“Sacrificed places Chanette Paul among the classiest thriller writers of our day.”
Sacrificed by Chanette Paul is a long and satisfying read. Despite its length it is a page-turner that will keep you reading long past the moment the midnight oil burns out. It is a thriller and a family saga with heft and portent. The novel thrusts us deeply into the troubled seas of racial identity in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, as well as into the tragic and chaotic political mix that comprises modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
From the desperate Belgian Congo in 1961—the time of the murder of President Patrice Lumumba—to life in the natural beauty of South Africa, now a country that 20 years after apartheid ended, sadly is riddled with crime. South African author, Chanette Paul, does not sugarcoat reality.
Ambiguity and coincidence serve as the major organizing principles of this complex and evocative novel. Protagonist Caz Colijn notes this and quotes the poet John Donne, “no man is an island.” Life is an intricate puzzle of interconnected stories—those we know and those that remain hidden. What happens in one life shakes the web of interconnection with often unforeseen consequences.
Caz, a 53-year-old woman, translates English and Afrikaans books. She is a recluse, living alone in a remote part of the rural Cape Province of South Africa—the Overberg. Unexpectedly her estranged sister calls from Belgium to tell her that their mother is dying and wants to see Caz. She declares that Fien is not Caz’s biological mother, and she, not Caz’s sister. This news comes as a thunderbolt to Caz and galvanizes her into undertaking the trip to Belgium. She is obsessed with a search for her biological mother.
We meet a host of characters, all with interconnected ties to Caz, although often they and she do not know this. There are the two mysterious Congolese men who shadow Caz’s every move, a professor of contemporary African history who finds himself thrust into the mix, and a Belgium detective who follows apparently synchronistic clues that ultimately do not produce conclusive evidence. There are African spirits, nkisi, African art, and spiritual rituals—all somehow associated with diamonds. Any more details will be spoilers to this gripping thriller.
Caz is a white woman but she has a remarkable black daughter, an international super-model, Lilah. Lilah’s father was Caz’s white, Afrikaner, long since divorced from husband. Cross-currents of race and racial identity abound.
“Of course, she realized that there must have been a racial mix somewhere for her to have given birth to Lilah, but she would never have thought that it would be a father or grandfather, an old transgression of the immorality law on the Maritz side, perhaps even of Magdel’s forefathers in days gone by who had fallen out of the family tree.
Now it turned out she herself was of color. Despite her white skin.
Until Lilah had said it so comically, it had not really dawned on her. A half-breed. That was what she was. It didn’t turn her into anything or anyone other than Caz Colijn, but it was still a shock. An idea she would have to get used to. . . .
She and Lilah came from a family tree where they had to make peace with shades. Like the yesterday-today-and-tomorrow tree had to make peace with its fading flowers.”
In Sacrificed the arcs of many storylines merge and part and ultimately leave several threads hanging. This in itself is satisfying and realistic, an intelligent way to conclude the book. Intimate family trajectories, as well as those of grandiose political schemas cannot be neatly packaged simply because they have become more transparent to the characters and the reader. Ultimately, we are left with some answers but also more questions.
If there is a weakness in the novel it is the somewhat sketchy role of the two Congolese men who doggedly follow Caz. Their philosophy of “reAfrikanization + Dewhitenization = Total Afrikan Liberation” deserves far more development than simply serving as a plot device in the riveting mystery and drama around Congolese uncut diamonds and political ambition.
But this is a minor quibble in what is a compelling read in author Paul’s North American debut. After 41 novels written in Afrikaans and published in her native South Africa, Sacrificed places Chanette Paul among the classiest thriller writers of our day.
, international thriller
, south africa
“This book is a breath of fresh air.”
Born A Crime is a rollicking ride of a book, an enjoyable feast of storytelling. Deservedly it is already a number one bestselling book. Combining comedy and tragedy, the book covers the dying days of apartheid in South Africa and the uncertain dawn of a new age as Nelson Mandela tries to birth a Rainbow Nation out of a horrific, nationalist, racist past.
Trevor Noah’s autobiography of his childhood and adolescence in this perilous, shifting landscape cleverly avoids polemical statements and moral platitudes. Instead he describes a resilient and opportunistic child and teenager whose intuitive street smarts lead him into a hustler’s life. The very facts of how he learns to navigate the political currents swirling around him provides vivid commentary on those challenging times for South Africa.
