Book Reviews: Echo Of Life, Or Fight To Kill

July 26, 2017



Double Echo by Francois  Bloemhof                                    6

I Ran For My Life  by Kabelo  Mabalane                             8

Not Without A Fight by Helen Zille                                    8

Kill File by Christopher Farnsworth                                    5


Paul is an ex-policeman in his early thirties. He’s on the road, attempting to escape an horrendous incident in his policing career. This experience echoes through his mind and through the plot that unfolds. He finds himself an employee in a great manorial house in the Swartland. His employer is Bernard Russell, a wheel-chair bound businessman whose deals would perhaps not stand official scrutiny. He is a widower with a beautiful daughter and an equally beautiful mistress. The house is run with extraordinary efficiency by Mary. The other persona is Johnny, the chauffeur. From the first evening, when with the exception of Mary, the group sits down to dinner together, the atmosphere is tense and relationships disturbing. Russell dominates through his wealth and personality, moving the others like pawns. The narrative has momentum. The action plays out over just four days. The love-making is inevitable and predictable, a sort of setpiece. The kidnapping is gripping and leads to a climax which is credible but totally unexpected. There are aspects which demand too much credulity of the reader. Details of the plot are often unconvincing. We are, however, saved the platitudes of much post-Apartheid fiction. Double Echo is good read, but not highly recommended. – RH


I loved this book. When a man opens his soul to the world, one can sit up and take notice. I Ran For My Life tells the life story of Kabelo Mabalane, a celebrity musician who’s been an important part of the South African music scene for 20 years or longer. He tells of his school days, support from parents and friends and his struggle to escape the clutches of drugs,  promiscuity and alcohol. He becomes a re-born Christian and settles down to a loving lifestyle with his wife, child and friends. What makes this book special, apart from his success as a multi-platinum selling musician, is his account of his rehab experience and dedication as a road runner. His comparison between life’s challenges and those of running the Comrades within a certain time limit make for great reading. He has run eight Comrades marathons, aiming for a silver medal. His first run was widely publicised as a rehabilitated drug addict in his effort to become clean. He finished to loud applause just within the 11-hour deadline. The feelings, the hardship, the pain, the friendship and support, the endurance required – this is a remarkable account of the Comrades race applied wonderfully to his own life’s struggle. From the TKZee albums, Mabalane started a solo career and, still making music, he now manages his own music company and spends time doing charity work. The book ends with guidelines for road running, training and dietary advice. This book must be an inspiration to anyone wanting to follow in Kabelo’s footprints. – DB


Helen Zille’s autobiography, Not Without A Fight, is quite outstanding. It does not always read as easily as, for example, Alistair Sparks’, and is extraordinarily detailed, often a documentary rather than a narrative. It does, however, seize the mind of the reader. It is at one level a deeply personal story, frank and self-aware, recounting childhood and student days, anorexia and recovery, early career and early relationships, the story of her marriage and motherhood, the tension between home and family on one hand and life as a politician on the other. Typically, she takes time to write to her ailing mother in the midst of a gruelling election campaign. The detailed letter describing a campaign visit to the Zionist assembly at Mount Moriah is a masterpiece. (These letters are, of course, a great source of material for this autobiography). Her early career as a journalist, especially the uncovering of the Biko tragedy, gives her a deep commitment to the liberation movements. She and her gentle, deeply devout husband, take enormous risks as they house comrades fleeing the apartheid structures. Her own political career is born when, as a mother, she becomes involved in the politics of education. At the time she held a senior position in the administration of UCT, under Mamphele Ramphele. Her transition to the tiny, vote-starved Democratic Party (DP) and to full-time politics is the result of her commitment to “fitness for the job”, her abhorrence of cronyism, and her growing belief in liberal values. She enters the arena just before the New National Party and the DP negotiate a merger into what becomes the Democratic Alliance. Here, her careful documentation, her journalistic skill in shorthand and very good filing systems illuminate a complex era in opposition politics. Indeed the book is characterised by detailed, well-written and extremely honest discussions of major episodes in the history of the DA. She does not spare those who prevaricate, vacillate or push their own agendas at the cost of the party. Nor does she spare herself. She knows and acknowledges her own weaknesses and mistakes. We have only her versions  – but I find them convincing. There are coherent accounts of the strange courtship between the DA and Ramphele and of the rise and fall of Lindiwe Mazibuko. Zille excoriates the machinations of the ANC, especially when there is complete lack of understanding of the distinction between party and organs of state. The abuse of power for personal gain and the ongoing enrichment of the elite at the cost of the poor are subjects of condemnation. The parliamentary deliberations and the undertakings of the ANC regarding the BBBEE Amendment Bill and EE Amendment Act Bill ere cases in point. The most moving chapter is undoubtedly Hamba Kwa Langa, the story of setting up branches in townships, which were regarded as ANC territory. The then Premier, Rasool, SANCO, ANC Councillors and the SAPS were complicit in attempting to retain the status quo. The real story is of the extraordinary courage of shack dwellers who put their lives on the line and of the risks taken, the late-night driving from a quiet white suburb into the dangers of mob threats and the endless and fruitless attempts to involve the police in protecting private property. The innocent were arrested and endless court hearings resulted. This is heart-breaking stuff. Zille is obviously a woman of great courage, commitment to principal and extraordinarily hard-working. Sound party structures, clear lines of communication and adherence to “fitness for the job” characterise her leadership. The party’s rise in voter support and the emergence of credible black leadership are certainly part of her legacy. This is an important book in understanding South Africa today. It is also a clear exposition of what makes good leadership. – RH


Kill File is a thriller with a twist: the hero has the capacity to read minds and to manipulate with others perceive and do. That may seem a somewhat unfair advantage, but John Smith needs every possible help in carrying out his assignment. He is hired by Everett Sloan, the billionaire owner of an IT company, who believes that a former sidekick, Eli Preston, has stolen an algorithm and used it to establish his own enterprise, one which is attracting big clients, including the CIA. The world of the geek is wonderfully brought to life: the strange misfits who find a happy home in this new society, one of arcane powers and manipulation. There is plenty of action, set against the world of IT and ruthless corporate competition. Smith is given as an aide the beautiful Kelsey Foster, a woman of great intelligence and resourcefulness. Their relationship is interwoven with the main thread of the story. The action is the stuff of all such books, fast-moving, with guessing and double-guessing. Smith does enjoy his unusual advantage most of the time but in his final climactic confrontation with his adversary it is sheer physical combat. There is a strong second storyline: Smith’s recruitment to a special team in the USA armed forces, where his mental powers are honed and directed and utilised. We are taken into the ugly world of interrogations and torture in the Middle Eastern conflict zones. His relationship with his trainer and director is a recurrent theme. Not to be taken too seriously, but a fast read and an enjoyable one. – RH