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Holiday time means more time for books

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STEVEN KRAWITZ

Jewish interest

I cannot recommend Simon Schama’s Story of the Jews, (The Bodley Head) both volume I and II, enough.  Schama, acclaimed professor and broadcaster, has distilled almost three millennia of Jewish experience into a vibrant narrative that resurrects long-gone communities and individuals: 

Volume Two ends in 1900 and Schama will bring his magnum opus to an end in the future with a third volume covering the 20th  century.

Shimon Peres’ memoirs completed just weeks before he passed away on September 28, 2016, is a valuable account of the statesman’s life. Written with Peres’ love for Israel, he opens a window on many episodes of Zionist and Israeli history. No Room For Small Dreams (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) shows how Peres was truly a giant of a man. 

South African interest

Two political books that should be read together to highlight the good and the bad, are Nelson Mandela’s Dare Not Linger (Macmillan) which was completed by Mandla Langa, and Jacques Pauw’s explosive The President’s Keepers (NB Books). 

Dare Not Linger continues where Long Walk to Freedom left off and recounts the achievements of Mandela’s one term as president. Pauw lifts the lid on the destruction of state security, intelligence and crime fighting institutions and the promotion of gangsters into state structures under the Zuma presidency.

South African anthropologist James Suzman draws on his decades of experience living and working with every major southern African Bushman group, to ask what we can learn from these hunter-gatherers today. 

In Affluence Without Abundance (Bloomsbury) he explores the collision between the modern globalised economy and the oldest hunter-gatherer society on earth. These proud and private people who find contentment by having few needs met easily, could direct us in dealing with environmental and economic challenges.

Four-time cancer survivor Lauren Segal’s memoir, Cancer: A Love Story (MF Books) is a tour de force. From the call one wintery morning in 2014 that shatters her existence, Segal learns how to live with an uninvited life companion, death. Ultimately Segal views her battle with cancer as an unwanted gift, rather than a curse.  Lauren’s story is inspiring and her message is that anyone can overcome an unwanted life situation and develop a greater appreciation of life.

Johannesburg lawyer, Peter Harris turns his sharp eyes, and sharper pen to the nexus between politics and business in Bare Ground (Picador Africa). 

In this novel, noses are about to get dirty at the feeding trough when Max Sinclair, a mining mogul, has to sell off 25 per cent of his mining house in an empowerment deal, that is the cost of doing business in South Africa. 

A whistle-blower, a lawyer with struggle credentials, corporate espionage, politicians and the antics of the newly rich black one percenters contribute to this gripping narrative which approaches the rot Pauw looks at, from a fictional viewpoint.

Australian writer Tony Park’s 14th African novel, The Cull (Macmillan) spans game parks from Kruger to the Serengeti in Tanzania putting poachers under the spotlight. 

Sonja Kurtz, a former mercenary is hired by a business tycoon Julianne Clyde-Smith to head an elite team dedicated to taking down poaching kingpins and saving the continent’s endangered wildlife. Success brings Sonja to the attention of the Scorpions, an underworld criminal syndicate. When Sonja’s boyfriend, Hudson Brand investigates the death of a poacher at the hands of Sonja’s team, she has to ask herself if her mission has gone too far and who she can trust.

Thrillers

If you are looking for a thrilling easy read, you can’t go wrong with the latest Jack Reacher, The Midnight Line (Bantom Press) by Lee Child.  While travelling through a town, Reacher spots a woman’s West Point ring in a pawnshop window. 

As a graduate of this military academy, Reacher knows how hard won such a ring is and decides to investigate the ring’s story. Cue fights, insults and America’s opiod epidemic and rare emotional heft and you have one of the more satisfying Reacher books to date.

New Jersey author Harlan Coben’s Don’t Let Go (Century) is another thriller that hits the spot. Small town, big secrets, unresolved murders and a cop haunted by the suicides of his teenage brother and his girlfriend create the perfect pot boiler.

