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Colleen Higgs

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

An unlikely trio

The Book of the DeadClose The Door Softly Behind YouAPETOWNBeen reading a lot lately, these three local books deserve to have something said about them, but I don’t have time to write separate posts, so in a tiny window of opportunity, here’s why I recommend all three books.

Kgebetli Moele’s, The Book of the Dead, his second novel is quite a book. Even though it is a fairly short read, it is a devastating book. It offers a scarey, bleak, and I guess realistic picture of the world it describes; and in that sense \offers an explanation for the rampant spread of HIV. In the second part of “Dead”, The HI Virus becomes a character in the way Death does in Zusak’s The Book Thief. Although Moele’s character feels more intent on doing his work, and has evil motivations. It makes an interesting read and could helpfully be read alongside Aernout Zevenbergen’s Spots of Leopard. One way of reading “Dead” would be as a case study of what Zevenbergen is looking at, ‘what it means to be a man’ in post-colonial Africa, in the context of HIV/AIDS; the breakdown of traditional society, the rise of materialism and so on. I prefer this book to Room 207, in spite of the violence and the horror. For me it holds together more coherently.

Emmaleen Kriel writes about her own experience of taking up domestic work in the UK and Europe as a way of earning money, she has seven children who have all left home and is a widow, in her fifties she decides to do what for many priveliged white South Africans would seem an extraordinary thing to do. She also writes about it. And of course it makes for interesting reading and for those who have ever employed a domestic worker it is interesting to read about how the world and her employers are viewed by one particular person. She has a range of employment situations and each one brings different insights. Kriel has republished her book herself as it was out of print. I can see why it is still selling.

Once I started reading Sven Eick’s, Apetown, I couldn’t put it down – a fast-paced novella that is funny, tense, and wonderfully evocative of a particular aspect of Cape Town with which, thankfully, I am not intimately acquainted anymore (night clubs and grungy digs). What I loved most about Eick’s novel was its dark, funny, sassy, critical, bright twentysomething worldview. Which also made me feel old. Especially bits like this:

“No Mom, I’m dead.”
She was really phoning to tell me she was still alive. I hadn’t phoned her for a week; she didn’t understand that I didn’t have any money left and I hadn’t really tried to tell her. At fifty years of age, she wanted me to think that maybe she had slipped in the bath or was lying at the foot of a staircase with a broken hip.
“Well, I’m fine, thank you for asking.”
And just there I switched off from the conversation, which was a rerun of a hundred conversations that amounted to little more than a catalogue of the iniquities inflicted on my mother by life during the last fifty years.”

His description of Lars’s mother makes me see her as seventy plus or older, even though I know some sprightly seventy year olds, but fifty and already worried about broken hips? But this is a minor point and I don’t think I am the intended audience for the book. I laughed out loud at the weird situations his characters got themselves into, bits had me cringing with sympathy and horror (intended by the author, I hope). Let’s see more of your work Sven, I think you are a gifted writer, with a wonderful darkly comic voice. Bring it on.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    February 11th, 2010 @19:42 #
     
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    Already a fan of the latter two books, trying to pluck up the courage to read The Book of the Dead.

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  • Mervyn
    Mervyn
    February 13th, 2010 @15:20 #
     
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    I loved Close the Door Softly...I was thrilled when Emma contacted me to say that she was going to reprint herself. Going to have her for a reading and chat on Mother's Day.

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