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A Personal Experience of South African Authors

In the late 60s and early 70s in South Africa, there was rock n roll, curfews and banned books. The curfew did not affect me, neither did the rock n roll, it was the books that did. Hidden in the top of the cupboard in our house were the banned books. 

Not the kind with naked bodies; but the kind that were well written and worth reading. For similar reasons to the curfew, so were the books banned. Fear of something or someone being different from you and thinking differently to you.

One of the fondest memories of growing up were those banned books. In between the Georgette Heyers and Neville Shute’s, were these books. Probably my first been Atlas Shrugs; which I read at about 13 or 14 years of age.

I got to high school – a boarding school which at the time was in a little right wing dorpie. The dorpie was about 70kms out of Johannesburg. A school bus was the normal mode of transport to go home in for weekends. The most memorable weekend being around 16th June 1976. The trip took us past the outskirts of Soweto. There was no social media and limited news. We were told by a house Master: “If stones are thrown, duck.” That, at eighteen years of age, was my sum total of knowledge of what was happening in Soweto.

Back to books, in that same year I was made head librarian. I kid you not. My three boys heard this story when they were in High School – they looked at me, eyes wide open; isn’t that position reserved for nerds and losers only. 

In those same years the biggest losers were the libraries. On advice of the State Librarian a truck transported thousands of books and magazines from Pretoria’s Central Police Station to Iscor state steel company and burnt them in a 20 metre high oven.

I was proudly head librarian of a school library in a little dorpie and had no knowledge of what the State Librarian had decided to do. If I had known would I have put up a fight?

In hindsight yes. The perfect science.

I still read, a lot. I have impressive Pinterest boards with how many books I have read each year. My aim this year is 200 books. Number 36 for Book Board 2020 – okay so I have a way to go and very few months left. Drum roll no 36 – best book read I have read this year, so far. Why this book?

‘Sandy here is a book to read; I am sneaking you into the line, you have two days to finish it.’

‘I can’t read an Afrikaans book in two days – are you out of your mind!’

‘You have to read it in Afrikaans it’s what gives the book its flavour.’ 

More about this in the closing chapter. The question we should all be asking as reading South Africans – Are we reading South African authors and giving them the support they need.

I have been doing my bit. Even though it’s a very small bit. On average when looking at my Pinterest boards I read about three South African books a year. 

The Blackridge House by Julia Martin. This is a Memoir and the most helpful line was from Julia Martin herself talking at Fish Hoek library: “One has to read three and a half books to write one good sentence.”

It helped, when writing story and particularly those that require historical facts where there is often more reading than writing.

The Fifth Mrs Brink by Karina M Szczureck. The fifth Mrs Brink spills her guts in this beautiful, well written Memoir. I missed her when she came to talk at my book club.

Birdseye by Marie Fisher. I heard Marie talk at my book club, and love her writing. Marie runs writing workshops and is very active at the Fish Hoek library. If your live in that area or enjoy a scenic drive look out for what’s happening at the library, go and learn.

Fire Pool by Hedley Twiddle. This is a collection of wonderful essays about South Africa. If you are going to study English at UCT try and have Hedley as a lecturer. It will be entertaining, and you will be learning.

Okay Okay Okay by Finuala Dowling. I also missed Finala when she came to speak at my book club. This is an entertaining, funny and yet serious novel. It covers historical moments in our recent past. It all happens in a University, a fictional one but so so close to an actual one. Read it, find your yourself in it, you will understand.

The Longest March by Fred Khumalo. A story about what happened 120 years ago, when seven thousand Zulu mine workers walked from the gold mines in Johannesburg to Natal. Khumalo felt that he should write about this historical event in a novel. He does it well. Read it.

Divine Justice by Joanne Hichens. This is Cape Town crime at its goriest. What I loved most about this novel is the way Joanne used short sentences. I am a sucker for good sentences, and these were good. Joanne’s Memoir ‘Death and the After Parties’ should be out soon. Looking forward to that read.

Poacher by Kimon de Greef and Shuhood Abader. This one almost gives you a sympathy to the abalone poachers. Some of them are simply caught in a cycle of poverty and have no way out.

Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch by Eva Massa. Okay, so I read this one. When living in Stellenbosch I did hear some of the rumours of what was written. Rumours are always good for over the top novels.

Drum roll – I managed to read the Afrikaans book in two days. Even if you can only speak a smiggin of Afrikaans this book is worth a read. Die Verlore Seun Vannie Gaatjie by Ivor Swartz. It’s a Memoir/biographical story. It’s entertaining and uplifting. It is beautifully written. Ivor has an incredible writing gift. It inspires hope. I live not more than ten kms from the Gaatjie and when you drive through there, there is very little hope. Get your Afrikaans on and read this book, it’s worth it.

PS Read South African authors.

PSS Write South Africa

PSSS You are so talented.