Book Reviews: Eyes In The Park, Or Van Gogh’s Toy-Boy

June 27, 2018

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Eyes In The Night by Nomavenda Mathiane                           7

The Park by Gail Schimmel                                                       7.5

The Unknown Van Gogh by Chris Schoeman                          5

Toy-Boy by Leon van Nierop                                                    4


The structure of Eyes In The Night is intriguing. The author, a journalist based in Johannesburg, returns to Zululand for her own mother’s funeral and then returns again and again to spend time with her eldest sister, Sis Ahh, and with her cousin Mjabhi, both of whom had been raised by their grandmother. Through endless hours of conversation, the two elderly cousins and the professional journalist are able to give form and substance to the remarkable story of their Gogo, a story which is then told in the first person by Nombhosho Makhoba. Born of a noble family in the troubled times of Boer and British invasions, she experienced the horrors of the Anglo-Zulu War as a young girl. We have a moving account, rich in cultural and family detail, of flight, hiding in caves, extreme deprivation, becoming unwanted guests with kinsfolk, and giving in, finally, to serfdom on a white farm. Here, the young girl becomes a woman in her own right, asserting herself against the overtures of a patriarchal Boer farmer, escaping to a mission school and insisting on learning to read and write. This is also the story of her transition from traditional Zulu belief and practice to Christianity, something she could never have foreseen given her experiences of war waged by a Christian nation. Now she meets her husband-to-be, a man zealous for the restitution of the Zulu nation, also a preacher. The account of their life together, of their family, of the beginnings of a new African nationalism and the challenges of choice, makes for wonderful reading. It is a movingly written book, carrying the reader into new depths of understanding of the personal history of the warfare of the times, of the painful transition of a people and the nobility of its leadership. There is much well-researched detail, much to learn about the politics of families, of the blending of traditional and imported thinking, of the adaptations that were made. A highly readable book and well worthwhile. – RH


Author Gail Schimmel says she didn’t, with The Park, mean to write a thriller, but that is what publishers Pan Macmillan informed her they had received when the manuscript arrived. Both points of view are valid. Schimmel makes completely normal people her protagonists, and the narrative involves such conventional topics as friendship, marriage, having children, and the challenges involved in being involved in any of these relationships or scenarios. It’s hardly the apocalypse or dismembered corpses strewn around a charnel house, but there being no obvious villains or lurking evil is exactly what makes this story so relatable. Rebecca is a mother of a single adopted child and husband to Sean, a software developer still waiting for his big break – a scenario wrought with the sort of understandable stress that any parent or spouse would understand. New friendships should be mood-lifters and sources of strength, and for a while, it seems like Rose and Lilith, two women who Rebecca meets in a local park – and both of whom have daughters of their own – are going to help bring some perspective and stability to Rebecca’s life. That they don’t – and the ways in which Schimmel develops the story’s multiple threads – explains Pan Macmillan’s aforementioned classification. Schimmel’s pacing is impeccable, ensuring that the story is an easy, accessible read, but also compelling listeners to press onward because there is always just one little detail that needs fleshing out, or one curious motive that doesn’t quite add up. Tension ebbs and flows, eased by the antics of plump sex shop owners, earthy lawyers and paintings of daschunds. It’s a rich fabric, but one that’s easy to get tangled in, particularly as you find yourself identifying the folks in your own life whose behaviour parallel that of Schimmel’s characters. Perhaps you’ll be wary of allowing people to get close to you after you’ve read this. Or perhaps, importantly, you’ll be reminded of the power of literature to affect your emotions and perceptions. – BD


The notion at the centre of this book is interesting. Historian Chris Schoeman – a meticulous researcher and an expert storyteller – focuses his lens of Cornelis Van Gogh, brother of iconic artist Vincent (and the relatively well-known Theo, celebrated supporter of his famous painter sibling). Cornelis came to South Africa in 1889 with a set of skills that proved useful in the burgeoning mining town of Johannesburg. He then became caught up in the Anglo-Boer War, and his life was ended long before it should have been – as Vincent’s was. It’s impossible to fault Schoeman’s investigative prowess, or the effort he goes to to flesh out the relatively sparse record of Cornelis’ life. Everything stands up to scrutiny, and as what colour as there is is well graded. The problem, though, is that Cornelis was simply not a very interesting person. It’s impossible to avoid comparing him to Vincent, foolish as that is, and while the recreation of the historical context is which he lived – in Europe and in South Africa – is worth appreciating, it’s not the main selling point of The Unknown Van Gogh, and as such, disappointment will, for many readers, be inevitable. – BD


Enough is enough or rather too much is too much. The whole of Toy Boy is devoted to the business, art and pleasure of sex. The plot is too shallow to sustain interest. The perfectly built young man, the business of selling his body and attachments to rich, sex hungry women, doesn’t take the story much further than that. The modelling, the clothes and the women create a déjà vu plot that leads to boredom – if not disgust at having spent the time discovering the book’s content. Take off your t-shirt, show your beautifully shaped body, take down your pants. Oh, not again! Oh, yes… – DB[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]