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Fri Dec 19 01:48:26 SAST 2014

From a savage mission to some lurid rock 'n roll

Andrew Donaldson | 08 May, 2012 00:36
Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives

IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK

'The Book of War', by James Whyle (Jacana), R140

A BRILLIANT, unforgettable debut. Steeped in carnage, Whyle's poetic revision of the Eastern Cape's Frontier Wars grips from the outset and soaks the imagination like blood in sand. A former cabin boy, stranded in Africa, finds himself in a company of men whose mission, to test a lethal new rifle against a wily Xhosa enemy, lapses into unbelievable savagery.

THE ISSUE

THEY first appeared on stage at a dingy London club in July 1962. In the half-century that followed, the Rolling Stones went on to perform before more people than any other band.

Although a 50th anniversary tour has been postponed, a number of books will be cashing in. Notables include Rolling Stones: 50 Years of Rock, by Howard Kramer, Rolling Stones 50 x 20, by Charles Shaar Murray, and the group's own The Rolling Stones: 50, which could well be the best of the coffee-table books.

The point about the Stones, reiterated in the dismissive review of Christopher Sand-ford's The Rolling Stones: Fifty Years in the London Sunday Times at the weekend, is that we forget how dangerous the group seemed in their '60s heyday, when they rolled from one lurid headline to the next, one drug-fuelled orgy of sex and violence after another, and raised the bar for rock 'n' roll decadence.

Best account of all is Stanley Booth's phenomenal The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, first published in 1984 and now reissued with an introduction by critic Greil Marcus. Highly recommended.

CRASH COURSE

SOME food for thought in Justice Malala's column yesterday ("Where are the black writers?"), especially his suggestion that the parlous state of current African literature could be attributed to the "Bantu education" policies of Verwoerdian apartheid.

"Is that why we have so few accomplished black writers?" he asks. "Is that why we have few buyers and readers of books in SA?"

The cynic in me suggests we may one day look back rather longingly at all this and laugh (somewhat bitterly) when we come to regard the effect the current education policies will have had on our cultural life. But, on a more prosaic note, it could well be a good thing that so much writing - whether domestic or foreign - is pedestrian and mundane. That way there is just cause to celebrate when real talent emerges. As it surely will, and Whyle's book is a case in point.

THE BOTTOM LINE

"[PRESIDENT Barack Obama's chief counter-terrorism adviser Mike] Leiter remembers thinking: 'I don't need facial recognition. It's [Osama] Bin Laden with a hole in his head - immediately recognisable. Holy Shit! We just killed Bin Laden'." - Manhunt: From 9/11 to Abbottabad, by Peter Bergen (Bodley Head).

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