Vibrant, witty literary prowess

2012-05-09 00:00

ONE character from Shaida Kazie Ali’s first novel, Not a Fairytale, gets a mention in her second, Lessons in Husbandry (reviewed below).

“My son, who is 13, told me to bring Zuhra back, so she gets a brief appearance. He also told me he would have enjoyed Not a Fairy­tale more if I hadn’t written it.”

When Ali told him she would probably say the word vagina at least three times at the Cape Town launch of Lessons in Husbandry , he told her to signal when it was coming by touching her ear, so that he could leave the room.

This must be an adolescent’s dread of a conspicuous parent — even if they are conspicuous because of success. Most critics and readers are delighted with Ali’s writing. She has said in interviews that writing can be “self-flagellation”, and that she has a “dysfunctional relationship” with the process.

However, she does admit that when she had finished the first draft of Lessons in Husbandry , she was delighted with it. “But then, later, in the editing process, I hated every word.” It’s hard to imagine why.

Ali says she always wanted to write, but never felt that she was any good. “I think that comes from being a prolific reader,” she says. As a child, she tried to write Famous Five kind of stories.

But it was only when she began to work from home, setting up material for a distance learning organisation, that she found she had more time and began to try in earnest. She joined a writing class with Cape Town-based writer and teacher Anne Schuster.

“I heard her speak at UCT’s Summer School, and joined a group of women writers she used to run. It wasn’t an academic course, but it was very nurturing, very helpful.” It was Schuster nudging at her that got her to finish her first book, she says. And going to the launch of a book by a 16-year-old. “I thought that if a 16-year-old can do it, then so can I.”

Malak is persuaded to join a writing course in Lessons in Husbandry, and Ali admits that she drew on her own experience there, though she was very careful not to write about anyone who had been on the course with her. She says her ideal reader, the person she has in mind when she is writing, is her sister, who is a professional gardener in Fort Lauderdale in the United States. “She’s vibrant, tall and glamorous, with an infectious laugh, and I know that if she likes it, other people will,” she says.

Lessons in Husbandry , while not anti-religious, certainly has a dig at conformist and patriarchal religions, and bigots. One character, Precious, veers between spells of being a devout Muslim and enjoying himself with his life-size, mail-order sex doll, who he calls Jalebi.

“She’s my favourite character,” laughs Ali. “She says so much about Western society, and about women and how they treat themselves — and all without saying a word. And at the end, she gets a job.” I agree not to give anything away by explaining that remark — read the book to understand.

I tell Ali that I found Lessons in Husbandry a romantic book, though not in any way in the Barbara Cartland or Mills & Boon sense. Ali agrees. “It’s another kind of fairytale. It is Malak whose life stops when her sister disappears. She lives in the shadow of the disappearance, lives a half life. When she falls in love, it wakes her up.” It is romantic in the best possible way.

Ali’s favourite local writers are poet Gabeba Baderoon, who is also a good friend, Philippa Yaa de Villiers, Henrietta Rose-Innes and short-story author Mary Watson. “But it’s tough to make a living here by writing,” she says. Maybe so, but if Ali continues to write as she is doing at the moment, you feel she has a better chance than most.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.