This week Leadership Reads turns to fiction, introducing two brand new talents delving into the murky waters of identity and crime, and reintroducing a classic text by one of South Africa's greatest living writers.
Imran Garda is a journalist with an international reputation, having worked at Al Jazeera's English channel from 2006-2012. Garda anchored anchored the news and Inside Story from Doha, Kuala Lumpur and Washington DC and hosted the award-winning (RTS) The Stream, reporting from a plethora of destinations: the US, Sudan, Turkey, Egypt, Namibia, Bahrain, Lesotho, India, South Africa and the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Garda also hosted the 13-part series"Focus on Gaza" and presented a number of documentaries including "The Father of the Turks", "A Voyage of Life and Death" and "India's Silent War". Interviewees included the likes of former IAEA Chief Hans Blix, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Tibetan PM in exile Lobsang Sangay, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay, ICC Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, and philosopher Slavoj Zizek, to name a few.
With such a background Garda's fictional debut could be expected to have an international flavour, and The Thunder That Roars does not disappoint in that regard. The novel covers the trajectory of Yusuf Carrim, a tech-savvy journalist made by his coverage of the Arab Spring, who detours into detective work when his father asks him to trace missing childhood friend Sam. This mission takes Carrim on a picaresque quest from his New York base to South Africa, the country of his birth, and on to Bulawayo, Dubai and Lampedusa. Along the way Carrim confronts some troubling truths as he deconstructs his personality. Crisply paced, informed by an imagination nourished by the most fertile international newsfeeds, and hosting a cast of off-beat characters, The Thunder That Roars is a compelling tale that will challenge readers' assumptions about their own relationships to time and place at the same time that it surprises and entertains.
A mystery novel of a different kind, Penny Lorimer's first novel Finders Weepers features a different journalist on a quest to find a missing person. Nix Mniki is a South African woman of Xhosa and German parentage who goes back to the Eastern Cape in search of the new principal of a rural Eastern Cape school. Girdwood College has seen better days and the principal, Boniswa, was determined to return it to its hey-day. As Mniki attempts to unravel the mystery of Boniswa's disappearance, she comes face to face with the ruinous effect that the education crisis has had on people's lives – a crisis that fosters the violence and corruption that seem to have drawn Boniswa into the darkness. This makes Finders Weepers a sustained meditation on the woes afflicting South African society in general and the Eastern Cape in particular as well as being a finely constructed and well written detective novel. Will Penny Lorimer give Margie Orford and Deon Meyer a run for their money? Read Finders Weepers and share your opinion!
A mystery of an entirely different order surfaces in the playful, not to say chaotic pages of The Folly, Ivan Vladislavic's first novel originally published in 1993, on the eve of the first democratic elections, and timeously reissued in a striking red-and-black cover to accompany whatever follies the next 20 years of democracy may yield.
Vladislavic is a bard of the arbitrary and the absurd, with a lyrical style steeped in irony and leavened with with, as evidenced by titles like Missing Persons, Propaganda By Monuments, The Restless Supermarket, Exploded View, Double Negative and The Folly itself – the novel in which Vladislavic's love-affair with the bizarre and the surreal is most nakedly exposed.
The plot of The Folly is as arbitrary as the line drawn around a surface of ground and as magical. Just as the line creates a plot from unowned land, summoning the Law, the State and the police,The Folly begins with an arbitary act and swiftly weaves a text of obsession, mayhem and lunacy. Two suburban non-entities, Mr and Mrs Malgas, are middlingly eking out their days when the eccentric squatter Nieuwenhuizen bursts into their world with his crack-pot scheme to build a mansion in the vacant lot next door. With a maniacal zeal reminiscent of Pozzo in Beckett's Waiting For Godot or the one-eyed monomaniac Zero in Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve, the ironically-aptly named Nieuwenhuizen sets about turning the Malgas' world upside down. Piece by piece, Nieuwenhuizen, aided by the long-suffering Mr Malgas, who is helpless as a rat fascinated by a snake, constructs a madhouse disguised as a mansion. Insisting that Malgas call him “Father”, Nieuwenhuizen, like some patriarch laying the foundations of a colony, obsesses over every detail of his mansion, endowing linen cupboards, crazy paving, burglar-proofing, floral motifs and gnomes with a hitherto unsuspected significance. Observation deck, rumpus room, bomb shelter … All have their place in his grand design as it builds up to a crashing finale.
As fresh as it was on the day it was printed, The Folly will delight new readers and reward rereaders. Once deemed a satire of apartheid, the book now floats free as a devastating satire on the values underpinning suburbia – and an unsettling examination of what it takes to rebel against the creeping death of the soul.
As JG Ballard once said, “Everywhere — all over Africa and South America ... you see these suburbs springing up. They represent the optimum of what people want. There's a certain sort of logic leading towards these immaculate suburbs. And they're terrifying, because they are the death of the soul ... This is the prison this planet is being turned into.”
By the time The Folly is finished with the reader, nothing in suburbia will ever look the same again.