Thursday, February 18, 2010

The winning team

One of the more agreeable ripple effects of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, is that South Africa is suddenly all the rage, not only on sport fields but also in the field of cinema and literature.

I might not recognise soccer superstars like Beckham or Renaldo if I fell over them in the street, but I surely recognise the prolific talent in a spate of recent movies like District 9, Invictus and Disgrace, all based on South African stories.

And talking of stories: At the London Book Fair from 19 to 21 April the spotlight will fall on South African writing with authors like Antjie Krog, Marlene van Niekerk, Deon Meyer, Breyten Breytenbach and quite a few others taking part. Do keep this in mind if you live anywhere close to Britain and are interested in books from the southern tip of Africa. And if you don't yet know South African literature, well, this is the year of getting acquainted. No more excuses.

Even here in France, South African authors seem to be riding the crest of the literary wave. Three months ago Karel Schoeman was awarded the prestigeous Prize for the Best Foreign Book of 2009 (PMLE) for the French translation of his novel Hierdie lewe (see my blog post titled 'This literary life', November 2009) and last month Breyten Breytenbach won the equally impressive Max Jacobs Prize for the best foreign poetry volume of the past year for Outre-Voix/Voice Over. The poems in this bilingual French-English publication (described as 'a nomadic conversation' with his Palestinian friend and fellow poet, the late Mahmoud Darwich) was originally written in Breytenbach's mother tongue, Afrikaans.

Both these prizes have glorious histories of at least half a century, but had never before been given to a South African author. For two Afrikaans authors to win both these prizes within the space of three months is a major achievement. Quite as great as winning a Football World Cup, in my immodest opinion.

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