If there’s one thing this lockdown accomplished, it brought me closer to my one true love in life: reading. My 52% introverted self rejoiced at the countless hours and days suddenly available to read the considerably long TBR pile that I have accumulated while studying and working. Along with all the bells, whistles and Christmas gammon, I bring you the best reads of 2020 (according to me) served the best way I know (with a drink or snack in hand).
If you know a bookworm (and I bet you do) avoid countless hours perusing the shelves and find inspo here, and if your selection was a miss, at least they have something to drink at New Year’s.
The “Local is lekker”-lover
Loves and Miracles of Pistola, by Hilary Prendini Toffoli
Penguin SA | Takealot, Kindle, Google Play, or your nearest book retailer
Local is lekker in Italian? Hear me out. Pistola, a boy born in a tiny Italian village, falls in love with his second cousin Theresa, who’s sadly engaged to the village thug. He escapes his heartache and sets up a semi-permanent home in South Africa, working on the trains with a group of other Italian compatriots. He becomes inevitably embroiled in the politics of a turbulent South Africa mid-Apartheid with his romance with Malikah, a spunky political activist, further adding to the drama. His coming-of-age narrative is enriched with the descriptions of well-known local spaces and his quest to introduce Italian cuisine to his new countrymen.
Toffoli creates a beautiful romance between Italian flavours and well-known South African landscapes. What you get is an exploration of a part of South African history which is largely unknown, the lives of the 110 Italian men who were recruited to work on the South African Railways, while at the same time transporting you to Italy and all its delicious sights, smells and sounds. What you’re left with is a feel-good nostalgia, a bittersweet melancholy if you will – can you imagine a better Christmas read?
To accompany a beautiful South African Italian read, you can’t go wrong with a refreshing gin and tonic. To complement the flavours of Pistola’s life, I offer you Ginato’s Clementino premium gin.
Drinks company, Truman & Orange, source their ingredients from Italy, including juniper berries from the rolling hills of Tuscany, citrus bursting with Southern Italy’s unique Mediterranean sweetness, and Italian grapes grown alongside northern Italy’s idyllic lakes. This drink therefore holds true to the promise of a gin that packs a punch in flavour and execution. A quintessential summer drink to accompany your quintessential South African summer.
The beach reader
If I Had Your Face, by Frances Cha
Penguin SA | Takealot, Google Play, Kindle, or your nearest book retailer
Beach reads call for something on the little less heavy side (both in narrative and the size of the book), and while Frances Cha’s If I had your face is far from “light” in terms of the very important issues it addresses, the plot is easy enough to follow while applying your next round of SPF.
The narrative follows the lives of four young women in modern-day Seoul, South Korea, the capital of a country obsessed with the cosmetics industry and the advancement of a beauty norm that will always be slightly out of reach. It’s no secret that South Korean society is enthralled by the seemingly endless possibilities of plastic surgery and while the four women, Kyuri, Miho, Ara and Wonna, each struggle with this norm in their own right, the novel also touches on all aspects that make life for young women in Seoul particularly difficult; gender stereotypes, class, wealth, religion, sexual and emotional abuse, lack of professional advancement and opportunity, and so much more.
While it can at times feel as if you are tumble dried in a cluster of South Korean tropes and cultural phenomena, Cha provides a fascinating look into the lives of a population over sensationalised by its shiny, beautiful exterior, but largely misunderstood for its duller underbelly.
Kleijne Wijn Gezelschap Sauvignon Blanc
Winecan, R129 for 4
If you missed our recent round-up of the new nifty kids on the block, canned wine, head on over! Adding to its ease of travel and drinking, Kleijne Wijn Gezelschap’s Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect pool- or beachside companion, especially served extra cold. A tropical exploration of guava, passionfruit, peach, and ripe pear is accompanied by a very aesthetically pleasing can design and concept.
The deep thinker
Still Life, by Zoë Wicomb
Penguin SA | Takealot, Google Play, Kindle, or your nearest book retailer
Wicomb requires no introduction – creating picturesque landscapes of the South African Karoo or the windy, troublesome Cape Town, she is a companion to all South African readers, and beyond. Her latest novel, Still Life, is in my opinion both locally and internationally one of the best reads of 2020.
Introducing the father of South African poetry, Thomas Pringle, in a manner bizarre in concept but outstanding in execution is no easy feat, given that he is largely unknown in most laymen’s circles. The author (a character in Still Life although the conflation between this figure and Wicomb is easy to do) accomplishes this with some help along the way: Hinza, the “adopted” son of Pringle, Mary Prince, a West Indian slave whose history Pringle published, and Sir Nicholas Greene, a character from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
Yes, it is as dense, and confusing at times, as it sounds but I promise you; this is an exploration of time and space, of belonging and unbelonging, of mutual distrust and love not to be missed. Learning the biography of Thomas Pringle is overshadowed by a much larger narrative of characters coming to grips with their position in history and the modern, post-colonial world.
