Book Reviews: The Space Between The Fish Cocktails, Or The Andromeda Photographer’s Camp

June 26, 2021

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Like Water Is For Fish by Garth Japhet

The Space Between The Space Between by John Hunt

Classic & Contemporary Cocktails: Prosecco and Gin, edited by Sarah Vaughan

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H Wilson

The Photographer’s Vision by Michael Freeman

Maggie: My Life In The Camp by Maggie Jooste


There is a fascinating concept at work in Like Water For Fish, a non-fiction book detailing the effectiveness of storytelling in communicating important messages, and doing so in a mixture of memoir-style flashbacks and combinations of the perspectives of other individuals author Garth Japhet has met along the way. If it sounds like a hodge-podge, it doesn’t read like one, rather coming across as an influential – Japhet is the founder of the Soul City multimedia project and of the Heartlines NGO – set of viewpoints layered with compassion, insight, an awareness of personal frailty and a willingness to make and learn from mistakes. Japhet has shown an inclination, over many years, to tackle issues that should ideally be the remit of a strong national government, but which so often remain under the radar, such as the education of sectors of society who may not have access to the education and other resources taken for granted by those elsewhere. Though it is never his intent to underline the importance of his particular role in these initiatives – the tone and focus of his writing confirms his discomfort with that outcome – this book confirms how important a visionary Japhet has been in terms of addressing the needs of huge swathes of South African society, particularly in the areas of health and social cohesion. And the personal nature of his collected reflections confirms that normal people – Japhet has suffered from severe depression and notes his many shortfalls without shame – can, provided they are willing to commit themselves to a cause, make a notable difference, which is as important an inspiration now as it’s ever been. His story will help readers understand the importance of their stories. – BD


Initially, the reader spends about as much time trying to figure out the structure of John Hunt’s conceptual but still somehow grounded story as his unconventional protagonist Jethro, whose confusion is a complex, entertaining and pathos-ridden thing. Indeed, perhaps it’s not confusion at all, as, in The Space Between The Space Between, John Hunt draws a picture of a man who seems lonely, but could otherwise be lucid, or deranged, or disabled, or the smartest man in the room. The author’s mechanisms – having Jethro explain his perspective via letters to his therapist as well as in first-person dialogue, and adding sufficient twists to make readers question which, if any, of the accounts is true and believable – make trusting the character difficult. But it’s easy to like him, personifying as he does an indefinable part of South Africanness. That sounds like a trite and lazy critique, but it’s actually the book’s defining strength – that Hunt can tackle the whole daily mess of politics, culture, race and more without ever directly referring to those themes. In Jethro, he has distilled a consciousness that a wide range of South Africans of all ages and backgrounds will be able to identify with to some degree. How engrossed they become will likely reflect the extent of their overlap with Jethro’s perspectives and exactly how good they feel this book is. It’s likely that range will begin at “good” and extend a long way upward. – BD


How long does a fad last? The fascination with prosecco and gin is a wonderful thing for morning markets, hipsters and the generic recipe pages of lifestyle magazines. But the regeneration of the drinks’ reputations continues apace, and Classic & Contemporary Cocktails (two hardcover volumes) contain dozens of recipes for cocktails classified by general taste profiles and cultural significance (the “classics” have been around for a lot longer). That’s it, really – there is no extrapolation on the origins of the recipes, who came up with the ideas and in which contexts. What there is, though, is a collection of cocktail recipes to be worked through at the reader’s/drinker’s leisure, all simple enough fore even the most inexperienced barman or barmaid to put together. Great gifts – these’ll keep on giving. – BD


