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Monday, July 19, 2010


Pieter Scholtz’s first adult novel sparked by advert for literary competition. (Review by Margaret von Klemperer, courtesy of The Witness)

The life-changing power of music and dance lies at the centre of a new novel by Professor Pieter Scholtz, well-known in theatre and university circles in KZN. For more than 20 years he headed the Drama Department on the Durban campus of the then University of Natal, and has written a number of plays for young people, some of which he has subsequently turned into novels and stories for teenagers. However, The Wind is a Story is his first adult novel.

The book is in three parts: the first concerning Sannie, the plump and plain daughter of a conservative Afrikaans family in the Karoo who finds love and freedom with an older man, following the violent death of her parents. And later, after her husband’s death, comes a new liberation – her adoption of a tragically orphaned San child.

The second part of Scholtz’s story concerns this child, named Twikwe by his parents, but Ezekiel by Sannie. A happy, loving child, his life takes on a new meaning when he meets a mysterious stranger and is given an mbira, one of the seminal instruments of African music. And this is no ordinary mbira. Its magical powers lead Twikwe on a journey. The third section concerns Twikwe’s journey and his meeting with a young San girl, Tsetchwe. Led by the mbira to discover their destiny, the two find themselves becoming involved with the Khoisan people of the Kalahari and their struggle for some kind of recognition of all they have suffered, and a viable future. Scholtz admits he is angered by the treatment the San have received, and talks about how the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was scuppered by African countries.

The middle part of the story was the first Scholtz wrote. “I came across an advertisement for a literary competition for a short story with a musical theme. It was supposed to be 5000 words long, but by the time I got to 15000, I realised it was turning into something else.” In fact, into a novella, that almost un-publishable genre between the short story and the novel. Scholtz realised that, as his story started with Twikwe’s adoption, he could develop that into the first part of the book. “And then I decided it needed the third part,” he says. “It has been a curious adventure.”

When I ask Scholtz about the magical elements of the story – the mbira and its power – he admits it is a sensitive point. “People say to me that fantasy is for children. But adults need it, too. And it depends on what you consider fantasy. I’m not mad about Harry Potter, the level of fantasy where anything can happen at any moment. I prefer to call what I do magical realism. I try to investigate the fantasy elements in our lives: things that could happen.

“And I really do believe in the power of music, and dance. Particularly with a ritual instrument like the mbira. I once talked to two Zimbawean students who played the mbira, a different instrument from the one you see here, and they called it ‘the voice of the ancestors’.”

Besides the magic, The Wind is a Story has a strong sense of place, evoking the spaces of the Karoo and the Kalahari. I ask Scholtz, who is a KZN man through and through, where his passion for this landscape comes from. He explains that his mother was an Uys from the Cape (Pieter-Dirk Uys is his second cousin), and his fascination stems from holidays in the Augrabies area.

Scholtz has published The Wind is a Story under his own imprint, Horus Publications. I ask him why: most authors who choose to self-publish find distribution a major stumbling block. He explains that, after problems with commercial publishers of his work in the past, he prefers the freedom that self-publication offers. And with a network of friends and old students involved in the book trade, it seems to be working.

The Wind is a Story by Peter Scholtz is available from Adams Bookshops in Durban and from Cascades Bookshop in Pietermaritzburg. – Margaret von Klemperer, Books Editor, The Witness