Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Former Soviet Union: The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
Provence: The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono, La charrette bleue by René Barjavel, Madame de Sévigné and Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp
Moscow: The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère
Books, Movies and Beyond: Vietnam

Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

Cape Town is one of those cities set between the sea and the mountains. And what a mountain! Table Mountain dominates and surrounds the city. Walking or dining under the sun on the Waterfront, a simple head turn allows seeing it changing colors with the hour of the day or being covered by spread of clouds, like a cappuccino’s foam.


I like walking towards Table Mountain’s summit. A two hours ascent, often exposed to the sun, to find the opening in the cliff leading to the table’s edge. A few stops, panting, eating an orange and sharing with the other climbers the splendid view on the city and the ocean.


My last climb to Table Mountain is forever engraved in my memory. During our arrival two evenings before, while checking-in at the hotel we had learned of Nelson Mandela’s death. The country was mourning. I had attended a tribute ceremony at St-George’s Cathedral, just in front of my hotel. It was Desmond Tutu’s church when he was Cape Town’s archbishop. The pastor invited the audience to share their memories of Madiba. The spontaneous testimonies followed each other for about one hour, representing the city’s entire ethnic spectrum.

I also took advantage of this stay in Cape Town to visit Robben Island, the former prison island where Nelson Mandela lived 18 of the 27 years he spent in jail before the end of apartheid. This is where he started an unlikely friendship with his guard. Two other Presidents of the Republic of South Africa and countless other political activists have also been incarcerated on the island. The visit is guided by former prisoners who explain, not without some humor, their daily life made of humiliations but also filled with solidarity. That week-end, the stop in front of Mandela’s former cell was particularly moving.


N.Mandela in his cell on Robben Island (revisit} 1994

Robben Island is part from the view discovered from Table Mountain’s top. A little bit like apartheid’s history in the South African landscape, or in the work of J.M. Coetzee, the literature Nobel laureate born in Cape Town. I read, not in perfect chronological order, the trilogy in which the writer describes his life’s beginnings with a fascinating detachment: “Boyhood”, “Youth” and “Summertime” which were later put together in the volume « Scenes from Provincial Life ».



The strength of this three parts biography is the meticulous introspection with which the author dissects his emotions. In the first two books, he writes of himself in the third person to observe his childhood in successive Cape Town neighborhoods or suburbs. He was oscillating between his father who was failing professionally and started drinking and a protective mother who regretted her lost status. The boy was also thorn between his Afrikaner heritage which he was happy to rediscover during stays on the family farm, and the more cosmopolitan English he was speaking with his parents. In « Youth», he leaves Cape Town for London, hoping to leave behind him the South African provincialism. He left as a student, later becomes an unenthusiastic IBM employee, tries to write poetry and describes with the same astonishing neutrality his different romantic attempts and experience, all the while following the political upheavals in his home country.



« Summertime » is a masterpiece. Coetzee is back in Cape Town. But his life, at the time of his initial literary accomplishments, is now told through notes from interviews of several people who knew him: a former lover, academic colleagues, Margot, his favorite cousin who is his remaining link with his Afrikaner family in the veld. The reader still perceives the same character, always a little bit of an outlier, seemingly aloof and guarded, who does not seem to fit in the South Africa of the early 70’s.


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