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Michaela DePrince se Hope in a Ballet Shoe beskikbaar as kinderboek in drie Suid-Afrikaanse tale

“Ek loer deur die verhooggordyn en sien die entoesiastiese gehoor. Hulle wag vir die ballerina om te verskyn. Die musiek begin. My hart klop vinnig van al die opwinding en dan vlieg ek
op die verhoog. Die ballerina is ek!”

Michaela DePrince was ’n driejarige oorlogwesie in Sierra Leone toe sy op ’n dag ’n windverwaaide tydskrif optel met die foto van ’n glimlaggende ballerina op die voorblad. Daardie dag het haar obsessie met ballet begin. Sy het haarself daar en dan voorgeneem sy sou eendag ook so gelukkig soos die vrou op die foto wees.

Sy is kort daarna deur ’n Amerikaanse gesin aangeneem. Sy het egter nooit die foto van die ballerina vergeet nie. Toe haar nuwe ma bewus word van haar belangstelling in ballet het sy begin klasse neem.

Sedertdien het sy nog nooit ophou dans nie en vandag is sy ’n hoogs suksesvolle ballerina. ’n Storie wat enige jong meisie (of seun) sal inspireer om groot te droom.

Die boek is die geïllustreerde kinderboekuitgawe van DePrince se roerende memoir, Hope in a Ballet Shoe. Die kleurvolle illustrasies is deur Ella Okstad.

My Ballerina Droom is deesdae beskikbaar in beide Zoeloe – Iphupho lomdansi we-Bhaleyi – en isiXhosa, as AmaPhupha oMdanisi weBhaleyi

Michaela DePrince is in 1995 in die oorloggeteisterde Sierra Leone gebore. Na haar ouers se dood is sy na ’n weeshuis. Daar is sy in 1999 deur Elaine DePrince, ’n Amerikaanse skrywer en eienaar van ’n platemaatskappy, aangeneem. Michaela is vandag ’n professionele ballerina verbonde aan die Nederlandse Nasionale Ballet. Sy is in 2012 deur Joburg Ballet genooi om in ’n hoofrol in Suid-Afrika te kom dans. Sy was ook ’n hoofdanser by The Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York.


Book launch: Fever by Deon Meyer


“This is the story of my life. And the story of your life and your world too, as you will see.”

Nico Storm and his father drive across a desolate South Africa, constantly alert for feral dogs, motorcycle gangs, and nuclear contamination. They are among the few survivors of a virus that has killed most of the world’s population.

Young as he is, Nico realises that his superb marksmanship and cool head mean he is destined to be his father’s protector.

But Willem Storm, though not a fighter, is a man with a vision. He is searching for a place that can become a refuge, a beacon of light and hope in a dark and hopeless world, a community that survivors will rebuild from the ruins.

And so Amanzi is born.

Fever is the epic, searing story of a group of people determined to carve a city out of chaos.

Event Details

Lee Berger’s Almost Human “fascinating and dramatically paced,” writes Rachel Newcomb for The Washington Post

Almost Human is the personal story of a charismatic and visionary palaeontologist, a rich and readable narrative about science, exploration, and what it means to be human.

In 2013, Lee Berger caught wind of a cache of bones in a hard-to-reach underground cave near Johannesburg. He put out a call around the world for collaborators – men and women small and adventurous enough to be able to squeeze through 8-inch tunnels to reach a sunless cave 40 feet underground. With this team of ‘underground astronauts’, Berger made the discovery of a lifetime: hundreds of prehistoric bones, including entire skeletons of at least 15 individuals, all perhaps two million years old.

Their features combined those of known pre-hominids with those more human than anything ever before seen in prehistoric remains. Berger’s team had discovered an all new species: Homo naledi.

The cave proved to be the richest pre-hominid site ever discovered, full of implications that challenge how we define ourselves as human. Did these ancestors of ours bury their dead? If so, they must have had an awareness of death, a level of self-knowledge: the very characteristic we used to define ourselves as human.

Did an equally advanced species inhabit Earth with us, or before us?

Addressing these questions, Berger counters the arguments of those colleagues who have questioned his controversial interpretations and astounding finds.