O for Olives, extra virgin olive oil and table olives
O for Olives farm stall, prices vary
The Swartriver Farm, situated minutes from the charming Karoo town, Prince Albert, is home to beautiful olive orchards, a popular cafe-restaurant, sheep and lucerne farming, onion seed production, and a sweeping view of the Swartberg Mountains. They also produce the most delectable table olives and extra virgin olive oil imaginable – while being transported to the interiority of Wicomb’s history, why not snack on the fruits of a landscape so well researched and portrayed by her?
The farm prides itself on producing excellent products by combining two elements: experience and nature. If that doesn’t sound like a match made in Wicomb-heaven, then I suggest you get lost in Cape Town and return to the Karoo in October and breathe in the Still Life of this charming landscape, while supporting O for Olives and their craftsmanship.
Die Afrikaanse anarchis
Swart Swaan, deur Wilken Calitz
Penguin SA | Takealot, Google Play, Kindle, of jou naaste boekwinkel
Calitz se debuutroman word beskryf as ‘n “surrealistiese sprokie”, ‘n fairytale vir volwassenes, ‘n Grimm brothers-dans met die duiwel voordat Disney dit geromantiseer het. Mede-skrywer, Elené, beskryf dit perfek in haar resensie:
“Dis ‘n droomagtige, somber en surrealistiese wêreld, wat aanvanklik so bisarre en oordrewe voorkom, maar op die ou end in klein subtiele maniere met jou eie werklikheid resoneer – nes ‘n regte-egte sprokie.”
Ons hoofkarakter, Fabian, is ‘n sekuriteitswag by ‘n Casino. Sy lewe is skynbaar eenvoudig, sonder opwinding en durf ek dit noem, ietwat banaal. Dan maak ‘n ondier homself tuis in sy tuin en die dinamika verander van dagdrome in suburbia tot nagmerries in Nigel (of êrens naby genoeg, die dubbelsinnigheid van die storielyn se milieu dra by tot die boek se relevansie tot die hier en nou). Die is ‘n moet-lees vir enige leser wat aangetrokke voel tot die donker en misterieuse.
The Kraken Black Spiced Rum
Makro of Takealot, R349
Vind die ondier in jou boek én in jou glas met The Kraken se Black Spiced Rum, ‘n drankie so uniek in bemarking soos in smaak. Bisarre en woes, die Kraken is gemaak vir die wat waag (en wil wen).
Die Kraken kry sy naam by ‘n tragedie in die Karibiese Eilande. ‘n Skip wat rum vervoer word aangeval deur die monsteragtige wese, Kraken, en sink dan, met almal aan boord, na die diepste, donkerste onderwêreld van die oseaan. Slegs een bottel bly oor en hy word vir altyd gemerk deur die Kraken se donker ink en nagevolge.
‘n Drankie met ‘n storie soos die kan enige avontuurlustige opgewonde maak. Meng ‘n bietjie van Calitz se donker drome in met jou volgende rum en coke – ek dare jou.
The Democratic drinker
A Promised Land: The Presidential Memoirs Vol. 1, by Barack Obama
Penguin SA | Loot, Takealot, Reader’s Warehouse, or your nearest book retailer
A highly anticipated release which is in my opinion one of the best reads of 2020, due not only to the recent election, but also the political climate nationwide. Gleaming an inside into the United States’ 47th president is not only highly enlightening, but also strangely voyeuristic. What I’ve gathered so far is that Barack Obama is a deeply compassionate, idealistic, somewhat sarcastic individual with a longing to change the world, not merely in small increments, but with big, if not drastic decision making. I don’t believe one needs an active interest in politics, interest or otherwise, to learn something from this memoir – I’ll even go so far as to say you might enjoy it.
Mooiplaas, contact cellar for prices
To match a very elegant man and his wife, there could be no better choice than a glass of red. Mooiplaas’s Rosalind recently landed on my desk and I was immediately intrigued by the wine’s design, tasting notes, and exclusivity (I received bottle 686 of 1025). This Vintage 2017 is a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot, and can be aged for 12 – 20 years.
As Rosalind is the paragon of Mooiplaas’ wine ranges, only the finest barrels are selected for the estate blend. This results in a very sophisticated, elegant wine with layers of flavours. I can’t imagine a better combination than its pairing with a politician who was also unique in its approach to leading a country.
Any more best reads of 2020 to add to the list? Let me know in the comments!