Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fifties Photos: Pretoria, Part One

When my father passed away, I took the family photographs and 8mm movies home and pulled them out when my interest in African crime fiction took off. Most of the images are not labeled — which requires some guesswork on my part — and many are degraded, but I hope you find this look at the fifties interesting.

We lived in Pretoria from 1952 to 1956 when my father was in the U.S. Air Force and a crewman on the C-47 (Dakota) operated by the Air Attache attached to the American Embassy.

Pretoria is in northern part of the country in the  Gauteng Provence which was formed out of the pre-1994 Transsvaal Provence. It was founded in 1855 by Marthinus Pretorius who named it after his father Andries Pretorius, a famous leader of the Voortrekkers' Great Trek (1835 - 1845).

Pretoria celebrated its centennial while we were there. Here are two of the commemorative postal issues. Paul Kruger in on the left stamp and Marthinus Pretorius on the right on both envelopes.

Trek wagon brooch belonging to my mother
The Great Trek was a series of mass migrations inland by Dutch speaking colonists in their trek wagons who sought to escape the British rule of the Cape Colony.

And this brings us to the images in this first Fifties Photos post, the Voortrekker Monument. This massive granite monument sits on Monument Hill overlooking Pretoria. It was constructed between 1937 and 1949 and is now surrounded by a nature preserve.

The monument seen from the far side of the amphitheatre. Taken by Mack Lundy Jr.

This is from Google maps and, I believe, roughly the same location as the above photo. The amphitheatre is on the other side of the bushes. My father must have moved away from the road to get his shot.

Here is a link to the Google Map street view.

The slide is badly deteriorated but it does show a closer view of the hill top as it looked then. Also taken by my father.

A black and white photograph of the monument at night.  Taken by my father.

Monument entrance
The front entrance to the Monument. In the foreground is a wrought iron fence with an assegai (spear) theme.

Taken by my Aunt Sara, August 1954.

Piet Retief
At each corner of the monument is a statue of the leaders of the Great Trek: Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgieter, and an "unknown" representing all the leaders of the Trek. Note the wagons on the wall in front of the statue. There are 64 of them representing the wagons that formed the laager at The Battle of Blood River when the Boers under Andries Pretorius defeated the Zulus led by Dingane.

Taken by my Aunt Sara, August 1954.

Rock garden below monument
This is a better view of the relief representations of the trek wagons looking up from the garden.

Taken by my Aunt Sara, August 1954

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tooth and Nailed, Sarah Lotz

Tooth and Nailed is Sarah's second legal drama featuring Cape Town lawyer George Allen. The first is Exhibit A. Both are available in Kindle editions on Amazon.

At play are three very different cases. They can be categorized as: serious; very serious, personally devastating; and seemingly routine. The details of the three cases make for a nice mix and varied tempo. I enjoyed watching George react to widely differing situations. There are twists, developments, and revelations that keep the stories moving along smartly not to mention "I didn't see that coming" moments.

For readers not familiar with the South African legal system, George is an attorney. He meets with clients and handles their legal needs like contracts, divorces, etc. If the case goes to court, the attorney briefs an advocate who is an expert in arguing cases in front of a judge. George works with the short, rotund, gluttonous, annoying, snarky Scottish advocate Patrick McLennan, known as the Poison Dwarf by those who have come up against him in court.

The serious case is that of poet Professor Benjamin Nyathi, a friend of Valerie Malan (AKA The Witch), an attorney and George's former professional and personal partner. Val wants George to help the professor  who is being blackmailed over the death of a female student in his apartment in the nineties. If he doesn't admit murdering the young woman, a copy of a book, self-published decades earlier and all copies thought destroyed, will be made public. Nyathi denies involvement in the death but knows that his reputation will be destroyed if the the contents are revealed. The matter is too sensitive for the police but at the same time he professor won't reveal the subject of the book to George and Patrick and even imposes limitations on how they can communicate with him. George and Patrick are forced into the role of detectives, trying to find out what the professor isn't telling them, who has a motive, and establishing links. When George and Patrick finally unravel the professor's secret, it is unexpected and a little in the consequences Nyathi's earlier actions have on others.  How this ends may not be the law but it is justice.

Shortly after meeting with Nyathi, Georges brother, Greg a bush guide in Botswana, shows up in Cape Town, blood staining his shirt and launching the major story within the novel. Greg is leading a family on an authentic bush experience when the young son is attacked and blinded by a night-time hyena attack. A lawsuit by the overbearing father is inevitable. Greg is no help in understanding the situation since he is in shock and so wracked with guilt that he wants to be punished. Unfortunately for George, there are devastating consequences for him as well.