The book begins and ends with chapters on his mother. She is a woman of unbreakable religious faith. Sundays with Mom mean attending three different churches in three different parts of Johannesburg and environs.
Mrs. Noah is a formidable woman. She knowingly broke apartheid laws designating as a crime sexual intercourse between people of different races. Yet, she moved into a “gray” area (neither white nor black-only residences) with a man she loved, a Swiss man. Wanting a child she persuaded him to be the father.
When Trevor was born she moved back to her mother in Soweto, the sprawling black township near Johannesburg. Trevor became accustomed to clandestine visits to his father. He learned that if they were out in public he could not call him “Dad” and must walk alongside his mother but several steps behind his father. In later years his father moved to Cape Town, and they lost contact.
Trevor does not enjoy church and argues continually with his mother about her Sunday regime. But she is steadfast in her faith overcoming all obstacles an inadequate transport system throws in her way. Only when he was an older teenager and living away from home did Trevor stop going to church.
By then we have learned of his mother’s marriage to a Tsonga man, a master mechanic, Abel, and of their move to a previously “whites only” suburb where Abel houses his business. Eventually Trevor has two younger brothers, Andrew and Isaac.
Early on Trevor experiences being on the receiving end of Abel’s strength, wrath and other ravages his alcoholism bring. But this move does not only portend tragedy. Fortuitously it also provides Trevor with a shot at better schooling. He is now enrolled in previous “whites only” schools.
At junior high and high school, Trevor encounters the heartache of crushed love. He struggles to find his identity as a so-called “colored” youth, unacceptable to both the black kids at school and the white. His identity crisis also creates opportunities as he uses his entrepreneurial instincts to keep himself busy and earn some money.
“My life of crime started off small. Selling pirated CDs on the corner. That in itself was a crime, and today I feel I owe all these artists money for stealing their music, but by hood standards it didn’t even qualify as illegal. At the time it never occurred to any of us that we were doing anything wrong—if copying CDs is wrong, why would they make CD writers?”
Trevor graduates from high school and wants to study computer programming at university, but the family does not have the money to pay for his studies. Unemployment among black youth is as high as 50 percent. For the last two years of his adolescence, Trevor, living away from home, and along with friends, works the streets of seedy and dangerous Alexandria Township selling pirated CDs, DJ’ing wherever invited, and working deals for other hustlers that give him and his cronies a cut of the profit.
Inevitably, the day arrives where he is stopped by the cops and arrested for driving a stolen car. The car belongs to Abel but Trevor “borrowed” it and put on false number plates. He cannot find the registration papers. Through guile he avoids a jail sentence but after describing a week in a holding pen awaiting trail, we see fully that the new black police force is as brutal as their white predecessors.
The book ends on a poignant note. Trevor, in his twenties and working as a stand-up comic, on Sunday morning is called by one of his younger brothers and told Abel shot their mother. Her life had moved on from Abel having divorced him and married again. One Sunday in a drunken rage he sought her out and shot her. Miraculously she survives, and Noah writes movingly of how her near-death experience highlights their indestructible bond and how much having her as his mother shaped his life.
Once she is out of danger they sit on her hospital bed, “She broke into a huge smile and started laughing. Through my tears I started laughing too. I was bawling my eyes out and laughing hysterically at the same time. We sat there and she squeezed my hand and we cracked each other up the way we always did, mother and son. Laughing together through the pain in an intensive-care recovery room on a bright and sunny and beautiful day.”
This book is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully a sequel is in the works. We wonder how Trevor Noah made the leap from stand-up comic in South Africa to anchor The Daily Show as Jon Stewart’s successor in New York.
, south africa
MY HEARTFELT APPEAL DIRECTED TO REPUBLICAN LEADERS TO DITCH DRUMPF.
LET’S PUT OUR COUNTRY BACK ON A PATH OF SANITY. HE IS AMERICA’S GREATEST FAILURE.
For most of my adult life I’ve been an educator, as well as a freelance journalist and an author, an international expert on the psychology of personality, and since the age of thirteen an anti-apartheid activist in my motherland, South Africa.
Let’s start there—the racist ideological madmen whom we opposed in South Africa at least believed in something, albeit a despicable racist ideology.
