11 February 2011

Gold in Graphite - Jozi Sketchbook (Somayya A.E. & Zafrica Cabral)

You know, book reviewers get a bit jaded sometimes. It happens. It happens to all of us eventually – not just the real skeptics like me. And when we get jaded, we feel blasé about books that publicists rave about, before we’ve even seen them.

But then, like the one green Smartie left in the box, something special comes along. And, as we unfold the flap of the envelope or cut the plastic tape on the box, we start to feel an unmistakable sense of surprised delight. ‘Hey! This looks pretty good.’

When we finally open the book in question, and it really is pretty good, well – that’s wonderful. Why the long back-story? Because Gold in Graphite – Jozi Sketchbook (Impressions of Johannesburg through Sketch & Prose) is just such a treat.

Gold in Graphite – Jozi Sketchbook is an upbeat portrayal of the city. A collection of frozen moments in which the city’s original masterpieces - some dilapidated, some forgotten, some unknown – are captured by a single artist in stark black and white.

Among these (50-odd) are the original Park Station, Carlton Centre, the Rissik Street Post Office, the Oriental Plaza, the Orlando Cooling Towers, Astor Mansions, Ponte City Apartments, Gandhi’s House, Mai Mai Muti Market and Northcliff Ridge.

Stunning, really. The only negative thing I have to say is that I don’t like the typefaces used. Any of them. The layout, the artwork, the words and the paper are so deeply classy – so appropriate – that the fonts just seem brash to me. But that’s me.

The artist is Zafrica Cabral. Born in Johannesburg, he has worked in the city as a construction worker, Ellis Park snack vendor, flea market salesman, fitness instructor, designer, model builder and architectural technologist.

The supporting text was written by somayya a.e, who completed a BA with majors in English and Social Anthropology and punctuated her studies by exploring the wonders of language, food and culture. She lives in the City of Gold.

Pseudonymas notwithstanding, Zafrica Cabral and somayya a.e. are otherwise known as Zubair Hassem and Somayya Essack, a married couple with two small children. And they have collaborated for the past year on this fascinating book, producing what they believe is the first sketchbook of buildings in Joburg.

Something else you should know about Gold in Graphite is that its foreword, penned by poet Dr Don Mattera, is more than a mere introduction. It is a lullaby.

“The City has changed dramatically…so much so that the new must give credit to the old; where today’s Jozi came from must inform the journey ahead… No room for moping and pining: people must extol Johannesburg’s right to exist as a world-class city…as well as…a centre of…coexistence for peace, progress and prosperity.”

I adore this book and, while I’m not a coffee table book person, it proudly adorns my coffee table. You should own one. But before you do, there is one thing you should know: you will want these sketches for your walls, where you can see them.

Worth Dying For (Lee Child)

Available on the Amazon Kindle.

If you’re a Lee Child fan you’ll know that Jack Reacher - former US Army Major, former military policeman and current wandering nomad - can’t leave things alone. 

He’s like a rabid dog that way: he smells a bit of small-town drama, some nasty local lore, and that’s it. He’s mad. And bad people (notably those who hurt women, children, animals or the vulnerable) are going to get hurt in all the ways they deserve to. Impressively. Brutally. Utterly unemotionally. In about three seconds flat.

If you’re not a Lee Child fan, meet Jack Reacher – the coolest hero of contemporary skop-skiet-en-donder fiction. (There are 14 books before this; find them.) But you should know a couple of important and fascinating things at the outset…

Reacher’s a drifter. His only possessions are a foldable toothbrush and, since 9/11, an expired passport. He wears his clothing for a couple of days before discarding it and replacing it at cheap chain stores - because he doesn’t like luggage. 

And although he doesn’t own a cell phone, or know how to use Google, he can tell the time – to the minute – using the ‘clock in his head’. He’s also passionate about strong black coffee, blues music and gamine yet powerful women in positions of authority.

Worth Dying For, host to Reacher’s latest appearance, is a by-the-book Child: there is a small town with an egomaniacal boss family, a couple of broken-hearted locals, a few cases of mistaken identity, some seriously dark and dangerous secret stuff going on, and Reacher in the middle – with the clock ticking towards a showdown.

Here’s a taste of our man, and of this novel: 

"Reacher smiled. He had been raised on military bases around the world, battling hardcore Marine progeny, honing his skills against gangs of resentful native youths in dusty Pacific streets and damp European alleys. Whatever hardscrabble town…these guys had come up in had been a feather bed by comparison. And while they had been studying the playbook and learning to run and jump and catch, he had been broken down and built back up by the kind of experts who could snap your neck so fast you never knew it had happened until you went to nod your head and it rolled away down the street without you."

Those Who Love Night (Wessel Ebersohn)

Available on www.kalahari.net.

Let me start by saying that this was not an easy book for me to read…

The Witness review on the jacket of Wessel Ebersohn’s Those Who Love Night suggests that it ‘will be gobbled down by even the most jaded reader’. Guess what? I’m the most jaded reader. I’m not typically a fan of local fiction. I’m usually unenthusiastic about stories of African political tragedy. And I’m largely disparaging of crime thrillers set in Zimbabwe. But I couldn’t lower this book.

For starters, I should admit that I’m seven months pregnant. And in the opening scene, Janice Makumbe, who is eight months pregnant, flees into the bush in the dead of night, to save herself and her two small children from the soldiers of the Five Brigade during Zimbabwe’s brutal Gukurahundi Massacres of the 1980s.

She doesn’t make it. (From there, you can imagine my morbid fascination.)

Abigail Bukula is the talented South African lawyer who is asked to travel to Zim to defend activist Tony Makumbe – Janice’s surviving son and Abigail’s cousin – one of seven detained at the notorious Chikurubi Prison. And when she and oddball Jewish psychologist, Yudel Gordon, arrive, what they find is a messy web of murder, corruption, secrets, lies and political charades. Against the backdrop of a ravaged country that is hanging onto some of the traces of its former beauty. And interspersed with a cast of Zim locals who are alternately charming and chilling.

That’s all I’m going to give you on the storyline front, because I believe that this particular book deserves to be read without too much context or background.

But I will say that Wessel Ebersohn is a gifted writer – able to adopt convincingly the voices, nuances and personalities of his characters; able to pen colourful sketches of locations and interactions; and able, in a way that is unusual for South African writers, to distance himself sufficiently from ‘our’ closeness to Zimbabwe to give it representation that is simultaneously objective and deeply touching.

(I intend to read his other books, even though they’re local. Don’t tell anyone.)