“I was very surprised at your insight into my psyche as an Afrikaner”

South African actor Gys de Villiers (“Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom”) has kindly accepted to provide his feedback on my novel The Afrikaner, a story of hate, love, guilt and scientific obsession inspired by the five years (1996-2000) I spent in newly post-apartheid South Africa as an international reporter for the Italian press.

I am grateful for his comments, which support my understanding of how creative writers should go about their craft when dealing with other cultural landscapes and the multifarious workings of human nature – that is, with great humbleness, the utmost respect, an open mind, and an unquenchable curiosity. These elements are at the basis of any attempt at cultural permeation, interpretation, and understanding.

You can read Gys de Villier’s full feedback on The Afrikaner here:

“I really enjoyed your story. It was quite moving and I felt intrigued to continue reading till the end.

It is uncanny how you as a foreigner could pinpoint so accurately my own well-guarded emotions about being an Afrikaner.

There were times when I was very surprised at your insight into my psyche as an Afrikaner. I wanted to shout out, no you can’t share that with the world; like the complex military situation during conscription, also the lingering suspicion, resentment and racism that is still part of South Africa.

I like the exploration of Zoe into her maternal line, trying to understand and break free from the supposed curse.  I also felt her deep love and loss of Dario [her lover].

I enjoyed Zoe’s interactions with the Khoisan Koma [the shaman] and wanted more of that.

I thought Sam was a very recognizable character that I might have known in SA.

I also loved Zoe’s relationship with Georgina, the old housekeeper which is all too familiar and which forms the base of stability in many a South African household.

The determination with which Zoe tackles her archaeological digs reminds me of all the strong Afrikaner women I know and have known including my mother and sisters.

The story was quite moving and I felt intrigued to continue reading till the end.

Good luck with your film version.”

Hate, Love, Guilt and Redemption under African Skies

https://www.guernicaeditions.com/title/9781771833578

Authors, What are you reading right now?

“It’s simply immense in scope, character development, historical reconstruction, poetic sensibility, human empathy. I consider it a sort of secular Bible for the creative writer. It belongs to another era but it still speaks to us, to all fundamental weaknesses and strengths as human beings.” Which book am I talking about? You can discover it by reading my interview with the “well-seasoned librarian” Dean Jones, originally published in his ongoing series on Medium, the platform with 120 million curious readers.

Read the interview originally published on Medium here (with pictures) or here below:

Name: Arianna Dagnino

Author of: “The Afrikaner. A Novel” (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019); “Jesus Christ Cyberstar” (Ipoc, 2009); “Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility” (Purdue University Press, 2015)

Can you tell me about your latest book “The Afrikaner”?

In a nutshell, The Afrikaner is an on-the-road tale set in newly post-apartheid South Africa and in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia that covers the terrains of race, love, historical guilt, and the tensions of a society “lost in transition.” The book is inspired by the five years (1996–2000) I spent in the southern African region as an international reporter for the Italian press.

The main character, Zoe du Plassis, 33, is a young female scientist (paleontologist) of Afrikaner descent. A conflicted woman struggling with group guilt and a dark family secret, after a fatal accident Zoe embarks on a field expedition into the hot plains of the Kalahari Desert in search of early human fossils. Her journey of atonement and self-discovery will lead her to memorable encounters with a troubled writer, a Bushman shaman, and a Border War veteran.

In reviewing the book for BC Book World, Alan Twigg wrote: “Art must be cathartic, original and memorable… North Americans have gleaned a deeper awareness of South Africa through Alan Paton’s ‘Cry the Beloved Country,’ Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. We’ve also seen ‘Invictus’ or ‘A Dry White Season’ or Richard Attenborough’s ‘Cry Freedom’ about Stephen Biko, the man that Nelson Mandela described as ‘the spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa.’ ‘The Afrikaner’ deserves its place in that pantheon.”

List of a few books you are currently reading?

Aleksandar Hemon’s The Book of my lives; Jared Diamond’s Upheaval: turning points for nations in crisisand then a series of less renown but interesting writers (I like to discover new stuff beyond what big publishing houses are keen to promote with their powerful marketing machines): Richard Goodship’s The Camera Guy, Yigal Zur’sDeath in Shangri-La, Geoffrey Fox’s A Gift for the Sultan, Anca Cristofovici, Stela. Since I am working on the film script of my novel The Afrikaner, I am also reading Laura Brennan’s The Screening Room: Turning a Novel into a Screenplay and Ken Dancyger’s and Jeff Rush’s Alternative Scriptwriting.

