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Sat Oct 25 07:35:20 SAST 2014

A comeback, denouement and WW1 remembrance

Andrew Donaldson | 13 November, 2012 00:02
Andrew Donaldson

IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK

'Standing in Another Man's Grave', by Ian Rankin (Orion), R220

Tartan noir's cantankerously stubborn DI John Rebus retired five years ago, but is now back on the job - as a civilian helping out with cold cases. In this welcome return to duty, he rejoins former colleague Siobhan Clarke as he investigates a series of disappearances along Scotland's main highway, the A9. It's a mystery, it's a road novel, it's "political" (Scottish nationalism) - it's Rebus reborn.

THE ISSUE

Philip Roth is done with books. The 79-year-old author of 26 novels, including the American literary milestone, Portnoy's Complaint, and perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, announced his retirement in Les Inrocks.

Roth came to his decision after rereading all of his books.

"After this," he said, "I decided I was done with fiction. I don't want to read any more of it, write any more of it and I don't even want to talk about it any more. I have dedicated my life to the novel: I have studied it, I have taught it, I have written it and I have read it. To the exclusion of almost everything else. It's enough. I no longer feel this dedication to write what I have experienced my whole life. The idea of struggling once more with writing is unbearable to me."

CRASH COURSE

The centenary of World War 1 is coming, and no doubt savvy historians as well as publishing houses are dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's" on manuscripts that will be trumpeted as the definitive overview on that dreadful conflict.

I wonder if local writers will be revisiting South Africa's contribution to the war?

The catastrophic casualties suffered by the country's 1st Infantry Brigade at Delville Wood in 1916 come to mind as do those who drowned in the disaster of the SS Mendi, a troopship carrying members of the SA Native Labour Corps to France that sank in 1917.

The men on the Mendi met their fate with great dignity. "Be quiet and calm, my countrymen," their chaplain, Rev Isaac Dyobha, told them. "What is happening now is what you came to do ... you are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers ... Swazis, Pondos, Basotho ... so let us die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war-cries brothers, for they made us leave our assegais in the kraal."

THE BOTTOM LINE

"Jefferson understood a truth, that politics is constantly shifting, and the morning's foe may well be the afternoon's friend." - Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham (Random House)

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