Tag Archives: ivan vladislavic

RECENT READS # MY BROTHER’S BOOK – Jo-Anne Richards


Not being fond of Struggle Literature, I’ve avoided her books. I recall a huge hullabaloo over her novel The Innocence of Roast Chicken, (a best-seller in South Africa in 1996). I remember the PC brigade hated it. Quite why, I never discovered. But she has continued to write and this is her fourth novel . It’s a novel of great depth with an unusual format – quite a large part of the narrative – perhaps just under one-third – consists of letters written by Miranda to both Thomas (her first lover and fellow struggle comrade) and his sister, Lily (unwitting trigger of Tom’s discovery, arrest and 12 year jail sentence). The Book is in three parts : Pt 1 – Lily; Pt 2 – Thomas; Pt 3 – Bert (their father). The catalyst is the book which Thomas writes about The Struggle, which prompts Miranda to start writing letters to the pair of them, so there’s an oblique, third-person view and analysis of events already related by the other characters. It’s a complicated format, but it suits the novel about three complicated characters. Lily’s Pt 1 is about a nomadic childhood spent in the Eastern Cape with wonderful evocative sections on the landscape, the people, life as a child, with the shadow of apartheid restrictions on their friendship with the coloureds in the little towns. She adores her father (a complex mix of conman, drinker, trader & preacher), is brought up by her brother, but is much wilder and spontaneous than him. Ironically, towards the end of the book, their roles are reversed – she becomes the care-giver towards her step-brother Arnold and her father. Thomas’ Pt 2 takes us into his tortured soul – he’s tormented by his mother’s abandonment of their family, the fecklessness of his father, his responsibilities towards his kid sister and then her betrayal; his relationships with women, friends, God; his attempted career as a priest …. everything is deeply felt, unacknowledged, and the struggle has twisted him. How Louise, his girlfriend puts up with him, is a mystery. He’s remote, a workaholic, unforgiving, riven by anger that he claims he has left behind – he hasn’t of course, but can’t see it. And of course, despite his impeccable Struggle credentials, he’s abandoned by the New South Africa, when his life’s raison d’etre, an NGO, is swept from under him when the Board insists he be replaced by a Black. A White man, cannot in these new times, head such an organization …. it’s the ultimate cruel irony. Bart’s Pt 3 was quite difficult to read, he’s got Alzheimers and his view of events/people is all mixed up but it’s a short section only a few pages, from which it appears that Thomas manages to stay with Louise who has now borne his child; Miranda is on a visit from London; and brother and sister appear to have reconciled. I’m filled with admiration at the complex structure of the book, the depth of the characters, the subtlety of the book. I wonder why it hasn’t won a prize ? “Richards has an acute sense of place, in it’s small town and big city guises, and a wonderful ear for South African idiom. … Moving subtly between past and present, it casts a searing light on the way we reveal and conceal our truths in stories.” (Ivan Vladislavic) “Few South African writers can capture the complicated magic and cultural confusion of a constantly changing country like JR can … wry, moving and beautifully observed.” (Peter Godwin)

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MY 2013 READING YEAR


Another year marching towards 31 December. A trail of interesting books behind me. I’m not adding comments or explanations – I think the category headings speak for themselves. I’m sure many people will disagree with my choices, so please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.  Here are my nominations for:

THE NOT-TO-BE-MISSED BOOK OF 2013:

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schalbe

TEN of my  BEST READS – 2013  (in no particular order)

The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and disappeared  – Jonas Jonasson

Flashback Hotel – Ivan Vladislavic

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

Ex Libris – Anne Fadiman

Angelmaker – Nick Harkaway

Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour Book Store – Robin Sloan

The Hero’s Walk – Anita Rau Badami

A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates

My Name is Asher Lev – Chaim Potok

BEST FOREIGN READ OF 2013:  Lost Luggage by Jordi Punti – translated from Spanish

MOST UNUSUAL READ 2013:

The Golem & the Djinni – Helene Wecker

CHALLENGING READS 2013:

We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

Ancient Light – John Banville

Invisible Furies – Michiel Heyns

In the Beginning – Chaim Potok

THE POPULAR BOOK THAT I COULDN’T READ

Wool – Hugh Howey

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10 TREATS IN STORE JUST WAITING TO BE READ


I thought I’d haul the first ten books off the top of the pile that is lurking behind my shirts in my bedroom cupboard – it’s my guilty trove of books that I’ve bought on sales, succumbed to on-line temptations – what can I say? Other people are hooked on booze and nicotine, I’m hooked on books.

  • Amrita – Banana Yoshimoto : I just couldn’t resist her name and it was a sale book, plus I’m in a Japanese novel phase
  • Double Negative – Ivan Vladislavic: Despite his name, a South African novelist with Yugoslav origins; he’s so good he makes me breathless; both his talent and his lovely blue eyes ….
  • Pulphead John Jeremiah Sullivan : much lauded American essayist; I wanted to find out what the fuss was about
  • How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive Christopher Boucher: there’s crazy, & then there’s this writer. I read the first 50 pages, and thoroughly bemused, put it back on the pile; I need to dive into his special brand of lunacy again, and swim bravely for the shore
  • Saraswati Park Anjali Joseph; an Indian novel, a debut; I love Indian novels, for the colour, the characters, the foreignness
  • Game Control – Lionel Shriver: can’t wait to see what this powerful novelist does with modern Africa
  • In the Company of Cheerful Ladies – Alexander McCall Smith: I always enjoy his books on Africa; he’s an instant tonic
  • The Savage Detectives Roberto  Bolano: I keep reading rave reviews about this Mexican writer and want to give him a try
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Amy Chua: the famous/infamous Chinese/American mum with the Boot Camp approach to child rearing. Again – I’m curious
  • Alan Sugar What you see is what you get: Rough diamond industrialist, British peer, cracker of whips on the British version of The Apprentice: I was mightily diverted by him on TV and interested to learn what makes him tick

Now if only I had more time to read, I could get stuck into some of these prospective treats.  Watch this space.

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