What is one book you have read more than once?

Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Why? (If applicable). It’s simply immense in scope, character development, historical reconstruction, poetic sensibility, human empathy. I consider it a sort of secular Bible for the creative writer. It belongs to another era but it still speaks to us, to all fundamental weaknesses and strengths as human beings.

Do you have a “Guilty Secret” book that you have been reading for some time but have never finished?

I have so many of them! Just to mention a couple: Proust’s À la recherche, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Don de Lillo’s Underworld.

What was your favorite book as a child?

In different stages of childhood: Mary Walcott’s Little Women (Joe! Oh Joe!), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Zane Grey’s The Call of the Canyon. One can tell I belong to an “ancient” generation of writers…

Which writer do you most admire? Why?

J.M. Coetzee: Because I will never be able to write as he does: so neatly, so sparingly. All those perfectly-constructed, crystalline sentences — saying so much with so little.

Do you have a book that you have considered a “Life changer”?

Three books, actually (for three different reasons): Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Primo Levi’s If This is a Manand Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Have you ever read a famous book that you consider to be “Over Rated”? If so, which book and why?

Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Tedious, navel-gazing, dull characters — a story that never picks up. The writing is damn good, no doubt. But what’s the real purpose of all this aesthetic effort and all those hours of dedicated reading? To me it’s just a waste of time on both sides: the author’s and the reader’s. After this book I doubt I would ever want to read anything else written by Franzen.

If you could invite up to 10 authors living or dead to dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?

All dead writers: I find them more fascinating than the living bunch.

Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph ConradZelda FitzgeraldMark TwainRobert M. PirsigToni Morrison, Paul BowlesUrsula K. Le Guin, and Truman Capote. I would serve a hearty Italian meal and good red wine to ease/spark the conversation.

Any advice for aspiring writers?/Artists

Anything goes. Find/make your own rules in order to get into that sacred space of creative imagination. And once you are in there, stick to it as much as you can, blocking out any possible distractions. Thus: forget about FB, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and all that time-wasting social media stuff. Go off the grid, head into the woods, or live by an ocean. Become a recluse, lead a monastic life, find your cave, or throw yourself into the thick shrubs of urban life. But live: live harshly, widely, intensely. Talk to people: real people (not digital avatars or celebrities). Travel. Love. Suffer. And write, write, write, whenever you can, wherever you are. Live in your characters’ heads. Talk to them, talk like they would do. Hate them, love them, suffer with them, for them. And then deliver. Never leave a page, a chapter, a manuscript unfinished. And then start editing, rewriting, editing — until exhaustion, until you have no regrets. Until you will be able — and have the right — to say: “I did my best. Let’s see what you think of my work”.

About Arianna Dagnino:

In her career as an international reporter, literary translator and academic researcher, Arianna Dagnino has lived in many countries, including a five-year stint in South Africa. The author of several books on the impact of global mobility, science, and new technologies, she holds a Ph.D. from the University of South Australia and currently teaches at the University of British Columbia. Her latest novel, “The Afrikaner” (Guernica, Toronto, 2019) is an on-the-road adventure story that covers the terrains of race, love, white guilt, science, shamanism, and cultural survival.

Links/Websites:

“The Afrikaner”: Blog

YouTube Book trailer of “The Afrikaner”:

The Afrikaner: Book review 1:

The Afrikaner Book review 2:

Interview: “Writer Heads to South Africa for new Novel.”

Read the interview on Medium here: https://medium.com/authors-what-are-you-reading/what-are-you-reading-right-now-with-arianna-dagnino-75bd82bbb052

How do South African and Canadian Readers React to “The Afrikaner”

As an Italian writer who has published her South African-based novel The Afrikaner  while living in Canada (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019), I am particularly eager to receive feedback from South African and Canadian readers. Thus, I am grateful to fiction editor Tracy Buenk from Durban, South Africa and independent writer Vernice Shostal from British Columbia for their thoughtful feedback.

