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Lover of literature and reviewer of books. Happiest where the words are.

24 Jul 2017

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Starr Carter lives in two worlds – one which centres around the mainly white, upper class school of Williamson Prep and the comparative ‘ghetto’ that is her home town of Garden Heights. While maintaining a delicate balance between the two, never really in both simultaneously, she feels she never truly belongs in either.

The divide was triggered when Starr’s parents sent their children to Williamson to get away from the violence and crime that permeates every alleyway of The Garden. Yet apart from cleaving Starr’s social life, it does nothing to remove her from violence. While returning from a party, Starr’s childhood friend is shot by a policeman; he was sixteen and unarmed.

In the aftermath of the devastating loss, Starr tries to come to terms with her place in both her worlds, and wonders how the two can peacefully meet. Public opinion about the incident is divided, in an eerie display of the darkness that can reside in any heart or the light that can eliminate it. At the risk of peace and safety, Starr realizes that her friend was not the only voice silenced, the only life robbed of its future, and that she must speak up for those who cannot. In making herself heard, Starr becomes brave, and takes action. She is neither fearless nor experienced in speaking out, but she has determination and a group of friends and family who urge her on. Starr becomes a hero.

The Hate U Give is beyond compliments – there are no praises I could shower upon it that could explain its worthiness as a great literary work of our time; no single thing I thought to pen seemed to do the work justice. It is more than a necessary read – it is vital. The work is incredibly moving, heartbreaking and illuminating, and an all-out masterpiece. Angie Thomas does an incredible job of giving voice to an oft-misunderstood and misrepresented movement, and raises the voice of many through one – an enormous feat and an excellent read. It is not enough to simply want to read this book; you need to read it. Please.

The Hate U Give by Angle Thomas is published by Walker Books, and is available in South Africa from Pan Macmillan South Africa.

19 Jul 2017

Review: The Inside-Out Man by Fred Strydom

Bent Croud is about to have a radical change in circumstances. A routine meandering between a run-down apartment, a bar and a piano shapes Bent’s life; jazz music in dark rooms filled with smoke in exchange for just enough money to get by. Only when a dapper gent by the name of Leonard Fry approaches the jazz pianist and offers him a private gig – with a 2 million rand payout – that Bent considers things could be different. All he has to do for this sum is play piano over a weekend; a straightforward, albeit hard to believe deal.

To satisfy his curiosity, Bent arrives at Mr Fry’s palatial residence at the appointed time, and plays his set. Two million rand richer, he prepares to leave when Fry introduces another proposition – a social experiment between the two men, which will require Bent’s presence in the house for a year. With nothing to lose, and a new lifestyle to gain, Bent accepts.

Fred Strydom is brilliantly sneaky – a story as darn and bent (cough cough) as the main character, The Inside-Out Man is as unpredictable as it is macabre and thrilling. Bent is thrust into a world of complete indulgence and murky moral grounds, and his reaction to this is a judge of his character and his sanity – how much can he keep from those around him, and how far is he willing to go to secure his new place in the world? The Inside-Out Man could make a brilliant film – think of a stylish mash-up of Gattaca and Inception, with a South African accent. This book is without doubt the best South African fiction title of the year, making the local literary scene that much more enthralling. Kudos to the author; he’s a rock star.

The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom is published by Umuzi, an imprint of Penguin Random House South Africa.

13 Jul 2017

Review: The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli

Our story starts where it ends; with beheadings. Tariq, Abdullah and Ibrahim are brothers in all but flesh. Born in the same year, they face life’s various milestones and paths together as one, until the day they don’t. Ibrahim and Abdullah drop out of school, leaving Tariq to study while they are enlisted in the army. The time in service brings Abdullah and Ibrahim closer together, until it doesn’t. Abdullah is captured and kept as prisoner while Ibrahim returns to his village and to Tariq. Fate, it conspires, seems to keep the trio apart, until it doesn’t. Abdullah returns, after 20 years away.

Finally reunited, the three men attempt to come to terms with all they have missed in each other’s lives, and to make the most of what is left. Yet apart from the horrors and barbarism witnessed during the war, there are other horrors at home, which almost go unnoticed. Ibrahim’s wife is in the grip of cancer, and in order to provide for their daughter and his wife’s treatment, he takes a job in Baghdad, tending the President’s gardens.

