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A glancing rebound

Interview with Rayda Jacobs

Click on the book jacket to purchase your copy from kalahari.net now!

Postcards from South Africa Postcards from South Africa by Rayda Jacobs
Published by Double Storey, 2004 ISBN: 1919930612
208 pages, softcover

Your latest book has just been published by Double Storey. It has been described as “frequently funny, often serious, always deceptively simple — these ‘postcards’ are the compassionate yet challenging creation of a gifted storyteller.”

Sunday Times says “[Your] style is intense and exploratory, a kind of demystifying of [your] self that enables the understanding of others. And South Africa needs as much of that as it can get.”

  1. What was your motivation behind writing Postcards from South Africa?

    It didn’t start out as Postcards from South Africa. The stories under the “beginning years” were written while I was living in Toronto. My daughter had been involved in a car crash in August 1992, resulting in a serious head injury and hospitalisation for almost six months. I had to take off work to care for her, and had therapists and psychologists in the house every day. The stories started to emerge, and this girl Sabah appeared. I don’t believe these stories would’ve come about if it hadn’t been for the accident. There was some kind of shock to my system, and the stories just came out. They appeared in a collection entitled The Middle Children. When I returned to South Africa in 1995, I found myself writing short stories again. And again this girl Sabah appeared.

  2. Why do you think the title of your collection is so fitting for its contents?

    Because these are vignettes of how life really is here in South Africa. Snippets. Snapshots. Hit-and-run pieces.

  3. Who is Sabah and how has she changed since her first appearance in The Middle Children?

    Sabah’s experiences are based very loosely on my own. The loneliness of living in Canada, the longing for home. The wonderful grandfather in “Madula”. The story of Sabah’s mother coming to visit. If you look at Sabah when she first appears — strong-willed, insecure, fatherless — and you come to the last story in the book where she walks on the beach in the fog with her dog and is confronted by three thugs, you know the progress she has made. After she actually pulls the trigger and fires over their heads, she can’t afford to become afraid. Putting one foot in front of the other she just has to keep walking.

  4. Which is your favourite story out of Postcards from South Africa, and why?

    “The Pantie”. I just love the little girl, and the mother. They have such a beautiful relationship. And what the mother endures to procure a pantie for Bongi so she can go to school and play skipping with the other girls. And Bongi’s triumph at the end, when her auntie finally brings her this pantie, and her mother tells her this pantie can be washed only once a week as it must last through Sub A. And Bongi scrubs between her legs, takes off the pantie after school, puts it on top of the cupboard for the next day — and at last gets her moment when she is asked by the other girls to skip, and she skips and skips, jumping higher and higher, hoping that they can see it — that it’s a white one — and that it cost 99 cents.

  5. What is the most important message you are trying to make available to your readers when you write?

    To enlighten, to tell you about one another. We have so many cultures, so many stories. And most of all, just to take you out of yourself and take you on a ride with me.

  6. Out of all your novels and short-story collections, who is your favourite character and why?

    Without a doubt Abeeda Ariefdien in Confessions of a Gambler. It is the only one of my books where I say unreservedly that I did not have to make up the character. Abeeda Ariefdien is Rayda Jacobs. The character! Not the story. I have received several requests to bring Abeeda back in another novel. After much consideration, I had to change the whole family dynamics of my next book, The Slipper Orchid, to create a place for her in a minor role.

  7. What do you think the trend of South African writing will become over the next five years?

    South Africa’s future storytellers are sitting in the classrooms today. They are the ones who will tell the really great stories. The stories in the new South Africa.

  8. There is a strong focus on faith and culture in your works; tell us about that aspect of yourself.

    Well, I said recently in an article that I went to an imam once and told him that I felt I had a Christ complex. I felt guilty that I had so much love for Christ — was I betraying Muhammad? He laughed and told me not to worry about it, just to follow the teachings. Always I have been fascinated by the similarities between Jesus and Muhammad: their love for the poor, their humility, their kindness towards the beggars and sinners. I believe if we know about one another, and focus more on how we are the same rather than how different, we will be less inclined to prove that we have all the right answers, and get on with the real business of living. God will always have a role in my books, even if it appears that He isn’t there.

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    On the lighter side …

  9. What do you do when you aren’t writing/creating?

    I walk three or four times a week for one and a half hours on Muizenberg Beach. When I don’t write, I rent movies, or play marathon Scrabble. I play in a club on Tuesday nights.

  10. You are a writer, journalist, filmmaker and more. Which do you enjoy the most?

    I enjoy it all as I don’t consider myself to be a writer really, but rather a storyteller. As long as I can tell you a story, I’m happy. It costs nothing, of course, to write. To make a film can put you in the poor-house.

  11. What is the first thing you do once you have completed a manuscript?

    Go out for dinner and a movie with a friend. Maybe a short trip. I am going on pilgrimage, God willing, at the end of this year. And next year to India to make a film. By myself with just one friend.

  12. What will you be watching on TV this week?

    Six Feet Under, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Weakest Link.

  13. Which books are on your nightstand at the moment?

    How to know God and The Deeper Wound by Deepak Chopra, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock, The Gospel of Barnabas - Notes and Commentary by M.A. Yusseff, The Temptation of Christ, 100 Menacing Little Murder Stories, selected by Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg, and several books on Hajj.

    And do you use a bookmark or fold the top edge of the pages to keep your place?

    I use a bookmark.

  14. What is the most beautiful quote or sentence(s) you have ever read or heard?

    My all-time favourite is a scene in the opening pages of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath where a land turtle tries to negotiate his way up a concrete highway on a blistering day. Here’s a taste.

     … And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging his high-domed shell over the grass: His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along. The barley beads slid off his shell, and the clover burrs fell on him and rolled to the ground. His horny beak was partly open, and his fierce, humorous eyes, under brows like fingernails, stared straight ahead. He came over the grass leaving a beaten trail behind him, and the hill which was the highway embankment, reared up ahead of him. For a moment he stopped, his head held high. He blinked and looked up and down. At last he started to climb the embankment.

LitNet: 05 May 2004

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to the top / boontoe

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