November 2019

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):

Chantal Garand, “Natalia Z.” (Annika Parance, Montréal, 2018):

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:

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

Hate, Love, Guilt and Redemption under African Skies

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.


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” (

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.


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

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

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