We review three new releases: Loves & Miracles of Pistola by Hilary Prendini Toffoli, Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah and Find Me by André Aciman.
Out of Darkness, Shining Light
By Petina Gappah
The award-winning Zimbabwean writer’s latest novel transports readers across pre-colonial Africa – from Zambia to Zanzibar – in the time of slave raids and early exploration of the continent by Europeans. The story begins with the death of Scottish explorer David Livingstone. The urgent question that must then be answered is where should his body be buried? Eventually, after much debate between his 69 companions – the cooks, porters and informal army he took on his failed expedition to discover the sources of the Nile – it’s decided his heart should be buried in Chitambo, Zambia, where he died. His body, after being smoked for two weeks, is transported across a terrifying route that opens these loyal servants to all sorts of dangers, costing many of them their lives and sanity. Narrated in turns by Livingstone’s cook, Halima, and one of his missionary educated servants, Jacob Wainwright, it’s a moving account of the 285-day journey to bring Livingstone’s remains to Zanzibar so they could be transported back to Scotland. It’s a tome of a book but an easy read as the narrators – based on real-life characters – either evoke feelings of affection or resentment in the reader. It’s hard not to become emotionally invested. At the end, the reader is left with the question: was this journey worth it? – THANDO NDABEZITHA
Loves & Miracles of Pistola
By Hilary Prendini Toffoli
Set in the 1950s, this is the colourful story of an orphaned boy, nicknamed Pistola, who’s brought up in a small Italian village by his grandfather. When he’s older he discovers the truth about his parents, and there’s a South African connection.A while later, heartbroken after the love of his life marries the village thug, Pistola accepts an offer to move to Johannesburg to work on the railways as a steward. Here he learns to speak English and Afrikaans, lives in vibrant Hillbrow and visits Sophiatown where he goes partying with Miriam Makeba.Later, he finds love with Malikah, a political activist, but their illegal relationship gets him into trouble with the security police. It’s a vibrant story full of vivid descriptions, both of Italian village life and a turbulent chapter in South Africa’s past. The book is also a tribute to the 110 young Italian men who were recruited to work on the South African Railways – an interesting piece of SA history of which I was unaware. Many stayed on, bringing Italian cuisine to the country by opening restaurants. A highly enjoyable read. – GERRY WALDEN
By André Aciman
Just because fans beg for a sequel, should an author write one? This is what I kept wondering as I read this novel. It’s the follow-up to Aciman's 2007 smash-hit Call Me by Your Name which focused on the doomed summer romance between two young American men, Elio and Oliver, in a small Italian town.The action kicks off about 20 years later with Samuel, Elio's now-divorced father, meeting a young woman on a train to Rome. Within hours they’ve recognised each other as soulmates and are declaring their undying love. Then on to Elio, now a classical pianist, who’s in a relationship with Michel. Although it's not the passionate love affair he had with Oliver he's trying hard to convince himself it's enough.But is it? In the final section he must decide as he's reunited with Oliver.Perhaps it's all this Covid-19 drama that’s made me cynical but urgh, I found this novel excruciating. Whereas Call Me by Your Name had depth and finesse, this sequel has about as much subtlety as a Mills & Boon story. You’ve been warned . . . JANE VORSTER
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