5 of 5 stars to ‘Shirley, Goodness and Mercy’ by Chris van Wyk

Shirley goodness and mercy

A Cultural experience

There are many novels available in recent years that deal with Apartheid and the struggle. Many autobiographies are available detailing the lives of those closest to the struggle and thankfully, history books and school curriculum have been rewritten to better reflect the truth of those times. However, there are few books that deal with the ordinary man on the street, and fewer yet dealing with those of the minority groups, like the ‘colored’ community.

‘Shirley goodness and mercy’ is a wonderful collection of snippets from the life of Chris van Wyk, a ‘colored’ boy growing up in Riverlea and Coronationville during the thick of the Apartheid years. Van Wyk tells the stories of his childhood in true South African style, with humor interspersed with proudly South African lingo. He brings to life the vibrance of township life, the simplicity of childhood and at times, the depressing normality of a poverty stricken part of the country and culture that very few South Africans really got the chance to see.

One of the lessons that will stick with me include the stories surrounding Chris’s teachers. His memories have reinforced my views that most teachers never realize the astounding impact they have on our children, how a flippant word can affect their entire lives and how one word of encouragement can turn a struggling child into a dreamer, a writer, a poet, or even a President. The same can be said of parents and authority figures in the community.

There were many references, places and traditions that I, as a middle-class white South African could relate to. Some of the things Chris used to eat and do with his parents, I remember doing with mine. One of the things I found particularly interesting, was the way Chris’s parents tried to shelter him from the political goings-on around him in the earlier years. The affection in his family was tangible in his story-telling. I particularly admired the way he reflected back on the discipline his parents meted out to him and his siblings and the obvious respect he continues to have for them. Chris clearly understood that they did the very best they could for him, despite their circumstances.

The role of alcohol in the community and family life was, and judging by the number of liquor stores and shebeens still adorning even the smallest South African outpost, still remains, a huge part of our culture. Chris’s explanations of township life have put this into perspective for me and while I still feel that the tendencies of South African’s to over imbibe are perpetuating many negative behaviors, I now understand that the roots are deeper.

This collection of experiences from the life of a young, ‘colored’ South African poet was eye-opening, funny, sad, rich and vibrant. It should be a part of every South African’s reading list, and for those of you who aren’t native, but would like to learn a little more about the country at the tip of Africa, this is an excellent cultural account.

5 of 5 stars to ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon – EPIC!


Timeless addiction

When I first read the blurb on this book, I thought it would be too similar to Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series, which is one of my favorite ever. I was loathe to read another series like it because I didn’t think anything could live up to the bar Moning had set. When the TV series began, one of my friends fell in love with it and recommended the books, so I gave in. And now I’m positively addicted! While the two authors have followed the same premise, their writing is so different, it’s nearly impossible to compare the two.

Gabaldon’s characters are strong and yet human. Claire Beecham’s strength get’s her through amazing trials and ensures some passionate head-butting with her equally strong-willed Scottish partner. Yet, underpinning her strength is a vulnerability and impulsiveness that often gets her into trouble and endears her to readers and Scots alike.

Jamie, on the other hand is a conundrum of innocence and wisdom. His experiences growing up in the brutish Scottish highlands have sharpened his senses and wit. There are times when the words out of his mouth seem to come from a hundred year old soul. Then there are times when his uncensored words give away his youth and innocence – especially when he is alone with Claire. This combination of traits ensures that Jamie perfectly fulfills the idea of the Scottish hero – fierce protector and gentle lover – without perpetuating the stereotype.

Gabaldon’s authentic depiction of the seventeenth century Scottish Highlands is one of the main attractions of this novel. While the characters may be romantic, their environment is not. Gabaldon has so wonderfully captured the tension between the Scottish and British, the rustic realities of life without technology, the dangers of traveling in such times, the superstitions of our ancestors and the role of women in earlier society. Claire’s strong-willed nature, in a time where women were often considered nothing more than property, throws the contrast between the now and then into sharp relief. The character of Captain Randall and Claire’s continuous comparison of him to his descendant, strengthens the contrast between the times, and also heightens the moral dilemma Claire faces in her attempts to reconcile the two halves of her life.

There is so much that has been packed into this novel and so many wonderful and frightening experiences that each of the characters have lived through, I feel as though I have lived an entire lifetime alongside them. It is a rare and amazing talent for an author to be able to draw a reader so deeply into the lives of her characters as Ms Gabaldon has done.

This novel is pure addiction. You’d be a fool not to read it!

Outlander 2014Jamie Fraser quote

5 of 5 stars to ‘Copperheart’ by Gemma Farrow


Deep and haunting

When Ash and his mother Lily move in with her new boyfriend Jude, it is a new start. Lily hopes fervently that this second chance will heal the wounds in her son’s heart and mind. She’s counting on leaving behind the ghosts of the past and starting afresh. But Jude has a few secrets of his own. Can Ash overcome his haunted past without falling into Jude’s?

I have come across many wonderful books and authors in my time between the pages – and I admit to spending quite a lot of time there. I’ve enjoyed some stories, been unable to finish some and raved about a select few. But there are only a handful of authors I would consider ‘great writers’ and Gemma Farrow has managed to get herself onto my ‘wow’ list.

There is something so poignant and real about her writing style, that it makes you want to slow the book down and savor each word. Ms Farrow has a knack for packing maximum meaning and emotion into a small amount of words. This, I discovered when reading her first published novelette ‘Beneath the willows’ and she has expertly carried this skill over to this, her first full length novel. Each sentence, regardless of how short, has some kind of deeper meaning beyond the words themselves – or more likely, because of the words she has chosen to use.

The characters Ms Farrow has created are so wonderfully ‘wrong’. They bring to mind the intensity of a black and white movie with their deep, dark passions and outwardly dull lives. Ms Farrow’s portrayal of the cultural aspects of Ash’s environment adds flavor to the mix. The picture of that opening scene with the frying pan of chicken feet is one that will stick with me for a long time. The combination of natural dialogue, captured accents, stark descriptions and underlying symbolism resonate with the reader.

Themes of mental health, reality, familial dynamics, acceptance, depression and spiritual beliefs, amongst others, are littered throughout the story. This is one of those novels that leave you quiet and thoughtful when you’re done.

Gemma Farrow is one author you need to put on your ‘preorder anything she writes’ list. You’ll never be disappointed.