Anthropologist and the Diane and Michael Maher Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning at Rollins College, Rachel Newcomb, recently reviewed Berger’s book for the Washing Post. Read an excerpt here:

A 9-year-old boy stumbles upon a 2 million-year-old hominin clavicle while exploring in a field in South Africa. A paleoanthropologist, kayaking with his family on the Pacific island of Palau, finds a burial chamber full of ancient remains that he suspects might be a previously undocumented race of tiny people.

A swashbuckling former diamond hunter discovers a treasure trove of humanlike fossils in a network of caves accessible only to people small enough to slither through an 18-centimeter opening.

In Almost Human, the search for hominin fossils reads like an extreme sport. Written by Lee Berger with fellow paleoanthropologist John Hawks, the book documents with riveting intensity Berger’s lifelong fascination with fossil hunting and the contributions he has made to our understanding of human origins.

In contemporary paleoanthropological circles, Berger, who grew up in the United States and is based in South Africa, is considered something of a maverick.

He invites National Geographic to document his expeditions for social media, puts out calls on Facebook to invite scientists to join his teams and, rather than hoarding his finds so he alone can analyze them, makes replicas and photos of fossils available for other scientists to study.

Traditionally, the journey from fossil discovery to publication has been a slow and laborious one, but Berger is known for speeding everything up.

Critical of establishment paleoanthropologists, he views them as “an exclusive club” that refuses to share with others. “I represented a generation that didn’t just want the keys to the club,” Berger writes, “we wanted to open the doors to everyone. We were impatient for a faster pace of discovery and science, and sought collaborations with larger and larger groups of experts outside the traditional schools of thought.”

Other scientists have sharply criticized Berger for being a relentless self-promoter, too quick to announce to the world that his fossils are rewriting human history.

Paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley has accused Berger of engaging in “selfie science” and suggested that he is more interested in telling a good story than in sharing scientifically validated facts.

Criticisms of Berger aside, Almost Human is a fascinating and dramatically paced book that translates for a lay audience the excitement of paleoanthropology, its debates and its scandals.

Continue reading Newcomb’s review here.

Book details

Wilbur Smith signs with Bonnier Zaffre in one of the biggest deals in publishing history

The Bookseller recently reported that Bonnier Zaffre has poached Wilbur Smith from HarperCollins in an eight-figure deal.

Bonnier Publishing group chief executive, Richard Johnson, described this deal as “one of the biggest in publishing history”.

Mark Smith, CEO of Bonnier Zaffre, acquired global all-language rights to eight new Smith books, together with English language rights to 34 backlist titles including When the Lion Feeds, Elephant Song and River God.

The illustrious author has sold roughly more than 130 million copies of his novels worldwide, and is currently published in 25 languages.

HarperCollins published Smith’s first co-authored novel, Golden Lion, in September 2015 shortly after he moved from Pan Macmillan. This six-book deal is rumoured to be worth £15 million. Prior to this shift, Smith published 34 novels with Pan Macmillan. Smith’s last book with HarperCollins is due to be published later this year.

The fourteenth installment in the perennial fan-favourite Courtney-series, War Cry, was released in May 2017.

Yes, a seventh book is in the making – Michael Sears at launch of Dying to Live

Last night Melville’s Love Books played host to an array of sunshine noir – yes, that is a genre! – fans at the launch of the sixth novel in Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu-series, Dying to Live.

This popular series, set in Botswana, revolves around the enigmatic detective Kubu, who, along with a new recruit to the Botswana CID, Samantha Khama, solve grisly and perplexing murders.

Michael Stanley consists of two authors, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollop. As Stanley is currently based in the US, Michael was in conversation with Eugene Ashton, the managing director of Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Eugene and Michael covered many topics during their discussion, ranging from the writing process (“sometimes we’re just sitting around, throwing around ideas … usually with a bottle of this,” Michael responded, pointing to his wine glass), to how the first book came about (“After three years and throwing away a lot of words, we had a book!”)

According to Michael, a seventh book is in the making…

He assured the audience that Kubu will not be killed off (unlike our Nordic friends who enjoy the odd death of a main or secondary character), and that both he and Stanley had decided on a seventh book ever since the publication of the first book in the series, A Carrion Death.

Michael stated that a publisher once told him that one cannot make money until you’ve reached your seventh book, which motivated them to start writing. With zest.

