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review 2016-11-13 19:28
The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert
The Lion Seeker - Kenneth Bonert

This is an engaging historical novel, and given the quality of writing and characterization I can see Bonert going on to write excellent literary novels in the future. This one falls short of its ambitious goals, but it’s still worth a read.

The Lion Seeker follows a young man named Isaac, a Jewish refugee from Lithuania, growing up working-class in South Africa in the 1930s. Numerous threads follow various aspects of Isaac’s life: his complicated family, his romance with a rich girl, his work – this last is a surprisingly large part of the book, as Isaac is pulled between his own desire to work on cars (encouraged by his craftsman father) and his mother’s urging that he make as much money as possible, by fair means or foul. The social situation of the day also intrudes, both in ways that make Isaac’s blood boil (anti-Semitism) and ways he refuses to acknowledge (oppression of black South Africans).

All these threads are woven together in an engaging way. The style, meanwhile, is on the literary side and takes a little getting used to: quotation marks are not used, and there’s a lot of South African slang. It’s all easy enough to understand if you roll with it, and the local language lends vibrancy to the text. The characterization, meanwhile, is very strong. Isaac is a prick – selfish, none too bright, easily moved to anger and violence – but drawn so believably that rather than spending time disliking him, I was engaged in seeing how his life would play out. By drawing readers into Isaac’s life, Bonert does a great job of creating empathy for him without trying to convince us to like him.

My biggest issue with the book is the way it falls apart towards the end. Isaac does something awful, though understandable given the hundreds of pages we’ve read before, and then the book mostly peters out. He joins the army, which we don’t see, but which is perhaps meant as some sort of atonement, and then he returns home and still is not particularly remorseful, and finally the book ends with little sense of any thematic arcs coming to a close. I was left wondering about the point of many of its threads, especially the romance (which was always the least believable aspect of the book, though at least it ends believably). What is this book ultimately about? It’s hard to say. And for such an ambitious novel, that is an issue.

I’ll also add, even for folks who don’t think of themselves as sensitive readers, that the book includes a couple of particularly horrific death-by-torture descriptions. Honestly, they’re so gruesome I’m not even sure I find them believable. It seems like there’s so much of this out there now that authors feel they have to outdo all other authors for such scenes to have an impact.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this book, and for immersion in a time and place and in the life of a flawed protagonist, it’s excellent. I look forward to seeing what Bonert writes next.

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review 2016-06-17 00:39
Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa
Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa - Nicki Von Der Heyde

STOP! This book is your ONE STOP to all the battles in South Africa! Everything you wanted to know and more!
Nicki Von Der Heyde breaks down each of the battles, beginning with the colonial wars. Each of them are broken down into easy to read articles. Each of the 71 battles depicted give the reader a sense of accomplishment.
Each of these are broken down, making them easy to read and understand. The timelines, pictures and the maps that are included gives the reader a chance to put the pieces all together. If you plan on travelling to the region, I think this guide would be extremely handy to have, as you move from one location to another. Military historians as well should take note. This well documented book has a lot to offer! Teachers, historians and more can glean a lot of information, and use for many different projects!

I was excited to read this book, as I have always had an interest in the history of different places, and being able to find this book and have a chance to put it all together was exciting! This has been a very handy guide for me to use in some of the online college courses I teach, as well as being able to use the pictures and maps in my own children's school work. I look forward to being able to use this book many times over in the many years to come!

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review 2016-05-15 18:50
July's People by Nadine Gordimer
July's People - Nadine Gordimer

This is a brilliantly-written novella, though the style takes a little getting used to. The writing is densely packed with meaning but at the same time quite spare; every word and its placement counts.

July’s People was first published in 1981, during the time of apartheid and unrest in South Africa, and it posited a violent near future for the country – one that did not, in the end, come to pass, but that might have under slightly different circumstances. A liberal white couple and their three young children flee the city to take refuge with their longtime servant, July, in his village in the bush. This book captures the subtle shift in the balance of power between the Smales and July, as the middle-class white family tries to adapt to subsistence life and the expectations and illusions of apartheid society break down.

This is a story that runs narrow but deep: but for a few flashbacks from Maureen Smales, it takes place entirely in the tiny village over the span of a few weeks, with a cast consisting only of the principals and a few villagers, yet it covers more ground than many a longer book. It is packed with vivid imagery, so that the reader can practically see, smell, and touch each location. And the characters are delineated with equal precision, entirely real and complex.

