#116. Read the books. Wednesday night saw the announcement of the shortlist for the Sunday Times Book Awards 2009. The awards (now in their 20th year) are without doubt the most prestigious and richest (and fun) book awards in South Africa (and I say that knowing they are and also having a bias – I was one of their chief organisers for a couple of years).
The announcement was made at Shepstone Gardens, a Herbert Baker stone house in Mountain View. Anyone who has ever taken the route along Louis Botha and up Osborn Road, then into Hope Road en route to Sylvia’s Pass (you got to wonder about that Sylvia) would have noticed the stone house – with flag pole – that clings to the bottom of the Ridge and looks like the perfect setting for a Peter Jackson film.
According to the owner, “the property is part of the original Witwatersrand Ridge Housing project commissioned by the Modderfontein Dynamite Company at the end of the 19th Century. The original stone houses were built from local Quartz Stone [conservatively estimated to be 350 million years old] by Afrikaans prisoners captured during the Anglo Boer War.”
A lot of history, a lot of whiskey. Barry Ronge did the honours while Sunday Times books editor, the Woody-Allenesque-Tymon Smith, did the fabulous schtik that only he can do so well.
Drum roll please. And on the shortlist this year:
Contenders for the Alan Paton Prize for non-fiction are Street Blues by Andrew Brown (Brown, an advocate, won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2006 for his crime novel set in Stellenbosch, ColdSleep Lullaby). Street Blues recounts his experiences as a police reservist. To hear him speak to Tymon Smith about the book, click on this. Next up was journalist Pippa Green’s Choice not Fate – The Life & Times of Trevor Manuel (SA’s most successful finance minister and now minister of something that takes to long to write out in full — lots of Planning involved). Listen to her being interviewed here; A Simple Freedom by Ahmed Kathrada and Tim Couzens; Three-Letter Plague by two-time winner of the Alan Paton Award Jonny Steinberg (who is already onto his next book, and the one after that. If you haven’t read his first, Midlands, then you should) and my favourite for this award, In a Different Time by Peter Harris, the inside story of the Delmas Four – a book about political history that reads like a thriller and tells an unforgettable story about four men whose lives became bound up with Harris’ s at a time when South Africa was at war with itself. It is a particularly meaningful story to me because 20 years ago I spent a few days visiting the Delmas prisoners in Johannesburg General Hospital where they were taken while on a hunger strike. A group of students would visit each to day in an attempt to ensure their safety and offer support, and under the watchful eye of the SAP officers, would have to sign a register so a record could be kept by the state. Looking back it is interesting how apartheid’s security forces, ever alert, didn’t think it strange that Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse kept coming to visit.
On the Fiction Prize shortlist are Whiplash by Tracey Farren, The Imposter by Damon Galgut, Bodies Politic by Michiel Heyns, The Rowing Lesson by Anne Landsman and The Lost Colours of the Chameleon by Mandla Langa (Tymon Smith interviewed him about the book here). I must confess I have read none of these but am a fan of Mandla Langa’s earlier collection of short stories, The Naked Song & Other Stories and was deeply impressed by Michiel Heyns when he spoke at the Cape Town Book Fair a few years ago. The last Damon Galgut book I read was The Good Doctor which I found so unutterably bleak that I took to heart the words of Dorothy Parker who once said: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
Let the reading commence.