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Magwood on Books

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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

The Magwood on Books Podcast: Marianne Thamm discusses her new memoir, Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela and me

I constantly and publicly thank Bob Marley and marijuana for helping me escape a brutal, dull and claustrophobic world.

- Marianne Thamm

Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela And MeI chatted to Marianne Thamm about her new book Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela And Me: A Memoir of Sorts, growing up in Pretoria and her difficult relationship with her Nazi father.

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The Magwood on Books Podcast: Sam Cowen talks about her new book From Whiskey to Water

From Whiskey to WaterSam Cowen has written a wry, clear-eyed account of her alcoholism and recovery called From Whiskey to Water.

Here she talks about the night it all came crashing down.

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Five Book Show Podcasts: My Chats with Tim Couzens, GG Alcock, Darrel Bristow-Bovey, Carol Campbell and Chris Karsten

Over the past few weeks five very different authors have joined me in the studio to discuss their latest books on the TM LIVE Book Show, which airs every Thursday at 2 PM.

Scroll down to listen to Tim Couzens discuss The Great Silence: From Mushroom Valley to Delville Wood, South African Forces in World War One, the first book by the new Sunday Times publishing imprint; GG Alcock chat about Third World Child: Born white, Zulu bred, in which he details his years growing up in a mud hut in Msinga; and finally Darrel Bristow-Bovey riffs on his recently launched memoir, One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo.

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First up, I chat to Chris Karsten and Carol Campbell:

Face-OffEsther's HouseBest-selling Afrikaans writer Chris Karsten has found a devoted new following since his books have been translated into English. The final instalment of his gripping Abel Lotz series has just been published, titled Face Off. Here he talks about creating his disturbing serial killer. Carol Campbell’s second novel Esther’s House is set in the sprawling shacklands of Oudtshoorn. It’s a moving story about the fight for housing in a corrupt system, and a community’s dignity and hope. She spoke to me about her deep love for the Karoo and its people.

 

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The Great SilenceA hundred years ago the world went to war, and South Africa was not spared its devastation. Professor Tim Couzens, one of the country’s foremost historians, has written a definitive account of South African involvement in the war, titled The Great Silence. Here he relives battles like Delville Wood and introduces some of the unforgettable characters of the conflict, such as the baboon who was a decorated soldier.

 

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Third World ChildGG Alcock is the original Zulu Blanc, a man raised in the remote, violent areas of KwaZulu-Natal. His book Third World Child chronicles his tough upbringing in a mud hut with no water or electricity. He speaks about his extraordinary parents and the insights his background has given him into the country today.

 

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One Midlife Crisis and a SpeedoThe celebrated columnist Darrel Bristow-Bovey is in top form as he wrestles with the manopause in One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo. Listen to him sounding off about Tim Noakes, Facebook and aphrodisiacs.

 

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  • The Great Silence: From Mushroom Valley to Delville Wood, South African Forces in World War One by Tim Couzens
    EAN: 9781920380359
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Podcast: My Chat with Mzilikazi wa Afrika About His Biography Nothing Left to Steal

Nothing Left to StealIt’s not often you see ace Sunday Times reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika around the building. He’s either off chasing a story or locked in his high-security office. I managed to lure him in to the TM LIVE Book Show studio to talk about his book Nothing Left To Steal.

He talked about his biggest scoops, the constant death threats he receives and his difficult childhood in Bushbuckridge.

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Podcast: My Chat with John Cleese about His New Memoir, So, Anyway …

So, Anyway...I recently spoke to comedy legend John Cleese on the TM LIVE Book Show about his memoir, So, Anyway …

Cleese said he first thought about writing his memoir one Christmas while he was having lunch with Michael Caine in Barbados. As one does.

“Michael Caine had been writing his autobiography and saying what an interesting experience it was. He said you recapture all the bits of your life that you’d actually forgotten about,” the Monty Python legend said.

“I was very lucky. Whenever something bad happened something immediately something good happened.”

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Podcast Round-up: The Best of Michele Magwood’s TM LIVE Book Show

Every week, in our shiny new TM LIVE studio, I spend some time talking books. This year I’ve interviewed some intriguing personalities, covering topics as diverse as the legacies of Steve Biko and Brenda Fassie, 9/11 in America, the South African Border War, and stuff South African white people like.

