Saturday, October 09, 2010

S***storm in South Africa

My interview last month with Caryl Férey about his novel Zulu has caused a firestorm of criticism in South Africa.

Author Mike Nicol reproduces portions of the interview over at Crime Beat/Book Southern Africa, interpolating his own scornful reactions to Férey's answers. Among the milder of these: "Ag no, my bru! Now you’re talking kak."

Nicol's post generated a string of comments, the gist of which was that Férey didn't know what he was talking about, especially when he suggested that tacit agreement bars discussion in South Africa of the apartheid-era war between the Zulu Inkatha Party and the mostly Xhosa African National Congress.

Férey brought the subject up when I asked about the advantages of writing about South Africa as an outsider. (He's French.) The vitriolic — and, in Nicol's case, funny — response suggests that such a detached vantage point may carry dangers as well.

Here's my interview with Férey. Here's Nicol's reply, along with a string of comments from readers including Margie Orford, another South African author whose short fiction I've read and whose novels I want to read.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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Anonymous adrian said...


Obviously I cant say who's right or wrong here, but this kerfuffle reminds me of the "Troubles" films Hollywood began pumping out in the 70's and 80's. There was a distinct lack of nuance and an ignorance (or disregard) for cliche that made N Irish audiences groan in agony. Obviously shlocky films like Mickey Rourke's A Prayer For the Dying or Brad Pitt's The Devil's Own were not the ones that bothered me the most, but rather the supposedly intelligent Hidden Agenda & The Crying Game etc.

I think the crucial point is that all those films were made by outsiders and outsiders need to be really certain of their facts before attempting to turn their perceptions into art that claims to be mimetic.

October 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't say who's right, either, because I've never been to South Africa or spent much time among South Africans. Also, Mike Nicol acknowledges that he's aiming at Férey's comments rather than at the novel, which he has not read. I'm not sure the commenters have, either, since Nicol mentions that he's unsure the novel is easily available in South Africa.

I wonder if the book would elicit the same vitriol that the interview did. I don't recall that it blows its own horn about supposed reluctance to discuss the ANC-Inkatha war, for instance. And the book was first recommended to me by a South African.

October 09, 2010  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

This novel is high on my TBR list. the comments were interesting to say the least.

The comment regarding the creative use of a cactus had me cracking up. reminded me of something that would be in a Stephen King novel.

October 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Those cactus comments could create a stereotype that South Africans are colorful folks when it comes to invective.

October 10, 2010  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Sandra and I have had a similar conversation over the years. She maintains that it takes an outsider to really see an area for what it is. That the outsider has a perspective that the insider doesn’t. I maintain that the insider has the best perspective and an insight that the outsider can never have. The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in the middle as both the outsider and the insider have valid viewpoints and observations.

This conversation has arisen from our conversations about Baltimore and Maryland since she has come so far to live here and I am a lifer. She may be able to itemize the ways in which the Baltimore economic system is broken but she doesn’t FEEL the hatred for the Colts that I do (to use to broad and disparate examples).

October 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, that question came up during the Soho panel at Bouchercon in 2008, and one author in particular defended what would have been Sandra's point of view, but in generic terms. This year I'm moderating the Soho panel, and I think I'll find a way to get the authors to talk more specifically. But that's difficult. How can an author know what he or she has missed?

As far as truth lying in the middle, I think of James McClure, acknowledged by many as South Africa's greatest crime writer, who write his crime fiction he left South Africa. Or Andrea Camilleri, a Sicilian by birth who sets his Montalbano series in the area where he was born, but who has himself lived in Rome for many years. Maybe this gives him a nice blend of detachment and first-hand knowledge.

October 12, 2010  

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