A TRULY DELIGHTFUL BOOK

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The Next Person You Meet In Heaven is Mitch Albom’s new novel, and a sequel to his bestseller, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Albom, you may recall, rose to prominence with his hugely successful memoir, Tuesday’s With Morrie.

If you are new to his novels, you are in for a delightful and a different sort of reading treat.

One needn’t have read either its prequel or any other Albom novel, to enjoy it, it can stand on its own merit – the book’s story is clever and imaginative and along the way there are twists and surprises.

The accident that killed Eddie left an indelible mark on Annie. Injured, scarred and unable to remember why, Annie’s life is forever changed by a guilt-ravaged mother who whisks her away from the world she knew. Bullied by her peers and haunted by something she cannot recall, Annie struggles to find acceptance. When, as a young woman, she reconnects with Paulo, her childhood love, she believes she has finally found happiness.

But when her wedding night ends with an unimaginable accident, Annie finds herself on her own heavenly journey – and a reunion with Eddie, one of the five people who will show her how her life mattered in ways she could not have fathomed.

I had the joy, and privilege of attending one of two book launches held on Mitch Albom’s recent South African trip. Let me attempt to restrain myself from gushing, but Mr Albom was absolutely fantastic in person. Modest, caring, witty, genuine, enthusiastic and colourful and most of all a very human, human being. The intimate hour he spent with us could have gone on for five hours and we would have been spellbound. He came across like a most welcome guest in one’s home lounge.

These human qualities are evident in The Next Person You Meet In Heaven. I read the book before attending its launch, and at first, I was not sure if it was going to my kind of a book, it was and then some. I must confess that I have given little or no thought to the afterlife, and heaven and hell are not places I have visited mentally before.

The idea that the first people one meets in heaven are five people who had a significant impact on one’s life on earth, is an appealing one indeed. And in this book, every life matters and every ending can be a beginning as well. One needs hope and a positive attitude. Who could disagree with that.

In a world peppered by gloom, doom and negativity and a social media full of trolls and bots, it is a joy to read a book that is positive and hopeful and encourages self affirmation. It is a delightful, uplifting read. Bravo and thank you, Mitch Albom.

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A BOOK FOR THINKING READERS

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Like many others in South Africa I abhor any form of racism or prejudice. Sadly, these have always existed in some form or another, but I believe that it should be incumbent on each of us to speak out when we are confronted by this kind of utterance or behaviour.

If we focus only on the bad and keep silent about the good, we are doomed to tread an unhappy path. Professor Deborah Lipstadt suggests the need to balance the bad with the good is an exhortation that should be shared by many groups of people that have become the objects of discrimination and prejudice.

Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She is maybe best known for her book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving and the film Denial (starring Rachel Weisz) which was based on it.

Her timeous and topical new book, Antisemitism Here and Now, takes that extreme form of prejudice and analyses this complex issue in a powerful, yet easily readable way that should appeal to a broad range of thinking readers.

Lipstadt writes, “The existence of prejudice in any of its forms is a threat to all those who value an inclusive, democratic, and multicultural society.” And so, if we think ourselves to be liberal, or progressive, or simply decent, “we must insist that antisemitism be treated with the same seriousness as racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia.” How we do that is up to each of us, but this book is a good place to start.

Antisemitism Here and Now carries powerful messages and whatever your views are on the topic, reading it will likely cause you to rethink and recalibrate them. It certainly did mine.

WHATEVER MAY RAISE YOUR EYEBROWS TOO

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Whatever is a memoir written by Saskia Bailey, who is yet to turn 21. A memoir at her young age? What could have happened in her life to warrant sharing her experiences in the form of a book?

Bailey is the daughter of two eccentric artist parents and is the granddaughter of the legendary Jim Bailey, founder of DRUM magazine and she is currently an English major at UCT.

“I wanted to write this book so that young people can know they aren’t the only existential f**k-ups in a generation being bred on dread for the future. I’d also really like older and ordinary people to read it, those who are interested in finding out what lies behind our much-maligned generation’s brains when we are not on our phones.”

In its preface, Saskia refers to the book as ‘the ramblings of a sometimes f**ked up and confused 19-year-old’.