“Landscapes and characters come to life in the detailed descriptions and fast-paced story of The Afrikaner. For me, the greatest achievement of this novel is Arianna Dagnino’s excellent grasp of the complex relationship between the South African cultures. A memorable and moving book” (Tracy Buenk, Fiction Editing | Reader’s Reports, )

“I found The Afrikaner an amazing work of fiction and perhaps some non-fiction, which took a look at contemporary issues in the new South Africa. The personal life of the character, Zoey, and the people she is associated with, leave the reader with a feeling of hope toward a humanitarian consciousness and resolving past issues, including her own past superstitions; however, perhaps, like First Nation people in Canada, who were also betrayed by colonialism, the novel showed that not all black South Africans are able to quickly forgive the past. The imagery in the novel presents the country of South Africa as a living, breathing soul, albeit a parched and harried one” (Vernice Shostal, independent writer)

The Afrikaner: https://blogs.ubc.ca/afrikaner/
https://www.guernicaeditions.com/title/9781771833578

From Fellow Writer to Fellow Writer: “Discomfort” and “Trust”

It is always a special honour to receive the appreciation of a fellow writer for one’s work.

The Canadian writer Chantal Garand, author of the novel Natalia Z. (Annika Parance Editeur, Montréal, 2018), which will also appear in Norwegian translation in 2020, has agreed to let me publish the letter she sent me after having read my novel The Afrikaner.

Two words stand out in Chantal’s comments: “discomfort” and “trust”. In my view, these two words encapsulate what writing is all about.

Chantal has written her letter in French, the language in which she creatively writes, although her English is as good. I have provided an English translation of the text (original French text follows).

Dear Arianna,

I have just finished reading “The Afrikaner” and I want to express the pleasure I had in reading your novel. The characters’ stories are captivating and skillfully express the torments and dilemmas experienced by South Africans in the post-apartheid period. I lived 4 years in South Africa, always with the impression of living in a cocoon, totally excluded from what the different layers/cultures of this troubled society are going through. I’ve never been able to penetrate people’s souls like you have.

Your novel shows admirable sensitivity and evocative power. Having so finely described the discomfort that is palpable among South Africans, I can tell you did not waste your time during your stay in this country. You have certainly succeeded in connecting with people who have trusted you enough to let you explore what they are trying to understand themselves. Congratulations, your novel is a great success and has the merit of not making easy judgments.

Chantal Garand

Chère Arianna,

Je viens de terminer la lecture de The Afrikaner et je veux vous exprimer le plaisir que j’ai eu à lire votre roman. L’histoire des personnages est captivante et est habilement intégrée aux tourments et dilemmes ressentis par les sud-aficains en période post-apartheid. J’ai vécu 4 ans en Afrique du Sud, toujours avec l’impression de vivre dans un cocon, totalement exclue de ce que vivent les différentes couches/cultures de cette population troublée. Je n’ai jamais réussi à pénétrer l’âme des gens comme vous l’avez fait.

Votre roman démontre une sensibilité et une force d’évocation admirables. Pour avoir si finement décrit l’inconfort qui est palpable chez les sud-aficains, je constate que vous n’avez pas perdu votre temps pendant votre séjour dans ce pays. Vous avez certainement réussi à vous lier avec des gens qui vous ont fait suffisamment confiance pour vous laisser explorer ce qu’ils tentent eux-même de comprendre. Bravo, votre roman est une belle réussite et a le mérite de ne pas porter de jugement facile.

Chantal Garand

Arianna Dagnino, “The Afrikaner” (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019): https://www.amazon.com/Afrikaner-Essential-Prose-Arianna-Dagnino/dp/1771833572

Chantal Garand, “Natalia Z.” (Annika Parance, Montréal, 2018): https://www.apediteur.com/litterature/livre/natalia-z

Universal themes in a unique setting: An Interview on “The Afrikaner”​ by Victor Van Der Merwe

“When it comes to societies like South Africa, there is always something that will contradict your preconceived notions,” says Arianna Dagnino, author of “The Afrikaner,” published by Guernica Editions (Toronto) in 2019.

“I think what is happening now in the Western world is something that has already happened in South Africa,” says Dagnino, who spent five years in the then newly democratic South Africa and can write about that time with great ease.

This is how journalist Victor Van Der Merwe starts our interview on my South African-based novel “The Afrikaner.” The interview was published in the October issue of BC magazine “The Source” (Volume 20, Issue 06 – October 8–22, 2019).

You can read the rest of the interview here below or at this link:

The novel is set in the South Africa of 1996. The book follows Zoe du Plessis, a paleontologist of Afrikaner descent, struggling with white group guilt, a dark family secret and the recent loss of a lover and colleague. The Afrikaner begins as Zoe embarks on a journey of self-discovery and atonement, while on a field expedition into the hot plains of the Kalahari Desert. She is there in search of early human fossils.

