Talk of the Town by award-winning writer Fred Khumalo
comprises short stories he wrote over many years. In this
vibrant collection Khumalo explores identity and belonging
through tales about African foreign nationals in South Africa,
xenophobia, South Africans abroad, exiled comrades during
apartheid, and past and current township life. At times hilarious
and at times gut-wrenching, this is a collection that will move
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Review This Product
Fri, 19 Jul 2019 | Review by: Fred K
alk of the Town, his collection of 10 short stories, confirms Khumalo’s mastery and brilliance (words often mindlessly used in cut-and-paste fashion in some art reviews and critique) with interplay between language and narrative, nationhood and geopolitics and tensions between history and cultural specificities and generalities.
The stories have a fully formed and resilient backbone, are self-aware without being navel-gazing diatribe and exude an almost floral sense of multidimensional consciousness. The prose is blowtorch assured, the pace bullet-fast without being sloppy and the emotional range shifts from cruel to charming, meditative to shocking, laugh-out-loud hilarity to knotted-throat anger and pain. At full throttle, the individual and collective texture of the writing displays great skill and craftsmanship, as well as the emotional and intellectual maturity to tackle a diverse range of themes: such that the cumulative force of the examination of the human species at home and abroad propel the reader from one feeling to the next with a power akin to jet engine thrust: commanding, assured, gravity defying.
The difficulty, and perhaps exhilaration, of writing and reviewing short stories is the fact that they are, in some oblique but not total way, compressed worlds of novels in that the narratives need to take off from very short and sometimes precarious runways. The brilliance and mastery alluded to earlier is much earned, for there is ample and compelling evidence that the collection is highly distilled from the perspective of complex theme-framing and presentation. A bird’s-eye view of the narrative and thematic pillars of the stories recalls a symphony (the writing is that melodious) of images and counter-reflections from xenophobia, Afro-pessimism, African Renaissance sentiments in Beds are Burning. There are cultural systems colliding with blatant criminality in The Invisibles, conundrums and comedies of lust, eroticism and gender sensitivity classes in Learning to Love and the slippery nature of criminal mindedness in TP Phiri, Esquire.
But what exactly constitutes the literary distillation, brilliance and mastery, the ample and compelling evidence that define the Talk of the Town collection? First is elegant and contextually rooted humour, then the dialogue as transmitter of ideas and the conveyor belt of narrative (including pitch perfect Nigerian and Malawian accents) and third, the calibration of big themes (gender relations, male sexuality and misogyny, the aspirational and actual in the relationship between South Africa and the wider African continent, and views and identity politics between Africa and Africans in the diaspora, particularly the United States in This Bus Is Not Full), to fit into and achieve interpretative luminance within the limiting and confined parameters of the short story. Further exhibits concern understated cerebral tapestry and charge embedded in the stories, for we often forget that writers are and must first be thinkers, preferably of the intelligent and curious sort. - Nthikeng Mohlele, Mail & Guardian
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