The book is well written and quite refreshingly honest. Bailey comes across as a young lady fully aware of her strengths and weaknesses. Be warned it is also unfiltered and would likely distress many a sensitive reader. Without passing judgement on the author’s lifestyle choices, while reading it my eyebrows made frequent contact with my hairline. Fasten your seat belts, you’re in for a helluva ride.

Saskia, so far, has certainly experienced an uninhibited life in technicolor and at full tilt. Drugs, drink, and sex play a big part of her ‘adventure trip’. In contrast, at her book launch, she pleasingly came across as vibrant and together.

“So, I’ve written it and now I’m putting it out into the world and getting written out of the will and dumped a few more times and spat on by toddlers with hyphenated first names.”

Even with lifted eyebrows I found Whatever a compelling and extremely worthwhile read and look forward to more from the Saskia Bailey pen.

STELLENBOSCH STEAMILY UNCORKED

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Eva Mazza has lived in Stellenbosch for over 22 years where she teaches drama and writes in her spare time. The title of her debut novel, Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch, certainly alerts the reader to exactly what the book is about.

Written as fiction, it ‘uncorks’ the underbelly of the often patriarchal Stellenbosch and community led by prominent wine farmers, businessmen and renowned academics, who form a laager when the town’s business and private interests are compromised.

Jen is the wife of renowned wine farmer and businessman John Pearce, she stumbles upon her playboy husband in a compromising position with his employee.

Confronted with either exposing or denying his infidelity, Jenn is forced to choose between leaving her marriage, thereby jeopardising her luxurious life and status in the community or turning a blind eye to John’s cheating ways.

At its Cape Town launch, Eva Mazza’s engaging, MCC-like personality and joie de vivre bubbled through and set the tone for me of her book.

Its characters and storyline are credible and Mazza hasn’t fallen into the trap of overcrowding the plot. There are enough changes of temperature to keep one interest and eagerly turning the pages.

“Right now dear friends , not only am I flying. I am soaring.’

Jen had ‘blessed her past’, but not walked away. She had danced away. And oh, how she loved to dance.

Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch is a pacey, sexy and an entertainingly unpretentious read.

Mazza obviously understands the environment in which she has set it, and I suspect there are more Stellenbosch tales to tell. And if the success of her first novel is anything to go by, I will not be the only one ready to pop the cork of (or unscrew) her next bottle of literary wine.

UPLIFTMENT FROM MELINDA GATES

 

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Melinda Gates is a philanthropist, businesswoman and global advocate for women and girls. As the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she sets the direction and priorities of the world’s largest philanthropy. She began her career developing multimedia products at Microsoft before leaving the company to focus on her family and philanthropic work.

In her book, The Moment of Lift she explores the profound link between women’s empowerment and the health of societies, and offers simple and effective ways each one of us can make a difference. She also writes about her personal life and the road to equality in her own marriage.

“In my travels, I’ve learned about hundreds of millions of women who want to decide for themselves whether and when to have children, but they can’t. They have no access to contraceptives. And there are many other rights and privileges that women and girls are denied.”

There are lessons I have learned from the extraordinary people I want you to meet. Some will make your heart break. Others will make your heart soar. I think they’ll inspire you. They have inspired me.”

“Equality can empower women, and empowered women will change the world. For me equality is a milestone; it is not the summit.”

The women in the book and their stories make for at times harrowing and at times uplifting reading, and you will not be left unaffected after reading about them.

The Moment of Lift is a powerful book with its message a call for us all to get involved, Melinda Gates makes her plea with a humility that belies her status in life. Her message is not only an important one, it is a vital one for the future of a better world.

 

BRILLAINT BOOK BY AND ABOUT AN EXTRAORIDINARY MAN

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The dictionary defines the word “hero” as: a person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage or outstanding achievements.

David Nott is a hero, he ticks both definition boxes and then some. He is a Welsh consultant surgeon, specialising in general and vascular surgeon. He was appointed and OBE in the 2012 Birthday Honours and in 2016 he received the Robert Burns Humanitarian Awards and the Pride of Britain Award.

I do not think that he would be comfortable with the hero label. His book, War Doctor, tells his story and is indelible affirmation that in Nott’s case, the tag is wholly appropriate.

“For reasons I will try to explore in this book, I have for over two decades now spent much of my time volunteering to go to dangerous places to help those who have been affected by events that are, very often, utterly beyond their control. I have ventured into people’s wars many times – in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Chad, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Gaza and Syria to mention a few.”

