The Gods of Atlantis

by David Gibbins (Headline) ISBN: 9780755353996

 

All the ingredients are there: the archaeologist, Jack, with the strong jaw line, a deadly virus that will kill millions, exotic locations, scuba diving for treasures in caves at the bottom of the sea while volcanoes are erupting, all this enlivened with historical details about Atlantis and the Second World War.

 

The novel is fast paced and full of action, spread out over the course of three days.

 

A Nazi bunker in a German forest holds a horrific secret, and a hidden treasure has disappeared. Jack, and his partner, Costas, have found a clue in the underwater caves of the lost island Atlantis.

 

Action, adventure and discovery: a guy’s book. In the background to the novel, Gibbins explains the research behind the story. I have learned a lot of interesting facts. However, only towards the end of the book, a woman is introduced to whom I could relate. Before that, no women feature, except the reference to Jack’s daughter. When I look at the reviews, men like it, women don’t.

 

Gibbins is a marine archaeologist. He is an authority on shipwrecks and submerged ruins in the Mediterranean Sea. This is his sixth book.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

3/5

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Writing the Deep South

by Ariel Dorfman (Picador) ISBN: 9781770101517

 

Writing the Deep South is a collection of reflections on South Africa, how not to forget, how to reconcile. In 2010, the Chilean-American Dorfman presented The Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. This speech forms the first part of the book.

 

Since his first visit to South Africa in 1997, he felt deeply connected to this country. Dorfman was an activist in the Salvador Allende revolution and escaped from Chile in 1973. He draws parallels with the South African society and wrestles with the dilemma how to confront the terrors of the past.

 

In the second part, he describes how events in the United States act as a mirror for humanity. For Dorfman Tuesday 9/11 has a meaningful echo, as it was the day twenty years before New York, that Pinochet took over. The last two parts Dorfman mirrors South Africa with Latin America and with the rest of the world.

 

I loved this book. The language is poetic and if you liked Antjie Krog’s Begging to be Black, this will also appeal to you. I did not have to reread any sentence, but often had to put the book down, because it gave me food for thought and touched my heart, without being sentimental.

 

Dorfman is an excellent storyteller.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

5/5

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The Family Fang

by Kevin Wilson (Picador) ISBN: 9780330545341

 

It’s funny, well written and, even though it is only the first week of January, I already know this is going to be my favourite book of the year.

 

The story of the Family Fang is rich in images and full of unexpected turns. It moved me because of its complete originality.

 

The parents Fang make art by orchestrating and filming events that cause chaos in public spaces. They create a situation in order to elicit an extreme and emotional response from those closest to the event and they have always included their two children, Annie and Buster.

 

The children have constantly lived with the threat of upheaval of a Fang event and find it difficult to adjust in their adult life. ‘With the art, they pushed us into circumstances that we already knew were bad ideas. So they taught us to walk straight into that bad idea, whether or not you really wanted to do it,’ explains Buster later.

 

Now they are grown up, their lives are in a mess and they both return home. Their parents have one more act up their sleeve and the children only want to make it to the other side of their unhappiness.

 

I could not put this book down. Breath-taking and genuinely moving.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

5/5

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My name is Mary Sutter

by Robin Oliveira (Penguin Books) R200 ISBN: 9781905490684

 

Mary Sutter is a midwife from Albany in 1861 who will leave no stone unturned to reach her goal: to become the first female surgeon in the United States. She faces prejudices against women in medicine and gets numerous rejections from professors not believing in her capacities.

 

When the man she loves chooses to marry her twin sister, Mary Sutter is devastated. She is determined to leave home and become a surgeon. She chooses a difficult path when she starts working as a nurse in the Civil War, ten years after Florence Nightingale’s mission in the Crimean War.

 

This debut by Robin Oliveira is well researched, and full of historical details, from midwifery in the 19th century, to the life of Abraham Lincoln and the suffering in the battlefields. Oliveira has managed to portray the life of a courageous young woman, without making the historical facts boring.

 

Stubborn, intelligent Mary will not allow you to forget what she did for generations of working women that followed her. Oliveira expressed hope that her book is a celebration of women who live to thrive and to strive. I think she has definitely succeeded.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

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Atlantic

by Simon Winchester (Harper Press) ISBN: 9780007341375

 

The Atlantic Ocean is at the centre of the human world. It has played an important role in our lives from the first explorers to the recent discovery of the tiniest creature that produces one-fifth of world’s oxygen.

 

In his 20th book, Winchester sets out on an adventurous journey to describe the Atlantic Ocean from its birth to its eventual extinction. The result is a comprehensive biography full of fascinating facts and anecdotes of the Ocean and its relationship with humankind.

 

Winchester tells the Ocean’s story in seven chapters, like Shakespeare’s seven stages of life in As You like It. Sometimes it is a bit artificial. He illustrates the explorers and mapmakers. He describes wars and battles, trade and communication, greed and decay, and exploitation and pollution.

 

The last chapter is about the melting ice and the consequences of rising oceans.

 

My favourite chapter was the stage of the lover: the meaning of the ocean in words from an eighth-century Gaelic poet to the words of the first solo sailor Joshua Slocum, but also expressed in paintings, music and theatre.

 

It is not a difficult read, but there is a lot of information to digest, literally a million stories with a lot of details. If you have the time, read it!