* Notes on the photos at the end

The location moves to Botswana when George and Patrick go with Greg to the scene of the attack to try to make sense of what happened. They hope that Greg will be more forthcoming on his own turf.  Sarah handles the transition from urban Cape Town to Botswanan veldt smoothly and with humour. Patrick's approach to camping seems to be based on old safari movies.

That this section is one of my favorites in the book is evident from the animal photos I decided to include. It resonates strongly in me. There is a tautly written event, based on something the author experienced, that made me anxious. Sarah uses the contrast between the type of expedition that Greg leads and commercialized "let's not let nature too close" tours to show her feelings about the African bush, the effects people are having on the animals, and the poseurs who are cheapening the experience. It is also a very effective setup to the denouement in the courtroom.

The third case floats in and out. It is the divorce of a same-sex marriage between a wealthy American and a Capetonian man. George's firm is representing the American and it looks like a simple enough "arrange a settlement and minimize the damage" affair. George gives the case to Shane who works on interest. Shane is everything George is not: handsome, well dressed, organized, and physically fit -- he leads a dawn boot camp fitness program and fights fires.  Periodically George tries to find out how negotiations are proceeding although Shane is treating it with an annoyingly offhand attitude. The divorce case was a revelation to me because I didn't realize that South Africa had same-sex marriage. Wikipedia tells me that the Civil Union Bill was enacted in 2006. With my own country in turmoil over the issue, it was startling to find that a country that was severely conservative not that long ago has been able to resolve an emotionally charged issue. I haven't researched homosexuality in South  Africa but I wonder if apartheid has sensitised courts and the legislature to inequalities based on characteristics of a segment of the population. With same-sex marriage accepted, it is a horrifying to read reports of "corrective rape" perpetrated to "cure" lesbians and make them heterosexual.

While all of this is happening, George is trying to jump start his personal life which has stalled since his relationship with Valerie ended. This provides some of the ligher moments as well as the cliff hanger ending of the novel.

The story is narrated by George in first person present tense. This style of writing is sometimes criticised because it limits the reader to the viewpoint of a single character but personally I like it. Watching events unfold through a single set of eyes makes me feel more of a participant in the story. The present tense give an immediacy to the action. I don't always need or desire an omniscient narrator to tell me what is happening and why.

Sarah's characters are nicely developed and she is able to introduce some exaggerated characteristics without slipping into caricature. I'm thinking specifically of Patrick McLennan here. He could easily have become an object of ridicule but there is no doubt of his abilities and professionalism. He provides a lot of the humour in the book but what I came away with is that Patrick uses his appearance, stature, and personal habits to disarm people to his advantage and have a little fun. The sparring between The Poison Dwarf and The Witch is great fun. Patrick also provides the opportunity to slip in a reference to one of my favorite scenes in a Monty Python movie. No, I won't tell you what it is. I give Sarah extra points for inserting it.

Interesting thing about the characters. I was well into the story before I realized that I didn't know the race of many of them. I've been reading books set in apartheid South Africa and race is a constant issue and not a question so this brought me up short. Actually I tripped over my preconceptions of how race would be treated. Characters I pictured as white are black.  Remember what I wrote earlier about why I like first person narratives? If we are seeing events and people through George's eyes, what does this tell us about George and the reader? This was an unexpected but appreciated challenge to me as a reader. Well done Sarah.

I wouldn't characterize Tooth and Nailed as a humourous but it made me smile, if not laugh ... often. Sarah has a wicked sense of humour and a keene knack for dialog. She describes an outfit Patrick is wearing as "...a shade of green I haven't seen since ABBA was topping the charts." George notes in another scene that "Patrick and I stand out like Eugène Terre'Blanche at an ANC Youth League rally." An American equivalent of the latter might be along the lines of "...stand out like the Klan at an NAACP convention."

Tooth and Nailed is a thoroughly satisfying read. Besides the fun of reading a well plotted novel with interesting characters, parts of the novel hit at an emotional level that I continue to think about long after I finished. I look forward to reading more by this author.

I sent Sarah a holiday greeting and mentioned that I was working on this review, in Florida, sitting in my favorite bar. Here's proof.

*Notes on the animal photos
The b&w photographs of the hyenas and the colour  image of the lions were taken by my father, Mack Lundy, Jr., in Kruger National Park. I know the colour photo of the hyena was taken in 1954 by my Aunt Sara so I'm going to say they all date from then though we did visit the park in 1952 as well.

Here is the original from which I derived my "artsy" rendering at the top of the post.