Witness to transition

Dagnino was born in Italy but has traveled as far as London, Boston and Moscow for work and studies. In 1996, Dagnino and her husband moved to South Africa to become international correspondents who wrote for the Italian press. Aside from the wire service, she and her husband were the only two Italian reporters in the country.

“It was the right time to be there (South Africa),” says Dagnino. “All the foreign correspondents from the UK, the US, from all over Europe, they were all interested in what was happening there. It was a very dramatic moment of transition for the country, so everyone wanted to witness what was happening and report about it.”

As a former travel writer for an Italian magazine, she was mostly prepared for what to expect when arriving in Africa, but there were still facets of South African life that surprised her.

“What really surprised me was that most of the white people in South Africa had never visited a township,” says Dagnino. “So, the first thing I did as a reporter, I went into the Soweto township to see how people lived there.”

Dagnino says she ended up being the person that told white South Africans about how people live in Soweto, one of South Africa’s most famous townships. The class distinction even within a township like Soweto was another big surprise.

“It was a real city. It wasn’t a squatter camp like the Favelas in Brazil. There were people there who were very poor, but there were also people who were very rich. Some people had mansions and big cars in Soweto,” she says.

Moving to Canada

In 2000, Dagnino and her husband left South Africa and moved to Australia where she received her PhD in Comparative Literature and Sociology. After a few years of living in Australia, Dagnino and her family again faced the choice of a new destination. The couple applied for Canadian permanent residency at the same time they applied for Australian permanent residency. After Dagnino received her PhD, they figured, why not give Canada a try?

“We wanted to offer our kids the opportunity to experience being raised in an English-speaking country,” she says. “We felt it was important for them to be raised in a place that would give them a lot more opportunities.”

It was in Canada, where Dagnino started and finished the novel The Afrikaner. Although the story takes place in a very remote corner of the world and is set in a very specific time of South Africa’s history, Dagnino still feels everyone can take something from the theme of the book.

“I think the theme is very universal,” she says. “I think it is important for people to understand that they need to address certain issues related to racial divisions.”

Dagnino hopes everyone who reads her book takes away the idea that we should not be so quick to judge.

“Societies are very complex and South Africa’s society is one of the most complex I have experienced,” she says. “It is very challenging. It isn’t black and white, there are many shades of grey and we need to take into consideration these shades of grey before creating our perception, before making judgements.”

Dagnino currently teaches at UBC.

Full interview here: http://thelasource.com/en/2019/10/07/universal-themes-in-a-unique-setting/

For more information on Arianna Dagnino and her novel “The Afrikaner” go to:

Hate, Love, Guilt and Redemption under African Skies

Arianna Dagnino

https://blogs.ubc.ca/ariannadagnino/

Science in Fiction or Fiction in Science?

How much science can there be in fiction and, at the same time, how much fiction (that is, creative imagination) can there be in science?

A new – rather controversial – study conducted by Australian scientists on mitochondrial DNA claims that the birthplace of modern humans might be in Botswana. This would confirm recent theories that the cradle of modern humanity lies in Southern Africa rather than in Eastern Africa.

This is also what paleoanthropologist Zoe du Plessis, the main character of my novel “The Afrikaner” (Guernica, Toronto, 2019), tries to prove with her fieldwork in the Desert of the Kalahari at the border between northern Namibia and southern Botswana.

References:

The birthplace of modern humans might be in Botswana” (Australia Science)

Ancestral home of modern humans is in Botswana, study finds” (The Guardian)

Controversial new study pinpoints where all modern humans arose” (National Geographic)

Humanity’s birthplace: why everyone alive today can call northern Botswana home” (Phys.org)

The Afrikaner. A Novel” (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019)

Start with the Story, Not the Statistics. And, Be Truthful!

Interesting podcast interview with leadership coach Sabina Nawaz about storytelling able to make things “memorable.”
Nawaz aptly remarks that “A story can engage a thousand neurons” and can get us “at the emotional level”: That’s what creates “retention.”
So, let’s hope that creative writing people and storytellers out there (mostly struggling to make a living) have a new role to play in the future of corporate world executives.
The problem is: do “leaders” have a “true” story to tell? And are people smart enough to understand when something is “made up” in order to be liked, coat the pill or sell what one has to sell?
Now more than ever it’s fundamental to include in the picture, as Sabina does in the final part of her interview, the moral stance of “telling the truth,” even when this is just the one-sided, partial truth an individual can be accountable for.