Driven both by compassion and passion, the desire to help others and the thrill of extreme personal danger, he is now widely acknowledged to be the most experienced trauma surgeon in the world.

War Doctor tells the extraordinary story of Notts beginnings, the triggers that led him both on his career path and to the medical humanitarian work that drives him: “When I get a calls from an aid agency, my heart begins to race and I develop an irrepressible urge to remove any obstacle that might prevent me from going. Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, the desire to go is always intense and almost overwhelming.”

The book is not for sensitive readers, the life-threatening situations in which Nott finds himself and the life-saving trauma surgeries he performs are described in detail. I didn’t expect to be totally enthralled the medical details as much as I was. They are fascinating and inspiring.

War Doctor had me deep in its grip from its first page to its last. It is an extraordinary read about an extraordinary man, David Nott writes with ease and without the melodramatics that could befit his work. He tells it like it is and lets the facts exude their own sense of drama.

The book’s afterword is written by Nott’s wife Eleanor, who now runs the David Nott Foundation, a charity which finances and organises training in disaster medicine. She says of her husband: “David embodies the truly heroic, if we but allow our heroes the vulnerability and humanity that make them real people.”

Her final phrase in the afterword, is succinct, beautifully worded and very touching: “My extraordinary, complicated, beloved David.”David Nott is a courageous and inspiring man and War Doctor is a rich and wonderful book, one that I unreservedly recommend.

CALM THE F**K DOWN

 

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When I first read Sarah Knight’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, I found it very funny, very wise and refreshingly “in your face” and it went on to be published in over twenty languages and this success continued with the other hilariously helpful books in her No Fu**s Given Guides series.

Her latest book in the series is called Calm the Fu**k Down, its subtitle sets the tone: “How to control what you can and accept what you can’t so you can stop freaking out and get on with your life.”

“This is a book about anxiety, from the white noise of what-ifs to the white-hot terror of a full-blown crisis. As such, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m the world’s biggest a-hole for titling it as I have, since everyone knows that the first entry on a long list of Unhelpful Things to Say to a Person Experiencing Anxiety is ‘Calm the f**k down.’ But this also a book about problems and calming down is exactly what you need to do to solve these problems.”

Knight’s clear-thinking advice is always spot on, as it is in all her books so far. She delivers these useful mouthfuls with a lot of wit and at times in language that will make the prude cringe.

And I absolutely love this remark of hers: “I’m not the world’s biggest asshole; that honor belongs to whoever invented the vuvuzela.” Who am I to disagree?

Calm the Fuck Down is an enjoyable read and the advice given is good, but having read three others in Sarah Knight’s series, I think the formula is wearing a bit thin now.

If you enjoyed reading this your first Sarah Knight, I suggest you subscribe to her newsletters, which are an absolute and refreshing delight.

THE VIEW, THE WINES, THE BOOK – CONSTANTIA GLEN

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Spoilt for pleasures and so close to Cape Town’s CBD, the Constantia Valley boasts a heady triple pairing of spectacular scenery, wines and restaurants.

Yesterday I visited the winery at the top of the hill, Constantia Glen for the launch of their book, Constantia Glen – a timeless vision, an occasion that more than ticked those three boxes.

On my arrival, its almost 360 degree view of the verdant and undulating valley literally took my breath away and the glass of Constantia Glen Five and the accompanying canapés added to that sense of specularity.

The book chronicles over 140 years of Constantia Glen, through its turbulent early history and eventual transformation from forest land into one of the Cape’s premier family owned wine estates.

Constantia Glen – a timeless vison has been beautifully put together by the team at Quivertree Publications – researched and written by author Clare O’Donoghue, and the always magnificent photography of Craig Fraser.

“There’s a lot to be said for continuity,” says Alexander Waibel, the third generation custodian of Constantia Glen. “It’s in the way we learn about our vineyards and the way we value the people who work in them.”

The 60 hectares of undulating landscape have been under the custodianship of the Waibel family, a textile dynasty from Dornbirn, Austria, since the late 1950s – first as rolling forest land, then an Angus stud before returning to their historic wine farming roots. The first vines were planted in 2000 with the very first vintage of Sauvignon Blanc harvested in 2005.