The Andromeda Evolution hangs on the coattails of the bestseller by the late Michael Crichton, whose inimitable aphorisms such as, “The future is coming faster than most people realize” preface each chapter. Crichton wrote The Andromeda Strain, which described how, in 1967, a rogue microbe from outer space wiped out the population of a small American town, Piedmont. There followed a desperate race between this strange threat to all human life and the valiant scientists from all over the globe. The threat was dissipated and humankind was saved, though subsequently research work continued to ensure the microbe would not re-emerge to terrify the Earth. In the depths of the Amazon Jungle, an observer post notes strange activity: an inexplicable mound growing in the middle of the dense vegetation some miles away. Here begins this novel. Paulo Arana is an overweight, 55-year old Brazilian sitting at an old metal desk loaded with an eclectic array of electronic equipment, rolling a cigarette, oblivious to the warning light on the screen in front of him. When it becomes so obvious even he sees it, he uses his 3D printer to create a topographical map. A gigantic mound is rising in the Amazon jungle a few miles from his lookout point. It appears to be consuming everything it reaches. Paulo, whose job it is to raise an alert with the authorities, using the “antiquated FUNAI-issued shortwave radio” but instead he phones a young American claiming to have a business interest in “anything strange” (all this with courtesy of a flickering power supply from an antiquated generator). Paul mercifully disappears from the book, but he has set the tone. The incompetent native is succeeded in due course by the physically handicapped woman astronaut and scientist, Dr Sophie Klein – “Tall, despite her disability” – who had followed an astonishing career, though crippled from childhood. Now in charge of a space station, she enjoys her independence and has deeply sinister motives. Wilson’s novel has three hallmarks: insensitive portrayals of those who do not match the criteria for “Americanness at its best”, an overload of technical jargon and explanations that weigh down every page of the story, plus breaks in the narrative where official logbooks and other documents are inserted. When we follow a highly unlikely team of international scientists guided by a sergeant from the US Army, we simply cannot give any credence to the events that follow, nor to the characters themselves. They take with them a battery of hi-tech devices, which include a “dozen gently whirring canary drones”. Initially, their baggage is carried by native Matis guides. Facing a threat that has killed many local inhabitants, they fortunately carry with them an aerosol spray that will protect them. It does not, however, protect them from an attack by denizens of the jungle, who rain down bamboo arrows tipped with curare. We are given glimpses of “the demonic, twisted red faces of devils. The monsters were scampering through the brush….with long black axes held high”. Since we had had a lengthy dissertation on the reasons why the local tribes were actually pre-Stone Age, we are somewhat surprised, but of course the image fits the demonic anti-American characters. Eventually, after personal conflicts, desertion by the Matis and the death of their guide, the remnant arrive at their goal. Strangely, the jungle itself, with all its natural threats, has posed comparatively little difficulty. They simply have to tuck their socks into their boots. Meanwhile there is a degree of communication between the group, the command centre and the sinister Dr Kline. There is a final chase and denouement in space. Undoubtedly, the need to write the story determined the content, but just how effective the scientists could be in discovering the nature of the threat is difficult to understand. Anything they actually achieved could have been achieved by drones, aerial photography and other forms of technology. There is some momentum to the story. We can follow it if we are prepared to brush past the ridiculous and to suspend all critical faculties. The would-be reader can decide. – RH


Michael Freeman is a respected photographer and a trustworthy, to-the-point commentator on the topic, and this new edition of The Photographer’s Vision is full of solid insight into the artform, both from the artist’s side (how to take good photographs) and from the audience’s side (how to appreciate good photographs). Arguably, however, the content has lost much of its effectiveness in the years since it was first published (2011) because of the exponential growth of photography – not the formal profession, necessarily, but certainly the popularity of snapping pictures, now a more or less ceaseless activity for anyone with a smartphone. From the perspective of anyone who is looking at photographs for a large part of their day – which now includes anyone with an Instagram account, for instance – this book feels a touch old-fashioned; a reminder of how and why photography as art is important, and why the established masters still deserve respect. But it’s likely that even aficionados would rather browse through social media accounts featuring genuinely great pictures – there are plenty around – than try and track down a Frans Lanting or Richard Avedon original for their available wall space. – BD


Maggie: My Life In The Camp is an autobiography written when the author was 76 about her time in a concentration camp in Natal during the Anglo-Boer War. The war broke out on 11 October 1899. Maggie Jooste admits that the account is not a historical one, but rather the personal experiences of a young Boer girl. It is a profoundly moving account of Maggie’s life in the camp. She was 13 years old at the beginning of a conflict that irrevocably changed her life and that of her family. After months of house arrest in Heidelberg, her mother and five younger siblings were sent away. They were confined to a cattle truck that transported them to a concentration camp in Natal, near Pietermaritzburg. In the camp they experienced hunger, deprivation and loss, but also some surprising acts of kindness from the British soldiers. Maggie’s father and two brothers were fighting for the Boers under General Piet Cronje. Her father and one brother were taken captive when he surrendered and remained in concentration camps overseas until the end of the war. Maggie and her family ended up having to share a tent with another lady and her three children, making 11 people living together. They had to cook on an open fire in all weathers and chop their own wood. Maggie’s mother met up with the Dutch Reformed minister and started accompanying him on his visits to the sick. She also helped him to hold prayer meetings in the camp and started a Sunday school. Miraculously, all six children survived whooping cough, though they suffered from severe diarrhoea most of the time. Maggie lost one sister but the other children survived their ordeal. When eventually the Boers capitulated, the family was sent back to Heidelberg, only to find their house was an empty shell, wrecked and filthy. This book is beautifully written and has numerous photographs of the camp borrowed from the archives of the museum in Bloemfontein. I found the book very moving, as my grandmother and her five sisters were in a similar camp in Middelburg. Unfortunately none of them wrote an account of their experiences there. – MH

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