Drumpf believes in nothing except himself and his brand…and that’s it. He is non-empathic and unaware of the damage his lies do to other Americans and his country. He’s a racist. He’s a psychologically impaired ego- and megalomaniac. He is in the same league as all the most infamous villains of history. That alone should disqualify him for President.
Drumpf is the most pervasive negative role model for our children and grandchildren.
I’ve written a book on parenting, I’ve taught hundreds, if not into the low thousands of highly intelligent, young people, about moral responsibility, human rights, reality and illusion, and perhaps, most importantly, how to think and write critically.
* Drumpf models that it’s perfectly acceptable to be an ill-prepared, foul-mouthed, morally blind ignoramus. As long as you can lie and lie again, and bully and browbeat, you can be President.
*Drumpf models to them that bluster and bullying, screaming obscenities at individuals and groups is acceptable —after all he’s running for President; he’s the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, he must be okay.
* Drumpf lies and double downs, contradicts himself, lies again. He is a national embarrassment. He is a vaudeville villain, a clown, a con man, a cheat, a liar, a liar, and a liar.
HE IS A PATHOLOGICAL LIAR. He models to America and the world’s children that it’s okay to lie. And lie, and lie.
* He signals to America’s allies and enemies that his word is NEVER TO BE TRUSTED.
* He signals to Americans not only that can WE NEVER TRUST HIM but the sure road ahead if he becomes President will be to upend 240 years of progress, of tearing up the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
*He is the greatest danger to America’s future and that means the international order too.
Can you imagine Drumpf trying to deal with a major catastrophe; he’ll blame the victims.
He’ll shirk responsibility. He won’t spend time in the White House; he’ll go back to his shyster business dealings. He and his wife will visit occasionally. Pence will be our president except in name…. and on and on.
My heartfelt appeal is directed to Republican leaders TO DITCH DRUMPF. Let’s put our country back on a path of sanity. He is America’s greatest failure.
, human rights
, mind structure
This is a cautionary tale told by an experienced practitioner (me) directed mainly at myself to heed my own words. Earlier this week I received copies of the Portuguese translation of my parenting book, Que Pai Ou Mae Quer Ser?. Definitely an “UP” moment in my writing life not only because the book looks attractive and professional but also because of the timing of its arrival. (The birth of this book has a sub-plot whose synopsis is germane to this blog.)
In the summer of 2009 I received an email from a Portuguese Catholic priest who had read the original American edition of my book Know Your Parenting Personality, an application of the Enneagram to parenting. He said something to the effect that he wished every parent in Portugal could read the book and asked about translation rights. I replied that was a promising idea I supported and he should approach Portuguese publishers who may be interested and then email me. And to my pleasant surprise, he did. A year later one of them www.principia.com contacted me. My agent and the publisher arranged a contract, and she cautioned me that it would not be easy to “get funds from Europe” (remember the low point of the Great Recession out of which we are slowly climbing?) I did not hear anything for two years and then in October there was an email from the publisher to say that because of the recession he had put many publishing plans on hold but now they were going ahead with the parenting book. And lo and behold, ten weeks later I have the translation edition in my hands.
Now for the “DOWN” moment (turning out to be a long one and therefore the reason why an “UP” moment is so welcome.) I am trying the old-fashioned way to publish my latest work, a novel Veld Fire. I wrote my heart into this book; and yes, I do know that is not a “gimme” to being published. (Call out here to my excellent editor, Lorraine Fico-White at www.magnificomanuscripts.com who saved me from my excesses and helped me shape the manuscript into a novel I am proud to stand behind.) The protagonists are two women and their love story is the engine of the work. (Call out to President Obama who in his Inauguration Speech highlighted Stonewall and gay rights as central to the ongoing struggle for human rights.) What better time than now to publish this book? What better time for a book about two people who love one another (and are women) to flow into the literary mainstream? Liv and Rosie’s story is set in 1960 in South Africa, the significant year of the Sharpeville Massacre and its aftermath. It celebrates history’s neglected PAC leader Robert Sobukwe and his contribution to the human rights struggle, in addition to a cast of many other real and imagined characters.
Agents have lauded the writing. But no one bites. South Africa is far away. Lesbians are not as popular as vampires. Historical fiction is but a tiny niche in the fiction market.