The tasting room facilities at Constantia Glen can accommodate 300 visitors, and when I visited it at 15h30 yesterday it was full and buzzing with visitors enjoying the wines, the views and the accompanying delights from the kitchen.

Bravo Constantia Glen, the book is a fitting visual tribute to what you have achieved in a relatively short space of time.

Herzliche Glückwünsche!

THE COLOUR OF WINE

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I doubt many of us are aware of the life journeys some of our South African winemakers have made on the way to the cellar.

A new book, The Colour of Wine, illustrates a few of these and tells the story of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy through the personal journeys of these black winemakers. Woven through their stories are interviews with wine producers and politicians, chefs and sommeliers, connoisseurs and teachers, drinkers and tasters.

The book, twinned with Akin Omotoso’s documentary film, The Colour of Wine (the DVD is included) explores the turbulent history of winemaking in South Africa, and the varied careers the industry has to offer.

There are chapters on Making Wine, The World of Wine, The Business of Wine, The Future of Wine and Food and Wine. Included is a short history of wine in South Africa as well as what education and career opportunities there are; Michael Fridjhon on judging wine; John Platter offers insights into where South African wine is now, and where the industry needs to go; and there are some lovely recipes too including some with suggested wine pairings.

I liked this quote from winemaker Ntsiki Biyela on food and wine pairing: “Open a bottle of wine and cook what you want to eat, because at the end of the day it’s about what you enjoy.”

There is much in The Colour of Wine that is informative but written in a style that makes for comfortable reading. It highlights the emergence of black winemakers, entrepreneurs and producers, and shines a light on the birth of democracy and the challenges of change. It gives a taste of the world of wine in today’s South Africa. The book is illustrated throughout and its companion DVD is a very watchable bonus.

IT JUST ISN’T CRICKET

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“You know it’s serious when SABC commentator Mluleki Ntsabo isn’t smiling. But as I walked into the broadcast area on the third afternoon of the Cape Town Test, his face was stern as he rushed along. ‘Did you see?’ he asked with urgency. ‘Cameron Bancroft has something on the ball.”

Can there be a cricket fan who doesn’t vividly remember last season’s ball-tampering incident during the Australia cricket tour of South Africa?

There was much more to the story than the actions of a few young men. A tangle of personality, politics and culture had led them to this point. In Steve Smith’s Men Geoff Lemon examines Australian Cricket’s Fall.

After watching the powerful television documentary, Crossing The Line, I was left with the impression that the Australians in it didn’t quite grasp the lasting damage to their country’s sporting reputation that would ensue.

So it was with some trepidation that I started reading Lemon’s book. He is an Australian cricket writer and broadcaster who has covered the sport since 2010 and was part of the media contingent in South Africa for last year’s tour.

For much of the book, I feared that I would need to include Lemon in the non-grasper category. But in the end, thankfully my fears were unwarranted. The book is almost forensic in its examination of the Australian cricket psyche.

Geoff Lemon’s writing is superb and his turn of phrase refreshingly different, like this one, that describes that critical camera-revealed moment: “Sandpaper in the jocks, though, was about to cause more discomfort than the immediately physical.”

I had hoped to read an analysis of why the Australian cricket team has perennially worn the ‘unpopular’ tag. Maybe that ‘abrasive’ Aussie culture is DNA ingrained?

“For all these years we’ve heard of the Australian way as our undeniable heritage, a game flint-eyed and wary by its most inherent nature. This one strand excludes a hundred others. Australian cricket also has a different heritage, anytime it decides to look.”

Steve Smith’s Men is an extraordinary piece of analytical cricket journalism, it is a compelling and important work that deserves to be read by all cricket fans and players, whatever the colour of their national cricket cap.

My definition of a great sportsman is one who is as impressive on the field of play as they are off it. After reading Steve Smith’s Men, Warner and Smith and to a lesser degree Bancroft do not deserve the mantle.

As if gathering in a laager (lager?), Australian cricket stands fast in being ready to welcome Warner and Smith back…..

In the end, will Australian cricket be able to reform by itself? The jury is out on that one, I fear.

Maybe a drastic tightening by the International Cricket Council of its player conduct rules and stricter enforcement by them of the “Spirit of Cricket” will help them with a useful starting point.