#55 In love with books – Arja Salafranca

April 13, 2011 in Sonder kategorie

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?
I owe my love of reading to my mother. One of the few pictures of her as a pregnant woman in Spain shows her reading, clutching a book, and so a lifelong love of books was born in me. Finding books in English while living in Spain in the ‘70s and then Israel, wasn’t easy for her – we’re talking pre-internet, pre-Amazon, pre-Kindle – but she managed. My childhood is filled with memories of her reading, and then later the various years of my life are marked, like rings in a tree, with the various books that talked to me and opened up a world to me.

She returned to South Africa when I was five years old, and at night my soon to be divorced mother read to me from fairy tale books – I fell in love with Cinderella and her beautiful ball gown, and of course the fact that life could magically transform, if you just met the right prince, of course! Then there was a mouse starting school for the first time, and I so related to it in my new nursery school in Killarney. In big school we were taught to read and it wasn’t long before I, too, was racing through books, and on my own. I loved Enid Blyton, from the Secret Seven series, all hush-hush detective stuff, to the Famous Five, tramping through English hills and drinking lemonade. Very foreign to a South African child in Johannesburg in the 1980s. By then I was hooked – reading was comfort, the siblings I didn’t have, reading was another world, a world that TV with the A Team as prime viewing couldn’t quite match.

Reading banishes the blues, sometimes; at other times the power of a story can bring on the tears, or force us to confront ourselves, like looking in a mirror of the future. And that’s of course the true power of art – whatever form it takes, writing, movies, music – that evocation of emotion, that tug, that makes us sit bolt upright. We’ve learned something, been changed by it, and remain forever altered.

What’s your favourite line from a book, play or poem?

I love most of Lorrie Moore’s short fiction. She’s an American author. I could pick any number of lines from her stories. But here’s the delightfully witty and droll beginning from her story “How to Become a Writer”:

First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age – say fourteen. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at fifteen you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire. It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for the mountain. Count the syllables. Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing then back up at you with a face blank as a doughnut. She’ll say: ‘How about emptying the dishwasher?’ Look away. Shove the forks in the fork drawer. Accidentally break one of the freebie gas station glasses. This is the required pain and suffering. This is only for starters.

I love, too, Eva Royston Bezwoda’s poetry. She was a South African poet and reading her at 14 opened up a world of confessional, personal, sometimes intensely psychological poetry.

Here’s the poem “A Woman’s Hands always Hold Something” collected in One Hundred and Three Poems

A woman’s hands always hold something:
A handbag, a vase, a child, a ring, an idea.
My hands are tired of holding
They simply want to fold themselves.
On a crowded bus, I watched a nun’s empty hands
Till I reminded myself that she clutched God.
My hands are tired of holding.
I’d gladly let them go, and watch a pair of hands
Run ownerless through the world,
Scattering cooking pots and flowers and rings.

  • Arja Salafranca is the author of The Thin Line (Modjaji Books, 2010) as well as a published poet.


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