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Saturday, August 15, 2009


Pieter Scholtz skilfully crafts educational art history into a fascinating storyline. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Well-known playwright, actor and director Pieter Scholtz has produced his latest novel, Milo and the Sunflower, about a teenager named Milo who is epileptic. Milo’s seizures are accompanied by what appear to be hallucinations or visions, triggered by his immediate experiences. However, the young man realises that his hallucinations are not simply flights of fancy or fantasy, but frighteningly real.

While still aimed at a readership of young people, this book is a departure from Pieter Scholtz’s usual publications in that it is not set in South Africa, although the message it contains is widely universal. It is inspired by accounts of how young people, who are autistic or suffer from epilepsy, develop remarkable skills or artistry. As Scholtz explains, they seem to be able “to express a heightened awareness of their inner and outer worlds through drawing or painting.”Scholtz attempts to let the reader share the discovery of the connection between life and art through Milo’s experiences as he "becomes one" with major impressionist and post-impressionist artists such as Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso and Van Gogh.

Milo lives in France with his mother who runs a successful boulangerie which she created 18 months after the Second World War that claimed the life of her husband. The story moves on some ten years to when Milo, now 17, has his first seizure. Strong support comes from Katrina, a classmate with whom he has developed a warm and binding friendship. Katrina, who also studies ballet, is to become his muse.

One day, while trying to study Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables, Milo’s mind wanders and he starts drawing two pieces. The one is a joyous portrayal of Katrina riding her bicycle but the other disturbs his mother considerably. It depicts the way her father was executed by the Germans, information which she had never revealed to Milo. However, impressed by the quality of his drawing, Katrina shows them to her father who is an arts academic and he persuades Milo to take up painting properly in the hope that it will aid his recovery.

However, the seizures continue and each one takes Milo on a different journey as he “enters” what is (unknown to him) a world-famous artwork and connects with the artist’s creative insight. While Milo’s paintings are of an excellent standard, he becomes reluctant to show them publicly as he fears people will think he has copied the originals. Before he eventually returns to full health, he also moves into the world of Edith Piaf and meets a family of travelling circus players to whom he offers sensible and proactive advice to improve their act.

Pieter Scholtz has crafted his story with skill, allowing the reader a better appreciation of the artworks featured – as well as the tragic life of Piaf. The artists and their works are profiled at the back of the book as well as suggested internet research.

Milo and the Sunflower will be launched officially with an address by acclaimed artist Andrew Verster on August 20 at Adams Bookshop in Musgrave Road at 17h30 for 18h00.

Pieter Scholtz has published the book himself under Horus Publishing, 125 Snell Parade, Durban. It retails at R105. ISBN 9780620435581- Caroline Smart