The fires that recently ravaged our region, notably the Garden Route and Thornhill areas, affected several of our friends. In some cases, their homes were lost, their very lives threatened. When all one’s worldly objects become ashes within minutes, life itself is revealed as a most wonderful possession. Survivors of disasters often manifest contentment that eludes those who have all this world can offer. In the face of others’ calamity, the tendency is to compare down, considering some who have lost so much more than oneself. By contrast, in our materialistic society, the trend is to compare up, and to strive to keep up with the Joneses. When the outer trappings of one’s world go up in flames, we have cause to be grateful for the things that truly matter. Paramount among these belongings are life and family.
It may seem paradoxical to move from the transience of worldly goods to the subject of book-collecting. Oddly, though, the truth that family trumps wealth gives us reason for faith in the enduring value of paper objects. If you are putting together a go-bag – the package of absolute essentials kept ready in case of emergency evacuation – seriously consider including family photographs along with your energy bars and important documents: you will not regret your decision. We have noticed that, whereas so many fields of collecting seem susceptible to fashion, the preoccupation with family history remains strong, from decade to decade. Furthermore, since we are all part of a family, collectors in this sphere are drawn from all age groups.
So many people in this country are either Afrikaners, or – like ourselves – from a part-Afrikaans background. An understanding of our family heritage would be greatly helped by Hermann Giliomee’s The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. Although the approach in David Goldblatt’s important photobook Some Afrikaners Revisited is somewhat different, it is no less sympathetic in its outlook. Goldblatt also provided portraits for The Illustrated Bosman, including some of people actually mentioned in Herman Charles Bosman’s Marico stories. Among these is Oom Koos Nienaber, featured on the front page of our list. As if to disprove our faith in filial bonds, we learn of Oom Koos that “he and his wife, although still together, had not spoken to one another for thirty years before she died.” Mind you, Bosman himself did not provide the best advertisement for loving families, having been condemned to death for shooting his stepbrother (commuted to four years with hard labour). Our South African Literature section this month contains several books by, or relating to, Herman Charles Bosman – including a first edition of Jacaranda in the Night.
Surely all families have their black sheep, though. Rian Malan, descendant of DF Malan, reflects on this fact in My Traitor’s Heart. In 50 People Who Stuffed Up South Africa, Alexander Parker places DF Malan among the many people in history “who were somehow able to rationalise their religiosity with their decidedly ungodly politics and actions.” A more sympathetic view of the first Nationalist Prime Minister is provided in Die Malans van Môrewag, by Gert Pretorius. As Rian Malan’s example demonstrates, there can be huge diversity within families. In South Africa, the extreme divergence of ideological positions within a family has given rise to the term broedertwis. A case of what might be called sustertwis is found in the Mitford sisters, revealed in The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. Diana Mitford married Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union of Fascists. Jessica Mitford was a communist, forever estranged from her older sister.
Many families in East London and its hinterland are of German extraction. E. L. G. Schnell’s For Men Must Work remains the definitive publication on the subject, and is featured in our Eastern Cape section this month. In the reverse of the experience of the German settlers, the original prehistoric emigrants left Africa for Europe – according to one school of thought, at any rate. A product available from National Geographic is reputed to trace one’s “deep ancestry” through DNA analysis of a saliva sample. Some of the titles in this month’s list (Out of Africa’s Eden, African Exodus, and Cradle of Mankind) present similar arguments on this subject.
Other highlights in this month’s list include an early work of Zulu philology, Grammatik for Zulu-sproget, important Africana titles by Leibbrandt and Theal, the two volumes of Sir John Gilbert Kotze’s Memoirs and Reminiscences, the three-volume Journal of Jan van Riebeeck, and A History of Organised Pharmacy in South Africa.
Families may be large or small, rich or poor, famous or obscure. What they have in common is their endless fascination. The blurb for one of the books in this month’s list (Charles van Onselen’s The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, a South African Sharecropper, 1894-1985) goes some way towards explaining the blend of universality and distinctiveness at the heart of the fascination of family sagas:
“Across the farms of the western Transvaal, from one harvest to another, Van Onselen retraces a century of one family’s experience. It is a story of ploughs and oxen and tractors, of praise songs and healing plants, of independent churches and political movements, of landlords, both black and white, of diamonds and dust storms and highveld rain. Above all, it is the story of one family and its patriarch, a family complicated as families are …”
You can find this month’s newsletter here:
As always, we hope we have found something for you.
Lindsay and Wendy