My very best thing about the holidays is plenty of time to read so I thought I would share some great books set in Durban today.
I have recently written a magazine article on the lack of books set in Durban and how all of a sudden, there have been several, which bodes very well for Durban’s creative all-roundedness. Although we have fabulous artists and designers, most of our writers are living away from the city, writing about other places. I was, therefore, delighted to come across three excellent books set in Durban.
The Sunday Times Prize for Fiction shortlist contained two works set in Durban in 2010. The overall winner, High Low In-between by Imraan Coovadia and Small Moving Parts by Sally-Ann Murray.
High Low In-between is about an Indian family whose patriarch has died in what appears to be a suicide days before his retirement party. The ambiguous nature of the city comes through so clearly in Coovadia’s writing and he makes the contradictions inherent in the city patently obvious, even for someone who has never been here. Other themes are the place of Indians in the new South Africa and change. Don’t be put off by the fact that this book has won a major award (as I know many people are) as it is a classic whodunnit story that will keep you interested and guessing until the last page and well as provoking you to think a little harder about where you fit it to your own city and its complexities.
Small Moving Parts is a coming of age story and is the debut novel of one of Durban’s most celebrated poets, Sally-Ann Murray. Murray is interested in words and their power and her turn of phrase in this book is unique and, for a writer, truly inspirational. you won’t find a single cliche, unless it is there for a very specific purpose and the imagery is so fresh and original. The novel is set in a bygone era of Durban’s history – the early Sixties and is a coming of age story. Halley Murray is a beguiling heroine and I was completely entranced by her adventures in a city I half recognised but also felt like I was discovering. This is not the easiest read but it is well worth the effort.
The final of the three is one I have featured on the blog before: Strange Nervous Laughter by Bridget McNulty. This is a love story which follows several different characters as they discover things about themseves, their lovers and their city during Durban’s hottest summer. There is an element of magical realism in the story and each character has a particular quirk which illustrates their personality so perfectly: one can talk to whales and another finds that broken things follow him home whilst another levitates when she is happy. Durban herself becomes a character of sorts and you couldn’t imagine this novel playing our anywhere else. A complete delight. Read it!
For someone who prefers non-fiction, I have a suggestion for you, too. There is a great little book appropriately called Facts about Durban. Written by Allan Jackson, it is a treasure trove of trivia about Durban’s past and present. If you ever wondered about something related to the city, you are likely to find out about it in this book. A great gift for someone, too.
To find out more about all four books, click on the pics. Otherwise they are available at all good bookstores. The KZNSA definitely has stock of Facts About Durban at the moment. Hopefully I will be able to give you details about the article I have written soon, too.
Obviously, this post would not be complete without a mention of Spud the publishing phenomenon written by John van der Ruit. If you are one of the very small percentage of South Africans who has not read it (and shame on you if you are a Natalian) then the movie has finally been released. I loved recognising the places in which Spud gets up to all his antics while I was reading so I can’t wait to see all those familiar spots on the big screen.
There is also such a thing as a KZN Literary Tourism Route. I shall have to check it out and report back one of these days. For now, you can make do with having a look at their website: http://www.literarytourism.co.za/
Watch out for a post on some of Durban’s best book stores coming soon.