The conversation took a serious turn when Eugene mentioned the recent, ugly tendency of cultural appropriation, asking Michael how he and Stanley go about creating plausible characters which aren’t of European heritage without demeaning them or reverting to stereotypes.

Michael honestly responded that he cannot speak a word of Setswana, and emphasised the importance of accuracy when writing about a cultural group which differ from your own.

“All you can do to protect yourself from that [appropriation] is to ask locals to read the manuscript and pay very careful attention to any advice.”

Michael added that writing is about stretching yourself and that the series has added to Botswana’s cultural literature.

Their decision to include a female character was to exercise their ability to write out of their own borders and a need to introduce the tension of Botswana’s predominantly patriarchal society.

An audience member asked Michael about conflict which might arise from co-writing, and how one goes about avoiding head-bashing.

He replied that both he and Stanley have to remind themselves that it’s always about the book. They often critique one another heavily in the margins, yet Michael adds that it’s easier to write as two authors, since neither he nor Stanley feel personally insulted as what they’ve written isn’t necessarily what they would write as individual authors. They often ask friends to read their manuscripts, and rely on their criticism and comments.

The discussion ended with an anecdote which had the audience in stitches.

A few years ago, Michael attended an international crime writers conference in Minneapolis, where a friend introduced him to a student who apparently was a huge fan of the Detective Kubu series.

Said fan probably made the literary faux pas of her life as she bounded up to Michael, gushing that she “loves the series! I had no idea you were two people! Who’s McCall and who’s Smith?”

*Cue all round genuine belly laughs*

Afrikaner Odyssey an engaging and worthwhile addition to understanding those involved in the Anglo-Boer War, writes David Reiersgord

Afrikaner Odyssey
In the first half of the nineteenth century, southern Africa was a jumble of British colonies, Boer republics and African chiefdoms, a troublesome region of little interest to the outside world.

Into this frontier world came the Reitz family, Afrikaner gentry from the Cape, who settled in Bloemfontein and played a key role in the building of the Orange Free State.

Frank Reitz, successively chief justice and modernising president of the young republic, went on to serve as State Secretary of the Transvaal Republic.

In 1899, he stood shoulder to shoulder with President Paul Kruger to resist Britain’s war of conquest in southern Africa. At the heart of this tale is the extraordinary life of Deneys Reitz, third son of Frank Reitz and Bianca Thesen.

David Reiersgord recently reviewed Afrikaner Odyssey for Business Day Live:

Martin Meredith has made a career writing about African history and politics. He has written a biography of Nelson Mandela, two books about Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, an interesting and lesser-known account of elephants and several other books on African affairs.

His book Diamonds, Gold and War remains an important text for understanding how the discovery of diamonds and gold in the latter of half of the 19th century helped to shape the future of modern SA.

Meredith’s latest book, Afrikaner Odyssey: The Story of the Reitz Family in South Africa, moves away from the broad lens for which he is well-known and zeroes in on the role of one Afrikaner family during great political change in SA.

In this relatively short, but engaging book, he offers a detailed portrait of how one family crossed paths with some of the most significant people shaping the history of the late 19th and early 20th century in colonial SA.

In the process, Afrikaner Odyssey engages with the complexity of individual ambitions alongside the ambitions of a nation-in-the-making.

The Reitz family was part and parcel of the Cape Colony aristocracy in the 19th century. The patriarch Francis Reitz bred horses and owned Rhenosterfontein, one of the most impressive farms in the Swellendam district that drew visitors ranging from well-known stockbreeders in the Cape to foreign dignitaries. His son Frank Reitz, whose decisions and experiences guide much of the narrative, was born in 1844.

After showing potential in school, Frank decided to study law in London, where he developed an interest in politics. After he returned from Europe, he transposed English-language poems he liked into Afrikaans, some of which were published in Het Volksblad, a weekly newspaper in Cape Town.

His love for Afrikaans later featured as a potent source of cultural pride at a time when animosities between the British and early Afrikaners were increasingly tense. Despite his education, Frank struggled to find employment as a lawyer, because the economy of the Cape Colony was tiny.

However, the discovery of diamonds in the interior of the colony — and later, gold in the Transvaal — boosted economic growth and his skills and training were put to good use.

Shortly after marrying Norwegian immigrant Blanca Thesen in 1874, Frank received an offer to become the president of the newly established High Court of Appeal in the Orange Free State.

