So there we are. It’s done and it’s dusted and a great deal of bubbly has been consumed. Of course, I am talking (finally) about the Sunday Times Literary Awards. In case you haven’t heard, the prestigious Alan Paton Award went to Bongani Ngqulunga for The Man Who Founded the ANC: A Biography of Pixley ka Isaka Seme.
And the Barry Ronge Award for Fiction was unanimously voted for by all the judges in what, I am told, was one of the shortest discussions in the recent history of the award. It went to Harry Kalmer for his magnificent A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg, a city novel. Both books are from the Penguin Random House stable.
Both the award winners are intriguing. Bongani Ngqulunga is not only an author but also political advisor to Jacob Zuma, both a president and now as an ordinary citizen, but clearly still involved in politics. Harry Kalmer normally writes in Afrikaans, but wanted to write this book in English just to prove to his friends that he could (and then some). I haven’t fully explored the beginnings of the novel, which are centred in the Anglo Boer War and running to the present day. I am now wondering if the genesis of the book lies in his own family’s experiences. Whatever the response is, it is a stunning, complex and, at times, humorous read.
So you are sitting in an armchair and heaving a sigh of relief that everyone has moved on from these awards, South Africa’s most significant in terms of size and prizes. But let me test your appetite for literary competitions by reminding you that on the evening of 7th July, the Golden Man Booker Prize is going to be announced.
This is to celebrate 50 years of the Man Booker Prize itself. Five books, one from each decade, have been selected by judges and the public alike. I can’t wait to have the results of that – I believe it will be televised, so keep an eye on BBC World, Sky News and if all else fails, YouTube to take part vicariously in the fun.
These are the books in competition with each other: V.S. Naipaul: In a Free State; Penelope Lively: Moon Tiger; Michael Ondaatjie: The English Patient; Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall; George Saunders: Lincoln in the Bardo. My money’s fairly and squarely on Hilary Mantel, who has yet to deliver the third part of what was intended to be a trilogy and I am wringing my hands in frustration.
Last month I wrote about the International Dublin Literary Award, the world’s largest prize at the moment. I was particularly interested this year, because our own Yewande Omotoso’s fine book, The Woman Next Door, was nominated for the award by the Cape Town City Library, and made it to the shortlist. But it didn’t take the prize.
Mike McCormack took it with his novel Solar Bones. It tells the story of Marcus Conway of County Mayo. His ancestors, stretching into the darkness of prehistory, have always lived in this village, in this county. Today, in the family home, set within 20 acres, he stands alone in the house, in the kitchen, ignoring the pain in his chest. Many of his recent male ancestors died of heart attacks, before they turned 60. The brutal work load. He ponders the rhythms of his life, how things are constructed, and how they can fall apart, his ancestral history, his marriage. The whole book is set within one hour.
It would be on my reading list. In case you go charging into Exclusive Books, just hold fire for a short while. It is not yet in stock, but it will be, shortly. Perhaps just order it?
Now that life has returned to normal, I’ve compiled a short reading list (I read 19 books before Franschhoek and I feel like a book wraith) to share with you. These are the books that are calling me and, of course, I will share them with you next time:
The Broken River Tent by Mphuthumi Ntabeni (Blackbird Books)
Patagonia by Maya Fowler (Umuzi)
The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson (Century)
The Season of Glass by Rahla Xenopolous (Umuzi) and, if I can just find time to be totally indulgent,
The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting (MacLehose). The reviews have been so wondrous it has to rank on almost anyone’s list. It’s available from Exclusive Books in paperback. I suspect you’ll get to it before I do…