Review: Finding Soutbek by Karen Jennings

I was kindly provided a copy of Finding Soutbek from the publisher, Holland Park Press, in exchange for an honest review.  Earlier this year Finding Soutbek Finding Soutbekcaught my eye when it was shortlisted for the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Here is the blurb from GoodReads:

“The focal point of the novel is the small town of Soutbek. Its troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships.  Contemporary Soutbek is still a divided town – the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant – and through a series of vivid scenes, the troubled relationship between Pieter Fortuin, the town’s first coloured mayor, and his wife Anna is revealed.  In so many ways the past casts a long shadow over the present, not in the least through the unreliable diaries of Pieter Meerman promoted by Pieter Fortuin and Professor Pearson, a retired white historian. They give us a unique insight into the lives of the seventeenth-century Dutch explorers, and hint at a utopian society, suggesting that Soutbek is the birthplace of assimilation and integration.  The blossoming friendship between Anna, Sara, a foundling, and Willem, Pieter Fortuin’s nephew, is unsettled by David, Anna’s and Pieter’s son. His father has bought David a bright future, but when he comes back from boarding school David appears alienated from his father and from his old friend, the former gardener Charles Geduld, just as Anna starts to accept him as her son.  Is there hope, or are we left with Willem’s conclusion that ‘he would spend the rest of his life working off the debt of his family’s poverty’?”

I quickly read Finding Soutbek as it flows easily, fluidly, interweaving the stories of the characters living in Soutbek and the journal entries of a 1600s explorer as he and his group made their way to the area.  It is set on the west coast of South Africa and follows the happenings of a small fishing town after a fire destroys the poor area of town and the release of a history book written by the town’s mayor.   The stories of the people are sad and even tragic but true as this is the story of many in South Africa.  This novel is about what people will do to make a better life, what they will (or will not) go through to stay alive, and what they will sacrifice to get ahead.

Jennings’ descriptions of the landscape and the place are vivid and the images of the river, the small poor town, the cliffs, and the Namaqualand flowers came easily to mind.  This is a story about people, impoverished people and people trying to break free from the bonds of impoverishment.  It is also about those people who seek out small sea towns for retirement but who turn a blind eye to those less fortunate than themselves who have and always will live there.  It is a story about a forgotten people who are trying their best to live in small towns on the outskirts of urban life in contemporary South Africa but where change has not yet arrived and where poverty threatens to extinguish them before it does.  The book unravels to make all kinds of revelations in both plot and character.  I would say this book is mostly character driven with sprinklings of well written descriptions of the landscape.  It was well written and I really enjoyed it.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about people and character, and anyone interested in South Africa and how some live on its coast.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

south africa

 

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My Africa Reading Wishlist

My Africa reading wishlist is a personal reading list of African Literature I hope to get through in my lifetime.  I have been participating in KinnaReads’ Africa Reading Challenge for the last two years and originally created this reading list in response to her challenge.   If you’re looking for inspiration for your own foray into African Lit, I hope you find something you like here.  This reading list will evolve as I cross off my challenge books (check back for my reviews) and no doubt I’ll add a few more as I go.

 

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

Disgrace by J M Coetzee (South Africa)

Waiting for the Barbarians by J M Coetzee (South Africa)

Age of Iron by J M Coetzee (South Africa)

The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda (South Africa)  2015  #1 Review –
The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda

The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda (South Africa)

The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda (South Africa)

The Imposter by Damon Galgut (South Africa)

In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut (South Africa)    2014  #1 Review –  In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut

Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya)

Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya)

Islands by Dan Sleigh (South Africa)

A Dry White Season by André Brink (South Africa)

Philida by André Brink (South Africa)    2014  #2 ReviewPhilida by Andre Brink

An Instant in the Wind by André Brink (South Africa)

The Famished Road by Ben Okri (Nigeria)

July’s People by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)   2014  #5 ReviewJuly’s People by Nadine Gordimer

Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)

When the Lion Feeds by Wilbur Smith (Zambia)

River God by Wilbur Smith (Zambia)

The Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto (Mozambique)

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (South Africa)

Trackers by Deon Meyer (South Africa)

Dreamforest (Toorbos) by Dalene Matthee (South Africa)

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa)

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)

We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe)

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (South Africa)

Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)

Akhenaten by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)

Graceland by Chris Abani (Nigeria)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (Algeria)

Finding Soutbek by K Jennings (South Africa)   2014  #3 Review  – Finding Soutbek by Karen Jennings

Foreign Gods, Inc by Okey Ndibe (Nigeria) 2014  #4 ReviewForeign Gods Inc by Okey Ndibe

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya)

The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)

 

 

Some Books I’ve Read I Recommend from South Africa

Devil’s Peak by Deon Meyer (my review)

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer

7 Days by Deon Meyer

Circles in a Forest (Kringe in n Bos) by Dalene Matthee

Shades by Maguerite Poland

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (my review)

Biko: A Biography by Xolela Mangcu (my review)

 

2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature Shortlist

This year is the inaugural prize for the Etisalat Prize for Literature.  It is the first Pan-African literary prize created to recognize and reward debut fiction writers in Africa.  The winner will receive a £15,000 cheque.  The shortlist was released on 22 January after a retreat in Morocco where the judges narrowed down the prize finalists. (official press release)  The winner will be announced in a ceremony on the 23 February 2014.  Here are the shortlisted finalists:

Cover_BomBoy_Front_300-dpi1-194x300Bom Boy by Yewande Omotoso

Leke is a troubled young man living in the suburbs of Cape Town. He develops strange habits of stalking people, stealing small objects and going from doctor to doctor in search of companionship rather than cure. Through a series of letters written to him by his Nigerian father whom he has never met, Leke learns about a family curse; a curse which his father had unsuccessfully tried to remove. Bom Boy is a well-crafted, and complex narrative written with a sensitive understanding of both the smallness and magnitude of a single life.

Finding Soutbek by Karen Jenningssoutbek_hires-186x300

The focal point of the novel is the small town of Soutbek. Its troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships. Contemporary Soutbek is still a divided town – the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant – and through a series of vivid scenes, the troubled relationship between Pieter Fortuin, the town’s first coloured mayor, and his wife Anna is revealed. In so many ways the past casts a long shadow over the present, not in the least through the unreliable diaries of Pieter Meerman promoted by Pieter Fortuin and Professor Pearson, a retired white historian. They give us a unique insight into the lives of the seventeenth-century Dutch explorers, and hint at a utopian society, suggesting that Soutbek is the birthplace of assimilation and integration. The blossoming friendship between Anna, Sara, a foundling, and Willem, Pieter Fortuin’s nephew, is unsettled by David, Anna’s and Pieter’s son. His father has bought David a bright future, but when he comes back from boarding school David appears alienated from his father and from his old friend, the former gardener Charles Geduld, just as Anna starts to accept him as her son. Is there hope, or are we left with Willem’s conclusion that ‘he would spend the rest of his life working off the debt of his family’s poverty’? A moving story that paints a thought-provoking picture of life in contemporary South Africa.

BULAWAYO_WeNeedNewNames-1-194x300We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.  But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her-from Junot Diaz to Zadie Smith to J.M. Coetzee-while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own. 

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