This offer changed not only the course of the Reitz family; it also adjusted the course of South African history.

Continue reading Reiersgord’s review here.

Book details

SA needs “transformation” far more radical than the ANC is currently talking about, writes John Kane-Berman

John Kane-Berman, policy fellow at the IRR and author of Between Two Fires: Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics, recently published an opinion piece on Politics Web stating that if the ANC wishes to achieve anything it should utterly change its approach to transformation.

An excerpt from Kane-Berman’s piece reads:

If South Africa is to tackle its overriding problem of massively high unemployment, it will need “transformation” far more radical than the African National Congress (ANC) is currently talking about.

The ANC’s version of “radical socio-economic transformation”, spelt out earlier this year in President Jacob Zuma’s state-of-the-nation address, and recently reiterated by several of his ministers, is focused mainly on using the state as an instrument to transfer ownership and control from white to black.

This policy was adopted before the ANC came to power, and has been implemented incrementally since 1994 via a series of racial preferencing laws. Proposed amendments to the mining charter to increase black ownership from 26% to 30% are just the next step. So are all the latest land reform-proposals.

Cyril Ramaphosa and Malusi Gigaba are now trying to pass off transformation as meaning “inclusive growth”. The last such policy was the “accelerated and shared growth” initiative –known as Asgisa – launched by President Thabo Mbeki 11 years ago. Since then unemployment (including “discouraged” workers) has risen by 1.8 million.

Nothing the deputy president or the finance minister has recently said suggests they are contemplating the kinds of policies necessary to reduce joblessness to the 6% referred to in the National Development Plan adopted in 2012.

That’s as only to be expected, for the ANC cannot see beyond race.

Continue reading here.

Between Two Fires

Book details

Hierdie leser het lanklaas ’n roman (’n soort metaroman) se uitdagings so geniet, skryf Joan Hambidge oor I am Pandarus

I am PandarusJoan Hambidge het onlangs Michiel Heyns se mees onlangse roman, I am Pandarus, vir Rapport resenseer.

In haar resensie bespreek Hambidge die literêre tegnieke en verwysings waarvan Heyns gebruik maak, die modelleser vir dié roman, en die kommentaar wat I am Pandarus op die sewe argetipiese intriges wat bestaan in die romankuns versus geluk/waarsêery lewer.

Lees ‘n uittreksel hier:

Michiel Heyns is bekend as vertaler én as romanskrywer: The Children’s Day, The Reluctant Passenger, The Typewriter’s Tale, Bodies Politic, Lost Ground, Invisible Furies en A Sportful Malice. Hy is al bekroon met die Sunday Times Literary Award in 2012 en die Herman Charles Bosman-prys vir Engelse fiksie in 2015.

Hierdie leser is gaande oor Heyns se romans, omdat hy altyd ‘n roman-probleem of literêr-politieke kwessie aanspreek. Dink maar aan sy The Typewriter’s Tale wat een van die mees aangrypende en oortuigende romans is oor die skrywer Henry James.

Hierdie roman begin in ‘n kroeg en handel oor die figuur Pandarus, ‘n karakter wat opduik in die tekste van Boccacio, Chaucer en Shakespeare, onder andere. In die OED verwys die woord pander ook na wellus. Pandarus self verwys na homself as ‘n konstruk, ‘n hibried. Is hy ‘n blote slagoffer van die verskillende skrywers (wat van mekaar “gesteel” het), of is hy ‘n semantiese ongeluk? Wat is dus sy essensie en wat is bloot toevallig? (p. 8-9). Heyns se roman bring die gesiene Shakespeare-kenner, Marjorie Garber se Vested Interests – Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (1997) na vore. Mans in Shakespeare se tyd wat vrouerolle moes vertolk en die betekenis van die drag queen in ons tyd.

Die roman gebruik dieselfde tegnieke as wat Umberto Eco in Baudolino (2002) aangewend het. Dit speel af in die 12e eeu en Eco se roman gebruik Latyn en Middeleeuse Italiaans en ander tale. Eco het sowel werklike as fiksionele karakters in sy verhaal soos Gavagai (‘n verwysing na die filosoof Quine se karakter), Deacon John, die heerser van Pndapetzim en etlike historiese figure soos Frederick Barbarossa, Pous Alexander III, Stephen Hagiochristophorites, e.a.

