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Barry Ronge Fiction Prize 2019: a taste of the shortlisted titles

"A book of rare imagination and style." So states the criteria for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. Here is a taste of each of the shortlisted books and an insight into the authors

28 July 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times Books

Published in the Sunday Times: 28/07/2019

The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head
John Hunt (Umuzi)

About the author: John Hunt has had a stellar career in advertising and is currently Worldwide Creative Chair of TBWA.

He grew up in Hillbrow and still lives in Johannesburg.

This is his second novel.

First lines: 'Hillbrow, 1967. The New York of Africa. Apartheid kept the roads clean and the rubbish collected.

'There were buildings going up everywhere - "lickety-split", according to Mr Trentbridge.

'Large chunks of tin-roof houses were found in skips almost every day as the boy walked home from school.

'These homes were recently surrounded by honest gardens and the occasional peach tree. Someone wrote in The Star newspaper that soon Hillbrow would have more people per square kilometre than Tokyo.

'Everyone quoted that article to everyone. Some even cut it out and kept it folded in their wallets.'

The Ones With Purpose
Nozizwe Cynthia Jele (Kwela Books)

About the author: Nozizwe Cynthia Jele is an award-winning novelist whose book Happiness is a Four-Letter Word was made into a much-praised and popular film in 2016.

Born in Mpumalanga, she lives in Johannesburg and works as a management consultant.

First lines: 'I imagined a dying person's last breath as something resembling an exclamation mark, distinct and hanging mid-air like an interrupted thought.

'My older sister Fikile's last breath before she dies is nothing of the sort.

'There is no rattling noise at the back of her throat.

'No relentless twitching. No clinging to life. Fikile dies with no more fuss than a switch of a light bulb.'

The Theory of Flight
Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Penguin Books)

About the author: Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu is a writer, filmmaker and academic who holds a PhD from Stanford University, as well as master's degrees in African Studies and Film.

Zimbabwean by birth, she now lives and works in Johannesburg.

This is her debut novel.

First lines: 'On the third of September, not so long ago, something truly wondrous happened on Beauford Farm and Estate.

'At the moment of her death, Imogen Zula Nyoni - Genie - was seen to fly away on a giant pair of silver wings, and, at the very same moment, her heart calcified into the most precious and beautiful something the onlookers have ever seen.'


 Under Glass
Claire Robertson (Umuzi)

About the author: Claire Robertson won the 2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize and a South African Literary Award for her debut novel The Spiral House. She works as an editor and lives in Simon's Town.

First lines: 'I do not know that there is a snake, but it is possible.

'Therefore, after I crawl under the wide bed in my sister's room, among the hatboxes and the clothes boxes, the naphthalene and the dust, I smack my hand on the floor to warn it that I am here.

'There is also a trunk under the bed with me, and the spinning top that they believe is lost.

'Tonight I discover it when I crawl into my cave, and then I smack my hand on the bare wood of the floor.'


Theo & Flora
Mark Winkler (Umuzi)

About the author: Mark Winkler's last novel The Safest Place You Know was shortlisted for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize and his work is published in the US and France. He lives in Cape Town, where he works in the advertising industry.

First lines: 'When Wasserman's wife left him, she also left him the house, which he thought was kind, and in it the kind of furniture she'd never liked.

'Wasserman himself had grown fond of most of it, the scuffed tables and stained armoires and the dog-chewed Deco suite that had passed through various branches and generations of Sascha Silver's family.

'He had always felt a proprietorship over them, and over the years had come to believe that the bohemian atmosphere they gave off, that old and dusty ozone, made them conducive - no, vital - to the process of writing, even though his last book had seen daylight more than a decade before.'

The winner of the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize will receive R100,000. The winner will be announced at the SA Book Fair in September.