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Launching at the Lounge

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

I am always deeply touched by the people who make the effort to drive to town on a Thursday evening to hear me talk about my work. Amongst the crowd of about 60 people who attended the Cape Town launch of Eye Brother Horn, there were some I hadn’t seen for years, and some who traveled from far away. There were people who know me as a community environmentalist, some who marched with me on protests in the eighties, others who know me through the book world. Some fabulous fellow authors, including Joanne Hichens, Nancy Richards, Elleke Boehmer, ​Karina Szczurek, Ian Goldin and Sandile Ngidi - I'm sorry if I missed some, as I sadly did not get to talk to everyone. And, (this always amazes me) some whom I had never met me at all.

Of special significance were Therese Boulle, who kept me going whenever I vowed to give up, SarahBelle Selig from Catalyst Press who has championed the book with tireless enthusiasm, and Sandile Ngidi, who advised me on Zulu language, history and culture. Sandile is related to William Ngidi, a convert of Bishop Colenso’s who wrote an account of a mission expedition to the royal umuzi of King Mpande. This was one of the few recorded texts written by an indigenous person in that era, and was a valuable resource.

I could not have asked for a better moderator than David Attwell, a literary critic and champion of local literature who served as Head of the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. David has published work on J. M. Coetzee, as well as other topics, and is extremely well read in the fields of history and English literature. He has recently co-founded the Books on the Bay festival in Simon's Town, with Darryl David.

The conversation with David gave me an opportunity to explore early influences on my writing, including Chinua Achebe, Sol Plaatje, Peter Abrahams, and J.M. Coetzee. Coetzee ran a course on South African literature when I was doing my undergraduate degree at UCT, which introduced me to a number of writers, including, of course, his own works.

The exploration of the novel itself was framed by three extracts which I read aloud, to give insights into characterisation, themes, issues and structure. We discussed the voicing, how historical fiction might speak to contemporary concerns, especially racial justice and the environment. We spoke about missionaries, how they tended to follow the colonial agenda. Those who took the trouble to learn Zulu, to understand some of the cultural practices, to see the Zulu as fellow humans found themselves deeply conflicted , to the point (in the case of Bishop Colenso), of being excommunicated.

The novel received praise from some of those present as a 'tour de force' that was 'deeply researched, authentic historical fiction with trans-lingual sensibility, absorbing characters, and themes that arc through time, covering hard issues but a pleasure to read.' (Thanks to Jane Coombe for capturing this.)

The Book Lounge offered an iconic space in their basement venue, surrounded by books, and it was such an honour to sit in the chair that so many brilliant authors have occupied. This is so much more than a book store, offering ongoing promotion and support of local authors, discussions and launches, as well as its involvement in Cape Town’s Open Book Festival.

Huge thanks are due to the Book Lounge and Catalyst Press for hosting and organising the launch, and to David Attwell for moderating. Thanks to Leopard’s Leap which donated wine. Thanks to Joanne Hichens, SarahBelle Selig and Michael Evans for sharing photos. And of course, a massive thanks to all those who came and bought books. Looking forward to the next launch in Johanesburg on 29 March.

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