The TM LIVE Book Show airs every Thursday at 2 PM, and over the next couple of weeks I’ll be chatting to comedy legend John Cleese, as well as controversial journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika, whose tell-all memoir Nothing Left to Steal is taking the country by storm.

Scroll down for highlights from the year so far:

The New RadicalsGlenn Moss relives the intense student politics at Wits in the 70s in his absorbing book The New Radicals: A generational memoir of the 1970s, and speaks here about Steve Biko, the bitter Nusas trial and how the ideals of that generation have become frayed.

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EAN: 9781431409716
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The Alibi ClubJaco van Schalkwyk is one of the most interesting new authors on the SA book scene, an acclaimed visual artist who has turned his hand to writing. He tells how his debut novel The Alibi Club is based on a real dive bar in New York, and rails at the aftermath of 9/11, which he witnessed firsthand.

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EAN: 9781415207178
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Here I AmPJ Powers is one of South Africa’s most beloved performers, but her new autobiography Here I Am chronicles a dark, desperate period in her life. Here she speaks candidly about her alcoholism, the wreckage of her life and how she has emerged from it stronger than ever.

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EAN: 9780143539049
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Stuff South African White People LikeThe witty Hagen Engler lets rip in Stuff South African White People Like, sending up our predeliction for Tasha’s paninis, craft beers – and two-tone shirts. Here he points out that Johnny Clegg’s Zulu accent is “a bit off”.

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EAN: 9781868426126
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One ShotAmanda Coetzee is making a name for herself with her pacy thrillers, and her fourth, One Shot, has just been published. Here she talks about her intriguing detective, the enigmatic, gypsy-blooded Badger, and how she once worked at Holloway Women’s Prison.

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EAN: 9781770103757
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I'm Not Your Weekend SpecialThe irrepressible Bongani Madondo has edited a collection of essays on Brenda Fassie called I’m Not Your Weekend Special and here he remembers with affection the maddening, brilliant Ma Brr.

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EAN: 9781770103665
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Broken MonstersSouth Africa’s new literary supernova Lauren Beukes talks about Detroit, the derelict setting of her new book Broken Monsters, and how thwarted creativity can turn malevolent.

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EAN: 9781415202005
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Will You Remember Me?The effervescent British author Amanda Prowse was in South Africa to launch her novel Will You Remember Me? and talks about going from self-publishing to a place on the bestseller lists.

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EAN: 9781781856512
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It's a Black/White ThingAmerican journalist Donna Bryson talks about her thoughtful, revealing book It’s A Black/White Thing, about racism in post-Independence South Africa.

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EAN: 9780624065180
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A Sportful MaliceMichiel Heyns is one of South Africa’s most acclaimed novelists and translators. His latest novel A Sportful Malice is a slyly funny tale of love and revenge. Here he talks about Tuscany, “transnational” literature and the scourge of social media.

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EAN: 9781868426201
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Arctic SummerDamon Galgut’s subtle new novel Arctic Summer charts the travels of the great author EM Forster in the years before he wrote his masterpiece A Passage to India. Here he talks about his extensive research into this quiet, repressed author, and the liberation Forster felt in Egypt and India.

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EAN: 9781415206898
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Voices of Liberation: Steve BikoHSRC Press published a series of short studies on struggle heroes earlier this year called Voices of Liberation. One of the stand-out books was a study of Steve Biko by Professor Derek Hook. He spoke about Black Consciousness and Biko’s lasting legacy.

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EAN: 9780796924315
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Back to AngolaPaul Morris served in the South African forces in the 80s when he was just 19 years old. Now he’s written a book about an epic bicycle journey he has made across that country in an effort to make peace with the ghosts of his past. He speaks here about the writing of Back to Angola: A Journey From War to Peace.

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EAN: 9781770225510
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Watch Your BackKaren Rose is one of America’s favourite thriller writers. On a visit to South Africa she discussed her new novel Watch Your Back and how she creates strong women characters.

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EAN: 9780451414106
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Lost and Found in JohannesburgMark Gevisser’s brilliant Lost & Found in Johannesburg is part memoir, part social and historical investigation, and is one of the best books published this year. He explains how his childhood obsession with maps was the starting point for the work.

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EAN: 9781868425884
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Podcast: My Chat with Paul Morris on his New Book, Back to Angola: A Journey from War to Peace

Back to AngolaIn the book Back to Angola: A Journey from War to Peace, a former conscript in the SADF chronicles his epic cycle ride across the country as he lays to rest the ghosts that haunt him.

