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Reviews

KZN Literary Tourism reviews contemporary South African fiction and poetry.  Reviews are done by academics and members of our KZN literary community (contact us if you would like to review for us).  View reviews as articles or list.



Three Women Out of Love PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 31 January 2014 12:19
By Gertrud Strauss

 

Reviewed by Sarah Frost

Initially dense, with a narrative that progresses slowly, Gertrud Strauss’s foray into novel-writing (she has published short stories previously) has proved successful, after a shaky start. Perhaps it was just a matter of getting used to Strauss’s prolonged, intimate, stream of consciousness style? Three Women Out of Love evinces Strauss’s fine eye for the feminine consciousness. The book charts the young adulthood of Hanna, Marga, and Friedel, three childhood friends from the German community in KwaZulu-Natal. They face courtship, marriage, pregnancy, and child-rearing in different contexts, but discover a capacity to endure and define self, through the vicissitudes that they experience.  I wondered whether the author herself identifies with the character of Hanna the most, as I found this protagonist the most finely set out and passionately described of the three women. Hanna leaves South Africa to work as an au pair in London, where she hopes to concretise a somewhat ephemeral relationship with fellow South African Dieter, who is studying poetry at Cambridge. She is exploited in the Jewish household where she works, and finds that she has little time to pursue acting classes where she hoped to develop her artistic self. Having resolved an impasse with Dieter, she agrees to marry him, but before that goes hitchhiking through Germany in an attempt to reconnect with her origins, and visits her old friend Marga, who, married to Karl, is raising her children there. ‘When Hanna and Marga’s eyes meet there is a sharp recognition of each other, like a dazzle of light’. Marga has achieved a reconciliation of her own: through bringing life and interest into a somewhat arid marriage. She has a liaison with a young artist, Reinhardt, who comes from her homeland, Namibia. She thanks him for flying in ‘like a messenger migrant bird from my old country. Harbinger of  the wide open spaces. The dust and dunes of the Namib’. She realises it’s a once-off affair though, and recommits herself to working things out with Karl in Germany, instead of longing to return to Africa.  She asks herself: ‘Can Karl still move in closer, find expression that will carry over to the hearts of son and daughter, or will he be seen as a man like her Papa?’ Realising that ‘she too will fall foul of them, if she cannot stop complaining about what to Rolfe and Friedericke is becoming their home ground and authentic domain.’ Friedel has remained in South Africa, and finds herself at odds with the narrow Lutheran farming community she has married into. She finds herself asking awkward questions about her family and neighbours’ attitudes, realising that ‘nobody she knows has set an example she can follow with any conviction or confidence.’ The community’s racist views sit awkwardly with her. This becomes apparent when Friedel tries to stop her sons from watching a black farm labourer’s dog being shot dead for trespassing in the white farmer’s backyard. ‘And the talk about the Holzkopfe not feeding their pets. How she hates them for this.’
It is impossible to précis a narrative that meanders in an organic fashion, shaped by the complex web of relationships each of the three main characters is emeshed in. Suffice it to say that in this book Strauss’s meditations on the nature of being white and female in South Africa, and as a South African abroad, end up as subtle non-directive musings on feminine identity. Her tone is simultaneously compassionate and far-seeing, as she captures the erudite and colloquial nature of Friedel, Marga and Hanna’s quotidian lives. I recommend this novel to any reader of a feminist bent on understanding the intricacies of the German community living in SA.



DURBAN DIALOGUES, INDIAN VOICE – FIVE SOUTH AFRICAN PLAYS PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 January 2014 19:09

By Ashwin Singh

Review by Devarakshanam Govinden

It was the Italian philosopher and organic intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, who stated with passion: “The crisis  consists precisely of the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” After the euphoria of our own “spring”  in 1994 in South Africa – when  new political life and change began bursting with energy and promise all around us  – we have become aware of a  growing winter of  discontent. Durban Dialogues, Ashwin Singh’s newly published collection of plays  is indisputably about the warp and weft of the South African “interregnum”,  our  prolonged transition into a mature democracy [Some would say - lost in transition…]. Indeed, the  plays expose us to the [morbid] symptoms of the present times, showing  the way the old South Africa persists in different guises, of the way the New South Africa  displays rather grotesque  re-incarnations of the past.

The plays show that playwrights can also be sociologists and philosophers, as Ashwin Singh sharpens his observant and critical eye [and his pen], and provides us with what might  be described as a “Spontaneous Sociology of the People” [from  Burawoy 2011:216].

Edward Said, the Palestinian post-colonial critic, for his part, called such a disposition in a writer a “worldliness” – and he meant it in the best sense of the world - “a knowing and unafraid attitude towards exploring the world we live in”.

The plays do have a worldliness about them, in the sense that  Edward Said suggests. They open up a broad window to the  kaleidoscopic world around us -  a world that constantly  revolves and mutates, producing  configurations and patterns before our very eyes, as we shift our vantage point.

And that world is especially a Durban world, with the plays  set distinctively in  Durban’s socio-cultural context, with all its idiosyncrasies and  peculiarities  in a wider  South Africa.  The legacy of separate residential living for different “population groups” is manifest in different ways in the contemporary era,  and provides the social-cultural and economic background to the plays.

THE INDIAN VOICE

The “Indian Voice” in the plays is an important, complex [even contested],  voice, with Durban Dialogues following in the tradition developed by playwrights such as Ronnie Govender [Lahnee’s Pleasure and At the Edge] during the apartheid era when, for one,  Indian patois was first put on stage.  Ashwin shows the  variety and diversity of this “voice” in a post-apartheid moment - away from  one-dimensional stereotyping [as in Singh’s dramatic piece, “Who is an Indian Granny?”] - and of the way it intersects with class and race in multiple ways. And while there are characters in the plays which lapse into exoticism, ethnic chauvinism and ethnocentricity, and sometimes act as self-appointed cultural police, there are those who seek commonalities with their compatriots from different backgrounds.

Some of the plays [Reoca Light, for example], are  set against the background of Indian indenture, which constitutes an important part of  South African history [It is this history that prompted Mahatma Gandhi “to hone his political activism under the banner of satyagraha”;Bose 2009:4]. Slave and other labour economies are common to Indian and  African diasporas in the main, but also relevant to Chinese history, among others.

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Under a Swirling Sun PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 January 2014 18:34

By Maria Victoria Pereira

Review by Joshua Masojada

Under A Swirling Sun is a fictional account of the life of a beautiful and intelligent Portuguese woman named Margarida. Born into a conservative Catholic family, Margarida spends her early years growing up in a politically divided Mozambique, where she develops into a shy girl, unsure of how to express herself. She marries young and naïve to an intellectually inferior man, who fails to challenge her ideas and broaden her horizons. Throughout her marriage Margarida feels lost and insecure, as she lacks a vocation and does not fully understand herself. Civil war forces her family to emigrate to South Africa, where she continues to unsuccessfully consult therapists, religious leaders and doctors in her quest for self discovery. Through various experiences Margarida uncovers neglected parts of her personality, previously hidden to her. A friend accidentally discovers her diary and through this she realizes her true talent and vocation in writing. Margarida is finally satisfied and happy with life.

Under A Swirling Sun is a story of self-discovery, uncertainty and questioning. It is a story about life and how people manage to overcome the obstacles whether on the interior or exterior. Through Margarida’s mistakes the reader can learn the importance of expressing oneself, the qualities to look for in a partner and the importance of uncovering and understanding one’s personality completely. The book highlights the importance of faith in life, as it is a recurring theme. In times of hardship, such as the sudden deaths of her husband and son, Margarida’s faith keeps her strong.

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