As semiotikus, in sy studie The role of the reader (1980), verwys Eco na beginsels soos narkotiseer of opblaas in die leesaksie. Op jou sogenaamde “inferential walks”, lees jy die storie dus op twee vlakke: as werklikheid sowel as fantasie. Die jong Baudolino met sy verstommende kennis van taal word na Parys gestuur om verder te studeer. Kruistogte én ‘n spel tussen fiksie en werklikheid dryf die verhaal voort wat eweneens rondom die Gnostiek wentel. Politieke onrus en Keiser Frederick se pogings om die Noordelike Italië se onafhanklikheid te tem, word afgespeel teen ‘n fantasie-wêreld en mites. Baudolino ontmoet eunugs en eenhorings op sy reis.

‘n Soort speurverhaal dus, soos Die naam van die roos / Il nome della rosa (1980).

Wie is die modelleser vir Heyns se roman?

‘n Leser wat die hervertelling raaksien van Troilus en Chriseyde tydens die Trojaanse oorlog. Pandarus word vermeld in die Iliad, en speel as karakter verskillende, toenemend groter rolle by Boccacio, Chaucer en uiteindelik Shakespeare se Troilus and Cressida. In sy nawoord beklemtoon Heyns dat lesers ‘n outentieke representasie verwag. Uiteraard is ‘n roman egter fiksie en kan die skrywer sekere aanpassings maak.

Lees die volledige resensie hier.


Read an interview with Thandeka Gqubule, author of Thuli Madonsela: No Longer Whispering to Power

I don’t know what to believe about this – I don’t have any evidence of this – but I think that the minute she took on the role of public protector there were so many things that I think she cut herself off from.

Tammy February recently interviewed Thandeka Gqubule, author of No Longer Whispering to Power: The Story of Thuli Madonsela, for Women24.

February and Gqubule discussed the Thuli Madonsela we don’t all know, Gqubule’s imprisonment, and how Madonsela perceived herself during her tenure as public protector.

Read the full interview here.

No Longer Whispering to Power

Book details

“Kubu waited. So far nothing particularly strange had been revealed, but he was sure there was more to come” – read an excerpt from Dying to Live

When the body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the death is written off as an accident.

But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that, although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles … but where is the entry wound?

When the body is stolen from the morgue and a local witch doctor is reported missing, Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu gets involved. But did the witch doctor take the body to use as part of a ritual? Or was it the American anthropologist who’d befriended the old Bushman?

As Kubu and his brilliant young colleague, Detective Samantha Khama, follow the twisting trail through a confusion of rhino-horn smugglers, foreign gangsters and drugs manufacturers, the wider and more dangerous the case seems to grow.

A fresh, new slice of ‘Sunshine Noir’, Dying to Live is a classic tale of greed, corruption and ruthless thuggery, set in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and featuring one of crime fiction’s most endearing and humane heroes.

An old Bushman has been found dead near New Xade in the Kalahari. Pathologist Ian MacGregor has performed the autopsy, but has discovered some very peculiar things about the old man. He calls Assistant Superintendent ‘Kubu’ Bengu to discuss it with him…

Kubu found Ian in his tiny office off the mortuary, sucking on his usual pipe full of unlit tobacco and contemplating a desert scene he’d painted himself. He’d pulled down his surgical mask and left it hanging around his neck.

After a perfunctory greeting, Kubu asked him what was so puzzling.

‘I’ll show you,’ Ian replied. ‘Get togged up.’ He pointed to a lab coat that had some hope of getting around Kubu’s bulk, handed him a mask, and passed him a box of latex gloves. He pulled on a pair himself, adjusted his mask, and led the way to the room where the autopsy had taken place. Kubu was glad that lunch was still a way off; he was not fond of dead bodies under the best of circumstances, and cut-up ones that had been lying in the desert for a few days certainly weren’t the best of circumstances.

They walked over to a corpse lying on a slab.

‘Cause of death is a broken neck, snapped between C2 and C3 – the second and third cervical vertebrae. The spinal cord is damaged there, so he would’ve stopped breathing and died within a couple of minutes. Now, take a look at this.’ He indicated the left side of the head. ‘It looks as though he was hit on the side of the face. There’s bruising, and there are abrasions as a result of the blow. It seems the blow was hard enough to break the neck. But that’s very unusual. There’s not that much damage to the face – no cracked cheekbones, for example – so I don’t think the blow was very severe. You’d expect the head to whip sideways, but not the neck to break.’

