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The Good Book Appreciation Society

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Ayesha Kajee interviews Kagiso Lesego over on The Good Book Appreciation Society

ayesha and kagiso Cocktail pic.001

Here is an excerpt of the first Cocktail Hour Interview of the year over on The Good Book Appreciation society, between Ayesha Kajee and award-winning author Kagiso Lesego.

The Good Book Appreciation Society is a secret book club on Facebook with over 4500 members. To join simply friend Bea Reader on Facebook.

Ayesha Kajee Hello everyone, I’m so excited to be interviewing Kagiso this evening. If you haven’t read it yet, TBBMB is essentially a brilliant coming of age novel, but on other levels it also addresses issues of patriarchy within families and the greater society, as well as providing subtle commentary on upward mobility and moving out of the loxion, a theme that also occurs in Kagiso’s previous novel, the Mending Season. Kagiso, did you set out with these themes in mind, or did they evolve organically as you wrote TBBBMB?

Kagiso Lesego I think they evolved organically. I get ideas through conversations, news, etc. So it’s all really stuff I think about and then if I’m passionate enough, it turns into a book

Ayesha Kajee Wow that sounds amazing. In view of the frank (and sometimes devastating) conversations about racism and White privilege that have kickstarted 2016 in SA, one of the book’s most graphic scenes is the one where Basimane is prevented from playing in a rugby match where important selectors would be watching. Was there a specific real incident that spurred you to include this event in the novel?

Kagiso Lesego Yes, actually. I had a friend in high school who was a rugby star and that incident was taken from his experience on the field. The funny thing is that’s the one incident editors and publishers disputed. I was asked: is this realistic?

Ayesha Kajee I thoiught it was very realistic. And still relevant even. Considering Hashim Amla’s stated reasons for why he quit as cricket captain, for example.

Ayesha Kajee Though I feel your books are well suited to adult audiences too, you’ve said previously that the greatest challenge in writing for young adults is staying honest, staying real. Do you perhaps have one or more young adult beta readers who keep you on track? I ask because that searing honesty was evident in both TBBMB and TMS, and I’m awed!

Kagiso Lesego Yes! But there’s a lot of denial and I think that’s because between people of different colours, the other’s experience is often unimaginable. We’ve been taught not to know what’s going on on the other side of the fence. That’s been the power of apartheid, one of its long-lasting effects.

Kagiso Lesego Not really. I think I really connect with my 12 year-old self. And I connect with my readers. I’m open to their experiences, even when they’re hard to hear.

Ayesha Kajee Well, for what it’s worth, I think raising the issues in young adult novels is an excellent start at dismantling that. I lent TBBMB to my goddaughter and she enjoyed it, and we are planning to have a serious discussion about some of the themes you raise. She’s sixteen. When you writte, and with the hindsight you now have, is there any advice you’d have loved to have been given when you were sixteen?

Kagiso Lesego I don’t know about advice, but definitely adult presence would have been nice. Looking back, I wish I’d had adults who’d been reassuring. Townships are rough. You’re on your own in ways we don’t always care to explore. Adults are overworked and oppressed and exhausted. I wish I’d had the benefit of happier, more present adults.

Ayesha Kajee I can certainly empathise with that. And am sure young people today would too. Perhaps one of the biggest questions raised in TBBMB is societal endorsement of GBV and the manner in which women are often constrained to become complicit (albeit passively) in the abuse of other women. As a society, do you believe we’re making any progress towards lessening such invidious complicity?

Kagiso Lesego There’s some really powerful work being done to move forward. If you look at women rising against GBV now, you’re really inspired, but at the time I wrote the book, it was awful. Many older wome’s reaction to President Zuma’s rape trial, for example. I’d rather not remember that.

Ayesha Kajee Eish! yes.When you were at Time of the Writer at UKZN in 2013, you received much flack about comparisons that were made between the situation in the book and the rape trial of Mr Zuma. Did you find that somewhat ironic, given that to some extent it mirrored Naledi’s situation in the novel?

Kagiso Lesego Ironic yes, but generally quite frightening. I was scared when I was at ToTW. I remember us running into the elevator! My experience of the festival was ruined by that. There were many objections to me even just saying he raped his victim, just naming that at all.

To read the rest of the interview simply join The Good Book Appreciation Society by friending Bea Reader on Facebook.

Ayesah Kajee is a development and media professional with extensive governance and rights experience. She directed the Freedom of Expression Institute and the International Human Rights Exchange Program at Wits University, and headed the Political Parties Project at the SA Institute of International Affairs.
Her work includes consultancies for various local and intergovernmental organizations, and her research focus has included hate speech, genocide and incitement to violence. You can follow Ayesha on Twitter on @ayeshakajee

Ayesha also writes book reviews for The Sunday Times, like this one:

In 2002 Toronto-based TSAR published Kagiso Lesego Molope’s debut novel, Dancing in the Dust. Oxford University Press later picked it up for Southern African readers and translated it into three South African languages. Dancing in the Dust was the first book by a South African of African descent to make the IBBY list in 2006. It is also set work in South Africa and read for A levels in Zimbabwe. The Mending Season was published by Oxford University Press SA in 2006 and in 2008 (in German) by Baobab Books in Switzerland. Her third novel, This Book Betrays My Brother, has won the 2014 Percy Fitzpatrick Prize for Youth Literature. Molope has just completed her fourth book and first adult novel.

You can pick up Kagiso’s book, This Book Betrays my Brother, here.


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