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

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The Godless Boys

by Naomi Wood (Picador) ISBN: 9780330530125

 

In this dystopian novel, a debut by Naomi Wood, an alternative reality of England in the eighties is created: people have been banned from England, where the Church took power and the non-believers are expelled to an island.

 

Nathaniel is a gang leader, born on the island. He is a militant, mainly out of boredom. He is prepared to rigidly defend atheism and punish anyone who is found praying or suspected of being religious. The threatening undertone only disappears when he is with his lethargic mother. Everything changes when he falls in love with Sarah, a stowaway girl from England, in search of her terrorist mother.

 

This book is disturbing, filled with sadness. Wood succeeds in describing the loneliness, the poverty and the deprivation of the people unable to leave the island. She follows through with details in her storyline, using slang and problems like the unfounded fear of anaemia, because there is no meat on the island.

 

The character developments are also good, but the story left me wondering why there was such antipathy towards religion, why churches were bombed. I missed the context. Overall the book left me unsettled: a haunting tale and a love story, but Wood could have dug in deeper.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

3/5

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The Sandalwood Tree

by Elle Newmark (Random House) R195 ISBN 978038561426

 

This historical novel takes you back in time to two important years in India. Two British expats, Evie and Martin Mitchell, arrive with their son in Masoorla in 1947. Their marriage is strained because of Martin’s suppressed wartime memories and her struggle to make a new life in an unknown country, at the end of British rule and Partition.

 

Evie finds some letters from the 19th century and is lured by this tale from the past. She decides to discover the country by befriending the people and tries to reconnect with Martin.

 

The second story weaves through the first. I found myself drawn into the love story of the Victorian era. It takes place in 1857, during the first war of Independence. Two friends Adela and Felicity share a secret that has implications for the future.

 

The setting is well described and Newmark succeeds in illustrating the importance of betrayal and forgiveness, but the story was somewhat predictable. It reminded me of a Passage to India, by E.M. Forster.

 

This is Newmark’s second novel. The Chef’s Apprentice was her first. If you are looking for a light read and want to better understand the history of India, this is for you.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

3/5

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Positions

edited by Peter Anders and M. Krouse (Jacana) ISBN: 9781770098893

 

This book is a collection of essays about contemporary artists in South Africa, first published in German, as part of a German series on how art responds to globalisation. Or in the editor’s words, ‘how artists face the challenge of engaging with the past while making sense of the present’.

 

Various artists are put in the spotlight and discuss their perspective: from famous poets, playwrights, photographers to filmmakers, dancers and performance artists. Also included are three initiatives with a collective voice.

 

‘Modern works do not have audiences, they make them,’ says choreographer Boyzie Cekwana and this book certainly succeeded in creating an audience. South Africa is bursting full of talent. Most of the interviews and stories captured me.

 

It was the frankness of the cartoonist Zapiro, the ranting of rap poet Rampolokeng and the vulnerability of graffiti-inspired conceptual artist Kudzanai Chiurai, to name a few. The picture of Chiurai’s work is used as the book cover.

 

The layout of Positions is beautiful and appealing, with pictures of the artists and their art. So in this case: judge the book by its cover!

 

I can recommend it not only for art lovers, but for everyone who sees the cultural richness of South Africa.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

4/5

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One Magic Square

by Lolo Houbein (Jacana) ISBN 9781770099111

 

This is the most useful and most beautiful book of the year. For experienced gardeners it is full of practical tips, but for people aspiring to grow their own vegetables, like me, it is a godsend!

 

Houbein takes you step by step from planning your vegetable garden on a square metre to a successful harvest with minimum effort.

 

She convinces you that growing your own vegetables does not need to be time consuming and you only need limited space. She shows you how important it is to reconnect with the soil and to reduce your carbon-footprint.

 

To start growing your own food without delay, put down this book, go out in the garden and select a spot in the sun’, is her first advice. From salad plots to curry plots: each chapter has its own design and the book is full of basic recipes.

 

Houbein grew up in Holland during the war and since surviving the hunger winter of 1944 she realised the importance of food self-sufficiency. Houbein has won several awards for her novels.

 

For One Magic Square she was shortlisted for 'Best Food Book' in the Le Cordon Bleu Awards 2010 and named 'Most innovative Cook Book in Australia' in the International Gourmand Awards 2009.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

5/5

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Noon

by Aatish Taseer (Picador) ISBN: 9780330540414 R189, 00

 

When a book is endorsed by V.S. Naipul it raises high expectations, but Noon was not as unforgettable and compelling as I hoped it would be.

 

The novel describes four episodes of the narrator’s life from 1989 to 2011.

 

The first portrays Rehan living with his squabbling mother and grandmother.

The second is about a glamorous dinner party in honour of the Rajamata, who humiliates the host by arriving late. The wealthy nouveau riche plans his revenge years later.

The third part depicts a burglary and Rehan’s effort to identify the suspect amongst his servants. He struggles morally and attempts to analyse the behaviour of his employees.

In the last chapter Rehan is trying to find a place amongst his stepbrothers in the dysfunctional family, but only encounters corruption, blackmail and violence.

 

Taseer makes the political tension in India and Pakistan tangible, but the book would have worked better as a collection of short stories. I missed the coherency and flow of the storyline; it lacks a narrative that brings the stories together.

 

I found Taseer’s perspective on a menacing world and the apocalyptic scenes in the last chapter the best things in the book.

 

Taseer was shortlisted for the 2010 Costa First Novel Award for a previous book.

 

Pauline Vijverberg

3/5

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