Book of the Week

Killing Karoline

What happens when the baby they buried comes back?

Sara-Jayne King

MF Books Joburg

Review: Lauren O’Connor-May

My daughter read the cover of this book and asked if it was a horror. I told her it wasn’t because it isn’t one – not a traditional one at least.

It tells the story of baby Karoline, the product of a morality act breach, who refuses to stay white after birth. More than a month after Karoline is born, her parents take her to England and put her up for adoption. They return home and tell everyone that she died. As a mother I still can’t wrap my head around this kind of horror but I was in for far more WTF moments before Karoline gets a semblance of a happy ending.

The horrors in this book are very eina in their realness and the author, CapeTalk radio presenter Sara-Jane King, is abrasively honest about them.I enjoyed it because it is well-written and moving but it’s not a read for the faint-hearted because it holds up a mirror that shows a lot of these things we’d rather not see: racism, adoption ghosts, eating disorders, mental illness, substance abuse – the whole shebang, it’s all in here.

A to Z of Amazing South African Women
Ambre Nicolson and Jaxon Hsu

Modjaji Books

Review: Chantel Erfort

A to Z of Amazing South African Women is something of a hodge podge of stories of women of different ages and backgrounds, and I battled to find a coherent thread that tied them all together. Ultimately that thread is, very simply, the alphabet.

The book, by husband and wife team, illustrator Jaxon Hsu and writer Ambre Nicolson, tells the stories of 26 women. It’s an easy read, which I managed to get through in less than an hour. If you’re looking for in-depth, substantial stories about the women who have helped shape South Africa’s history, this is, unfortunately, not the book you’re looking for.

While informative, I found many of the stories to be superficial and skirting around the very real controversies that surrounded many of the women featured in A to Z.

And though I know I will be tackled by the “all our stories are important” crew, I cannot help but wonder why Dope Saint Jude was included in this book. For me, her story simply didn’t stand out, and in this age of modern technology which has made music production highly accessible, being a female rapper or “dropping an EP in 2015” simply doesn’t make her special. I also wondered whether the writer was perhaps a fan because Dope’s entry was also the longest one in the book!

And at the risk of sounding uber-critical … I also didn’t care much for the illustrations.

I did, however, learn some interesting things. Did you know that Miriam Makeba was the first woman to have a top 10 worldwide hit (Pata Pata)? Or that Khanyi Dhlomo was only 20 years old when she became the first black newsreader on national TV? Among those included in A to Z are writer Antjie Krog, Olympic athlete Caster Semenya, anti-apartheid activists Fatima Meer and Lillian Ngoyi, historical figure Krotoa, and early human ancestor Mrs Ples.

My favourite entry, however, is filed under “U” for the Unknown women whose stories we don’t know.

Life in Motion: An unlikely ballerina

Misty Copeland with Charisse Jones

Sphere

Review: Chantel Erfort

It’s likely that many people with even the most fleeting interest in dance would have heard the name Misty Copeland at some point in time.

For those who don’t know, Copeland made history in June 2015 when she became the first black woman to be promoted to the role of principal dancer at the then 75-year-old American Ballet Theatre.

What makes Copeland’s story more extraordinary, is that she only started taking ballet classes at the age of 13, by which time many of her contemporaries had already been dancing for many years.

But those who witnessed her abilities were quick to take the young prodigy under their wings, among them Cindy Bradley, her dance teacher with whom she lived for two years, and who was also involved in a bitter custody battle – and eventually emancipation application – involving the young Copeland and her mother.

Details of this are well documented, so I’m not giving too much away when I say that the application was dropped and Copeland eventually returned to her family home.

But Copeland’s life remained one filled with a number of challenges and changes, with her love for dance and her incredible ability remaining constant.

The stories of upheaval, poverty and family dysfunction, Copeland tells very carefully. First she lays bare the brutal truth, then she backtracks, explaining that she understands why certain people did what they did and that she bore no grudges.

And while I understand why she may have chosen to tell her life story so carefully, buffering it with excuses and explanations along the way, I do feel it takes away some of the power of the story. I also struggled to follow the chronology of the story at times.

Her memoir, however, is an enjoyable and readable story that is largely well written.

A Woman’s World Haroldene Tshienda

Tshienda Publications

Review: Lauren O’Connor-May

In the prologue, the author, publisher and cover designer of this book, says that it came about after “interviewing and having intense conversations with hundreds of women” but the only voice in the book is her own.

The book is fundamentally the author’s own opinions, ideas and experiences penned as advice – sometimes in the form of rudimentary poetry.

The book didn’t resonate with me but Haroldene’s work is seemingly finding an audience somewhere since this is the third one she’s published along the same vein. The kind of advice dispensed savours strongly of the sort in Fascinating Womanhood, a book written in 1963 by Helen Andelin which is often called the anti-feminism book.