‘What if someone broke his neck deliberately? Held him and then sharply twisted his head? If the bones are as brittle as you say, that would’ve been easy.’

‘Well, there’s only bruising on one side of the face, and there’s no evidence of a struggle. He would’ve fought back, and there would’ve been evidence. Skin under the fingernails or the like. There’s nothing.’

‘Could it have been an accident? He was hit on the face and broke his neck in the fall?’

Ian shook his head. ‘I can’t see how he’d fall on his head. And look at this.’ He lifted the right arm and showed Kubu the wrist, which was badly bruised.

Kubu looked carefully at the damage and nodded.

‘He also has a distal radial fracture,’ Ian added. ‘That’s a broken wrist.’

‘What could’ve caused that?’

Ian shrugged. ‘Given how weak his bones are, a rough grip from a strong man might’ve done it. If you fall, that bone’s the one that breaks when you try to save yourself, but given the damage to his spinal cord, that’s very unlikely.’

‘When did he die?’

‘Judging by what Detective Sergeant Segodi said about the state of rigor mortis, probably the day before the tourists found the body. I can’t do much better than that at this point.’ He paused.

Kubu waited. So far nothing particularly strange had been revealed, but he was sure there was more to come.

‘He’s old, all right,’ Ian continued. ‘Bushmen always have faces like walnuts from all that sun, even the young ones. But look at the hair. Pure white. And his bones are showing signs of severe osteoporosis. That’s leaching of the calcium. It happens in old people and makes the bones brittle. That may be why that blow snapped his neck, and the radius cracked under a rough grip.’

Kubu nodded. So, the man was old. That was no surprise either.

Now doubt entered Ian’s voice. ‘And yet, look at this.’ He offered Kubu an unidentified organ in a glass jar filled with clear liquid. ‘Go on, take it. Look closely.’ Kubu did, then handed it back none the wiser.

‘That’s the liver of a young man, Kubu. Maybe a forty-year-old who didn’t drink. And then there’s this.’ He handed Kubu a container with what was clearly a heart. ‘That ticker would’ve gone on pumping for years. All of the internal organs are like that. It’s only the skin, the bones, and the hair that belong to a seventy- or eighty-year-old.’

Kubu frowned. ‘How can he be forty inside and seventy outside? Could it be just genetics? He chose his parents well?’

‘I’ve never read of anything like this,’ Ian replied. ‘And here’s something else.’

He passed Kubu a Petri dish containing a blackened lump of what Kubu took for metal.

‘That’s a bullet, no doubt about it. I found it by chance when I got intrigued by the young organs.’ Ian paused and corrected himself. ‘The young-looking organs, I should say. It was lodged in one of the rectus abdominis muscles, a couple of centimetres below the skin. Probably pretty spent when it hit him, or it would’ve killed him. I was surprised.’

‘Surprised? Was it recent?’

‘Not recent at all. I was surprised because there was no scar. Nothing. I take photos as well as examining the body before I start the autopsy. I went back to the photos to check. No scarring at all.’

‘If he was a nomadic Bushman and someone shot him long ago, he wouldn’t see a doctor in the desert. If he didn’t die, he’d recover. How long would the scar take to disappear?’

Ian shook his head. ‘Never. The scar would never disappear. Certainly not without an expert plastic surgeon and proper medication at the time of the injury.’

Kubu was starting to understand why Ian was so puzzled. ‘Could he have swallowed the bullet or something?’

Again, Ian shook his head. ‘It would be impossible for it to get there from inside the body. And it’s badly corroded. It’s been there for a very long time. I’m surprised the lead didn’t cause him more problems.’

It was Kubu’s turn to shake his head. The Bushmen were strange people, and strange things happened with them, but a young man in an old frame, who seemed immune to bullets was another thing altogether. It didn’t make any sense.

Ian glanced at his friend and realised that Kubu had followed the same path he’d walked earlier that morning. He nodded slowly.

Kubu had had enough. ‘Well, let’s get out of here and go back to your office.’

