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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

DURBAN IN A WORD (article first published : 2008-03-15)

This attractive little paperback contains 30 short contributions by writers with connections to Durban, making up a portrait of the city. It is the fourth book in the series which has already covered Johannesburg, Soweto and Cape Town. The writers’ brief was for fiction, non fiction or creative non fiction, as their fancy took them.

There are well-known names – Imraan Coovadia, Ronnie Govender, John van de Ruit, Ingrid Winterbach and William Zulu among them. Witness links appear with John Conyngham, Peter Machen and Kobus Moolman. It is probably not a book to be read straight through, cover to cover, but once all the pieces have been absorbed, the 30 different cities can be merged into one whole, though there is still no definitive picture.

The reader is left with a sense of ghettoes; it will take a long time for all the Durbans to come together, if indeed they ever could. And all the writers have different ways of seeing. As Aziz Hassim says in his piece, the city is a “multi-layered environment”. Some writers go for the political, some see the minutiae, some prefer the general. There are those, like Winterbach, who paint a landscape in words; others, like Andrew Verster, who concentrate on the story of an individual.

The quality is a little uneven, but then, so is the city as it ranges from the smooth and polished to the raw – from the polite Berea to the beach, the vibrant Warwick Triangle or Grey Street. And if I am allowed a personal favourite, I think it would be Illa Thompson’s poignant story of a very South African (and particularly KZN) moment at an Ocean Action event.

Durban in a Word is edited by Dianne Stewart and published by Penguin. - Margaret von Klemperer




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