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Jenny’s Reads: Reading Lists and Fine Local Literature


Barack Obama does them frequently. Bill Clinton occasionally does as well. And to my great delight Michael Jordaan (former highly innovative head of FNB and now involved in launching an online bank, wine and so much more) decided to announce his winter holiday one.

Yes: we’re talking about reading lists, usually coinciding with a longish holiday break. I love them. They’re brilliant for gaining insight into that person’s interests, but also for expanding one’s own reading journeys. If only there was more time, surely one of life’s greatest luxuries.

Obama issued his reading list on the eve of his recent African trip celebrating not only his Kenyan roots but celebrating the Mandela Centenary. As always, his list was eclectic. Here is his book selection and, of course, it contains a few surprises, which means more journeys for us.

Long Walk to FreedomLong Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (Little, Brown): “… essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history – and then go out and change it.”

Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Penguin): “… paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism”.

AmericanahAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4th Estate): raises “universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home …”

The ReturnThe Return by Hisham Matar (Viking): (is) “… the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons …”

The World As It IsThe World As It Is by Ben Rhodes (Bodley Head): “His memoir is … one of the most compelling stories of what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.”

A Grain of WheatA Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Penguin): a … “chronicle of events leading up to Kenya’s independence and … how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives …”

Dreams from My FatherAlthough it is not part of Barack Obama’s list, I’d add his own early memoir Dreams from My Father (Canongate). To date it has sold over a million copies.

The Ones with PurposeStill talking about Barack Obama and a long day spent in the dust and the sun waiting for him to talk at Wanderers, I popped a book into my bag. Waiting can be tedious. I chose to read a book Exclusive Books’ head of marketing, Ben Williams, told me he thought was “fine local literature”. It happens to be a novel by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele.

Why you’ll enjoy it:
This is Jele’s second novel. Her debut novel, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word won numerous awards and was turned into a movie. There are eight years between her first and her second novel. The Ones with Purpose is lightning years apart from Happiness is a Four-Letter Word. It is the profoundly affecting story of Fikile, a spirited young mother who dies of breast cancer right at the beginning of the book. “I imagined a dying person’s last breath as something resembling an exclamation mark, distinct and hanging mid-air like an interrupted thought,” says Anele, Fikile’s younger sister and the novel’s storyteller. ” … There is no rattling noise at the back of her throat. No relentless twitching. No clinging to life. Fikile dies with no more fuss than a switch of a light bulb.” Anele Mabuza takes charge of her extended family. I became totally absorbed in the midst of this buoyant, noisy, irreverent family with all its secrets and all its hopes, coping with a tragedy. I fell in love with Fikile. And I want to know what happens to Anele after she firmly ends the story. A huge tick from me.
The Ones with Purpose by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele (Kwela)

Grandad MandelaAs delightful a local children’s book is likely to be. I interviewed Zazi and Ziwelene who are part of the book, and warmed to their sense of family and their grasp of immediate history. They ask their grandmother, Zindzi, 15 questions about apartheid. Zindzi responds with clarity aimed directly at little people.

Why you’ll enjoy it:
Holding the storyline together is the journey, from boyhood to old age, of their great grandfather, Nelson Mandela. At one stage in the beginning of the book the children ask their grandmother why their great grandfather went to jail. She explains apartheid in two lines and then says: “You know like we say, “I love you lots like Jelly Tots? We are different colours but we all taste the same?”
“Uh-huh, said Zazi.
“That’s what Grandad Mandela was fighting for.”
Sean Qualls’ illustrations are informative, deceptively simple in appearance, and immediately recognisable.
Grandad Mandela by Zazi, Ziwelene & Zindzi Mandela, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Mandela Legacy Media)

île de païn - AnytimeQuivertree is ruthless in its desire to consistently produce some of South Africa’s most beautiful books. île de païn – Anytime is a good example of that quest. Liezie Mulder is a chef and, with her husband Markus, runs and owns the iconic Knysna restaurant île de païn. She states that she wants to create food that looks good, smells goods and tastes good – food that feeds memories.

Why you’ll enjoy it:
It’s a cliché, but this cookbook makes the mouth water with it’s fresher than fresh ingredients, innovative pairing and intriguing influences from around the world making their appearance seamlessly in the recipes. The food is divided into times of the day, beginning with 8am and going on, as far as I can see, until late at night. It’s an easy book to simply browse through, but the food and the recipes are the stars of another impressive cookbook from the Quivertree stable. I’d book a couple of meals at the restaurant right now for the Christmas break …
île de païn – Anytime by Liezie Mulder (Quivertree)


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