I spoke to author Paul Morris about his experiences. Click the “play” arrow below to listen to the podcast.

Back To Angola is published by Zebra Press.

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Reviewed: Endings & Beginnings – A Story of Healing by Redi Tlhabi, Jacana

Endings and BeginningsAs an appalled country tries to come to terms with the rape and murder of Anene Booysen, those wishing to understand the plague of rape in South Africa would do well to read this unsettling, moving book.

In telling the story of her childhood and her friendship with a feared gangster in the dusty streets of Soweto, Tlhabi reveals the webs of neglect, outmoded beliefs and moral and physical poverty that blight countless lives and create the conditions for unspeakable violence.

Tlhabi’s early childhood in Orlando East was a happy one. Her mother was a nurse, her father a former shebeen owner and a popular, charismatic man. She adored him, and he, her, so when she witnessed his body lying in the street, the life stabbed out of him and his one eye gouged out, she was acutely traumatised. She was just nine years old.

Two years later, in those same streets, she beholds another dead body, that of her friend and protector, the despised tsotsi Mabegzo. Killed on the corner where he always waited to accompany her home from school.

In Endings & Beginnings Tlhabi sets out to explore the nature of this unlikely friendship. Mabegzo was legendary in the community, a vicious killer and rapist. Mothers would threaten their daughters: “When girls misbehaved or played in the streets past their curfew, mothers would demand, ‘Do you want Mabegzo to take you? He will if he sees you in the streets. He rapes girls.’”

So when a handsome, polite young man approached her after school one day, she had no idea that this was the feared Mabegzo. At just 11, Tlhabi was being pestered by the 19-year-old Siphiwe, who had her in his sights. “Every time he appeared in front of me I began to shake like a leaf. He was ugly and menacing, and I would break out in a sweat that trickled down my back and my legs…I knew it was only a matter of time before he violated me.” She had just escaped another sickening encounter with Siphiwe when Mabegzo stepped into her life.

And so he began to look out for her, walking her home from school every day, bringing an umbrella to shield her when it rained and yet never, to the disbelief of those who saw them, trying to take her for himself. And in those walks Tlhabi learned about his background. Mabegzo was the child of a gang rape, of “jack rolling”, whose mother had been sent away to Lesotho in disgrace because she was pregnant as a result. He was taken in by his grandparents in Soweto, although his grandfather never spoke a word to him. He was seen as an evil child, born of evil. His mother married in Lesotho but never returned to claim him. He dropped out of school after he hit a teacher who was harassing his cousin. In short, he didn’t stand a chance. Abandoned, unloved, and uneducated, he played out his power in the only way he knew.

Tlhabi does not glamorise or excuse Mabegzo. When he heard that Siphiwe had been menacing her, he killed him. She learned that he was still “taking” women, and later still learned that he had a girlfriend and a baby at the time that he was chaperoning her. In her journey of healing she tracks down his mother and child and other relatives, trying to make sense of who he was and what had shaped him.

She examines the hollowness in both of their lives and how this bonded them. And she has, it seems, made peace with his memory.

And yet it is her descriptions of that milieu that worry, the commonplace occurrence of rape and wife beating, of the obdurate silence of the community. In that world “girls must be grateful that they haven’t been raped.” And if they are, they are judged harshly, it is somehow their fault.

It is no wonder that Redi Tlhabi is so outspoken about crime and violence and we applaud her for it. In her work as a radio and television presenter she is whip-smart and dauntless, but deeply sympathetic too. Her own life experience has shaped her. As she writes:

“With every news item about a young man who has raped, murdered or robbed someone, I have found myself asking, is this another Mabegzo? Where do these criminals come from? Who raised them and was there ever a time in their lives when they had hopes and dreams and their laughter filled the air?”

And so, as we watch the trial of Anene Booysen’s killers unfold, we will also ask these questions. This is an important, illuminating book and one which has taken immense courage to write.

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Reviewed: Rod – The Autobiography by Rod Stewart, Century

RodWhen Rod Stewart was playing with The Faces in the early 70s they had a full bar onstage, complete with a liveried waiter who served them drinks throughout concerts. “It saved the time and energy wasted hopping into the wings for refreshments. It also gave us somewhere to go during Kenney’s interminable drum solos. We could sit there while Kenney blatted himself into oblivion. One of us would say, ‘Do you think we should be getting back on?’ And another would say, ‘Let’s just have one more.’”

