- WRITING PAIN: Durban author Shubnum Khan's Onion Tears tells of women's struggles Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE
- WIDE FOCUS: Critics says the books of Imraan Coovadia, academic and author of Green-eyed Thieves, appeal to adults of all ages Picture: TERRY SHEAN
- EXPLORING THE PAST: Aziz Hassim, author of The Lotus People, an award-winning book about Durban's Casbah during apartheid Picture: Jackie Clausen.
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The high cost of books and a generation gap between popular writers and young readers are some of the reasons for a waning culture of reading among South African youth.

That's the view of a number of local authors, whose comments came as the world commemorated International Literacy Day on Thursday.

Aziz Hassim, author of The Lotus People - which tells about life in Durban's Casbah area during apartheid - said: " They should remove VAT from books. When I was a child we could buy books for today's equivalent of R2 or R3. For children in places like Phoenix, Chatsworth and KwaMashu, books are for the most part out of reach."

He added that children were not being encouraged to read. "The books that are being prescribed for schools are not the books that children want to read. Shakespeare and Dickens do not appeal," he said.

Hassim said, however, there were improvements to the literary choice as more South African Indian writers were emerging, especially since the advent of democracy.

"Generally speaking, there is a total renaissance of Indian writing at the moment. Everybody is coming to the party because they feel that they won't be persecuted for writing what they feel," said Hassim.

Shubnum Khan, whose book Onion Tears tells of the struggles of three generations of South African Muslim women, said there was a difference in primary subject matter between younger and older-generation authors.

"There was a (justifiable) preoccupation with the struggle in early South African Indian literature, but today's stories have different struggles. For example, the new generation of immigrants have questions about identity, culture and politics," said Khan.

She said it was difficult to portray both generations' voices.

Another young writer, Azad Essa, whose collection of social and political commentary articles appear in his book titled Zuma's Bastard, said South African Indian writers could be a "little more daring" in their subject themes.

"We are still largely conservative and, perhaps, complacent in our choice of inoffensive themes."

Green-Eyed Thieves author and academic Imraan Coovadia agrees.

"There's a lot of stuff in South Africa that we just don't see ... We don't see the working class, we don't see writing that represents different parts of our society as much as one would wish.

"Part of it is our culture doesn't think we're interesting. South Africans have always been taught that we live on the margins of things and that what's interesting is what's happening somewhere else."

Ravina Suknunun, manager of the Exclusive Books store in Westwood, Durban, said South African Indian writing was in demand at her store.

Titles such as Khan's Onion Tears and Sumayya Lee's Story of Maha series of books appealed to both young and older readers.

"Fiction and nonfiction appeal to two different types of readers. Fiction readers want to lose themselves in their book and biographies and memoirs are for people who want to read about other people," she said.

For teenagers, Suknunun said, the only prominent Indian writers so far who have gained real popularity are international authors such as Australian-born Randa Abdel-Fattah and Na'ima B Roberts, a Muslim writer of Scottish and Zulu descent.

  • Khan and Essa will be signing copies of their books at the Westwood branch of Exclusive Books in Durban between 11am and 2pm on September 17.
  • Sunday Times Extra and Azad Essa are giving away three copies of Zuma's Bastard to lucky readers.

To win a copy of the book, answer the following question: What international day was celebrated on Thursday this week?

Send an e-mail with your answer and contact details to kznextra@sundaytimes.co.za before 10am on Tuesday, September 13. Insert the words "book prize" in the subject line.

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