‘So,’ Kubu summarised, after they’d washed their hands and disposed of the masks and gloves, ‘what we have is a very old man, apparently in good health except for his skin and his bones. He was killed by a blow to the head. And he was shot long ago, but that, presumably, has nothing to do with his death. Correct?’

Ian nodded, but said nothing.

Kubu brooded about it. ‘Is it possible we have the wrong end of the stick? Maybe he’s a middle-aged man, and had some illness that affected the bones. Maybe a nutrition problem? You said that Bushmen all have wrinkled skin.’

‘What about the white hair?’

Kubu shrugged. ‘Can’t that happen after an extreme shock of some kind, like being bitten by a scorpion or poisonous snake?’

Ian frowned. ‘I suppose it’s possible. But that doesn’t explain the bullet.’

Kubu was sure Ian had more to say. He leant back in his chair and waited.

Ian fiddled with his pipe and took a long draw. ‘You know I’m interested in the Bushmen, Kubu. Always have been. One of my colleagues at the University of Botswana told me about a visiting anthropologist from the US giving a seminar on what he called the ‘oral memory’ of the Bushman peoples. I wasn’t all that taken with the topic, but went along to see what he was talking about.

‘What made me think of it now was his story about a certain Bushman he’d met. He said the Bushman was a great raconteur of stories about historical events that had happened to his people. He’d tell them in the first person – as though he’d been there himself. The stories changed a little with each retelling, but all the main points stayed consistent. The anthropologist was fascinated by this. He postulated that it was a way history could be retained by a people without a written record – that they learnt the events as though they had actually been present. He thought perhaps that the storyteller visualised himself experiencing events that had actually been seen by his father or grandfather – maybe with the help of a trance or drugs.’

‘It sounds as though that would lead to exaggeration rather than accuracy. I don’t remember any Bushman doing that.’

‘His suggestion was that only special men were selected for this oral memory task.’ Ian shrugged. ‘I said I wasn’t convinced. And he got a lot of questions after the talk, some pretty pointed.’

Kubu caught on. ‘You think our corpse in there could be one of the Bushmen he was talking about?’

‘I don’t know, but I got to thinking. If he was some sort of genetic freak – and you’ve seen the evidence yourself – then perhaps he’s a lot older than he looks. Maybe he’s around ninety or even older. Perhaps that man was telling those stories in the first person because he actually was present at the events.’ Ian looked uncomfortable. ‘I know it’s farfetched, but just look at the internal condition this man was in.’ He hesitated. ‘One of the stories he told the anthropologist was of a hunting party from what is now Namibia that attacked his group and shot many of them. Men, women and children. Disgusting, but we know these things happened. He claimed to have been shot himself, but it wasn’t a bad wound. I was thinking about that bullet I found in him.’

‘But the last parties hunting Bushmen were nearly a hundred years ago!’

Ian nodded. ‘Yes, Kubu, I know. I said it’s far-fetched. But still.’

Kubu thought for a few moments. Ian’s speculation wouldn’t go down well with an unimaginative, by-the-book type of detective like Segodi. And why would Segodi care anyway? There was no reason to think there was any connection between the Bushman’s age and his death. No reason, but intuition told Kubu differently. He understood why Ian had called him.

The two friends sat quietly, each lost in thought pondering the anomalies they’d just talked about. Then Kubu’s stomach announced that it was time for lunch. He grunted and climbed to his feet. ‘I’d just stick to the bland facts with Detective Sergeant Segodi, Ian. Let’s see what he comes up with. I’ll let you know.’

They shook hands, and Kubu took his leave. When he reached the door, he hesitated. He’d learnt over the years to take Ian’s hunches as seriously as his own. He turned around.

‘Is there a way of accurately estimating a dead person’s age? Like that Bushman?’

Ian didn’t reply for several seconds. ‘I’ll have to look into it. I’m not sure there is. How long someone has been dead, yes. The longer the better. But not how long since the person was born.’

‘Well, send the bullet to Forensics. See what they make of it.’

Ian nodded. ‘I’ll do that.’

Kubu waved, and left the pathologist sucking thoughtfully on his pipe.

Dying to Live will be launched on Tuesday, 13 June at Love Books, Melville. Michael Sears will be in conversation with the MD of Jonathan Ball Publishers, Eugene Ashton.

Dying to Live

Book details