Port Nolloth, 00:01

31 March 2017, 9:06 am

From the archive, a short piece of fiction written for a Sunday Times special, set in South Africa, 2030.

“Fifty dollar!” the tuk-tuk driver yelled over the noise of helicopters chopping air over heavy loads at the docks nearby and revellers in the streets banging drums and setting off fireworks. The Atlantic was black as oil, the outlines of two abandoned diamond dredgers visible in the light spilling from the perimeter of the United Northern States of America naval depot. Out in deeper water blinked the lights of a hospital ship.

Lionel Powell wasn’t in the mood for haggling; he paid and crossed the road to Hunan Joys, a resto overlooking the docks. He was jumpy and winced at a loud bang from a large cracker. It was Freedom Day, the holiday celebrating the peaceful settlement reached between colonial settlers and native peoples back in 1913, but all he cared about was some rutting and recreation after the major fubar three weeks ago at Cuito Canaveral.

The resto was noisy with troops either back and battered from Cuito or fresh-faced and anxious on their way there. The kitchen was down to serving seal steaks and rice and salt fish. On special were PRC ratpacks, pilfered from bases after China’s withdrawal from the People’s Republic of Xaoteng. Hunan’s hosts and hostesses were struggling against waves of groping hands by troops who couldn’t afford them. But the simbays were full and the staff had to keep the hope of sex alive.

“Beer?” Hunanje, the owner, asked him.

Early skirmishes with Southern African troops had emboldened UNSA and Brazil, who poured more troops and equipment into a massive push north, the front stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. But behind this canon fodder, well-bunkered in Ximbabwe, Xambia and central Angola, were the PRC’s 6th, 7th and 3rd armies. The UNSA advance had stalled under a series of fire storms for which its troops were ill-prepared. Old hands like Lionel were veterans only of suppressing civilian uprisings in Canada, a last-gasp land grab as UNSA influence dwindled elsewhere, and they were shaken by the PRC armies’ ferocity.

Sechuana was scorched earth, its network of frack wells and pipelines, extending from the Carew in the south, had been set alight during the PRC retreat and was now a toxic no-go area. After the setback at Cuito, UNSA was consolidating, allowing troops who had been on long tours back as far south as Port Nolloth, its major base on the west coast from which it hoped to advance a prong through Namibia in order to encircle the PRC 6th and 7th armies in Ximbabwe, while its allies, lead by Germany, battled through the east coast and interior.

“Susy or Sean tonight? Or both?” Hunanje winked at him.

Lionel wasn’t in the mood.

“Simbay? I’ll put you on the short list.”

Most of the troops distrusted Hunanje, but Lionel liked the old man. At least he knew a bit of the history of the place. Historical South Africa.

The PRC had been driven north, but its allies, India and Indonesia, still ruled a third of the place, their respective territories stretching along the east coast. And the Republic of Xaoteng – the part that China had occupied – was a mire of ever-shifting allegiances among the Africans and the 50 million Chinese settlers. Things were precarious.

“Happy Freedom Day!”

A civilian had burst through the door and set off a cracker. As Lionel winced, there was a much louder bang outside. Lights and machinery clicked off. The hush lasted a few seconds, then the sirens began wailing…

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Review: Sunset Park, Paul Auster

27 January 2011, 10:18 am

Paul Auster, Sunset Park, Faber & Faber, 2010

(originally published in Afrikaans in Rapport, 24 Jan. 2011)

As with his previous novel, Invisible, Auster continues in Sunset Park with main characters who are in early adulthood. This time, however, the story is set in 2009, post-recession America, and the book can very much be read like Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: a lament from and for a world in decline. This sense of decline is firstly captured by the rudderless lives of Auster’s four main characters.

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The Literature Police

24 March 2009, 1:17 pm

THE LITERATURE Police is an interesting website that accompanies Peter D. McDonald’s book, The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences (2009, reviewed by Michael Titlestad at the Times). The site contains all manner of material related to the history of censorship in apartheid South Africa and is worth a visit.

Update: A good review of the book by Shaun de Waal over at the M&G. I’m hoping to get my grubby paws on a review copy.


Alan Paton, The Hero of Currie Road

25 August 2008, 10:29 am

The Hero of Currie Road: Complete Short Pieces, by Alan Paton (Umuzi, 2008)

[Review originally published in Afrikaans in Rapport, 24 August 2008]

The Hero of Currie Road collects a variety of short pieces by Alan Paton: short stories, biographical pieces and the odd miscellania, all from Debbie Go Home/ Tales from a Troubled Land (1961) and Knocking on the Door (1975). In short, all Paton’s short pieces are now available in one volume. The end pages include brief notes about either a story’s print publication date or when it was read first by Paton, and so the volume is a convenient source for literary historians.

Not having been a fan of Cry, the Beloved Country when I was a university student, and therefore not having read any Paton beyond that, I nevertheless approached the volume with a degree of openness. Youth, after all, can be blind in its passions. Read the rest of this entry »


Short fiction: The Book of Tongues

19 June 2008, 2:20 pm

“The Book of Tongues”, a piece of short fiction I wrote, appears at the Chimurenga Library:

If you know where to look, there is a steel trap door on one of the city streets that opens with double panels, such as those leading to the basements of many shops. There is no secret code, but if you know where to look and you find the trapdoor, all you need to do is knock and Maalik, a scrawny man with an ascetic aspect and dressed in robes of light shades, will open and let you in. Past a shelf of cabbages, onions and tomatoes, he will lead you into an opening that has a few armchairs, a couch, a gas burner sporting a brass pot brewing sweet coffee, and a sparse assortment of books and magazines. You might see a few people standing around or browsing the books or sipping coffee… (ctd)


E.M. Forster

11 February 2008, 9:10 am

“[T]he novel is a formidable mass, and it is so amorphous – no mountain in it to climb, no Parnassus or Helicon, not even a Pisgah. It is most distinctly one of the moister areas of literature – irrigated by a hundred rills and occasionally degenerating into a swamp. I do not wonder that the poets despise it, though they sometimes find themselves in it by accident. And I am not surprised at the annoyance of the historians when by accident it finds itself among them.”

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 1927


Theory is not fiction, but…

4 December 2007, 2:56 pm

Explaining its ommission from the 2007 Booker shortlist, Giles Foden notoriously dimissed J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year as not quite fiction:

My personal view of Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year is that it’s a piece of radical literary theory offered as a (no doubt well-deserved) subversion of the whole commercial and promotional mechanism whereby books are distributed. But theory is not fiction. (The Guardian, 15 Sept. 2007)

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The man who would be eaten

3 July 2006, 6:58 pm

ONE DAY, I joke with friends: ‘If you were a cannibal, which author would you eat and which herb would you use?’ I almost immediately go for J.M. Coetzee – slow-roasted over coals – and simply but deftly flavoured: salt, pepper, tarragon. Now, every time I have bearnaise sauce, I think of slow roasted Coetzee and tarragon. Read the rest of this entry »


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