26 May 2008

Don't Panic! (Alan Knott-Craig)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa

It was a fresh, new year. The first few days of 2008. Optimism. Promise. Potential. We’d had our well-deserved rests, spend more than we should have and eaten more than we’d thought possible – and the hard work was upon us. But then, the world went dark.

In the midst of the Eskom disaster, climbing interest rates, soaring fuel costs and plummeting property prices, we were all starting to wonder whether the grass wasn’t actually a bit greener in Perth, Toronto, or even sweltering Dallas. We were whining and whinging, albeit by candlelight.

And then, like a friendly virus, Alan Knott-Craig’s reassuring missive began to make its way across the country and soon, across the world. Oh, the power of word of mouth! Don’t panic, it said. See 2008 as a year of opportunity and remember: we’ve had worse, and survived worse, before.

I read it, and felt better. I sent it to everyone I could, and they felt better. Tsotsis started to attack helpless foreigners in the townships and we almost panicked, but didn’t – because we were feeling better. We just did what we could, donated blankets and bought gas.

The end of this long story is that Alan Knott-Craig’s e-mail has spawned a little book of joy, titled Don’t Panic: a book by South Africans, for South Africans.

The result of South Africans wanting to share their positive messages with the rest of the country, it includes thoughtful contributions from John Robbie, Branko Brkic, Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, local writers and thinkers, and a whole lot of cheerful kids for whom ‘there’s no place like home…’

It’s upbeat and inspirational. It’s sweet. I liked it. But I am a little disappointed that the original message couldn’t remain just that: a simple piece of writing with a cracker of a message, able to achieve surprise success – without yielding a whole jolly bandwagon.


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