and anti-social behaviour, eating habits, education methods, temples, history and attitudes. Marko comes to visit, she switches from teaching at a children’s ‘hagwon’ (cram school) to a university, she makes and looses friends, loves, hates – and eventually comes home, concluding with a section in which she has what she calls a break-through rather than a break down.
This is one roller coaster book – described on the (very lively and appealing) cover as ‘the full catastrophe of being human.’
Title: Killing Karoline (Jacana)
Author: Sara-Jayne King
Reviewer: Beryl Eichenberger
What happens when the baby they buried comes back, by Sara-Jayne King. “I finished Killing Karoline in two days! Born of an illicit affair at the height of apartheid Karoline is bundled off to the UK and put up for adoption within weeks of her birth.
As she grows up as Sara-Jayne, questions about her natural parentage start to emerge and when she finds a letter from her birth mother it pushes her to re-connect, with devastating consequences. In search of the real person under the brown skin, Sara – Jayne draws you in to her story in a way that has you walking with her side by side on this painful journey. Her writing skill is such that less is more and her incisive journalistic skill is evident in vivid descriptions that linger. Short sharp chapters cover this story of abandonment at birth and, while baby Karoline is only a few weeks old when given up for adoption, begs the question – do we know what is happening to us at such a young age? Seemingly so, as throughout her life, issues of abandonment, being different and not belonging dog this courageous woman. Sinking into the addiction of food disorders, cutting and over the counter medication the need to connect with her natural family is all consuming and it is a brave woman who fights her way back to enormous success and a ‘coming home’ that brings her a family of sorts.
Frighteningly honest, sometimes funny, brave, gripping and heart-breaking Killing Karoline leaves an indelible mark. We know Sara –Jayne is working on a sequel and look forward to the next chapter in this bubbly, talented woman’s life.
Title: The Fifth Mrs Brink (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2017)
Author: Karina Szczurek
Reviewer: Sarita Waller
In her memoir Karina tells of her meeting, courting and marrying her late husband, writer extraordinaire and one of the Sestigers, Andre P. Brink. However, details of her childhood, family, previous relationships and first marriage is also shared. And so this very rich sharing allows the reader a deeper understanding and empathy for the widow as she grieves her deceased husband, the greatest love of her life. Two intertwined lives…sharing communal friends, travels, love of food, literature, reading and especially writing. And yes, it was her late husband who gave the PhD recipient the necessary confidence to call herself a writer. Karina was the one who proposed marriage…as Andre is described as a feminist. And so in a somewhat unorthodox manner two people were united through their common interests disregarding their substantial age and other differences proving that love does conquer all .
Title: Intruders (Picador Africa)
Author: Mohale Mashigo
Reviewer: Nancy Richards
If I didn’t know different, I would say that Mohale Mashigo was one very sassy, savvy, sophisticated and stylish writer. Well I’m not wrong – she is indeed all of those things – but she’s also a sufferer. Anxiety and depression have become bedfellows in the life of this lady who, with her wild weaves and nose-ring, award-winning singer-songwriter and comic book writer on her CV, at first glance you would take for a super-successful celebrity with sites on the world stage.
So with that said, it’s interesting to know that Mohale takes solace in writing – and that it’s the one thing that when the black dog bites, she says she can do to get her through.
The short stories in Intruders are every bit as complex and layered as the writer herself Divided into three sections: The Good, The Bad and The Colourful – they touch on amongst other things, Afrofuturism and the fantastical – working well with words and looking both back into tradition and forward into worlds and places, light and dark, dreamt and imagined.
Previously Mohale has written The Yearning which won her a UJ Debut Prize for SA writing in English as well as a young adult novel Beyond the River. She wins my award for Completely Original I Write What I Think Don’t Judge Me. She dares to be different.
Title: The Enumerations (Umuzi, 2018)
Author: Máire Fisher
Reviewer: Gail Gilbride
“The number five, plays a significant role in young Noah Groome’s life. He needs to push a door handle five times, keep five pebbles in his pocket and count to five under his breath in stressful situations. And then there’s the ever present Dark, which feeds on his fears and reminds him to hold onto them. Many of us will recognize this unwelcome voice.
When Noah reacts to the school bully, the consequences change his life forever. Noah’s sensitive mother, Kate, his successful father, Dominic, and Maddie, his beloved little sister, are all embroiled in his life and his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Each member of the family has their own way of coping and the dynamics shift as the story progresses.
At Greenhills Noah is befriended by Juliet Ryan, a young woman facing very different challenges. Their unlikely and non-judgmental friendship benefits both of them in ways we can learn from. The beauty of their relationship made me reach for my box of tissues more often than I’d like to admit. All families have secrets and Noah’s is no exception. Unravelling these mysteries is crucial for Noah’s healing. Unbeknown to the family, it holds the key to all their unresolved hurts.
Máire Fisher explores the effects of OCD on a family, with sensitivity and great skill. Her research is impeccable. It shines through to make this story entirely credible and powerful. Family members and close friends hold the space for others to heal, even when they are unaware of the gifts they possess. Fisher’s characters are deeply imagined. They spring off the page to remind us of the power of precious relationships in our lives, particularly within our families.
As the festive season approaches, The Enumerations could be one of the gifts under your tree. A copy or two will definitely be in my pile. I think the story will resonate with everyone who reads it!
Bravo Máire Fisher!”