When reading is good in time of crisis: “I felt her every emotion, her pain, her anxiety, her fatigue-she became so real that I could even smell her”​

Let’s not forget that books – fiction as much as nonfiction – are our true companions and sometimes even our real saviours in times of crisis.

“The Afrikaner is a story that takes us to the past, the present and the future of South Africa. It gives us hope, as a nation. It speaks a message of love, forgiveness and peace. ”

[…]

“I absolutely enjoyed every moment with Zoe, the main character of The Afrikaner. I felt her every emotion, her pain, her anxiety, her fatigue. She became so real that I could even smell her. It was very easy for me to relate to this saga as I live in South Africa and naturally wish to learn about the history of this country. Zoe can easily represent South Africa: a young land that has suffered so much injustices, so much heartache, pain, violence and bloodshed. But she has to move on. She has to be strong. She has to find her strength in herself, in her deserts, in her oceans and rivers, in her people and in their diversity in culture and language. She has to move away from the place of pain and start afresh on a clean slate. Unfortunately, as Kurt says at page 229, “The past always resurfaces.” Humankind’s past, our individual past and our nation’s past. It cannot be buried and remain buried. How to handle it when it resurfaces is the main issue. Cyril says at page 184, “Diversity is healthy. We can accept each other and be together without giving up our differences. It’s useless – even foolish – to reduce us to a common denominator.” Kurt sums it up, “The Tribes of this country – the white, the black, the coloured – share a long history. Sure, a bloody and violent one. But we’ve been together for hundreds of years now […] This common lived history should be the foundation of our new country.”

 

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Journeys into the page: how (imaginary) travelling & movement can inspire & nurture your writing

If you ever happen to be in British Columbia in May, find a way to reach Salmon Arm, in the Thompson Okanagan region, for the “Word on the Lake Literary Festival” (May 8-10). Salmon Arm has been ranked as the best place to live in B.C. and the sixth-best place to live in Canada by Maclean’s magazine.

On May 9, I will be giving this workshop: “Journeys into the page: how (imaginary) travelling & movement can inspire and nurture your writing”. Here is a brief description of what we will be working on:

Travel is commonly associated with exploration, adventure, stories of growth, and personal transformation. Most of the great writers of all times have tried their hand at or honed their skill through travel-based writing. In this highly interactive workshop, we will discover why this is so by taking you on a journey through memorable stories (of past masters) and highly personal experiences (yours).

Expect to be asked many questions and to have to write your answers in short, fast paragraphs. At the end of the workshop, expect to have developed a mental map of your own creative writing mind and of the reasons why it functions at its best once you have really or virtually left the comfort of home.

https://wordonthelakewritersfestival.com/sessions/journeys-into-the-page

Arianna Dagnino’s cultural and professional experience crosses many borders and five continents. Born in Genoa, Italy, she studied in London, Moscow and Boston before entering journalism and international reporting, which led her to spend several years in Southern Africa and Australia and travel across China and the Middle East.

She has published books – both in Italian and English – of fiction and creative nonfiction, as well as on the effects of digital technologies and global mobility.

Her newly-published novel The Afrikaner (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019) is an on-the-road tale set between South Africa and Namibia that covers the terrains of love, race and science. Arianna holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of South Australia currently teaches Italian literature and film adaptation at the University of British Columbia; together with her colleague Dr. Ernest Mathijs she has just finished writing a film script based on her novel.

You can find her @ /https://blogs.ubc.ca/ariannadagnino/

https://blogs.ubc.ca/afrikaner/

New in 2019: The Afrikaner. A Novel (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019)

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

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“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

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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.” What book am I referring to? 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.

You can read the whole interview here.

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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

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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

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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 the 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/

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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)

 

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Surrey’s Writers International Conference

If you happen to be in Surrey at the Writers International Conference this Saturday, come to have a chat at my desk, where I will be signing copies of the Afrikaner from 5.30 pm to 7.00 pm.

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“The Afrikaner” has landed in New York

Thanks to author Judith Reveal for her ravishing review in the “New York Journal of Books.” “Arianna Dagnino is to be complimented on her storytelling ability. She describes the beauty of South Africa through the careful choice of words, providing a cultural education for her readers.” (Judith Reveal) Read the whole review here: https://lnkd.in/erfBBRN

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