This is not my failure. I am a Three on the Enneagram and the notional idea of “failure” is a big psychological hurdle for me. As a Three I am all about product and performance and “getting things done.” But here and now I need a dance partner. I do not want to self-publish, that smells of defeat; for me, for the whole publishing industry. How many thousands of worthy manuscripts languish and die every day? A writer once famously said the books that deserve to be published will find a publisher. Is this an old-fashioned maxim now as redundant as the traditional publishing industry is rendering itself? Maybe or maybe not. One of my sons, a writer himself, advised, “Let the process work.” But what process is he talking about?
Do I go Indie?
It took years for the Portuguese translation to reach me, this is my lesson to myself.
Follow me on Twitter @jlevinegrp Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
, human rights
, south africa
Idly, one morning this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I picked up a recently published academic history book on a black South African writer and read this phrase, “…on the terrain of language…” in the Introduction where the author, Hlonipha Mokoena, quotes the South African literary giant, J.M. Coetzee, from his book White Writing: “…landscape remains alien, impenetrable, until a language is found to win it, speak it, represent it. It is no over- simplification to say that landscape art and landscape writing in South Africa … revolve around the question of finding a language to fit Africa, that will be authentically African.”
This idea, wholly new to me, provided as they say, much food for thought. Possibly because in my latest manuscript I try to evoke the spirit of the landscape of my motherland and especially the significance of “light” (sunlight) as a central metaphor. One of my protagonists loves the “light” but slowly realizes as she awakens from the darkness imposed on the country by the Afrikaner-African soul that her being lives in many other dark places. T.S. Eliot called this phenomenon an “objective co-relative” (think of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights with its inner and outer storms.)
I had no idea that a body of literature exists on “the terrain of language” and I am content I did not; otherwise I am sure my writing would have become too self-consciously contrived. I am pleased I wrote from my heart.
However, this is an interesting line of inquiry to pursue. Let’s take South African writing. An English-speaking settler whose antecedents date back not even two hundred years may write of the land in something like these terms “The red land was rich and fecund, bordered by indigenous acacia and exotic eucalyptus, content to conceive and gestate under the vastness of clear blue sky, lit like a stage by the burnishing sunlight.” These are words and concepts typical of the inheritors of the writing of Thomas Hardy and other great evokers in language of the English terrain. An Afrikaner with over four hundred years of settlerdom has a different language, a paean of appreciation, a paean of pain, “Ah, die rooi aarde, die rooi aarde, bloed van my bloed, die land van my vaders, my land, Godse land.” (Ah, the red earth, the red earth, blood of my blood, the land of my fathers, God’s own land.) An African writer, with less than a hundred year heritage of written language expressing his indigenous African terrain, yet is the possessor of a timeless oral tradition of comprehending the land; and he writes of it, as if a living part of his soul, the place where all the generations of his ancestors lie, intrinsically present in the very dust he breathes. He is the land and the land is him. He is black and brown and dark, almost dried blood dark. He does not need the lyrical beauty of English, or the history-burdened associative language of Afrikaans; in him, in his language, he carries the terrain of Africa, written in an African language.
Can giants such as J.M Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, or even little known me write authentically of South Africa in our “terrain of language?” This is the vexed question that I’ve been chewing over. And where does writing from one’s heart enter the discussion?
Marlene van Niekerk is an Afrikaner poet and author whose magnificent recent novel Agaat (see my blog 2011/01/09) comes closer than any South African work I have read in creating through poetic imagery and prose that which move us beyond the “terrain of language” and into the philosophical realm of the concept of “place.” This is truly a great South African novel of “place”. But that is a blog for another time.
, human rights
, mind structure
, south africa
In my last post on this topic I blogged on some aspects of the relationship of writers and editors. For myself I can report that while there is progress with my latest project, a historical novel, it is a vexed adventure. As you can see from the title of this post I have moved on to Phase Three of the process; the search for an agent. From all that I have read over past years and continue to read, almost daily, on the hopeless state of publishing with a “real” publisher (as opposed to plunging into the “new” self-publishing world with an eBook) the majority of writers who are self-published state they would relinquish that process in a heart beat to sign a contract with a publisher.
After much thought I decided to try the “old” road again and find an agent, the gatekeeper to the publishing kingdom, someone who will help me grab the publishing ring. I made this decision because several years ago I took the innovative route with my novel “Leela’s Gift” and found while I enjoyed the experience of producing the book as both easy and satisfactory, as I worked with a self-publishing company, the marketing and publicity process proved expensive and time consuming. In fact so focused on writing and then producing the book I neglected the before publication PR vital to selling the Product. At least with an “old school publisher” you have a shot at some “before publication” PR.
