22 March 2009

Random book recommendations

Kiwi lit really did nothing for me, but South African books, oh boy! There is such intensity, take-no-prisoners honesty, it's amazing. I started with Nadine Gordimer, The Pickup, because a friend had recommended it to me as a book to read about Arab life, but I never go into it. So when I got to Joburg, I tried again, and totally got it.

I moved on to J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Spare, harsh, relentless. I am not sure I can cope with any more any time soon.

Next up Alan Paton, author of Cry, the beloved Country. I couldn't find that one (the well-known books of these authors are hard to come by in the local book shops, for some reason), so I started with Ah, but your Land is Beautiful (the man knows a snappy title when he sees it). This semi-fictional story of a group of characters living during the 1950's defiance campaign had such compassion and understanding, I can't wait to read more of his stuff.

As for non-fiction, I finally got around to Nelson Mandela's autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom. I hadn't bothered before, everyone seemed to read it because it was the done thing, but after visiting Constitution Hill and the prison there I changed my mind. I loved the simple words describing an extraordinary life story, as if every step was a normal progression from the one before.

Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart was a recommendation from the Rough Guide. Malan's family is old Huguenot Africaner, Voortrekkers, politicians and all. He was a journalist and the book is a series of reportages from the frontline of Apartheid. It's a tour de force of horrible and hopeful stories.

By accident I came across Antjie Krog at the airport. I had vaguely heard of her previous book Country of my Skull but had no idea of the eloquence and poetry of her words. Again the bookshop didn't have that, but it did have A Change of Tongue. Beautiful.

That's it for now, but I am looking forward to more books of such fire and force.


  1. I read 'My Traitor's Heart' about a million years ago (OK, 1990) in my earnest Foundation studenty days (don't laugh) and remember loving it. Also, Rian Malan seemed fabulously cool, which helped. And now I have to admit that I haven't read a proper book yet this year -- my Tube journeys are are all podcasts and rubbishy free newspapers (and the New Yorker). Must go read some fiction!

  2. I know what you mean. Somehow reading feeds and listening to podcasts seems to not be as real as cracking the spine on a paperback. Although when I can get new books on Stanza or Kindle for iPhone I will get round to more real substantial reading again.