Mark Behr (1963 - 2015) teaches English Literature at Rhodes College in the United States, and Creative Writing in the MFA programme in Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand.
He was born in Arusha, Tanzania (then Tanganyika). Behr’s family settled in KwaZulu-Natal where his father worked as a ranger for the Natal Park’s Board. Behr spent his early childhood in the game parks of Mfolozi, Lake St. Lucia, Mkuze and Midmar. He attended school at Howick Primary in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, Kuswag in Amanzimtoti and matriculated in 1981 from Port Natal high school, in Umbilo, Durban. From 1974 to the end of 1975 he attended the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School. As a conscript in the SADF he was based at SAS Salisbury Island in Durban harbour during 1983 following officer training at Infantry School in Oudtshoorn and in South Africa’s war in Angola. After obtaining a B.A. from the University of Stellenbosch, continued his studies in Norway and the United States. He holds Masters degrees in English Literature, International Peace Studies and Fiction Writing from the university of Notre Dame, USA.
He has written novels, short stories and essays. His novels are The Smell of Apples (1993), Embrace (2001) and Kings of the Water (2010). The Smell of Apples – which appeared first in Afrikaans as Die Reuk van Appels - received numerous awards including the Eugene Marais award, M-Net Literary Award, CAN Literary Award, Betty Trask Award and the Art Seidenbeum Award. The novel was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Kings of the Water was shortlisted the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize. His work is often concerned with issues of violence, racism, nationalism, militarization and masculinity. His work has appeared in ten languages.
Extract from The Smell of Apples:
‘Marnus, pull yourself together now, and bring in that fish.’ I can’t look at him but can hear he’s angry.
My hand struggles with the reel and for a while the line sings off the reel again. I wait for Dad to speak to me again. I can feel him looking at me, but he doesn’t say another word.
I slowly start reeling in sometimes the fish pulls me forward a few steps, but mostly I feel him coming closer. I forget about my tired arms and keep on reeling. Tears start streaming down my face and I can’t stop them. The fish gives me a bit of line and I move backwards. Dad stays with me. Forwards and backwards.
‘Help me, Dad’ I ask, even though I can see the line disappear, just behind the breakers. He can’t be more than thirty feet away.
‘Move Back’ Dad says. ‘Move onto the beach and stop being a crybaby. Mister Smith and Frikkie are watching you.’
I bite my lip and try to stop the tears but I can’t.
‘Ja, Dad,’ I answer, and I manage to stop the tears. Where is this fish? Please let me get this fish, please. I start praying, feeling my shoulders bed even further forward.
‘OK,’ says Dad. ‘Now you must start pulling and reeling together. Come on! Lift the damn fishing rod and reel at the same time. Keep the line taut, you’ll lose him!
At last we are back in the shallows, and I’m winning the fight.
‘Pull. Marnus! Lift your rod, he’s coming!’
Suddenly the shark is in the front wave.
Just as the wave breaks, we can see him; it’s a big sand shark. I hear excited voices behind me. I reel n with everything I’ve got, but he won’t let me go back any further. In the next wave I see him again, throwing his big head from side to side, trying to get rid f the hook. Dad shouts for me to keep my line tight and bring him in, else I'm going to lose him.
Then, like a big submarine coming to the surface, he lifts himself up into the next wave. His smooth skin glistens in the sunlight, and as the wave breaks, he pulls me forward. Then he rushes towards the beach. For a split second the line goes slack, and the next moment the baited hook flies through the sky.
The shark disappears beneath the waves.
Standing in the shallows, the rod suddenly feels light in my hands. Glued to the sand, I look at the place where he was, just a moment ago
‘He beat you,’ dad says.
For the first time since Dad came and stood with me in the water, I look up at him. But he turns and walks away.
1993. The Smell of Apples. London: Abacus Books.
2000. Embrace. London: Little, Brown and Company.
2009. Kings of the Water. London: Abacus Books.