The back story? My first agent found me after I appeared on the PBS News Hour in an interview with Judy Woodruff. He was an “old school”, veteran New York agent, and after several fruitless leads found a “home” for my political memoir. The next agent came easily too. She was recommended to my co-author (we were writing a book on the psychology of personality) and she landed us a six-figure deal after sending the proposal to several editors in an “auction.” (The book project failed but that is another story.) This agent stuck with me and helped me secure publishers for my next two books. I felt assured of continued presence in the publishing realm.
Then? Then the publishing world began experiencing volcanic shifts as if its citizens lived on the lower slopes of a Vesuvius in near-constant uproar. Publishers failed to see the consequences heralded by the ramifications of the exploding Information Era and Information Technology Age. One of those ramifications being the democratization of accessibility to knowledge and to those who want to share their inner expressiveness with this vast new wave of readers. Amazon.com, whether generator or purveyor of this movement (or both) ruled and continues to rule the universe. Both reviled and praised, Amazon, and a legion of other web-based publishing enterprises, flourish while “real” books wither in the “virtual” Kindle and other reading devices onslaught, and once mighty bookstore chains as well as independent bookstores go the way of dinosaurs. Web-based book clubs and venues for readers to rate and recommend books proliferate…and so?
And so, writers still write books and readers read. Agents still exist, publishers publish (on an ever diminishing scale) what some writers write. Here is the rub, as Shakespeare said.
My agent moved on to other ventures. Finding a new agent is daunting. Several weeks ago I sent out several query letters based on recommendations from some people I know in the broader publishing world. One agent replied within ten minutes and asked me to send the manuscript. Another replied the same day with a similar request. A third asked for the “(in)famous” first three chapters and a synopsis. Could I have a “hot” property? How long will it remain that way? Week after week passed (it was August the “dead” spot of the publishing year) I heard nothing. Yes, during this time I could have self-published the novel…but still something in me wants to honor the “old” process. How much longer do I wait until I send out more query letters? Haven’t I been here before? I am caught in a time warp.
, human rights
, Leela's Gift
, south africa
Apologies to my loyal readers for my lack of blogging activity in past months. Something has to give. Several months ago I began working with an editor on my latest fiction manuscript “Love Affair in the Shadow of Apartheid.” I have worked with many editors after decades of publishing, both as a journalist and book writer, and, thankfully, my current editor is an editor’s editor, in other words — a perfectionist. This means that the first round of reviews is an almost complete rewrite of the novel, paragraph by painstaking paragraph. Possibly if I had known how hard I would be working I may not have taken this on . . . However here we are in the penultimate and then hopefully ultimate go-around and as my editor says, “It looks like a book now.”
A good editor makes a good writer; what a debt we owe editors. Maxwell Perkins, of Scribners, made the American “greats” of the 1920s and 1930s, well, great. Daphne duMaurier, the hugely popular British novelist of the 1940s and 1950s apparently turned in atrociously written drafts, but they encompassed unsurpassed modern Gothic story lines that her regular editor then turned into gold. There are many other examples of famous writer-editor duos.
With the ever-increasing pressure on writer’s to send agents publishing-ready quality manuscripts or for most writers to have ebook ready manuscripts, the editing business is booming. Daily editors thank Amazon and Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and all other indie publishing and self-publishing ventures.
But for writers, for the hours and hours — day by day, week after week, month following month, and, often, for the years that go by — writing is a preposterous vocation, avocation, hobby, past-time. I have published four books but I have no idea what will happen to this latest creation. As I have written on this blog previously, publishing is undergoing a seismic shift.
It used to be that a well-written, competent novel would find the mid-list of most of the “big” publishers who wanted the cachet of publishing literary fiction. But now the “literary” tag is almost extinct among the vampires, romances, horrors, mysteries, young adults, chicks’ lit, and other genres. Literary is no longer a genre that is “in”, viable or relevant. And the world of ideas is poorer for this.
In this writer-editor go-around something has surprised me, how patient I have become. I am a Type-A personality, it all has to be done yesterday. But somehow now, possibly knowing that this lovingly nurtured creation so many months and years in gestation, may be still-born, has made the process as precious to me as the product. And that, in itself, perhaps, is truly a good thing.
, human rights
, Leela's Gift