Book Reviews: Holomisa’s Dreams, Or Marah In Essex

November 15, 2018

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The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

It’s Me Marah by Marah Teboho Louw

Bantu Holomisa, The Game Changer by Eric Naki

The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres


The Essex Serpent is an intriguing novel, pretending to be in the style of the late Victorian era in which it is set. It is mannered, but well so. It is a delightful story with many twists and turns. The personalities are each of them fascinating, and their loves and affections intriguing. Cora Seaborne becomes a widow, but not in deep mourning. Taking lodgings in a coastal town in Essex, accompanied by her long-standing companion, Martha, and her young son, Francis. Cora discovers an appetite for scientific discovery and is intrigued by reports of a strange sea monster in the estuary. Martha is a down-to-earth, intelligent woman, loyal to Cora and radical in her viewpoints. Her story is as intriguing. The medical man who had attended Cora’s late husband, Luke Garrett, loves and pursues Cora. A surgeon of genius he is a bold player in medical dramas as in personal life. He has the friendship and financial support of a gracious, gentle friend, also a medical man, George Spencer, who plays a quiet and important role in the lives of various other characters. Katherine and Charles Ambrose are a well-to-do couple, well connected and well intentioned. And they do much good. The book is however about the Rev William Ransome and his wife Stella and their children. Ransome is Vicar of Aldwinter, the village on estuary. It is his parish which is frightened by the serpent. He moves with grace and thoughtfulness amongst his people. Stella is a woman of great beauty, but falls ill. Their love is unfailing. There are villagers and Londoners, who fill the story too. But Luke loves Cora; Cora is enamoured of William Ransome. She challenges him for his belief when he is obviously a clear-thinking man in terms of the natural sciences. Their relationships are the central drama, though the serpent brings its own intriguing challenges. Highly recommended. – RH


Hi Marah.  Nice meeting you.  That’s the feeling I had reading It’s Me Marah, which creates an immediate affinity with this wonderfully gifted woman.  She takes us through her life from childhood to prominent singer/entertainer  reaching the top of her career when she performs in the great musical shows and concert halls of the world.  Her story starts in the bad old days.  She  suffers insults, apartheid brutality and shows her defiance, maturity and pride to overcome derogatory treatment and hardships, including those in her family life.  One incident at a concert shows the person she is.  Two white men insult  her in the foyer and sit right before her in the front row.  She notices them and stops the show, tells the audience what happened.  “I will not sing for these two.  Either they leave or I leave.”  The spotlight turns on them and they walk out (ashamed?) while Marah gets a standing ovation.  This book has the wonderful power of letting one forget about racial divides.  Marah has mastered the art of being aracial (allow me to introdiuce a new word in the English language) meaning, looking at society completely and totally devoid of racial issues (a person is a person), applying Aristotle’s Law Of Identity “A equals A” An astonishing chapter deals with her and her husband facing death.  She is part of the entertainment squad on the Oceanos the night this cruise ship sank off the coast near Port Elizabeth – one of a small group that reached the shore in a life boat in that wild night.  A personal triumphant moment must have been Nelson Mandela getting on stage with her where he starts the Mandela jive.  We love you Marah for what you are and what you have been.  Thanks for telling us your story.  Great reading. – DB


Bantu Holomisa, The Game Changer is an authorised biography of Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement, an engaging and respected politician. Naki gives an interesting account of the boyhood and then the early career  of Holomisa, who grew up as a chief’s son in the Eastern Cape, had schooling appropriate to his status and the expectations of tribal rule. The boarding school days were a happy time, where of course he forged important friendships. Interestingly despite the fact that the school, Jongilizwe College, was funded and overseen by the Pretoria government, the boys received an enlightening political education from Dumisa Ntsebeza, an activist and friend of Matthew Goniwe. These was the period when the Homelands policy was being developed and implemented, the time of the Matazimas. We have interesting Insights into the thinking of the local leaders and the family and tribal conflicts over the concept of an “independent Transkei” and also into the dysfunctional structures which were being imposed by Pretoria. A variety of personal circumstances, including his love of sport, led the newly matriculated Holomisa to enlist in the Transkei Defence Force. He rose rapidly through the ranks and was Commander-in-Chief at the time of the military coup overthrowing Kaiser Matanzima. Here is the inside story of Transkeian politics, with Rhodesian officers brought in to bolster the Defence Force, playing an active and reckless game of politics, with Holomisa, then still a major, being detained on trumped-up charges, the feud between the Matanzimas, and the establishment of a military government. There’s a lovely chapter on an attempted coup to depose Holomisa, engineered by the SADF. It would make a great comedy film. It is all small-scale stuff, but fascinating: Pretoria versus Mthata, P W Botha at a complete loss as to what to do about this pseudo-state, and the eventual outcome when Hlomisa joined with the ANC as the then liberation movement swept across South Africa. The detailed section on the military governance of Transkei is possibly too favourable to Hlomisa and his administration. The levels of corruption he inherited were probably too high to be drained off quickly, especially as the civil service was at best incompetent. The more serious stuff follows: Nelson Mandela returning to his beloved Transkei, a friendship and happy collaboration between him and Holomisa, Holomisa’s involvement at national level and developing a close relationship with Madiba. The ANC did not welcome this intruder, nor did Holomisa understand the politics and structures of the party. Despite or because of his relationship with Mandela, he was hounded out of the ANC. We are given the pamphlet authored by Cronin and the rebuttal by Holomisa. Of course the subsequent history is well known: the establishing of an independent United Democratic Movement and Holomisa’s own political career in opposition. I like the man and the book is worth reading as a record of an era in Transkeian history. – RH


Louis de Bernieres has an established record with romantic war epics, and The Dust That Falls From Dreams is as good as he (or most other authors) has produced. It takes three rich storytelling staples – intertwined families; England’s Edwardian class system and the drama inherent in a conflict as all-encompassing as a world war – and cleverly interlaces them in a compelling epic. The McCosh sisters, the Pitt brothers and the Pendennis brothers all grow up on adjoining properties in the early 1900s and, in the tradition of that time, were likely, many in their community believed, likely to end up getting married. That same cultural milieu was responsible for the mindset that said, “If there’s a war, sign up; it’ll be a jolly exciting experience, what?” and with the young men inevitably being sucked into the conflict, all the relationships netween the members of the three connected families are changed irrevocably. De Bernieres’ writing shows an intimate understanding of the dynamics of relationships and of the paradox of war as a hollow, hopeless waste and simultaneously an opportunity to achieve greatness and earn respect. There are scores of small tragedies throughout the book, largely balanced by the rewards of committing to others in love, and as well as being an excellent storyteller, De Bernieres is also a superb craftsman, creating regular moments where an image he creates or an emotion he describes or inspires pulls at the heartstrings as well as stimulating the brain. A fully satisfying yarn. – BD[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]