My reservation about the book is its abrupt ending, an ambiguous cliffhanger that doesn’t quite bring the plot arc to a close. I suspect such an open-ended finale carried more weight in 1981 (when its readers had to decide what direction to take their country) than it does 35 years later.

At any rate, this is an excellent piece of literature that I would certainly recommend. Do be aware that it provides more intellectual enjoyment than easy entertainment, but readers seeking the former will be richly rewarded.

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review 2015-12-11 11:47
Mike Nicol: Bad Cop
Bad Cop: Ein Kapstadt-Thriller - Mike Nicol

Bartholomeu Pescado, genannt Fish, ist ein surfender Privatdetektiv in Südafrika, der Gras an Uni-Professoren vertickt, um über die Runden zu kommen und sich regelmäßig von seiner Mutter anhören muss, doch nun endlich erwachsen zu werden und seinen Jura-Abschluss zu machen. Geld hätte er tatsächlich nötig, denn Aufträge -auch von seiner Freundin, Anwältin Vicky Kahn, werden immer knapper. 

Mehr aus Zufall gerät ausgerechnet Fish dem "Bad Cop" des Buches, dem ehemaligen Polizeipräsidenten Jakob Mkezi, in die Quere, als dieser versucht, sein Vermögen zu vergrößern. 

Erzählt wird auf mehreren Zeitebenen. Die eingefügten, zwischen 1977 und 1994 spielenden "Todesschwadron"-Kapitel, erzählen die Geschichte von vier Geheimagenten, die sich als Auftragskiller für das Regime verdingen und nach dem Ende der Apartheid untertauchen. Wie Mike Nicol diese Ebenen zusammenführt und die scheinbar unzusammenhängenden Ereignisse miteinander verknüpft, ist virtuos und zeigt ein Prinzip des Buches auf: Wie die Vergangenheit die Gegenwart einholt - und das meist im negativen Sinne. 

Ein sehr empfehlenswerter Thriller.







Mike Nicol: Bad Cop. Ein Kapstadt-Thriller. Übersetzt von Mechthild Barth. München: btb Verlag, 2015. 544 Seiten, 9,99 Euro. ISBN 978-3-442-74845-7

(Disclaimer: Ich erhielt ein kostenloses Rezensionsexemplar vom Randomhouse Bloggerportal, vielen Dank)

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review 2015-06-07 16:27
A novel where past and future are eerily reconisable
Willem of the Tafel - Hans M. Hirschi


Willem of the Tafel is not an easy book to classify. The main protagonist, Willem, is quite young at the beginning of the action, and the novel follows his journey towards independence and adulthood, so it has elements of a Young Adult story. It portrays a future post-nuclear catastrophe, where environment takes its toll and pays humanity back, with most of the population being wiped-out and the few survivors taking some radical decisions. It’s a dystopia/utopia (depending on each person’s viewpoint) whereby whilst some groups of humans have decided to abandon technology to avoid further catastrophes, others depend on it for their basic survival. So it could be a science-fiction novel. It’s a novel with a strong pro-environmental message, and it reflects upon the human condition (fear, power struggles, and race relations). It is also a beautiful love story between two extraordinary young men, as different from each other as they could be, but as compatible and similar in their outlook as would be possible.

The author uses third person alternating point of view to make the reader share in the feelings of those characters that, although initially might appear completely alien to us once we move past their circumstances, they are not that different from all of us. Both of the post-apocalyptic societies that are shown have their problems. The people living on the surface who have renounced technology see their lives shortened but their lack of science and experiment hardship without any relief in sight, although they live a much simpler life and enjoy human contact. The society of the Tafel has developed a model of life where the main goal is survival and nothing that does not increase its likelihood is considered worthy of pursuit. Reproduction has become mechanised, society divided and dying due to lack of new blood and light, and each individual is only a cog in a machine. And there are huge division and differences according to race. Neither model is shown as perfect although the Tafel seems, by far, the sadder of the two (and perhaps the closer to where we are going).

Willem is and extraordinary character. An individual part of a system who is wonderfully unlike anybody else and whose punishment for an accidental death becomes his (and humanity’s) salvation. Willem brought to my mind Herman Melville’s character ‘Billy Budd’, the beautiful and innocent sailor who kills another sailor (unintentionally) and pays dearly for it, not only for his crime, but because he represents what the captain can’t be or have. Thankfully, in the case of Willem, this young man goes on to become the link between the two societies and a symbol of hope.

A joyful and optimistic read that affirms the human spirit. Suitable for all ages. A character and a novel I won’t forget.

I was offered an ARC copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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