I have a rather embarrassing confession to make.
I have not read a single book by a South African author in all of my 48 years. Surprisingly, I was not asked to in school either, although one set-work was African, but not South African. And so, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe has been the only book from this continent that I have read.
I have given some of the greatest authors ever, the skip, for all these years. Alan Paton, Nadine Gordimer, Nelson Mandela, Andre Brink, J.M Coetzee, Antjie Krog, Breyten Breytenbach, Wally Seroto, Olive Schreiner, and even J.R.R. Tolkien who was South African born, all passed me by.
At this point, I need to make another confession. What I stated in the paragraph prior to the one above, is not entirely true. I did read Slave Species of God by Michael Tellinger out of curiosity, but I consider that a non-book. It is the biggest load of pseudo-scientific rubbish you will read. And so it does not count.
However, all that has changed and I’m now making amends for the many years of scorning South African authors. About two weeks ago, I was loaned an old copy of Herman Charles Bosman’s Bosman At His Best. It’s a compilation of some of his best short stories, and what an awesome story-teller he is. And that’s not all. This guy is damned funny. Get a load of this from In the Withaak’s Shade:
I remember the occasion that I came across a leopard unexpectedly, and to this day I couldn’t tell you how many spots he had, even though I had all the time I needed for studying him. It happened about mid-day, when I was out on the far end of my farm, behind a koppie, looking for some strayed cattle. I thought the cattle might be there because it is shady under those withaak trees, and there is soft grass that is very pleasant to sit on. After I had looked for the cattle for about an hour in this manner, sitting up against a tree trunk, it occurred to me that I could look for them just as well, or perhaps even better, if I lay down flat. For even a child knows that cattle aren’t so small that you have got to get on to stilts and things to see them properly.
What was more, I could go on lying there under the withaak and looking for the cattle like that all day, if necessary. As you know, I am not the sort of farmer to loaf about the house when there is a man’s work to be done.
Not surprisingly, I’ve dropped everything else I’m reading until after I’ve devoured these brilliant stories from one of South Africa’s most famous authors.
Incidentally, there’s a full reading of this hilarious short story available here on YouTube.