This is a marvellous rock memoir, way funnier than Eric Clapton and Keith Richards’. Stewart writes with a mirth that is catching, about his working-class childhood , his first forays into music after being discovered playing the harmonica at a train station, the manic pranks on tour, the endless blondes, The Hair. Yes, he devotes an entire chapter to his famous coif, or “bouff” as he calls it. In the days before hair gel, he would run around to his sister’s house to use her hairdryer, then set his incipient beehive with sugar and water. The nights would see him and his mates cowering on the Tube platforms with their arms over their heads trying to protect their bouffs from the train backdrafts. He and Ronnie Wood – later of the Rolling Stones – would spend hours doing each other’s hair at their parents’ homes.

He writes about the hilarious, life-long rivalry between him and Elton John (John once hired a sniper to shoot down the huge pneumatic footballs flying above one of Stewart’s concert venues), the night Gary Glitter’s wig floated away in a swimming pool “like some sort of upturned duck”, the First Class cabins decorated with mustard.

It is not a facile collection of japes, though. Stewart is honest about the breakdown of his relationships, his serial infidelity, and about the child he fathered when he was still a teenager whom he has only recently met. He readily admits to behaving “like an arsehole” in several breakups, but he remains on good terms with all of his exes, except for Britt Ekland, and he is crazy about his eight children.

And then there is the music, the songs, the stagecraft. Stewart didn’t have the gift of someone like Eric Clapton or Pete Townsend, but he made up for it with an instinct for blues and soul which he married with great lyrics, belted out in his inimitable voice. He learned to work a crowd, pump a song and dominate the stage.

Despite the drugs and alcohol – and there was a lot – he never succumbed to the crippling dependency that has seen the demise of so many rock stars. Despite the surreal wealth and success – he holds the Guinness World Record for the largest audience, 3.5 million on Copacabana, and has sold 200 million records – he remained an ordinary bloke. Sensible with money, close to his Scottish family, devoted to football and equally devoted to building model railroads. He was even awarded a CBE in 2006. Not bad for the son of a Scottish plumber.

It’s been one hell of a life, and at 67 Rod Stewart is still going strong – having rediscovered the writing muse last year, we can look forward to a new album in 2013. “I haven’t felt so confident about a new set of recordings, as a writer and producer, since Gasoline Alley.”

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Reviewed: My Father, My Monster by McIntosh Polela, Jacana

My Father, My MonsterWhen McIntosh Polela heard his book had been shortlisted for the Alan Paton award, he wept openly on the stage. Those in the audience who had read the book felt tearful, too.

Polela is well-known to South Africans from his work as a television presenter on eTV. Latterly he has become the spokesman for the Hawks, his comments and quotations appearing regularly in the media. Handsome and well-educated, one would imagine he came from a comfortable middle class family, privately schooled, perhaps, as he holds a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When McIntosh was five, he and his younger sister Zinhle were ripped from their home in the Durban township of Clermont and dumped with their extended family in a squalid settlement near Underberg. Bewildered, they had no idea why their parents had disappeared.

There is no doubt that poverty breeds violence, and McIntosh and his sister were forced to endure hideous beatings, burnings and near-drownings.

“The adults would strike with anything they could grab in the moment. They threw cans at our heads, firewood, even burning wood plucked from the fire. Other kids in the neighbourhood were probably punished just as severely as we were. But to me it seemed that we were the only ones being overworked and beaten up. Cleaning the blood off myself after a beating was something of a ritual.”

At six McIntosh was herding cattle, wearing rags and constantly hungry. It was so cold in winter that he curled up where the oxen had been lying on the grass to get some of their warmth.

And yet he prevailed, determined to get an education and get away from the village. A kind nun here, a priest there, an alert teacher, missionary shop owners, wise Tecknikon staff. Along the way small and large acts of kindness from these people propelled him further and further towards his dream.

He very nearly fell through the cracks as a teenager, caught up in the violence between ANC and Inkatha factions, manufacturing home-made guns. Once more, though, he got back on track, a track that eventually led to the LSE.

The question of his parents’ disappearance drives the narrative, and when he learns the truth he and Zinhle are devastated. It has taken McIntosh most of his life to confront and absorb this appalling truth, helped finally by writing this moving memoir.

It is ultimately an uplifting, inspiring tale, but it raises the question of the tens of thousands of children in South Africa who aren’t getting the helping hand they need. And it compels us, too, to reach out our own.

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