The sad reality of paid book reviews and other author/reader incoveniences

“WOULD YOU LEAVE A REVIEW more often if you knew HOW HARD IT IS for authors to get reviews and how big of an impact that has on their survival?” author Mateja Klaric asked in her interesting survey on book reviews.

And did you know that AUTHORS/PUBLISHERS HAVE TO PAY to get a book review in KIRKUS, the most prestigious (and “most trusted,” according to their website) literary magazine?

As Kristen Houghton writes in the Huffington Post, “Now paying for reviews is a commonplace practice. ForeWord ($295), Kirkus (standard service $425, express service $575), and Publishers Weekly (various guidelines) offer programs where you ‘pay to play.’” IndieReader is far more reasonable at $225, Blue Ink: $325, San Francisco Book Review: $150, as Peter Derk reports in his article “Confession: I Paid For Book Reviews.”

Luckily, we have GOODREADS, which so far (and I emphasise this!) allows readers to publish their HONEST REVIEWS for FREE. On AMAZON you have to be a paying customer who has spent at least 50$ in the last year in order to leave your review (and, by the way, if an author wants to be reviewed on Amazon still has to pay one of Amazon’s “trusted” reviewers).

In any case, even on Goodreads now authors are at risk for severe “trolling” (most platforms do nothing to combat this).

This is the HARD REALITY of the book market today, “when almost every print newspaper in the country has done away with its book review section,” as Houghton reminds us. Or, perhaps, this is again another manifestation of our flawed humanity, whether it has to do with online/offline book marketing strategies or anything else.

Personally, I have made a point not to resort to paid reviews – mostly due to a lack of funds; (let’s face it: my independent publisher’s promotional budget as well as mine are severely tight). But also due to what is left of my sense of self-esteem and dignity: as an early 21st-century author, I guess I have already stretched enough those two values when, to use Peter Derk’s words, I experimented what it means to be “going from creator to carnival barker.”

So, as a writer (sometimes) and reader (mostly) I would encourage people not to be shy in leaving their HONEST (and NOT PAID FOR) REVIEWS on blogs, social media and Goodreads pages.

References:

·      Mateja Klaric, “Why Is It so Hard to Get Book Reviews from Real Readers?” www.matejaklaric.com

·      Kristen Houghton, “Book Reviews: Should You Pay for Them?”The Huffington Post

·      Peter Derk, “Confession: I Paid For Book Reviews,” Lit Reactor.

White suprematism in the US: A Comprehensive History

I have just added to my ever longer reading list the book by Gene Bétit “Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid — African American’s 400 Years in North America, 1619-2019.”

Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid is a comprehensive study of the treatment African Americans have encountered since their arrival in Virginia in 1619, a saga of racism and white supremacy. It is actual history, not the popular mythology about the Civil War and its aftermath taught in our schools. Numerous tables, photographs, maps, and charts make the study easy to read. The topic is extremely pertinent due to the four hundredth anniversary of African Americans’ presence in North America in 2019 and encouragement of racism from the White House.

Chapters cover white supremacy and racism, slavery, the service of US Colored Troops in the Civil War, devastation of the South, evolution of emancipation, and Reconstruction and the Freedman’s Bureau. Other chapters address “redemption” and the “lost cause,” Jim Crow, blacks’ significant military contributions in the two world wars, the Great Migration, the civil rights movement, and the backlash that continues today.

The book also addresses contemporary issues, including white supremacy, Confederate statuary, and evaluates the status of blacks compared to other groups in society. Note is taken of Professor James Whitman’s observation that Hitler admired Jim Crow and antimiscegenation laws, as well as Richard Rothstein’s study of federal and local housing law, documenting whites’ responsibility for creating inner-city ghettos.

Postcolonial Writing Revisited

“The Hubris of Public and Personal History in The Afrikaner by Arianna Dagnino” – A Review by Hollay Ghadery

“Zoe’s stagnancy is a fascinating reflection of the seeming impossibility of finding closure amidst the disparate beliefs and attitudes in post-colonial West Africa. It’s hard to forgive. It’s hard to forget. It can feel impossible to move forward,” writes Hollay Ghadery in her thoughtful and thought-provoking review of “The Afrikaner”, which she finds “as surprising as any contemporary post-colonial novel I could imagine.” You can read the whole review here: http://www.riverstreetwriting.com/blog/review-the-afrikaner