BOOK BITES | Nesrine Malik, August Thomas, Herman Koch

17 November 2019 - 00:00 By sunday times books
'We Need New Stories', 'Liar's Candle', 'The Ditch'.
'We Need New Stories', 'Liar's Candle', 'The Ditch'.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Sunday Times (17/11/2019)

We Need New Stories ***
Nesrine Malik
Orion, R325

Growing up in Sudan, Nesrine Malik was told how her family had land that was so vast they had trouble managing it. Except it was not true. It was a fable told by her family to refute the reality of their poverty. Using this example as a precursor to myths we are told, Malik examines and deciphers falsehoods that society has come to accept as truth. From gender equality to free speech and identity politics, she unravels "toxic myths" that have gone unexamined, making readers contemplate ideas that have become accepted norms. Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

Liar's Candle **
August Thomas
Simon & Schuster, R260

When terrorists bomb an Independence Day garden party at the US Embassy in Ankara, intern Penny Kessler becomes a social media meme. #TheGirlWithTheFlag clambers from the wreckage, inadvertently draped in the giant Stars-and-Stripes that she had just won in the party bingo. The remaining narrative is not taxing: plucky Penny is soon being hunted by the Turks and the CIA, both wanting her dead; she teams up with a rookie US spy, who breaks ranks to help her, and together they defeat the forces of darkness. This is a disappointingly lightweight debut, providing about as much sustenance as the wieners-and-Coke of that ill-fated embassy bash. It's espionage-lite, basted in no-taste Budweiser and decorated with a few sprigs of low-cal Turkish greenery. Thomas, a Fulbright Scholar with a Master's from a top Turkish university, can surely do better. We'll soon see as Plucky Penny returns in a second Thomas novel. William Saunderson-Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

The Ditch ***
Herman Koch
Picador, R285

Take one populist politician, add an exotic wife from an unnamed southern country and nonagenarian parents about to check out in a suicide pact, stir in a couple of colleagues respectively bent on embezzlement and greening the planet. The perfect recipe for one of Koch's dark commentaries on the absurdities and perversities of modern Dutch society. Amsterdam mayor Robert Walter suspects his wife of an affair with an alderman - his growing paranoia is the main thrust of the novel. His insecurities are revealed as he becomes "the mole in his own life" to prove his wife's infidelity. Walter's introspection probes themes of mortality, xenophobia and the impetus to violence; but prolonged internal ranting kills the novel, leaving the reader unsatisfied and the secondary characters underdeveloped. Koch has been too self-consciously clever here. Ayesha Kajee @ayeshakajee