JACKET NOTES | Justin Fox on 'Place: South African Literary Journeys'
I’ve spent much of my career as a journalist working for Getaway magazine, travelling the length and breadth of Africa. During that time I developed an abiding love for landscape and the emotions it evokes. Travel writing has been my main preoccupation, either as a photojournalist or the author of books, ranging from coffee table to literary travel. But I also have a background in academia, having taught part-time at the University of Cape Town (UCT) for 20 years. The aim of my latest book, Place, was to try to marry those worlds.
The idea behind Place was to embark on a series of journeys around South Africa using literary works instead of maps to guide me. While it is rewarding to engage with landscape through the pages of great books, it’s even better to put boots on the ground, text in hand and experience first-hand something of the authors’ relationships with place, to hear the voices of their characters in situ.
This travelogue is, in a sense, my love letter to South Africa, combining places and books that are close to my heart. It gave me a chance to explore notions about “spirit of place”, home and emigration, patriotism and the particular attraction of the landscape. Place is thus a kind of manifesto, bringing together my ideas about writing and travel, land and literature.
The journeys for this book were conducted over 14 years and took me to the mountainous eastern Karoo of Olive Schreiner, the big-game lowveld of Sir Percy FitzPatrick, the vast expanses and star-spangled nights of the open veld evoked by Deneys Reitz, the Waterberg of Eugène Marais, the Marico Bushveld of Herman Charles Bosman, the plains of thirst and dust of JM Coetzee’s Moordenaars Karoo, the subtropical hamlets of Zakes Mda’s Wild Coast and, finally, to the sandstone crags of Stephen Watson’s Cederberg.
My choice was about places of the heart, both for the authors and for myself. In some chapters, such as with Reitz, I set out to pursue plot lines, following a forensic trail that sniffed out the book’s exact locations, mirroring my work as a travel journalist. In other chapters, such as with Coetzee, my attention shifted to the author’s emotional response to a particular locale.
The works I chose all depict South African landscapes that have remained wild and largely unspoilt. In each case, setting is no mere backdrop, but an integral part of the work and a reflection of the authors’ heartlands. I wanted to celebrate how local writers, characters and readers are shaped and inspired by the land ... and how this troubled, beloved country of ours continues to be shaped by our footloose imaginations.
Place: South African Literary Journeys by Justin Fox is published by Umuzi. Click here to buy a copy.
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