Book Reviews: Untamed Girls, Or An Atlas Of Roosters

February 27, 2017



Dylan Lewis: An Untamed Force by Ian McCallum and Gerda Genis           7

My First Atlas by Wendy Maartens and Zunica Joao                                    6     

City Rooster by Claudia Eiker-Harris and Juan Carlos Federico                   7

The Girls by Emma Cline                                                                                  7


Less a biography than an annotated portfolio of works from throughout the career of sculptor Dylan Lewis, An Untamed Force provides a wonderful, thorough showcase of the artist’s work, from preparatory sketches to close-up photographic studies to wide-angle landscape shots showing the statues in situ. Taking in the whole arc of Lewis’ career to date, it allows readers – whether established fans of his work or not – to understand the development of his ideas and techniques, and the way his creations have evolved as a result. This layered presentation makes this book a more satisfying end product than some of the artworks included in its pages, though presumably the owners of the galleries and other sites in which the sculptures are displayed would argue that point. The context and the multi-faceted examination of the statues and other work provided by Genis’ photographs and McCallum’s commentary mean that the pieces can be studied with that activity feeling exciting and revealing – not like some stodgy art class. Whether you go from this to track down Lewis’ work and consider it in the space it was designed for is immaterial: learning about what was involved in its conception and construction is interesting enough (at worst) and potentially inspiring enough (at best) to merit repeated consideration of this material. – BD


Most children needing to do research for homework or school projects head straight to a computer and Wikipedia – which shows in the quality and similarity of their work. The challenge authors and publishers have is to make books as appealing an alternative as these easy-access internet platforms. Writer Wenday Maartens and illustrator Zunica Joao have put in a good shift in that regard with My First Atlas, in which maps play only a slight role, with carefully curated facts (geographical, historical, cultural and more) being allowed to take centre stage. South Africa is prioritised, with detailed provincial breakdowns where elsewhere, continents are dealt with in a couple of pages. Importantly – and impressively – the book includes an excellent spread in terms of facts that might matter to all of South Africa’s people groups, rather than the skewed perspectives this generation’s parents would have been fed when they were young. – BD


City Rooster is one of the better modern takes on the Just So Stories formula, and a wonderful tale about the reason Johannesburg city dwellers now wake up to a sound other than the crowing of a rooster. It’s very much a kids’ book, but at the same time is probably too wordy for very young readers (Juan Carlos Federico’s illustrations will charm anyone). The story touches on the theme of urbanisation – a sobering facet, but one that is crucial to the outcome of the story. The inclusion of a number of South African species in a cast of animal and avian characters has the effect of drawing local readers in and encouraging them to take ownership of the story. The outcome is clever, warm and funny – next time you’re woken up at some obscene hour by a “city rooster” you may have a laugh about it once you’ve read this book, which is better than being annoyed. – BD


How does the life of a young girl take shape? A 14-year-old connecting  with a drug-soaked bunch of girls that later proves to be a murderous cult, is the protagonist for this book. In The Girls, we enter the ranch where they hang out, see the degrading filth in which these girls live, get to know their mystical attachment to the cult leader, all through the eyes of this youngster who herself becomes an addicted admirer. The girl watches this bunch, experiences cohesion and finds the kind of recognition and attachment that she misses in her own home. The story is a wonderful rendering of hippie life in the Sixties, the false values they strive to attain, the dirt and degradation of their unconvential lives and finally their downfall.  The book is a story-telling, psychological portrayal of the way characters bond in a lifestyle that promises freedom and becomes bondage of a different kind – in the end destroys what should have been beautiful.  – DB