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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.



Heretic: a novel PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 June 2013 18:37

By Shabbir Banoobhai
Review by Alan Muller

In a coffee shop in modern-day Cape Town, a dark shadow is encroaching on the lives of Tito and Lara, who are struggling to stay in love – while Jacob listens to an old man narrating a strange story. Whose story is it really? And what is its purpose? To prevent a murder reminiscent of one committed centuries ago?

Heretic is the debut novel of Durban born and prize winning poet, Shabbir Banoobhai. Described by Ivan Vladislavi? as “supple, unusual, and intriguing”, the novel is narrated by seven recurrent characters, each with their own emotional encumbrances. Further complicating this narratorial septet are the authors’ own metafictional ruminations on the processes of writing and storytelling. The novel essentially narrates two love stories that, while taking place at different times, run parallel to each to each other. In discussion with Looklocal.co.za, Banoobhai advised that “the second story can almost be considered a continuation of the first. The first story ends with a murder while the second ends with the possibility that another murder is about to be committed, although this conclusion remains conjecture”. The first story consists of sections narrated by Sarah, Adam and David while the second is told from the perspectives of Lara, Tito and Jacob. The story of Sarah, Adam and David takes place “centuries ago” while that of Lara, Tito and Jacob unfolds in modern-day Cape Town.

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Small Things, the fascinating story of a flaneur in Johannesburg PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 03 June 2013 15:24

By Nthikeng Mohlele

Review by Sarah Frost

Nthikeng Mohlele has written a superb second novel in ‘Small Things’. This book is philosophically interesting, and psychologically astute, demonstrating intelligence and integrity. It is no wonder that world renowned author J M Coetzee said of the book: ‘Behind this story of love, music and the eternal quest, lies an artistic sensibility as generous as it is complex. The prose is rich in texture, the final effect melancholy and comic in equal proportions.’

Finely written in the first person, with much attention to intricate detail, the story maps the life-path of a protagonist who remains nameless until the end. He describes himself as ‘a mildly accomplished journalist, a hesitant revolutionary, a looming failure at the institutions of poetry and marriage, parrot of tourism information, laundryman checking hospital sheets for stains, promising trumpeter, futile philosopher thinking in circles about love and life without reaching any conclusive opinions.’

He was born in Sophiatown, which he names ‘the Chicago of South Africa,’ where he meets a jazz singer Desiree, the woman who is to become the love of his life. Initially, I found Mohlele’s description of the protagonist’s relationship with Desiree unconvincing, seeming more abstract than heartfelt. However, by the end of the book one gets a sense of Desiree’s personality (the lead character lives with her for a while before she leaves him to return to her husband), and thus the relationship becomes plausible. Mohlele muses on the nature of love, noting that ‘Desiree’s is an eloping kind, a love that constructs and abandons nests, much like a fugitive dodging police hounds’, whereas his love for her is ‘as distinct, detailed and colourful as coral reeds in sea beds’.

He becomes a journalist, writing stories for the Daily Argus, until he is detained and interrogated by the Special Branch. After this he is put into solitary confinement for several years. When he emerges from prison he becomes a flaneur in Johannesburg, sleeping in city squares, bathing in public toilets, and observing society from a distance. He marvels at ‘the postcard view of Johannesburg, its fusion of lights, the illusion of cosmopolitan prosperity’ and admires ‘the deceptions of the cityscape,’ while pondering deep philosophical questions about the nature of being. He is shot by a criminal, but survives, refusing to press charges, wondering instead about the man’s motives: ‘Murder is supposed to be a conscience-wrecking deed; how was it then that The Dark Figure seemed so composed, without a shred of remorse?’ He takes a job as Information Officer at the Tourism Information Centre in Newtown, and then becomes a busker, after he begins a relationship with Mercedes Sanchez, the daughter of a friend of his. She is a trumpet player and teaches him her art, while seducing him. ‘The key to sex, says Mercedes, is music: rhythm, breathing, unpredictable melodies.’ Mercedes’ father, Gabriel, warns him: ‘Love is not for the faint-hearted … who says love has to follow known and accepted formulas for it to be love? Poets have endured torments reducing these things to rhyming verse.’

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Transformations PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 19 April 2013 13:17

By Imraan Coovadia

Review by Alan Muller

A book of essays that opens with a piece serving as an “expression of doubt in the book” is bound to leave most readers, be they academic or otherwise, with certain misgivings.  Imraan Coovadia’s Transformations is a collection of seemingly disparate essays that focus on topics ranging from his mother’s digital Azan clock, vuvuzelas and Thabo Mbeki’s 2007 letters to the nation, to the shift “from one framework of perception to another” in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.  While Coovadia suggests that he “cannot imagine any reader, apart from a friend or two – and probably not even two - who would be interested in all the essays in this collection”, the vast majority of his works are fiercely readable.  Foremost among these are “How to Read Lolita” and the controversial “Coetzee in (and out of) Cape Town”.

“How to Read Lolita” sees Coovadia approach Nabokov’s narrative technique in Lolita from a psychological vantage point, using Gestalt psychology and the visually ambiguous Necker Cube to explain how the hebephilic Humbert Humbert’s narration can be seen to tell two different stories at the same time.  “Coetzee in (and out of) Cape Town” has, as Jane Rosenthal had envisaged in her review of Transformations for Mail & Guardian, sparked a great deal of controversy regarding Coovadia’s often scathing indictment of J.M. Coetzee’s emigration to Australia and his lionisation within South African literary circles, suggesting that “Coetzee has become a religion rather than a source of literary experience”.   While his commentary on Coetzee’s private and professional lives may come across as harsh, perhaps betraying a personal agenda of sorts, one cannot help but enjoy the piece for its bold, controversial and nothing-is-sacred  approach.

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