For the ladies, look out for Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire (Hutchinson). Ritter, the star of NetFlix’s Jessica Jones, has penned a gripping, tightly wound thriller. Abby Williams left her small hometown in Indiana 10 years ago. Now a successful Chicago lawyer, she has removed all traces of her previous life. When a new case leads her back to her former life, cracks start to appear in Abby’s life. 

Slow burning suspense and twists punctuate a dark exploration of a collision between present and past.

Teens

For teens in search of the next big book, grab This Mortal Coil (Penguin Books) by Emily Suvada.

Humanity is being devastated by an uncontrollable virus. Lachlan Agatta, the world’s leading geneticist, is working on a vaccine that is mankind’s last hope. His daughter Catarina, receives two messages: that he is dead and that he has succeeded in his quest but only she can find and decrypt the vaccine. Catarina has to unravel the clues her father left for her, while staying one step ahead of Cartaxus, the shadowy organisation which controls the world’s genetic tech. A thriller with pace, twists and emotional punches to spare.

Shaul Behr, a South African-born Israeli who works in IT and education, has poured his passion for Torah into Ari Barak and the Free Will Paradox. 

Ari Barak, a mischievous teen, meets up with the brainy Howard Segal, at Rabbi White’s unconventional Yeshiva. This school employs a mute giant with superhuman strength, boasts advanced technology, and sends students on field trips for practical hands-on demonstrations to the inner workings of the universe.

Can Ari and Howard solve the ancient free-will paradox and clean up the mess they’ve made of world history. This book is self-published and is available from Kindle, Book Depository or call 082-871-4878 to buy a copy.

Literary fiction

For entertaining literary reading, three books beg to be read. Gnomon (William Heinemann) advances Nick Harkaway’s reputation as a visionary author. 

In a near future, a Britain that has perfected surveillance to the extent that everything is recorded and direct democracy has replaced parliament, Diana Hunter is a refusenik, living off the grid. 

Arrested and interrogated by a machine that duplicates minds, she dies in custody. Meilikiki Nerth, an investigator, is charged with discovering how this tragedy occurred. However, the record of the interrogation reveals not Hunter’s mind, but four others. One of them is Gnomon, a sociopathic human intelligence from the future, sent back in time to carry out four assassinations. 

As all their stories combine, the fundamental question lurks: who will live and who will die. Brilliant, hilarious, clever, fantastic.

Matthew Sullivan’s debut novel Midnight at Bright Ideas Bookstore (William Heinemann) is fiendishly clever. When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favourite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind.

Sourdough (Atlantic Books) by Robin Sidan, is a worthy follow-up to Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. Lois Clary, a San Francisco software engineer, is left a sourdough culture by the owners of a failed bakery. Fusing hi-tech culture with artisanal baking, Lois enters a fantastical underground world. Classic Sloan: hip, smart and witty.

History

For history buffs Ken Follett’s A Column of Fire (Macmillan) is a 750 page immersion into 16th  century England and Europe. Follett’s ability to follow a wide cast of characters through turbulent times, while educating and entertaining his readers, is legendary and in this new book he more than delivers.

Biographies

Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci: the Biography (Simon & Schuster) is an excellent comprehensive study of one of history’s greatest geniuses. 

Isaacson, a former editor of Time and biographer of Benjamin Franklin, Einstein and Steve Jobs, brings Leonardo back to life by focusing on how he combined his passions for science, art and technology, to spur his imagination on to new creative heights.  Full of insights for raising a 21 century creative and genius.

Miranda Kaufman tells the neglected stories of Africans living in Tudor England in Black Tudors (Oneworld), a ground-breaking book that will transform our understanding of race relations in this period.

South African-born Oxford research fellow Lyndall Gordon, investigates five famous female novelists and their famous novels. In Outsiders (Virago), a group-biography, Gordon shows that Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë, George Eliot, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf, all achieved greatness because of their outside status. They continue to be relevant to us today through the voices and new identities reflected in their writings. 

 

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