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I'll be Home for Christmas


My parents still live in George, a small city on the south western South African coast, flat and spreading, named for George III and celebrating its two-hundredth anniversary this year. Provincial and predominantly Afrikaans, George was a pleasant place to grow up, but young adults move to larger cities like Cape Town, Durban, or Johannesburg if they can.

Like many provincial cities, I suppose, it is an intellectual dry-spot. We weren’t taught to relish reading or studies at school; we didn’t have a library of our own, and the school system encouraged parroting, not critical thinking. People here live outdoor lives. The beach is so nearby; the mountain so close. You can drive your bakkie across the pass to the Karoo and to the hot springs.

When I went regularly to the George library as a girl – a flat-roofed, squat building which was trying very hard to be Cape Dutch, but obviously built in the 60s - I’d pick crime novels, science fiction, fantasy, regency romances. I now consider time wasted. Perhaps I shouldn’t. But I wish there had been someone to suggest I try something that hadn’t occurred to me: Hemingway or Tolstoy or graphic novels or non-Romantic poetry. The librarians are slow-moving, shallow-eyed, and bored. Maybe there’s something about the yellowing light indoors and the half-closed curtains which provokes something like Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I now realize that this is not the library’s fault. Its collection is surprisingly generous. One afternoon visit in search of South African fiction yielded two novels by Damon Galgut (the new J.M. Coetzee, a crass but useful tag), short-stories by Nadine Gordimer and Ivan Vladislavic, poetry by Roy Campbell (South Africa’s greatest contribution to modernism, and bĂȘte-noire of the Bloomsbury group), and a selection of Olive Schreiner’s letters edited by Richard Rive.

And the R2 library book sale brought forth a bounty: a penguin copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lawrence’s Trespassers, Lucia in London, and a tattered first edition of Nancy Mitford’s Don’t tell Alfred! Whether these will make it back to Oxford in my already corpulent luggage is another matter.

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Love this post...glad to hear that you are home!!

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It is easy, with the early darkness and the frost on our windshields and the necessity of coats and thicker socks, to complain about the dying of the year and the coming of winter.

Here is a must-read this time of year: Tove Jansson’s Moominvalley in November. Where her other Moomin books have been characterized by happy bohemianism and quirky, midsummer adventures, this book is not afraid to deal with the stark and empty season that comes once a year.

It is raining steadily upon the tall dark trees. D…
There’s a sudden late surge of warmth in the rough winds today and it’s the perfect day to read one of John Clare’s best sonnets:

November

Sybil of months & worshipper of winds
I love thee rude & boisterous as thou art
& scraps of joy my wandering ever finds
Mid thy uproarious madness – when the start
Of sudden tempests stir the forrest leaves
Into hoarse fury till the shower set free
Still the hugh swells & ebb the mighty heaves
That swing the forrest like a troubled sea
I love the wizard noise & rave in turn
Half vacant thoughts & self imagined rhymes
Then hide me from the shower a short sojourn
Neath ivied oak & mutter to the winds
Wishing their melody belonged to me
That I might breath a living song to thee
I’ve a short story in the latest edition of The Stinging Fly, which is a brilliant Irish literary journal. If you’d like a copy (or if you like Claire-Louise Bennett or Kevin Barry or Danielle McLaughlin or Colin Barrett, who’ve all been published by SF) you can get it here Or, you know, go to Dublin.