Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

Poetry that mixes mother tongues – and my poem about my Grandma

My very dearly loved Grandma, Martha Magdalena Schreuder, long passed on.

It is very hard to make two different languages rhyme. This struck me again when I was researching the phonetic symbol for a “J” with two lines through its stem, for the review of Howard Jacobson’s novel J. Some sounds and letters exist only in certain phonetic alphabets. The guttural uvular fricative “g” (for instance /χ/ /χut/ as in “goed”), which is a frequent sound in Afrikaans, does not occur in English. The closest is the “ch” sound like in the Scottish Gaelic word “loch”. But it does occur in a handful of other languages including Spanish, Dutch (of course), Persian and Kurdish. (But having said that, below is one of my poems, in English and Afrikaans, about my Grandma. It features this particular uvular fricative “g”.) I have recently been listening to the band Orange Blossom, particularly the song Ommaty from their 2014 album Under the Shade of Violets. The lyrics are sung in Arabic and I must say I find the repetitive /χ/ very pleasant to listen to even though I only have a vague idea what the words mean.  Continue reading

100 Reviews and counting

Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy  – coming up – will be the subject of the 100th book review I’ve written in the past 6 years. 

Thanks Ma!

I have my mother, Marina le Roux, to thank for a lifetime’s habit of critical reading. She may be 79 but she is still actively reviewing and assessing literature. The differences are that 1) her reviews are published in real media; 2) she writes in Afrikaans and 3) she reviews Afrikaans poetry in the poetry (book)club she started in 1998 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The club still thrives today, with interesting and serious Afrikaans poets under discussion.

As she would say, reviewing books is a thankless task – and why do we persist in doing it? I guess it is because it is an acquired habit and I feel critical readers make a better book market.

Confessions of a book Feinschmecker

And over the years, like a foodie, I’ve become something of a Feinschmecker when it comes to literature. An author needs to have a really original voice, something truly interesting to say, before I will praise their work. I take a writer’s skill at using the tools of their trade for granted. But a good read, for me, depends on what the work makes me think – whether it will transport, inspire and intrigue me. Whether it will make me remember it, like a superb painting. Whether the author has taken gone the extra mile to deepen the work. 

The re-reading test

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars –  Verily, A New Hope,  by Ian Doescher

Skip the poetry, go to the Full review

A Review of This Fine Tale, in Blank Verse and A Heroic Couplet

An entertaining thing the drama is
that Doescher has devised in this small play.
He writes English so fine, the Bard to please
and compliment in every word and way.

You might think Shakespeare’s boring to the hilt
but nothing could be further from the truth.
Suspenseful as what’s under Macbeth’s kilt
is the wooing of Leia, so aloof.

Doescher even writes ‘asides’ for robots:
R2-D2 and C-3PO speak
in character, amusingly and lots
(though also going beep, whirr, meep and squeak)

Characters ‘exeunt’, heroic couplets
end each scene, with nicely rhyming phrases,
while rhyming choruses relate the parts
complex, like the Death Star war in stages.

With language so spontaneous and smart
Doescher revives the work of Shakespeare, so,
and with characters, true to life and art,
honours the Star Wars that we love and know.

To buy this book methinks would be quite wise,
to give your brain a bit of exercise.

Full review – Shakespeare, as you’d like it, Star Wars style

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