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Award winning novelist Karin Cronje has established herself as a fearless writer unafraid to expose issues usually considered off limits. There Goes English Teacher, which spans three years of adventures and misadventures as an English teacher in a small Korean village and later at a university, continues her pursuit of truth. This unusually honest memoir reflects amongst others, the nature of identity and the loss of it; sexuality; belief; ageing; displacement; belonging; and nationhood. Karin Cronje has a real talent for tongue-in-cheek observations of herself and her world. Her accounts of her own confusion and incomprehension as she navigates the collision of two cultures worlds apart are told with a mix of irony, pathos and humor. Yet underneath the lighthearted narration this intimate account shows how a disruption of the familiar can lead to fundamental change.
What further sets this memoir apart is that it is as close to first-hand as a reader may possibly ever get. Karin Cronje seldom allows us out of her head; she doesn’t give us anything like a travel writer’s perspective, a dispassionate description of landscape or exterior view. We inhabit this foreign place exactly as she did. Whilst in Korea, she completed a novel, which won the Jan Rabie/Rapport prize. She takes us with her through the various stages of writing it and we experience her internal processes that lead to an end she was unable to predict. Her return to South Africa poses unforeseen troubles. We are right there with her as she makes one disastrous and scandalous decision after another.
There Goes English Teacher is ultimately a celebration of the gifts the world has to offer while it entertains with a sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes acerbic and ironic, but always humane voice. There are few South African memoirs that dig as deeply into what it means to be fully human. It is a compelling, moving story, unusually told and one that will not only linger long after finishing the book but will demand a second slower read to savour the writing.
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