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Elizabeth Pienaar

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A Brief Bibliography

1996/7/8 – Published in poetry anthologies Over the Rainbow, Under African Skies.

2001- Placed 4th in the Shell /The Economist Travel Essay awards

2005 – Won the HSBC/SA Pen Award for Pius (African Compass)

2006 – 2nd place in the HSBC/SA Pen Award for Breaking Down The House. (African Road).

Work in print and online versions of the International Pen Magazine volume 56 no 2 2006

Novel Ahkenaten’s Garden was short-listed for the European Union Literary Awards.

2007 – The Gift was long-listed for the 2007 European Union Literary Award.

I attended the Caine Prize Workshop in Kenya.

Rejoice was published in the 7th Annual Collection of the Caine Prize for African Writing (Jungfrau and Other Short Stories.)

2008 – Taking Zoe to Play appeared in Open, an erotic anthology.

Meeting Lucy appeared in online magazine African Writing.

2011 – Why did She Turn Her Back? And Your Burka Makes Me Feel Hot appeared in the Finnish –African Blog My Black and White Africa. In preparation for publication in book form.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen

New to Jonathan Franzen’s work, I chose this book to read first specifically because of the hype around his new one… and because I read a review noting the similarities of  structure, namely the portrait of an American family through which one gets a view of American society.

I met one person who put this book down citing its extreme foreignness. It was so alien to her, she said, she felt she missed out so much, not being an American, that reading it was of value to her.

I have never been to America but I didn’t feel I missed out on anything. For one thing, it’s a story of family dynamics, which really do have a universal thread, despite cultural nuances, and the incredible magic of this author, is the detail of his observations. So much of the nuanced interrelationships between sibling and parents and each other, resonated so strongly for me, that by the time we got to Mom and Christmas and the extended telephone conversations and the subtle manipulations by Gran of context and grandchildren… I was crying with mirth. This was oh so, so real how the heck did he get to be a fly on the wall here in our home…every year?

For me the strength of Franzen’s characters is their messy realness. No boldly sketched archetypes here, just complex, contradictory, multidimensional real people, crafted minute detail by minute detail. No-one is perfect, some are downright dislikeable; different readers will have more in common with different characters and therefore have more sympathy for them than others – for instance, a character I had a lot of sympathy for was Chip, but a fellow reader complained bitterly about  about him, what an arsehole he was… and then I realized Chip’s behaviour, juvenile, selfish, and completely irresponsible in a man of thirty five plus, was just too much like that of  my fellow  reader’s real life brother. And, of course, every family’s got one: the loser, to use a very American phrase, but before someone yells see he’s just using archetypes after all- the thing is, Chip is complicated. He’s got his good side. Ultimately he comes through for his family in a way the ‘good boy’ of the family does not. And even then, Franzen let’s us know that the bad boy’s new-found family diligence is underpinned by extreme self interest: is he visiting Dad or the delicious doctor? There it is again… Franzen’s real imperfect people.

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Brodeck’s report by Philippe Claudel

This is a subtle dissection of fear and violence, both physical and emotional. The manifestation of the foreign, ‘the other’ in the form of an eccentric man named only Die Anderer, and the tragic way the village, grey and war-abused, ultimately deals with too much opposite… too much joy, too much generosity, too much colour, is the supposed topic of the report Brodeck is writing.

Brodeck, however, is in many ways ‘The Other’ himself, and it is this relationship with his fellow villagers by which he is coerced to write the report. But, secretly, in defiance, he is writing his own report – about himself, his history, his otherness.

I found it a book that was full of grief and yet Brodeck achieves a strange sense of acceptance, almost making peace with the inevitability of the injustice and cruelty that he finds himself subjected to.

Through the grief, there’s a sense of quiet triumph, simply in surviving, surviving degradation and abuse with some dignity intact, some kernel of integrity which insists ‘I am, I am Brodeck no matter what life deals me.’

This book is a reminder, with violence all around us in South Africa, that, no matter where you are, the veil of civilization is thin; and the abused can, in an instant, become the abuser.

I think the book held a special terror for me because I have recently spent time in a village that could have been Brodeck’s: tranquil, rural, ancient,a place which has seen waves of violence wash over the now nearly dismantled ramparts, where a ‘new roof’ was installed just before the second world war, and the streets are too narrow for cars. Everyone is charming to ‘die Anderer.’ But in a population that doesn’t top two thousand, everything you do… is seen and discussed and can easily be misinterpreted.

I think the book was magnificently translated too, not because I can read it in the original but because I have become so aware of translations where something just doesn’t flow,an absence or stiltedness pervades.