Growing among the pristine flowerbeds and immaculate lawns, Ibrahim discovers also that other things have taken root; massacres sprout about his feet, and he must tend to them, silent and obeying.

Memory can be inspiring or foreboding. As we retrace the steps of this trio of men from childhood to their separation, we need to overcome the obstacles of war. Brutalities and barbarism abound, in the words of the author, ‘madness incarnate’. While the work is one of fiction, it encompasses whispers of atrocities faced by real people, the tearing apart of real limbs and families, making it all the more powerful and macabre.

The narrative is steeped in melancholy and stirred by outrage. Al-Ramli surrounds the reader with discomfort; forcing them to see the cruelty of which their brethren are capable, and to question what can be done about it. The President’s Gardens is deeply distressing and equally beautiful, making it a powerful and vital read.

The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli is published by Hachette and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

11 Jul 2017

Review: A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

Frankie is falling. Slowly, her world is being leeched of colour, dried and crisped as fallen leaves. The effort of trying not to cry and fold up within herself is becoming suffocating. An uninspired artist drowning in the hubbub of Dublin, Frankie reaches out to her saviour; her mother. Returning to her childhood home, in seek of comfort or understanding, of meaning or routine, Frankie finds none. In a nostalgic bid to rediscover herself, and her art, she relocates to her grandmother’s bungalow, empty now and reluctant to find a new owner following the death of its last occupant.

Among dusty knickknacks and fading memories, Frankie fights to stop herself being weighed down by a whirlpool of despair; she attempts to rebel against indifference. All the while, she embraces her own otherness or lack thereof, fuelled by longings and memories past. She knows that she is on a path to a conclusion – an end – yet what form this will take remains to be seen.

Dealing with depression, memory and one’s reason for being, it seems strange that such weighty topics can provide for such beautiful imagery, yet such is Sara Baume’s skill. She’s a magician.

Baume’s works require much contemplation. Carefully arranged and powerfully hypnotic, she moulds words into what can only be seen as timeless art. There is no singular aspect which makes A Line Made by Walking a masterpiece (for that it is), it is a puzzle of smoothly interlocking pieces which reveal a stunning image. I pity the reader who does not read this book.

Such was my love for this book (true fan girling, no doubt) that I re-read the last chapter, desperate to wring out every last drop of literary goodness, to keep the story with me. And I realised that you could re-read this book many times and each time find something new; something hidden beneath the lines that march across the pages. The story evolves with the reader, revealing itself delicately yet forcefully. If that isn’t great literature, then I don’t know what is.

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume is published by William Heinemann London, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

10 Jul 2017

Review: The Reminders by Val Emmich

Joan Sully is not your average ten-year-old. She’s gifted with an uncanny ability to remember every detail of her life, from dates to conversations and feelings. However, this immense skill reminds Joan that the memories of others are fallible, and her greatest desire is never to be forgotten, to secure her role in the memories of others as they are cemented in hers. Having a musician for a dad, along with a natural flair for music, Joan decides that the way to do this is to write the winning song for a song-writing contest, ensuring that her name will be featured among the likes of musical greats like the Beatles.

While Joan seeks to enforce memories, Gavin is trying to forget. Lost in turmoil since the death of his partner, Sydney, Gavin tries to escape the memories the pair made together. Visiting his college friends and their gifted daughter, Gavin makes a deal with Joan; her memories of Sydney in exchange for his help with her song. Through this process, he discovers a different set of memories of Sydney, which is both healing and unnerving.

The Reminders is truly heart-warming; a story to be consumed quickly, yet with lingering effects. Emmich does a stellar job of questioning perception and memory, as well as the double-edged sword that is forgetting. He skilfully illustrates the importance of the bonds that hold relationships together, and their elasticity and willingness to accommodate new links. The Reminders gracefully follows an unusual friendship between a man in mourning and a young girl in search of permanence. This is a book with great power; it is inspirational and impossible to put down. Ultimately, Emmich shows the natural progression of life; things change, despite our hesitance to allow this. It is how we react to change that defines us.

The Reminders by Val Emmich is published by Pan Macmillan