Book Reviews: Orpheus And Crime, Or A Small Bourbon For The Struggle

April 28, 2020

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Orpheus And Eurydice by Hugh Lupton, Daniel Morden & Carole Henaff

Creating A Photography Portfolio by Johnathan Andrews

Life Of Crime by Kimberley Chambers

The Bourbon Bible by Eric Zandona

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Robert McBride: The Struggle Continues by Bryan Rostron


Classical Greek mythology is not as much a part of mainstream culture as it used to be, so it good to have publications like this slim volume from Barefoot Books to serve as a reminder of the material’s power for older readers and as an introduction to a magical new world for youngsters (Orpheus And Eurydice is aimed at the “confident reader”). Orpheus And Eurydice, even among the many sad tales of ancient Greece, is heartbreakingly tragic. The eponymous protagonists, young soulmates, are newly married when beautiful Eurydice dies. A distraught Orpheus, the greatest musician of his day, bravely heads into the underworld to see if he convince its authorities to return her to him, using his music to soothe all the terrifying characters he comes across. His mission is initially successful, but then there is a twist, and later, another, as the poor man fails to escape a dark destiny. There is much here that is noble and good, and as much that is desperate and terrible. Perhaps there’s not so much a moral here, then, as a reflection of society – then and now. Kids should read stories of such darkness – but perhaps ensure that you’re around to answer the inevitable questions when they start. – BD


Most how-to photography books instruct readers on the finer points of taking the photographs – framing, composition, focus and all the rest. Accomplished photographer Johnathan Andrews assumes that his readers are already competent camera users and, furthermore, have built up a collection of pictures already. Creating A Photography Portfolio takes such individuals to the next level, helping them through a set of sensible steps as as they put together a presentation of their work to its best effect. Andrews uses a portfolio of his own, which he successfully submitted to the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, as an example, making the book an effective punt for his own talents, but not in an arrogant way. His content is well-written and effectively put together, so, though this book is a niche product, it will be useful for those it’s aimed at. – BD


Family gossip, small talk, scheming, cheating,  hot sex, wheeling and dealing, petty offences leading to serious crime – all are ingredients of this novel, which plays out in Cockney London, giving an inside look into English lower-class life habits. The story in Life Of Crime never rises above a level of common talk that gives the book an unusual slant, with  slang expressions unknown to the general South African reader. The story moves from rubbish to luxury, paid for by gangland income. It makes one wonder if the story couldn’t have been told in less than 500-plus pages. There are unexpected plot turns that keep interest alive. This saves the reader from boredom and the surprising ending makes it all worthwhile. – DB


Many similar titles are nothing more than glorified pamphlets celebrating one or a small range of brands of whatever liquor is being examined. This well-designed hard-cover volume – built to last as long as its readers enjoy making Old Fashioned or Manhattan cocktails – covers the origins and development of bourbon, as well as the oft-ignored (largely because drinkers don’t like to admit their lack of knowledge) value of reading the label on a bottle to better appreciate the specific characteristics of each brand. Then, there is a long, illustrated catalogue (140 options) of what the author defines as the leading bourbons around the world, which will likely become a bucket list for anyone keen on the taste of the popular spirit. The Bourbon Bible is an excellent reference book for newcomers and even relatively well-informed bourbon drinkers, and a gift that will keep on giving for someone from either of those groups or indeed anyone who likes cocktails in general. – BD


The God Of Small Things is a reprint of an extraordinary novel, set in a village in India, riding the swirling tides of political challenge, probing the life of a family deeply rooted on the banks of the sluggish river, and setting out a story of a love across the lines of caste and belief. In the Ayemenem House, Estha and Rahel are non-identical twins. Ammu is their mother, Mammachi is their grandmother, Baby Kochamma their great-aunt, and Kochu Maria the cook.  Four women, each at odds with the others, each living lives part tradition, part personal grief and part fantasy, inhabiting the same house. Each welcomes Sophie Moll with her own expectations. The sole adult male is brother Chacko – a Marxist, lately graduated from Balliol, and now ‘managing’ the family’s pickle-bottling business, but father of Sophie Moll. Looming above them all is the ghost of the entomologist, Pappachi, of volcanic disposition and late husband of Mammachi. Who is Sophie Moll? Well, Chacko’s daughter by his marriage while in England, a marriage long dissolved. How does she die? The reader must wait. Her arrival in the household on a visit, with her mother, tears apart the carefully preserved webs of family relationships. When Sophie dies, they are wrenched apart and live separate lives until adulthood. Chacko, in his conflicting roles as factory owner and political activist introduces us to Comrade Pillai, printer and party organiser, and to the complex reincarnation of Marx in the context of caste and patronage. Velutha is the Mr Fix-it in the pickling plant. He is beautiful of body, and an extraordinary friend of the twins, teaching them to swim, making them delicate and beautiful toys, giving their fatherless lives a different dimension. And he is the dangerous inamoratus of their mother. This is an astonishing novel, written in an English which is created and owned by Roy herself. This is the richest prose, giving life to every scene and every person. There is delicate irony sometimes, pathos, excoriating narratives of brutality, and ultimately deep sorrow and relentless honesty. – RH


Bryan Rostron’s original biography of Robert McBride was published in1991 under the title Babylon Falls. It has now been updated, as Robert McBride: The Struggle Continues, to include the recent challenges McBride has encountered in the complex world of South Africa today. For those who have not read the original book, it is worth recounting something of its story and scope. Rostron began his relationship with McBride in the forbidding precincts of Pretoria Central, when McBride had already been moved into the building that housed Death Row. Here he commenced the challenging task of building a relationship with a man incarcerated under harsh conditions, where conversation was through heavy glass and taking notes had to be surreptitious while researching McBride’s early life in discussions with his family and colleagues. The suburb in which the family lived, Wentworth, was set aside for “Coloureds”. It was harsh, without amenities, a scene of gang rivalry and impoverished schooling. Robert’s father, Dennis, was an ex-school teacher objecting to the discrimination against his people in the school system of the day. Enterprising, he set up a highly successful welding business. Above all he read prolifically, was well-versed in political thinking and offered a powerful intellectual challenge to the political dispensation of the time. Robert grew up knowing that better things were possible. Doris, his doughty mother, was equally active in furthering the well-being of her family. They and Robert’s sisters are to play major roles in this story. This is a detailed account of Robert’s own development, his growing understanding of the race and class struggle, his friendships and his eventual enlistment in the ANC. It is a well-written account of the underworld hidden from the sight of ordinary citizens, an underworld where the ruthless state security agencies could arrest and torture, where comrades communicated cleverly and effectively, but where there was always the hazard of infiltration and betrayal. Robert McBride engaged in a sabotage spree in their immediate area, damaging electrical substations. This is all brilliantly recounted, climaxing in the rescue of a comrade from a state hospital and smuggling him across the border into Botswana. The planning and the thinking that led up to the Magoo bombing are set out in detail. This embodies the pain and the courage and the self-doubt of someone countering  the National Party’s “Total Onslaught”. This is a deeply personal book, the story of a family, of a man who inspired love from remarkable women, and the story of a country at war with itself. The recent additions are in the light of the Zuma era, the appalling machinations of politicians and civil servants (who are often simply partisan party hacks) and the ongoing prejudice that McBride suffers from those who simply fall back on the popular press of the distant past. The book is worth reading, first to remind us of the recent history of the country, second to help us understand the nature of this man and what he offers the country. – RH[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][us_single_image image=”7966″ onclick=”custom_link” link=”|||”][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]